Lifetime Healing President, Ashley Mitchell had the amazing opportunity to film a Ted Talk hosted by The United Way Utah County and the Parent Advocacy Council, filmed at KBYUEleven Studio on BYU Campus. She shares her heart behind our mission and WHY we are fighting for Birth Mothers nationwide, and why you should too!
Adoption is complex and messy. It is never as black and white as we would like it to be and it IS personal. Understanding and ACCEPTING our rights, roles and responsibilities are the only way that we can maintain healthier open adoption relationships.
And that is the goal right? But who are the open adoptions really for? The parents? Yes. BUT I think we forget that this is about the children, not us!
I placed my son for adoption over 11 years ago. When I made that decision I made it for me. I told myself it was best for HIM, but it was really for me. (I have always claimed to be the only selfish birth mother) Maybe he is better off, maybe he isn't. I don't pretend to know what our life would have been like, but I am also not going to claim that he is worse off with them.
But we are getting off track because this isn't an US vs. THEM thing. It is a family thing, a WE thing.
Really up until the last 2 or 3 years our open adoption relationship has been dictated by two women...the mothers. All of our thoughts, opinions, conflicts, insecurities and jealousy (mine not hers...although I know they exist on the other side too.) were brought to the table and it determined the kind of openness we would have year after year.
If I was in the throws of grief, the relationship was non-existent. If they were making plans to be in town, we must have a visit. If we were missing each other, we would contact each other.
We made the decisions for him. We determined what was best for him.
Now he is older. He has a voice and his voice matters.
Lets no pretend that even at a young age that these children don't understand loss, grief, abandonment, biological connection and family. Lets not pretend that they can't express feelings or desires for understanding and connection.
Lets stop using "protection for our children" as a form of avoiding our own insecurities and jealousy.
So why the disconnect? Why are so many open adoptions changing from what was "agreed" upon at delivery? Well I am sure we could list ALL the reasons including adoptive parents backed out of their side of the arrangement, the birth parents went crazy and we need to do what is best for the child, we were blocked from social media, she stopped responding to messages so we just stopped sending them, we have one child with a closed adoption so we feel it is fair to close both so there are no hard questions....
Seriously I could go on and on and on through the blame game of why dynamics of open adoption change.
BUT I believe that the issue is that none of the involved parties clearly understand the concept of adoption.
If it is really about the child we must honor the 3 R's of adoption:
Rights, Roles, and Responsibilities
RIGHTS: This is an easier one to explain but a harder one to accept. When it comes to the legal rights of the biological parents we know that rights are relinquished at birth or time of placement depending on state law. I know that when I relinquished my rights that it literally meant that I have NO rights to the child. I have no rights to visits, opinions, parental advice, treatment, care etc etc etc. I do not exist as far as legal rights to a child are concerned.
Openness in adoption does not provide a loophole in that relinquishment. It isn't about getting around the law to regain rights. Openness in adoption is a privilege given to the birth parent from the adoptive parent. We are not owed anything and we don't have the right to anything. Legally speaking. Those rights have been passed to the adoptive parents. AND they are granted full authority to make decisions for the child based on their instinct as the parent.
When I placed my son for adoption I asked ONE thing of the family "please take care of him and love him...and make sure he knows that I love him." IF THEY ARE DOING THAT, THEY ARE DOING EVERYTHING!
Having acceptance in that right will be crucial to know your role in the life of the child(ren)
ROLES: Now having said all that I have said about rights I think we leave out a HUGE piece. We all play a ROLE in the life of the child and every role is EQUAL in importance. There is not ONE person in the life of the child that holds more value than the other.
THE CHILD HOLDS ALL THE VALUE and so every role matters in the development, health and understanding in the life of the child(ren) placed for adoption. Whether someone has legal rights or not is irrelevant when it comes to the needs and desires of the child.
Let me be clear. If there is real danger in the openness of the relationship, close it. If there is a real threat of long term damage, close it.
But you have to live with yourself. Only you know the truth. Is it danger or damaging? Or is it insecurity and fear? THERE IS A HUGE DIFFERENCE.
You can still honor the role of the birth parent even if that open relationship is not possible. You can still love them well and honor their role in the life of the child even if a physical relationship is not possible. The question is, will you?
As a birth mother, I have a roll to play. Whether you want me there or not...My part of his story matters. You can't escape it and you can't cover it up!...We are not the bad guy of this story. Yes I know, there are awful things that birth mothers have done, maybe even damaging to the health of the child...but there is more...and we are all battling demons.
RESPONSIBILITIES: We have a responsibility to each other, and we have a responsibility to the child.
Forget the legal rights. Forget the roles. WE OWE IT TO EACH OTHER TO BE BETTER!!!
We are in this....we are a part of this together whether we want it or not, whether we like it or not...so we can do more, be more....
When I went through my "Jerry Springer" years of grief I closed myself off from the adoption, from him. I said no, and I never showed up and I ignored calls and texts and meetings. As I started to heal I wanted more...I needed more...and when I asked for more THEY SAID YES! They had been waiting for me, they had been waiting until I was ready and the door was always left open. The only reason that we have the relationship that we do is because THEY SAID YES...they were better for me when I didn't deserve it.
It is not about obligation, it is not about "owing", it is not about responding and giving out of guilt or forced to show up because of manipulation (yes, birth mothers are master manipulators).
This is about love. A deep and undeniable connection of love and respect. A connection that doesn't exist in any other relationship. A dynamic that you wont find any where else.
We know that adoption is built in grief and pain. But why can't adoption continue to grow in love and support and healing?
So much of the damage that is done through adoption is done through hurting each other. "Hurting people hurt people." So, if we know this to be true then why don't we stop hurting each other, why don't we support each other in healthy and healing relationships...not just for us but for our children!
Always show up. Always educate yourself deeper on the 3 R's of adoption. Even if there is a disconnect....don't let that be because of you. Show up for each other and show up for the children. After all, isn't that what we all claim that adoption is about??
Today I had a friend ask if I had a "tip sheet" for women that had made an adoption plan and were heading to the hospital. Something that would help them understand their rights and what they can and can't do for themselves or for the baby.
I posted this on FB:
BIRTH MOTHER FRIENDS! When we were in the hospital delivering our babies that we placed for adoption WE HAD RIGHTS until we didn't.
If you could give "tips" to a delivering mother that has made an adoption plan about things she should or shouldn't do with the new baby and for herself BEFORE she signs the paperwork what would you suggest??
Thank you for sharing your thoughts! xo
THE RESPONSE WAS OVERWHELMING!!! I have been sitting here in tears all morning as these brave friends shared regrets, anger for lack of communication and education, hope for those that will face these challenges and more!
Bottom line: I AM THE MOTHER. EVEN IF I HAVE MADE AN ADOPTION PLAN I HAVE THE RIGHT TO CALL THE SHOTS FOR ME AND MY CHILD UNTIL I RELINQUISH MY RIGHTS....IF THAT HURTS YOUR FEELINGS OR SCARES YOU OR MAKES YOU INSECURE, TOO BAD.
I can change my mind.
A million times.
I can feed my child and change my child and take proud mama newborn pics of my child.
If you are adopting my child you will have a lifetime of moments, a lifetime of parenting. This is MY TIME! By allowing me to bond, to love, to mother, to connect and to say goodbye is a gift you can give me.
I wanted to have a place that ALL The comments were shared that would educate, be a resource and still provide privacy....so here you are, the response to my question on FB.
*a very special thank you to the amazing birth mothers all over the country (and some adoptive parents and professionals) that shared their heart with us on this topic! (each bullet point came from a different woman, sharing her unique needs and regrets. Each placement is so different. FIND WHAT WORKS FOR YOU!
- Take. As. Many. Pictures. And. Videos. As. You. Can.
- Spend as much time as you can with the baby. Write letters while your feeling the emotions.
- Write lots of things down like write letters to send later or that they will see later in life
- Take time for your self.. ask the adoptive parents or a member of your family to have a photographer there so you have very special pictures with everyone and you don't have to worry about taking them! Spend time all together. Take time alone just you and baby but spend the majority of the time all together it makes transition easier!
- Spend some time alone with the baby before letting everyone else see it
- Feel free to breastfeed and bond with your baby. Take a ton of pictures. Spend time alone with them and spend time with the adoptive family if that's what you want. Make sure you know that YOU are the one driving the bus and you are allowed to make a different decision if that's what you want.
- Make sure to be your own advocate. I chose not to see my girl. I was not on the maternity floor after she was born. I chose to have my son (10 months old) brought to my room to have a baby to hold. Each is different and stick to what YOU choose
- Spend alone time. Take pictures. I wish I had pictures
- Spend time alone with the baby. Take lots of pictures. Write everything down. Cry if you need to.
- Makes me so sad. I lived at a maternity home, delivered at on campus hospital. I was knocked out once I crowned, delivered and awoke in recovery. Didn't see my baby until the 4th day. I actually signed papers before holding her for fear I wouldn't have the strength once I held her. I would tell her to sniff her baby, hug her baby, take lots of pictures, dress the baby, diaper baby. Soak in each moment before relinquishing.
- Be there when the adoptive family sees the child for the first time. Physically Hand that child to them. Forever my favorite moment. Also as many have already said, spend as much time alone with your child as you can !
- You can say yes or no to anything you want. Just because you are planning to place, does NOT make you any less of a parent/mother! Don't let nurses and doctors make decisions for you. Don't be afraid to call them out for talking over/around you instead of to you directly. Don't feel like you can't take maternity or newborn pictures or do any of the other traditional things new mothers do when they have a baby! YOU ARE THE PARENT UNTIL YOU SIGN YOUR NAME!
- Personally - I spent as much time taking care of Marissa in the hospital as I could before I couldn't - I took on every aspect of her care, held her close , talked to her , sang to her, cried and imprinted as much of myself on her as I could hoping that somewhere deep down she would retain some type of memory of the love that I have for her- it's probably not for everyone but for me it helped - I know that I had that extra time with her that she was still all mine .
- The second night in the hospital I chose to have no one there with me, not even my family. I spent the whole night with her just her and I and when I look back I'm so glad I chose to have that alone time.
- I wish i would have limited the number of visitors in my room even though i had a private room i had a lot of people in my room and i wish i would have used that time for just me and abby
- Also, have someone there to take pictures. My mom took pictures of actual placement of me handing her over to her parents and they are priceless to me. Being able to see our true raw facial expressions and everything is something that helps me feel and remember on the days I feel numb and in denial
- take lots of pictures (including one with the adoptive family), allow yourself to feel how you feel, cry, hold the baby, love him and celebrate the child, do not let anyone pressure you to do anything you don't want to, allow visitors but kick me out if you feel overwhelmed. It goes by so fast so enjoy every minute
- This is all breathtaking Ashley! Beautiful stories and advice. I can't imagine the selflessness this takes! Being an adoptive parent of foster kids-- it's so different! We have really tried to find as much happy stories to tell our children. We never talk badly about their parents... though, privately, I do wish my children's birth parents were as brave as you women were! If they would have been adopted at birth I am sure a lot of trauma and abuse would have been prevented. You're an amazing REAL raw emotion woman! Bless you all!!!
- I am an adoptive momma. I hope this is okay. I would recommend soaking it all in. Meaning take all the alone time you need. It's always kind to consider your adoptive couple but at this time its all about you!!! Excuse them whenever needed!!! Take all the time you need, even if its longer than your original plan. Your adoptive couple have each other and will be okay. This time is all about you Momma and your baby! Everyone has different wants and needs at this time and you never really know what they are until your in that moment. There is no wrong need. Allow yourself to need and to feel what you feel unbased on someone elses experience or by someones presence. Make sure to educate your hospital team about your needs. This is your time...
- To make sure that EVERYONE knows her wishes ... I told everyone that i wanted to hold the twins first and it didnt happen.... and the nurses assumed that i didnt want to see the twins when they were born. So Nichole had to say something to them before they wisked the twins to the NICU
- The only in hospital regret I have besides leaving without him is not breastfeeding. I didn't think I could or that it was ok... I wish I had been told it was ok for me to do that.
- The only thing I don't have enough of is pictures! I allowed the adoptive parents in as soon as I was setup in my room, they helped me care for him during the day while I was still in the hospital. I LOVED it this way. ❤It created an immediate bond among us all.
- Take time talk to your baby and keep as many things as the hospital let's you keep. I still smell his blanket even though it's been 13 years .
- Yes ! Along with pictures those are the best it was discouraged to breast feed then . Time is everything to me I know it's different with other birth mothers .
- One more thing... i was mom until i signed my rights over. And i had to make the decisions for the twins. I would check with their moms but in the end i had the say.
- My advice is before you sign you have ultimate control and if you don't want people there aka extended family, friends, adoptive couple. And once they sign the papers to respect the couple you placed with as the parents, that last part has benefited me and our relationship so much
- As an adoption facilitator I am thrilled with this thread, not surprised because its Miss Ashley Mitchell! I let our families know the hospital plan is just that a plan, and to wait to see what happens in the hospital. I'm excited with all this feedback....Im always learning, no matter how long I've been doing this.
- Request to be the first one to hold her.
The night before you place should be ALL yours. Take time alone, spill that heart, kiss, snuggle and soak that moment in.
Pick out their special going home outfit.
And the act of physically placing the baby in the adoptive families arms is huge!!
- For me, it was really nice to have 24 hours alone with him & my family. I invited the adoptive family the next day. But just taking that time of just him and I was amazing. Holding him while he got his first bottle in the NICU, and things like that. It was beautiful. It was something I know I needed after carrying him through pregnancy. Also being there when the adoptive family saw him for the first time. Handing him to them, it was empowering. Spend as much time as possible with the baby! Also advocating for myself was hard, but one of my friends was a nurse on my floor. She canceled the lactation consultant appointment and some other things like "bringing baby home" etc etc classes. That was a major bullet dodged.
- Lauren had great advice! Totally agree. Also, my stepmom and social worker made sure that the nurses that attended us knew the adoption plan and to include BOTH of us in giving information (diapering, cord car, etc.) and also being conscious of language. I wish that I had known that Breastfeeding and/or pumping was an option. I wanted SO bad for my birth daughter to have breastmilk but no one told me I had that option. I was bandaged up soon after.
- It's different for everyone but that plan in place in the hospital is essential. (I know Lauren Bujorian up there) but for me I wanted Abby's AP at the hospital (planned C-Section) and i wanted them to be the first to hold her. She belonged to them, not me, and that was important to me. I think being able to articulate your choices-have them written down in case you go from normal delivery to a c-section, etc. One time the staff came into my room to take her for a test (she was not in nursery but in Brooke and Todd's room) and the doctor goes "um, where's the baby" and I said "with her adoptive parents next door" The poor doctor! I took it all in stride but she was embarrased and she said "They really should have a post it on your file. I'm so sorry". She was clearly embarrassed and felt terrible. I have always been close with ABby's parents so it wasn't a big deal to me but I can imagine situations like that would be debilitating to others. Also staff sensitivity for the nursing staff. Mine was great but the day I was signing papers and to go home my blood pressure was through the roof and they were concerned and I finally said "Can we just do this after I sign my paperwork???" and the nurses finally got it. I just think so much has changed in the adoption world that the hospital staff needs to be made aware of it beforehand , especially in healthy open adoptions. We are all humans, be kind to each other, be compassionate.
- Best advice is for her to remember SHE IS IN CHARGE! Until she signs she is the boss on EVERYTHING. I had aps in delivery, but I held him first. I chose to share first feeding with amom and adad cut the cord. I allowed their family to come to the hospital because I wanted things as close to a normal delivery for amom. I wanted them there more, but they insisted I had time with just our son, I am grateful they did. I will say I did not like something in the papers, so I refused to sign until the words were changed. I think everyone got lost for a min because I refused, but all was changed to what I wanted and all is well. Everyone has different wants and needs, I would tell her to stay strong, she matters, and she is boss.
- Speak up for how you envision your stay to go. How much time you want baby in the room (nursery or sleep in your room...your room or APs room), Who gets to do each of "the firsts" (holding, feeding, outfit, diaper..), how much alone time you want...how much visiting time you want...
- Ask for your Adoption plan to be put on your file so you don't have to explain at every shift change (this was thankfully, only an issue once for me)
- Take lots of pictures. Even if you find it too difficult to look at the pictures for awhile, they are a treasure to have for you, and your birthchild may want them too. And make sure you are in the pictures. Don't worry about how you look. You just gave birth, no one expects you to look glamorous!
- Don't feel guilty for wanting lots of alone time with baby if you want it. Take all the time you feel you need. It is great to share those memories, but you may need your time to bond and love and cry and soak in those sweet memories of the little miracle you just brought into the world.
- You don't have to sign at the hospital if you don't want to. You don't have to be wheeled out of the hospital with empty arms and deal with the hospital's discharge procedures. You can sign later. You can meet in a hotel room or the agency or one of your houses and sign there and then not deal with any of the hospital's legal procedures after TPR is signed. I wish I had done this because the hospital I delivered at was very cold and procedural when it came to discharge time. I just wanted to hand my baby to his mom and they complicated it with their rules....
- One thing I wish I had done was take more time with my baby. I requested time alone with him so the couple (and her parents) left, but family kept visiting and the nurses kept coming in, so all in all, I only got about 30 mins by myself. I wish I would have said no to giving him back so soon so I could spend a little more time with him. Make sure you stand up for yourself if there's something you want or need, make sure you speak up! Your feelings and needs matter too!
- I wished I held her more. I wished I had fought to feed and care for her when the nurses ignored my requests...advocate for yourself or bring an advocate with you!
- Reading all these stories makes me cry. I chose the adoptive parents based off their description. Never got to meet them. They didn't come to Arizona until after I signed the papers. Had no one at the hospital with me. I had chose to not see my daughter until the amazing case worker from the agency talked me into it. Which I'm very thankful she did. My advise. Use your voice. Make sure your wants and needs are being taken care of. Cherish every second of every minute that you get with your baby. Love you Ashley Mitchell.
- This is what I am hearing all of you saying:This is your child. For some that means you want and need to care for that child 24/7 and for others that means you send the baby to a separate room with the adoptive parents. No one plan for everyone It is about doing what YOU need. And what you NEED may change Day to day at the hospital and even hour to hour. I know not everyone is but that is why I am a big proponent of agency adoptions and not private. Hear me out, Because if the agency respects you, the case worker serves as the middle man to do the dirty work. Baby with ap's and you decide you want her to yourself over night. She goes and makes that happen. Obviously she helps each party to understand the others feelings and emotions but ultimately she is about clearing the path so you can drive your bus however you want. Sometimes that means you decide to place and sometimes not. That's OK. As agencies we tell ap's. This just isn't your time or your baby YET. It will happen.
- I'm an adoptive mom so hopefully this is ok to make a comment. You women are so AMAZING! Your STRONG and so SELFLESS. So on behalf of all adoptive parents THANK YOU-YOU ARE LOVED MORE THAN WE CAN EXPRESS!
I would have to say, please take your time, all the time you need. This is your time to be his/her mom. You don't have to share anytime or moments with anyone you don't want to. We can wait! This is your time to be mama bear! Also, I know every situation is different and it is ultimately up to you -but for me something I would have loved to do or have is a picture with both Birthmom/dad and adoptive parents. Our Birthmom didn't want to see us with her son. He was in the NICU so we never were all together. I wish for our son we had at least one picture of us all. Him and his two moms! Our Birthmom didn't want any pictures of her with him either, but her case worker grabbed our camera from us as they were leaving and talked her into going to the NICU and getting a few before she left the hospital. He is 3 1/2 and now that we have an open adoption we are glad that there is at least a few for her and our son. So my advice, get a lot of pictures- even if you never want to look at them again because if you do change your mind you can't go back and get those moments back.
- All of the above a great. I definitely want to emphasize that anything to do with the baby should be discussed with you present, including discharge instructions. Until you sign the papers, that is your baby. I was upset because the nurses gave the discharge instructions to the adoptive parents outside of the room, without me there. I didn't sign papers until a week after we were discharged.
- I would say don't have the adoptive family in the hospital and don't sign away your rights in the hospital...due to all the hormones during and after birth along with the drugs that are given for labor pains, it could cloud your judgment, but that's just my opinion. For birth mother's that wish to have the adoptive parents there, make sure they respect your wishes 100% and be flexable and understanding that things do change and that the child still belongs to the birth mother that carried the baby for 9 months and that she has the right to change her mind. Give her all the time she wants or needs with her child.
- After working as an adoption professional, I would say she needs to have an advocate for her, who is not representing the adoptive family--a person present that is fighting for what she wants, not what her plan is because those two things might be different. I get that women are emotional during that time, but I have seen so many birth plans change for the better. Hold your baby. Demand time alone with your baby. Breastfeed. Room in. Whatever she wants to do, she should be able to do it. The adoptive parents will get the rest of this child's life to hold him, this is your time, take it. The truth is that it is her baby. I would also say she does not/should not feel in any way responsible for the PROSPECTIVE adoptive couple. If she is wavering in her decision, which is possible and normal and totally acceptable, she should feel free to do that. This is a huge decision. Having her advocate there to talk with her about her wishes can help her maintain clarity and, if needed, rework her plan. The prospective adoptive parents were fine before her and they will be fine after her. If she is getting pressure from them or someone representing them, she needs to take some time and think through things. You can take time and place when you are sure everything is the way you want it, but you can never go back once that time is up. Do not feel pressured. Period. Make this decision freely.
- Spend some alone time with the baby.
- To remember it's ok to change her mind at any time before she can't.
- Spend time with the adoptive family! Even if you want a closed adoption. You may change your mind! Become a family. It will make life after with them easier.