Prior to applying to adopt through Gladney, my husband, Courtney, and I researched open adoptions as much as we could. On top of the typical questions about the adoption process, we asked ourselves, “How exactly do we navigate an open adoption, and what if it all goes wrong?”
We had been parents for almost three years to our daughter, Avery. She is our little IVF miracle. Becoming parents again wasn’t what intimidated us. It was all the added layers that came with adopting a child. Parenting a child who is adopted is one layer. We added another layer when we chose open adoption, and we added an additional layer when we chose to adopt and parent a child of another race. We believe these layers are not obstacles or complications, but they do lay the footprints of a unique parenting journey.
I remember vividly the day I received a call from our caseworker that an expectant mother had chosen us and wanted to talk to me on the phone. A couple of days later, she and I spoke for hours. We had already created a Google voice number, but after talking to her on the phone, we decided to share our real phone number. We made arrangements to visit her and her family in Phoenix later that month. My husband, our daughter, Avery, and I flew out to Phoenix. A Gladney birth parent caseworker met all of us at Chuck E. Cheese for dinner to help make introductions and to ensure we all felt comfortable. The next day, we joined her and her family at a science museum and enjoyed playing with the kids and getting to know each other better. Before we ended our short trip to Phoenix, we decided to reveal our last name and email address. This was the first step in opening up the adoption.
When she texted me to say she was in labor, we threw our bags in the car and drove straight from San Antonio straight to Phoenix. At a McDonald’s for a pit stop, Avery told other children on the playground that her little sister had been born. There were some confused expressions! The next morning, we met our youngest daughter at the hospital. We took placement of Olivia when she was two days old and visited with her birth mother and her family a couple more times before we had permission to head back to Texas.
When Olivia was born, we opened up our adoption a little more by sharing our address. We continued to text and talk on the phone about Olivia. At this point, we didn’t need to send updates through Gladney because we were communicating directly. Through phone calls and texting, we continued to build our friendship. As Olivia neared her first birthday, her birth mother asked if she could come and visit. For the next few years, we would fly her out every other year for a visit. These visits occurred without Olivia’s biological siblings.
As Olivia approached 5 years old, we decided it was time to include her siblings in a visit, so we made the drive to Phoenix. As I’m writing this, Olivia and I have been looking back at photos and videos from that time and reliving some memories. I cannot fully explain the joy we all experienced watching all the siblings play together. For Olivia to see her own physical traits in her biological siblings and to share some of the same personality traits provides her answers that we never could have provided without an open adoption. On this visit, she also got to meet her new baby brother. Olivia proudly shares with her friends that she has two sisters and two brothers. She confidently shared she was adopted with her entire first grade class when she was “queen of the day.” We have continued visits with Olivia’s birth mother and her siblings at least every other year. Sometimes we go to Phoenix, and sometimes they come to San Antonio.
Without an open adoption and visits, Olivia wouldn’t have the opportunity to develop a relationship with her biological siblings. Some people have asked how I handle it if her birth mother crosses a relationship boundary or how I feel when Olivia and her birth mother are interacting. I view our relationship with her birth mother as a relationship with any family member. Sometimes boundaries are crossed, and there are disagreements, just like in any family. The important thing to remember is that this is not about us. We are navigating this journey and relationship for the benefit of Olivia. I can confidently say I’ve never felt threatened by her birth mother’s presence in our lives. Olivia knows I am her Mom, but she also knows she is loved by her birth mother and that her birth mother made a loving decision by choosing us to be Olivia’s parents. We do not correspond with Olivia’s birth father but will welcome some type of relationship when he is ready. For now, we are happy to be able to remind Olivia of who she gets her great sense of humor from and why she is so good at puzzles.
Every story is different, and I hope by sharing our story, we provide yet another perspective for a family wanting to adopt or currently parenting a child who has been adopted. Wherever you are in your journey, I hope I provided some insight by sharing our experiences.
Going into the adoption process, I knew very little about how the process worked. One such area was with respect to birth mothers, who I now know are selfless, courageous, and steadfast women. Simply put, I unfairly assumed a birth mother must be an unfit mother, without ever even having met one myself. It was wrong of me to do so, and I would be proven wrong with all three of our daughters’ birth mothers.