Lessons Learned: Keeping Hope and Making an Honest Connection
After two potential connections fell through, we learned that support from others would have to help us keep faith in our adoption dream. And then an open and honest relationship with a caring birth mother led to an early surprise...
By Emily and Michael
When we were first contacted by Adoptimist about submitting a blog for this series, I was unsure what we could contribute to the conversation. We’re just one story among thousands, and every story looks different. But I know how much it meant to me during our adoption journey to hear from other families who could say, “We’ve been there and we know how this feels.” So this is our story. It’s just one among many, but be encouraged—you’re not alone. We knew that we were ready to start a family about five years ago. I struggled with some health issues and it quickly became clear that we would be unable to conceive without intervention. We came to a simple conclusion: we were ready to be parents and there was a child out there that might be ready for us to be their parent. Adoption would help us connect.
We began simply; we got a home study, told friends, and created a free Wordpress website. As a young couple, we were working on a very limited budget, but we didn’t want that to be a reason for us to not to be able to adopt. We put business cards up in the grocery store, placed an ad on craigslist, and took advantage of any free or discounted opportunities to get our name out. A friend of a friend contacted us about doing an article on the changing face of adoption. In that article, he mentioned Adoptimist—the first time we had heard of the site. We had given ourselves one year to try to adopt independently before contacting an agency, so we decided Adoptimist might be the next step to try during that year.
Here’s the thing about adoption: there isn’t just one way to do it. And it’s an incredibly vulnerable process for everyone involved. You’re presenting yourself to an unknown audience with very little control over who sees your story, if anyone. That is terrifying!
I treated Adoptimist like a job. I made regular updates to our site during times I thought expectant parents might be on the site: breakfast, lunch, and dinner. We didn’t try to be all things to all people; we tried to be us. We wrote several diary entries a week. They weren’t long, but they were little stories and pictures that illustrated who we were. We wrote about the mundane—laundry; and the heartbreak—failed connections; and the hope—trusting that our family would grow. That’s what drew our son’s family to us; they saw that we were real people. We did laundry, we made stupid mistakes, we got tired, we loved each other, we were excited about the birth of nieces while also longing for a child, and we wrote about it.
Here’s the thing about adoption: there isn’t just one way to do it. And it’s an incredibly vulnerable process for everyone involved. You’re presenting yourself to an unknown audience with very little control over who sees your story, if anyone. That is terrifying! Well, it was terrifying to private, introverted me. And it’s emotional. Adoption does not happen in a vacuum. You’re presenting a hopeful version of yourself to the world when sometimes you feel completely hopeless. You’re holding grief and joy, pain and hope very close to each other, so give yourself permission (as I tell my preschool students) to feel ALL the feelings. Most likely, everyone involved is feeling ALL the feelings, so acknowledge it. It’s okay.
We had two potential connections before meeting our son’s birth family. I won’t go into the specifics of those situations because as I’ve said, every story is different, but we learned a few things as we processed the pain and sadness associated with them. The first was how much we wanted to be parents. It’s a really painful way to discover that, but it can be a productive pain. We wanted to be parents, and we were committed to pursuing this.
You MUST find people you feel safe with who will fully commit with you to each situation and who don’t have a solution to your pain but are willing to walk through it with you—to just sit with you…to be present.
Our second lesson was how much we needed the support of others. With adoption, you often want to keep your emotions private from others before you “know for sure” that this child is yours. Frankly, it is exhausting to say, “This might be happening,” only to have it not happen—potentially over and over. But, you MUST find people you feel safe with who will fully commit with you to each situation and who don’t have a solution to your pain but are willing to walk through it with you—to just sit with you…to be present. For us that was our family, a few friends who had adopted, and a select group of supportive co-workers. If you don’t have a support system close by, look up local chapters of adoption support groups. They are out there. Email other Adoptimist families that might be in your region. Adoption can feel very lonely, but when you connect with other adopting families, you realize how many of us have experienced the same emotions.
This is a relationship that will affect you both for the rest of your lives, so check your gut—does this feel right?
We also had a very healthy degree of skepticism when families contacted us. We came to the table with good faith but also protected ourselves. There are no hard and fast rules about adoption scams, but we trusted our gut. For example, we had a few people who said they were the fathers of unborn babies. While there are situations where a father may contact you first, if he is unwilling to let you talk to the mother, you should be cautious. We directed these folks to speak with our lawyer about arrangements, but we never heard from them again. We also had someone offer to bring a baby to the United States to make it a “domestic adoption.” That is patently illegal and I told them as much. We never heard from them again, either. There is a reason adoption laws and professionals exist. They’re there to protect all parties involved—expectant parents, adoptive parents, and children. Familiarize yourselves with the legal process of adoption. There are minor variations across states, but there are some general rules of best practice that will serve you well on your journey. Become your own advocate.
About two months after being on the site, we were connected with our son’s mom. It was an incredibly gentle, loving, joyful—and yes—awkward experience. You don’t know this person, you’re talking about one of the biggest life decisions you are both making, and you don’t have a road map. We lived in different states, so we connected via telephone. It was the typical stepping on each other’s sentences as you’re each anticipating how long the other person will pause, not yet knowing their conversational rhythms. Acknowledge out loud the awkwardness; it’s likely you’re both feeling it. You will move past that as you get to know each other. Again, be yourself.
We were open and honest as we navigated this new relationship. This is the time to sort out whether you’re a good match for each other. This is a relationship that will affect you both for the rest of your lives, so check your gut—does this feel right? With our son’s mom, it did. Are our lives different? Sure, but we have many shared experiences, as well. We spent time getting to know each other as people first before we even talked about the baby. We wanted to know her, and we wanted her to know that we valued her as a whole person. So we talked about how we each grew up, what we loved to do, and our favorite memories. She wanted to know us as people, too. Before our son was born, we sent her a Mother’s Day card, and she sent me one. We are both mothers and we both care about this baby.
Our son’s birth mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother and our family—including my best friend—gathered around the crib in the NICU and sang, prayed, cried, and laughed together.
Our son ended up coming a month early and was born as we were making the 15-hour drive to the hospital. I’ve never cried so much in my life. Ever. I made every nurse in the hospital (even the most no-nonsense ones) cry. We were a hot, tired, elated mess.
We knew the legal language of adoption could sometimes be rather harsh and emotionless, particularly toward birth parents, so we wanted to find a way for our son’s first family and our new family to connect and honor the roles each of us would have. My father, a minister, wrote and facilitated an entrustment ceremony for us. Our son’s birth mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother and our family—including my best friend—gathered around the crib in the NICU and sang, prayed, cried, and laughed together. It marked the beginning of our life as parents.
Since our adoption we have maintained contact. We do not have a formal agreement, but we talked through it in the hospital. (Because our son came early, there were a few conversations we hadn’t yet had!) Many states do have a written compact, or your lawyer/agency might have a document. I think you should absolutely use those as a guide. I’m sure our relationship will evolve, but the important piece moving forward is that we trust each other and we’ve each maintained our promises. Don’t cut and run. Open adoption isn’t always easy, so if you’re not prepared or comfortable with it, you should speak with a counselor. Adoption is a series of choices: some emotional, some rational, and many life changing. You can do this.
As I look back on our experience, here are a few things, practical and otherwise, that I offer to encourage you:
1. Be you. Not the “beauty pageant” version (unless you’re a beauty queen— then by all means, promote that!) but the real you. One of the first diary entries I wrote was about our dog being skunked for the third time—not glamorous, but part of life on a farm. If someone were looking for a city family, that entry would have turned them away, but another person might love the idea of stinky dogs.
2. Be vulnerable but not desperate. When you’re contacted, it’s your prerogative to fully investigate the information you’re given. I researched a few numbers of people who contacted us, and one turned out to be an exotic animal dealer in the UK, so my suspicion was justified. If you’re not sure about a situation, refer them to your lawyer or the agency you’re working with.
3. Commit to honest connections and grieve them if they fall apart. It’s not your job to make decisions for expectant families; it’s your job to begin an honest relationship with that family and child and love them until you’re released from it. As hard as it is, your job may have been to love that family for a period of time and then to let it go. We had two potential situations fall apart and they felt like miscarriages, emotionally. There are no physical scars, but it hurts. So much. Don’t do this alone. Find a support system and grieve. We’re not meant to do this in isolation.
4. Use good photos! I know, I said not to be the “beauty pageant” you, but try to use photos that are clear and show who you are or what you love. With the ubiquity of good cell phone cameras these days, ask a friend to follow you around for a day and capture your life. If writing isn’t your thing, pictures can tell a story, as well. Sharing a photo of something you find interesting—maybe a weird pattern in a brick wall or your favorite café—gives people a window into your head. Someone might like how you think!
5. Be honest. If you’re not comfortable with something, say it. I know it can feel like you don’t want to say or do the wrong thing and disrupt a relationship with someone you’re just getting to know. But you have to lay a foundation of trust, not a foundation of things you think the other person wants to hear. Yes, our adoption was a wonderful experience, but it was not without moments of fear and confusion. We had to say hard things to each other so we could move forward honestly and with understanding. It feels like cliff diving, but you will survive.
6. Don’t give up hope. Just don’t. I wish I could say something that would be meaningful during the wait, but there really isn’t any other way through it. All I can offer is this: you’re not alone. Thank you for sharing this adventure with us.
We wish you peace and joy—yes, joy—in your journey.
We adopted a 10 day old baby 50 years ago. We love her so much and she is very much “ours.”
I also gave birth to a son. The excitement and love is wonderful both ways. We are so blessed.
By Marilyn Erickson on Aug 31 2016
Thank you for such encouraging words. Truely blessed you are! Congratulations..
By Dustin and Christy Riddell on May 28 2022