As a mom to two adopted kids, I’m a sucker for a good adoption story — and there’s one that’s been making the rounds lately that I can’t seem to get out of my head. It’s written by Sonja and Alex Overhiser, the couple behind the food blog, A Couple Cooks, and it tells the story of how their son Larson came into their lives by including one other perspective we don’t often hear from: the birth mother.
As I’ve come to learn, adoption is so much more than what we see on the surface, and the Overhiser’s adoption story clearly proves this, in more ways than one.
Adoption is beautiful, yet broken. The great joy one mother experiences as a child is placed into her waiting arms can’t exist without another mother’s grief, loss, and tough decisions.
In the post, Sonja describes how her joy at finally becoming a mother happened in tandem with honoring his birth mother, Mariah, and her family. Mariah, she explains, loves her birth son dearly, but doesn’t have the resources to give him the life she wants him to have. She made an adoption plan and chose Sonja and Alex as parents, but the adoption is open, which means that the birth mother will receive periodic pictures and updates.
“Mariah will be part of Larson’s life and he’ll always know how much his birth mama loves him,” says Sonja. “We’ll have a few visits per year so she can see him grow.”
When reading their story, the birth mother’s love is evident right from the start — as is her grief. And that’s the other side to adoption that we don’t often talk about: There is nothing about this situation that involves “giving up” at all, and Larson is in no way an unwanted child.
Mariah chose Sonja and Alex to be Larson’s parents, and vice versa; simple as that. And the unique relationship that was formed from Day One is more than apparent. As the blog explains, Mariah’s family embraced and welcomed the Overhisers as they sat in the hospital waiting for the baby to be born. And when he arrived, they celebrated — together.
Looking back, Sonja describes the moment:
“We join the baby’s grandma and great grandma at her [Mariah’s] beside. We hug, once strangers, now family. Great grandma tells us that she adopted Mariah’s mother, so she knows what it’s like. She’s excited for us to be parents. We hug again, in gratitude.”
The story of how Larson came to his family is beautiful in a way that all adoption stories and birth stories are. But what makes this story feel extra special is the fact that it gives full honor to all sides of Larson’s story, and gives the reader an honest look at the grief behind the elation.
Hopefully, this family’s willingness to be open about their story smashes some of the negative stigma that we sometimes attach to birth mothers. Maybe it even makes someone out there realize that the words “she gave her baby up for adoption” might not be a fitting description to describe what really goes into making an adoption plan. It’s not always about giving up … it’s about choosing.
In my own experience, I’ve learned to give people some grace when it comes to adoption questions, to not get wrapped around semantics, and to curb the urge to roll my eyes.
While I don’t love the fact that a trip to the supermarket with my Chinese kids might bring on intimate questions from a nosy (albeit friendly) stranger in the frozen foods aisle, I’ve accepted curiosity as part of the furniture and have (mostly) found a comfortable way to answer questions or to politely tell someone they’re getting too personal.
I know when someone asks questions about my children’s “real” mother that they mean birth mother or biological mother. And although I might want to jump down someone’s throat for not using the right words, that’s not very realistic. I used to tell myself that I didn’t sign on to be the poster child for adoption education, but like it or not, I’ve been thrust into that role.
And in the process, I’ve accepted that there is power in the sharing of stories. Putting the verbal smack down on everyone who says the wrong thing or uses the wrong word just makes everyday life sort of unpleasant, you know?
BUT: There’s one particular phrase that’s commonly used in relation to adoptions that bugs me, and that’s when someone refers to an adoptee as haven been “given up.”
“I could never give my baby up for adoption!” you’ll often hear. Or, “Why did his real mother give him up for adoption?”
First, of all, we don’t know what we could never do until we’re faced with maybe having to do it. And second, I don’t know my sons’ birth mothers. I know nothing about them or their reasons … zilch. They were foundlings, which is how adoptions get started in China and their “before-our-family” histories will always have holes; but I know in my heart the choice not to parent the children they carried in their bodies was tremendously difficult. I know they grieved. I know these children in my care are not forgotten and I know they didn’t make their decisions lightly.
I just know.
The term “given up” implies something unwanted, unneeded, or in your best interest to discard. We give up sugar, cigarettes, and other bad and unhealthy habits. We give up on things that just aren’t worth our time, our effort, or our energy. When we give up, we walk away, throw in the towel, bail out, and bow out, right?
But making an adoption plan is so much more than giving up. In fact, it’s not always about giving up at all.