Our Open Adoption Story Told in Photos
I participated in Big Tough Girl's Photo-a-day challenge, each day I dug deep into a memory of what shaped my experience as a birth mom. I wanted to post them here as well to keep on sharing. And because, one day, these memories will be in a book and it's easier to read on a blog when I'm forming new ways to tell our story. Enjoy!
Going through pictures tonight picking out ones to share for and it took my heart back in time. You never know when triggers will break open the crack and let the sadness out. I miss her and think of her every day, but some moments it is felt deeper than others. This photo was taken when my birth daughter was 2 (looking a lot like Ashlyn, my 2 year old now!) back when I was still a teen and we had monthly visits and sleep overs. A time when my schedule and theirs was lighter and we all got to grow and bond and experience firsts together. I will forever cherish those early years of our adoption and so grateful to her parents for their openness. Tonight, I miss her. I miss this simplistic time when it was easier to know her. A time when I was not afraid to pull her Into to a hug and take a selfie.
Day 1- HOW I RELATE TO ADOPTION. I am a proud birth mother. I surrendered to God my desires of being her Mom so that she could have a stable life, with a mom AND a dad and so much more. I did not give up, I gave her more than what I could offer at 16 years old.
Day 2: LOVE. I struggled with what picture to show for today because to me adoption IS love. Every picture I have and every quote spoke to that. Do I talk about my love for her? The love we all have for her? How I made my adoption choice out of the love, loving her with every ounce of me, so much so to let her go? There is so much love in our adoption, on all sides. The greatest love I have known has been because of our adoption, because that's how God revealed His love for me amongst my heartache and mistakes. So. Much. Love. So I'll just share this picture I love, a once in a lifetime nap with my baby girl.
Day 3: SMELL. I remember the smell of milk. The milk of her formula bottles as I fed her countless times in our 4 days hospital stay. I treasured every moment. I wanted to give her breastmilk but was encouraged not to and I was afraid it would make it harder to say goodbye. I didn't know pumping was an option. I would have. Instead, my breasts were bound and the weeks after were a painful torture with cabbage and frozen peas. The smell of my milk wasted and a reminder of what should be mine, and the milk that should be her's. But, it is what it is. Adoption isn't easy but I would not change it. We move forward, we heal, and we breastfeed when God gives us new babies and cherish the gift and smells of life, milk, and motherhood even more.
Day 4: THE DECISION. This mountain is where God met me one day when I was 7 months pregnant at 16 years old. Pilot mountain in NC. Up until this day, my heart and head were in constant battle of what I wanted and the logistics. A torn heart between What I wanted and what God wanted. From this view my eyes were opened to the harsh realities of what single motherhood would be for her and I. I was raised by a single mom, I felt the hardships. I wanted more for her, no matter how much I loved her and wanted to be her mom. On this mountain I finally surrendered to His will for us. And do you know what followed? Peace. For the first time in months I had peace! I felt God's loving arms swoop me in close and assure me it was all going to be okay, that He has plans to prosper us and not to harm us. The day I decided on adoption was also the day I decided to follow Jesus.
Day 5: ADOPTION HERO. This is my Bre with my daughter at my wedding, she is one of my best friends. I found her online in an adoption support group by chance when I was 16 and pregnant, exploring my options. I truly feel God lead us to each other, after all our favorite meal is pot roast and mashed potatoes. She also was the first birth mom I talked to and she opened my eyes and heart to what adoption could be like. I thought adoption meant I would never see my daughter again, always wondering what she looked like or if she was happy. Open adoption was a foreign concept to me, but Bre was so open in sharing about her experience with her daughter's family and it helped give me hope that if I went that route I could have the best of both worlds. I wasn't quite ready to be a mom but I could never be ready to say goodbye forever. I knew adoption wasn't an option if I couldn't know my baby. I'm SO lucky to have Bre walking this open adoption path slightly ahead of me, so I have her insight and comfort to lean on when I need it. She would listen to my cries over the phone after placement and 11 years later helps me navigate the new waters of our girls growing up and processing their adoption feelings. Her open adoption has been a model for ours. The peace she had back then gave me hope that I could have that peace too, and I do. I'll share more another day on how my Bre was such a meaningful part in my adoption story.
Day 6: DELIVERY. My first baby girl was born one summer night, 9:00 on the dot. I was induced on her due date, which was easier on everybody since her adoptive parents needed to travel as did my mom and social worker. This way I knew everyone could be there that I wanted to be, for her and for me. I remember barely sleeping the night before, butterflies in my stomach at the thought of finally meeting my baby girl and seeing what she looked like. I was excited, but scared of the labor process and sad that these were my last moments of her being only "mine." I knew what was ahead: saying goodbye. I arrived unnaturally early to the hospital with my mom and stepmom, they handled the details of checking in. I was 16, still a child myself. I brought an Eeyore stuffed animal with me for comfort. Seriously! Pitocin was started around 9am and the rest of the day was a blur of wondering what my body was doing, new sensations, new pains, IV drugs, eventually an epidural. Her parents came to visit with me in and out, and went to buy the nursery bedding I had picked out (so thoughtful!). I remember being starving, only allowed broth and juice. Boo. The day felt forever long and I couldn't wait to eat a hamburger after her birth. Finally at 8pm I was ready to push and she was born an hour later. I remember them putting her on my chest and I just cried. I couldn't speak but I thought in my head over and over "I love you!" Hoping she could feel it. I remember the pride i felt that I made this! And I pushed her out! My mom and stepmom were in the room with me and I remember their own tears and happiness of witnessing their first grand baby born. I remember telling them, "She is theirs. She is meant to be theirs." I had chosen adoption in the months before but when I saw her I still knew and still had peace I was doing the right thing for us. After we were cleaned up and I had my time with her admiring every toe and those sweet baby lips, her new parents came in to meet her...and that story I'll save for another day.
Day 7: BOY or GIRL. I had an ultrasound when I was 17 weeks pregnant and found out I had a baby girl on the way. I suspected she was a girl deep down, but I was over joyed to have a daughter! This was in January and while I hadn't really decided what I was going to do and the battle between my wants and logic raged on...I wanted to parent her. I dreamed of having this little girl by my side, to hold and love on and be my little sidekick in life. I had her name picked out already and began calling her that right away and doodling her name in my sketch books. I went to the mall soon after with my cousin and bought her a pink outfit to bring her home in when summer came. But she didn't go home with me in that outfit months later, she went home with her new parents. I carried and birthed a sweet baby girl, and they gained a new baby girl in their family. So, so bittersweet. Years later I now have 3 girls at home with me and they all wear their oldest sisters hand me downs. Thank God for baby girls! The bond ALL my girls have is precious.
Day 8: CHERISHED GIFT. When I was pregnant with my daughter I wanted to give a gift to her and her adoptive mom. I decided on a heart pendent for all of us that would symbolize our adoption. Mine has my initials on the front, with my daughters on the back. Her moms has the same but with her initials on the front. But my daughters has BOTH her moms initials on the back. She is at the center of it all, with 2 moms that love her so much! This picture was taken at our 3 week visit with the necklace I picked out for us. I also added a dog charm to it that her parents gave to me. I remember driving away from the hospital opening the gift they placed in my hands when they drove away with her in the backseat. It included this dog charm. Why? Because we had the same kind of dogs and it was one sign from god to me that were the ones when I saw their profile. It also is the same dog my parents bought to give me something to nurture after placement. This necklace and gift symbolize so much to me!
Day 9: PARENTAL RIGHTS. You know what the hardest thing I've ever done is? Signing a line on a piece of paper. Those papers said that I gave up My rights as her mom. I knew I was doing it for her good but that doesn't make it any easier. It's like admitting defeat in paper form. Legal form. I wanted her, I would have been a good mom, but I wanted her to have more. And back to my Bre story...this sweet teenager at the time as well drove 13 hours to be by my side at this dreaded signing moment. Thirteen hours! Just to turn around the next day and drive back home. See why she is my adoption hero? She is truly selfless. I remember sitting on this very bed in the picture with those forms on the swivel table hospitals have, Bre being near me and I couldn't help but just sobbing. While I was grieving it was comforting to know the tears streaming down her face too were ones of truly understanding. She had signed those papers too just 9 months before. After composing myself I signed my name with a shaky hand. My rights were gone. I signed trusting that her new parents would keep their promise in raising her well and keeping me in their lives.
Day 10: HAPPIEST MOMENT. Again, struggled with what to put for this day. My memories are filled with happy moments within our adoption. Do I talk about getting to rock her to sleep as a baby at one of our sleepovers? The games of peek a boo? The moment I saw her for the first time? Watching her blow out candles for 11 years? Seeing her sit at my own dinner table devouring a meal I made? Seeing how well cared for and loved she is with her family? So many happy moments. I narrowed it down to this though: the moment I walked through the door at our annual Christmas visit when she was around 4 and she yelled, "My birth mom!" With such joy and a huge smile. It was in that moment I felt acknowledged by HER that she knew who I was in her life, a special role and special love. It was the beginning of her processing more her adoption and I love how proud she is of it. That makes me happy.
Day 11: FAMILY. Oh my family! am so blessed by them. I have a Mom, Dad, and wonderful Stepmom. Just after my 16th birthday when I told them my news...there wasn't condemnation in reply. There was love. "Thank you for choosing life" was one I remember most. Along with, "just because you made a mistake does not make YOU a bad person." My whole family loved me unconditionally, wiped my tears and gave me hugs. They provided me with resources like counseling (thank you MOM!) from the very beginning to better myself, to heal our relationships, and make a decision of how to move forward. Best of all, they gave me the Space to make MY choice and mine alone. They supported me in parenting or placement. And because of that I truly feel, besides my faith and peace found in Jesus, that is one reason why I have such peace. It wasn't forced, it wasn't pressured. Parenting was explored thoroughly and supported, but it wasn't right for us this time around. That is how family and the adoption choice should be. There would be far less negative experiences if young moms were given the space, resources. and chance to explore parenting first knowing their family will there for them either way.
(Here's where I fell off the bandwagon and missed a few days. It gets hard to dig, remember, and feel each day.)
Day 16: GAME CHANGER. This lady right here was my game changer. My mom took me to see her in the early weeks of my pregnancy at 16 years old and she didn't leave my emotional side for years. She watched as tears fell from my eyes, unsure of what to do, she asked me hard questions no one else dared to ask, she walked me through emotions and choices in either direction. She let me be angry and hurt and sad and ashamed...and then helped me to process it all to heal. She was a vital tool to my un-pressured adoption choice and the healing that followed. She was in the car beside me as I looked through adoption profiles and felt the tug of "these are the ones" God places on my heart. She prepared me for what was ahead, she watched our adoption unfold, she was at the hospital feeding a bottle my little girl while she was still mine. The gratitude I have for this lady cannot be fully expressed in words! Counseling is so important y'all, both during pregnancy and after. Besides my blooming relationship in Christ during these months, she was one of my rocks and safe place.
Day 17: A SOUND. I still remember her newborn cries. It was like a little kitten, so soft and feminine. It was adorable. Our 3 days together in the hospital gave me time to study her, to treasure everything about her before saying goodbye. I heard her cries, fed her bottles, changed diapers and her clothes. We snuggled endlessly. Getting to hear her cry meant that I was near her, I didn't have to say goodbye right away. I had 3 days that time stood still and she was still mine. Weeks later I heard her cries again at her new home, her adoptive dad commenting on how different it was compared to her brother. I've had 11 years of hearing her cry every now and then at visits. Now, it isn't for hunger or diaper changes, it is when we have to say goodbye after a visit and my girls cling together not wanting to leave their sister. Adoption isn't always easy. It was what was best 11 years ago, but it affects so much more than just the 2 of us. Sometimes the sound of crying is my own. Less often than it was years ago, but some days a birth mom has to just cry for the loss she feels.
Day 18: PROMISES. So much hurt and bitterness resides in broken promises. If we, ALL of the adoption triad, would under promise (only promise what we known without a doubt we can uphold) and then over deliver past the expectations...open adoption would be a happier place. I feel blessed in my experience we have followed this route. When I was pregnant and we talked about how we envisioned our adoption plan, we agreed to two visits a year at minimum and to keep contact information updated if we ever move. That's it. We had it notarized as well, which I realize may not hold up in court but it meant a lot to me that they made that gesture. It was a binding agreement to US, our word is our bond. But, my expectations were blown out of the water! Our first visit was a week after she was born, I needed to hold her again and see her in her environment for a new level of peace of healing. Legally I could still change my mind at that point, but they trusted me in how I needed to process my grief. The years following we had visits nearly every month, including sleepovers with them on weekends and even babysitting. As our lives get busier, our visits are much less but still they over deliver...now trusting me to let her sleep over with my kids now within my home. We have our annual Christmas traditions and we've been invited to every birthday party and events like Kindergarten graduations. Moments I will forever treasure. People ask me often why I think our adoption is so successful, this is one of the key components: Less promises, more delivering.
Day 19: A MOTHER IS...both of us. I signed my rights away at 16 years old, placing my baby girl into this amazing woman's arms and trusting her to raise her. She is the one to tuck our daughter in at night, to sign her report cards, and make her favorite dinners. She has such an important role in our daughter's life, a role I wanted her to have. I am her mother too, just in a different way. I love her from a far. I love her with a love that let her go to give her more. I am the mom that gave her life, she is the one that provides care for her in this life. I am not threatened by her role, nor is she of mine. We are secure in our roles knowing our daughter needs both of us. She provides her daily nurturing and caregiving, and I am here when she needs me to be the root to her biological family. It’s become a beautiful network of nature and nurture.
Day 21: THE BIRTHFATHER. It takes two to tango. I often get questions on if we talk or see each other, and if my birth daughter has a relationship with him. The answer is no. He went a different route when we found out I was pregnant with our child, both of us 16 years old. I had envisioned us being a family but instead we went our separate ways. He encouraged adoption and at that point in early pregnancy I insisted on doing things my way, on my own. How could I let my baby go? How could he just move on? We had been a couple for about 9 months off and on at that point, so a break up plus being thrown into the emotions of an unplanned pregnancy was devastating to me. I became depressed and decided I needed a change of scenery, I needed away from the high school that held our memories of holding hands in the hall and notes passed between classes. I needed away from potentially seeing him and him not caring about us. I moved in with my Dad and Stepmom in the middle of my junior year and it was one of the best decisions I ever made. That was a turning point of happiness being recovered and a renewal of me beginning to blossom. Getting away from drama will do that. Still, for several months I held onto bitterness and anger, how can he just walk away? I even held on to hope that he might change his mind. I had reoccurring dreams many nights of him coming back and it would all be okay. But that didn't happen. And truthfully, I am thankful for that now. Him staying away lead me to make my own choices, one that has lead to an incredible adoption and now being married to my soul mate with 4 kids of our own. During my pregnancy I forgave him. I forgave him for the hurt, the abandonment I felt and now I genuine want him to be happy. I do feel sadness that our birth daughter doesn't know him like she may want to as she grows, but I trust God's wisdom and timing. I pray she will trust that, too if it never were to happen. I feel sad that he is missing out on the most amazing little girl, a girl who has his eyes. But, who am I to judge. We all grieve, process, live differently.
(Again...feelings. Missed days.)
Day 30: LIFE AFTER PLACEMENT. I slacked off doing these posts, sad! But I wanted to do one more to end the month. The truth is, it gets hard to constantly sit in adoption memories and emotions so I needed to back off. And really, that's a lot like what life after placement is like. It is a part of you forever, your heart changed matter how you move forward in life. It is wanting to share your story, your pride and joy child, but at the same time wanting to hide from the pain of the loss-- no matter how positive your adoption is. A loss is a loss. It will be felt forever. We move forward, reach new goals like finishing high school, college, getting married, have more kids...but we are changed. I am changed for the better because of her, because of adoption. She redirected my path to God and back to the person I am meant to be. What life looks like now for me is treasuring these kind of moments when all 5 of my kids are together. Birthdays parties, Christmas visits, and especially sleepovers. This is when my heart feels whole again. Life after placement is counting down days until we see each other again, and praising the Lord for technology in between.
I so enjoyed doing this project and received many wonderful heartfelt comments in return on my instagram or Facebook page. I hope next year to do it again and fill in the gaps I couldn't this year. There is so much more to say! As always, I write to share our story to educate and hope that it touches someone's life in some way. Most of all-- I share for my birth daughter so she can know how very much loved she is and that the choice of adoption was not an easy one to make.