Mothering Stories

Open Adoption Is Not What I Expected

It’s so much more.

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“Mom! I got an A on my test! Can you send a picture of it to my other mom?” This is a typical sentence in our home. We have four kids — ages 10, 8, 8, and 3 — who joined our family via open adoption when they were infants. Our 10 and 3-year-old are biological siblings, as are our 8-year-old twins. Their first moms are as much a part of the fabric of our daily lives as my siblings, our parents, and all of the other important people that make up our family.

I need to back up a moment, though, because this isn’t just my story to tell. And it isn’t just our kids’ story to tell, either. This is a mothering story, and it includes these two women, as well. And it’s theirs to tell when they are ready, in their own words.

I reached out to my kids’ other moms to get their permission to tell the tale of our relationship — which they both agreed to. They both felt strongly that we should share how we’ve become so close so that others — especially adoptive parents who are hesitant of open adoption — can see how valuable it is. Here's what we've come to hold as true. Our kids deserve to know their whole story and be connected to all of their important people. It’s our job as the adults to cultivate that. The kids always mattered. What surprised us, though, is how much we came to matter to each other, too.

It’s a relationship that many view from the outside as unique or even uncomfortable. For most of human history, adoption was couched in secrecy, even as recently as the Baby Scoop Era just a generation ago. Biological families and adoptees were silenced, records were sealed, and adoption was framed as a lovely gift to a family wanting a baby. The trauma and heartache and complexity of adoption have only begun to be recognized and openly talked about. The first children to grow up in open adoptions are barely 30 years old. We are part of a fairly new crop of mothers navigating open adoption and figuring it out as we go.

Why does our relationship make others so uncomfortable? We discuss this often, and think it’s because we don’t fit in any “box.” How can kids be okay with knowing two mothers? Doesn’t it confuse them? Doesn’t it make it hard for us, as the mothers? Do we feel like less of a mom because we share the role?

These are the questions we are asked all the time. While I am usually lauded and put on some type of undeserved pedestal for adopting, both of my kids’ other moms have faced the strong negative opinions of others regularly. The twins’ mom, Sherdena, has been accused of selling her children, which, of course, is untrue. In the small town where my other kids’ mom, Heidi, lives, people have a hard time letting go of the decision she made. Adoption is a trauma for children and their first families, but one that society fails to recognize as we couch adoption in rainbows and unicorns.

When we chatted together while I wrote this essay, we thought back on what we expected when we began this adoption journey together. We realize none of us were really sure, but we just waded in and tried to keep the kids at the center of it all. Heidi said, “I gained a second family. I never really expected that. I can’t really explain the joy I get when I see how many people love our kids.” We love to text about pets — we both have too many — random science facts, and fiction books.

Sherdena told me what we’ve all built is what she hoped for, but wasn’t really sure would become a reality. Now we often have late-night chats about our kids’ antics. Our twins and their siblings she’s raising are a creative, energetic bunch that keep us laughing. It’s not always easy — the pandemic meant trips to visit stopped for a while. “It's pretty weird having kids out in the world and you can't see them grow up every day. But we count them in everything we do. When my other kids list their siblings, they always include them. We are all a family.”

We all admit we aren’t sure what our adult kids will feel about this hodgepodge unusual familial unit we’ve worked to build. My husband, grandparents, cousins, aunts, and uncles — we all are invested in these four precious babies and making sure we can always say we did what felt right to all of us. We have messed up a thousand times, like all families do. We keep going.

To those that ask if I ever feel threatened or “weird” about my kids having their other moms in their life, though? I’ll be honest. I worried about it at first. We were always committed to open adoption, but the daily ins and outs seemed daunting. Would we all get along? Would we agree on parenting decisions? Would it always be awkward, or would we get to know each other in time? Now, over a decade into this journey, my kids’ other moms are literally two of my closest friends. They know some of our most painful struggles, and I know theirs. They are the only other two people on the planet that love our gaggle of kids the same way I do — with a mother’s love.

Meg St-Esprit, M. Ed. is a freelance writer based in Pittsburgh, PA. She’s a mom to four kids via adoption as well as a twin mom. She loves to write about parenting, education, trends, and the general hilarity of raising little people. Find more of Meg's work at megstesprit.com.