Closed & Open Adoption: One Mother's Honest Story

by Carolyn Bransby

It was in 1989 during my search for adoption agencies that I discovered an agency in California that offered “open” adoption. At this point it was fairly new, at least here in Georgia. My husband and I were very open to the concept with positive thoughts of meeting the person who would be carrying our child.

Of course, as fate would have it, we adopted a baby through closed adoption. This meant we would never meet our daughter’s birth mother during the process, and it would only be through our attorney that we would have any connection with the person giving life to our child. We had information on her age and health, some family history and a teddy bear. She was given a profile, pictures of us, and a letter I had written to her. Choosing us had to have been an act of faith on her part.

The first weeks and months as a new mom were bittersweet for me. I cried often those first months. Just one look at Amanda and I had fallen completely in love with this little baby. In my eyes she was absolutely perfect in every way. I honestly couldn’t believe that someone had done this for me – a complete stranger. I thought often of her birthmother. By sheer coincidence the hospital had mistakenly left her name on the release forms from the hospital. Alison… a name we came close to choosing for our daughter. Alison… a name without a face that would ring over and over in my mind and in my prayers. I thought often of how she must be feeling and hoped that she was receiving the help and counseling to get her through these tough months that lay ahead for her.  

As Amanda grew older she often asked questions about being adopted. I made a book for her with a simple story that explained her adoption. When she was 18 months old I began to read it to her as a picture book. She always knew she was adopted. One day when she was about 5 years old she asked, “Was my birth mother Japanese?” Now Amanda has very beautiful exotic looking eyes and she must have seen this each time she looked in the mirror. I assured her that her birth parents were not Japanese.

I’ll admit, however, that I was just as curious as she was as to what her birth parents looked like. Another time she made the comment, “I wish I could have grown inside your tummy”. I told her that I wished that also. But I also added that if she had, then she would not be the little girl she is and I wouldn’t trade who she is for anything.

The teddy bear Alison had given us waited patiently for the right moment. I made the choice not to put it in Amanda’s crib or make it a part of her stuffed animal collection. This bear was special and deserved a special time and place in Amanda’s life. On her sixth birthday I decided it was the right time. As Amanda took the teddy bear she immediately pushed her nose into its soft fur. In her young mind she knew that the only connection she could have would be through the sense of smell. That one act of curiosity spoke volumes to me. I knew our daughter would one day want to meet and know her birth mother.

In 1998 we began the process of adoption again. It had been ten years since we had adopted Amanda and times had changed. Open adoption was becoming the norm. I had personally been involved with a couple of birth mothers who had made a plan to place their babies for adoption. In each case the birth mothers met the adoptive family and they were right there in the hospital when their baby was born. I spoke to the birth mothers often after that and they were coping well and appeared to be content with the choice they had made. I think a lot of that came from the amount of control and input they had in their decision. No one told them what to do. They received information that assisted them in making their own plan. They had complete ownership of their baby’s future and made an unselfish educated choice, with the assurance they were doing the right thing for the child.

So in March of 1999 our journey with Rachel began. It has been an open adoption from the time she was three months pregnant. I was able to go on every doctor visit and ultra sound. But the priceless gift of being there for Kelsey’s birth will forever remain in my heart as the greatest highlight.

With an open adoption there is no more mystery of where she came from, what her birth mother looked like or unanswered questions regarding family health. There’s a real person, a name, a face … someone to hug and say, “thank you” to. Words that seem so inadequate for the gift.

As the weeks and months passed by with our newest member of the family, I began to realize what this open adoption might mean to our older daughter. She was witnessing the relationship with Kelsey’s birth mother, had been on doctor visits with us and was basically being the “big sister”. But I knew my daughter and I knew she was thinking about her own birth mother. I knew she had questions in her mind that I would not be able to answer even if she verbalized them to me.

So began my quest to find Amanda’s birth mother. Yes, for her, but also for me. I knew that one day she would look for her, and why not today. I’ll never know for certain if it was the right decision, but it felt right at the time.

With great excitement and anticipation we drove to the address we had been given – four hours away from our home. As we approached the neighborhood and the home that held so many answers for both of us, Amanda asked if she should hug Alison. I told her yes, but she would have to wait in line. I was eager to hug the young woman and thank this selfless person who had blessed us with such a precious gift.

It is difficult to say what is better – open or closed. I could make a list of pros and cons for each.  As a mom, I want what is the absolute best for my child and no one knows my child better than I do. Having an adoption that is completely closed is out of the question in today’s social environment. But having an adoption that is too open can be challenging. It’s up to me as the mom and as a parent to determine the lines that will be drawn and the boundaries that will be set. That’s what makes me a mom.

Carolyn Bransby is a writer and adoptive mother of two.

Posted October 2011