After our friends went home, Carey and I pulled out my laptop. We pored over the birthmother’s e-mail, prayed, and decided to call her. When she answered the phone we began the weird dance. How do strangers decide together to enter into an adoptive relationship? How could she know us well enough to place her children in our family? How could we be confident these twin girls were the children we were meant to adopt? We began taking those tentative steps, asking and answering basic personal questions, discerning whether we would be a good fit for one another. The matching process is similar to dating in many ways. We agreed to meet the next day in Petaluma at a neutral site. The birthmother would bring her mother and daughter. We would bring Elijah.
Before I write more, let me be clear I intend to keep most of the birthfamily’s story confidential. Their story is not mine to tell. Further, there are details about the adoption that we want the girls to know first. If it seems I am withholding certain pieces of information, that is intentional. If you have a question, please ask, but know I might decline to answer it.
The next morning we gathered photo albums, bought scones and muffins, packed the family in the car, and drove to the Lucchesi Park in Petaluma. I wore the same shirt I had on when we agreed to adopt Elijah. I called it my “adoption shirt.” Don’t judge. We arrived and Elijah immediately began exploring the playground. The minutes of waiting for the birthfamily to arrive seemed endless. I tried to look calm, but each time a car entered the parking lot, I stared at it, wondering if the birthmother sat inside. A silver SUV pulled into a parking space and out stepped the birthmother with her mother and young daughter. Though she was obviously pregnant, both Carey and I were surprised at how small her belly was.
We made our introductions and the kids ran off to play with each other. The birthmother’s mom quickly put aside the small talk and asked, “Why did you choose open adoption?” This began a couple of hours’ worth of questions for one another. We shared with them the story of Elijah’s adoption and our process this time around. We described to them our two main motivations in adoption. First, we believe our Christian faith invites us to open our family to others through adoption. Second, both our families have been shaped greatly by adoption, going back generations.
The birthmother explained her reasons for pursuing adoption, a choice she solidified a couple of weeks prior. The weekend before she e-mailed us she went to the hospital with preterm labor. I think that experience lit a fire under her to secure an adoption plan.
I found it strange to have such personal conversations with people we barely knew. As the kids played on the slides, by the pond, and around the goose poop, the adults shared our hopes and fears, all the while wondering if we wanted to enter into a familial relationship with each other. As the morning progressed, everyone seemed more at ease. Certainly the kids enjoyed each other’s company. When we gave our goodbyes, we said we thought we really connected with the birthmother, but didn’t want to force any kind of decision at that moment. She informed us she contacted a few other families as well. We encouraged her to follow up with them. We all agreed to return to our homes and pray.
The next day was Father’s Day, and as we drove home from church, the birthmother called to say she wanted us to adopt her twin girls. Gratitude overwhelmed us. Her family invited us to dinner at their home the following weekend. We then headed out of town for vacation. Originally we were to attend family camp at Calvin Crest, but the Sky Fire made that an impossibility. We went to Pismo Beach after seeing some family and friends in Fresno.
We thought the birthmother would choose us, but we did not expect her to make up her mind so quickly. Later we learned when she first considered adoption she went to our agency’s website and came across our profile. She sensed we would be the family to adopt the twins. Then she contacted IAC, told them what she wanted in an adoptive family, and they sent her a number of Dear Birthmother letters. Our letter sat on top, though she did not request it, which encouraged her and the intuition that we were the right family grew stronger. After our first phone conversation her desire to place with us increased. Our meeting in the park settled the matter. She did not want to follow through with the other families she contacted because the connection we made with her was so strong. IAC tells us birthmothers often know immediately which family they will choose when they see the Dear Birthmother letter.
While in Pismo Beach we had a flurry of communication with our social worker. We agreed to be considered matched even though we had not signed any paperwork—being matched meant we would take ourselves out of circulation to avoid making adoption arrangements with more than one birthmother at a time. This move came with some risk because the birthmother could back out and we would have lost time wherein we could have matched with another family. While Elijah and Carey found crabs and sea anemones in the tide pools below the cliffs of Shell Beach, I arranged the match meeting with our social worker. There we would formalize our intent to adopt and set up agreements for ongoing contact. The social worker was in communication with the twins’ birthfather, inviting him to the meeting.
The following weekend we drove to the birthmother’s parents’ home in Sonoma County for a fried chicken dinner. Elijah and the birthmother’s daughter played in the backyard, barely stopping for quick gulps of water or the occasional bite of a cracker. We met the birthmother’s father, who was warm and inviting. But this dinner was strange because our relationship ran backwards. In our first meeting, we discussed intensely personal matters and only now, with the big question of whether we would adopt the twins answered, did we engage in small talk.
On June 29 Carey and I arrived at IAC’s office in Concord with the birthmother, her mother, and the birthfather for a match meeting. It was our first opportunity to speak with the birthfather. We were grateful for the chance. Earlier that summer Elijah met his birthfather for the first time. We strongly desire for our family to know our children’s birthparents. We believe open adoption with its transparency and ongoing contact is healthiest for everyone involved, especially the adopted children. That we were meeting the twins’ birthfather before they were even born seemed like an extra blessing.
Our social worker guided us through a series of personal questions designed to help us know each other and understand what everyone thought about the adoption. Adoption, while beautiful, is incredibly complex. Carey and I celebrated we were about to grow our family. It is common, however, for birthparents to experience a profound sense of loss as they make a selfless sacrifice. We formally matched with the birthmother. Though the agreement was not legally binding and everyone could still change their minds, a formal match fosters trust and helps ensure the adoption will happen. We then formulated a birth plan and contact agreement with the birthmother. The contact agreement is very detailed and covers everything from the amount of visits in a year to boundaries for posting pictures on social media. Together we define the minimum amount of contact and can always choose to have more. This meeting was one of the first thorough introductions to the adoption process for the birthfather. It was like drinking from a firehose for him as he received vast amounts of information about open adoption and his rights.
We left the match meeting exhausted and grateful. That next weekend we hosted the birthmother and her family for dinner at our home. These informal meals helped everyone relax and build trust. We also ate a picnic dinner with the birthfather in Pleasant Hill Park. We introduced him to Elijah. The birthfather observed us sharing a meal and playing with our son. He said seeing us parent helped him trust us to be a good family who could raise the twins.
Though the adoption was progressing, we never felt settled given the provisional nature of our agreement. The weeks of waiting for the birth allowed the birthfamily more time to change their minds. We could reconsider too, so I am sure the birthfamily shared similar worries. With Elijah’s adoption, we met him after he was born and his birthmother made a fast and clear cut decision. Once we agreed to enter adoption together, there was little time for any party to withdraw. We would get to know his birthfamily and build trust with them after the fact. By matching weeks before the girls were born, we fostered a trusting relationship first, which proved helpful. All signs pointed to everyone being committed to making this adoption happen, still we could not shake the fear it might fall through.