In Birth Mothers Amplified, Episode 2: Emma’s Adoption Story, hosts Muthoni and Emma talk with birth mothers about their experiences. Episode 2 introduces Emma who placed her child for adoption in 2016. Emma opens up about important adoption topics such as teen pregnancy, involved birth mothers, involved birth fathers, and open adoption.
A typical 17-year-old, Emma’s biggest concerns as a senior in high school were studying for AP exams and writing her graduation speech. She was excited and nervous about getting ready to attend A&M College for her freshman year. Although she’d been an active and involved student in school, she says that she had struggled with depression earlier on. She had worked hard on her life and was just feeling as if she was catching her stride when everything changed.
Just as everything seemed to be coming together, Emma found out she was pregnant.
Like so many other teens, she says that “Nobody ever thinks it’ll happen to me.” And, like so many other teens, Emma was scared and afraid first to find out whether or not she was truly pregnant.
She recalls taking her pregnancy test and seeing “those two lines” appear.
Emma had always wanted to be a mom—but someday—not as a 17-year-old in high school. She says she never imagined that she would see those lines so early in life. “I felt like I’d robbed myself of such a precious moment and experience,” she says.
Emma was devastated. She describes going to the birth father’s house to share the news. She says the moment was a tough one for both of them as they worked through the uncertainty and fear. She says that his response, however, was something that so many birth mothers don’t receive: he embraced her and held her while she cried.
Sharing the News
The following weeks included a lot of processing of her new reality. She describes working through denial. A sonogram revealing a little girl made everything very real.
Sharing the news with her parents and family members was scary, but she recalls her sister telling her, “Life is beautiful. We’re going to figure it out.”
Her parents, too, accepted the news with love and offered their support. The birth father was with her through all of this and she says that it was at this moment that he relaxed enough and allowed himself to let the emotion in and allowed Emma’s parents to comfort him.
“Listen, we love you, but we will not parent this child,” Emma says of her parents’ response. Although those words may have been difficult to hear, she says that she and the birth father needed to hear it and realized that if they were going to raise their baby, they needed to be mom and dad.
They wouldn’t tell his parents until a few months later until they were sure of their decision.
Making Hard Decisions
Emma said that while the birth father was leaning toward raising their baby, she was leaning toward adoption. She explains that much of her personal decision was based on her own experience with her own mom who is also a birth mom.
During this time, Emma continued to live at home. She says she kept her pregnancy secret until she was five months along because she said she knew as soon as she told one person, the news would get out.
High school graduation was her immediate goal. She says she spoke at her graduation and nobody knew.
“People are mean,” she says and they have no idea what you’re going through as an expectant mom—much less one graduating high school with a decision as big as raising your baby or placing her for adoption.
Choosing an Agency
It was during this time that she and the birth father started to look into agencies based on conversations Emma had with her mom who had also used an agency for the placement of her baby.
Emma began with a Google search and decided on an agency based on the online profile of a particular waiting couple. The agency connected Emma and the birth father with an adoption counselor to let them know what resources and services were available to them and to answer their questions.
Emma was hopeful and confident in her decision; however, by the time the adoption paperwork was processed and they were assigned a caseworker, the couple she’d seen on Google had gone from being a waiting adoptive couple to being pregnant. Emma said she was devastated, but she was also happy for them.
With her initial choice of parents no longer an option, Emma says her caseworker walked her through what she wanted in her child’s parents, asking her “What do you want them to be like?”
Again, because of Emma’s experience with her mom’s adoption, she explains that she had something in mind:
– A family with a strong faith
– A family with other children
– A family with a stay-at-home mom
Some birth mothers choose to make a list of qualities they are looking for in an adoptive family.
Finding a Family
As many other birth mothers relate to, choosing a family for her daughter was not easy.
Emma says she was presented with a round of books of five hopeful couples, but she was “disappointed.” Not that there was anything wrong with any of the couples. She felt bad that she didn’t feel a connection or have an “aha moment;” but more so, she says she did not feel at peace or that they fit her criteria.
“And that’s okay,” she says offering advice to other expectant moms who may not know exactly what they are looking for or might not feel like they’ve found it.
Emma, like many other birth mothers, learned that she had to be okay with saying no.
She decided to look over the online profiles and says she went through almost all of them. She made a list of the ones that stood out to her. She and her caseworker eventually narrowed it down to five books and then it came down to figuring out how to choose from there. She says initially the decision was not an easy one and, once again, she relied on the help of her family.
What was the reason a couple stood out? Emma explains that the couple she wound up choosing recognized her as the birth mother, which made her feel like she was part of the adoption and that the situation was beyond them and just them. They prioritized others, she says, “God is first, others are second, and we are third.”
Emma met them a few days later and had dinner.
“It was me, mom, dad, birth father, and the caseworkers. There were no awkward moments. It felt sweet and tender.” She says they skipped over the typical initial phone call.
Emma points out a moment at dinner that made her feel especially confident in her decision. When the adoptive father looked across the table to birth father and let him know that he respected him for showing up that night: he was there.
She says she left the dinner feeling more at peace than ever, not to say there wasn’t some weirdness with the entire situation, but the weirdness felt manageable.
What sealed the deal? She says at the end of the day, the adoptive parents’ sons (one biological and one adopted) played a role in her decision. She was impressed by their overall dynamic that seemed to match what she was hoping for. She says that the biological son leaned over and casually placed his hand on her stomach at one point and said, “Hi baby sister.”
She describes the moment as pure and innocent because that’s just what he knew.
Birth Father’s Role
It’s common for birth mothers and other birth parents to have differing views, worries, and hesitations. When asked if she and the birth father were on the same page and always confident in wanting the same thing, she says that in the beginning, he wanted to raise their daughter where she was leaning toward adoption; however, once he heard Emma’s mom’s adoption story he became open to it.
And with time and options, as well as support and guidance from the counselor and case worker, the idea grew on him.
His family was not as comfortable about the idea.
Emma explains that it comes down to what your previous experience is. Because her family loved their experience with adoption, it was easier for them to be excited about it.
The birth father’s mom was kind and offered to raise their daughter or help Emma to raise her. She was willing to make it work if they decided to make it work.
Emma struggled with being the birth father’s mom stepping in and being the one to parent. But it wasn’t the life she envisioned for herself or her child.
“Sometimes when a parent helps a child parent their child, they sometimes feel entitled, and so you don’t know.” Muthoni offers as a typical situation that happens with families who do decide to accept the help of their parents.
But Emma and the birth father weren’t together anymore. They were so young. Emma wanted to guarantee a mom and dad for their baby.
Seven Months Along
Now that Emma had chosen a family for her daughter, things were becoming real. Time passed quickly and she found herself seven months along. She says that she and the adoptive parents would text often which she explains is not the norm, but it felt right for them.
“Usually with open adoption, that takes time; but because they were so transparent and respectful it felt right.”
Leading up to giving birth, Emma struggled watching others her age heading off to college and said it felt weird. Instead of starting college in the fall, she was advised to start in the spring.
During this time, she had two close, supportive friends who stood by her through it all, but she says many of the friends she’d had in high school were mean to her saying there were all of the “classic rumors.” A lot of her friendships ended on bad terms as word got out. Emma says she felt ashamed and vulnerable, saying, “You feel like your privacy has been invaded and your story is being told.”
“The rumors were crazy and heartbreaking,” she explains. “Very insensitive and difficult to deal with as she was preparing for adoption.”
When it was finally time, Emma was two days early.
She describes her memory of the hospital as being beautiful. The first time she saw her child she describes it as being intimate and tender, but at the same time, she was afraid of bonding. She didn’t want to feel that detachment anymore than she was already going to.
In Texas, a consent to adoption executed by the mother within 48 hours of the child’s birth is valid upon execution. Emma said she needed all 48 of those hours. She and the birth father decided not to have the adoptive family there for the birth, but instead decided to use that time to make sure they were confident with their decision.
She describes that first day as a mix of chaos, hormones, and so much going on with the second day offering more alone time with the baby.
Finally, the caseworker came in with the relinquishment paperwork. Emma explains that they will not allow you to sign the paperwork if they feel you’re being forced or feel you’re not in the right state of mind. “Being sad is one thing. Being totally unsure is another.”
It was at this time that the birth father started to question their decision. He was still holding onto his doubts and desire to raise their daughter.
Emma explains that while birth mothers have had nine months to bond and work through and find peace in the tough decisions, the father doesn’t get that until the baby is born, so it was hard on him.
Emma says that despite how she felt, she was not going to sign away her rights if he wasn’t going to. It was not a one-way thing.
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At that time, the birth father was in college and playing on the college football team. His post-high school life had begun, but he felt torn telling Emma, “I just love her so much.” Emma says it was heartbreaking that he was in just as much pain as she was.
Preparing the Adoptive Parents
Before and during this time, Emma said the caseworker had prepped the adoptive parents that she and the birth father may change their minds. It was that difficult of a decision.
Both Muthoni and Emma agree that hopeful adoptive parents should be prepped just in case the expectant parent does change their mind.
“There is a weird relationship or dynamic that expectant moms owe their child to adoptive parents and that pressure should never be put on an expectant mom,” Emma says. “It should never be part of the decision. You have to do what’s best for your child.”
Of course, in cases where birth mothers decide to keep their children, it’s heartbreaking for the adoptive parents as well, “It just shows there are two sides to every coin.”
An End and a Beginning
At the end of the 48 hours, Emma and the birth father signed the papers together—at the same time. Of the memory, Emma says, “It is mind-blowing the weight of that signature on a piece of paper.” She says signing that paper takes away seeing first steps [and] hearing first words: no one can prepare you for that.
She describes the doctors and nurses as being very patient and kind through the experience and is grateful that she and the birth father were given time to be sure of their decision. The placement happened at the hospital a few hours after signing.
“Her parents came into the hospital room and exchanged hugs and tears.” Gifts were exchanged as well. Emma says that even though they’d agreed on an open adoption, nobody can tell the future, and so she’d made a scrapbook of her life and wrote letters explaining why they’d chosen adoption, her parents, and her name just in case. That way her daughter could read them one day.
Right before the final goodbyes, the caseworkers took photos and it was then that Emma broke. Everyone left the room and she rocked her daughter as she sang a song. She says that the birth father eventually handed her over even though Emma had initially intended to do so. They prayed together and said goodbye.
Emma says a lot of it’s a blur now, but there are some memories that are ingrained. Watching the new family leave out the hospital room door is something she’ll never forget, she says, “As it was the last moment we were her parents.”
Of that day, she says that you want to be happy for the adoptive family who just gained a child, but she said that she could tell the parents were hesitant to hold their new daughter or be excited. She said they later explained that they felt like they were grieving for weeks and months based on what they saw acknowledging that their family was founded on the grave of another. It’s the reality.
Leaving the hospital was horrible. Getting into the car with no car seat, cries, or excitement was hard. It was like “Feeling a void you can’t fill,” Emma says of going home.
Life went on. The birth father returned to school. Emma slept a lot. She says that going to therapy was helpful and advises anyone in her situation to do the same. Even with her supportive family, she struggled and can’t imagine a woman going through it without either a loving family or therapy.
Give Yourself Grace
“Give yourself grace,” she says referring to the days to come like Mother’s Day and birthdays. Just because it was hard this year, maybe it won’t be next year (or maybe it’ll be worse).
She says what helped her the most was when she began to share her story. She let shame drive less of her journey and let herself feel proud instead. Emma explains that she felt like she could bring some good of it.
Being Open to Open Adoption
She also says that the openness of the adoption helped her. Emma is a huge advocate for open adoption when it works, and in her case, it was right. For her, she needed to see her plan work.
She happily describes being a part of a very open adoption. Her daughter’s parents started to invite her and the birth father over shortly after the birth and they have maintained that relationship.
Not all birth mothers or birth parents feel comfortable with that, she says. “Not every visit is a happy one. Sometimes painful feelings would come up.” Emma would feel scared to hold the baby or to hear her cry for her other mom. It was hard to not be the one that she was reaching for.
Emma says the first time she heard her say “mom” to the adoptive mom, it was hard. But at the same time, she got to see her plan work.
“I got to establish this role that has no definition. There is no guidebook on how to be a birth mom,” she says.
Birth Mothers: “You are Just as Much a Mom”
Emma says that she felt comfortable being called Ms. Emma and, at first—or for a while even, felt that there is only one mom, and her daughter’s mom is that mom.
One day, the adoptive mom approached Emma and said, “I’m giving you your title back. You are just as much a mom.”
But Emma wasn’t ready yet. She says she didn’t feel she deserved it. Eventually, she allowed herself to see the little girl as her daughter and she as mom, not mom in the traditional sense, but the title became more comfortable. Again, she refused to let shame and fear drive her story any longer and instead used the experience to educate others about adoption
Emily was able to go to college, she got engaged, and she achieved so many milestones. She says, in a sense, she reclaimed her life explaining that’s not why she placed her daughter for adoption, but it’s all part of her story: their story.
Birth Mothers’ Advice to Hopeful Adoptive Parents
Emma offers the following to hopeful adoptive parents, “Know that an expectant mom doesn’t become a birth mom to take her child back or convince them they are the real mom. No. woman wouldn’t go through that who didn’t want what was best for her child.” She suggests considering open adoption knowing that, “Our love for your child does not take away from the love you have for your child. It’s not a competition. There can be two moms and two dads who play different roles. It’s important so long as it’s healthy.”Are you considering adoption and want to give your child the best life possible? Let us help you find an adoptive family that you love. Visit Adoption.org or call 1-800-ADOPT-98.