Original Air-date 1.3.17 You can read the transcript below or if you prefer to listen to the podcast click here.
Announcer: Blog Talk Radio
Jennifer: Hi, and welcome to Adoption Focus. My name is Jennifer Jaworski, and I’m a social worker with Adoption Associates of Michigan. This is Adoption Associates’ premier talk radio blog show. Adoption Associates and its staff are trusted leaders in adoption, and we have placed well over 5,000 children into loving homes.
Since 1990, we have advocated, supported, and nurtured both birth families and adoptive families. Our offices are located in Jenison, Lansing, Farmington Hills, and Saginaw, and our pregnancy and adoption services are available throughout all of Michigan.
Helping families and birth mothers grow through the adoption process is really important to us. One of Adoption Associates’ commitment is to this weekly radio show, so thank you very much for listening in today. We hope that you find this forum to be inspirational, educational, and thought-provoking.
If you’d like to call in during today’s show, we’d love to hear from you at 347-850-1100. Again, the number is 347-850-1100. Although we are based in Michigan, we are happy to take callers from anywhere with a comment or a question about today’s show.
I have been looking forward to today, not only because we are in a new year – 2017, which always brings excitement and a renewed commitment to the work of adoption – but also because today I am speaking with Brian and Julie McCohlm. Guys, are you with us?
Julie: I am with you.
Brian: Yes. Good morning.
Jennifer: Good morning and Happy New Year to both of you.
Julie: To you as well. Thanks for having us.
Jennifer: Thank you for taking time out of your schedule to be on Adoption Focus. So, I’m excited that both of you are here. It’s our first time on Adoption Focus to have more than one guest at a time, so everyone should bear with us as we work our way through this.
But I – as I said – have been looking forward to having you guys on the show because, of course, I had the honor of getting to know you as you pursued your adoption as your caseworker. It was 2014 when you came to Adoption Associates interested in becoming parents, but I want to back up a little bit and just get started, if you could, by having you talk to our listeners about the months preceding that. When it is that you decided adoption was your route, and you coming to the agency.
So, whoever – Brian or Julie – want to tackle that one?
Julie: Okay, I’ll start out.
Initially, we faced years of infertility. Worked on fertility treatments with the doctors. We were really at a crossroads. The doctor was saying IVF was pretty much our only option. And, looking into things how we do, it was really costly and there was no guarantee.
Ultimately, we wanted to be parents and have a family. So, that’s why I was looking into adoption before Brian. I was onboard. I did a lot of research, homework, reading books, and that to educate Brian on it because he had some different skewed views of adoption. I don’t know if you want to elaborate on some of that, Brian?
Brian: Yeah, my biggest thing was when I thought about adoption I always thought about you had to go in other countries to adopt a child. I never realized that we could adopt infant right here in Michigan, which I loved the idea of. I was so confused. I always thought adoption would be something where you’d have to get an older child. And that was my biggest hangup. And also, I always thought about the movies you see on TV where once a family does adopt a child that years later the courts come in, there’s a big court hearing, and just the educational part really changed my perspective of adoption.
Julie: Yeah, and doing the research I was always looking at different agencies in Michigan. And for some reason I always came back to AAI’s website. So, one night Brian was at work, and I had all the information filled out to request the information packet. I called him on the phone and I’m like, “I’m hitting send. Are you okay with that?” So that was [inaudible 00:04:17] of talking about it.
Jennifer: Right. Right.
Julie: But it was the best decision.
Jennifer: Right. That’s awesome. And you did fell that connection. And the time was right. You felt the connection to Adoption Associates. We are so glad that you did.
Jennifer: So then you guys contacted the agency and kind of moved through that paperwork process, completing a home study, and then making an adoption profile. It was during this time that you were also asked to educate yourself and decide how you felt about openness. Can you talk about that a little bit? How did you decide that open adoption was right for your family?
Julie: Quite honestly, we were agreeable to open, semi-open, or closed adoption. We did get a lot of research and reading. But AAI provides a lot of that information. They explain what all those are. Which, the open is contact, pictures and letters. Semi-open is pictures and letters, and closed is no contact.
Regarding what situation we were going to end up with, we wanted our child to know their background, their history. Like Brian was talking about movies, we didn’t want a situation where adoption was so hush-hush. Years later the child find out, like a box in the attic type of situation, where they find out there’s adoption paperwork, and they had no idea. We didn’t want that to happen at all.
Jennifer: So, it’s kind of a process, too. Your thoughts coming into it as well as the education that you received made you more comfortable with the idea of openness. And it sounds like – not only for you, but for anyone that’s considering degrees of openness, obviously – what that would mean to the child. And you mentioned that, Julie, that the contact between the adoptive parents and the child’s birth family, and wanting the child to know about their adoption story or their family background and related information. So, those are definitely questions that anyone would consider when they’re thinking about openness. And then what role would the child’s birth parents or relatives play in the child’s life, and what would that look like. What kind of contact would that be? So, yeah those are important.
Lets fast-forward a little bit to the day that the call came. Can you tell us about that?
Brian: Yeah, I can talk about that. It’s like one of those days you’ll never forget. It was January 15th that we got the phone call. Both Julie and I were down on our exercise equipment in our basement, and we kept hearing our phones ringing. So we stopped, I got up, ran upstairs and answered the phone. It was Nancy from the Lansing office telling us that a birth mother chose us.
Just some of the emotions we felt – I mean, it was joy, humbling, we were very excited but nervous in the same aspect. It was just a great phone call to get. And after we got the information, I couldn’t remember half of what Nancy told me, but Julie was right there listening, too, on speaker phone. It was a great, great feeling.
Julie: Yeah, I think that we stood in the kitchen listening to her dipping in sweat, jumping around in our exercise workout gear. And then we went shopping.
Jennifer: That sounds like a great day. Awesome.
Julie: We weren’t prepared for a nursery or anything. Brian was like we’re not doing any of that until we’re matched, and we know more. And then it was on.
Jennifer: So, did you meet her – the birth mother? You were scurrying, I guess, to make plans to meet. Talk about that a little bit, what it was like.
Julie: Oh, we were so nervous to meet her. Nervous about everything, like, where we’re going to meet her, what we need to wear, what we need to bring. I know that AAI talks about that in those meetings. They say take something small like a picture album book. And we actually did that. We prepared a little album with like immediate family pictures, our pets, our home. We took that with us to our first meeting, which was at a restaurant with Nancy – the caseworker – the birth mother, her boyfriend, and two of her daughters.
Jennifer: Oh wow.
Julie: Yeah, and the picture help does help initiate some of the conversation, because the birth mother was nervous. We were nervous. [crosstalk 00:08:38]
Jennifer: It’s like an ice breaker.
Julie: Yeah, it’s an ice breaker. Yeah.
And just after talking with her and showing her the pictures, we started talking. And Brian and I both immediately felt at ease. We got in the car on the way out, and we’re like this is so relaxing now. It was a comfortable situation. A comfortable person to talk with. And then after leaving the restaurant, we got a text from the birth mother immediately saying she also felt the same way. And that her daughter was really nervous about the whole adoption process and unaccepting of the birth mother’s decision for adoption. But she said how much she liked us, and she wanted to be a part of our family, too.
Jennifer: Awww, that’s nice. Very nice. I’m sure that meant a lot to you.
Jennifer: So, what happened or took place in the days and weeks that followed that initial meeting?
Julie: We went to three or four doctor’s appointments. The initial appointment, we got to hear the heartbeat, which was very exciting for both of us. The next appointment, we got to see a 4D ultrasound and bring home pictures, so that was amazing in itself. And the whole time the birth mother was always referring, with the medical staff, as – here are the parents. She said that a lot. And I think that helped her through the process.
We also had a couple of false labor – where we went to the hospital a few times. She was so afraid we were going to miss the delivery because we lived far away. [crosstalk 00:10:10]
Jennifer: How did that work out?
Julie: We were there. Were there the whole day. We were there for the delivery. And because this was our first child, she wanted us to experience all the first. She said she had four other children. She wanted us to be able to cut the cord. Hold our daughter first. She wanted us to experience the whole parenthood firsthand, which was great for us.
Jennifer: What was the timeframe between when you first met her and when your child was born?
Brian: That was … pretty much, about a month, we had. We got the phone call middle of January, and our daughter was born on February 13th. So, just under a month.
Jennifer: Okay, so not a lot of time, right? You guys were definitely scurrying around. Was there a discussion at some point in there with the birth mother about openness, and what would happen after the baby was born? Like, what she wanted? Or what you were comfortable with? How did that take place?
Julie: Yeah, when she contacted the agency she wanted closed. She wanted no contact at all. But as the days went on she struggled with her daughter wanting information, so then it moved to semi-open. So she wanted us to send her daughter pictures and letters. Her daughter was 9 at the time.
Jennifer: Wow. Wow.
Jennifer: So, and a little bit about – what did you learn from the birth mother about why she was choosing adoption. Especially given the fact that her daughter wasn’t real happy, and I don’t know if there were other family members that were supportive or not. But, what information were you able to gain?
Julie: She was going through a divorce at the time. She had four other children. She was parenting two of those other children. She just had part-time job. Financially, she thought she was struggling, and emotionally she didn’t feel she could care for another child at the time. And then she was in a new relationship with another boyfriend. So, she was trying to start over, essentially.
Jennifer: And, obviously … go ahead, Brian.
Brian: Oh, I’m sorry. She was very thoughtful, though, when she met with Adoption Associates how she wanted to pick the right family for her child. She didn’t want a couple who was younger. She wanted who wanted children who struggled with infertility. She was very thoughtful in her whole process of picking the right parents.
Jennifer: Sure. Yeah, that’s nice to hear. Obviously, women making adoption plans come from a variety of different backgrounds and circumstances. But the one thing we know to be true is that they love their children, and they want what’s best. It sounds like that certainly is the case here – that she was thoughtful in making the decision and then in selecting and meeting with you guys. So, thanks for sharing that information.
So, your beautiful daughter is now almost 2 years old, and I’m wondering what your relationship …[crosstalk 00:13:17] I know, can you believe? Two years.
Julie: It goes by so fast.
Jennifer: It does. It’s cliché to say. Everyone says it, but true. I’m wondering what your relationship is now with her birth mother. What has transpired in these last two years?
Brian: Well, we’ve actually met up about three different times now. We met with her. She brought her children, and we brought our daughter. One time we met at a park, another time at a restaurant. And the last time we met we were actually invited to her wedding. And that was a great experience. We had pictures. We were the witnesses to her wedding, which was very unique and was a great experience when our daughter gets older to show pictures.
Brian: We still communicate. We still send pictures. I wouldn’t say weekly, but at least monthly we’re always sending texts back and forth of pictures. She’ll send pictures of her children, we’ll send pictures of our daughter to her. It’s a great relationship. It’s almost like she’s a sister to us now.
Julie: Yeah, what started out as a semi-open adoption, which we never had a signed contract. She was against that. She wanted just to build a relationship with Brian and I, and let it go from there and see how it panned out. She didn’t want to have any contracts. I don’t really understand the reason why, but that’s how she wanted to handle that so we respected that.
Jennifer: And those relationships are built upon trust. So, for her not to want that contract was a way for her to say to you guys I’m trusting you, and for you to reciprocate that as well. That’s real powerful.
So, several factors have contributed to the increasing openness in adoption, which is obviously what we’re talking about today. One of those things is the growing awareness that the negative effects of the secrecy of adoptions of the past, and the benefits of openness to children are super, super important. And you guys continuing to maintain this relationship with your daughter’s birth mother, there are benefits to your daughter. There are obviously benefits to the birth mother, as well, and to the other family members that are involved. And benefits to you.
I’m wondering – you know, sometimes we go through the motions of these things, and adoptive parents aren’t always aware of what the benefits are. Have you ever thought about it in that respect? About how you or your daughter are benefited by this ongoing relationship with her birth mother?
Julie: Go ahead, Brian.
Brian: We have because it is such an important aspect. She’s a part of our lives now, so it is very important to maintain a relationship. It’s part of our whole story. It’s part of our daughter’s story. It’s part of the birth mom’s story. I just think it’s very valuable to maintain that relationship.
Jennifer: Absolutely, and building healthy relationship with birth parents is kind of the most important part of open adoption. Without a healthy relationship, then what’s left isn’t very much.
Are there any ground rules or practices that you’ve embraced when it comes to the relationship with your daughter’s birth mother? They may not be something you sat down and wrote out and everyone signed upon, but just in your own sort of ways that you have come to notice that these are the practices that we’ve embraced?
Julie: With contact with our birth mother, she lets her needs known. She’ll say, “I haven’t seen her in six month. Do you think we can meet up?” So, she lets us be the guide and lets us … because, she says as the parents, she wants us to make those decisions. But we listen to her wants and needs and we make sure, I mean, because like you said it’s important to all of us.
Jennifer: Well, and obviously, you guys have shown a lot of respect for her and acceptance of other family members which is important, as well. The message for anyone who is considering open adoption or is currently involved in an open adoption relationship, staying focus on what’s in the best interest of the child is always very important. Maintaining that good communication, like you guys have, with your birth mother. Being flexible at times. And then having boundaries, if necessary. I do think it’s important to at least acknowledge that, on occasion, openness may not be what’s best.
And today’s topic is about openness, so we won’t go to in depth in this, but there are some situations where it’s not in the child’s best interest to have this open relationship or ongoing contact that may involve mental or behavioral issues, or other boundary-type issues, or trauma issues. So, we won’t go in depth to that today, but I wanted to mention that we do recognize that while openness has excellent benefits to everyone involved, there are some occasions where maybe that’s not the best idea.
But you haven’t, fortunately, experienced anything negative from your relationship.
I know that you mentioned to me off-air that you get questions from others about how you will talk to your daughter, or if you will talk to your daughter about her adoption. Can we talk about that a little bit here? Tell us about that.
Julie: I don’t think she understands anything right now. She’s not quite 2. But we still – from before she was born we bought books on adoption. There’s a book that she likes to read, and she pulls out … I’m not sure she understands it, but she loves it. It’s called “Blessing from Above”. We read that almost nightly. So we’re talking about adoption.
We don’t want it to define her, but we want her to know that’s part of her.
Do you have anything you want to add, Brian?
Brian: Uh, no. I mean, at two years old, she can’t comprehend that. But when the time arises, hopefully with the books we’ve read and with how we talk about things that she’ll understand that.
Julie has great example of a friend of ours who – they adopted a child. And I’ll let Julie tell you more about that, but that’s a great story that they used our adoption to tell their child.
Julie: Yeah, we’ve been pretty open with our adoption process on social media. We had a Facebook page. So we kind of put out our whole adoption process out there on Facebook for our family and friends.
A friend from high school reached out to me and said she adopted her son, and he’s 7 currently, but they hadn’t really talked about adoption yet with him. She said she followed our story. She had her son follow the story. She loved looking at pictures of our daughter on Facebook. Eventually, he got to think how cool the journey was, and she explained adoption through our story. And then she finally told him he was adopted, and he thought it was the most beautiful thing. And now he follows our story on Facebook.
Jennifer: Aww. That’s awesome.
Julie: It was pretty cool story.
Julie: And then she told me, “I truly believe following your journey help my son understand adoption is a beautiful thing. Thank you.”
So, that was very touching.
Jennifer: That is very touching. I think that it’s a good point to be made that sometimes if parents are afraid to talk about it, or don’t feel like they have the necessary tools to do so, and they’re afraid of how their child will respond. For you guys, obviously, you’re starting at a young age, and that’s exactly what is in the child’s best interested to do.
Jennifer: And you’ve got this relationship with the birth mother, as well. So, I assume that will continue. You guys are having ongoing contact with your daughter’s birth mother now, and there’s no plans to change, or is there?
Julie: No plans for that to change. Like what Brian said, she’s our family now.
If at some point going forward into the future you were to need assistance to navigate changes in the relationship …. Relationships change. All of our relationships change, not necessarily just birth parent ones, but if there were changes in the relationship with your daughter’s birth mother and you weren’t sure how to navigate that, what would you do? How would you handle that?
Brian: That’s easy. We have a great relationship with you, Jennifer, and also with Nancy in the Lansing office. We would not have any hesitation with calling you or Nancy or anyone. The agency’s just been fantastic to work with.
When we were going through the process, if we had questions or anything, we’d always get a response back if we called or emailed. So, both you and Nancy are a call or email away, and you always get back with us.
Jennifer: Awesome. Good to hear.
Julie: I would agree with that.
Jennifer: Thanks. That’s what we want for all our adoptive couples or families, and obviously birth mothers as well. Our doors remain open. We want children and families and birth mothers to be moving forward with their lives in a really healthy [inaudible 00:22:39]. So glad to hear that you guys know we’re always here for you as well.
Anything else that we haven’t touched on today that you think is important to state before we get close to wrapping up?
Julie: Do you have anything, Brian? I’m not sure. I just want to thank you for everything. It’s been wonderful. The whole experience has been wonderful, even better than what we imagined.
Brian: Yeah. And the whole thing with our relationship with our birth mom – it’s invaluable. I mean, we’re just so blessed to have her in our lives, and to continue to have her in our lives, we’re so thankful to her.
Jennifer: That’s nice to here. And I know you guys talked earlier about coming into this with a pretty open viewpoint about birth parent relationships. But there’s no way to predict what that’s going to look like, or who your birth mother is going to be, or what that relationship will grow into. So, for a caseworker’s perspective, I like to see you guys entering into the process already eager to learn and to better understand, and then to move forward with this wonderful relationship that you have. You could never have imagined, I’m certain – I’m kind of speaking for you here, but – what this wouldn’t looked like 2 or 3 years ago that this was your story.
Julie: Oh right. The unknown is scary in anything, especially adoption, I think.
Jennifer: Sure. Sure. You’re right about that. And there, possibly, are some people that are listening to the show right now that are where you were a couple of years ago or trying to make a decision about openness, or possibly a birth mother who is experiencing an unplanned pregnancy. So, I think the information you provided today is very valuable to lots of different people, and I very much appreciate you taking the time out of your schedule to be with us and to share this, so thanks guys.
Julie: Oh, you’re welcome. Thanks for having us.
Brian: Yeah. Thank you.
Jennifer: For those of you that are listening that would like to connect with Adoption Associates, you may call us at 800-677-2367. Again, the number for our Adoption Associates is 800-677-2367, or you can connect with us on the web at AdoptionAssociates.net.
Listen live on Tuesdays at 11 for Adoption Focus. Hope that you can tune in next week when we’ll be speaking with one of our staff people who will talk about navigating the electronic adoption portal for adoption records and the role that has played in our agency. So, we’re excited to share that with you and, hopefully, help you with that.
Thanks again to Brian and Julie for today. And for now this is Jennifer on Adoption Focus – have a great day everyone and Happy New Year. Bye-bye.