I Will Keep You Safe
*Names and certain details have been changed to protect the identity of all parties.
In the training we received during our adoption process, and in current “big” conversations about adoption, open adoption is touted as being most emotionally healthy for the child – and I fully agree. In theory. Open adoption puts the child first… except when it doesn’t.
During pre-adoption training, we were told over and over again that birth moms are committing the ultimate selfless act. We were encouraged to explore the feelings of loss we felt around not being able to conceive, then were reminded how wonderful it is that someone is willing to place a child for adoption so that we could possibly parent. We nodded and smiled, and wrote our “Dear Birth Mother” letter for our prospective family profile as if we were addressing it to an expectant Mother Theresa. “We know that this must be an agonizing choice for you, and we wish you peace as you come to a decision. Please know that you have our utmost love and gratitude for even considering adoptive placement.”
We had the opportunity to meet lovely, warm families, whose contact with the birth mom was similar to the special relationship a child would have with an aunt or close family friend. Some adoptive resources even favor the term “first mom” over “birth mom,” noting that the pregnancy and the birth made this woman a mother. Online adoption support groups wallpaper their pages with memes about the unbreakable bond between a birth mother and the adoptive mom, all in support of the child they both dearly love. It all sounds wonderfully open and friendly – isn’t the best situation for any child having plenty of people to love and adore her? Yes, except when it’s not.
After three years in the adoption process, we blissfully became Mommy and Daddy to a six-week-old girl. She is now three and she knows:
Mommy and Daddy will always love you.
We will always keep you safe.
We are always close by.
We will always come back.
These are the promises my husband and I make to our daughter and we say them daily. They are part of our bedtime routine, right after prayers and right before we make the great escape from her bedroom. Our girl can recite all four in order, or as individual promises. We mean them sincerely, and plan to always do our very best to keep them. To that end, I would never, and I mean NEVER, put my child in harm’s way by inviting into our lives someone who I thought would hurt her. The mere idea of it gives me anxious thoughts as I sit at my desk – only two miles from where she is - and makes me want to rush home and scoop her up into my arms.
But here’s where it gets complicated: our darling girl has a birth mother. And I want her nowhere near my child. This is not a popular view among contemporary adoptive or birth families, and is a far cry from how we were encouraged to craft our relationship while in counseling.
Yet I maintain - our situation is nothing like the smiling Christmas photos of birth families and adoptive families we saw during training. First mom and I won’t be grabbing a cup of coffee any time soon, nor will we be sharing trips to the zoo, or sending videos of our daughter. We do send monthly emails, with a few photos, but they contain no identifying information. Yes, we are grateful for her decision – overwhelmingly so – but we are also very territorial about how much we will let her into our lives.
And here’s why:
Jess (the birth mom) sought prenatal care at twenty seven weeks, though she knew she was pregnant much earlier. She drank and smoked throughout the pregnancy, and reports having half a pack of cigarettes daily, and vodka mixed drinks nightly, three drinks per occasion. Our social worker cautioned that people often report less than the actual amount for paperwork, and we could expect to double that.
During her pregnancy, there were some domestic violence charges filed against Jess by her husband; as we understand it, she became angry with him for questioning whether he was Baby Girl’s father. She stabbed him in response.
Jess and her husband have three other children, none of whom are in their custody. They have no visitation with these children. Jess claims she still isn’t sure if any of the children are actually his.
Jess is employed as a prostitute. She was treated for three different sexually transmitted infections while pregnant.
And, perhaps most heartbreaking of all, on the night she gave birth, Jess was in the hospital in her room when a doctor came in to check on her. According to his report, Jess reported feeling fine, but when he pulled back the sheet for an exam, he discovered that she had already given birth, and Baby Girl was lying between her legs, covered with the sheet.
We know that Jess made the decision to place for adoption the following day; she had not considered an adoption plan prior to giving birth. And yes, we are forever grateful to have this beautiful, silly, thankfully-healthy girl to love and cherish.
But I am choosing to put my child first. We have pledged to keep her safe, and promised to love her forever.
Open adoption puts the child first… except when it doesn’t. Our adoption won’t be open.