I first met my daughter’s other mother in front of a hotel. It was where she was staying as she awaited the birth of the child who would become our little girl, having been flown in from the extremely small village she normally calls home.
I was nervous. We had spoken on the phone a few times, but this whole thing was crazy. She was due to give birth in just a week, and she had asked me to take the baby. This in-person meeting was an interview of sorts. It was our chance to meet face-to-face and decide if we could actually make this work.
I hugged her, not really knowing what else to do, what else would be appropriate. And then, we went to lunch.
She was soft-spoken and a bit broken down by life but she was also strong, and eloquent, and resolved. She knew this was what she wanted for her baby, and as she explained to me her reasons — I knew she was one of the bravest women I had ever encountered.
In those few hours we spent together, I became sure that an open adoption would be a very easy thing for us to accomplish. This baby she was carrying would be mine, but it would also be hers. And I was confident in my ability to handle that — to open my arms just a little bit wider and welcome her into our family whenever she wanted to be there.
I talk to women considering adoption or who are already adoptive mothers all the time, and I routinely hear a note of fear in their voices when they learn about just how open my daughter’s adoption is — how freely I refer to her other mother as just that. Her other mother. I’ve been told, “I could never handle that,” and “I don’t actually think that’s healthy for anyone.” But I have my degree in developmental psych, had done the research on open adoption, and had learned a lot in becoming foster care-licensed. I knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that proceeding with as much openness as possible was what would be best for my little girl — and I was willing to do anything to accomplish that.
It helped that going into it, I had no fear.
What I hadn’t been expecting was how that would change when our daughter was born. Something shifted as soon as she was out of her body and in my arms. Something I can’t even really explain. I suddenly felt a fierce protectiveness over this child who was instantly mine.
I’m not proud, but in the days following my daughter’s birth — I became more withdrawn from her other mother. I fought hard against those feelings and did not in any way restrict her access to this beautiful baby. But every visit was hard, shrouded in fear and jealousy for me. Fear that she might change her mind and jealousy of a bond between the two I was suddenly worried I would never be able to compete with.
My dad said all of this was evident in my body language during the visits that occurred over the next week, before she headed back home to her village. He said that I hunched over my daughter as I was holding her, and held our bodies away from her other mother, as if protecting this little girl from the one who had given her life. I hadn’t realized I had been doing that. It wasn’t intentional. Just instinct, I suppose. The result of all that fear.
At the end of that series of visits, she asked if we could be Facebook friends. I immediately went into defense mode. I said I hardly ever used Facebook and suggested I set up a private blog where I could post pictures weekly for her instead. I assured her I would never forget and that this would also allow her to take breaks when she needed to, and to only be bombarded by pictures when she wanted.
I reasoned that I was looking out for her, but in truth — it was my fear speaking once again. I was afraid that if we were Facebook friends, it would give her too much access into our lives. Or that I would find myself censoring what I posted, for fear that it might hurt or offend her to see how happy we were. I was afraid she might one day come across something that would make her question my style of parenting and regret her decision to place this little girl with me.
I was afraid. And so, I lied.
Over the next few months, we talked nearly every day. That was easier for me than the visits. On the phone, I felt like I could still maintain control.
Of course, there were still visits as well. In the first year and a half of my daughter’s life, she flew in to visit us four or five times. And I entered into each of those visits with the same fear and apprehension I had experienced early on. I tried to never let on to that fact, always welcoming both she and her other children with open arms. And in truth, as I became more confident in my role as “mom,” our visits became easier. Less shrouded in fear and jealousy. At least for me.
But then, the visits just stopped. And so did the calls and e-mails.
Months went by, and I started to worry. I called and e-mailed on Christmas, on our daughter’s birthday, and on other special days that followed. She never responded. It had been the longest we had ever gone without hearing from her. Without seeing her. And I had started to wonder if we ever would again.
Suddenly I had a new fear. As those months ticked by, I found myself mourning the connection my little girl may have lost — the connection I had fought so hard past my own insecurities to create for her. I wanted her to have that relationship with her other family. I wanted her to grow up knowing how very loved she was by all the parties involved, and to have a tie to her history and heritage that I would never be able to provide.
So, I kept trying. I kept e-mailing and telling her we loved and missed her. Because it was true. And because it was all I knew to do.
And then, finally, after nine months of silence — she called.
Life had gotten hard for her. Perhaps maintaining our relationship had gotten even harder. I can’t speak to her reasons; that’s her story to tell. But I know that when she asked if she could see us that weekend — I was ecstatic.
Suddenly, all the fear and apprehension I had been fighting against in the beginning was gone. I was just happy to hear her voice. To know that she still wanted to be a part of our lives.
That visit was the easiest and most enjoyable we have had yet. I didn’t feel a shred of jealousy as I watched my little girl offer up big belly laughs in her midst. I had no problem stepping back and allowing the two of them to play and bond outside of my reach. I took pictures, I memorialized the event, and I smiled at how easily my daughter, our daughter, fell back into loving her other mama.
It was like I had imagined it would be, back in those early days when she was still pregnant and we were just two women united in that fact.
By the end of that visit, I offered a concession. “Would you like to be Facebook friends?” I asked, warning her at the same time that I tend to post as many as 100 pictures of our daughter a week, and that I would understand if that was just too much for her. That I understood if sometimes, our open relationship was hard for her.
But she just smiled from ear to ear and said, “Yes, please! I would like that.”
So I swallowed my fear once more and hit “friend.”
Because I realized then that’s what we were. Friends. Family.
Forever tied through this little girl we both love.
Open adoptions aren’t always possible. They aren’t always safe or what’s right. But in our situation, I am absolutely grateful it is the path we have chosen. Pushing past those fears hasn’t always been easy, but watching my daughter play gleefully with her other mother this last visit — I have no doubts. It has been the best thing we could have done for this little girl.
And for that, I am eternally grateful to this woman who continues to be the epitome of strength in my eyes.
My friend. My family.
My daughter’s other mother.More On