‘You might look at these pictures, and feel uncomfortable. You might think, ‘I could never ‘share’ my child like that.’ She leaves the hospital with empty arms.’: Mom says open adoption does not equal co-parenting

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“You might look at a picture like this, of my son squished in a hug between me and his birth mother and you may feel uncomfortable. You might think to yourself, ‘I could never ‘share’ my child like that.’ Or ‘I could never be that supportive of such an open relationship.’ I know, because before I experienced open adoption for myself, the fear, uncertainty and misconceptions used to make me uncomfortable too.

But now I look at a picture like this and I see a confidence and a belonging in my son’s eyes that was not there before. I see confusion being replaced with clarity and loss fading in intensity. I feel the weight of the world lifting off his heart from being grounded in the love and support of his two mothers.

Mother stands outside in snowy weather with adopted teen son and his birth mother

His adoption was closed for 10 years with no contact because of an agency that failed us all. We prayed for this relationship every night. We prayed that she was safe and happy and that she would find peace in knowing he was too. When she found us through Facebook a few months ago we immediately caught up on the last 10 years we had lost and flew her out for a visit. Because of an open adoption he now knows the sound of her laugh and the story of her life. He got to hear her tell him why she chose us to be his parents and how the option of adoption saved her from an impossible situation. He knows where he got his dimples from and his big personality. He knows that he might be tall like his grandpa or live a long and healthy life like his grandma and a thousand other questions that he only ever imagined the answers too.

When we started the process for our second adoption, we made sure we went to an agency who valued open adoption and a birth mother’s wishes. During her second trimester she sent me emails letting me know about the SpaghettiOs he was making her crave. She told me about the conversations she had with him while her hands rested on her belly at night. She told him all about the family that would be adopting him–the mom and dad who would love him and the big brother he would have. She gave us a jar of hundreds of pink and blue candies and made us count every single one to find out if it was a boy or a girl. When we counted a few extra blue ones, we were handed a card from her that said, ‘congratulations you are having a boy!’ She invited me to ultrasounds and put my hand on her belly to make sure I felt him kick. She gave me the closest possible experience to pregnancy that a person can.

Woman stands beside pregnant woman who is carrying the baby she will adopt in front of brick wall

She endured her greatest loss in order to deliver me my greatest joy. She gave him life and loved him first and even though the stretch marks from his pregnancy might not be found on my skin, she made sure they were etched all across my heart before he was ever born.

Woman lays in hospital bed holding her baby that she is giving up for adoption
Mother hugs woman who had the baby she is adopting with her other adopted son in background

It’s been six years since she laid him in my arms and our open adoption has transcended beyond pictures and updates and developed into a relationship more beautiful than I ever could’ve imagined it to be.

Woman stands beside hospital bed looking at newborn she is adopting in arms of birth mother
Birth mother and adoptive mother sit kissing the cheeks of newborn

He asks when he can play with her next and runs to give her a big hug every time he sees her. He holds her hand–the same one that he once wrapped his tiny fingers around on the day he was born. They play tag together and she gets down on the floor to build Legos with him. He makes himself at home on her lap when she reads him a book. We get together to exchange Christmas and birthday presents and she watched him go trick or treating in his first batman costume.

Adopted little boy in Batman costume smiles beside his birth mother in parking lot

She makes him laugh so hard that his smile reaches his eyes. They are the same blue as hers. They share the same strawberry curls and freckles dot his cheeks where her tears once fell.  And for the last 10 years she and her family have made sure our oldest felt included in this openness. They are one of the biggest reasons why he wanted to meet his own biological family when they found us.

Birth mother holds and hugs son she gave up for adoption in front of wall with roller blades

Watching my boys with their birth moms feels a little like being the only one awake to watch the sun rise. It’s one of those rare, deeply awing moments that etches itself deep in your soul and makes your heart settle contently in your chest. One of those moments where I give up words for a while because none of them are big enough to express my deepest, fiercest, gratitude and admiration for these women. Somewhere along the path of our ever-evolving relationships we became motherhood for these beautiful boys. They gave them life and I am teaching them how to live it. They are connecting my boys to a past I cannot give, and I am giving them a future they could not provide.

I will spend the rest of my life looking into eyes that hold no gene of mine and be reminded of the love and bravery and heartbreak it took for them to let their babies go. It is my one great honor to be able to give her back these moments of his life after what she has given me for the rest of mine.

Adoptive mother and birth mother sit on hay bale kissing cheeks of their son

People often ask, ‘Is it hard?’ Hard to watch them together? Yes, friends. It is so hard. It is the agony of wishing they never had to be separated from their biology, but knowing that would mean never getting the chance to be their mother. There is nothing easy about it, but when I think back on the beginning of our adoption journey, I wonder how I ever thought I couldn’t do it. I am so grateful I didn’t let the fear of the unknowns cripple me, and instead let God force my heart wide open. If I hadn’t, I would’ve missed out on knowing and loving the two most incredible women in my life. And worse, my boys would have too.

I guess what I want you to know about open adoption–what I wish I would have understood before going into it–is that watching my children grow to love their biological family does not take anything away from me. It only adds and builds upon the love we already share. I know very well that to the extent that I’ve bonded with my boys, they have also bonded with me in return. Acknowledging that they have two mothers does not force them to split the love between us in any way. It is not a take from one and give to the other kind of love. It’s the same love that stretches and expands in a parent’s heart when they have more children and if parents can love more than one child, then there is no doubt that a child can also love more than one parent. Showing them the trust and confidence I have in that love only serves to strengthen it more. Those fears and uncertainties were quickly replaced with a feeling of honor. The gratitude and admiration I feel for these beautiful women who made me a mother outweighs every other emotion I might have.

I also want others who look at us and wonder how this works, to know that when a birth mother and/or father choose adoption, (and it is done ethically) it is something they think long and hard about. They pray and plan–hopefully with the support of family, counseling and social workers to help them make the best choice for their child. She goes into it knowing that she is signing her parental rights away and will never be able to mother her child. She leaves the hospital or court room with empty arms and grieves the loss of her baby. Open adoption does not equal co-parenting. There are many different variations of openness that are ideally decided between you and her. We were clear with what we are comfortable with, but were willing to open our heart to a love and relationship that deepened and evolved over the years. Ultimately, as our child’s legal guardian and parents, we are the ones who decide how much openness is safest and best for our children, until they can determine that on their own. This takes a lot of love, communication, boundaries and clear expectations from all involved.

We know that not every relationship between a child and their birth parents can be a healthy and safe one, but we advocate for open adoption because when possible, it is in the best interest of an adopted child to have that connection. If we want to love and honor a birth mother, well then, we will always acknowledge the fact that our child is still hers, too. Ours have expressed the peace, strength and healing that comes from being able to see, through pictures, phone calls and visits, that they made the right decision for their child. I think what all parents have in common is that we know that often, the best thing to do for our children is the very hardest thing for us. And no one knows this better than a birth mother.

So please don’t look at a picture like this and think ‘I could never.’ Because you could. And you would.

And you would discover like I did that there is so much love to be found in the brokenness. There is enough love for everyone.

I know now that the greatest gift I can give my child is the freedom to love his birth mother. To let him travel straight into her matching eyes at all of the ‘might have beens’ and ‘what if’s’ for as long as he needs, knowing I’ll still be right here when he returns.”

Birth mother stands outside in snowy weather hugging teen she gave up for adoption at birth

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Kortni Miller, 36, of Utah. You can learn more about their adoption journey on her Instagram, born.from.my.heart.

Be inspired by her larger adoption stories:

‘For us, he was only ever our son. Not our black son or adopted son. Even though most folks find him adorable right now, they might feel differently when he dates their daughters, or walks through the mall with his hoodie on.’

‘Eli and his biological brother who went to another family have lived 45 minutes from each other for their entire lives, and have never met. Until now.’

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