When Cecilia and I decided to go the open adoption route, we knew that part of the adventure would be getting to know the birthmother who chose us. But after feeling like a human science experiment while undergoing fertility treatment and subsequently miscarrying twins, my usually strong self-esteem took a nosedive. Every time the IAC counselors talked about the importance of empathizing with and honoring the birthmother, I felt smaller and smaller. I pictured this hypothetical birthmother as fertile and glowing; clearly everyone thought she was so special. And since she was carrying our child, she had all the power.
After processing my own grief a little more and reading testimonials by birthmothers—their pain sometimes leaping off my computer screen—I started to think about what our hypothetical birthmom might have in common with me. So here’s my list, in the form of a very different kind of Dear Birthmother letter.
1. We know that life is unpredictable. I wanted to be pregnant. You wanted not to be. Neither of us got our way, and I’m guessing that we both felt frustrated by the lack of control we had over our own bodies.
2. We have big plans for the future. Cecilia and I daydream about introducing our parents to their first grandkid, reading her Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, or helping him with college applications. Maybe you want to go back to school, or devote more time to the child(ren) you already have, or start your own business. Either way, we’re the kind of people who think ahead. You and I are not goofballs who get thrashed in the currents of life. We look out for those waves and grab our surfboards.
3. We’re terrified. You’re probably thinking, Can I really trust these people to raise my baby? What if they don’t honor our contact agreement? Not to mention, Oh my god, a live human being is going to come out of my body at some point. We’re thinking, What if she changes her mind at the last minute? What if she doesn’t stay in touch and our child wonders why? What if there are complications with the birth? We’re both taking a leap of faith.
4. We’ve become adoption educators. I know a woman who placed a child for adoption when she was 19. At the time, people she knew said, “How can you be so cruel?” She (and you and I) know that the opposite is true: Placing a child for adoption is an act of love and selflessness. Cecilia and I have gotten our fair share of infuriating questions. Sometimes people assume that adoption is a “last resort.” Just because it’s the thing we tried second doesn’t mean it’s our second choice. But you and I keep our cool (most of the time) and remind ourselves that the more open we are about open adoption, the more understanding the world will become.
5. Sometimes we’ve felt frustrated with the IAC. When our adoption coordinator sent us his 59th edit of our (undeniably awesome!) letter to you, we wanted to throttle him. When we had to lock up all sharp objects and install a handrail at our house and a zillion other things that other parents of newborns never have to do, we wanted to scream, Why are you picking on us? When your IAC counselor made you track down the birthfather you were so done with, or kept telling you how sad you’d feel, or asked you a bunch of questions about stuff that should be private, you probably wanted to scream, Why are you picking on me?
6. But usually we realized the IAC was right. The truth is, they’ve done this many more times than you or I have, and they have hundreds of happy families to show for it. I still don’t understand what’s so terrible about having sunglasses on top my head in a photo, but I’m willing to take their word for it.
7. We want to impress each other. Have I already thought about what I’ll wear the first time Cecilia and I meet you? You bet I have. Something that says, I have maternal instincts to spare! I’m neither a slob nor a snob! I’m responsible yet fun! I’m guessing you’ll be wearing maternity clothes, but limited wardrobe options don’t mean you’re any less conscious of what our first impression of you will be.
8. We want to make a new friend. You know how, on reality shows, contestants always say, “I’m not here to make friends”? Well, Cecilia and I are here to make friends. True, our friendship with you will be the kind that includes a lot of intense conversations and a big stack of paperwork. But we know that none of it would work without the things that make any friendship strong: shared values, trust and the ability to laugh together. Yeah, yeah, we both know it’s all about the kid. But that doesn’t mean we can’t share a pizza and talk about our favorite movies.
9. We both want to name the baby Apple Zuma Coco Bronx Klein-Ybarra. Just kidding. I’m pretty confident that we’ll both come down on the side of non-food- or geography-related names. But there will undoubtedly be a few things we don’t see eye to eye on. That’s where good communication and a little friendly mediation from the IAC come in.
10. We both love this baby like crazy. If we didn’t, how could we possibly put up with all the paperwork, anxiety, uncertainty, heartbreak, stretch marks and stinky diapers? In other words, we’re just like any other parents.
Cheryl Klein is a fiction writer and arts administrator living in Los Angeles. She and her spouse Cecilia are currently waiting to match. Get to know them here: http://www.iheartadoption.org/users/ccandcheryl