With the exception of a few “fall in love at first sight” types, most relationships progress over a period of time. A relationship between adoptive parent and birth parent is no different. As I sit back to objectively look at the relationship we have with our son’s birth mother, I see a lot of similarities between that relationship and my own marriage. In fact, there’s really nothing different with the relationship we have with her than the relationship I have with anyone I love in my life. There seems to be “stages” to building a great relationship. I’m not expert, but there are some patterns I’ve noticed.

1. Start Superficial

No one should feel ashamed to say that the relationship they have with their spouse started out superficially. It’s the same with my closest friends, and certainly with my son’s birth mother. Before you dig deep, usually you notice an initial attraction, things you have in common, etc. That is what triggers your move to the next step. Something draws you to the other, and sometimes it’s not the most important things in life. It’s the picture, the list of things hobbies, it’s the way they do their hair…something that compels you to find out more about that person.

2. Begin Dating

Once you’ve determined that there is enough there that interests you, you decide to take it a step further and spend some time together. You date. You talk. You spend time together. My husband and I dated for about a year before we got married. Some date more, some less. This time is a luxury–a luxury many expectant mothers do not have when choosing the parents for their unborn child. And so sometimes this dating period goes into warp speed. Our son’s birthmother, Lindsey, would often apologize for asking so many personal questions about our marriage, family life, parenting styles, etc. So we just kept reassuring her that this was her job and what she ought to do. She didn’t have a whole lot of time to just wait and see how things unfolded. Those important questions needed answers and pretty immediately.

3. True Courting

Back in the day, a man courted a woman he wanted to marry. Some would call dating and courting basically the same. I don’t. I believe a lot of people go on dates and call it dating. But courting has a different intention leading the way. Courting is done to express love, support, and true caring. It’s the actions that are small declarations of consistently being there for the other. I remember my husband sending me emails throughout the day while I was at work, calling me, doing small little things to let me know I was on his mind. This is a natural step when in the progression of a relationship when you really do care about someone.

With Lindsey, I found myself thinking of her all the time. We started to email back and forth several times a day. We began talking on the phone. We met and tried to see each other in person when we could. Something happened to my heart during this “courting” stage. I cared way more about her than the baby she was carrying. Don’t get me wrong; we were excited and so happy. But her happiness became more important than our own.

4. Engagement

First an official unofficial commitment to each other. Then an official a decision may be made. You want to get married and you may even have a ring to show the world that. But either one can walk away at any moment without any legal ramifications. With adoption, I view the moment an adoptive family has been “matched” with a birth mom as their engagement. I choose you. I can’t speak for the expectant mother, but for the adoptive family it’s exciting and terrifying. It’s the moment you’ve been waiting for, and yet, you know at any moment it could change. The future you see could be gone. There may be some cold feet because for this expectant mother, this just may be the biggest decision of her entire life, but if carried through…you really do begin a new life together.

5. Marriage

With marriage comes a contractual agreement that you are in it for the long haul. Your hearts are in it. You care so deeply about one another that you will always try to do what is best. Try. No one is perfect and to expect perfection will only lead to disappointment. A big difference between marriage and open adoption is that in marriage, you often choose each other. I understand that with open adoption, the adoptive family and the birth mother may feel like the right match…but maybe you wouldn’t have married them. Right? I get it. But if you want to make any relationship work, we put differences aside–or talk them out–and love love love. You continue courting one another. You write letters. You send messages. You send pictures of your child. You share stories and experiences. You create your own new memories together. You let the other know, often, how much you care about them through word and deed. You remind yourself of the vows you made–of the adoption agreement you created–and you stick with it. If you fall short, you apologize and try again. You forgive. You are honest. You are patient with each other’s shortcomings. You stick with each other even when it’s hard.

No relationship is easy. Some may feel easier than others at different times. But all good relationships take time and effort. My marriage isn’t perfect. I know I often fall short. Sometimes when my expectations aren’t met, I realize I haven’t even fully expressed what those expectations are! A lot of times I’m the one who creates the frustration for myself. And that’s when, because of the time we put into knowing each other, because we WANTED to know each other, the years of dating and courting and continuing to do so after our wedding day–he gives me the benefit of the doubt. He loves me and I love him. We know we will stand by each other and walk through this journey together, hand in hand. Even if we step on a few thorns along the way, the roses definitely line the path. I hope that our children’s birth mothers know, by what we do and say, that we are walking this path with them too. And that our combined imperfections make us stronger when we overcome them together. That’s how our hearts will be united as one. So we move forward. We apologize. We forgive. We laugh. And we love unconditionally.