I Want Her to Have You: A Letter to Biological Parents Everywhere

Hey Momma,

She's five today.

You know this.  I feel sure that you've spent her last five birthdays mourning the loss of your child as we've celebrated her with cake, presents, and balloons. 

Photo by icon0.com from Pexels

Photo by icon0.com from Pexels

Every year, I notice more wonderful qualities about her.  She's smart, inquisitive, artistic, kind, compassionate, physically stunning, and athletic.  I did not give her these things.  I have given her a home and have done my best to provide for her needs along the way.  You gave her most of the characteristics that make my heart swell with pride when I look at her.

Sometimes I don’t understand her.  She sees the world through different lenses than I do.  Sometimes I don’t understand my biological daughter, either.  The amount of times that that child can spill something and get dirty in a day mystifies me completely ... until I listen to her father tell stories of when he was a child and did the exact same things.  When I hear about his upbringing, I can make sense of her behavior.  

I don’t hear such stories about my foster/adopted child.  So when she’s shy around new people, or meticulous about her drawings, or afraid of all costumed creatures, I don’t have any explanations for the way she operates.

I want her to have so many things.  I want her to have great friends, a happy childhood, loving teachers, faith to call her own, a man who loves and provides for her, and healthy children (eventually).  I want her to have this beautiful life, but at the end of the day, what I really want her to have is you.

I don't say this because I don't desire her or love her but because I do.  Sometimes I love her so much it hurts.  Even so, I know that you love her differently.  Not more than me, not less than me.  But you can give her a certain kind of love that I can't, because she came from you.  You two share things that she and I never will.

I’ll be honest; when I say that I want her to have you, I’m not totally sure how that is supposed to look.  Every situation is unique, and a large portion of her relationship with you is out of my hands.  In an ideal world, there would be no adoption or foster care.  I’m grateful that I have the opportunity to be “mom” to the children in my care, but the necessity of this system implies that we live in a broken world.  I get to live with and love on these kids, but certainly not because of any merit of my own.  This is not the way things should be.

What I am sure of is that a child can never have too much love.  She won’t be crushed under the weight of having two moms or dads, or extra siblings or grandparents.  And so, I want her to have you- healthy, healing, and whole- because she was yours first.

Gratefully,

A Foster and Adoptive Mom

A letter to my daughter's birth parents

November is National Adoption Awareness Month, and every year, I think about posting something different on the blog than the following paragraphs.  But every year, I keep coming back to the fact that this is some of the best, most raw writing I've ever done, and this is a story that needs to be told.  So, once again, I'm posting this letter to my daughter's birth parents that I drafted over four years ago. 

Though we have an open adoption, we haven't had contact with Piper's birth father since 2013, and we only connect with her birth mother a couple of times a year (on her terms).  Despite rarely seeing them, the feelings below remain the same.  We will always love Piper's birth parents for choosing life for their daughter and choosing us as her mom and dad.

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national adoption awareness month

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Dear Amanda and Conner,

I have no idea if you'll ever read these words, but I have to write them.  I have to hope that, even if you never stumble across this blog or open the card that we sent on your court day, you somehow know the way that we feel about you.

I remember getting the call that you were at the hospital, Amanda.  It was June 28th, the day that we would meet our girl.  I had simultaneously anticipated and dreaded this day since May 16th, when I first heard your voice on the phone.  Although I was grateful to be allowed in the delivery room when Piper was born, I was also unsure of myself.  

Would I say something stupid?  Would I pass out at the sight of a live birth?  Would I be able to convey my excitement about bringing home Baby Girl without rubbing salt in your wounds?

 At least our case worker would be there to help us know how to navigate this situation that most people never face...

Except that when Andrew and I arrived at the hospital, you only wanted the two of us back there with you.

 Panic.  

I was honored that you and Conner trusted and loved us enough to let us experience something so special, but up to this point, we had depended on Bonni to help us know what to say to you and how to act.  Andrew put his arm around my shoulders, and I quickly prayed for the kind of strength and wisdom that could never come from me.  

Please don't act like an idiot, please don't act like an idiot.

When we walked in the room, my fears were gone, and I immediately felt at home.  "Hey guys!" you grinned.  Even in labor, you were beautiful and calm.

In a few minutes, the nurse came in to check you.  She looked at Andrew and me, hinting with her eyes that we should step out.  We took the clue and started to leave the room when you, Conner, stopped her and said, "No, it's okay.  They're family."  

I wonder if you know how much those words meant.

Time seemed to stand still as we spent the next hour or so talking with both of you and trying to wrap our minds around this huge thing that was about to happen.  Though we had met you before, those moments in the delivery room were especially precious to me as we actually got to know the parents of our little girl.  In the moments away from the agency, the paperwork, and the caseworkers, you became my friends and not just the couple who had chosen our profile book.   

When the nurse came back later, it was "go time."  Andrew and I stood awkwardly at your head and stroked your hair as we tried to think of something to offer other than, "You're doing great!"  Conner, you were a natural.  You knew exactly what to say and do to help your girl.  And Amanda, wow.  You made labor and delivery look like a walk in the park.  I honestly expected so much anger and frustration, but all I saw in that situation was love.  

I wish there was a way for you to have stood back and watched the scene like we did.  Your relationship with each other is inspiring, and your affection for a baby who you bore for someone else is, frankly, earth-shattering.  Those words that Conner whispered as you pushed, "Come on, Amanda, this is the last thing we can do for her," melted my heart in more ways than you'll ever realize.

Just 30 minutes after you started pushing, Piper was here.  I cried the happiest tears of my life as I took in her thick hair, her chubby cheeks, and her perfect little body.  Then I watched as the two of you held her, and my heart broke.  

This was the reason why I had been so afraid of our time together in the hospital.  You clearly loved her as much as I did, yet you knew that she wasn't yours to keep.  

You said that we deserved her, and I knew that wasn't true.

The nurses came in and out to check on Piper as the four of us bounced back and forth in our conversation between the trivial and the significant.   Andrew and I left for about an hour to pick up some food and to give you two time alone with Piper.  We got back to the room and ate dinner together, and I found myself wishing (though I knew the impossibility of my idea) that there was a way for the five of us to be the little family who lived happily ever after.

The hospital prepared a room around the corner for Andrew, Piper, and me, and we slowly collected our belongings to spend our first night as a family of three.  Before I went to bed, I walked down the hall to refill my water bottle.  Your door was open, and I stopped.  Conner, you were headed out for some fresh air, so I sat down in a chair next to the bed for some "girl time."  Amanda, as I listened to you share your hopes and dreams, as you talked about your friends, and as you revealed your plans for college in the fall, I felt connected to you in a way that few people will probably ever be able to grasp.  

Though we didn't always talk over the past nine months, we were in each other's hearts as we shared this journey.  We have a unique bond: I wanted so badly to be in your place (to be pregnant), and you wanted to be in mine ("established" enough to raise a baby).  There is no way to explain those feelings to anyone else, but I think you know.

The night passed uneventfully, and I began to think about how the two of you would be going home to a new "normal" in just a few hours.  I started dreading those last moments in the hospital.  Finally, around 2:30 the next day, both of you came down the hall.  This was it.  Andrew and I stepped out of the room to give you the space that you needed with Piper. We held each other tightly and prayed for the words to say as we waited for you to come out.  About five minutes later, the two of you entered the hall with Piper, and all the tears that I had been holding back came flooding out as I looked at your faces.  

 I never guessed that goodbye would be so hard.

Amanda, I've thought that you are unbelievably strong throughout this entire journey, so seeing you dissolved by emotion was almost unbearable.  It would have been wildly inappropriate to take pictures in the moments that followed, but the scene will forever be captured in my mind as you handed Piper to me for the last time and as you, Conner, hugged my husband like there was no tomorrow.  In those moments, every word I had rehearsed was gone.  Each of us knew that there was nothing to be said which could possibly convey the feelings we had.  In shaky voices and through blinding tears, we all said how much we love each other.  Amanda, you asked me to "take good care of her," and I promised that I would.  Then the two of you went around the corner and back to your lives.

I still cannot fathom how a day can be so joyful and so gut-wrenching at the same time.

Andrew and I walked downstairs to the hospital's chapel, where I buried my head in his lap, and we both sobbed.  I had thought that I would be filled with guilt when you two went home without a baby, but really I was overcome with profound sadness.  I was sad for you because of the difficulty of your decision, and I was sad for us because I felt like we had just lost two people who, in a matter of days, had come to mean everything to our family.  

"Be still and know that I am God," the walls of the chapel read, and this is ironically the verse tattooed on the wall of our bedroom at home.  Both of us found it difficult to "be still," because our hearts were so heavy for you.  We prayed over and over for God to give you peace, and I still pray every day that you've found it.

As I got ready to go home the next morning, I burst into tears all over again, and I wondered how many days would pass before I woke up without crying for you.  In the weeks since we have been home with Piper, time has slowly eased the hurt, but I don't think of you any less.  I have never once doubted that you would change your minds about the decision you made, but I have felt an unexplainable stillness in knowing that if you did, I would be okay because as much as I care about Piper, I care about the two of you equally.

Every night before bed, we tell Piper how many people love her, and the two of you are always at the top of the list because you will always be her parents, too.  

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I can't wait until she is old enough to ask questions about the picture of the four of us on the wall in her room, until she wonders how she got her beautiful black hair, and until she makes the connection that her middle name is the same as her birth mother's.  I can't wait for that day because then I get to tell her, once again, the story of two people named Amanda and Conner who loved her so much that they made the greatest sacrifice two people could ever make.

People say that you can't understand true love until you have a baby.  Although I don't fully agree with that statement, I do believe that I've experienced a fuller and deeper kind of love because I met you.  In your words, Conner, this situation was just "meant to be."

Through our whole adoption journey, I have been the most worried about our relationship with our child's birth parents, and that has actually come to be the most beautiful part of it all.    

You named our sweet girl Grace when she was with you for nine months, and grace has absolutely been the theme of our song.  "Thank you" seems so inadequate for expressing the gratitude we daily feel for your selfless gift, Piper.  Somehow I hope you know just how much you mean to us, not just for giving us a daughter who we could never have on our own, but because of the truly strong and special people that you are.  I love you and respect you both, and because of you, my heart is full for the first time in years.

Love,

Mary Rachel

She doesn't look like me.

My daughter is beautiful.

I get to say this because I'm her mom, but I also get to say it because it's true.

Since she was a minute old, Piper's dark hair has been the envy of everyone she meets.  She never had "baby hair"; her locks were always thick and long.  As my hairdresser's youngest client ever, my daughter got her first haircut when she was six months old.

Piper's olive skin tans quickly in the summer, and I already know that her big, brown eyes and full eyelashes will never need any mascara (though I'm sure she'll beg me to wear it).  She has her birth mom's dancer legs.

All of Piper's features stand in stark contrast to my fair skin, light hair, and blue eyes.  

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No one has ever told me that she looks like me.  

Most days, that's fine.  She doesn't look like me.  I know this.

But there are days when I wish that she did, not because I'd love her any more than I already do, but because there is this perception that she would "belong" more to our family if we shared some of the same outward characteristics.

Our biological child, Caroline, is a "mini-me" as far as looks go.  She inherited my wild, blonde hair and my pasty ghost skin.  No one has ever questioned that she is a Fenrick.

More so when she was an infant, but even now that she is four, people ask me of Piper, "Is she yours?"  

I hate this question.  Even though no one has ill intentions when asking, it represents a misconception.  Of course she's mine.  Have you seen how stubborn this kid is, how many peanut butter sandwiches she eats, or how much she loves reading?  Though our outward traits differ, many of the inward ones are exactly alike.  

She calls me, "Mom," but she resembles her birth mother.  That brings a twinge of sadness on both ends.  However, maybe it's God's gift to us, as well.  No one can ever take away how she looks, and no one can ever change how she acts.  She will forever simultaneously be a Fenrick and a Carson*.  

I wouldn't alter Piper's appearance for the world.  My adopted daughter doesn't look like me, but I don't really need her to.  She belongs, despite what the mirror may reflect.

*last name changed

A Case for Domestic, Open Adoption

Adoption isn't for everyone.

That isn't what this post is about.  You need to do what's right for your family.

When others find out that we've adopted, we get lots of questions.  Sometimes these questions come because one spouse secretly wants to adopt and is afraid to mention the idea to her partner, because people are trying to decide between international and domestic adoption, or because a couple has talked about adoption for years but has never known where to begin.  Whatever the reason, I'm going to attempt to debunk a few of the myths I've heard (and believed myself) about domestic, open adoptions.  Adoption is important, and I think that more people would do it if it wasn't so intimidating.

Myth #1:  Adoption is too expensive.

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Okay, let's be real.  Adoption through an agency is expensive.  But it's not too expensive.  Our daughter's adoption cost more than we anticipated (over $18,000), but we made it.  We aren't millionaires; our combined incomes are far less than even six figures.  Whether or not you read anything else on this point, please read the following:

If you wait until you have all of the money to adopt, you'll never do it.

 We are very blessed with supportive a family and friends who supported us tremendously, but adoptions are still possible without those things.  There are adoption tax credits, employee adoption grants, odd jobs, savings accounts, low-interest adoption loans, garage sale fundraisers, reduced trips to Starbucks, grants through adoption agencies, and other options.  Normal people (not just wealthy people) can adopt.

Throughout our adoption process, I was in tears, humbled by the grace of God and the generosity of others in helping us bring home little Piper.  We certainly found it to be true that "He can do infinitely more than all we ask or imagine."  

And in case you were wondering, our little girl is more than worth every penny.

Myth #2:  The birth mom will change her mind.

Honestly, she might.  A birth mom can change her mind and decide to parent up until the point when she terminates her rights (within a month after the baby is born in Oklahoma).  This has happened multiple times at the agency we used for our daughter's adoption.  Wouldn't you maybe consider doing the same, though?  All of a sudden, the baby that you've carried for nine months is very real and very beautiful, and it would become very easy to fall in love and very tough to put her in someone else's arms.  I constantly worried that Piper's birth mom would reverse her decision.  But at the same time, I knew that I would be okay if she did.

These birth parents aren't crazy.  They're pretty amazing people actually, and I care about Piper's birth mom so much that I genuinely wanted the best for her in that period of uncertainty.  

Adoption, like most things worth doing, is risky.  The birth mom really could change her mind.  And you really would be okay.

Myth #3:  The birth parents will try to take my child away.

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After birth parents have terminated their rights, they legally cannot take the child from you.  In Oklahoma, birth fathers can sign their rights away before the baby is born.  Birth mothers, as I mentioned before, must appear in court within a month of giving birth to terminate their rights.  After both of those situations have occurred, only the state can take the baby away from you, which would never happen unless they found evidence of you being abusive.  Birth parents aren't going to come knocking on your door to steal your child.  As previously mentioned, they aren't crazy.  

Myth #4:  Open adoptions are a pain and I don't want my child to be in contact with his/her birth parents.

There are varying levels of openness for domestic adoptions.  The agency that we used requires at least a semi-open agreement.  Minimum obligations are sending letters and pictures (via the agency) to the birth parents monthly for the first year, and then twice a year after that.  If you are hesitant to send letters and pictures, I urge you to consider the reasons why.  Your child will always consider you to be her parents, but the desire to know who the birth parents are is innate in every adopted child.  

You owe your child honesty.  

Put yourself in a birth parent's shoes for a moment.  If you had given birth to a baby, you would always want to know that that baby is okay.  You would probably think about him all the time and wonder how he is doing.  You would ask yourself, daily, if you had made the right decision.  

When regarding the tremendous gift that your child's birth parents gave you, doesn't it seem like a small task to update them on your child's life?  

Finally, I urge you to contemplate the caliber of people who choose to give their babies up for adoption.  While it is true that some are not excellent role models, that is not the case in most instances.  Piper's birth parents are exactly the kind of people who I want her to know.  They are selfless, brave, and generous. My husband and I are hoping that they will be involved in Piper's life as she grows.  You don't have to start off an open or semi-open agreement by giving away your phone number.  Our relationship has evolved to the point where we felt comfortable with that, but yours wouldn't necessarily have to be the same.  A healthy sense of caution about birth parents is acceptable; an irrational, judging fear is not.  

Be skeptical of your skepticism.

Myth #5:  My child's birth mom will have consumed drugs and alcohol during her pregnancy and harmed my child.

It's possible, yes.  But maybe not.  Again, there is much to be said here for being cautious as opposed to being fearful.

 At our agency, we were allowed to choose the amount of prenatal drug and alcohol exposure that we would allow for our baby.  None of the case workers made us feel guilty about our decisions or tried to force us to do anything against our beliefs because they knew that we needed to make the best choice(s) for our family.  

In the end, we decided that we had to leave Piper's health and well-being in God's hands. Prenatal drug and alcohol exposures can cause problems for babies and children; so can many other factors.

Myth #6:  An adopted child won't really feel like "ours."

We now have a biological and an adopted child, and I can honestly say that there has not been a day when Piper has felt less "ours" than Caroline does.  I can't imagine my heart being any more full of love, nor can I imagine wanting any other child in the world in her place.  She didn't have to come out of my womb for that to happen.  That's all I have to say about that.

Myth #7:  There is a greater need for international adoption than domestic adoption.

I have a hard time not getting angry about this myth.  International adoption is not "cooler," "better," or "more necessary" than adopting in the the United States.  

If you're going into adoption with the mindset that you are "rescuing" a child, I ask you to consider the thousands of children in your own state who need "rescuing" from foster care ... babies who need "rescuing" from a life of neglect ... teens who need "rescuing" from juvenile detention centers ... birth parents who need "rescuing" from the feeling of having to abort because there are no other options.

And then remember that ultimately, whatever child you bring into your family will end up rescuing you in more ways than you even realized you needed it.

I'm not trying to convince you to do something that you don't think is right for your family.  What I do know is that I believed every single one of these myths until we jumped into Piper's adoption.  Now that I'm on the other side, I can say that a domestic, open adoption is hard, frustrating, scary, unpredictable, unusual, hopeful, happy, freeing, beautiful, and worth every monetary, physical, and emotional cost.  

Adoption is joy. 

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On Telling My Child That She Is Adopted

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For weeks now, we have been attempting to prepare our daughters for another little person's entrance into our household through foster care this fall.  None of this has had any effect on Caroline whatsoever, except that she now gets to share a room with her older sister (which she thinks is awesome).

Our four-year-old, though, is full of questions, particularly about how this child is coming to be a temporary or long-term part of our family. 

"Is it going to be a boy or a girl?"

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"Is it a baby?"

"How long is she going to be here?"

"Do you have a baby in your tummy, Mommy?"  (Ouch.)

"Was I in your tummy, Mommy?"

Piper knows the answer to the last question, but sometimes I think she asks it simply because she wants to hear the answer again.    

People often wonder if Piper understands that she is adopted or if we plan to tell her that she is.  Though the conversation has gone differently at various ages, we've been telling her every day since she was born.  

During her first year of life, we prayed for Piper's birth mom aloud with Piper before bed and named "Ms. Anna" among the lengthy list of "People Who Love Piper".  When Piper began to talk, I asked her why she is special and taught her to answer, "Because God made me.  And I'm adopted!"  Now, she is at the age of obsession with baby dolls and actual babies, so we discuss whose tummy held which infant for nine months.  Always, we've celebrated "Gotcha Day", the day that she officially took our last name and became a part of our forever family.

I have no idea if we're doing any of this "the right way," but we're telling her because we think it's important that she knows.  If we want her to trust us down the road, we are committed to building trust now - in the big things, the little things, and everything between.

"Don't ever tell her that she's adopted," advised the ten-year-old during one of my afternoon tutoring sessions.  "Kids are mean," he said.  "They'll make fun of her."

Kids are mean.  Adults are mean.  Kids don't learn The Golden Rule early in life, and the adults who have learned it forget.  However, kids are mean about anything.  They're mean about adoption, but they're also mean about wearing glasses, having the wrong haircut, and bringing lunch from home instead of buying a school lunch.  I'm hoping that we can teach Piper to choose friends who will love her for exactly the adopted Piper she is.

People have also recommended that we wait until Piper is older to talk to her about adoption because it is too painful and messy to deal with now.  

It is painful and messy.    

The truth is, in a perfect world, there would be no need for adoptions.  There would be no abortions, infertility, miscarriages, abuse, or poverty.  We are not in a perfect world, though; we are in a broken one, so there are messes everywhere.  Like an open wound, painful situations do not disappear when they are ignored.  They might keep from worsening for a time, but eventually, wounds fester and ooze out even more gunk than there would have been if they were properly treated initially.  

So we will tell her.  Now.  As much as her little mind can handle.  We will tell her until she can tell the story, too, and then we will keep telling her after that.  

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We will tell her about how God used years of infertility, tests, and surgeries to mold our hearts and bring her into our family.

We will tell her about a brave 17-year-old who chose life and chose us.  From the Internet.  Because she loved her growing baby more than she loved herself.

We will tell her about the envelopes with money that anonymously appeared on our doorstep or under the windshield wipers to help finance her adoption.

We will tell her about my coworkers bursting into tears in the office when I got the phone call that we had been picked to be her parents.

We will tell her about the many people who walked with us and prayed for her for months before she was born.

We will tell her about the overwhelming love we felt from the moment she appeared in the delivery room.  And the overwhelming hurt we experienced when her biological parents left the hospital the following day, empty-handed.

We will tell her about how every detail of our lives was laid bare before the adoption agency and the judge, and somebody decided that we "passed inspection".

We will tell her about the day that her entire "new" extended family came to court and watched her take our last name.

We will tell her why her middle name is Anna and the significance of the fact that Anna means "Grace," the name she was called on her original birth certificate. 

We will tell her how she got her awesome Mexican hair and her amazing brain that memorizes entire books after reading them only a couple of times.

We will tell her about her biological half-sister, who is Caroline's age and lives with Anna.  

We will tell her about how her adoption has opened doors for us to tell others of the goodness of God, and how her life has made us believe in his goodness again, too.

We will tell her all of these things because they make her who she is.  Because she deserves to know.  And quite frankly, we'll tell her because the story of her adoption is a good, good story to tell.