We were exchanging hugs and preparing to say goodbye at the end of another visit with our now 5-year-old daughter’s birth mom. After wrapping me tightly in her arms, she pulled back to look me right in the eyes and said, “I’m so glad I chose you to be her mom and dad!”

I cannot remember exactly when this exchange happened, but I remember and cherish her words every single day.

“A child born to another woman calls me mommy. The magnitude of that tragedy and the depth of that privilege are not lost on me.” – Jody Landers, adoptive mother

My husband and I have two children via local, open domestic infant adoption. We are more than blessed to have close relationships with both their birth families. Their birth moms are mentioned frequently in our conversations, appear in photos in our home, and join us at our dinner table.

They are friends, and they are family.

I once had someone ask me, in reference to their birth families, “Do you have to see them still? I don’t know if I could adopt because I wouldn’t want to have to do that.”

My eyes sting with tears remembering.

No, we don’t have to. We get to. It is our joy to be in relationship with the people who are responsible for giving our children, whom we love fiercely, their lives. How could we not? This is not charity, and it is not an obligation.

Having a relationship with our children’s birth mothers has changed my life in unexpectedly rich and profound ways.

It has shown me a greater picture of motherhood.

Their birth mothers might not be parenting, but they are mothering. They mothered for nine months as their bodies changed and expanded, accommodating and providing for their unborn child. They mothered as they made plans and difficult choices. They labored to deliver life, and in a profound act of mothering they chose what was deeply painful for themselves but ultimately what they believe was in their child’s best interest.

It informs and inspires the way I am a parent to my children.

Motherhood is always an undeserved gift, and it feels exponentially so when it comes from the sacrifice of another. Their birth mothers did not choose adoption so that my husband and I could have children—they chose it so their children could have their father and I. As we joyfully go about the ordinary yet sacred work of parenting these children, we are fulfilling the mission their birth mothers entrusted us with.

It has given me a gift I can then give to my children.

It is my joy to have a relationship with my children’s birth mothers, simply because I love them—but it is also an honor to steward this for the sake of our children. Talk of their adoption is relatively common in our home, and our welcome and embrace of their birth mothers is a natural extension of our welcome and embrace of them and their adoption stories.

I don’t think I will ever get to the end of describing the complex, beautiful, soul-stretching thing that is adoption—and open adoption, in particular. The love and respect I felt for these women as they laid a baby in my arms is the same love and respect I feel for them today. Knowing them is a gift.