Carol, would you share with us a little bit about your experience with open adoption? Maybe you could share with us how it happened and how the journey has been for your family?
Years ago, prior to adopting our own children, a good friend of mine named Mary adopted a baby and had an extremely open relationship with the birth parents and their families. It always made me very uncomfortable to hear about the birth mother staying overnight with them on a monthly basis, celebrating holidays and birthdays together, and even vacationing together. I didn’t have any concrete reason for doubting the wisdom of this arrangement except for all the horror stories that had been broadcast in the media.
Aside from the bad press, it just seemed to put the adoptive family in a position of significant vulnerability for no apparent benefit. To the contrary, Mary would expound on the wonderful benefits of having her son’s birth family involved in their lives. She used to say, “It provides more people to love our son as much as we (she and her husband) do”. I would just smile and think to myself, “Ok, sounds nice, but really?”
Well, I’m here to say, “Yes, really!”. Over six years ago, while we were in the process of waiting to adopt a child from China, God brought a young woman named Heather into our lives who was looking for an adoptive family for her soon-to-be-born daughter. After a couple of face-to-face meetings Heather chose us to be her daughter’s adoptive parents.
At the time, she had reservations about having contact after the baby was born, although the baby’s grandmother Diane asked if it would be possible to see the baby once a year or so, even if she just posed as an acquaintance. She was trying to be sensitive to us, but also knew that she really wanted to know her grand-daughter. We thought that was acceptable, although no formal agreements were made. Despite feeling a bit uncertain, David and I agreed to stay open-minded and maintain open communication with Heather and Diane. This mindset positioned us to begin a relationship that has gone beyond our wildest imaginations.
While Heather was still pregnant, she decided to move back home to Oklahoma, an eight-hour drive from St. Louis, where we were living at the time. Diane lived in St. Louis and became our main contact person throughout the duration of Heather’s pregnancy. As Diane called with regular updates on Heather and the baby, we started to share our life stories and came to find out that Diane was adopted by a Baptist minister and his wife and was a fellow believer in Christ. She proved to be instrumental in helping Heather and us navigate these uncharted waters.
At the invitation of Heather, David and I drove to Oklahoma to be present for the birth of Hannah Elizabeth, a name mutually chosen by Heather and us. It was a joyful and yet tense time. Up to this point, Heather had resolved out of love to have us be Hannah’s parents, but we knew this could change after giving birth to her precious daughter. The five day waiting period required before relinquishing parental rights felt like an eternity.
We had to surrender control and trust that, however it went, God was in charge and cared more about Hannah’s destiny than anyone else. When the papers were signed and it was time to take Hannah from the hospital, I broke down in tears of relief, joy, gratitude, but also deep sadness for Heather who walked out of the hospital broken-hearted. We were awed by her act of sacrificial love for her daughter.
Upon returning to St. Louis with our newborn baby, Diane offered her help, especially since we had very little family support in town. We recognized the potential long-term benefits to Hannah of knowing her biological family and were willing to take the risk involved in opening our lives to them, although we didn’t expect it to evolve as it did. We took Diane up on her offer. She was the grandmother we didn’t have and needed. The more we invited her into our lives, the more involved she got. Occasionally, we expressed our need for space and she respectfully granted it. Gradually, without even realizing it was happening, we were growing into a blended family built on trust, respect, and love.
In Oklahoma, Heather focused on pulling her life back together. She would occasionally visit St. Louis to see family and friends. She would ask to see Hannah, but would be somewhat tentative for fear of interfering in our lives. We welcomed her with open arms and always encouraged her to visit as often as she wanted, assuring her she was not being an imposition.
We wanted Hannah to know her biological mother for many reasons. The typical reason many adoptive families give is to know the family history for medical and psychological purposes. As important as that can be, it seemed to pale in comparison with the benefit to Hannah of knowing that Heather desires a relationship with her because she still has the same deep love for her that drove her to make the difficult choice of adoption. Like my friend Mary, we celebrate birthdays and holidays together (as much as possible, now that we’re living farther away in Texas) and vacation at each others’ houses. Diane’s father even performed Hannah’s baby dedication while we were gathered at our home to celebrate her first birthday.
Remaining open and vulnerable in spite of feeling uncertainty and doubt in the early stages has paid off in ways we could never have anticipated. We feel a closeness that has emerged from mutual trust, love, respect, healthy boundaries, and similar values and beliefs. God has truly made us a blended forever family!
David and Carol Kirschner have been married for 12 years and are the loving parents to both Daniel (5) and Hannah (6). The Kirschner family are an enormous blessing to Crossings Community Church.