I met Monika, who is a birthmom, on Twitter and we chatted about doing an interview exchange (a concept borrowed from our favorite site: Open Adoption Blogs). She’s friendly and open about placing her daughter for adoption, which she blogs about at Monika’s Musings. Her interview with me is on her blog.
Why or how did you make the decision to place your baby for adoption?
I’d grown up around adoption as I knew my dad had been adopted from a very early age. Though I was 34 when my daughter was born and in what has now been a very stable relationship with the birth father, I felt immediately unable to parent. I didn’t know I was pregnant until my daughter was born, at about 36 weeks gestation. The emergency room technicians didn’t even know I was pregnant. I was admitted due to the fact that I was having seizures (high blood pressure, not anything related to my brain), and they wanted to do a test on me that required them to know whether I was pregnant or not. Voila! They found my daughter. Nick was deployed in Iraq at the time, and I was staying with a friend south of Portland, OR, so even though Nick and I had talked about eventual marriage at that point, I felt ill-equipped to handle a baby. Nick was planning to remain in the Army at that point, and I knew that I did not want to raise a child as a single parent for a year every other year (assuming continual deployments). I know that many people raise children successfully in the armed forces, but I didn’t personally ever want to put a child through that. I’d been a nanny and in childcare for many years at that point, so I also knew all the technical details and the monstrous responsibility of raising children.
How did you find the adoptive parents?
Someone in the hospital called the adoption agency I ended up placing through. Due to my having seizures all through delivery and for a while afterward (the seizures stopped when they ceased the anti-seizure medications), the state felt I was unable to make a decision as momentous as adoption placement, so they put my daughter in foster care. I had a period of nearly two months (waiting for court dates) to go from wanting a closed adoption to wanting an open adoption. My agency social worker was actually the one that convinced me to try an open adoption and gave me the profile of the adoptive parents that ultimately became my daughter’s parents. I didn’t meet them in person until the day I placed my daughter with them, though I found out much later that they would’ve loved to have a phone conversation with me prior to placement, said as much to the agency, and the agency dropped the ball on that one. I also believe at the time that I’d said I would love to talk to them prior to meeting on the day that I placed, but as I just said, it never happened.
Did your feelings change before and after the placement?
My feelings didn’t really change at all. I was just as firm after placement as I was before that it was the best decision I could make for my daughter based on the information I had at the time. I think the shock of finding out that I had been pregnant and that my daughter was actually biological offspring might have helped somewhat. The denial phase of grief was definitely made easier by not knowing that I was pregnant prior to giving birth. I still only vaguely remember the actual c-section (but it’s dreamlike), and then nothing until four days later.
How did you arrive at your openness agreement/relationship? Is it formal or looser?
My agency social worker actually guided most of the openness agreement. There was an agreement of up to 4 visits and 4 update letters for the first couple of years, and then it was up to us. They’ve gone above and beyond that, and we love it! We haven’t had as many update letters this past year (year 2), but I really don’t care as I talk to T via email approximately once a week, and she emails pictures of Mack (short for Mackenzie, what I refer to my daughter by on my blog) quite frequently. They’ve also initiated all of our visits. I would say the relationship has become a lot less formal over time, with the a-parents’ guidance, as we let them take the lead in the relationship.
You seem to have a lot of in-person visits right now. How do they make you feel before, during and after. I ask this because I find them very difficult emptionally. And I can say without hesitation that every time we meet, I feel much better. I’m happy to see them and I want to know about their lives. I want Theo to know his roots. But the lead up is so nerve-wracking and hard.
I’m usually an emotional wreck beforehand. I get excited to see them (and it really is them – I like T & C and want to see them as much as I want to see Mack), and then my worrywart kicks in and I start to think that any grief I’ve experienced since the last visit will cause me to say something I don’t mean or that I’ll do something crazy. I’ve never done anything like that, and I always feel genuine warmth coming from T & C, but the crazy worrywart in me causes me to magnify any worries that are constantly there prior to a visit. During visits, I’m just happy to see Mack and her parents too. I feel glad that she’s obviously loved and happy, and it warms me to the core to see the bond she has with her parents. I actually have told T (a-mom) several times that when I look at Mack during visits that I have no problem viewing her as their daughter despite the fact that I do feel a connection with Mack. It’s still weird to me to think of her as biologically mine. C and his dad both are quite good photographers, and it’s something they both enjoy doing. His dad came down (from my understanding, C’s parents live somewhere north of Nick & me and Mack and her parents live about 2.5 hours drive south of us) over the 1st weekend in September and did a photo shoot of T, C, & Mack. When they sent us a couple of the pictures that were taken, I was actually struck by how much I think Mack looks like her dad (a-dad). I think it’s pretty cool that there’s no biological relationship there, and yet she looks so much like she fits in biologically with her family. Anyway, after visits I used to experience what I’ve come to think of as “post-visit euphoria.” Then, I’d crash and start to worry that we’d never see them again. I have less time now between the euphoria of the visits and the worry since we never leave visits with a firm time when we’ll see them again. It’s not logical, I know, but I still can’t help the worry. Usually the worry dissipates the next time I hear from T, which recently has been the same night after we’ve had a visit with pictures that they’ve taken on the visit.
How does the adoptive family feel about the openness? Do they find them difficult. Do they tell you? Do they see them as important for their daughter or you?
I honestly think that both T & C adore the openness that we have. They usually are the ones to initiate visits. In fact, I blogged about a visit that we had with them at the zoo which was hurriedly planned – they said they were going to the zoo on Sunday when they emailed on Thursday and invited us to join them. It was wonderful to be able to join them so last minute. I asked T once how they felt prior to the visits, and besides the first visit that we had post-placement in which she described having some anxious feelings prior to the visit, she said each visit has gotten easier for them and they have none of those feelings of worry about not having anything to talk about or that we’ll have to force what has now become genuine affection between all of us. I consider them family and they’ve told us they view us the same way. I think initially they wanted the openness so their daughter would have access to her birth family, but now I believe they truly enjoy the relationship and have invested in it not only for their daughter, but for themselves. I also think that they realize how good it is for me to have the relationship that we do and have fostered the relationship for me as well. However, I firmly believe that a relationship must go both ways. It breaks my heart when I hear of adoptive parents that send updates or constantly initiate conversations with the birth parents to receive nothing in return. I can’t imagine actually feeling good about such a relationship.
Do you have a plan for what you will tell your daughter when she has questions or is old enough to understand the concept of adoption? (If find myself wondering this!).
Though we’ve not discussed it, I plan to let T & C have most of the discussions with their daughter and I have every confidence they will refer her to us if there’s a question or two they feel would better be answered by either Nick or me. Nick & I fully support them as her parents. I still remember one visit we were all walking around the zoo together and we all ran into a former co-worker of T’s. I believe that Nick was holding Mack at the time. T introduced us as Mack’s birth parents. This alone caused me to have great faith that they will have no trouble integrating us into Mack’s life as her birth parents. I think that they plan to just make us a normal part of the conversation about where she came from when she starts having questions. I’ve also written a letter to her for the 2 birthdays that she’s had so far. The letter for her 1st birthday explained that though I love her so much and there was never even an idea of wanting to “get rid of her” that I simply felt that I was not equipped to raise her the way that I wanted her to be raised and that I felt that her parents were equipped that way. The reading that I’ve done about telling children about their adoptions has reiterated over and over that while children are curious about where they come from, it’s mostly a need to feel like they were wanted and that they are always thought about by their birth parents. I think that T & C will tell Mack that, and that while we will let them take the lead, if they would like us to support them, we will have no problem doing so.
Why do you blog? Has it helped you process your feelings around adoption or connect with others?
I originally started the blog because I was talking to a bunch of other birth moms online and they were saying how awesome it was to have blogs. I love to write, so it seemed a natural thing to have my own blog. I had no idea when I started it how much I’d love it and how much it has helped me connect with others. I’ve found fabulous birth mom blogs as well as fabulous adoptive mom blogs, mostly through my connection with the wonderful and amazing super-Heather (Open Adoption Blogs). Heck. I wouldn’t have met you if I’d not had my blog, and that would be a terrible shame. I think it’s definitely helped direct and process my feelings around adoption.
Have your parents or other members of your family met your daughter? If so, how do you or the adoptive family manage these relationships?
It’s ironic that you ask about that. My family was sad and worried that I would try to deny my daughter’s existence and would not be involved in her life (like my dad’s biological family hasn’t been since they placed him for adoption). My dad’s birth parents were actually married, got divorced, and placed the children (more than just my dad, but we’re unsure of how many) for adoption because neither of them wanted custody according to the non-identifying information obtained by my father several years ago. I think that my parents especially know what knowledge of that has done emotionally to my father and didn’t want their granddaughter to grow up with the same feelings. My sister actually wanted to adopt Mack, which I stubbornly refused. Both my mother and sister visited Mack before T & C adopted (while I was still waiting on court dates), but they’ve not seen her in person since I was able to place her. T & C expressed an interest in meeting my family (and Nick’s too, though they’re harder to connect with since they live all over the country) in order to know Nick & I better and to provide further insights into their daughter’s developing personality. However, they were worried about my nieces (both aware they have a cousin) meeting their biological cousin and being sad that right now there’s no guarantee of Mack wanting a future relationship, as well as my sister and mother both seeing how wonderful Mack is and it “rubbing in” what they’re missing. Ultimately they decided they want their daughter to decide when she’s old enough whether she wants to pursue a relationship with her extended biological family, a sentiment with which I and Nick wholeheartedly agree. I encourage my mother and sister both to at least send cards on Mack’s birthday and on Christmas so that when Mack is old enough, she’ll know that her extended biological family thinks of her and wants a relationship with her should she desire to have one with them. Nick’s family is a bit more complex. His mother, younger brother, and sister know, though with the exception of Nick’s mom, they’ve not seen many pictures (except those I’ve posted on my own Facebook). His dad wasn’t officially told, though Nick’s fairly certain he knows because his sister probably told his dad. Nick’s dad was raised extremely conservatively, and in fact a large part of Nick’s dad’s family still think it’s scandalous to have sex outside of a marriage bed. Obviously as Nick and I aren’t married, he doesn’t subscribe to the same beliefs. However, he’s not told much of his family because of the fact that he doesn’t want to be judged by them. I know he knows it’ll come out eventually, but I think he’s hopeful that it’ll be long enough after we’re married that most of his extended relatives will either be dead or not care. I’m sure that T & C would love for Mack to have access to her birth dad’s side of the family too, and I’m hopeful that a meeting can be arranged someday.
Are you open with your peers about being a birthmother? How have people reacted or is it something you keep close to your chest?
I’m very open with my peers about being a birth mom. Most of my closest friends are birth moms, actually. However, those who are not are still very supportive and enthusiastic when I get pictures, updates, or get to have a visit. I decided that it’s a very important part of who I am just like she would be if I were raising her, and that the people who have a problem with my decision and can’t be supportive aren’t really friends anyway. They don’t have to understand it – only a birth mother can truly understand another birth mother’s feelings and internal struggles (which happen no matter how at peace you are with your decision). However, they can still be supportive without understanding. I don’t want to hide Mack because I’m proud of her and the parenting decision I made to allow her to be raised by awesome parents who were prepared to raise her.
You seem to be at peace with your decision. How have you achieved this?
I don’t think with the amount of grief that any birth mother experiences that she can be truly and completely at peace. There’s a lot of guilt and shame that goes into making a decision like that, even if you know it’s the best one for your child. However, I’m into taking personal responsibility for my choice. That doesn’t mean I brag about it to everyone and anyone, from the tops of roofs. However, it does mean that even when I have bad grief days, I don’t spend my time in “if onlys” and “what ifs.” The decision has been made. I wouldn’t go back on it even if I could, and given similar circumstances, I’d make the same decision. Taking that responsibility for my choice and the choices I made that led me to make the choice I did has provided a huge measure of peace. It does help that I have such a great and open relationship with Mack’s parents too, and I get to see that I made a great decision – that Mack is thriving and loved. That right there is most important of all. Even if as a birth mother your relationship is less than ideal with your child’s parents, being able to catch little glimpses that your child is happy and loved verify the choice you made.
Would you like children in the future?
I didn’t want children of my own prior to Mack, and having her has not changed that fact. I love children, and if I were to want any child, I’d want Mack. I’m bragging here, but she’s just plain awesome. Motherly love too, I guess. 🙂 Anyway, if I decide in the future that I want to raise children, I’d adopt from foster care. There are so many children in the foster care system that need stable, loving,permanent homes, and I’d love to give a child or two that deepest desire should I change my mind about raising kids of my own.