At the end of my son’s placement with his adoptive family, we laughed and hugged as we parted ways. The tears had dried and were replaced with hope and joy for the bright future ahead. I knew I would be able to look back on this day as a perfectly happy experience.
The same could not be said for the experience I had about eight months before my son’s placement. As I looked at the positive test in my hand, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. I knew better. I was a twenty-seven year old pre-medical student, and I knew how babies were made. Oh man.
My boyfriend was there when I found out I was pregnant. He was the last person I wanted to deal with at that moment. I was supposed to leave for Thailand in the morning for a month-long volunteer trip. I was supposed to have a month away from him. Now I had to consider my options, including marriage. Abortion was not an option for me, and I strongly believe children do best with both a mother and a father in the home. So I said I would think about it in Thailand and we would talk when I got back.
The morning sickness was so bad that I had to come back from Thailand after only a week. As I spent time talking with my boyfriend, it became more and more clear to me that he was not a man I wanted to marry or raise a child with. I went home to see my family over Christmas, and with their support I began to piece together a plan. By the end of the holidays, I knew that adoption would be best for both my child and me.
My boyfriend was very ignorant about adoption – when I told him my thoughts and desires, he said that abortion would be better than placing our child in an adoptive family. I tried to talk to him and share my personal experiences with friends from high school who had placed their children for adoption, but he didn’t want to listen. He was very angry with me and I couldn’t understand why he was so narrow-minded. We broke up, and he packed up his car and headed back home to the east coast within twenty-four hours.
Then, I waited. I wanted to wait until I had health insurance before I went to the doctor for a prenatal check-up, and I wanted to wait until the risk of miscarriage was past before I started the adoption process. I was very practical throughout my entire pregnancy. When I went to see a caseworker at an adoption agency, I already knew that I wanted to place my child for adoption and that I wanted an open adoption. I think my case worker was a little surprised at my certainty. It is good to know now that no adoption agency had any influence over my decision.
One of my top priorities in talking with my caseworker was to hammer out my legal rights and obligations as a birthmother in the adoption process. For instance, I learned that it is the father’s sole responsibility to seek out information and establish paternity rights in the state of Oregon. Up until then, I had assumed I was obligated to call my ex-boyfriend and give him updates on a fairly regular basis, and that he automatically had paternity rights and would need to give permission for the adoption to go through. Once I told him that it was his responsibility to call, he got mad and never called again. I also learned that in OR there is no time frame after relinquishment in which to change your mind. (Adoption laws vary greatly in every state and I always encourage women considering adoption to know well the law in theirs).
Since I had chosen an open adoption plan, I got to choose what kind of family I wanted to place my child with. I could choose everything from the most basic parameters, such as age and what religion they were, to very specific details, such as how many children they already had, specific hobbies and if they had any pets. I decided that one of my priorities would be to find a family that had already adopted. I knew that families who had been through the adoption process often had scars from bad experiences, but I wanted the assurance that at least one of us had been through this before.
I chose a family that had not only previously adopted a little boy, but also met all my other picky requirements. We were able to spend a lot of time together during the remainder of my pregnancy, and we bonded over an ultrasound, regular picnics in the park, prenatal check-ups and a maternity photo shoot. Sadly, they had also been through a painful experience with a birthmother who had changed her mind two days after placement and decided to parent her baby. They still had some reservations about trusting my decision completely, but I knew without a doubt that I wanted my childto be part of this wonderful family and encouraged them to be excited about the upcoming birth.
When the big day came, my baby’s adoptive parents arrived at the hospital four minutes after I did. I wanted them to be present at the birth so that they could bond with their child as soon as possible, and so they would be able to tell him about the day he was born. It was an awesome and magical experience, and I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
I gave birth to a perfect baby boy with a full head of hair and dark blue eyes. I gave him a sentimental family name on his birth certificate and they named him Oliver. His dad cut Oliver’s umbilical cord and together they both gave him his first bath. His mom held him skin-to-skin to warm him up when his temperature started dropping while I was recovering after the delivery. Their excitement and joy in these moments was my excitement and my joy. I treasure the memory of the awe and wonderment in their expressions and tears as they met, fed and cared for their brand new baby.
Then they left, and it was my turn. For the rest of my stay at the hospital, it was just me and little Oliver. I loved him more than I thought was possible – I still do. While holding him and gazing at him, I was more certain than ever that I wanted the very best life for my little boy, and I never wavered in my decision to place. My only want was for him to have everything, and more.
When placement came, I was as ready as humanly possible. I had heard heart-wrenching horror stories from birthmothers who had wept inconsolably as they placed their babies with their new families, never wanting to let go and feeling empty and heart-broken afterward. I didn’t want that – not for me, not for my baby, not for my baby’s family. I had been preparing for placement day from the very beginning of the adoption process; after all, this moment was what it was all about.
I didn’t want to make Oliver’s new family feel outnumbered, so I just brought a few important people with me – my mom, my “second mom” who had been a family friend and mentor since I was a little girl, my caseworker and my birth coach. My birth coach’s husband also came along to take pictures of this important day. The adoptive dad’s cousin came to help watch their two year old. Almost everyone had met each other before the placement, which helped to put everyone at ease.
My rule about the placement was that no one was allowed to cry – except me, because it was my placement. I didn’t want to dwell on the sadness of parting, but to celebrate new life, new love, new beginnings and new adventures. I planned some little sentiments to commemorate the moment – we toasted with sparkling apple cider and exchanged some small gifts.
After our little celebration was over, it was time to go. I didn’t want to drag it out, but if I could have frozen time and held him there forever, I would have. I remember holding him and looking at him through my tears and walking through how I would pass him to his adoptive mother in my head. I placed him in the arms of his parents and said “see you later” instead of “goodbye”. Everyone did end up crying in the last moments, but by the time we exchanged hugs and left, everyone was smiling and laughing again.
The placement is often the hardest part for a birth mother, so I would encourage anyone who chooses adoption to find a way to make it mean something to you. Another birth mom I knew had root beer floats at her placement. Try to incorporate part of your personality into the placement, and think of it as a starting off point rather than an ending.
Today, I have no regrets. My son is a happy little toddler now, and I’m a busy first year medical student. I’m better off and he is better off. It has been hard at times, but not as hard as people had told me – or as hard as single parenting would be. Open adoption is a relationship, and any relationship takes a lot of work, but we have smoothed out the worst of the communication issues by this point, and I am perfectly confident that my son is very happy, very loved and very well cared for, as am I. Adoption can be what you make of it. Gather all the information possible, choose a family that you connect with and find some little ways to make the adoption process meaningful to you, and you can make it a very positive experience for everyone involved.