For many years, adoptions were shrouded in secrecy. Pregnant women—often teenagers—were sent to homes for unwed mothers, only to return without their baby or any sense of where he or she had gone. There was a level of shame surrounding these pregnancies, and adoptions were kept confidential and sealed.
But in the past few decades, there has been a trend toward open adoption. Many a birthmother has since chosen to become involved in the process, selecting a family for their child—one that shares their values and ideals; and forging relationships with adoptive parents, before and after their baby is born. In some cases, these relationships continue for years, with birth parents and adoptive parents exchanging photos, emails, phone calls, and visits, as time and circumstances permit. A birthmother can become an extended part of the family, showing up for—and lending support at—important life events, if the families choose this degree of involvement. Other times, a birthmother will drift away as they get married, have other children, go back to school, or experience grief in the months after their baby is placed.
For adoptive parents wishing to enter into an open adoption, it’s important to gain insight into the heart and mind of a birthmother—to understand what drives her to make an often difficult, but always bold, decision. In “A Birthmother Perspective on Open Adoption” we offer two poignant stories that bring different perspectives to light. Patricia Dischler, author of Because I Loved You: A Birthmother’s View ofOpen Adoption, placed her baby with a family in 1985. In her essay, “Mine,” Dischler recalls the early days of her open adoption and the fears both mothers felt as they came slowly to know one another. Over the years, Dischler and her son’s adoptive mother have created a relationship based on true caring and mutual respect, and each has had a role in shaping Joe. Most important, Dischler describes how each mother has understood that “children are never really ours [to possess], but are entrusted to us for a time by God;” and that eventually, parents must let go and let children become who they are.
In "The Birthmother's Journey", an excerpt, Melissa Nilsen tells a different tale—one of teen pregnancy and relinquishment. In 1998, Nilsen was a 17-year-old high school senior, when she learned that she was pregnant. Her essay takes readers through a deeply personal journey that begins with her discovery, then leads us through her various decisions: to relinquish her baby after months of soul-searching; to choose an open adoption; to select a kind, hopeful couple who had struggled with infertility; to include the chosen parents in her pregnancy and childbirth; to entrust them with her daughter; and to continue a relationship with this family—and her birthdaughter—to this day.
Throughout her essay, Nilsen unveils the myriad emotions that consumed her in her senior year and beyond—confusion, over what to do; empowerment, as she chose adoption; intense love, for her baby; and gratitude, toward the adoptive parents who have always welcomed her into their lives. Today, Nilsen is married and has given birth to another daughter.
For adoptive parents searching for birthparent literature, these two authors present a worthy beginning. But to fully understand all parts of the adoption triad, it is helpful to step beyond our intense desires, to read different perspectives, and to develop a sense of empathy for our child’s first mother and the often complex emotions she bears.