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Arc of An Open Adoption

how does open adoption change over time?

Guest posting today is Rachel Garlinghouse, mother of three and writer at White Sugar Brown Sugar.

how does open adoption change over time?


It’s 2006.  I’ve just been diagnosed with a chronic, forever disease.  I’m curled up in a hospital bed — emaciated, foggy, and angry — when a diabetes nurse educator comes into my room and starts talking to me about injecting insulin, checking my blood sugar, and counting carbohydrate grams. I don’t really start listening until she asks if I plan on having children? I sit up and say “yes.” She proceeds to talk about a diabetic’s pregnancy, but I’m already in another place. I’ve immediately decided, with no reservations or questions, that this disease is giving me a gift. This disease is giving me the option to adopt.

It’s 2007.  My husband and I sit at an adoption agency informational meeting. The topic of openness in adoption arises.  I’m committed.  I’m all-in. But an adoption where we essentially share the child with the child’s birth parents? Visits? Not sure. On the drive home, I ask my husband, and he says semi-open adoption makes the most sense.  A happy medium. A few weeks later we fill out the agency’s forms, including checking the “semi open adoption” box. And then we start waiting. We read The Open Adoption Experience and Dear Birthmother, but we don’t change our minds about the level of openness we think is best…best for us. We want adoption to be easy, comfortable, and like a dream.

It’s 2008.  We’ve been waiting to adopt for a year and a half. We’re painting our kitchen when my husband’s cell phone rings.  It’s our agency. We have a daughter, and she’s already here and waiting. Come get her. We pack, we plan, we make arrangements at work, we make dozens of phone calls, we worry, we squeal with joy. We make the four hour drive to meet our daughter, and the next morning we are in a courthouse. Birth mom wants to meet us, she decides last minute. We meet the woman who birthed our daughter, the woman who changed our lives, the woman who made us parents.

Suddenly we have a face to a name. I immediately love, admire, and respect this woman without reservation, caution, or limits. The semi-open adoption doors, doors that were supposed to be cracked,
or doors that should just have a small window in them, have been opened. Best laid plans change.

It’s 2009.  My daughter turns ten months old. As I rock her to sleep, it suddenly dawns upon me that I’ve had her as long as her birth mother did. I envision what it would be like to love her for ten months and then let her go…forever. My eyes brim with tears as I pull my baby closer, smelling her milky-baby smell and observing her long eye lashes resting on her rounded cheeks. She’s mine. But she’s also hers.

It’s 2010.  We’ve just met our daughter’s birth brother and his adoptive family. Their son and our daughter are so evidently biological siblings. Their feet are the same:  wide and thick. Their laugh is the same. They are both emotional children. And most importantly, they adore each other within minutes of meeting.

When November rolls around, we decide to adopt again, notifying our agency that we are ready, filling out the paperwork, going through maze of red tape. On day one of waiting, we get a call. Another baby girl. Already here. Come now. We meet her birth parents a few days after she’s placed in our arms. They hand us their phone numbers and addresses. They want to know where their daughter is going. They want to be able to contact us if they choose.

It’s 2011 and 2012.  We’ve had several visits, phone calls, and written exchanges with our girls’ birth families. It’s been beautiful. It’s been challenging. It’s been rewarding. It’s been scary. There’s no guidebook, no rules. Complicated. Bittersweet. Ever-evolving.

It’s 2013.  On my birthday, our third child, our son, makes his debut. We’ve met him once before, through the images presented by an ultrasound machine. But he’s no longer a picture of mounds, curves, and ridges. He’s here. For the first time, I meet my child in a hospital room. I carefully cradle him, uncertain if he will come home with me or go home with her. I pray for her, silently, that she has the courage to do whatever she feels is best. A few days later, she chooses us to be his forever family.

That same year, I read The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption.  My mind cheers, my eyes tear up, and my heart sings. This is the book I needed.

It’s 2014. I’ve felt simultaneous anger, loss, fear, confusion, jealousy, and doubt. Not once, but twice, my children have had birth siblings go to other families. My open adoption education tells me that birth siblings should stay together if possible. My adoption education also tells me there are no adoption rules or absolutes. Things happen that aren’t fair (fair to whom?). Adoption is never easy. It doesn’t cease to surprise me. There are days I feel like my heart has turned gray and it weighs the same as an infant.

It’s 2015.  My days and heart are full. I have three babies who are part of three different open adoptions. What I know is that I know nothing. That every situation, every child, every day is different. That my heart has been broken and put back together more times than I can count. That adoption is intricately interwoven with the fibers of my heart and because of that, I’m relentlessly pursuing the right things in the right times, always with education, empathy, and empowerment.

author rachel garlinghouse

Rachel Garlinghouse is the mother of three children through domestic, open, transracial adoption.  Rachel and her family live in St. Louis. Learn more about Rachel’s writing and family adventures at

guide to living in open adoption

Lori Holden, mom of a young adult daughter and a young adult son, writes from Denver. She was honored as an Angel in Adoption® by the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute.

Her first book, The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption: Helping Your Child Grow Up Whole, makes a thoughtful anytime gift for the adoptive families in your life. Her second book, Standing Room Only: How to Be THAT Yoga Teacher is now available in paperback, and her third book, Adoption Unfiltered, is now available through your favorite bookseller!

Find Lori’s books on her Amazon Author page and catch episodes of Adoption: The Long View wherever you get your podcasts.

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