Sunday, October 9, 2011

Long distance open adoption... Sterling's Story

I personally don't know what it's like to have my adoptive couple live clear across the country.  In fact one of my "demands" was that the couple live in Utah, in fact that they live relatively close to me.  Lori and Barton live  just 15 minutes away from me and it's PERFECT for me.  However I know there are some situations where the adoptive couple a birth mother is considering lives on the other side of the country.  I asked a dear friend of mine, Sterling, to tell about how long distance open adoption has been a good thing for her.
Here is her story
When I found out I was expecting in June 2009, the furthest thing from my mind was adoption. I figured, as many do when unwed and pregnant, that I would marry my boyfriend at the time and things would eventually turn into happily-ever-after. When I was a mere six weeks along, it became very apparent that things would not work out. I had already started counseling at LDS Family Services, and was working primarily on my mental health. When I realized that I may need to start preparing to be a single mother, I sought counseling for that as well. My caseworker was wonderful and did not even bring up adoption for many weeks. It was on my mind, though, and one night in August I got online. Girls in my pregnancy support group had been talking about finding their couples online, and I knew I could put in a very specific set of criteria that a couple would need to meet. I thought of it as a little bit of a game at first, and spent hours searching through couples.

As I was searching, something incredible happened. I realized it wasn't a game, and suddenly all of the couples that I was reading about became very real to me. In each one, I saw my sister, my cousin, a neighbor, or a close friend. I realized that, just as I was struggling, these couples had struggled, too. They were hurting. So I sat back and thought for a few minutes. I went to my criteria page and made a few simple changes. I wanted my couple to live in my state (as I had been hearing about all of these amazing open adoptions, I was hoping for the convenience of a close family!), they had to have a dog, and at least one parent had to have a college degree. I wanted them to have no other children, and be willing to adopt children of a different race or special needs (my baby would be caucasian and I had no reason to believe he would have any special needs, but I wanted a couple who would love ANY child, regardless of biological makeup). I had many couples come up on my screen, and I read through each of their letters. I decided to email three of them (my caseworker still didn't know that I was even considering adoption), and within a day I had two responses. The first was from a couple that lived in Utah, nearby me I assumed (from their work history), but they told me that they were already in contact with another birthmother and didn't feel right playing two girls. (I later found them again and they did, in fact, adopt and have a great relationship with that birthmother!)

The second couple emailed me back with news I did NOT want to hear. They did NOT live in Utah as I had hoped... they lived the furthest they could live from me inside the lower 48 states! 2,500 miles away was not something I wanted. They also told me that after placement, there was a strong probability that A (the mom) would have to work so they would have health insurance, as infertility is considered a pre-existing condition and they could not be covered privately.

For reasons I didn't understand at the time, I emailed the second couple back. Something about them made me feel good, and I wanted to know more about them. Over the course of two months, we emailed over a dozen times. As Thanksgiving drew near, they told me they would be visiting family in Utah and Wyoming, and asked if I would want to meet. Just as friends, nothing more. When my caseworker found out, she almost had a heart attack thinking I was about to tell a couple that I was going to place with them without consulting her. I eased her fears and let her know I hadn't even come close to a decision (which wasn't completely true...)

I agreed to meet D and A, and the day after Thanksgiving we met at a restaurant. I wanted neutral ground. When I walked in, D (the dad) gave me a hug, then A gave me a bigger hug. As she told me how nice it was to meet me, I had an instant calm come over me, and I could see myself placing a baby in her arms. I couldn't believe that, without my actually seeking for one, I was receiving an answer. I was so grateful.

It took me another month of battling with myself to decide to announce. On Christmas Eve 2009, D and A found out they were going to be parents to a baby boy born in February 2010. I knew that placing across the country would be difficult, but for every fear I had I also felt comfort and I knew that somehow it was for the best.

February came quickly after that, and soon little D was here. Little D was perfect, beautiful, and everything I had dreamed he would be. I knew he would only be mine for a couple precious days, and that I wasn't sure if I would see him after placement (though D and A had already invited me to be present when they were sealed as an Eternal family after the adoption was finalized).

At placement, it started sinking in that in less than two weeks, this perfect little baby would be two time zones and what seemed like a lifetime away. I was so scared that D and A wouldn't keep in close contact, and I realized that I was fearful of losing my friends as well as this baby.

At the time, I didn't think I would ever recover from placement. When I placed little D in A's arms, I truly felt comfort but I didn't believe I would be okay. I knew it was best for little D though, so I went through with it. I was so happy for him, but aching for me.

D and A had to stay in Utah until ICPC went through, and we knew it would be within 2 weeks. I had assumed that knowing they were close would be comfort. Honestly, it was hell. I wanted to find them, to see them, to hold my little boy. I wanted to feed my baby hunger, because I knew they were staying a mere hour away from me.

The day before they returned home, I asked D and A if I could see them again. They happily obliged, and we got together at another LDS Family Services agency. Seeing them made me feel almost numb. Holding little D didn't feel quite the same. I almost felt that I was blocking everything out. It was so hard seeing them so soon, but I didn't want to wonder later if it would have helped. I think in a small way, it did. But it also made everything even more fresh. The pain, the ache, everything was fresh again.

Before placement, we had agreed on a specific timeline for contact. The first 3 months we would email and they would send pictures weekly. The next 3 months it would be every other week, then once per month until he was a year old.

When I would receive pictures from this sunny beautiful place, I couldn't quite connect. They were in a completely different climate, near the beach, in a world that I wasn't a part of. But they were wonderful, and told me every detail about the things they did. They sent pictures of their home, their dog, their neighborhood, the beach, all of little D's stuff, and they tried to make me feel more connected. Over the course of a few months, I was able to begin moving forward. I ached to see them again, but I knew that if I saw them all the time I wouldn't ever be able to heal. For my own personality, not seeing them for a while was so good for me.

When little D was six months old, I flew down to D and A's home. Seeing them again made me so happy. These were my friends! They had helped me through some extremely difficult times, and they were just as excited to see me. And little D was so big! He had grown so much, and it shocked me... I loved little D so incredibly much, but I didn't feel that I was his mother anymore. He was a child I loved so much, but I didn't feel that I had a right to him. My pride hurt a little bit with the realization, but my heart was finally able to start healing. D and A and little D were a family, in every way. I had helped create that.

When I left, D and A invited me to come back and visit in a couple of months so that we could have some time for just the three (four) of us to get to know each other. I was excited at the prospect, because it was more like a vacation.

Leaving was incredibly hard... the flight home I ached the whole time. For little D, for D and A, for their world. I had felt something being with them that I hadn't felt in a long time. I was struggling, wondering why I ached for them if I didn't feel that I had a right to little D.

After a couple of weeks, I got back into the groove of things and I was able to continue healing. I got more excited about visiting D and A, and when the time came I felt that I was ready.

The second visit was better than the first, and A and I grew very close. We would stay up late talking, we crafted, we shopped, and we laughed together. She offered to let me help with little D, and I would sometimes help (like feeding). Other times I would pass (like diapering). They were so giving, and I knew I was blessed to have them in my life, even though they lived so far away.

They would be coming back out to Utah for Christmas, and holding on to that knowledge made it a little more bearable for me to leave. When they visited in Utah, we had so much fun. I was getting used to having "family" living across the country, and the coming and going wasn't as painful or stressful as it had been in the beginning. I knew that the distance was helping me heal, and helping them become a family without the threat of a "stalker birthmom".

After their Christmas visit, I didn't see them for seven months... when I got married. A and little D came to my wedding, and when I found out they would be there I wondered if it would be difficult. After all, I was letting go of one part of my life and beginning a new part. I did a lot of introspection for a few months leading up to my wedding, and I was able to conclude that if I had placed nearby, I wouldn't have healed as quickly. I would have been desperate and would not have tried to build a new life. I never would have been able to move forward. I wouldn't have been able to let my single life go to be with the man I love for eternity. I am so grateful for adoption, and I am so grateful for each individual story.

D and A may live closer to me in the future, but I know without a doubt that everything turned out how it was supposed to. I would not have been okay if they had been close, even though many other birthmothers are. I HAD to move forward, I didn't have a choice. 2,500 miles is a long distance, and I couldn't hang up my life and hop a Greyhound bus. (I could have, but I would have run out of money very quickly).

Now, D and A and I have a close relationship that involves texting, phone calls, emails and, of course, Facebook. We contact each other whenever we darn well please. I talk to A more than I talk to my own sisters sometimes, and I've been able to get some great marriage advice.

Now, D and A are planning to adopt again. I'm excited because this time, I get to feel mostly joy. I will feel anguish for their birthmother, knowing the pain she will be going through. But I know that D and A are going to be a blessing for someone else, just as they were for me.

Long-distance adoptions are hard... but very worth it. They had time and space to become a family. And Hey, I get a great vacation every couple years or so!

A, Little D and Sterling
D and A are hoping to adopt again, and I would love for little D to have a little sibling! Please share!
You can also read more about Sterling and her adoption story on her blog

1 comment:

Cherlyn said...

Thank you so much for sharing. We are in a long distance open adoption and I loved hearing your side of it.