10 Questions with an Adoptive Mother and a Birth Mother

Navigating Open Adoption Together

An open adoption is an adoption where the birth parents placing a child for adoption maintain contact after the adoption with the adoptive parents and/or the adopted child through letters, emails, phone calls and/or visits. Open adoption has been shown to be healthier for all members of the adoption triad (adoptive parents, birth parents and adoptee). However, navigating the boundaries of an open adoption can be challenging. What do you tell the adoptee about his or her birth parents? How much contact works best?

We had a chance to interview Bailey, a birth mother who placed her child for adoption four years ago as well as the adoptive mother Evie who adopted Bailey’s child. They share how they’ve navigated their open adoption. It’s a rare glimpse at both sides.

How did you decide that adoption was the right choice for your daughter, Elizabeth?

Bailey: The adoption choice was the hardest decision I have ever made. To fully answer that question I need to clarify the circumstances. I was seventeen and a senior in high school when I found out that I was pregnant. I was in a dead-end relationship; my daughter’s biological father cut off contact after I told him that we were expecting.

Socially, I was ostracized. Emotionally, I felt abandoned. I was subjected to so much humiliation and shame during my pregnancy. People told me that I was not ready, my child deserved better than me, I could not be a good mom, etc. There was an overwhelming pressure to abort my daughter. I personally did not feel that this was an appropriate decision. I chose to carry to term and planned to raise my daughter myself, other’s opinions be damned.

During all of this, I was so in love with my daughter that I was willing to sacrifice any future I had previously imagined to raise her. I tend to be a strong-willed (read: stubborn) individual; if someone tells me that I cannot do something, I will do anything to prove them wrong. The moment of truth came suddenly one night. I realized that this was never about me. Those people -as hurtful as they may have been- did not matter. I did not matter. The one important aspect of this entire situation was the gift I was carrying: my child.

At that point, I began searching for any option that provided her with an ideal home. I realized that I could never provide that home in my current situation. The small town I was in would label her and I. She needed to grow up away from the shadow of my decisions. Could I have fought to keep her and done a good job raising her? Absolutely. Would she have been loved and taken care of? Absolutely. Would she have the wonderful life she has now? No. As her mother, my job was to give her the best chance at success.

How did you choose the adoptive parents to raise your daughter?

Bailey: Choosing a family to raise my child was a daunting task. Many traditional mothers are terrified to pick a babysitter. Birth mothers pick an entire family! It is frightening, overwhelming, and the maternal side of me kept saying that no one would ever be good enough.

I am an organizer; without my planner I would be absolutely lost. Just like any other project, I began my process with a list. I wrote down everything I wanted to be able to give my daughter. The list contained roughly 50 items including financial stability, a large family, a solid education, a fun life, healthy parenting and discipline styles, a mental and physical health-conscious family, two parents, and a Christian upbringing. I also knew that I wanted to be involved in my daughter’s life. I decided to look for a family that closely resembled this list and wanted an open adoption.

I was choosing to entrust someone with the most valuable thing I could ever give. I started researching adoption, birth parents, placement/relinquishment, open adoption, and any other topic I could think of. I found that while many adoptions start as “open,” the ties to the birth family are later severed. Legally speaking, there are not many protected rights for birth parents. I also realized that recent data on the mental health of birth mothers post-placement is hard to find. All of this information scared me.

I began searching for a family. I looked through an agency. I did not connect with their method of matching in the least; I was handed a few scrapbooks and told to look through them before making a decision. A scrapbook, really? A whole host of unsavory people could have made nifty little scrapbooks, I am sure. How am I supposed to decide if someone is a good parent based on their scrapbooking skill. I needed more intimate and honest knowledge of these people who wanted my child. I realized that I could never trust someone I did not know.

Tell me a little bit about the beginning of your adoption journey with Sam and Evie (the adoptive parents).

Bailey: The decision fell into my lap. I did not want to place my daughter for adoption. I wanted to raise her and provide her with a perfect home. When I realized that this was not possible I began looking for people who I could trust to raise her with the same goals in mind. Sam and Evie fit this description perfectly (I knew them personally). I wrote them a long letter that detailed my feelings about the adoption. I explained that I held them to a high standard, I was excited for them, and that this child was the most precious thing I had to give. I also explained that the adoption was never my first choice, it would never be what I wanted to happen, and I acknowledged the extreme grief I would live through.

During the pregnancy, Evie and I commiserated. She sent me pictures of the thousands of pages of paperwork, I send her pictures that showed how I could not see my toes. As Elizabeth’s birth approached, we all began getting ready. They flew from California to Georgia. They were at the hospital when I had Elizabeth. I had some time alone with my daughter and they respectfully waited until I called them into the room. We were able to share some beautiful moments during labor and after. I was able to spend some time with my daughter before Sam and Evie left for California with her.

Watching Elizabeth leave and the weeks that followed made up the most difficult period of my life. I was beyond heartbroken and I was not prepared. I was not prepared for what my body would be going through during postpartum recovery and I was not prepared for the grief I would feel. Sam and Evie were wonderfully supportive during the period immediately after and remain supportive today. I do not know how I would have survived that period without them. I received pictures, phone calls, emails, facebook messages, and texts all the time from them. They send me pictures detailing their trip home with a week old child. They sent me a video-tour of their home with a sleeping Elizabeth in their arms.

Open adoption can mean many things to different people. What kinds of communication have you had with each other and Elizabeth over the years?

Bailey: Elizabeth and I do stay in contact consistently. Evie does a great job keeping my Facebook buzzing with new pictures or videos. We speak on the phone or webcam. I have received beautiful crayon covered papers from Elizabeth. I try to send her gifts when I find something that she would enjoy. My favorite form of contact is visiting. I fly out to California or they fly to Georgia. These visits are so special to me. Sam and Evie get to go have time for themselves: they go on dates, go visit friends, or get caught up on work. Elizabeth and I get to play, giggle, talk, and just develop our relationship even more.

Sam and Evie and I keep in touch as well. We text or Facebook message regularly. We discuss anything from Elizabeth to my education. They are investing in my life just as they invest in Elizabeth.

How has your relationship with each other and with Elizabeth evolved over the years?

Bailey: We all want to work together to allow Elizabeth to develop into a healthy adult. That shared goal has allowed us to grow closer. Sam and Evie have always been involved in my life, but now they are even more important. I have a responsibility to show Elizabeth that she is wanted, loved, and that I am always going to be supportive of her. As Elizabeth has gotten older, our relationship has changed. I am no longer a stranger. She knows who I am and we have memories together. I cannot wait to see how our relationship continues.

Sam, Evie and I have gotten closer as well. I come to them for relationship advice, emotional support, and general companionship. We have an honest relationship that makes navigating this strange sea together much easier.

What have you told Elizabeth about adoption and her family as she’s grown up? Do you think she understands what it means to be adopted?

Bailey: Elizabeth is growing up with “full disclosure.” She knows that Evie is her Mom, but I carried her in my tummy. We answer any questions she has. She understands that she and I have a special relationship. Recently, she gave me “the talk.” She explained that babies come out of vaginas and that she came out of my vagina before I gave her to her Mom. I love how open everything is. Sam and Evie keep a picture of me in Elizabeth’s room and include me in their nightly prayers. At four, I think she understands more than we give her credit for.

Tell us a little bit about how you decided on adoption for your family.

Evie: When I was 19 years old I had a surgery that left me unable to have children. At such a young age children were not high on my list of priorities, so I took the news in stride and moved on with my life. At 27, when I met Sam, the realization that I could not provide children for this wonderful man, grieved my heart. Suddenly, the thought of having a child that was similar in nature to him; with potentially dreamy blue eyes and a soft gentle smile, became very appealing. It was then that the reality of my inability to conceive children began to rip at the fabric of my soul. However, we were just beginning our life together and I was willing to sit and wait on God’s best for us as a couple.

Sam was unbelievably gracious. He never made me feel like I was “less than” or like he was somehow missing out on life at its best. We knew that God had brought us together for a special purpose and we intended to live passionately for Him as a pastoral team. We had intermittent conversations about children. They always ended with, “If God wants us to have children then He will miraculously provide”. We built our life around other people’s children; helping families heal through brokenness and thrive with a renewed focus and realization that Jesus brings newness of life.

When we moved to GA we began to open up our home to foster children and to those needing a fresh start. Being people of intentionality and purpose, we turned our spare bedroom into what we fondly called, The Jesus Room. In this space we offered the caring and compassionate presence of God to meth addicts, women seeking to leave domestically violent relationships, college students needing a respite from difficult family situations, a handicapped young man longing for community, etc. Coupled with our youth ministry, this ministry to the hurting of the world gave our life great purpose and meaning.

Being in such close contact with hurting and broken individuals brought us several opportunities to walk alongside women struggling with unwanted pregnancies. During our 12 years in GA, several women approached us asking if we’d please take their babies at birth. As it turned out, each opportunity provided heartache, as the 8th month seemed to be the proverbial change of mind month. None of these women came to us to discuss their change of mind; they simply disappeared from our life. Granted, these young women were incapable of healthy “exit” conversations. One woman was a prostitute, and the others were teenagers from severely broken families. And while this “change of mind” may be typical for those within a book on a table of an adoption agency facility, we met each experience with bewilderment. We were not sitting with a coach, a counselor, or any advocate who was guiding us through the rigors and heartbreak of adoption.

I was turning 40, getting my Masters degree, launching new and exciting young adult and women’s ministries, and truly embracing the gifts that God had given me to lead. It was at this point that I had a conversation with God that went something like this…”Okay God. I’m 40. I’d really like to be done with the whole ‘I’m open to adoption’ game. I’ve been faithful to keep my heart open, but at this age, I’m ready to close it off and be done. I would prefer not to have children at this late stage of life. Okay?” Well He didn’t give me the okay, but I shut my heart down anyway. I became very closed and unwilling to even entertain the idea of adopting a child. Sam, however, is 5–1/2 years younger than I am so did not share my desire to close the door on adoption. Ultimately, it was my love for him, commitment to us, appreciation of his kindness toward my barrenness, knowledge of what an incredible father I knew he’d be, and desire to be faithful to God’s call, that brought me out of my resolute stance of “no” as a 44 year old woman.

Open adoption can mean many things to different people. What kinds of communication have you had with each other and Elizabeth over the years?

Evie: Sam and I are lavish lovers of people. We embrace and welcome into our home people from every walk of life; from every tribe and nation. So for us, open is a liberal word encompassing a sacred space of doing life together. It means fully embracing and respecting Bailey as Elizabeth’s mother.

In terms of our communication with Bailey, before Elizabeth’s birth, Bailey and I were picking out her name together and deciding on how I should decorate her nursery. At Elizabeth’s birth we stood outside of the delivery room door, recognizing this moment as a beautiful, yet profoundly painful moment. We told the nurses to give Bailey as much time as she wanted with Elizabeth before allowing us inside. We wanted her to know that we respected her need to begin the journey of coming to terms with her transitioning relationship with Elizabeth. Even before Elizabeth graced this world, we sought to help Bailey understand that while Elizabeth might not address her officially as Mom, she would be celebrated and honored as a sacred presence in her life throughout the years.

Beginning at birth Elizabeth began to hear of her adoption story. When she was finally able to speak,she fondly called Bailey her BeBe. In fact, the only picture that Elizabeth keeps on the nightstand in her room is the one of Bailey holding her right after her birth, while Sam and I lean in close to Bailey on either side. It is her favorite picture. Elizabeth has known since she was old enough to speak that she is adopted. She knows it means chosen. She also knows and tells anyone who asks, that she was inside of BeBe’s tummy and that BeBe gave her to us as a gift. We have sought to communicate the adoption in terms that honor Bailey’s place in her life.

How has your relationship with each other and with Elizabeth evolved over the years?

Evie: Elizabeth adores Bailey. When they see one another it is as if a home going of the heart occurs. They are bonded in an intimate way that can only be understood as a biological connection afforded to a mother and her child. This connection has simply grown over the years and manifests in varying ways. At first Elizabeth was unable to reach out and intentionally connect with Bailey because of her developmental stage. Yet, even at that stage she would smile and move her head toward Bailey’s voice if we were Skyping. However, as she grew in her verbal skills and ability to reach out toward those she desired a closer connection, it became apparent that she reached for Bailey and found loving connection in more significant ways. Intentionally choosing Bailey was last seen on our recent trip to Georgia. Bailey took Elizabeth to stay with at her apartment with her for several days. Elizabeth did not cry for us, nor did she insist on coming home. She was content and having a wonderful time. She does not feel this way with everyone. Sam and I celebrate this closeness as we know that it will provide a safer environment for Elizabeth to ask questions and know she will be heard.

Our communication with Bailey, from the beginning, has been open, honest and raw. We have sought to hear her heart, even when it was painful. We knew she did not truly want to give up Elizabeth. We could not have prepared fully for the difficult conversations, but our love for Bailey keeps us present with her and available to hear her process the difficulties of being separated from her child.

How often are you able to coordinate visits with each other?

Evie: All of us wish it could be more often, but we see each other at least one time per year. When it can be more, we are delighted! Sam and I do not have the financial means to fly 3 people to Georgia, so whenever Bailey or her family come close to California, we find a way to drive to where they are staying. Bailey’s parents have visited multiple times because of job training in California so we’ve actually seen them the most. Because we lived in Georgia for 12 years, we have many families that we are still very close to who desire to see us or have us active in their lives. We are asked to come back so that Sam can officiate weddings for instance. The most important thing about visits is that we prioritize Elizabeth and Bailey having special time together.

This Q&A was an excerpt from the full interview. Read the full interview.