The most exciting moment in my life was when I got a call from our son’s birth mom to tell us that she had chosen my husband, Jon, and me to adopt her child.
Like many gay fathers before us, our journey to becoming parents has been a wild rollercoaster ride. It has cost thousands of dollars, caused a few tears, and led to sleepless nights. But, like so many people told us as we progressed through the adoption process, it’s all worth it!
To help prepare us for what lay ahead we talked to friends, read books and searched the Internet for information. On the day of “the call” we felt prepared to be dads (we weren’t!) and we hung up happily terrified.
As we’ve come to realize, the one thing we weren’t prepared for was the ensuing relationship with our son’s birthmother.
Andrea* was just 20 years old when she got pregnant. A child of the foster system, she was adopted after living in multiple homes and we are very sympathetic to the fact that she lived through some traumatic experiences. When she learned of her pregnancy, she knew the best decision she could make was to offer her child up for adoption, hoping she could find him a loving home.
Andrea was connected with us for a private adoption through a family member. The first time I met her, I brought her to a routine doctor’s appointment and we both found out that she was having a boy.
Going to that doctor’s visit was an experience! As a near 40-year-old man accompanying a 20 year old girl into the back for an ultrasound, I got a lot of looks from others in the waiting room! However, this was also a wonderful experience. Many adoptive parents never get to have the experience of being there when they find out the gender of their child or to take part in these important pre-natal visits. While I was very nervous about the whole experience, Andrea was a pro! She did not mind me being there and was very open to sharing this intensely private experience. Our adoption counselor had advised us to remember that this experience was about the mother, not the baby. With this in mind, I went with the mindset of being appreciative that we were allowed to share in this experience with Andrea.
From that initial meeting, Andrea became part of our lives. As the adoption planning progressed, we communicated through text, phone and Facebook. We met her mother, nieces and other members of her family. We visited her home, took her out to eat and learned more about her life. To be honest, it was not easy. My husband and I are in our 30s, have had lots of formal school and came from middle class backgrounds. It was hard to find common ground with Andrea, but we managed by bonding over pop culture, comic books and horror movies. We learned more about her every time we visited or talked.
Andrea had a tendency to exaggerate or lie for attention, which I am sure is a direct result of her own precarious childhood. We had to consider carefully what she said. It was clear that she cared for our baby, and she talked about how to have a healthy pregnancy and birth. She smoked, but was trying to cut back for the baby’s well-being. All of these things helped us to see her as a person, not just the mother of the baby we hoped to have in our homes.
The months leading up to the birth of our child proved to be a difficult time. With the baby due in September, we were told in July that the paternal birth grandmother was stepping in to take the baby and raise him until Andrea and the birthfather were ready to be parents. This was devastating. The only thing that gave us hope during this time was the fact that there was a small chance that there was a different birthfather than the one assumed. A DNA test at birth would help to confirm the actual father and, if it was the person everyone assumed, we wouldn't be parents. If it was the other guy, we would still be parents. This in-between state was incredibly emotional. We decided to hold out for that slim hope that things would work in our favor.
Then, a week before the baby was due, we found out that things had changed again. The potential birth father had told his mother that he wasn't going to parent and wanted the baby to be adopted. Things were looking up at this point!
As we got closer to the time of delivery, Andrea wanted to know if we would be there when she was in the hospital giving birth. We were stunned that we would even be asked this question. As wonderful as it would be to attend the birth, it was a distinct possibility that we would leave the hospital that day not knowing if we were going to be dads. After much thought and reflection, we decided that we would try to be there. Again, we were holding out to that hope that things would work in our favor.
The due date arrived and went and we didn’t receive any word. In fact, we did not find out that he was born until he was a few days old. Evidently, Andrea had changed her mind about adopting and didn’t want us to know that she had given birth. Suddenly, no one was talking to us.
Our adoption counselor went to the hospital and tracked down Andrea and her mother to get more information. Andrea wanted to try being a parent to see if she would be successful. Andrea's mother was still in favor of the adoption, but wanted to give her daughter the change to parent. We thought it all had fallen apart. We were devastated. However, after few weeks of parenting, and with the support of her family and friends, she decided to go through with the adoption.
Now, four months later, we are planning to see Andrea in a couple of weeks for what will be our third visit. I will admit that these visits are hard for me to take right now as we are still in the adoption finalization process and this in-between state scares me.
When we see her, Andrea talks about her baby and how his personality comes from her. While it makes me happy to see her excitement as she bonds with the baby we all love so much, her reaction also makes me a little angry. I want to say that “he’s our baby” and his personality is developing because of how we interact with and care for him. But I can’t have it both ways. I can either chose to accept her in our lives or push her away from us.
For me, it would be easier to cut the ties. If Andrea disappeared into her own life, it wouldn’t hurt me. But it would hurt our son. When I think about his future, I want him to know his mother and her life. Good or bad. I don’t want him wondering if his mother graduated nursing school, if she ran off and got married, is down on her luck or if he has brothers and sisters, or the thousands of other scenarios he may contemplate. Having a child through adoption has never been about what’s easy….it’s about making the decision that felt right. For me, having Andrea in our lives, as difficult as it may be, is the right decision for us.
There is no how-to guide on developing a relationship with your birthmother. Every family is going to be different. However it evolves, remember that what you are creating is not for you and your partner, but for your child. Andrea’s not perfect. But then again, neither are we. We are just in a better place in our lives where we can parent a child. She made the hardest decision of her life, and gave us the greatest gift we could ever ask for – our son! We are happy to have Andrea as part of our family and to be part of hers. It’s what’s best for our child.