Teri and her husband, Matt, went thru a domestic infant adoption three years ago. Here's Teri's interview:
1. What was your inspiration to adopt?
- My husband, Matt, and I were married for 5 years and then started trying to get pregnant. About 4 years into trying to conceive we had never been pregnant and were over all of the infertility treatments, but still so desperately wanted children. Matt’s two sisters were adopted and he has two cousins that were adopted; so adoption was talked about a lot in his family. It seemed to be the logical next step for us, but it took us a while to get there. Just a lot of grieving had to take place before we were ready to go “full force” into something else other than infertility treatments. Of course, now we see that it was all about God’s timing so that we could have our daughter, Tatum.
- We chose domestic adoption because, at the time, it seemed less overwhelming and more of a viable option for us. It wasn’t really less overwhelming than any other adoption, but it was absolutely the best choice for us. Going into domestic adoption gave us a better chance at having a newborn, which we were hoping for – no guarantees, but we knew it was the best step for us to take.
3. How did you feel when you were matched with your daughter's birth parents? What was your first reaction?
- The way that we met Tatum’s birthmom, Rebecca, is nothing short of a miracle. Matt and I moved from the Midwest to Tennessee in 2004 to help with a new church. In 2006 it was time for us to find a new church home as God was leading us away from the church we came down to help with. Right around that same time we began working with an adoption agency, found a new church and got on the waiting list with the agency. In early 2007, Matt and I experienced a very heartbreaking adoption loss. It wasn’t anything we could have prepared our hearts to handle, but with God’s help and the support of family, friends and our LifeGroup at our new church we made it through. We were scarred, but we made it through. In May 2007, a family from our LifeGroup called Matt and told him that they knew a young girl, Rebecca, who was pregnant and considering adoption. They wanted to know if they could tell her about us. Let me insert here that we had gotten calls like this before (a friend of a friend of a friend, etc…), but this time it felt a little different. These friends had just walked through the adoption loss with us so we trusted them and felt okay in telling them to give Rebecca our info, but we didn’t want to get too excited. The next day our friends called me at work to talk more details and ask for our profile book that we had ready. We talked for a long time. Our friend was the one who told me that Rebecca was expecting a girl. I couldn’t believe it! I think I was fully invested as soon as she said those words. For many years, Matt and I felt so strongly that we would have a girl first so this bit of information was vital for me to hear. All of the other “friend of a friend” situations had been boys. The adoption loss had been a girl. So, for whatever reason, we needed to hear that Rebecca was having a girl.
- A few days later we were making plans to go to her house and meet Rebecca and her family. She is a petite little thing and was sitting on the couch with her pregnant tummy sticking out. I was trying not to stare at her, but I wanted to take in everything I was seeing and hearing. Matt and I met more of her family and hung out with them for a little bit at their house. It was weird to leave there knowing it was possible we’d never hear from her again. Having to put ourselves out there, but also trying to protect our hearts…it was hard. We left that night with her telling us that we’d hear from her soon. That was on a Tuesday…it was radio silent until the next Sunday. I was pretty sure that it wasn’t going to happen. Or at least I was trying to prep myself for bad news. That Sunday evening we were out of town with friends and right before bed I realized that I missed a phone call from Rebecca’s mom. I was about to come out of my skin while waiting for the voicemail to play. It was a long message about how they were happy to have met us and wanted to visit our home, meet our dogs and see us again. I couldn’t believe it. I ran to tell Matt and our friends about the message. I hardly slept that night as I was so excited to call them back the next morning. They visited us within a couple of days and then by the end of June, Rebecca had officially told us that she had chosen us to be the parents of her baby. July kind of dragged on as we approached the August 5 due date. There were many legal issues, birthfather-wise, that scared us to death, but we were trusting God to carry us through no matter the outcome. On August 2, 2007, Rebecca gave birth to Tatum. We had the amazing joy of being there when Tatum was born. I got to count while Rebecca pushed and Matt cut the cord. Words really cannot describe the beauty of all that transpired in order for us to walk out of that hospital with our sweet girl.
- Tatum is an amazing girl! Tatum means “bringer of joy” or “cheerful” – she is both of those things! Being her mom is more awesome than I could ever have anticipated. She’s hilarious, beautiful, super smart, helpful, comforting, independent, loves her friends, wants to hold Libby (our smallest dog) all the time. There are many times that I look at her and see Rebecca’s beautiful smile and there are also lots of times I see Matt and me. She laughs like me and always has a plan like I do, she’s self-confident and musically gifted like Matt. She’s talkative like all of us…between us and her birthfamily she had no choice but to be really verbal.
- We have been really pleased with our open adoption. When we first entered into the adoption world we went to a required orientation before our homestudy was approved. We walked in thinking that we wanted a closed adoption and that we couldn’t imagine having a relationship with a birthfamily. After hearing from a panel that included two birthmoms, moms with open and closed adoptions, an adoptive mom who herself was adopted, we felt so much more open to different options that could come our way. We know that every adoptive family has a different scenario with different things to consider, but in our particular situation we are very blessed to be in regular communication with Rebecca and are hopeful that we can maintain that for the rest of our lives. We see her an average of every other month or so and we call and text occasionally. I am “Facebook friends” with her mom and sister so I know that Rebecca gets to see a lot of the silly things Tatum does day-to-day.
- I wish I’d been a little more prepared for how much I feel like I have to explain open adoption to people. It’s not co-parenting. It never has been. Rebecca has always, always, always been incredibly respectful of boundaries and I have never, ever been concerned that she wouldn’t be. Even in the hospital, we were all sharing Tatum back and forth from Rebecca’s room, our room and the nursery and none of us wanted to hurt the other one’s feelings if we wanted to be with Tatum. Matt and I felt like that was Rebecca’s time with Tatum and didn’t want to be obnoxious about having her all the time. Still, Rebecca would call our room and ask if it was okay if she got Tatum out of the nursery or if a friend could see Tatum. It was nice from the very beginning. I feel like I have to justify the “open adoption” thing to people sometimes. I really don’t have to, but ultimately it’s all about educating people on the ins and outs of things. It's not like a made-for-tv-movie. I truly, truly understand that not all situations are like ours. It is definitely not always possible for open adoptions to work well. Sometimes it’s just not healthy for anyone, but in our case, it’s great.
Along those same lines, I wasn’t prepared for people to ask intrusive questions that aren’t any of their business. You get warned about these things when adopting, but it’s still a little difficult. I know that we don’t have to share any details with people that we don’t want to. It’s just not everyone’s business.
Last thing is that I wish I’d been more prepared for some “post-adoption depression”. I’d heard about it, but didn’t know what to expect or what that would be like. Just like no one is ready for postpartum depression, I’m sure. There are definitely physical and emotional things that happen to your body whether you’ve physically given birth or not. For us, we had so much horrendous stress because of legal matters with birthfather issues. Us taking Tatum home from the hospital meant that we had a “legal risk placement” – meaning we had absolutely no legal right to her. She could have been taken from us at any time by her biological family. It was over eight months before her adoption was finalized. Again, we weren’t concerned about Rebecca changing her mind, but the birthfather issues and just the crazy “what ifs” were enough to drive a person over the edge. Matt has said that his heart absolutely knew that Tatum was ours from the beginning, but the stress of things not being legally finalized messed with his head. Your head thinks about the “what ifs”. I could push away the fears of a legal risk placement all day until I was up by myself doing the middle-of-the-night feedings. I would hold Tatum and choke back tears as the “what ifs” went through my mind. I couldn’t let myself think about them. What if this didn’t work out? What if she was taken away from us? I still get tears in my eyes thinking of those moments. I knew she was ours, but I needed things to be official before I could say goodbye to the “what ifs”.
- Honestly, we felt bonded to Tatum immediately. Immediately. We were incredibly blessed to have been part of Tatum’s birth and stay at the hospital. We had a lot of time to bond with Tatum’s birthfamily, too, and I think that helped things. We’d been home from the hospital for less than twenty-four hours and I looked at Matt and asked, “doesn’t it feel like we’ve always had her?” He absolutely agreed. She was such a part of us already. I think that’s saying something when we’d been together, by ourselves with our dogs, for over 10 years. It’s actually been surprising for both of us when we’ve seen friends that physically gave birth and don’t feel bonded and feel really torn up about how things aren’t the same anymore. Please understand, I’m not being critical, I’ve just been surprised to see that and it’s confirmed to me that we really were bonded with Tatum immediately. That means a lot as an adoptive parent.
- We've had a positive experience with trans-racial adoption so far. Matt and I are both about as white as you get. Tatum is light brown with super curly hair. If I am alone with her, then I’m sure people just think my husband is African-American. Matt has had one very negative comment when he was out by himself with Tatum. He ignored it and went on, but because of that, I have a few “prepared thoughts” if anything like that ever happened again.
Had Rebecca parented Tatum, then Tatum would have grown up around predominantly Caucasian people. So, in some ways, our families are similar and she would have dealt with the same positives and negatives. Matt and I want to make sure that we embrace things about Tatum’s African-American heritage as much as possible. But she is also half Caucasian. So I know she’s caught in the middle a little bit.
In general, we live in an adoption friendly community, as there are so many adoptive families in our area. We know many families that adopted from China, Ethiopia, Guatemala, through the foster system and every other imaginable scenario. Ours, being an open domestic adoption where Tatum's birthmom lives in the city next to ours, is actually a little less common in our adoption circle. We know that there are so many unique aspects of adoption and we want to bring our local community together through it all so we started a group that is now run through Facebook, it’s the Blount County Adoptive Families. We get together once a month to hang out, talk and let the kiddos play. We think it’s so important to have a great support system whether you are fostering, foster-to-adopt, waiting for an adoption, already adopted domestically or internationally…there are so many great families needing support, love and friendship.
- Hmmm….best and worst thing about our differences in ethnicity. Right now, I get concerned that our differences in ethnicity will cause her hurt one day. I don’t ever want anyone to hurt her feelings or say something awful. What parent ever wants that to happen to their child? So I pray that God will guide us when and if those times come. I pray that he protects Tatum’s little heart and that the confidence He’s already instilled in her will shine through when needed!
One of the neatest things about our differences in ethnicity is that it gives us a great opportunity to encourage diversity and it expands our own horizons a bit. I love looking at all the children in our Blount County Adoptive Families group and seeing the dark skin, the light skin, the almond shaped eyes, the curly hair, the stick straight hair, etc… and really seeing God’s creation and His love for us, His adopted sons and daughters. He was so creative in making us all different, but also so similar. I think if Matt and I had children the way we originally tried that I would never have appreciated the beauty of God’s design. And it is beautiful!
And a bonus picture of the gorgeous Tatum...
Thank you, Teri, for sharing your beautiful experience and your daughter with us!