Our monthly columnist Adrian Collins shares her story of adopting her birth daughter as an adult after her daughter’s first adoption was dissolved.
Aspen leaves draped the sidewalks in yellow as my daughter and I talked about boys, sipping coffee in our favorite mountain town shop. As I sat across from her, I reflected on how far we’ve come. At one point, we were practically strangers. It was only three years ago that we adopted her into our family. I was optimistic that a connection between the two of us would be immediate and natural.
After all, I’m not only her adoptive mom, I’m also her birth mother.
I relinquished my daughter for adoption when she was born. I was a junior in college when a set of skinny pink lines appeared on my pregnancy test and I wilted onto the bathroom floor. I’d always dreamed of being a mom one day. Just not yet. I was in a committed relationship but there were no plans for marriage. I didn’t have a steady income. The most expensive thing I owned was my purse. I had no way of providing my baby with the kind of life I felt she deserved. After months of agonizing, I made the heart wrenching decision to make an semi-closed adoption plan.
At the hospital, I held my newborn and caressed her tiny hand as our time together dwindled away. When the adoptive couple arrived and I had to say goodbye, I whispered into my daughter’s ear, “I will always love you.” My cries echoed loud in the corridor as I left the hospital without her. My only comfort was a promise given by the adoptive parents that they would hold my daughter close and bathe her in unconditional love.
Dozens of seasons came and went after I said goodbye to her. I married my high school sweetheart – her birth father — and together we welcomed three sons. Later we were asked to adopt another son from our family friend. I nurtured each of my boys with the utmost care, playing tag during the day and reading superhero books at bedtime. While I reveled in motherhood, my thoughts often wandered to my daughter. Occasionally, I’d pull out the memory box from underneath my bed that contained photos and letters sent by her adoptive parents. I would re-read the letters, soaking in the few details of her life that I was privy to. Over time, my heart began to heal as I held onto hope that I would see her again when the time was right.
When she was six years old, her adoptive parents invited my husband and I to spend the day together at the zoo. My heart erupted with joy. My daughter held my hand as I pointed out the radiant colors of a monarch butterfly. Before saying goodbye, I tucked a strand of her blonde hair behind her ear and whispered, “I love you.” She smiled shyly and whispered back, “I love you too.”
At age twelve, she met her brothers for the first time. My boys beamed with pride at their big sister and fought over who would sit next to her at the dinner table. As she played with them on the backyard play set, I noticed her adoptive parents become silent, almost distant. Their mood shifted from cheerful to cool. I couldn’t put my finger on what caused the change. Still, we all promised to stay in touch.
At thirteen, I bought my daughter a charm bracelet for her birthday.
At sixteen, my husband and I visited her hometown and took her to dinner.
At seventeen, she spent a weekend with our family. Soon after, her adoptive parents sent a card
thanking us for spending quality time with her.
At eighteen, my daughter enrolled in college and basked in a new season of life.
Then, everything suddenly changed.
We learned that her adoptive parents were no longer supportive of her relationship with us. She’d been instructed to choose between her birth family and her adoptive family. There was no in-between or chance of negotiation. I was baffled by their change of heart and immediately got on the phone, pleading with them to consider all of us a vital part of our daughter’s life. They wouldn’t budge. Instead, they hurled insults at me.
They accused me of conniving to steal their daughter.
They questioned my motives and tore at my character.
They jabbed at my most vulnerable spots as a birth mom.
I sat flabbergasted. What have I done to deserve this?
When the adoptive mother belittled my daughter, my voice escalated into shouts of “Why can’t you just love her?!”
Days later, they removed all financial support from our daughter and said they regretted the adoption. They disowned her.
I felt betrayed. I had entrusted my baby to them and now they’d abandoned her. The pain of watching my daughter endure the loss was almost as unbearable as the day I left the hospital without her.
It was my husband who brought up the idea of adoption. “We can take care of you,” he told her.
Since our daughter was eighteen, her consent was the only thing needed for the adoption to take place and for us to become her legal parents. While adult adoption is somewhat common between parents and foster or step children, it’s extraordinarily rare between a birth parent and birth child. My husband and I didn’t bribe or beg. We assured our daughter that our only motivation was love.
After months of thought and prayer, our daughter agreed to be adopted into our family. My husband made the announcement to our four boys while gathered at a pizza buffet. “Cool!” they cried out in unison before excusing themselves to grab another slice. To them, she was already a part of the family. For me, I wondered if I could be a good mom to her after missing the foundational years of her life. What if I don’t meet her expectations? What if I disappoint her?
My daughter wore a bright teal dress to the adoption hearing. My husband put on a suit and tie, and I wore a navy blouse with black slacks. I clicked my heels nervously outside the courtroom, wondering if we were doing the right thing. When I turned to face my daughter, my fears lessened. I realized that my heart had been fastened to hers ever since I carried her in my womb. I promised to give her the best life possible and to do anything to make that happen. I couldn’t provide for her at birth, but I would grasp at the chance to take care of her now as an adult. When our names were called to enter the courtroom, I turned to my daughter and smiled. She smiled back.
As I sat across from her at the coffee shop, I recognized traces of hurt. I wish I could heal her deepest wounds and erase the years of separation. Instead, I can only love her unconditionally and assure her I’m here. I can walk alongside her during times of doubt and struggle. I can teach her love and forgiveness. I can help her find the strength and courage to forge ahead. We can create new memories in our still-growing relationship.
I’ve spent time in reflection about my decision to place my daughter for adoption. Did everything turn out as planned? Absolutely not. Would things have fared better if I’d kept her in the first place? I can’t say. Sometimes we have to take steps of faith without seeing the whole picture. I can’t dwell on the “what-ifs.” I can only embrace the journey and how I was changed because of it. I grew in strength, perseverance, confidence, and courage that led me to an unexpected and beautiful reunion. I’ve given myself an extra measure of grace and learned there are new mercies each morning. I’ve watched beauty come from ashes. I will continue to gravitate toward love, kindness and forgiveness for the sake of my daughter.
Adrian Collins writes about the real-life complexities of being both a birth mother and an adoptive mother. Adrian studied journalism at Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego and is married to her high school sweetheart. They currently reside in Denver, Colorado. Adrian's memoir about a mother's decision to relinquish a child at birth and the journey to rediscover herself in the aftermath is slated for release Spring 2021. She can be reached at http://www.adrianccollins.com, Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.