Heather Kirk is an adoptive mom of five children. Each of these children has a different set of birth parents, and Heather's family has open adoptions with each of them. Heather and her husband Christopher frequently share their adoption stories at the FLS Adoption Training Weekend for Family Life Services and she has agreed to write a 3-part series about open adoption for The Journey of Adoption.
Part 1 of 3 — Making the Decision
When someone says, “open adoption,” to you, does that strike fear in your heart? Do you wonder what that really means and wonder what risks you might encounter if you consider an open adoption?
As I think back 13 years to when we started going through the adoption process for the first time, I remember the fears we had. At the beginning of that journey, we had never even heard of open adoption. After signing up with Family Life Services, we were told that we were required to go through an Adoption Training Weekend. We had no idea how much would be revealed to us during that weekend.
We met birthmoms and heard their stories. As we listened, we realized that many of them desired some contact after placement, but it wasn’t because they still wanted to be their child’s mother. They simply wanted to know that they had made the right decision for their child. They wanted to know that their child was safe and being taken care of. After all, that is why they were willing to relinquish their rights to being their child’s full-time parent.
If the situation were reversed, wouldn’t you want to know you had made the right choice?
My husband, Christopher, and I realized that we had to at least have a semi-open adoption where we would send letters and pictures to the birthparents. That was such a small gift that we could give back to the birthparents considering the amazing gift they were giving to us. As Daryl Pitts said, it was our chance to minister to the birthfamily.
But then we heard about open adoption where the birthparents and adoptive parents exchange all identifying information.
Do you mean they would actually know where we live? Could that really work? What if one of the birthparents changed their mind about the adoption? Would they come and try to kidnap the child?
I can tell you, my parents completely objected to the possibility of open adoption. Like us, they had only heard horror stories in the news of adoptive children who had been given back to their birthparents years after being placed for adoption. The problem is that news programs only want to report sensational stories, which are less than one percent of the truth about adoption. We discovered that those stories of children being returned to their birthfamilies happened when private adoptions through lawyers had not been done to the full extent of the law to protect all parties.
Still, we were hesitant about having a fully open adoption. It was scary.
Through this process, we were waiting and waiting for that call to come to let us know we had been chosen for adoption. About one year after entering the queue as an approved adoptive family, we received a call from an agency in Florida who had a birthmom choose us to adopt her child, but before she would decide for sure, she wanted to meet us in person. She was 7 ½ months pregnant, so we knew she had time to change her mind.
Well, Christopher and I took the long trip down to Florida, and boy, were we nervous. As we drove from the hotel we were staying at to the meeting place, we were both shaking and praying for God to calm us. When we arrived, we found that the birthmom, whose name is Shelley, was just as nervous about meeting us as we were about meeting her. We were all so relieved when we discovered that we were going through the same types of emotions.
We sat and had lunch with Shelley and the caseworker. We talked all through lunch… I hardly ate anything on my plate. The great thing was, the more we talked, the more our fears calmed. When lunch was over, we wanted to spend more time with Shelley. We had to get to know this incredible woman better. And she wanted us to meet her two-year old son, whom she had parented. So we decided to meet again the next day.
The caseworker did not come, which was something that was allowed with that agency. Well, that second meeting went even better than the first.
At the end of the meeting, Shelley told us that she definitely wanted us to be the ones to adopt her child. Then she invited us to be with her at the hospital and actually asked me if I would like to be in the room with her when she gave birth!
Well, our son was very stubborn about wanting to stay in Shelley’s nice warm belly. After going a week and a half beyond her due date, the doctor decided to induce her. So she called us up through the agency and told us that she was going to be induced the next day, which was a Thursday. We took the next flight out and arrived Thursday evening. She had been induced, but so far, nothing.
Thursday came and went, and on Friday, the doctor induced her again. Still nothing. But during those days, we had the chance to get to know Shelley, her parents, and her older son. We literally fell in love with all of them and knew that they were all part of our family now.
On Saturday, the doctor finally decided to break Shelley’s water, and our son Nathanial had no choice but to come out. When he was born, Shelley’s mom looked at me and said, “Go tell your husband that he has a son.”
Can you imagine that moment?
We were just given the most incredible earthly gift that anyone could ever give to another person. Shelley and her parents were crying. This was sad for them, but they selflessly thought of us and the joy we had in that moment.
During the next 48 hours for the hospital stay, we kept away except for the times Shelley specifically asked us to be there. This was her special time with Nathanial. She did ask Christopher to feed Nathanial his first bottle and allowed us to be there for other special moments. As the second day rolled around, Christopher and I couldn’t stop talking about the fact that we couldn’t imagine not having these people in our lives. We had to open the adoption. How could we want anything else other than our son growing up knowing this incredible love that his birthfamily has for him?
So just before the release from the hospital, we asked Shelley if she would be willing to exchange all identifying information and open the adoption. (This was allowed with the agency we were adopting through.) She and her parents were thrilled.
They still shed many tears as we left the hospital with Nathanial and they left empty handed, but they knew now that this was not the end. They would see him again.
Join us next time for Part 2 of Open Adoption — The Many Benefits.