Thank you, Bye.
Her chapter has ended, and now ours will begin.
That’s an honest account of how I felt… before our first child was born.
As we celebrate Birth Mother’s Day and Mother’s Day this weekend, it is a good time for some real-talk about adoption, specifically how lopsided it can feel. Here I’ll share the experience of our first adoption to open up what can be a challenging topic to address for anyone involved in adoption.
Our first adoption was referred to by our attorney as “an exception to the rule.” We were contacted by a birth mom just 1.5 weeks after listing our profile on a self-matching website. She was 38 weeks pregnant, with a boy, and wanted a closed adoption (she had kept the pregnancy a secret, and didn’t want the extended birth family to know about the baby for personal reasons). To protect her identity, I’ll refer to her as Sarah.
A week later, we were on a plane to Michigan to meet Sarah and the birth father – two people that, under any other circumstances, we’d choose to be friends with. Smart, kind, healthy, loving, rational, adventurous, funny. They were younger than us, at 29 and 33, but very mature. They also happened to be extremely attractive, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t look at their features, and imagine the beautiful child they would make.
We were one of three families they’d invited to Michigan to meet with – before deciding whom to select as the parents for their unborn child. Lucky for us, they called a few days after we’d returned home to give us the good news. We were going to be parents.
A week later – after a short, four hour labor, Sarah had delivered a healthy baby boy, and was texting me requesting his name. At the time I received the text, we were scrambling to rearrange flights to get to Michigan.
From posting our profile online to holding our son in our arms – a total of three weeks had passed.
We arrived at the hospital 10 long hours after she’d given birth. Sarah chose to breast feed, something she’d told me she felt strongly about – to give our son as many nutrients as she could. As the adoptive parent, I knew either one of those incredibly bonding circumstances had the potential to derail the adoption.
On the flight to Michigan, Jaime and I discussed that this could be a weekend getaway, or it could be the weekend we became parents. We had to be OK either way.
We were greeted by smiling faces upon entering the maternity ward. The nurses seemed to know who we were, and ushered us into a large hospital room to drop our bags.
I try to caution adoptive parents that there is something that will happen when your child is born.
So much of my focus had been spent trying to “get picked,” that I hadn’t thought about the depth and range of emotions that would manifest as a result of being picked.
It hit me when we walked into Sarah’s hospital room.
That a woman would endure 40 weeks of physical, hormonal, emotional changes – entertaining comments from friends, family and society-at-large about her rounding belly, when she’s due, whether she knows what “it” is – only to go through labor, and give birth.
Here on the West Coast, we’ve been dealing with a shelter-in-place order for 8 weeks, and people (me, included) are cracking.
Sarah endured 40 weeks of pregnancy laced with emotional toil. And stopped at Target, in active labor, to buy a baby blanket and a “Congratulations” card for us, before she notified the hospital staff of our pending arrival, and arranged for our hospital room.
The depth of her giving felt like a weighted blanket. It was heavy. Like gravity-on-steroids heavy.
When we entered her hospital room, our swaddled baby boy was sleeping peacefully in his bassinet. Sarah was lying in bed, talking with the birth father who sat across from her. My hands shook, and my heart raced. After a round of hugs between all of us, Sarah scooped our son out of the bassinet and handed him to me. “Here is your son,” she said softly, through a brave face.
It’s an intimidating amount of responsibility – to be bestowed the honor of parenting. Like biological parents, the feeling of responsibility and accountability to the child is immediate. But, unlike biological parents, the feelings of responsibility and accountability to the birth parents is also immediate.
I wanted our son with every fiber in my body, but did not anticipate the overwhelming guilt I felt. Realizing that Sarah’s incredible act of love for him – placing him for adoption – would most certainly lead her to a level of pain – the depth of which I would never be able to fathom. That her pain was the direct inverse to our joy.
I don’t want to compare my adoptive mom-guilt to her birth-mom grief, because as stated above, she wins that sad competition every time. The point is, birth mom grief is a real thing, just as adoptive parent guilt is a real thing. And neither one ever goes away.
For the next two days, we shared in the care of our newborn son. When he was hungry, we’d wheel him into Sarah’s room so she could feed and snuggle him. Our point of view was she should have as much time with him as possible. When we weren’t with our son, we were on phone calls with our attorney, or meeting with the social worker at the hospital to make sure all the appropriate paperwork was being handled.
As Sarah’s body recovered – enough to check out of the hospital, my body started to ache.
Sarah had asked that the adoption be closed, and prior to the last few days we’d defaulted to her on the future of our relationship. But now, the idea that we wouldn’t have contact with her – that this fiercely brave woman who willingly broke her own heart to make ours whole – wouldn’t have a window (or double door) into our lives – felt so utterly wrong. My entire being wanted her to be in our life – in whatever capacity she was comfortable with.
Thankfully she felt comfortable enough to text the day after leaving the hospital, admitting that the separation was much harder than she’d anticipated. She wondered if we’d be open to communicating with her more frequently in the first few months, and then we could determine a regular cadence as he grew. We, of course, agreed.
Six years later, our relationship is stronger than it was then. Sarah is now married, with two kids. We, primarily my husband, sends her updates quarterly – with pictures and videos, and it’s fun (not threatening as I’d once anticipated) for us to hear how she attributes some of our son’s tendencies. It’s a prized relationship that is lovingly fostered – by all of us, for all of us.
Today, on National Birth Mother’s Day – in celebrating Sarah, we whole-heartedly celebrate all birth moms – and it is our hope that Pairtree is able to play a role in creating more equitable and ethical practices for birth moms forever.