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Open Adoption: A Birth Mother's Perspective

Renee with her son when his family visited her at grad school.

I had never given much thought to whether or not I wanted kids. When you're a teenager, babies are on the "I've Got Time So I'll Put That On the Back Burner" list that you file away in the depths of your brain. Even so, I figured if I ever had kids, it would be when I was happily married to a handsome, supportive, successful man; lived in a lovely three-bedroom house with a spacious backyard; and had a successful career of my own (Ah, the dreams we have as hopeful teenagers, am I right?). Adoption was never part of the plan.

I certainly didn't expect to be an 18-year-old college freshman; living with my parents; in a shaky, unstable "first love" relationship; pregnant; and considering adoption. Alas, that is what my situation was...and looking back, I wouldn't have it any other way.

From the moment I found out I was pregnant, I knew two things: I wasn't ready to be a mom, and I was already madly in love with my little man (hooray, baby boy!). I wanted to give him the world, except I didn't have the world to give. I was a part-time waitress, a full-time student, and my year-long relationship with the father fell apart a few short weeks into my pregnancy. Considering these circumstances, adoption was the first thing that came to mind. I had seen "Juno." I knew what I was doing.


I found an agency and began working with a social worker on the adoption process. Needless to say, there was much more involved in real life than in "Juno." Another big difference between Juno and I: I wanted an open adoption—wide open, as open as "open" gets. I wanted my son to have a better life than the one I thought I could offer him, and I wanted to be a part of that life. I wanted to watch him grow up.

Consequently, when my social worker brought in a stack of adoptive parent profiles, they were all couples who were looking for an open relationship with the birth mother. I flipped through a few, thinking, "This is the biggest decision I will ever make, for me and for my son. This choice will determine the course of the rest of our lives." No pressure.

Then I found them: a light-green book with a picture of a happy little family on the front; a mother, father, and son. They were looking for a birth mother who lived in the same state as they did, or in one of the states directly bordering theirs, so that it would be easier to stay in touch and see each other (um, jackpot). They already had a son of their own (who was 6 years old and still alive...solid track record), and they lived close to their extended families, so they had quite the community surrounding them. It was love at first sight.

We met in person and exchanged information. The adoptive mother and I began exchanging emails almost daily, getting to know one another. They came to visit me twice before my son was born so that they could meet my family and just hang out. They disclosed their past failed adoptions, and my heart went out to them as I vowed not to be another heartbreak on their list.

Then my son was born. He was tiny and perfect, and he had a cleft chin that I just couldn't get over. I called the family to tell them he had been born, but we had agreed that they wouldn't come to the hospital. They wanted to give me some time and space with my son, and I needed it. Instead, they sent me flowers with a card that said, "Looking forward to a lifetime together." I still have that card today.

In our state, a birth mother has seven days to change her mind after she signs the adoption papers. I was tempted. I was more in love with that little boy than I could have ever possibly imagined. I didn't know I even had the capacity to love that much. I fell out of touch with the family, sending only occasional texts as I struggled with my choice. I knew I needed my son, and I also knew he didn't "need" me. In fact, he needed more than I could give him. I was in a stalemate for days.

Then I embraced the openness. I emailed the adoptive mom and told her how difficult this choice was and how stuck I felt. I told her how afraid I was that our openness would be awkward and strange, and how scared I was that they would change their minds and put restrictions on our openness. She responded beautifully and openly as well. She spoke about how much she was looking forward to sharing motherhood with me and truly becoming one another's family.

That was almost six years ago. After that last email exchange, I found the peace of mind I needed, and my son was adopted. It has been a beautiful journey ever since. I visited him monthly for years as they gave me time to adjust and process. They were amazingly supportive and would plop my son in my arms the moment we got together. Now our schedules are hectic, and sometimes it's a few months before we see one another, and that's perfectly okay because we know we'll always find time to spend together. I started a blog about my experience, and it brought us even closer together because we got to know each other on a more personal level.

Now I'll go to visit, not only to see my son, but to hang out with his mom or grab a beer with his dad. His mom keeps me updated if he gets hurt or sick. When I moved to go to graduate school, they sold me their couch and helped me hang pictures up on my wall. If I'm in their area for a meeting, I'll swing by for lunch. My son calls me "Nay-Nay" and knows I'm his birth mother, and he tells me he loves me. We all spend Mother's Day weekend together at the beach. We are family.

So, I may not have the handsome husband or three-bedroom house or spacious backyard (yet...fingers crossed). Instead, I have an amazing, supportive extended family that is filled with more people and more love than I would have thought possible, for me and my little man, and I can't wait to continue our journey together.