For two years before our daughter Amelia was born and we adopted her, I scoured Pinterest and the internet for articles about parenthood. I wanted the cold hard truth, the whole story, as told by other women who were just as excited and terrified of becoming mothers as I was.
I gravitated towards the buzzfeed generation's style of writing; seeing things written out as a concise list gives me an inexplicable sense of organized excitement. “20 Things No One Tells You About Motherhood” “35 Dads Who Have Totally Nailed This Parenting Thing” “42 People Who Might Be Parents or Might Be Stock Photos” “19 Reasons to Have a Kid for the Tax Deduction” “How Infertility Changed Me- a Story By a Slice of Pizza”. Most of those article names are things I made up but in my two year stretch of trying to conceive obsession, I honestly would've clicked on every single link. But out of all those articles and lists that I actually read, I don't remember a single one.
After Millie was born, I realized the only list that mattered was my own. I've been encouraged throughout this process to write more, so here I am, baring this little part of my soul in the hopes that any woman or man considering open adoption or any mammal considering becoming a parent will feel simultaneously comforted, empowered, and humbled by this mom's experience.
1. Genetics and DNA play such a small role in how we bond with our children.
I am a fearful person by nature. My therapist, my mother, and my zodiac sign will tell you that stems from my need for control and order in my life. Like all the worries and anxieties in the world, I feared the unknown aspect of raising a child who did not share my DNA. I worried I wouldn't have that moment like other mothers have described to me, where they heard their child cry and they just KNEW it was their baby.
Then, the moment right after she was born, our birth mom sent me a text telling me to go to the nurse's station and wait. Her (birth mother's) mother, her aunt, my husband, and I waited at the nurse's station impatiently while Millie's godmother stood by with a camera, just in case. We were unsure of what we were waiting for. Two nurses came out with a fresh, pink baby. I didn't dare say it aloud. But I knew it was her. There were a lot of babies being wheeled around on the floor of labor and delivery, but this one was ours. They approached us and confirmed what I knew before I even saw her face—she was THE baby we had waited for. At that very moment, she cried out. This was our reaction:
I'll never forget the feeling I had in that moment. The only way I can describe it is that the hand of God gripped my heart. It was beautiful. Her DNA did not matter in that second; she was my daughter and her tiny voice and heart already owned me. Every fiber of her being was created by another woman, and for that, I love them both even more.
2. Open adoption is like a parenting cheat sheet.
One of the reasons I was so drawn to our birth mother is that her personality is like mine in so many ways. We often said that together, we were one complete mother, and we were each picking up where the other had left off.
Despite how similar we are, the best part about having our birth mother in our lives is that we get to hear about what she was like as a child and all the things we can already anticipate and plan for. Like any other parents, we have absolutely no insight into what our daughter's personality, interests, and life will be like. But we can anticipate a lot more of what her triumphs and struggles will be based on her birth mother's family's stories of her as a kid.
3. I didn't have to try to love my husband more.
I was warned over and over by my treasured articles and lists as well as by friends and family that I needed to remember to work on my marriage and relationship with my husband. My little worrywart brain immediately began angsting over my mental pie charts of how much time I should allocate for myself, for the baby, for my marriage, and for my work. Guess what I mentally put in my mental paper shredder the moment my daughter was born? The stupid pie charts.
Unfortunately, our daughter spent the first 10 days of her life in the NICU. It was hard on everyone. For her birth mother, we rewrote the rules of adoption and instead of the customary (and far too short to be so emotionally charged) 48 hours. She stayed at the hospital for four days so she, her boyfriend, and her family and friends could visit the baby as often as they liked. We stayed out of their hair and spent the days putting the finishing touches on her nursery, washing clothes, and taking our parents up to the hospital to hold her in between feedings. Then she got pneumonia, and the only people allowed to visit her were Eric and I. I was at the hospital from 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. every day, and my husband was home late every night because he would go to the NICU after work to hold her and feed her. Did this affect my marriage? Yes. I loved him more.
The day she came home, my heart exploded when I saw the pride in his eyes as he carried her inside for the first time. Their naps on the couch together, his willingness to change dirty diapers, his songs for her, the books they read—it just increases my love for him. When you have your first child, for the first few months, every night is still date night…punctuated by tears and poop. As tired as we were/are, we still have time to cuddle on the couch and watch TV, and every dinner is still a dinner for two. If you thought all your activities with your husband were fun before, add a baby, and EVERYTHING becomes a family event or a new tradition.
Marriage is work. It will always be work. But my husband said it best the other day when I mentioned how sad it is that we know so many young couples who have divorced so early in life, all of whom seemed great together. He simply replied “Sometimes you don't know you don't have what it takes to be a forever person until you find your forever person.” Eric is my forever person, and I am his, by nature and by choice.
4. Your heart will expand. I can't tell you how, it just will.
I have always had a heart for children. From volunteering at church teaching sunday school to babysitting and nannying, few things make me happier than getting to spend time with kids and hear all the amazing and hilarious things they have to say. One of my absolute biggest fears was that I wouldn't have time or energy to love on all my friends and family's kids that I have come to adore so very much. My friend's stepdaughter told me the other night “I was afraid that when you had kids, you wouldn't pay attention to us anymore. But you're doing a good job.” That was all I needed to hear to confirm what my heart already knew was true.
She has a really big fan club.
5. Priorities shift and you won't be aware of them shifting.
I can't put this any simpler: you will now have time for whatever you feel like having time for. As my best friend, told me, “You are far too vain to not do your hair every day” and she is probably right. I have time to shower and fix my hair because I make time for it. I could be doing laundry, or eating, or tidying the house in that time, but I choose to have that time for myself. Also because my husband once got into bed and asked “What is that smell?” and I knew that I needed to shower more when the baby was napping.
The energy and love you have for others is like spanx. Stretchy enough to fit everything important into a tighter package, but not so loose that it gets sloppy. The people and things I avoided spending time on in the past are no longer even on my radar. I don't have to pretend to be interested in doing stuff I don't want to do. My energy and time is devoted purely to what helps me grow as a person and furthers my ability to succeed as a mother, wife, daughter, and friend. And guess what? I didn't notice this happening AT ALL. No one else seems to have noticed either. Manage your priorities all you want…or just let it happen and see who sticks around.
6. Love is immediate; attachment takes time.
The second time I heard my daughter cry was in the NICU. She had been with me for 22 minutes, and they took her away to fix her IV. She cried out, and it was like lightning struck my body. Out of all the screaming babies in all the NICUs, she had to walk into mine. Her cry pulled love out of me.
Our family was fortunate enough to feel extremely attached to Millie from the moment each of us met her. The point of this somewhat controversial statement in the list is that when you are adopting, your whole life becomes about reprogramming your brain to think that this will NOT work out. You are trained to expect the worst and therefore getting attached is a dangerous thing to do.
Our birth mother was there every step of the way to assure me that she didn't want me to feel that way, but the truth is I was already out of danger the moment I became attached to our birth mother. She is one of my best friends, and loving her made me a mother. In the end, we all got what was best for each of us. Had it not gone that way, it was important for me to acknowledge to myself and to her that I loved her enough to support her if she chose to parent this baby. Her biggest fear was that we would take this baby and never speak to her again. Speaking those fears to each other made this open adoption work and our love has only grown as a result of our honesty. Don't be afraid of the attachment that follows the love, and if it takes time, trust that you may have to be more vulnerable than the lawyers and social workers are telling you to be.
It pays off. Just look at our faces.
7. My daughter is already my best friend
Growing up, my family was extremely close-knit. As an only child, I had the experience of being the three musketeers with my parents. Because I got so much of their one-on-one time, I was able to communicate with them on a more mature level at a younger age, but my mom always reminded me that she couldn't be my best friend until I was grown.
Now I have two best friends, my mother and my daughter. I spend so much time with my daughter and I see so much of her birth mother's face and personality in her that I know we already understand each other. I haven't decided yet if I'll tell her what my mom told me, but I do know in my heart of hearts that she will be my closest friend for the rest of my life. I would do anything for her, including letting her pee on me so her butt can air out her diaper rash.
I frequently have to fight the dog for her.
We have discussed having more children, however they come to us. We're open to expanding our family in whatever way it's supposed to grow. Millie will always be our first baby and the one that changed our lives in such a massive way. I'm excited for her relationship with all of her extended family. She is so loved and cherished. Thanks for following along in our journey.