We were walking through security at the courthouse on the morning of my daughter’s adoption finalization when I heard her birth mother say, “I’m so glad we get to be a part of this.” She was there from the very first minute. The second she realized she was pregnant. The hard talks between her and our daughter’s birth dad. The late nights crying and wondering what was right. Talking to numerous hopeful couples on the phone. Calling me and telling me she’d chosen me to be the mother of her child. Rushing to the hospital in a panic when labor started early. Seeing her baby for the first time and knowing this might be one of the only “firsts” she’d ever be present for. Allowing us to hold and care for her baby. Signing the paperwork. Grieving and celebrating all at the same time when we took her baby home. Now, holding my hand as I stood in front of a judge, promising to be a good mother to her child. She squeezed my hand and smiled at me. She embraced me when it was final. She stood next to my family as we took photos because she needed our daughter to know that her birth parents were there when it all started and they were there when it became final, supporting us all the entire way.

Look at the unmistakable look of pride on my daughter’s birth mother’s face. This is what I’ll always think back to when I remember my daughter’s adoption finalization. It’s moments like these when I am 100% certain that open adoption is the best thing for my children.

No two people are alike, but one common trait shared by the birth parents I’ve met is incredible strength and resolve. It takes such commitment and dedication to make an adoption plan and to place a child in the arms of someone else, but open adoption has introduced me to another kind of birth mother. She rips the bandage off time and time again, healing a little each time, suffering a little each time, as she continues to support her child and her child’s family. She keeps the connection alive so her child can look her in the eye some day and see her own features mirrored back. She smiles with the updates and photos, but she cries, too. It’s fueled by pride. In adoption, pride is such a wonderful thing. To be proud of the child you placed. To be proud of the parents you chose. To be proud of your choice. To be proud of your ability to stay present, no matter how hard it gets.

Here it is again… the looks of joy and pride. This was shortly after we had finalized our daughter’s adoption and we stood in front of the Bexar County Courthouse in San Antonio and all took photos holding the little girl we love.

Our daughter’s birth family has a saying about the baby they placed in our arms: “She’s our pride, not our secret.” When I submitted a monthly update of a long letter and photos before finalization, they all passed it around from house to house, sharing with one another. They all asked permission and share on Facebook, proudly showing off the beautiful little girl–their granddaughter, their niece, their cousin–who lives hundreds of miles away. The reason this is all possible is my daughter’s birth mother.

When we visited the home of my daughter’s birth family, we were greeted with so many people who were eager to see her. This was the huge welcome message that greeted us, showing the wide-open-arms my daughter’s birth family has for all of us as we all celebrated the adoption finalization.

On the evening of our daughter’s adoption finalization, after she’d held my hand while I cried when the judge granted the adoption, we’d taken our large family out to dinner. My parents, her mom and brother, my husband and son, our daughter’s birth father and three siblings, all sat around a table and passed our daughter around. At the end, my daughter’s birth mother and I stood on the sidewalk in front of the restaurant with our daughter waiting for the guys to pull the car up. My daughter’s birth mom was holding our little girl facing outward and a group of five ladies in their 50s approached, talking about how cute our daughter is and baby talking to her. This was my daughter’s birth mother’s first time seeing the reaction other people have for our daughter. She was beaming with pride.

The ladies had their back to me, but I was smiling just watching her soak it all in.She looked up at me, smiling, and pointed. “That’s actually her mom!” she said. The ladies looked at me – with my pale white skin and brown hair. They looked at my daughter’s birth mom with her caramel skin and black hair, holding a baby who was also beautifully tan. With the biggest, most radiant smile on her face, our daughter’s birth mom said, “And I’m her birth mom!” The ladies smiled and squealed with excitement, and I don’t know that I’ve ever felt such genuine pride as I did in that moment for a woman so strong, standing in front of a group of strangers, claiming our daughter and her role. She validated my role as mom, giving me credit for what became official in the courts that morning. I was able to give her credit for the beauty she created in our daughter. One of the ladies asked, “Were you two best friends before the adoption?” She and I looked at each other and proudly said, “No, but we are now.”

It’s funny how adults who were once complete strangers can come together through such a sudden and serious occurrence like adoption and bond so quickly. With both my son and daughter’s birth moms, it’s like we’ve known each other forever and will stick together through thick and thin.

None of us understand why such sadness has to surround such great people. I don’t understand why her birth parents’ loss became our gain. I don’t understand my infertility or their need to place. The only thing I truly understand in all of this is that we found each other for a reason, and that reason is our daughter. Every adoption is different. Ours isn’t perfect, and it’s not meant for everyone. We have struggles and misunderstandings. We work through issues and try our best to communicate so our relationship is strong and healthy for our daughter. Most of all, we’re proud of each other and we put our daughter first, even when it’s not the easiest thing for us to do. Pride. It’s an amazing motivator in adoption. When we live out our open adoption relationships by being so openly proud of our children and each other, we give our children the ability to be proud of themselves, their families, and their story. No sacrifice followed by heads held high has ever had a greater reward than a proud child.