My Gay Adoption Day 316 :: Interview with a Birth Mother
As Kevin and I close in on our first full year pursuing an adoption, it occurred to me that we really have no idea how the process of matching works. Oh, we know the mechanics thanks to our adoption agency (and we've recently discovered that our "book" has been mailed out five times since we went live in the system in March, with one match resulting - not a bad ratio, but here we are, still waiting for that right mom to appear). But we know precious little about what goes through a pregnant mom's mind when she formulates an adoption plan - and less about the decision she makes choosing a family for her baby. And it's more than likely that my readers know even less.
Enter Antonia. Pregnant and serving in the military at 20, she chose a lesbian couple - Val and Mary - to become adoptive parents for her new baby, Emily. Two years have passed since she gave birth, and Antonia graciously took the time to chat with me about her experience as a birth mom, and the process of planning for her baby's adoption.
Given her youth and her career in the military, that process started with the realization that Antonia was not ready to parent her child. "I know I was not in a situation where I could do that," she says, "and I myself was adopted when I was about two. So I immediately started looking for adoption agencies."
She found Friends in Adoption (our agency), and chatted with Director Dawn Smith-Pliner. Comfortable with the team she found at FIA, she was quickly asked a number of questions.
"They asked me if I had any preferences as to same-sex, traditional family, religious preferences, what did I like, what types of hobbies I had," Antonia recalls. "They then sent me packets of prospective parents who could match who I was." After perusing them, she chose her top three - and then sent the lot over to her parents, and discovered their choices aligned closely with hers.
"We both chose Val and Mary," she recounts. "Their packet was very personal; it was handmade, and showed the family and Val and Mary and it had a lot of photos and was put together really nicely. That stuck out to me that they'd handmade it."
Choice made, Antonia began the process of reaching out to her chosen couple via FIA.
"I was so nervous," she says, but points out that her first meeting with the girls went very well. "We had lunch together and almost immediately it was very obvious that I wanted to select them as parents. They're such a lovely couple, and they asked if I wanted to meet their other daughter."
Val and Mary took the girl - Susie - over to meet Antonia and her parents. "My parents asked them how they felt about open adoption," Antonia recalls, "and it was at that point that they made it clear that they wanted my parents and myself to be part of their family in a way." Two other critical factors - the fact that Val and Mary were not highly religious, and that Susie was an older child - helped the match to firm up.
A lonely time followed that meeting for Antonia. Her pregnancy was unplanned, and her homecoming awkward for her.
"I was in the military and I'd been rather ill and I lost a lot of weight during my first trimester," she explains, concluding at the time that she was suffering from flu symptoms. "When I figured it out, I immediately had to think, 'I'm going to have this baby, so what am I going to do?'"
For Antonia, abortion was never an option - so she left the military temporarily and returned home, where her mom immediately noticed the change in her daughter.
"[My parents] were angry at first, but mostly that I'd kept this from them. Once I got the packets and they saw I was making a plan and doing the right thing, they were pretty happy about it." In fact, her parents stepped up and helped her with the process.
Not so her friends, but that was Antonia's choice. "I actually didn't tell many people I was pregnant," she admits. "I got home and a lot of people didn't even know I was there, and I kept it that way. Some of my friends in the military were not very supportive of the adoption thing - they felt God had a plan and wanted to impose their religious views on me. So when I got home I only let two or three of my good friends know. I didn't want anyone to make me feel bad about what I was doing."
That, according to Antonia, was the most difficult part of the process for her.
"I've heard other birth moms talk about the fact that a lot of friends and family members constantly try to tell them that they're making the wrong choice," she says. "They're told that this is a great thing, that it'll change your life forever to raise this baby yourself. That's a cruel thing to do to someone who has made an adoption plan. If they've done that, then they've come to the conclusion that this is the best thing for them; and it's difficult to hear that you're doing something wrong."
Antonia believes that those damaging remarks come from a place of misunderstanding.
"They don't think about the birth mother's emotional turmoil. They think, 'Hey I'm your friend and I would love to see you have a baby; that would be cute.' But they get to go home and the birth mother has to stay with the baby and probably give up a lot of her life to raise it. It's very difficult to hear people say those things."
She also found it difficult to be badgered about the traditional accouterments of motherhood.
"It's difficult when people badger you with things like, 'Have you decided on the name,' or 'Are you going to have a baby shower?' They're not thinking about the fact that if you choose a name, most likely the adoptive parents will change that name. And you're thinking, 'Why would I have a baby shower? I'm not keeping the baby.' People don't understand that coming up with a name, or having a baby shower, or hearing how great motherhood is, makes the whole process so much harder."
It helped her to have a strong relationship with the adoptive parents; in this case, Val attended Antonia's OBGYN appointments, and even ended up in the delivery room with Antonia. All three women became friends through the process. And Antonia, via this close association, discovered that her chosen adoptive parents were experiencing their own emotional turbulence.
"They had been on the waiting list for some time, and they'd been through some difficult moments," Antonia explains. "They were therefore really nervous that I wasn't going to see this through. A lot of adoptive families have to deal with the fact that a birth mother can give birth and then suddenly change her mind about the adoption. So I wanted to make it very clear to them that I wasn't going to change my mind."
The women were also understandably nervous about Susie's reaction to having a newborn around the house.
"Every young child loves hearing that they're going to have a sister or brother, but you won't know how they really will react until it happens." Antonia, drawing closer to her new extended family, decided to help prepare the way. "We spent time together to get [Susie] used to the idea. My mom gave her a book about how to be a great big sister."
This emotional attachment has survived the birth of Emily; Antonia sees her daughter two or three times per year, and Val and Mary send pictures and letters along regularly. Emily also makes regular trips to see her grandparents. And Antonia has developed such an appreciation for the process that she admitted to me that she'd have no issues considering adoption again.
"It's a way to give a family a child who maybe didn't have the option otherwise," she says. "It's very emotional; when I said goodbye at the hospital I was pretty upset. But I knew all along I was going to pursue adoption, so even now I still have this feeling that it's not real to me. It seems that Emily was never mine, and maybe that's a little funny, and I'm sure many birth moms feel very attached... but I never really felt that. I just felt like I had helped bring a new life to a wonderful family. I was sad the day we said goodbye, but that didn't last very long.
"What stays with you is how adoption changes your life, and changes the life of another family."