‘Thank you for making me a Mommy,’ I whispered. We held each other and cried. We are BOTH her mom. I knew the connection was real. There’s no one else I’d rather do this with.’

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“There’s a running joke between my husband and I – ‘I have no idea how we ended up married.’ It’s true. Austin and I grew up in this super tiny town in northern Ohio and were friends for years before he finally worked up enough courage to ask me out for drinks one night. I agreed, but with the caveat that we were going out as friends, and that I would ‘never, ever date him.’ I still don’t know what happened. Perhaps it was his smile, his patience, or his ability to cook better than I could ever pretend to, but a few weeks later we found ourselves on our third date, walking the streets of our tiny town discussing the ways we could one day start a family. You see, being friends for all of those years prior meant I knew all about his cancer diagnosis, the treatment that left him infertile, and the importance of such an intense discussion at such an early point in our relationship.

Courtesy of Kari Halterman

Time passed and we fell in love. We got married, talked more about our dreams, and were ready to fill our arms with little ones to love. I’d always dreamed about becoming a mom. I wanted the round belly, the baby kicks, and the birth experience, so we turned to IVF. Months of doctor’s appointments, multiple surgeries, daily injections, lab work, and ultrasounds. We drove 4 hours round trip to get to our clinic each day. But for a chance at a baby, it was worth it. On March 17, 2017, we got the call – ‘Congratulations! You are pregnant!’ We were elated. We saw ultrasounds with the tiniest beginnings of our baby growing week by week. And then, one day, there was no heartbeat. We were devastated.

CAP-ture Photography
Courtesy of Kari Halterman

After a few months, we decided to reevaluate. Was it a baby we wanted, or was it a pregnancy? The more we talked, the more our hearts opened to adoption. We knew we didn’t need to be biologically connected to a child to love them. We researched, talked with friends, prayed, and prayed again. We filled out mountains of paperwork, invited social workers into our home, and officially started our adoption journey in the fall of 2017.

Over the course of 8 weeks, we saw profiles of 32 different women thinking of making adoption plans. We prayed over each of them, but something about Crystal’s just felt different. I stayed up until the wee hours of the morning writing her a letter – ‘We want you to know we are proud of you, we are here to cheer you on, and to watch you be the amazing mom we know you are.’ Those first words will never leave me. I’d look over that letter so many times over the weeks that followed; critiquing all of my grammatical mistakes, questioning my word choices, and hoping she would feel the same connection with us that we felt with her.

Courtesy of Kari Halterman

She called us the day after Christmas. I was so nervous. I didn’t know what to say or what not to say, but when I heard her voice, I just knew the connection was real. Over the next month, we got to know each other more. We planned a trip to visit her and embarked on this new adventure of ‘open adoption.’ In late January, we flew to Florida. There were no social workers, no lawyers, no mediators to guide us – just us, learning about each other, trying not to cross unknown boundaries, and both loving the precious little girl growing inside her belly.

Romina’s Photography

Navigating the weeks between being chosen and Maia’s birth was so hard. I always tell people it’s like dating as a teenager – you’re both too afraid to speak honestly, you question if you’re saying too much or not enough, and you constantly wonder if they really like you as much as you like them. I always wanted Crystal to know how loved she was. I wanted her to know that no matter her decision, I would be there for her. And, in just a few short weeks, I had fallen madly in love with her and her kiddos. In the weeks leading up to her due date, I made it my job to learn everything about her that I could – her favorite foods, stories of her childhood, her hopes and dreams for the future. And, over time, she invited me into her sacred spaces. Despite living thousands of miles away from each other, we were able to take maternity photos together. I accompanied her to doctor’s appointments, and I sobbed hysterically when she texted me asking if I would be in the delivery room with her when our daughter was born.

Romina’s Photography
Romina’s Photography

On March 7, 2018, I woke up to a call from Crystal. It was time. We rushed to the hospital, and then, at 7:44 a.m., we welcomed our daughter into the world. The most beautiful 6 pounds and 19 inches I’d ever seen. Crystal held her first. As I watched them together, I memorized Crystal’s beautiful blue-gray eyes, the same eyes she shares with Maia, completely fixated on the precious little girl she loves more than words could ever describe. Her love and pain radiating through every moment.

Courtesy of Kari Halterman

Two days later, Austin and I sat and waited. Anxious and nervous and heartbroken and filled with joy all at once. Adoption is, without a doubt, the most beautifully broken thing I’ve ever known. We knew the sorrow of having a child taken from us before we were ready, and yet, just feet away, Crystal was signing the papers that would make Maia ours instead of hers. When the papers were signed, we held each other and cried. ‘Thank you for making me a Mommy,’ I whispered through the tears. We left the hospital, finally, a family of three, while she left empty-bellied and with empty arms. But our love for her didn’t stop there.

Courtesy of Kari Halterman
Courtesy of Kari Halterman

For us, open adoption has always been more than just letters and pictures once a year. It’s commitment – to Maia, to her birth mom, and to her siblings. It’s honesty. The first day we met, we gave Crystal our full names, our real phone numbers, and our address – because if we didn’t trust her whole-heartedly, how could we expect her to trust us? It’s supporting each other through the good times and the bad. The day we left the hospital, I made Crystal a promise – I would always be there whenever she needed me – be it by phone, or prayer, or plane.

Romina’s Photography
Romina’s Photography

It’s so easy for others to look at our relationship and think it’s strange or to question how we make it work. But here’s the thing, we didn’t get to this point in our relationship by chance. It takes effort – education, commitment, and constantly stretching our comfort zones to better care for and love each other well. We’re still learning, and we will be for years to come. But, I’ve never once felt like having an open adoption has made me any less of Maia’s mom. She still cries for me when she’s sad. I still rock her to sleep each night. Every time we visit with her first family, it gives me so much joy to watch her run into her mama’s arms. And, every time we say goodbye, Austin has to hold me up as I sob in the middle of the airport, devastated that we can’t be together all the time and terrified that this goodbye could be the last. Crystal gave us our greatest joy. Without her, I wouldn’t be a mom at all.

Rikki Renee Photography
Rikki Renee Photography

Open adoption has been our greatest joy and the biggest blessing. It is truly beauty from ashes. Individually, our stories start with brokenness, but together, they are a beautiful mosaic masterpiece. I never expected to fall so far in love with my child’s birth family, but I can’t imagine doing this any other way. We’ve shared so many firsts, and I know there is so much more to come. Raising our daughter together has been an honor and a complete dream come true. There’s no one else I’d rather share motherhood with.

Rikki Renee Photography

There’s no guide book on how to navigate this relationship, so we’re just making it up day by day. We’re choosing to love unconditionally and unrelentingly, not just our little girl, but each other. We are both her mom – Crystal in a way that I will never be, and I in a way that she will never be, but both equally important and an integral part of Maia’s story. So often, I think we underestimate our kids. If we, as parents, can love more than one child, why on Earth do we assume they can’t love more than one mom?”

Courtesy of Kari Halterman
Rikki Renee Photography
Rikki Renee Photography

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Kari Halterman of Toledo, Ohio. The story was shared with permission from all parties. You can follow Kari’s adoption journey on Instagram. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.

Read more beautiful stories of open adoption:

‘If I could find a mom I could have a relationship with like you have with her birth mom, I’d do it.’ Jason and I looked at each other. ‘Well don’t count us out!’ Her face lit up.’

‘It hit me in that moment, this baby is not yet mine. He is hers. I gravitated to her. ‘Do you want to meet your son Miller?’ I took him in my arms and stared down.’

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