As a child, did you ever dream that you would one day adopt?
I honestly never envisioned myself adopting as a child--I always envisioned being a mom by birth. When my husband, Mike, and I encountered some issues getting pregnant with our oldest, Ben, that's when I realized that it mattered more to me to parent a child who needed a family than to go through extreme measures to have a child be biologically tied to me. We were fortunate to become pregnant with Ben not long after, but it was wild to have that sense of knitting our family together become a reality a few years later.
Why did you choose adoption?
Nearly five years ago, Mike and I were blessed with and then had to say goodbye to our first daughter, Sarah, and her traumatic birth left me permanently barren. There were so many layers of feelings and so many different sensations of ache. We knew how incomplete our family felt and how much love we still had spilling over. We wanted to parent again so very much. So we took the time to grieve our sweet girl, to heal our hearts and mend our spirits, and prepare for this new journey in front of us.
My husband and I never felt entitled to anyone else's baby or that someone should stay pregnant and birth their child for us, just because we no longer could have one of our own. We knew there were many choices that felt best for each woman and we wanted to connect with someone who felt that adoption was the right choice for *her* and her baby. It was never an expectation--just a huge hope.
Domestic or international? Open, semi-open or closed adoption?
We researched all the different paths to adopting a child and ultimately felt drawn to domestic newborn adoption. We longed to experience all of the rites of passage that come with raising a child from his or her beginnings, even the crazy, sleepless nights!
We also wanted an open adoption in the hopes of raising our child to know not only her heritage, but her birth family, as well. But this desire didn't come about naturally (which is kind of funny, considering what a huge advocate I am for it now!) -- it was truly a soul-searching experience. When we first started researching, the idea of contact with a birth mother seemed incredibly frightening. Having experienced our own deepest loss, I was consumed by the fear of, "What if a birth mother changes her mind? What if we have to endure saying goodbye all over again?" It was facing this fear that truly humbled and grounded me. When in the depths of so badly wanting a child, it is very hard to look outside of the situation and realize that it isn't actually about you at all. There is a sort of peace you have to have about your path to adoption (especially if it's infertility) and realize that this is an entirely new dynamic you're about to experience. You have to honor the fact this is a relationship born out of loss--a woman loses the ability to parent her child and a child loses his or her first family. Once I really sat with that, there was nothing left to be filled with but compassion, love and gratitude. All fear within me melted away.
Then we received the call we had been dreaming of from our counselor in August of 2011. A woman who had given birth to a tiny premature girl was considering placement and we were the family she felt resonated most with.
By being completely present and open to knowing who this mother was, we were bowled over by Ashley's generous heart when we first met her. The decision to place Elise for adoption was extremely, extremely hard for her. The moment she first sat down with us at our match meeting, Ashley was moved to tears by the gravity of it all. We saw firsthand that this decision she was making was the epitome of "doing anything for her child" to ensure her a happy and successful life. And in turn, Mike and I committed to creating a relationship that allows Elise to grow up knowing Ashley. We've already enjoyed lots of calls and text messages to keep Ashley in the loop with all of Elise's updates throughout her first year, and we've loved all of the visits we've had with Ashley and her family. It's so important for Elise to have that tie with them. And by establishing this relationship, we get to know and fall in love with Ashley even more. Her birth mom is just so beautiful, inside and out, and we know Elise will flourish knowing her and learning from her. We hope that Elise grows to feel truly whole by this openness and realize how loved and wanted she is by everyone in her life.
Friends and family were just as nervous as we were in the beginning, I think, but we were very vocal about how important open adoption is for Elise, so this openness has become second nature to them, too. Often when catching up over the phone or visiting with us, they'll ask how Ashley is doing, too! I love that. I really feel that you lead by example when it comes to how your family will perceive openness. Our comfort enables them to be comfortable, too.
If you could dispel an adoption myth - would would you say?
I'm not sure if it is a myth more than a false assumption, but I've heard over and over again how "lucky" Elise is that she is in our family. And while I know people mean well, it really bothers me. I feel that that statement creates the illusion that we are somehow saving Elise from an otherwise terrible life. The truth is that we don't think that Elise is going to be parented any "better" in our home than she would have if Ashley had raised her. Ashley is already parenting Elise's older sister and is an incredible mom to her. Elise just happened to arrive at a point in Ashley's life where circumstances and qualities that were very important to her were lacking and we just happened to have them going for us. It was a truly humbling state of affairs. And so this has been the greatest honor we could have ever possibly been given. We don't take it lightly for a second. We think that we're the lucky ones.
What's been the most surprising experience as an adoptive mom?
I'm surprised by how second nature it is to think of Ashley when Elise experiences a big milestone--she is always the next person I share news of first rolls and first steps with after Mike (and she really enjoys this).
What's your greatest wish for adoptive parents today?
This is a really hard question! My greatest wish, honestly, is that only those genuinely drawn to parenting consider adoption. It's okay to be selfish and really want to adopt a child for the sake of being able to love, nurture and raise them! There are so many different reasons why families (locally and abroad) experience situations of poverty and minimal means to raise their children, and adoption is like a band-aid to the situation. Adopting those children doesn't solve the reason they needed families in the first place. I think sometimes people feel called to help, so they adopt instead of breaking ground and finding ways to help elevate those in need in a sustainable way. And not everyone is cut out to parent a child who suffers deeply from loss. Interrupted adoptions are still a taboo experience in our community. I feel like there are a lot of families who expected a fairy tale ending and are sore when the children they adopted aren't "grateful" that they were. I think I would just encourage prospective parents to really be curious about why they want to adopt (and adopt in the particular category you're drawn to) in the first place.
If you could tell your child's birthmother one thing - what would it be?
For as much pain as she experienced placing Elise with us, Ashley absolutely lit up our lives in ways she will never be able to know. We love Elise with every fiber of our being and are delighted that we can be her mom and dad. The day I learned Ashley chose us, I felt walls crumble within me that I never knew existed. Ashley truly gave us the gift of life in not only her daughter, but in us knowing joy and hope again.
What excites you about BraveLove?
I love that you are honoring the real face of adoption--the true triad of adoptive families, birth families and the children they share between them--with pride and love. I feel that BraveLove is an agent of change--you're the Magic Eraser (™!) of the shame so long affiliated with birth parents and their paths to placement. Shame prevents us from connecting with who we love and who we really are--and once it's shed, we can truly move forward, begin to heal our hearts and tell our stories.