“You deserve a lot of credit,” friends tell my husband, Tom, and me when they learn about our close relationship with our son’s birth family. “We could never do it.”
We never thought we could, either. But eight years ago something happened to change our minds.
Tom and I had tried for years to build a family. When a fertility specialist told us that, on a scale of one to 10, our chance of getting pregnant was zero, we took our sadness to an infertility support group meeting. Halfway through, a woman and her husband walked in, carrying a beautiful baby girl. I don’t remember the baby’s name, although I think of her as Rose, perhaps because her presence so contrasted with how we felt.
The couple showed off their new family member and told us their story. They had adopted her domestically after finding a birth mother through an ad they placed on a bulletin board in a laundromat. Just a few weeks old, Rose had already visited her birth mother. I was astounded.
The Most Normal Thing in the World
Although Tom and I preferred the idea of adoption to the strain of fertility treatments, we were admittedly a little scared of open adoption. We didn’t want a birth mother to nag us if our son’s hair grew too long or if he failed a class in school. What if, over time, she began to regret her decision? What if she wanted her child back?
I voiced these concerns: “Aren’t you afraid the birth mother will change her mind if she sees the baby? Won’t the child be confused about who her mom is?”
Rose’s mother looked at me pitifully. “My daughter’s birth mother has given us the most amazing gift in the world,” she said. “Why would we deny her the chance to see her baby?”
These were life-changing words — to Tom. The light bulb turned on, and it made sense to him.
“Well, aren’t we evolved!” I thought. But we had already decided to start an international, closed adoption, so I just pretended to get it.
A few weeks later, at a required seminar at our adoption agency, we listened as adoptive and birth families shared their stories and answered questions posed by wary prospective parents. Instead of the awkward and uncomfortable relationships I expected to hear about, I saw normal families who cherished close contact with one another. They seemed bound, in fact, firmly and joyfully, by a wondrous love for their children, and by an appreciation for one another. That’s when I got it. Could we really do this?
We continued to listen as the birth parents explained that they wanted more for their children than they could offer at the time they gave birth. They had decided to place their babies with families who were ready to parent, and, in exchange, all they asked was assurance that their children were in good hands.
When one of the children tripped and fell, she ran to her mom. When a boy grew bashful, he buried his head in his dad’s chest. Children showed affection and tenderness toward their birth parents, but it was clear who the parents were. It was a slap-to-the-forehead moment for me: Of course, knowing exactly why he was placed for adoption was best for a child.
When You Know, You Know
We were ready to move ahead, but unsure about where to start. How would we find birth parents who were right for us? How would we know when we found them?
When you know, you know. This maxim is true for finding a life partner — and for finding a birth mother. Sarah* selected us from our adoption agency’s large book of “Dear Birth Parent” letters. We wondered what in our letter and photos had sparked her interest. And we wondered what we would talk about when we met — besides the baby in her tummy.
Mostly, we worried about what to wear.
The night before our first meeting, Tom and I carefully selected our Birth Mother Meeting Outfits: sensible khakis and sweaters. She needed to see us as solid people with great parenting potential. Could a pair of chinos convey that?
Nervously, we drove across town. When Sarah answered the door, wearing a cozy sweat suit and a warm smile, Tom and I relaxed.
Everything clicked. Sarah had just finished reading Into Thin Air and Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, two books we both adored. The photo of our dog had reminded her of the dog she had as a child. Raised Catholic, like Tom and me, she shared our views on religion. And, most of all, we admired her priorities. Sarah wanted the best for her baby — and we were prepared to give her child the best home possible.
After we left Sarah’s house, Tom and I turned to each other, giddy. How could we have been matched up so perfectly? Sarah must have felt the same way, because the next day she called and asked us to parent her child.
The Lucky Ones
Over the next four months, we spent time getting to know Sarah and her family. We took walks; we accompanied her to her doctor. We were there when she learned that the baby was a boy, and, together, we named him Jonah. Our affinity developed into a deep respect and trust. So, on the day Jonah was born, we knew we wouldn’t whisk him from the hospital and part ways. Instead, we all drove to our home to say goodbye more intimately.
In the weeks and months that followed, Sarah and her family visited Jonah, held him, and took pictures. I had worried that it might feel strange, but watching Sarah or her family members hold Jonah was like watching my sister or parents hold Jonah. They’re crazy about our son, so why deny him a wonderful family who thinks the world of him?
Jonah is six now. We visit with Sarah and her family, and we continually welcome them into our home. So when friends credit us with overwhelming generosity, I try to explain: We are the lucky ones. My husband and I aren’t saints. We were fortunate to meet a birth mother who welcomed us into her life and the life of her family — so our relationship never feels like an obligation.
Several years ago, it was our turn to share our story with prospective adopters at our adoption agency. The people listening were just beginning to explore open adoption. Their faces were creased with the same wary looks that Tom and I once wore. We told them how special it was to watch our son tell his birth mother about his first day of school. We explained how blessed we are to have a third set of relatives who shower our son with gifts on Valentines Day. We said that, because our son sees Sarah’s love firsthand, he knows she never gave him up.
I just wish Rose’s mom had been there, so I could have told her: I get it.
*Name has been changed to protect privacy.