Hi there, and thank you for checking out CPO’s blog today! My name is Kate, and my husband Zach and I live in Colorado and are the parents of 4 awesome boys, ranging in age from 14 months to 9 years. Our oldest child (Levi—9) was not adopted, and our other three boys (Max—7 1/2, Isaiah—3 1/2, and Shepherd—14 months) were adopted through Crisis Pregnancy Outreach in Tulsa, Oklahoma. In this post, I will discuss our adoptions, and how we maintain openness with our children’s birth mothers while living in Colorado.
The first time we adopted through CPO, we lived near downtown Tulsa, and we were chosen by a birth mom soon after we submitted our “life book” (a book full of pictures and descriptions of our family that a birth mom looks at when she is trying to choose just the right family for her little one). We were crazy excited! Then about three weeks later, we got the call that it was time to come to the hospital, and we brought Max home when he was 2 days old. We have a nice open adoption with his birth mom. She even pumped breast milk for him for a few weeks, and would come to our house fairly often, especially during the first year of his life. As Max got a little older, we saw her about every 4-6 months. It doesn’t always happen this way, but it is pretty common for birth mothers to desire a lot of contact during the child’s first year, and then to want slightly less involvement as the child gets older.
When Max was 2 1/2 years old, we moved to Colorado. We wanted to adopt through CPO again, and knew that it would be a little trickier this time around, now that we lived so far away. When we left Oklahoma, it was tough to say goodbye to friends and family, but one of the toughest goodbyes was to our CPO family. It is such a wonderful place and I really loved volunteering there, and especially attending and facilitating support group for birth moms on Tuesday nights. Even though our relationship with Max’s birth mom was really good, part of my heart was sad that she didn’t desire to connect to CPO, or to go to birth mom support group. Nearly every Tuesday, I went to group, oftentimes with someone to whom I had volunteered a ride, and saw many beautiful, open relationships between birth moms and adoptive moms.
When we moved to Colorado, I was convinced we’d never experience that kind of relationship with a birth mother. CPO focuses on open adoptions, but sometimes there are birth mothers who, for one reason or another, opt not to be involved in the child’s life. Since the majority of birth mothers at CPO desire a family that lives in Tulsa, or close to Tulsa, we felt we were at a distinct disadvantage now that we lived 700 miles away. I may have been a little dramatic about it. I thought that we might never get chosen, and that if we did, we would be chosen by a birth mom who wanted very little, or perhaps nothing, to do with us or the baby.
I am happy to report that my assumptions were wrong. It did take us significantly longer to get chosen, but when we did, it was so worth the wait! To our amazement, the birth mom that chose us wanted a very open relationship, and became super involved with CPO. She went to birth mom support group almost every week for the first 2 years of Isaiah’s life. When I would come to visit her in Tulsa every 3-4 months, we would meet for dinner, and then attend group together. I was so thankful for this sweet time! The very thing I hoped for, and thought would never happen…this kind of open adoption that I had seen with other birth moms and adoptive mothers, happened to me. We still feel so fortunate that she chose us and that she trusted us to stay in contact, despite the miles between us. When Isaiah was 8 months old, his birth mom and her 3 teenagers drove all the way to Colorado to come visit us for a few days. We had a such a wonderful time together! She said, “I wanted to see the town and neighborhood where Isaiah lives…also, I want to see what your family is really like in your own home.” I think this is exactly what I would want if I was making an adoption plan for my child. I would want to see his home and neighborhood, and his family’s interactions with my own eyes. Choosing an out-of-state family is such a vulnerable thing for a birth mother to do. A common “worst fear” for birth mothers desiring open adoption, is that the family is going to tell her what she wants to hear when she is pregnant, and then disappear after the papers are signed. Can you imagine how devastating that would be?
I’m sure we haven’t been perfect in our approach to long-distance open adoption, but here are a few things that have worked well for us, and have helped our birth mothers to know that we love them, and that their happiness is a high priority to our family.
- We have told each of our birth moms from the beginning that she is invited to her child’s graduation and wedding, and that we would be honored if she would attend.
- Texting pictures and videos of developmental milestones—sharing with our birth moms first, before sharing with anyone else. I text pictures from the pediatrician’s office with baby on the scale, showing the latest weight, etc. I want them to feel connected and to get things very close to the time they happen. It is so much fun to share “Look who just took his first steps!” videos or a picture of a two year old, sitting on the potty for the first time. Depending on where the birth mother is at in her grieving process, there are some times when she may need a break from contact, or sometimes she may want only one picture a week, or maybe one picture a month, with a little description of the child, developmental milestones, etc. What works for one birth mother may not for another.
- When our babies are about a month old, and we have received that long-awaited green light to travel from Oklahoma to Colorado, we go ahead and book a flight for 2-3 months down the road, for baby and I to make a special visit, just to see his birth mom. It has to be incredibly difficult for a birth mom to know that the child she carried for 9 months, is going so far away, and that she can’t see him whenever she wants anymore. While we can’t do anything to take the pain away, we can give her something tangible to look forward to. Additionally, we make frequent flights and/or road trips to visit their birth moms, especially during the first year. Every 3-4 months, these little ones are in a brand new stage, and who deserves to see them more than the women who made the choice to bring them into the world?!
- We always remember our birth moms with gifts and/or cards and pictures on special days throughout the year—our child’s birthday, her birthday, Christmas, and Mother’s Day. Sometimes we include prints of pictures, something colored or painted by the child, and letters describing the child’s personality and current favorites in life, etc.
- We make a beautiful Shutterfly photo “baby book,” filled with pictures from our child’s first year, including several pictures of him with his birth mother. Then we order two copies, one for his birth mom and one for us.
- This one would not be appropriate in every situation, but when we come to Tulsa to visit, we give our birth moms the opportunity to spend some alone time with our children. Isaiah’s birth mom will come pick him up, with his backpack and booster seat, and take him out for ice cream or to her mom’s house for a family dinner.
So, with having an open adoption with a birth mom that lives 11 hours away, our times together are not quite as frequent, but when we have time together, it is extra special…and our boys absolutely love their birth moms! In fact, when our oldest son, Levi was 5, he started getting a little jealous of Max and Isaiah’s relationships with their birth moms. One day he declared loudly, with a sense of defeat, “I guess I’ll just never have a birth mom!”
In conclusion, I’ll leave you with something that was a huge comfort to me when I heard it. At the time of our interview with one of our birth moms, who was interviewing us and 2 families from the Tulsa area, I asked “How do you feel about the possibility of your baby living in another state?” She didn’t miss a beat, and responded, “I think I am alright with it. I love ya’ll and everything, but I don’t exactly want to run into you at Target.”
I think that living out-of-state can sometimes be a good thing. It’s a little more black and white. A birth mother does not have to feel guilty if she has gone several months without connecting with the adoptive family. There is freedom to love and to move on with life, too. As adoptive parents, we do not have to obsess about boundaries. Every time our children see their birth parents, it is super special, and their birth parents are likely to drop everything to see them, because this might be the only opportunity for several months. So, I’d say open adoption across state lines has certain advantages for the birth mom, the adoptive parents, as well as the child. It just requires good communication and a lot of trust.
No one really taught us how to “do” open adoption across state lines, but the Golden Rule seems to be sufficient. If I grew a child in my womb and made an adoption plan for this child, and hand-selected a family to raise him, how would I want to be treated by this family? For me, I would want to really know the child. I would want to know his quirks and personality, his current obsessions in life, and the funny things he says when he is 3 and 4.
I imagine that I would want to be able to be silly with him, and for his parents not to be afraid of our strong connection. And, I would want to be known. I would want him to know who I am, what I like, and what I am good at. I would want him to know his birth siblings and to know that it matters where he came from. I would want him to be able to ask me questions when he got older. And if I could have all of those things, I think that choosing an adoptive family that lived in another state, might be just the decision I would make.
We are so blessed to have three wonderful birth mothers in our lives, and to have healthy open adoptions with each one of them. I hope this post helps to paint a picture of what an out-of-state open adoption can look like, and encourages you in your own journey.
Thanks so much for taking the time to read about our family’s open adoptions…and many thanks to our babies’ birth mothers who have trusted our family with the ultimate gifts and have been willing to be such a special part of our lives!