For anyone who might wonder, like I used to when I started the process, I thought I would give an example of what life is like several years down the road of open adoption. I can't speak for all birthmothers, but I can try to shed some light on a side of the adoption triad not often seen by adoptive parents and adopted adults. Most importantly, it is a perspective that could be helpful to a new or contemplating birth mother.
Life goes on after an adoption - literally, figuratively, and not always smoothly. I did open the door to my daughter's life, and I have continued to live and act and go forward each day with my own. But I admit that it wasn't always easy. After I placed my daughter with her adoptive family, I experienced moments in which I believed I made a mistake. For a short time I even felt the only goal I had in life was to have a child, and I had just given up the perfect and perhaps only chance I'd ever get.
However, I always knew that the adoption was permanent. Most birthmothers understand this from the beginning. Even during that rough period, I still knew it was what I wanted. In addition, I was able eventually to recognize other goals I wanted to achieve - goals that I'd had in mind when I decided to pursue open adoption, so that I could in turn pursue them. Finally, I remembered the goals I had for my daughter - a home with two parents who were emotionally ready and financially prepared. That never changed.
Since that difficult time, I have completely accepted my decision and the permanence of the adoption. Also, I can now see the results of other efforts and goals I have made. I spent a year abroad, got my college degree, pursued writing as a career, and otherwise enjoyed the independence and time alone that I often crave, when I craved it. I also know that I have a certain level of freedom to pursue other goals in the future.
At this point in my life I have come to believe that - in addition to love, of course - goals and plans are at the core of open adoption. Adoption starts on one side with an unplanned pregnancy, and on the other side, a family planning to have a child. However complicated the situation becomes at times, these plans remain central to the adoption and help give it meaning and purpose. The plans that birthmothers probably had for their lives besides or before children - a certain career path, marriage, extensive travel, independence - also contribute to this core.
The idea of planning can help in explaining adoption to the child when she starts asking why she was adopted, or why she was "given up" - another thing that comes along with the passage of time. I would even recommend that you plan how to tell your child the answers to these questions as soon as possible. I told my daughter that I always wanted to have her in my life, but I hadn't planned for her birth and so I needed to find another set of parents who had. Planning is a universal concept that people deal with their whole lives, and something school-age children can understand, since they see it every day: teachers planning lessons and parents planning meals, their week, vacations, etc.
But this may not be enough. As I've learned from experience, it's vitally important to clarify the permanence of the adoption to children. Otherwise, they may make other "plans" for themselves for the future. They may be afraid that they'll be taken away from Mom and Dad, or possibly plan to go back to the birth parents later on, when all the initial problems that caused the adoption (like money or emotional security) have been fixed.
At age six, my daughter revealed to an adult outside of the family that she would soon be going back to live with me and her birth father. We were both older, more responsible, mature and, I assume, seemed to her so much more like parental figures. I was shocked that she had come up with this notion, but I also knew I had never really explained the permanence of adoption to her. It became something she planned on whenever things got boring, confusing, or difficult for her at home.
Finally, and especially for new birthmothers, I'd like to mention that many of "the firsts" - the first tooth, first word, first step, first birthday - have become fifths, sixths, and sevenths, and don't have the impact they used to. In hindsight I clearly see that the firsts are poignant, but they encompass a tiny fraction of a life, of which there are all kinds of special moments to share and create. Besides, you can choose to create and celebrate your own firsts: the first time you see your child walk, the first word your child says to you, and the first birthday you spend together.
Life has gone on after adoption, plans made, goals accomplished, and new plans and goals created for the future. Because I chose an open adoption, I have been a regular presence in my daughter's life from month to month and year to year. That's part of the benefit, and the difference, that openness makes.