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What Open Adoption Means to My Family

I am proud to be building my family through open adoption. As hopeful adoptive parents, Sean and I were thrilled to have the opportunity to meet our daughter’s birth mother, Paige, during her pregnancy.   Just one week after we were matched, Sean and I flew to Paige’s small hometown and met her at a restaurant.  She was shy, reserved, polite, and very sweet.  We hit it off immediately, and this personal meeting helped all three of us feel a sense of peace and comfort about our adoption plan. As a brand-new mom, I felt incredibly grateful to Paige as I held my sweet baby girl, Natalie.   Without Paige, I would not have become a mom, and without Paige’s decision to make an adoption plan, this precious little girl would not have been my daughter. As a child psychologist, I believe that it is very important to help my children develop healthy identities, good self-esteem, and robust mental health.  To this end, Sean and I have spoken with Natalie frequently and openly about her adoption story ever since she was a newborn baby. Sean and I have a framed picture of the two of us with a pregnant Paige on the dresser in our bedroom.   When Natalie was a year old, we would point to each person in the picture and ask her: “Who is this?”  She would point out “Mama,” “Dada,” and “Miss Paige.”  Then I would ask: “Who is in Miss Paige’s tummy?”  And she grin as she replied: “Me!” For Natalie’s second birthday, I gave her a book that I wrote about her adoption story.  This book contains pictures of Sean and me with Paige during her pregnancy, ultrasounds of Natalie, and pictures of her in the hospital shortly after birth.  Shortly thereafter, Natalie would begin telling us parts of her story, such as: “I was born in Georgia, and Mommy and Daddy drove far, far, away to get me.” As Natalie got older, we encouraged her to ask questions about her origins and we made it clear to that we are always willing to discuss this topic with her.  It is, after all, HER story.  As a precocious little 2-year-old, Natalie began asking questions about her birth.  For example: “How did I come out of Miss Paige’s tummy?”  and “Did I have any toys or books when I was inside Miss Paige’s tummy?”  Sean and I took great care to answer her questions truthfully, and on a level that she could understand. As many of her friends’ mothers became pregnant and welcomed little brothers and sisters, we spoke more and more about where babies come from and how families are formed in different ways.   We read children’s books about families formed by birth, by marriage, and of course, by adoption.  She loved these tales of mommies and daddies flying to faraway lands to bring home their precious children. When Natalie turned three, she began acting out various stories of birth and adoption as she played with her toys.  Some days, she would put a doll inside her shirt and say: “Look, Mommy and Daddy, I’m pregnant!”  Then she would “deliver” the baby by pulling it out of her shirt, cuddle it in her arms, and say: “Look, Mommy and Daddy, this is your granddaughter.”  Other days, she would put little people in her small pink plane and make it fly across the playroom, explaining that these mommies and daddies were flying to Georgia to adopt their baby. As Natalie grew more verbal and more capable of understanding complicated concepts, we spoke with her about the reasons why women make adoption plans and the reasons why Paige chose adoption for her.  We explained that Paige was too young to be a mommy, was not married, and did not have enough money to pay for everything a baby needs.  We also explained that Paige loved her very much and wanted to make sure that she grew up in a family with a mommy and a daddy who had good jobs and enough money to take care of her.  We told Natalie that Paige was sad that she could not be her mommy, but that she chose adoption out of love for her, because she knew it was the best choice for Natalie.  We ended these conversations expressing how thankful we are to be her parents and how grateful we are to Paige for helping us to become a family. Natalie is four years old now, and she frequently initiates conversations about adoption with family and with friends.   These conversations happen so naturally and so lovingly that it always makes me grin with pride.  For example, Natalie has informed us that she plans to adopt twins when she grows up.  Natalie is very much aware that we are currently waiting to adopt another baby, and she often asks us: “Is today the day when my baby brother or sister comes home?”  Last year, Natalie’s preschool teacher told me that she has overheard Natalie talking to her classmates about how her family is “waiting for a baby to adopt” when the other children discussed their younger siblings. Several months ago, Natalie looked at me wistfully and said: “Mommy, I love you very much.  And I would like to meet Miss Paige.”  My first reaction was surprise: I expected Natalie to make this request at some point, of course, but perhaps not so soon.  My second reaction was pride and joy: Natalie’s request to meet Paige suggested to me that she has positive feelings about her adoption!  I smiled at Natalie and replied: “I love you very much, too, and I will do whatever I can to make that happen.” First, I needed to find out if Paige was open to meeting Natalie.  In our adoption agreement, Paige had requested annual letters and pictures (which we have been sending) but not visits, although we told her during her pregnancy that we would be glad to facilitate visits in the future if she changed her mind.   I wanted to respect Paige’s wishes and boundaries, so I contacted ANLC to ask for advice.  The birth mother advocate who had worked with Paige on her adoption plan reached out to Paige, told her that Natalie would like to meet her, and asked her how she felt about it.  Paige was surprised to get this call, as she also expected it to happen later in Natalie’s life, but fortunately she agreed to the visit since Natalie had requested it. A few weeks later, Sean, Natalie, and I flew to Georgia and met Paige at a park in the small town where Natalie was born and where Paige still lived.   At first, both Paige and Natalie were quiet, shy, and reserved (now we know where Natalie got this trait!).  Natalie gave Paige a wallet-sized school picture and a painting she had made.   After that, Natalie, Paige, and I played together while Sean sat on a bench and watched.  We played hide-and-seek, store, and race cars.  We went on the swings and the slide and the monkey bars.  By the end of our visit, Natalie and Paige were chatting up a storm and playing together like old friends.   At the end of the visit, Natalie and Paige hugged warmly and Sean and I thanked her for allowing us to visit. A few days later, when we were back at home, Natalie said to me: “I’m the luckiest girl in the universe because Miss Paige lives close to us and we got to visit her.”  This comment warmed my heart and reconfirmed what I already knew instinctively – that Natalie feels secure in her family and secure in knowing where she came from.  She knows that she is loved and cherished not only by her parents, but also by her birth mother.  Open adoption has worked beautifully for our family.  I think this makes me the luckiest mom in the universe.