Our Open Adoption
Getting to know our daughter's birthmother was a tremendous blessing.
Steve and I began trying to start a family in 1999. After a year of failed fertility treatments, we felt that our money would be better spent adopting. It was an easy decision; we had always considered adopting.
We chose an agency that had a Web site on which birthmothers could view parent profiles, and which gave birthmothers access to counseling 24 hours a day. The agency responded to all of our questions promptly. We completed our paperwork and homestudy in September 2002.
Several months passed. While we waited, I made adoption flyers and mailed them to churches, colleges, and doctors' offices in our state. We read books on adoption. After watching an episode of the Hallmark Channel's Adoption series, we decided to create our own online profile. Within a month, three birthmothers had contacted us! We directed them to our agency for information about us.
I felt an instant connection with one of the birthmothers, a young woman named Jenee Zapatka. She seemed confident, spontaneous, and happy. Steve also noted her well-written e-mail to us, and liked the fact that she was going to college.
We met Jenee at a restaurant. She immediately put us at ease by walking up and hugging us. We spent an hour getting to know each other. When we got home, I e-mailed her: "I was worried that our meeting would be awkward, but instead, it just felt like old friends catching up. I hope you felt the same way. I can assure you that your baby will be loved and cherished wholeheartedly.
"I can imagine how scary it is to decide to turn your child over to virtual strangers. I am dreaming about being a mother to your child, a child that I haven't even met... I love the baby so much already."
Jenee replied: "I am 100% sure this is the right thing to do. Meeting you two today was absolutely amazing. I could sense the love and trust that you have. I feel in my heart that I have made the right decision."
We began e-mailing almost daily and even attended Lamaze classes together! Our most treasured moment together was her ultrasound appointment. When we found out that Jenee was carrying a girl, we were thrilled. We decided we would name her Nikayla Marie. Jenee’s middle name is Marie. It was a sentimental, overwhelming day.
Jenee admitted later that it really hit home how distressing this situation is and will continue to be for her. She loves kids but knows that love isn’t enough to provide the best life possible for her child. She indicated that she had broken down and cried. Yet, even in her sorrow, she cared enough to express to us that she is not having second thoughts because she knows this is the right decision. She assured us that we have nothing to worry about. Jenee is such an amazing person to have such a big heart to be worrying about our fears and anxieties while she is making such a tremendous sacrifice of love. Learning this made Steve and I even more appreciative of and that much fonder of our relationship with Jenee.
I had conflicting feelings. I was overjoyed about becoming a mother, but felt guilty about her sadness. I was ecstatic that she chose us as adoptive parents, but felt unworthy of the honor. I was excited about raising a baby, yet terrified that I wouldn't meet Jenee's expectations as a parent. I told Jenee how I felt, and she responded:
"I don't want you to feel guilty. I want you to be overjoyed (and I know you are). You will do a wonderful job raising Nikayla and she will have a happy life with you. I am OK, because I know that our relationship will last a lifetime."
On March 25, 2004, Jenee gave birth to a healthy, beautiful girl. Steve cut the umbilical cord. I held Nikayla and fed her her first bottle. We were so grateful that Jenee wanted us to experience every aspect of her pregnancy, including the delivery of our daughter. A few days later, we went to court to get custody of Nikayla. Afterward, we went to Jenee's apartment for a farewell luncheon. There were tears and hugs. All the way home, Steve and I were in stunned disbelief that we were finally taking our daughter home. Steve and I called each other "Mommy" and "Daddy" a thousand times that day. It's still sinking in that we're parents, but there's no doubt that we love this little girl immeasurably. With each smile, each time her little hand grabs my finger, each time she needs me to care for her, I grow deeper in love with my daughter.
Jenee and I keep in touch via e-mail and the occasional phone call. I like letting her know what is going on in our lives as much as I like hearing from her about how she is doing. I love sharing pictures and news about Nikayla with someone who loves her just as deeply as I do. I admit that there are times when I want to be selfish and ignore that I’m not her only mother; but then I think of Jenee’s selfless act in placing her daughter in my care, and I feel ashamed. She opened her heart to us, gave us her trust, and gave us the greatest gift of all--Nikayla. The least I can do is share our lives with her and show her what a joy Nikayla is to us. It’s our turn to be selfless, not only by caring for Nikayla, but in being caring toward Jenee.
By opening our hearts to Jenee, we began a unique friendship--a friendship that has made me a better person and a better parent.
Julie Branigan and her family live in Jefferson City, Missouri.
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