Of two things I am certain 1) that my daughter loves me and 2) that I made the right choice. I am a birthfather and 15 years ago I chose to place my daughter, Belle, in open adoption.
When I think back about Belle’s birth and pregnancy, it’s hard to pinpoint any singular moment in time when her birthmother and I decided that adoption was right for us. There was no “light-bulb” moment, no aligning of the stars. It’s complicated and it was hard for us and our families, but it was the right choice for Belle. I am 32 years old now and it still makes my heart race just think back about that time in my life.
At only 16 years old, Belle’s birthmother, Cindy, and I were not unlike other teenage couples faced with an unplanned pregnancy. We were still going to high school, still living with our parents, still trying to discern the meaning of our lives. We were both terrified and knew we weren’t capable or ready to provide this child with the stability or guidance that she deserved and needed. Heck we were still children ourselves! I had just learned how to change the oil in my truck and my younger sister was still only seven years old.
Left: Cindy and I, 15 years old (1998)
Right: Cindy, me and Belle the day after birth.
My parents were still raising their children. Love, however, was never a question. We both loved our precious creation and we felt the responsibility, the need even, to make sure our child was given every opportunity to succeed, to be loved and protected, and to be cherished above all else.
It isn’t that we would not have tried to raise her. We both came from loving families who would have and do cherish her. But we were the birth parents and we were teenagers and teenagers make mistakes. They hurt themselves and the people around them. It’s just part of growing up. I think even at the age of 16 I realized I would continue to fall on my face. Although I could accept hurting myself, I could not accept that my poor decisions might have negative impacts on Belle’s life or that I might neglect her in anyway during the trials and tribulations of my teenage years. In my eyes she was perfect and she deserved a perfect life.
At some point during the pregnancy we began to consider open adoption. I knew if I were to forego raising her, I could only be at peace if she knew that I loved her and still wanted to be part of her life. Cindy felt the same way.
Top, Left to Right: Belle (age 13) and I, Belle (age 4) and I
Bottom, Left to Right: Cindy and Belle at Belle’s Baptism, Belle (age 5) and I, Cindy and Belle (age 3).
As a result, closed adoption was not an option for us. I did not want her sitting in her bedroom many years later wondering why she had blue eyes, blonde hair, braces, flat feet, and a peculiar disposition to saying “y’all” instead of “you guys”. I wasn’t sure how open adoption would work, but it began to take shape one day at a TGI Fridays in Houston on the faces of two wonderful people that I had never met before. That was the day I met David and Linda, Belle’s adoptive parents. People always talk about those moments in their lives when destiny or fate makes an appearance and they “just knew it”. Well prior to that visit, I can’t recall any experience where I was absolutely sure of anything, but when Cindy and I met David and Linda for the first time, we just “knew it”. With the exception of my own parents, there are no two people that I admire more. They have been and continue to be a blessing in my life.
She loves me "to the moon" and I am so grateful for that. That day in the hospital has inspired me for 15 years.
And then came Belle. And she was perfect and amazing and the world was too full to speak and so was I. Her little hand grasped my pinky finger and I smelled her and I was inspired. That day in the hospital has inspired me for 15 years. Some days more than others, but never far from my heart. Belle’s birth galvanized my life in a way I could have never imagined. I finished high school and college, and I traveled, and I lived in different countries and I learned a new language and how to ride horses, I married a beautiful woman, and today, I installed my very first car seat!
1. Belle (age 1) and her sister Emily | 2. Me, Belle and my brother Jamie | 3. Lane (5 months pregnant) and I 4. Belle (age 2) | 5. Me, my brother Andy, my brother Jamie, Belle and her sister Emily | 6. My sister Georgia, me, Belle, my mom, and their dog Cody | 7. Me and my dad with Belle (age 9) | 8. Belle (age 2) | 9. Me, Belle, David, Linda, and Cody | 10.Belle (age 15) as a bridesmaid at my wedding (2013) | 11.Belle and her sister Emily
I wanted Belle to be proud of me. I knew some day she would be 16 and she might wonder why I didn’t raise her and I wanted to be able to say “see, this is why I couldn’t raise you, see how much I had to learn!” and I wanted it to be ok with her.
Thanks to the gracious hearts of David and Linda, I have been able to visit Belle every year of her life and talk with her a few times a year on Christmas and birthdays. And thanks to my mother Belle has always known the love of my family, even during the times when I was lost. And thanks to them I am not a stranger, I am “Ricky”, and Belle knows my family, and my wife, and someday soon she will meet her sister. I have always been a part of Belle’s life, but I am not her father and that’s ok with me. Belle is happy, and she is smart, and I know what music she likes and that she’s good at field hockey, and I know her dog’s name is Cody and that she loves elephants, and I still get to tell her she can’t date anyone until she’s thirty, and that’s enough for me.
Belle is 15 years old now and she is amazing. I know she loves me because she tells me so (in texts with smiley faces). In fact, she loves me “to the moon” and I am so grateful for that. I am expecting the birth of my second daughter, Belle’s half-sister, shortly before this story is to be published.* I think about Belle’s birth all the time now, trying to draw parallels between that pregnancy and the one I am experiencing now, trying to conjure up the emotions I felt as a 16 year old kid preparing to be a father. I am still nervous about being a father, but I am ready now.
This story would be incomplete without praising the birthmother, Cindy, for her bravery and sacrifice. I am so grateful to her for her selfless decision, I know how hard it was. Also, thank you to Emily, Lane, Mark, Beth, Andy, Jamie, Georgia, Al, Kathy, Andrea, and Mary Jo for loving Belle as much as I do.
*GOOD NEWS! Baby Girl arrived on June 2, 2014. Mom, Dad & Baby Luella are all doing great!