“Don’t be in such a hurry to condemn a person because he doesn’t do what you do, or think as you think. There was a time when you didn’t know what you know today.” – Malcolm X
The woman I am today is not the woman I was five years ago. I know most everyone matures with age because new experiences happen, we gain new perspective, and we are forced to grow in heart and mind as our world changes around us. In the past four years, we’ve bought a home that’s perfect for our family. We’ve had job changes. We’ve helped family members through struggles. We’ve seen the ebb and flow of certain friendships. None of that has changed me in the way being a parent has changed me, but even that hasn’t been the greatest modifier in my life. Becoming a mom specifically through open adoption is what’s changed me.
Five years ago, we were neck-deep in infertility grief. We were unsure of the path before us. We felt utterly out of control and were hanging on to each other for support. This time four years ago, we had signed on with an agency and were in the midst of a match with a woman who would ultimately decide to parent her child. I was so naïve. I was scared, but truly felt this child would be placed with our family. I was blindsided when I started sensing the placement was not going to happen. I was confused and protective of our hearts.
A few days later, I got the call that our match had ended, but we got a call just a couple of days later about our son. Sitting in the hospital room with a 17-year-old girl who was all alone, I was trying to imagine a life that would always have her in it. I was trying to get to know her. I was trying to take photos that had her in them because I honestly didn’t know if we’d ever see her again, and I was fumbling my way through the hospital experience. I knew I wanted to show her respect, but I was protective over the thought of missing out on any “firsts” with my new son. As she grappled over her decision, my husband reminded her that our feelings shouldn’t be taken into account at all. I remember feeling so frustrated hearing that, though I knew it was the right thing to say. I was so scared of going home empty-handed that my moral self was getting buried by my emotional self.
Over the next three years, that young girl and I built a friendship. We weathered ups and downs, miscommunications, and misunderstandings. I fumbled these tougher interactions, fretting for countless hours that one wrong “move” on my part would ruin my son’s chances of having a valuable open adoption relationship. Through these times, I became stronger, and our relationships became stronger.
When our son was 3, we welcomed a little girl into our family. The match period with her family was wholly different than our first experience. I saw it merely as a faint possibility. We prepared for this little girl because I felt my heart could handle the disappointment if the parents ultimately decided parenting was the best choice for them. I saw us as a backup plan, and even though I truly wanted to mother this child, I hoped they’d never have to look to us as their answer. In the hospital, I saw those “firsts” as their opportunity to experience a “first,” knowing I’d be present for crawling, teeth, foods, walking, and all the other “firsts” she’d experience in life.
I was scared for us. I guarded our heart to some extent, but I freely reminded them that we’d love them no matter what decisions they made. I wasn’t scared of going home empty-handed because I had faith that we wouldn’t miss out on our child. No matter what happened, we were on the road to bringing our child home. We weren’t perfect, but we are certain we improved upon our actions from three years earlier.
Sometimes I look back at the things we did during our first adoption journey or in the last four years of our open adoption relationship with my son’s birth mom and shake my head, wondering what we were thinking. Today’s version of me knows my heart was in the right place, but I simply didn’t have the experience to handle some things with the grace I might have today. I have no doubt that in five years I will look back at the things I’m doing today and laugh. We are constant works in progress. We have to appreciate the tough times in open adoption for helping us grow into better versions of ourselves.
The woman I am today is not who I was five years ago thanks to open adoption. I’ve matured as I’ve watched two women sob as they held a child who had just become mine. I’ve had long phone discussions to help work through issues of miscommunication with my kids’ birth moms. I’ve stayed up late to talk to my husband about difficult issues so we could make the best decisions on behalf of our children, crying over the fear that we might fail them. I’ve experienced immeasurable love, panic, inner peace, and the unbelievable joy that accompanies being called “Mommy.” I’ve had to take long, hard looks at my own selfishness and ego.
Open adoption has forced me to be confident in who I am. Part of what’s changed over the past five years is my sense of self. I am confident in who I am. I’m not apologetic for the need to grow, but I do ask for grace (and extend it, as well). I am human. I don’t know what I don’t know, but there’s one thing I do know: I will only grow through a willingness to learn. Open adoption presents opportunities for growth and learning at every curve, and it’s our responsibility as mothers of these children to accept the challenge of growth. We need to have the hard discussions, soak up knowledge from mentors, counselors, and groups, and we need to take long hard looks at our motives. Most of all, we need to challenge ourselves to love freely and to feel gratitude for the hard times that help us grow into better, stronger versions of our old self.