#AdoptionTalk - Openness in Adoption

Talking about open adoption has become a "specialty" for me.  I have talked and worked with hundreds of birth mothers, adoptive parents and adoptees on navigating their open adoption relationships, learning to not let fear dictate their forward movement and how to put their own insecurities aside to allow room for honoring and respecting the other parts of this complex triad!  

I am learning more and more that I know very little about adoption AND that what I knew in one season is NOT going to be the same for the next season. As we transition into this next phase of our open adoption the rules are changing and once again we have to learn to roll with it!
— Ashley Mitchell, Birth Mother, Big Tough Girl™

Open adoption is NOT for everyone.  Well, lets be honest...Adoption is NOT for everyone.

*this post is specific to a domestic open adoption  

If you have come into adoption thinking that it will be easy, thinking that you can anticipate all the emotion and grief and shift that takes place, if you think that you can love unconditionally with no drama, expectation or insecurity then you can join the club of misguided and misplaced love.....I think it is amazing how much for me has shifted over the years, how much I have learned, how much has changed in my opinions, in my advocacy and in my own journey.  

One thing has remained true for these past 10 years.  

I believe that open adoption can be helpful and can be done well if you can do 3 things.  

This is true no matter what side of the triad you stand....

1.  Get over yourself.

2.  Communicate.

3.  Respect each other!  

Now I came from 5 years of closed adoption to now 5 years of open.  Truly a decade of shift and change and adjustment.  I have seen almost every situation imaginable.  I have done a lot of things wrong to learn how to do things right.  I have studied behaviors and grief and trauma and relationships.  I have watched families destroy each other or build something very special and amazing.   

If you are a birth mother and you are making demands, if you think you are owed because of what you have "given" if you think you are entitled, if you are stepping over the blurred lines of open adoption and co-parenting(this is NOT visitation)....shame on you.

If you are an adoptive mother that is harboring thoughts of jealousy, if you are letting your fear dictate your decisions and using your child as an excuse to not honor your child(ren)s birth mother because of your insecurities, if you are not opening your heart to acceptance and love for who SHE is....shame on you. 

The amazing boy that I placed for adoption is now 10.  He has a voice.  He has a say.  He is old enough to process feelings and emotions, to understand a little deeper what all of this means in his world.  He now has his own questions and his own desires.  He has things he wants to learn and figure out, he wants more time with me to deepen that understanding!  

If openness is not done well, if open adoption is taken off the table, if openness is blocked from two mothers then HE suffers.  Then our son doesn't get to learn, grow, understand or have peace.  

We say we did this for HIM.  I say that I placed my son because it was the best for HIM.  She said she would adopt this baby because it was best for HIM.  If we really believe that, if we really want what is best for HIM then we take his lead.  No matter what we are feeling, no matter our issue we put that aside for him.  We allow him a space to grow and learn and understand.  HIS VOICE MATTERS and we can't pretend that we know what he needs or what he doesn't need.  

Yes as mothers we "know what is best for our kids".  But in adoption there is more to think about, more to let go of and more to allow.  

To pretend that this is just like any other family, any other child, any other situation is dangerous and very misguided.  You can pretend all you want that he is the "same" as the biological children but he is not.  He is adopted, he is different, he has MORE available to him, more for him to love and more to love him.  He will have a deeper understanding of who he is and where he comes from, he is special.  He is biologically connected to one and forever family connected to another.  That is a lot for a child.  That is MORE for that child.  That is different for that child.  


Open Adoption is complex and beautiful and amazing and can be done well!!!  It can be done right.  You can learn to communicate with each other, to love and respect each other, to honor each others needs.  

I truly believe that if open adoption is done well you can change the heart of everyone involved. You provide a space for love, respect and healing....something that is greatly missing in Adoption.
— Ashley Mitchell, Birth Mother, Big Tough Girl™



Now on to the Adoption Talk Linkup!


Today's topic is Openness in Adoption. Grab a button for your post and join Ashley, Erin, Jenni, Jill, Juliana

New to linking up? We'd love to have you join us, here's how.

No Bohns About It

Humbled Behind "Enemy" Lines

The pain of adoption does NOT start with loss for the Birth Mother. It starts with the woman who is forced to look outside herself because everything about her body and nature has failed her.
— Ashley Mitchell, Birth Mother

Adoption is scary.  There is SO much fear with the unknown.  The "other sides" that force us to act and do so many things based on our lack of understanding.

Never let fear dictate your relationships.  You will be greatly deprived of something magical.

I had the incredible opportunity to attend a Steering Retreat for the upcoming CHOOSE JOY EVENT in Palm Springs this past weekend.  I knew that we would talk about the event, I knew that we would talk about Adoption and I knew that we would all share our stories....but what I didn't know was how I was going to feel through this process.  What happened almost put me on the floor.  

It takes a lot to ruffle my feathers.  I have seen so much and experienced so much that I forget sometimes what it feels like to have one of those core shaking moments....those reminders that God brings to us to keep us focused, to keep us humble and to HIT US LIKE A TRUCK so that we will get out of our own damn way.  

I love Birth Mothers.  I always have.  This journey of mine started because of my overwhelming desire to connect with women who, like myself, chose adoption when at a crossroad.  I wanted to know them, to understand them, and to serve them.  

But I have a great conflict in emotion because I have a deep and overwhelming love for the Adoptive Families.  The woman that adopted my son is a part of me.  We are connected.  

As I think back to some of those precious moments with her I am deeply humbled.

I learned something so sacred and special that day.  There are very few things in this world that are more precious and more amazing to a mother than hearing their baby cry for the first time.  The second he came into this world, I wanted him close.  They placed my son on my chest and he cried.

That sound, that precious, sacred sound filled the room. My heart was breaking.  I knew that I was sharing that very first cry with someone else.  That cry wasn’t just for me.  I knew that out in the hall, listening and waiting through that door was his mother.  I know that when she heard the very first cry of our son, she wept.

People always ask about him with them and what that is like for me.  I just smile and say "he looks like his dad."  He belongs in that family; he is a part of their family. 

I carry him in my heart but he is all theirs- body, mind and soul. I gave him life, and they are helping him live it. I am eternally indebted to them for saving me, for saving him. They are the true heroes of my journey.
— Ashley Mitchell, Birth Mother

Birth Mothers can be proud creatures.  We need to be a little proud.  We need to be validated and lifted up in strength for our choices. We need that to put one foot in front of the other.

 I think that we sometimes blur the line between needing to be lifted in love and light and needing to be lifted in praise and entitlement because of our choices.  

Let me make one thing very clear in my experience.  I am not a "proud" Birth Mother.  I am not proud of the choices and decisions in my life that made me a birth mom.  I am not proud that I got pregnant, I am not proud that I strongly considered abortion and I am NOT proud that I had to put myself in a position to make the choice of adoption to begin with.

If I am being honest, the majority of my pain and anger during those first years after placement was really directed at myself.  I was SO angry that I was in this place.  I was so angry that this was my new reality...and I could only point that finger at myself.    

I truly believe that in the worst circumstances I made the best possible choice.  I truly believe that I did what was right given ALL the information at the time.  Has that changed?  maybe.  Does it all look different almost 10 years later?  absolutely.  But that is a choice that I made.  

For me it wasn’t about making the decision to place with 100% confidence. I never had that kind of clarity. It was about making the decision and then choosing to live with it everyday for the rest of my life.
— Ashley Mitchell, Birth Mother

This past weekend I sat in a room full of amazing women.  Women that shared the sacred and emotional experiences of Infertility, countless miscarriages and their deepest and purest desires to become a mother.  

Photo Cred:  Kelly Treadway

Photo Cred:  Kelly Treadway

Some were called to become a mother through Foster Care, some through Domestic + International Adoption.   

One by one they shared their hearts.  They shared their pain and their struggle.  They shared their hope and their faith.  They shared their prayers and their triumphs.  

They were open, honest and vulnerable.  They didn't hold back, they didn't sugar coat and they didn't pretend.  

I felt like I was trespassing.  Like I was hearing some secret sisterhood code that only this elite group of women were allowed to hear.  So many times I felt like I needed to honor their privacy and leave the room.  As I leaned against the back wall and just listened and watched I could not stop the tears from streaming down my face.  

The conflict of emotion almost brought me to my knees.  

I had to step out for a minute.  I had to remove myself, very aware of how I was feeling.  

Those moments of picking a family, those first meetings, those sacred moments in the hospital, saying good-bye to my son.  I was right back there.  Like it was yesterday I was right back there.  Engulfed in my pain and emotion, yet not wanting to be disrespectful of the realities of the other side.  The women that were overcome with emotion as their babies were brought into this world, as they were becoming mothers, as they were living out their answered prayers.

I slid down the wall, crumbled to the floor.  Sobbing uncontrollably.  Trying to hold it in, trying to keep the sound muffled.  

I am so grateful for moments like these.  I am so grateful for reminders that no matter how long it has been since placement I feel great pain and loss.  That no matter how "fine" I am I will ALWAYS have moments of complete and utter breakdown for the experiences in my life.

I am so grateful to be humbled to tears from the realities of the experiences of others.  To truly understand those on the "other side".  To see and hear and feel their experience so deeply.  I am honored to know them and to call them my friends.  

Almost ten years SHE has been the mother to our son.  SHE is the one that has been there day in and day out.  SHE has suffered and celebrated.  She has been burdened and has been lifted in prayer.  SHE has struggle through her own battles and fought her way to motherhood.  SHE is one of the most important women in my life.  

These women have read unflattering and unkind posts about "their side", about who they are in the lives of these children and about the great pain and damage they have caused.  

We are all GREATLY uneducated on the sides of Adoption.  We have a long way to go in learning to love ourselves and to love each other.  

I will always tell my story.  I will always share the realities of this journey.  But I will always keep in mind the hearts that are reading it.  

Thank you.  You know who you are.  Thank you for allowing me to come, for sharing your hearts with me and for never holding back.  It is a sacred honor and I am forever changed for this experience.  

Crushing The Egg Shells

I believe that one of the greatest issues that keep us from being able to move forward with a healthy and functioning open adoption is understanding our role and communication.

When I placed that baby boy for adoption over 9 years ago I was very clear on my role.  I knew who I was to him, I understood greatly and deeply what it meant to relinquish my rights as his mother and I knew that I would never have claim over him.  

I was OK with that.  This was MY choice.

I also knew that when I placed that baby boy for adoption over 9 years ago that his mother, the amazing woman that was willing to adopt him knew her role.  She knew that she did not give him life and that she could never have that biological bond with him but that she would have a bond with him that would be equally as strong.  

And I was OK with that.  This was MY choice. 

I knew that I would be jealous of her.  I knew that as I watched her raise him and love him and have him call her mom that I would be jealous.  I knew that there would be times that I hated her.  I knew that during his life I would miss so much.  I knew that I would be able to make a guest appearance in his life and I knew that they would do their best to keep me involved but I knew that there was NO way that it would ever be enough.  I knew that I would always want more but would take what I could get.  I would be jealous of their time, their love, their laughter, their tears, their bond as mother and son.

And I was OK with that.  This was MY choice.

I knew that she would be jealous of me.  I knew that she would feel great loss and jealousy as she watched me bring our son into the world.  I knew that she would be jealous that he looked like me and that there would be little things that he did, little quirks that do not come from her.  I knew that she would be jealous of his longing and wanting to know me, to understand me, to ask questions about me.  I knew that as they sat together and he asked about me that she would be jealous.  I knew that she would be jealous of our biological bond, that strong tie between us that will forever connect us and pull us together.  I knew that she would be jealous of my love for him.  

And she was OK with that.  This was HER choice. 

I knew that I would have great moments of fear.  I knew that I would always fear that the baby that I placed would grow to hate me, that he would never be able to forgive me and that he would blame me for the pain in his life.  I knew that I would have fear about how she would talk about me, that she would not honor me or respect me.  I knew that I would be in fear that she would not honor her promises.  I knew there would be fear that he wouldn't want to know, that he wouldn't ask questions, or care, or feel that connection with me.  I knew that I would fear the future, the unknown, the change of season, and my future. I knew that I would fear his reaction to my children, to my life without him, separate from him.  I knew that I would fear the pain I caused him....but I would also fear the joy.

And I was OK with that.  This was MY choice.  

I knew that she would have great moments of fear.  I knew that she would fear that he would never love her like a mother, that she would never love him like her own.  I knew that she would fear his pull to me.  I knew that she feared that he would want me, leave her, blame her for taking him away.  I knew that she would fear me and my rejection of them, or my acceptance.  I knew that she feared drawing the line, creating boundaries and protecting what was hers.  I knew that she feared that I would disappear, not care, not love, be in too much pain.  That I would blame her and hate her and forever be tied to my anger for her.  I know she feared her ability to care for him, of letting me down, of being a disappointment, of feeling like I could have done it better.  I knew she would fear the age when he could leave.  I knew she feared that it would never be enough.

And she was OK with that.  This was HER choice. 

We knew there would be conflict.  We knew that we would disagree.  We knew we would disagree on parenting style, and life choices.  We knew that we would not always be happy with each other and we knew that we would not always support the other in choices being made.  We knew that we would butt heads and argue and wish and pray that things were different.  We knew that we would feel that our opinions were more important than the other, and we knew that we would hurt each other.  We knew that there would be tension and awkwardness, we knew that there would be sadness and tears.  We knew there would be bitterness and loneliness.  We knew there would be stupidity and anger.  We knew it would be a battle.  

And we were OK with that.  This was OUR choice. 

We knew there would be respect.  We knew that there would be a level of understanding and a level of love and appreciation for the other that could never be matched in any other relationship in our life.  We knew that there would be honor and joy and celebration.  We knew that there would be gratitude and overwhelming humility.  We knew that there would be love and sacrifice and peace and family.  We knew that we could learn from each other and grow in this life together, we knew that we could lean on each other and we knew that we could count on each other.  We knew there was trust and that there was a child that needed it all.

And we were OK with that.  This was OUR choice.  

It is impossible to know everything about adoption. It is never the same and it is always changing. But for all the unknown there are things that we can always cling to: Faith, Love and Kindness. For everything else all we simply have to do is ask.
— Ashley Mitchell, Birth Mother

Crush the egg shells.  Communicate with each other.  Be open to each other and be kind to each other.  This is NOT easy for anyone and it did NOT just happen to you.  

Let go of the selfishness, the jealousy, the fear.  Approach this journey with humility, love, respect, faith and the reality that THIS will always be a part of you.  You can't make it go away and you can't ignore it forever.  Sit down, have the hard conversations, set the boundaries and always remember the role that you play!  

The Visit

2 weeks ago I had the amazing opportunity to have a visit with my Birth Son and his amazing mother and sister.  He just turned 9 this month.  9 years ago I became a mother.  Not ever in a way that I planned.  A way that changed the course of my life forever.  

When I got the text message requesting more time, more visits, more ME I took a step back and had to process through so much.  (You can read about that HERE.)

I am always shocked that I get invited for a visit. I understood deeply and completely what it meant when I signed those papers...they owe me nothing, They are not obligated to do anything for me and I am not entitled to anything. I am honored, blessed and eternally grateful when I am asked to be included. I know my place and I have accepted that.
— Ashley Mitchell

I am so grateful that he is with a family that is so open with him.  That they share great love and respect for me and in the way that they talk to him about me.  It is so delicate and such a vulnerable position to be in.  They are filtering all of his questions and his concerns and his curiosity and they are doing it beautifully!!  

As I watched my kids play with him, run around with him, chase after him my heart was exploding!  I never thought a time would come for me in my life where I could feel such joy and peace in decisions that I have made.  

For years, even before I found myself pregnant my life was falling apart.  I couldn't even begin to explain how quickly this happened.  One day I looked in the mirror and I didn't even recognize myself.  I was doing things that I was so ashamed of, I was in so much pain but I couldn't face any of it.  I just numbed my pain, I ran away from all of my hurting and I was slowly but surely on a self-destructive path.  

After placement it got worse and worse until I finally broke down.  That is the thing about trying to run....it all eventually catches up with you, then you are forced to deal!  

While the kids played I stood and talked to his mother.  For hours we talked.  I shared stories that she had never heard before.  Stories that I thought she already knew.  Stories of how he came into this world, my experience at the abortion clinic, how I came to pick their family and more.  We shared so much about both of our paths and how we were able to keep pushing forward.  

We talked about the new stage of parenting that we are in, a new stage of Open Adoption that we have found ourselves in.  And I have realized how important our communication was to keep everyone on the same page and at a comfortable level.  

Adoption doesn't get any easier.  It is constantly changing and adjusting.  We are always growing and learning.  We make mistakes and we move forward with new perspective.  If we fight against growth we are forced in the wrong direction.  

We are crazy to think that the relationship that we had when that baby boy was born is going to be the same 9 years later. Like ANY other relationship in my life, this one has worked through different seasons, some good and some bad. But we are always coming back to each other. It is worth fighting for...their entire family is worth fighting for.
— Ashley Mitchell

I know my place.  I know who is calling the shots.  I am grateful for that, for them.  They have stepped up in more ways than I ever hoped for.  They have gone above and beyond my expectations for him.  AND at the end of the day, no matter my relationship with them...it is ALL about him.  

I asked her if it was always easy for her to include me.  I asked her if she always knew that she wanted me involved in their life, in his life.  

She looked at me with a magical smile and simply said "Yes."

What a powerful thing for my life.  Even if I don't use it, even if I don't take advantage of the offer as often as I could, even if months and months and months go by....I know that I am always there, I am always wanted and I am always loved.  

I am so blessed.  My journey has NOT been easy.  It has been ugly and shameful.  It has been built upon regret and suffering.  I have made many mistakes.  Some I have been able to forgive myself for and some I am still working through...

But at this visit, through it all, we stood there as a family.

9 years ago I became a mother but not in a way that I ever planned or expected. When divine intervention saved this amazing boy from abortion and an adoption plan was made there was NO way for me to know or understand the magnitude of my decision.

It changed the course of my life forever. Bringing this child into this world, holding him, crying over him, praying for him....sacred conversations at night in the hospital when I was still his mother, begging for forgiveness, overwhelmed with love and joy for his family that had been waiting and praying for his arrival long before I made my decision.....this moment changed everything. I am the woman I am because of this beautiful, perfect and chaotic moment! The moment I became a mother and then 3 days later I became a Birth Mother. 

I never wanted this...but it is a part of me...he is forever a part of me...and I am so honored, humbled and blessed to be the woman that gave him life...and I am so humbled by the woman that is helping him live his life. 9 years. 

That is adoption.

A Simple Request.

There is nothing simple about adoption. It is the most complex and beautiful thing that I have ever had the privilege of being associated with.
— Ashley Mitchell

I received a text.  A text messaged that caught my breath, that stopped me in my tracks, that made everything else around me disappear.  It was simple and pure and innocent and lovely.  

It will turn my world as I know it upside down.  In a beautiful and complicated way!

"...Derek keeps talking about wanting to spend more time with you...."

As a birth mom, I have these moments, these small little reminders of who I am...of something that is a HUGE part of my life.  The reality slaps me in the face.  I am forced to look at the part of my life that I co-exist with, that is always there and always a part of me but that doesn't often get the attention, or time or energy that maybe it should, maybe that it needs...

So here I am, world standing still and I am quiet and listening, pondering the consequences of this simple request.  

The questions...OH THE QUESTIONS!  

But then my heart.  My heart is screaming so many things.  

It is interesting that this text has come up now, during this time in my life, during the time when I have been working on things and asking questions.  

I joined a Tele-Life Coaching Circle this past week for adoption with the amazing LeAnne Parsons of Walk Your Talk Legacy Now Lived.  We will be spending the next 3 months together and I am looking forward to this new experience of Life Coaching {many of you know that I am a HUGE believer in coaching and what it offers for forward movement, getting unstuck and personal empowerment}.  

In our first conversation I talked about the fact that my daughter was getting older, she just turned 5, and that she is asking questions and loves all the 'BIG TOUGH GIRLS' even if she doesn't know exactly what that means.  When we are in our home she is right by my side while I work in the office, she helps put swag bags together and she hears the word adoption a lot...but it is nothing that I have ever talked openly about with her....I believe there are age appropriate conversations to have with our children.

When this text came across I realized something.  Derek is almost 9.  He is age appropriate for a lot of this conversation.  What if he has questions, what does he want to know, what does he think about, what is he curious about, what about the birth father....OH NO please don't let him ask me about the birth father....

But my heart.  My heart so wants to talk with him, to know him, to answer his questions, to understand him and have him understand me.

I don't know why for so many years I didn't think this moment would come.  I don't know why I thought that he wouldn't be curious.  I don't know why I thought that his family would be "enough".  

I am learning more and more that I know very little about adoption AND that what I knew in one season is NOT going to be the same for the next season. As we transition into this next phase of our open adoption the rules are changing and once again we have to learn to roll with it!
— Ashley Mitchell

I talk openly about my adoption.  I have shared in great detail my story and have worked with hundreds of birth moms and adoptive mothers and I have been able to own my story and be open and raw and real and it has been such an honor to share my story...

But I wonder, do I honor him?

Have I honored him in my life?  My family is not involved in his life, his birth father is not involved in his life, my kids know him and have played with him but they don't know who he is specifically or what he means to me, I don't tell people that I have 3 children, I don't send holiday cards or presents, I don't send regular updates or pictures......does he think that I am not that interested in having him be a part of my life? 

Oh my heart.  If he knew my heart.  If he knew that I have been trying to protect and maybe protect me.  If he knew that I loved him and if he knew that he matters to me and if he knew that he changed my life forever....Oh my heart.  

One simple request.  One text.  One thought of a boy, a boy that almost 9 years ago I held in my arms and played the role of mother. He wants to spend time with me.  

I know what people would say and think.  "Why wouldn't you want to see him?"  "I would give anything for this opportunity!"  "How could you say no to him?"

But for me there is so much to consider, so many people to think about, so many consequences.  

If only this were just a simple request, if only it was black and white, if only.....

I don't know what will happen or how all of this will play out, maybe it wont be that different, maybe he wont be that interested, maybe it wont change anything....

but maybe it will...