DiscoverAdoption: The Long View Podcast
Adoption: The Long View Podcast

Adoption: The Long View Podcast


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From babyhood to school age, through the teenage years and ultimately adulthood, Adoption: The Long View explores all aspects of the adoption journey with a variety of articulate and thought-provoking guests.

3 Episodes
In this episode, Lori Holden talks with single adoptive mom Leah Campbell about the unexpected way she became a mom to her beloved daughter, "Cheeks," now 7. Author of the just-released children's book The Story of My Open Adoption, Leah is a writer and mom who lives in Alaska and talks about the challenges of maintaining an open adoption with Cheeks' family, and why Leah is so committed to doing so. She tells how she is cultivating openness with her daughter, doing her own ongoing inner work so that Cheeks feels there is nothing she can't talk with Leah about. Show notes Website: LeahCampbellWrites.comFacebook: Leah Campbell WritesTwitter: @LeahWritesStuffInstagram: @Leah_Campbell_WritesBook: The Story of My Open Adoption Podcast Transcript Lori Holden: Hello, and welcome to the first episode of The Long View, a podcast brought to you by Now whether you've been married or not, you probably have an opinion on this question. Is a wedding the ending the happily ever after ending? When I asked that in workshops I lead people laugh and say no sure they say the wedding is the end of the journey to the altar. But it's just the beginning of the journey to the marriage. And that's the focus of this broadcast. Once you fail the crib and are legally joined to your beloved child, your journey is not over. It's just beginning. We'll cover many of the things you need to know to navigate adoptive parenting over the long view. Starting with things you need to know now. perspectives you need to hear now. I'm your host, Lori Holden and the author of The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption, which is on suggested and required reading lists at agencies around the country, and a long time blogger at I'm a mom through domestic infant adoption to a daughter and a son who are now in their late teens. So I've been doing this for a little while now. This is my very first episode and I am so happy to welcome my very first guest, Leah Campbell. Many of you know Leah, I bet there's thousands of you tuning in already. She's an incredible writer and after being told at age 26, that she was infertile. What a harsh diagnosis. Leah went on to adopt her daughter as a single mom by choice just four years later. Today, Leah's daughter is seven, and they maintain a very open adoption with her entire extended family. Leah works as a freelance writer and editor and has a degree in developmental psychology, is foster care certified, and is the author of the upcoming children's book The Story of My Open Adoption, which I have had the privilege of reading and I love it. I more than love it, I adore it. Welcome, Leah. Leah Campbell: Hi, thank you for having me. This is exciting. Lori Holden: It's exciting for me to to have you here. So can you set the stage for us? Tell us briefly how you became a mom. As I recall. I was following along at that time, you were caught by surprise by the whole thing. Is that true? Leah Campbell: Yeah, it was a very, our adoption was unique is the only way to explain it. I, you know, after dealing with infertility, I had done a couple rounds of IVF that had failed and was pretty heartbroken. And I think like a lot of infertile women, I was a little closed off to the idea of adoption, because so many people kept saying, just adopt, just adopt, which is really the worst thing you can say don't hurt a woman. It just counts. It really just counts everything they're feeling and all their grief. And so I'm a very stubborn person. And I just became angry and said, I'll never adopt, you know, and I said this before, I've written it before, but actually it was some of your writing that started to change my heart and it was because it was not directed at me. It was not drawn at me, it was something that I was able to kind of take in on my own. And really, I would say my heart change really fast. Shortly before my 30th birthday, a friend had sent a link to a profile of a little girl who was looking to be adopted in foster care. And I want to say she was, you know, 11 or 12 years old. And there were a lot of things about her that reminded me of me, I didn't have the greatest childhood, I wasn't in foster care, but there were hard things. And there were a lot of things about her story that just really spoke to me and my heart changed very quickly. I called the foster agency in our state. The next day, I started foster training really, pretty immediately, I would say in December of 2012, is when I said you know what, this is what I want, I want to foster and I want to foster older kids, I want to foster, you know, teenagers. And so I started the training in December and I was due to finish my training at the end of February and early February. Right before Valentine's Day, actually, I was at a work conference, and I was sitting with a group of women And I live in Alaska. So a lot of I work for an Alaska Native Corporation. So I don't know if anyone knows much about that. But Alaska has a very diverse population. We have a huge Alaskan Native population, people who live over 200 villages in the state that don't have roads in or out very small villages. And that was what, where I worked, I worked with women and people who are working to help those in the villages. And so most of my co-workers were native. And this woman sitting next to me said, Hey, does anyone know anyone looking to adopt a woman for my village just had an adoption fall through and I kind of looked at her and I said, Well, I'm getting foster care certified. And she was talking about a baby. And at that point, I told myself, I'm not going to have a baby. Nobody's ever going to give me a baby. I'm a single woman. Um, so I wasn't even thinking about myself. But there were couples in my foster care classes who were specifically looking to adopt events. And so I said, if she wants to call me, there's couples, I know several couples who are looking to adopt and if then, I'm happy to connect her on 15 minutes later, she called me and we were on the phone and that was the whole purpose of my conversation was I can connect you with the people I'm working with, with foster care, I could connect you with a couple couples. And also, the story was she had canceled an adoption that had been planned for months that morning. So in my head, I'm thinking this woman doesn't really want to place her baby for adoption. You know, you don't she was doing a week. You don't counsel on adoption a week before it's due, if you really want to place your child for adoption. So the bigger part of my conversation was, let me help you find resources. Let me help you find ways to keep this baby If that's what you want. But we got about 15 minutes into our conversation, and she said, so you're getting foster hair certified? And I said, Yes, I am. And she said, you want to adopt? Like to someday? Yeah, I'm looking to work with teenagers. And she said, You don't want a baby. And I said, well, it's not that I don't want a baby. It's that I realize everyone wants babies and there's all these teenagers in the system who age out and I think I just have a heart for that. And she said, Well, would you take my baby? Lori Holden: Wow Leah Campbell: At that point, I kind of my heart stopped and I said, it's was funny like looking back at me. Like, I can't believe I almost talked myself out of this. But I said, Oh, you don't want to give your baby to me. I'm a single woman, we can find you a couple, we can find you a couple who wants a baby? And she said, well, okay, I'm walking into the adoption agency here to go look at adopted profiles. Can I call you later? And I said, Sure. Okay. And we hung up the phone, and I got that phone and I was shaking. I was like, Did I just say no, she looked up a healthy newborn, like what is happening? And in my head, I'm like, she was walking into an adoption agency. She was going to go look at profiles there. I'm never going to hear from this woman again. And that is what it is, like, obviously not meant to be. Well, she called me a few hours later. And she said, Look, I know you said, you're not looking for a baby. I know that you said you're looking to adopt a teenager but I, you've been on my heart since we talked on the phone. I don't know if you believe in God, but I think God wants me to give you this baby. And at that point, I'm just floored. We talked and we met for lunch the next day and we both cried at lunch. We just had an instant connection. We obviously have very, very different lives. But we had a lot of personality similarities, like the way we communicate the way we talk was just very similar. And honestly, I looked at her and I was like, had I been put on a different path in life, we could have been in the same situation, we could have been the same person. Um, and we just connected. And a week later, I was in the delivery room, catching my baby girl. And that was our story. Lori Holden: That is an amazing, amazing story. I remember watching a little bit as it was unfolding and thinking, wow, this is like the stuff that you would see in a movie because it just happened so it unfolded in such a short amount of time. And you didn't really have a whole lot of time to like, prepare and do all this stuff. But you had done a lot of that before you had done some pre work. Leah Campbell: Well, emotionally. I was ready. But we had nothing. The one thing I learned is you really don't need as much for a newborn as you think you need. Lori Holden: Exactly, yeah. Leah Campbell: You need a car seat, you need a place for them to sleep, you need some food and some diapers and clothes and really yeah it's my village I would say my group of friends came together in a huge way my three best friends had had babies within the previous year. So we really got a ton of hand me downs. I don't think I spent money on anything that first year we got everything we needed. Lori Holden: And so you've remained in contact with your daughter's birth mom. Leah Campbell: Yes. Lori Holden: And that's been for seven going on more than seven years. And now you're about to put forth into the world a new creation, your book, The Story of My Open Adoption. Can you tell us a little bit about the book? Leah Campbell: Sure. So when Josie was little when my daughter was little, I looked everywhere for books that kind of reflected what we had, which was a very open adoption and not only with my daughters and a mother but with her entire extended family. We have aunts, uncles, cousins. Even honestly, my daughter's other mama's best friend, her and her daughter are a part of our extended family. So we’ve had non blood relations brought into our fold. And I couldn't find anything that reflected that even beyond that, my daughter has five siblings, three of whom we've been able to keep in contact with and have had questions and struggles about that, like why they're together and she's not with them, and why she can't see them as often. You know, we've got issues of distance and travel struggles between villages, and she's had a hard time with that. And I couldn't find anything that reflected that. Every children's book I bought --and I bought almost all of them at the time -- were very adoptive-parents centered. The stories were always being told by the adoptive parent in terms of I wish for you, I wanted you, you were my wish come true. Which was lovely and beautiful and true to my story, but not necessarily true to hers. They didn't answer these questions she had. And that was something I really struggled with a lot of them. Some were religious based and while we're religious didn't necessarily love the religious bent. Like a lot of infertile women, I struggled with this idea that God picks and chooses who gets a baby. So for me, that was a hard thing to have, because I'm no more worthy than anyone else to have a baby. All of them talked about adoptive families, mostly adoptive moms like this mysterious entity. There would be, you know, one or two sentences in the book that would say, Oh, yes, I'm sure she loved you. But we don't know anything about her and that struggled with that, because that's not what most of our adoptions are today. You know, close adoptions are a very rare thing today. And so there wasn't anything that represented our adoption. And what happened was a couple, well, early last year, mid last year, I was contacted by a publishing company, and they said, you know, we want to create something different. We'd like to create a different kind of adoption book, and would you be interested in joining us. Which, again, doesn't happen in publishing, like, publishing companies don't approach authors. So I recognize that I've had a lot of really like, lucky experiences in my life. And that kind of came down. I said, Yes, I will do this. Under these circumstances, the book has to be written from the child's perspective, the book has to represent an open adoption. The book has to express that there's not all rainbows and light and adoption. But there are some things that are really hard for kids. It has to give kids an opportunity to explore and process some of that it has to provide resources for adoptive parents, because I think a lot of adoptive parents go in blind to adoption. And we had these discussions and they said, sure, whatever you want to do, we're on board. So I got to write the book that I wish I had when my daughter was little. Lori Holden: I love also in your book, you start with a dear parent letter. Leah Campbell: Yeah. Lori Holden: And I feel like that is such an important piece of the book. Because as you and I both know, when you start on this journey of adoption, whether it has contact with birth parents or not Leah Campbell: yeah Lori Holden: you want to be open to your child Leah Campbell: yeah Lori Holden: for everything that your child is wondering and feeling and all of that. And so some of that is your teaching parents who are picking up this book and, and open to learning about all the intricacies of adoption, you're teaching them some of the ways to approach it that may be different than what we see on the movies of the week, and the teen moms shows and things like that. So you mention in your letter to parents, you mention fostering a policy of ask anything you want in your home. And I love this because of course I advocate for relationships based on openness and truth. So why do you think such openness is so important, especially for adoptive families? And how has that openness, that ask anything you want vibe? How has that played out in your home? Leah Campbell: So I do think in part, that's my personality, I'm a pretty open book and it was not how I was necessarily raised. So it became something that I really wanted for my daughter. I wanted us to have an open, honest relationship. In our home, you know, my daughter knows that nothing she says, nothing she expresses is going to hurt my feelings. And in reality, you and I both know that sometimes those things do hurt our feelings, like of course they do. But I've worked very hard to make sure that she did know she is not the keeper of my feelings. She is not responsible for taking care of my heart, particularly in her questions about adoption. Um, and so she does, she'll ask questions. So she has said before, um, one of the things she started doing and I wrote about this in the letter parents, if she had started using her biological last name, and this is all on her own. She realized that her siblings had a last name that she didn't have. And she is requesting teachers and everyone else -- Sometimes she cuts off our last name. Sometimes she says her name is not Campbell, her name is just this last name that she was born with. And I've worked really hard to foster that and to allow that to happen even to the point that we've had conversations about legally changing her name, if that's what she wants. And I think we decided on a set date as 13 she decides that's what she wants at 13. Just because I feel like so much of high school stuff follows you into adulthood, and getting her license and everything else. So she's got to change her name, I'd like to do that before things are like following her into adulthood. Um, so we've set a date, we've said, you know, if you're 13, and you want to do this, well, I'll help you. And I think that that's helping her to process her own identity and figure out who she wants to be and who she wants to be called, you know, adoptive kids don't have a lot of choices. In most of this. Most of these decisions are made before they're ever even able to verbalize any of it. And the truth is my daughter, we have a transracial adoption, my daughter's native for first last name is part of her heritage, it's part of her background, and she has started to recognize that. So it's not my place to put my foot down and say But no, you're part of me, it's my place to say how do we help you and what do you want here and that's we have a lot of really deep, you know, for a seven year old, she's got a lot of questions. And her siblings are no longer living with her other mama they've been placed somewhere else to, um, for various reasons that I don't get into publicly, but I do talk about with her and an age appropriate level of course. And, and, and she has a deep understanding of all that now. And I just think the beautiful thing in our adoption is my kiddo knows she can love her other family and that that doesn't take away the love she has for me. And she knows that even at seven years old. And I just, I feel like that's probably the most important thing that we can have. Lori Holden: Yeah, one of the books that I think all parents should read over and over again, but especially adoptive parents is the Connected Child. I noticed you include that as a resource in your book. But the premise of that is to make yourself feel so safe to your kiddos that they can come to you with anything. And my experience has been that by doing my work around adoption, and making sure that I'm dealing with my triggers so that my kids don't bump up against my own triggers about adoption and about not being the only mom. By by doing that work on myself that benefit of being open and working on my own triggers has really helped me deal with other hard things that are coming up Leah Campbell: yeah 100 percent Lori Holden: yeah, your child grows up, and they, if they're confronted with, you know, drugs, or alcohol or peer pressure to do certain things, or sex, you've already kind of got this practice of feeling safe. What do I need to do? Right in this moment, so that my triggers don't come front and center and my kiddos can focus on themselves. Leah Campbell: And that's really what I'm talking about is I feel like that's my personality and would be my inclination as a parent anyways, but I do I think it sets up that point where I hope my daughter always knows there's nothing she can't talk to me about. And, you know, I, we grew up in a different generation. And I don't blame our parents. I don't but I didn't have that relationship. I didn't feel like I could talk to my parents about anything, and I just want a different experience for my daughter in all facets of life. Absolutely. Lori Holden: And let's face it, if you've been through the pain of infertility, you might have some triggers. You might have some landmines, some emotional wounds. And that idea that you don't get to be the only mother can be triggering when you choose to let into your life another mother who is a reminder of what you went through, so to be able to shift from that Either/Or -- either she's the mom or I am -- to BothAnd like you've done with your daughter, to be so expansive and so open that those things don't trigger you and your daughter can work on her stuff without having to watch out for your stuff. I just think that's beautiful to watch. Leah Campbell: Well, and, you know, I will say it's not always easy. There's times, you know, especially in the beginning, especially, it was interesting, my daughter's mother and I got along so well, like I we were friends very quickly. But there was a shift the second that baby was born and I just I hadn't expected it, I had in my mind that I was going to be this super open, super positive person and but the second that baby was born, even my dad said, there were ways that I held my body when I was holding the baby where I kind of positioned myself away from her. And it wasn't anything I did consciously. It wasn't anything, um.. But it becomes this. This thing and it was, I was jealous. She breastfed our baby that first day, I was jealous that I couldn't do that. I was jealous that she had this time with our baby for nine months that I couldn't have, I felt like there was a connection there that I would never be able to replace. And I'll tell you the truth, there is and remains to this day a connection I will never be able to replace. And I've had to come to terms with that. What I will say is in the beginning, I think it was harder for me. And as time has gone on, I think it's become harder for her as my daughter's and my connection has grown. Lori Holden: Yeah. Leah Campbell: And she and I had talked about this too. um and I do think that there's a give and take there you know isn't recognizing that it's not easy for her either to watch somebody raise her daughter in a way that maybe she wouldn't have. And the beautiful thing is I think we do have an openness between us. You know, it's been harder the last couple years again, various things that have not happened to her in her life have made things harder. But we have an openness between us and I think we've always had an ability to be honest with each other, um which is good. But yeah, it's not always been easy. The one thing I will say is, it's always been right. Um, when I look back on everything, I wouldn't want it any other way. I'm glad that I've swallowed my own pride often times when it's been hard. And I'm glad that we pushed through the tough stuff, because it's not just my daughter who gets good things out of this. I get good things out of this all the time. There's so much beauty in our open adoption, and that I'm thankful for every time we're with her other family. And I'm thankful. I think that that's true of any family. Honestly, there's hard parts of every family. There's things that aren't easy, but you're glad when you push through it and figure out a way to come together. Lori Holden: And I think it makes such a good point about how you can't expect yourself not to have those feelings of envy. Leah Campbell: Exactly Lori Holden: But you can notice them and breathe through them. Leah Campbell: Yes. Lori Holden: And not deny them because if you deny them and push them away that resistance gives is what gives them power. But if you're aware, like okay, there I go, I'm a little bit jealous again. How can I make myself okay? Leah Campbell: Yes, Lori Holden: And that's a constant dance. I think that adoptive mothers and first mothers do as you say, as that child grows up, and the balance shifts and the relationships come and go, you know, strengthen in different ways in different times. So that was a really good point. Leah Campbell: I say all the time, my therapist is the person I'm supposed to talk to that. Lori Holden: Right, right. Not your child’s job. Leah Campbell: to take that on, yeah, exactly. Lori Holden: What are your hopes for this book? Leah Campbell: You know, I was just hoping to create something that other families could see each other in and some of the reviews are coming in, and they're really reflecting that, like a woman wrote that she was a foster parent. So she didn't know that she would be able to relate to it, but that there were pieces that worked for her kids, too. One of the things I had included with other children and other, you know, biological siblings in the book, because that's something that we deal with. And a lot of people are responding to that. I think, in our adoption, honestly, that's the hardest part for my daughter out of everything is having siblings. That's particularly because she's an only child in my house, and wants siblings really badly. Um, so that was something I wanted to reflect on and finding that other people are feeling that too, I think I just wanted to create something that wasn't out there yet that didn't follow the same pattern. And that was maybe a more modern interpretation of what adoption looks like. Because I do think most of us these days are striving towards an openness that didn't exist 20 years ago, Lori Holden: right. Leah Campbell: And that's what I wanted. I wanted a book that painted that and it showed that it could be beautiful and it showed adoptive parents kind of putting the feelings of their child first and it makes it easier for other families to do the same Lori Holden: And I don't think I'd be delivering any spoilers if I said that your book's characters are animals, and the child is a different species than the parents so it's kind of a cross -- an adoption is very apparent that way. And I love the way that you in your in the storyline, you really give space to that BothAnd of the child, for Sammy being able to claim both sets of parents. Leah Campbell: Yeah. Lori Holden: And beyond that both and you also give space for the BothAnd of happy and sad and the complexity and range of emotions that we found that adoptees often feel, especially if they're having to hold our feelings, too, but that we try to keep that out of it. But they're likely to feel joy at being in contact and sadness about not having contact, or all sorts of things that can happen in the course of raising a child and you allow for all of that and you show all of that. Leah Campbell: It was important to me.I wanted my daughter to see something that looks like what we have. And, and that reflected her feelings like she's an independent little one. And she has a lot of opinions on a lot of things. And she owns where she comes from, she owns it. And that makes me really proud. Honestly, I'm proud of her for knowing she can do that. Lori Holden: I think there's a strength that our children can gain when they are able to collect all of their pieces. I think this happens for non adoptive families too. But the more we allow them to kind of be themselves and wonder where they need to, and gather the things that they need to to build their identity, the easier they're going to have an easier time in forming their identity. Leah Campbell: Exactly. And I mean, I've seen that I've seen that in I think that it could have gone the other way. Like if she felt like those pieces were shrouded or kept from her, I think it could have created a much less confident child. She's grown up really confident, I’m really proud of who she is and where she comes from and all the pieces of her and I hear her talking to friends, which is funny, you know. She's seven, she's little like her interpretation of things may be different from mine. But the way she talks to her friends about her other family and for other mama and it's really special, and it's really special and we've we've been blessed in that, you know, we are separated by by distance in that most of our other family lives in a village pretty far away with no roads in or out. Access is not easy. But like last summer, her aunt and two of her cousins and then her second cousin, so the little ones were here, and we got to spend almost all summer playing with them. Like we picked up her little cousin who was her age, at least once a week to go on adventures with us. She went trick or treating with us and she really got to spend a lot of time with them. And it was just such a special thing. That's not necessarily something we've had throughout our adoption. It's this like constant, being able to spend time together. And she just bloomed. It was really special for her and really started to embrace her Native heritage that summer more than she has before. So that was cool, too. Lori Holden: Leah, what have you learned along the way and adoptive parenting that you wish you'd known earlier in the journey? Leah Campbell: I don't know that there is a way to know this earlier, but I wish I had known that it was going to get hard. And I went in with such rose colored glasses. You know, I had read your book, and I had read a bunch of other books and I was like, I am ready for this. I am going to tackle this and we're going to be open and amazing and it's going to be this beautiful thing. And I was not at all prepared for the things that would get hard and the things that would be outside of my control. And I'll be honest, I wish we were able to see her other mom more. I wish we were in there. Things that she's having to deal with that I don't have any control over. So I can't give that to my daughter because it's not in my realm of control. And I'm, I'm very type A. So having to admit, I can't control this is really hard for me. I would be lying if I said our adoption is everything I dreamed it would be in the beginning. Um life is not always that simple. You don't get to paint a pretty picture and have it come out that way. There are complications. And there are things that are hard, and there are decisions that we've had to make and talk about and work through that I didn't think we would. And I think that I just wish I had been better prepared for that. I wish because it's hit me hard every time something hasn't gone the way the beautiful, easy way that I thought it would. Um it's made me question myself. It's made me question my decisions and my choices. And I think I just wasn't Yeah, I wasn't prepared for the fact that I could have the best of intentions and there would still be things that would be hard. Lori Holden: I remember seeing a meme that said open adoption is easy. said no one in one, ever. Leah Campbell: Exactly, exactly. Leah Campbell: It’s constantly shifting, it's constantly, like you said that balancing is constant. It's not our open adoption has not looked the same from one year to the next ever um ever. Lori Holden: And sometimes you as the adoptive parent come up against competing needs. Leah Campbell: Yeah. Lori Holden: You know, in the early years when your child is a baby, you are really trying to get that relationship going with the first mom and meet her needs and feel safe to her and you know, make that make your tent big enough for everybody. But then your child grows up and has opinions too. And sometimes Leah Campbell: yes Lori Holden: I've seen a lot of people experience, what your child needs is the opposite of what your child's birth parent needs. And that's that's a conundrum. So I think it goes back to what you said earlier. It's not easy, but it's right. Leah Campbell: Yes. Lori Holden: This openness, this providing all the pieces it's it's the right thing to do for our kiddos. Leah Campbell: well and the easiest thing to do would be as soon as things get hard say nope, we're not doing this anymore. I'm cutting it off and closing it down. This is not happening and that would be the easy thing. But I don't think that would be good for me. I don't think it would be good for my kiddo. I don't think you know, it's...So it's constantly trying to figure out okay, what does this look like in these circumstances? How do we make this work now and I think the one thing that I will say really more than anything for my daughter's other mom and I both we both want what's best for her we both love her desperately and so um and we love each other we do um but you can let people and have it still be hard sometimes. And so we're constantly figuring out okay, what does this look like now? What does this look like to meet your needs? Because she's had some hard times and what does this look like to meet our needs? And it's a balance. It's an ever changing balance. And I think being willing to reevaluate and rebuild again and again and again is what makes any family work but especially an adoptive family. Lori Holden: Yeah, that iterative process. It's not like you get there -- “I have an open adoption and we are set!.” Leah Campbell: Exactly, exactly. Lori Holden: Last question, Leah, boil things down for us to your best piece of advice about the long view. Leah Campbell: I think being open minded in an open adoption is important. And never ever putting anything in these kind of set “this is how it is” terms. Because it may not be how it is. And I think that's true. Again, parenting in general, I think that things change and evolve and move forward and you need to be willing to evolve and change and move forward with it. And, and as adoptive parents, I think this is something I work really hard on because it's very easy to center yourself and everything. We think about ourselves and our needs, and it's just natural. But I try really hard to remember that I'm the person with the most power in this dynamic. Always. I'm always a bird I get to make choices. I'm the one with the legal standing, and I have more power than my daughter. In this, I have more power than her mom in this. So it is my responsibility to kind of step back sometimes and give power where I can. And I think that's a really important thing for adoptive parents to remember you are in the power position. So you are responsible for not taking advantage of that power you have and making sure that everything's taken care of. Lori Holden: And I'll add if you can't give power, give voice. Leah Campbell: Yes, absolutely. Absolutely. Lori Holden: Well tell people how they can reach you and how they can find your book. Leah Campbell: Sure. Well, my website is So that's you can find me pretty easily there. The book is on Amazon, Barnes and Noble. It's releasing on June 16. So it should be in bookstores most places shortly thereafter. Hopefully, if you're in an area that has bookstores even open right now, I'm always big on supporting your local bookstore. But yes, tell the story of my open adoption. And then I'm pretty active on Facebook. If you can find me on Facebook. I got it. That's probably where you can see what I'm doing the most is on Facebook. Lori Holden: We'll include some links for you in the podcast notes. Leah Campbell: Awesome. Thank you. Lori Holden: Leah, thank you so much for being with us today. It's been a pleasure talking with you about something we're both so passionate about. Leah Campbell: Oh, it's always great talking to you, Lori, I appreciate you and everything you do. Lori Holden: Thank you, Leah. Thank you for joining us for Adoption: The Long View. We hope you'll subscribe and listen to all of the coming guests interviews that we have planned for you. I'm Lori Holden, and I'll talk with you next time.
In this episode, we hear from birth mom Ashley Mitchell of Big Tough Girl and Lifetime Healing Foundation. Now 14 years into her open adoption experience, she talks of grief and healing, and of the importance of adoption education for both adoptive and for placing parents. Show notes Website: Bigtoughgirl.comInstagram: @bigtoughgirl and @lifetimehealingfoundationCo-Host @twistedsisterhoodpodcastFoundation: LifetimeHealingFoundation.orgAshley on ethics: The fine line between adoption and trafficking Podcast Transcript Lori Holden: Welcome, everyone to this episode of Adoption: The Long View. This is a podcast brought to you by the people at Whether you've been married or not, you probably have an opinion on this question. Is a wedding the ending? The happily ever after ending? When I ask this in workshops that I lead people laugh and say no, they say the wedding is the end of the journey to the altar. It's, it's not it's just the beginning of the journey of the marriage. And that's the focus of this broadcast. Once you fill the crib and you're legally joined to your beloved child, your journey is not over. It's just beginning. We're going to cover many of the things you need to know to navigate adoptive parenting over the long view, starting with the things that you need to know now, perspective that you need to hear now. I'm your host, Lori Holden, author of The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption and longtime blogger at I'm a mom through domestic infant adoption to a daughter and a son now in their late teens, and let me tell you, it's been a ride. Think of any road trip you've taken. There are ups and their downs and it's always an adventure. You're always glad for the trip. And afterwards you might on occasion and up thinking if I knew then what I know now. Regarding your adoptive parenting journey, we aim to help you know now. My guest today -- I'm so excited about this -- is Ashley Mitchell. Ashley is the owner of Big Tough Girl and the founder and executive director of Lifetime Healing Foundation. And she has set out with conviction to seek increased care, understanding, and resources for birth mothers. For over a decade, Ashley has been one of the most consistent and sought after birth mother voices in the nation. She's well known for her vulnerability and transparency and adoption and her story has touched the hearts of countless members of the adoption community and beyond. I am betting There are a lot of birth mothers and expectant mothers tuning in today because Ashley has long been a champion of post placement healing for placing mothers speaking out about ethics and modern adoption and what responsibilities we all have in the process. Ashley, welcome. Ashley Mitchell: Hi, thank you so much for having me. This is such a blessing to be here today. It's always a treat to talk with you. Lori Holden Yes. Let's start with you. Tell us briefly the story of how you became a birth mom. I'm guessing that wasn't your goal in life, but tell us how you became a birth mom. And then also you have an interesting arc of your open adoption. How did that manifest? Ashley Mitchell: Yes, I definitely think you know, we don't go to our guidance counselor in high school and say I want to be a birth mom when I grow up. Right. So this was definitely not something that I saw for myself. But when I was 25, I found myself in an unplanned pregnancy. I was on again off again with the biological father and found out we were pregnant. And through a lot of really, really big, tough decisions and different faces, we ended up choosing adoption. And when I was 26, I gave birth and became a mother for the very first time and placed my son for adoption. And we've been in the grind for 14 years, and it's been beautiful and amazing and horrible and painful and all of the above, mixed with you know, adding parenting after placement, adding my my own kids to the mix that I parent with my husband and all of those kinds of things navigating this relationship. We did not start with the beautiful open adoption relationship that we have now. We had our first five years I call my infamous Jerry Springer years were very very engulfed in self destructive behavior and a lot of grief that I did not understand, did not have a name to and did not have the support to process through it. And, you know, people think that it's so obvious that you would be that obviously, you're missing your son, obviously you're grieving. Obviously you've had these triggers over these last, you know, five years and you know, when you're in that fog of that grief and loss, it's tough to really see and understand what actually happened and what what you're looking at and when when that healing started to take place for me, which ended in a pretty, pretty significant event with an attempted suicide in time in a mental hospital, really processing all of that. All those things that had happened. Then my journey really began. Then my healing really started. And I was able to come back to my son that I placed, back into his life with his family. We've been rebuilding trust and building this beautiful adoption ever since. And so with having little to no contact for five years, really doing the work, really getting into that mental healing grind, and now developing into this beautiful relationship has given me more perspective and more joy than I can imagine. It has been very, very hard work. Our open adoption relationship is constantly evolving and changing. But it's been worth fighting for for us. But it's been a long journey for sure. Lori Holden: With my two children, we have four birth parents around and what I've noticed is that over time, which is the piece I didn't always get at the beginning, but over time, there's going to be ins and outs. And I hear from adoptive parents who are looking for advice often and they're like, well, we just want more contact. We wish she'd be here, or he disappeared, meaning birth parent birth mothers and birth fathers. And I just tell them this is a long game. You're not locked into this things can change. And would you say that your son's mom had to kind of have that faith and openness to whatever happens is going to happen? Ashley Mitchell: Yeah. And we educate a lot on those seasons of silence, right. And it's tough for adoptive parents to kind of feel like they're in those one sided relationships. I know those adoptive parents want to show up and want to do well and want to love the biological parents well, and sometimes we aren't able, or in a season are capable of showing up in that season. There definitely are things that adoptive parents have to do to just kind of get really thick skinned about and just kind of find acceptance in. But I know for a fact that the way that my son's mother loved him during my absence is the only reason why we were able to come to the table and have an open adoption relationship. It’s because of the way that during my silence she kept him connected to me and to his story. She never projected her own anger and frustration onto him so that when he got old enough to say, I want this relationship with her, she hadn't put up these blocks for him. And that's a really important thing that was a key factor for us to be able to come back to the table and we have that relationship because she was able to be consistent in my silence. Lori Holden: I absolutely love that -- her role in what I call an open door adoption. Sometimes you can't have that contact, but you can hold the door open for when contact becomes possible again, we keep the porch light on. What have you learned along the way? That you wish you’d known earlier? Ashley Mitchell: Wow, that is a question. Um, I really should just write a book of all the things not to do because I have done all of the wrong things. And so if you could just do the opposite of what I did, then you everyone would be fine. But definitely In the adoption journey specifically, um, I really wish I knew that I had more options. And I wish that I knew that I could be an advocate for myself. I wish that I was, you know, when I was 26, you know, I was a grown lady. Okay. And so it wasn't, you know, I wasn't a teen mom, I didn't have my parents making choices for me, you know, those kinds of things. These were things that I was figuring out by myself. And even then I didn't know in something like this, that I could be an advocate for myself that I could stand and fight for what I really wanted. I think so much of it was wrapped in fear and shame and wanting to please and not be such a disappointment. There was a lot of religious culture put into that, you know, feeling like I needed to make the best decision that would kind of appease the masses. I wish I would have been more proactive in my own education in my own research and been my own advocate. I wish I would have known about the loss and the trauma piece. Those first five years were very dark and very scary and very painful. Um, and I wish I would have known I wish I would have had education around what this would have looked like so that I could have better prepared myself. I feel like I failed in that. And so I wish I would have known that I wish I would have known that 14 years later in the throes that I would still be feeling all things, that this actually is for life. You know, we don't think about long term when we're in the hospital giving birth and placing our children. We don't think about what it's gonna look like when we have to date. We don't look like what it's gonna look like when we get married. When I gave birth to my first child, after placement, how triggered I was going to be in the hospital. You know, we don't talk about explaining to my kids that they have a brother that doesn't live with us and what that looks like, you know, I just, there were so many things that they're like, you know, this is permanent. And this is, you know, you can't change your mind and this is irrevocable. I don't think that we understand the permanency of it. And I don't think that you can ever really get it until you're in the throes of it but I wish I would have been more informed in that. A lot of those things that I wish I would have known, just came around education, so much education that was lacking. Lori Holden: I hear you saying that having a voice and understanding the grief that's coming are both so important in healing, really having voice and choice in the whole process is actually choosing this from options, not from having to do it as part of what makes you be able to heal and move on from it. But also, I think for both both that and knowing that there's a grieving that comes from these vestiges of the closed Adoption era, we kind of think that nowhere in the open adoption era all those problems are going to go away. But in those days, we told everybody pretend it never happened. We told the birth mom to pretend she hadn't had a childectomy. We told the adoptees to pretend that there hadn't been a big switcheroo at birth. We told the adoptive families to act like you hadn't had a grafting onto your family tree. And we were all supposed to go on as if something big, really big hadn't actually happened. BUT IT DID. So that grieving of what actually did happen, that being open to working through that grief in all those stages and parts of life and the big milestones that are going to happen that are gonna look different if you've been through a traumatic event like this. Ashley Mitchell: Yeah, and I really believe, you know, it doesn't, it doesn't make the hurting go away. But I think we can be more effective in our healing if we're educated around a loss. I think the more informed we are, and the more empowered that we were in these choices and the more clarity that we have around them. Is it going to make the pain go away? Absolutely not. But the more educated we are, the more effective we can be in our healing. You know, I spent, it took me to be in a mental hospital with a psychiatrist going What's up with you? And I'm like, fine. I mean, literally at like rock bottom. I'm still fine, because that is what had been ingrained in my, in my head and my heart and my, you know, from my community around me, too, to say, I'd been programmed to say that it's fine. And he was like, we're gonna put you in a straitjacket, you are not fine. We need to talk about this. And it wasn't until that experience was horrific and so sad, but it was life changing because when that light bulb turned on, it was like, Why didn't anyone tell me? but then I had a name to it. And now I had resources and I had the meds that I needed and the doctors that I needed and everything that I needed to actually Put tools in place to move forward. And that is vital in this for this to be successful. Lori Holden: I don't know if it was Carl Jung who said that which we resist persists. You and I share a mutual friend, Rebecca Vahle, who will be on this show, and she talks about it as a beach ball. You try to keep that beach ball under the water, but it's gonna pop up one way or another. In a neat way or in a messy way -- probably in a messy way. So Ashley, if you could wave your BIgToughGirl wand over Adoption World -- this is a juicy question -- what are the top two or three changes you would make? Ashley Mitchell: Oh my goodness, if I mean, obviously, if I could wave the end all be all, we wouldn't be having this discussion at all. We wouldn't have to have adoption in this world. Um, I would love to see a place where that wasn't a thing but we live in a broken world. That's not what this looks like. So, you know, I'd love for every pregnant mother to be able to be empowered and be with their children. That's what this should be. But because we don't live in a space like that, this is what I would love to see. I would love to see more education. I would love to see more adoptive parents, especially, walk into this completely informed of what this looks like, um, for adopting these children. They're uninformed about the trauma that is inflicted on the mothers, they're uninformed about the long term trauma that adoptees are feeling. They're uninformed on what they should be looking for and asking for their professionals. They're writing very big checks with very little information, trusting very blindly their adoption professionals. I would love pregnant mothers to have better options counseling, I need them to know that adoption should not just be their first go-to. There are resources, there are organizations that can support them and help them. At the end of the day, if you are going to choose adoption, then there are people that can stand with you and support you. But have we exhausted every other option? And if you have the support that you deserve in making these life changing decisions, I want pregnant mothers to be more empowered, because if they can parent, they absolutely should. That's the kind of support that they should get. Adoption is not going anywhere. And so if they are going to choose adoption, great, but I want them to come to the table better empowered in that choice. I want more post adoption services. Regardless of how you came to adoption, there is going to be grief and trauma. It is unavoidable. It is built in brokenness and you cannot erase that with any wand in the world. But we can if you're if professionals are going to stand with us in destruction. Where are they in the rebuild? They have an ethical responsibility to stand with us to help us rebuild for parents to have post adoption support and how to navigate relationships with their children. Birth mothers getting free, post placement care, adoptees getting trauma education. So for me, those would be the huge things would be making sure that everyone before they step into this have the education, education post adoption. And then I would love to see law reform, I would love to see the law force ethics, so that we're consistently across the board all playing on an even playing field. Because right now, that's not happening. And so I would love to see an adjustment there as well. I mean, just that's just a few small things that I would like to see. Yeah, Lori Holden: Well, I love those things because none of them are magical, that you know, none of them require an actual magic wand. They're all within the realm of possibility with work and advocacy and time and, and getting people on board with this. So that's great. And I agree with you that adoption is born out of an imperfect situation. Not only from the birth parents side but also from the adoptive parent’s side. It's not a plan B for everyone, but a lot of times it does come out of infertility. And that's a traumatic experience. So you have two sets of people who have been through traumatic events meeting in an adoption, possibly an open adoption with ongoing contact, and you expect it to go smoothly when there are wounds. And there's a baby there depending on the adults to do that work of healing themselves so that the baby doesn't have to be the magic salve. That's too much you put on a baby. Ashley Mitchell: Yeah. You know, I love that you brought that up about the adoptive parents because I think that they are this privileged voice in this situation, but no one is immune from trauma. Everyone, all people, all sides of this come to the table with trauma and some is inflicted from other members and some is inflicted from outside things that you know and some is self inflicted. We -- all of us -- have trauma coming to the table. And adoption is just so weird. Because it's like in any other circumstance, our worlds would never collide, we probably don't even live in the same area, social classes, different, all religious beliefs are different. And then we're thrown together with all of our masks and bound together forever, because of this child and good luck! Now do life together, and do it well and ethical and love each other and be best friends and all of this stuff. And it's just like that is not realistic. There is so much work that needs to be done. And so that's why the conversations like this are so important, and so that people aren't coming to the table saying, well, this is the next step. This is the next vehicle to try to become parents. And let's let's jump in here and drive down this road and see what it looks like because it's way more work than that. It is not. Adoption is not for the faint of heart, for sure. Lori Holden: Right. And as another previous guest said, It's not easy to do this, but it's right to do this in the way of openness of just thinking of it from the child's point of view and holding the other parents in your heart and giving grace when you need to. But this all kind of brings me to my next question for you, Ashley, what message do you most want adoptive parents to hear from you? Ashley Mitchell: For me today, I just really on my heart, I just really wanted to say that you were asked to do one thing. Really, in the big picture you were asked to do one thing and that was to take on the responsibilities of raising a child and loving them well, and if you're doing that, then you're doing what was asked of you. I think that there is a lot of work to do around our open adoption relationships. But I want you to know that if you're loving that child well right now, even with all the other messy stuff, you're doing what was asked of you and that's that's okay. That's enough for right now. There will be a call to action for a lot of work in those open adoption relationships, but just I want to say that adoptive parents are tired. And I want them to take a breath and just say, am I doing what was asked of me? When I said yes, when I was chosen to take this child. And if you're loving that child, well, then I think that you're doing what was asked of you. And I think that that is a huge first step. I needed my son's mother just as much as she needed me. And she stepped into a space when I asked her to take on the responsibility of things that I felt incapable of or unworthy of doing. And she is an amazing mother to my son and I am very, very grateful for her. And so for the adoptive parents, whether you're getting that from your children's birth parents or not, I just want you to know that. I see you doing what was asked of you. And I think that's a great first step. Lori Holden: I love that. And you make me think of like a dance, a dance between the two of you -- and birth fathers are in there sometimes too -- where sometimes you're leading and sometimes you're following. Sometimes you’re the helper, sometimes you’re the helpee. Sometimes you're the healer, sometimes the healee. So and over time it does change. Now at some point all that contact is going to have a complicating factor and that is when the child reaches the age where they have a say in it with whether or not they want to have contact, and more contact or less contact. And suddenly me as the adoptive mom, I'm not making all the decisions anymore. So have you hit that in your, in your situation if it's something you're able to talk about. Ashley Mitchell: Yes, I am. I was walking through Barnes & Noble in Arizona and our whole relationship -- I have come back into the picture and his Mom and I had been dictating the entire relationship. We'd been arranging visits. You know, we were kind of rebuilding that trust. It was visiting my sister in Arizona, and I was in a Barnes & Noble and I got a text message and my son was nine years old. And I got a text that said, Hey, this is Derek, I miss you. And I went, Does your mom know you're texting me? I called her immediately. And I was like, do you know Derrick has my phone? And she said, She's like, yeah, it's my phone. And I was like, okay, and right then that's when our open adoption relationship actually started. And I thought that it had started when we had contact, and it didn't. Our open adoption actually started when HE decided that he had a voice and opinion and needs and wants and could express what he was feeling and all of a sudden we went, Okay, this has to change and we had to shift it. So now our visits are 100% arranged around his desire to see me. And his desire to see his half brother and sister and his desire to spend time here. We didn't get that, that didn't click for us until I got that text and all of a sudden we went, Okay, he is expressing something new. And now our open adoption really begins. And now it's been catered around him, which is what it should be anyway, which is awesome. So we're just transitioning into what that looks like. Lori Holden: Yeah, we’re just kind of caretakers of the relationship until we can turn the reins over gradually to the child at the center. And I love what you said because it confirms what I've long been telling adoptive parents in workshops: We start out thinking open adoption is about contact with birth parents, and we do this so the birth mother can have some peace of mind and maybe later if we need a kidney or something (I admit that might have been me). But in the big picture and as time goes on the blinders come off. Open adoption is not just about the connection between adoptive parents and birth parents. It's really about an open channel with your child and being able to talk with your child about anything, if they wonder things, if they are sad, if they're excited, they can come to you without you having your own triggers in their way. Ashley Mitchell: Now, I love that you said that because that is so important because you see the adoptive parents on the birth parents and they have this beautiful like amazing friendship and relationship. But does that block them from really cultivating these relationships with the children because that's really what this is about. And I know there's so many years before the child is old enough to express some of those things. And so it's just a natural kind of, you know, tendency for especially the moms the two moms right? To kind of gravitate and build that relationship or completely repel against each other. But man, and When, when he started to express what he wanted, we thought this is what adoption was really about is that it's about the child. This is how we show up and do that well. And open adoption is about making sure that he has answers to the questions that he has. And that he has a safe place to process in either dynamic, and it's awesome. It doesn't make it easier for him. And it doesn't mean that he's not going to have stuff come up. That's going to be complicated. But he has a team around him serving him that has his best interest, to be able to process and answer all the questions that he has. And it's awesome. It's awesome. Lori Holden: Absolutely. And speaking of awesome, you had some awesome news recently. Can you tell us about the new nonprofit arm of your organization Lifetime Healing? Ashley Mitchell: Yes, so Lifetime Healing Foundation was created so that we could offer innovative programs to support women that have been exploited. trauma that includes adoption, trafficking, addiction, incarceration, abuse, and beyond. We are so excited to have this nonprofit organization to be able to serve all women. I've been able to come to the table in the commonality of trauma through birth mother grief. And now we get to expand it to so much farther than that. And so we're so excited to finally be official and really get to work. We've been working for a decade, and now we're like, now we really hit some work. And so we're really excited about that. Lori Holden: So that that magic wand has now been supercharged, right? Ashley Mitchell: Oh, yeah. Now all the reform that we want, we actually have a platform to do that. We're excited. Lori Holden: Well, there may be some people listening who would like to be a part of that and maybe support that. So we'll make sure that the show notes have information on this. Ashley Mitchell: We would love that. Lori Holden: We're getting towards the end of our time together. So this is a question that I ask of all my guests. Boil things down to your best piece of advice for adoptive parent about the long view. Ashley Mitchell: Don't give up. At the end of the day, you will have to answer to your child about how you brought them home, and about what that looks like, and about what you did to fight for that relationship with the biological parents and it's gonna matter. And how you are able to answer that question is going to be dictated upon the work that you put into it. It's exhausting, and it is for life. But at the end of the day, if you can look at your child and say that you did everything that you could to make sure that regardless of the circumstance, you did everything you could to cultivate these relationships, that's what's gonna matter. That's what's gonna matter. And so, keep fighting, keep fighting for that. I know it's hard to be in the trenches. But when you get to look at your child and say that we did this and this and have those relationships intact, that'll be because of the work that you did. Lori Holden: Excellent advice. Good place to close. How can people reach you Ashley if they'd like to get more Ashley? Ashley Mitchell: Instagram is my favorite platform so you can find me there @BigToughGirl. Lori Holden: Excellent. Well, thank you so much for being with me today. I think you've brought a lot of points up that people may not have thought of and will be glad to know that they need to be thinking in these ways. So I really appreciate your help. Ashley Mitchell: Well, thank you for letting me have a space here to share with your audience. Lori Holden: So we'll see you all next time on Adoption: The Long View.
In this episode, Lori talks with Carolyn Savage, who has, perhaps, the twistiest-turniest journey to family you've ever heard of. Starting with an inconceivable snafu with a fertility clinic, within one year Carolyn (1) gave birth to a son she placed in the arms of another, and (2) became a mom to twin daughters who were placed in her arms by the woman who gave birth to them. Those profound experiences give her a unique view of adoption and of being both on the placing and the receiving ends. Carolyn shares how she and her husband have ongoing conversations with their children about the twisty-turny way they all became a family. Show notes Facebook: Carolyn & Sean SavageBook: Inconceivable: A Medical Mistake, the Baby We Couldn't Keep, and Our Choice to Deliver the Ultimate Gift News clip: Fox36 in ToledoPodcast TranscriptLori Holden: Hello and welcome to this episode of Adoption: The Long View, a podcast brought to you by Whether you've been married or not, you probably have an opinion on this question: is a wedding the ending, the happily ever after ending? When I ask that in workshops I lead, people laugh and say No. Sure, they say, the wedding is the end of the journey to the altar, but it's just the beginning of the journey of the marriage And that's the focus of this podcast. Once you fill the crib and are legally joined to your beloved child, your journey is not over. It's just beginning. We cover many of the things you need to know to navigate adoptive parenting over the long view. Starting with things you need to know now, perspectives you need to hear now. I'm your host, Lori Holden, the author of the book The Open Hearted Way to Open Adoption and longtime blogger at More importantly, I'm a mom through domestic infant adoption to a daughter and a son, now in their late teens. Let me tell you, it's been a ride. Think of any road trip you've ever taken. There are ups and their downs and it's always an adventure. You're always glad for the trip and afterward, you might on occasion, thinking, if only I knew then what I know now. Regarding your adoptive parenting journey, we aim to help you know now. Our guest today is Carolyn Savage, who has one of the most chaotic family building stories you will ever hear. Carolyn wrote the foreword to my book, The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption, because as a book by and for both adoptive parents and birth parents, Carolyn was in the position of having experienced both ends placing and receiving -- with a twist. Carolyn is the author of Inconceivable, a book that chronicles Carolyn's and husband Sean's incredible journey through something that as you'll come to understand seems truly inconceivable. Carolyn and Sean live in Toledo, OH, and have six children -- three sons, two of whom are grown and one who is entering kindergarten --and three young daughters. Here to tell us her story is Carolyn Savage. Carolyn, welcome. Carolyn Savage: Thanks. Thanks. It's great to be here. Lori Holden: It's wonderful to have you on our show today. So let's get to know your story. You had two sons the regular way? Maybe not. I'm not sure. And after that things got really interesting. Can you briefly walk us through what happened after that? Carolyn Savage: Sure. So we got pregnant the old fashioned way fairly quickly after my husband and I married. I was five months pregnant on our first anniversary, but I had had a pretty significant diagnosis of endometriosis. So we knew we needed to try right away, and we did and it worked and we are great. That was, we're blessed. So our first son was born in 1994. And then we started trying right away for a second. And that took a little longer, but we just had an ovulation stem cycle with a reproductive endocrinologist and had our second in 1997. And then of course, we're like, okay, two boys, maybe we'll have another, and then we kind of hit a roadblock. So we suffered with secondary infertility. It took us 11 years and an immense amount of ovulation stimulation cycles into IUIs. We eventually tried IVF and got our third child in 2008. And that was our first IVF with this particular clinic. And as a result of that birth, and that cycle, we had some frozen embryos. And at the time that my third was born, I was 39. And I knew I was kind of pushing that 40 envelope and I thought, well, Sean and I had made a commitment to give all our embryos a shot. So we went ahead and started a frozen embryo transfer in February of 2009. And I did get pregnant but when they called to give us the good news, or what should have been good news, they informed me that they had made a mistake at the lab and transferred the embryos of another couple. And that indeed, I was pregnant, but I was not pregnant with my biological genetic child. I was pregnant with somebody else's baby. Lori Holden: Oh my gosh. I picture this balloon going up and getting popped in the same phone call. Carolyn Savage: So I'm sure you can imagine just a shell shock. When you go through IVF you think, you know, two results: Yes, no, positive, negative. We immediately decided it was an opportunity to behave in a way that we would have wanted somebody to behave for us. So we knew this was somebody who had gone through IVF. We don't know who it was, they didn't tell us anything. It’s just that this particular couple had embryos stored at the same lab that we did. And we made an immediate decision to kind of do what we would have wanted someone else to do for us if our baby had been inside of somebody else. And so, immediately told the doctor that we would carry the baby to term and that we would not fight it. We wanted the child raised by his or her intended parents. Then we went through the long process of a very difficult pregnancy. And you know, with regards to that decision, or that journey through that pregnancy, the easiest part of that was the decision to carry. What came after was just, you know, un it was a road not traveled. We didn't have anyone to call say, hey, how did you do this? There were a few cases but not with a similar fact pattern. We did deliver him. It was a little boy. In September 2009, the parents were at the hospital. We handed the baby over, saw him for a little bit the day he was born a little bit the day after. And that's kind of how I got into the position of having given up a baby. So I do consider myself -- I love the language in your book about being the first mother. So that meant a lot to me because I was more than just a vessel for this child to be born. After he was born, I was done and couldn't have any more c sections. So are so we were advised not to, but we had our embryos that hadn't been transferred. So we worked with a surrogate, and we had a successful twin pregnancy with a gestational carrier who we are so close with today. We had twin girls born in 2011. And they are just about to turn nine. And then lo and behold, I turned 45, and two weeks after my 45th birthday, I was feeling a little bit off, and boom, I was pregnant. Which was the shock of a lifetime. I had not had a naturally occurring pregnancy since 1994. The only other one we had was our first son. So our oldest and our youngest are 20 years apart. Nicholas was born in November of 2014. So we have six kids, three boys, three girls, they all came to us. I always joke: the boys came through me, the girls came from the petri dishes. I had to order them. So the boys came from a biological conception. So we have run the gamut. I know what it's like to receive that gift from our gestational carrier. That was the most humbling experience I've ever been through. And my girls, we still honor her and talk about her and our kids know her and, then you know what it's like to give up a baby. So it's definitely both ends of the spectrum. Lori Holden: Wow, that's so much. I'm picturing the Brady Bunch for the grid for you and your family. So all the twisty parts began about 11 years ago and you're now 11 years on the other side of placing your son and the son you carried into the arm with his other parents. Can you talk with us -- sounds like you really love your son, the boy you carried, you love that baby. Talk with us about some of the emotions you've had then and now and in the years in between. Carolyn Savage: So, you know, the pregnancy was very, very difficult. We were... it was so hard to get our brains around actually birthing a baby that we so desperately wanted and had worked so hard to get, and then just hand him over to somebody else. Um, it was that was probably what I thought at the time was going to be my darkest point of my life, not realizing we worked really hard. We worked with a therapist during the pregnancy to try to reframe that moment when he left with somebody else, and what we didn't expect was the darkness that came after he left. His name is Logan. So between Logan and the twins there were two years and I would say the six months after placement or after his birth were probably the darkest moments in my life. I always say I am very thankful for my other three kids we had at the time, because I feel like they kind of saved my life. There's not a day that goes by that I don't think of him. And it amazes me because every single day, I think of him. And it's not just like, Oh, yeah, that happened. It's, oh, I wonder what he's doing. I wonder how he's doing. I wonder, like, if I see my kids doing something, I have a daughter who's 12 they were 18 months apart. I often think, Oh, I wonder if he's doing the same thing. Like, she's really into Harry Potter and Percy Jackson. She loves reading and I wonder if he likes to read. Does that kind of stuff. So you just have this, this kind of unknowing piece that over time you learn to live with a lot like a loss and so it never really goes away. You just kind of learn to like weave it into the fabric of your daily life. So for those first years, there were a lot of tears, they would kind of sneak up on you and or sneak up on me. I didn't know That's gone. Now. That doesn't happen any more. Lori Holden: There's a a woman who was a therapist and an adoptee. Her name is Betty Jean Lifton, and she wrote about the Ghost Kingdom in adoption. And I know your world is not exactly adoption. But that sense that you're talking about of that ghost child that is not at your table, and how birth parents often feel that, and sometimes adoptive parents often feel the biological child that is not at their table. And the adoptees are sometimes feeling the birth parents that are not at their table. And so this Ghost Kingdom that we're all trying to navigate in some different ways. So that's that's revealing that you had such strong and enduring ties with Logan. Carolyn Savage: And I think it has positively impacted our relationship with our gestational carrier who carried the twins. I just treat her the way I would want to be treated. So it's kind of that “do unto others.” So, um, you know, she gets calls, holidays and Mother's Day and the twins know her. She doesn't live near us. So it’s not like we can just drop by and visit, we try to do a visit. At first we are doing them annually, I do follow her lead on whatever she's comfortable with. Our door's always open, and I know enough to know that I have to keep telling her that. Because she may not feel like she can call and say hey, I need a fix or I need to come see them. Um, so I'm constantly letting her know Do you want to come up, but I don't want her to feel like we want it. You know, it's a very sensitive kind of fragile line that I try to be very respectful of boundaries there. But if you talk to my twins and pretty much well if you talk to all of my kids. So the six that we have, and even the five year old, um, they know about Logan. They know about Jennifer who is our gestational carrier. We've equipped them with developmentally appropriate words and storylines for that. I don't think they know too much. But as they get older, more gets revealed because they're able to understand more and they understand the, you know, my, with the exception of my 12 year old who does but the little ones don't even know about the birds and the bees. So it's very difficult for them to understand how any of this happened. But we've come up with a developmentally appropriate explanation that is truthful, you know, we just tell them, doctors put babies one of the ways the baby can get them I always tell me is a doctor put them there and the doctor just made a mistake with Logan, they put the wrong baby in my tummy, but we took care of them and then returned them cuz of course we would do that. And then mommy's tummy was kind of broken. So we had to put our babies in Jennifer's and she volunteered to do that for us. And, and they're like, oh, okay, to the point where like, we went to Disney World two years ago, and I do not know what possessed my twins. Do you know how when you're de-planing, you're all stuck on the plane? They start telling their story to the people behind us, like, I don't know. I don't remember but she's like, Oh, yeah. And I didn't grow in my mom's tummy. I grew in my mom's friend’s Jennifer tummy, but my mom had a baby. And I'm like, oh, Lord. And the funny part was is that, um, the woman who was hearing the conversation or was receiving this information, looked at me and she goes, I think I know who you are She heard the story. Lori Holden: That's hilarious. Carolyn Savage: But that's what we were advised to do. We were advised. And we sought that advice. It was such uncharted territory, and we wanted to make sure we handled it in a way that would cause the least amount of emotional trauma for our family. So we were advised to be as truthful as we could about it and just make it part of their stories and make it normal, just normalize it. As they get older, of course, they're going to recognize that what we went through wasn't normal. But right now, there's no point in making it feel traumatic for them. Um, and so, you know, they talk about Jennifer, they have pictures of Jennifer they, she's just part of our life, but they also know that genetically or biologically, they're ours, like they look like their siblings. And so I think the big key there was just normalizing it for them. And as time has passed, we've normalized it for ourselves, as much as possible. Lori Holden: I love a couple of the pearls that you're dropping here. The first one that I just love is going into these relationships with a golden rule as your guiding star, treat others the way you wish to be treated. And I think if adoptive parents can do that and understand what it's like, on the birth, mother side, on the birth father side, adoption can be a lot kinder and more compassionate. So I'd love that that's your guiding star. And the other one is that you are normalizing this with your kids. You're making it so that there's nothing you can't talk about. You've worked out your own stuff so that the kids don't stumble as they're kind of figuring out their own story. They don't have to stumble over your triggers and worry about what might go off if they touch something sensitive. You've just made it. Okay to talk about everything. Carolyn Savage: Yeah. And that's what we were advised to do. And obviously it wasn't just easy, but I'm a trained educator -- I was a teacher, I was a principal of an elementary school. And I also always used to tell the parents of my students, that kids are very resilient, but they will follow your lead. So if you treat something like it's taboo a secret or you cloak it in mystery, darkness or shadow, that's what they're going to carry away. And that's they're going to, they're going to take that on. So it doesn't mean that we didn't have behind the scenes, very difficult moments or complicated emotions and feelings. We just did our best to parse that out and not lay it on our kids. And it's interesting. I always say that I want to be the kind of adult that my children, come adults, they'll be proud of me. So because, we all have that moment where we stop seeing our parents as parents, and we see them as the people that they really are. So I'm not perfect. And I'm sure there'll be questions about why I allowed too many chicken nuggets or, like, but like the big stuff, you want to get the big stuff, right. So they're not coming back at you when they're 35-40 and going, why did you put that on me as a kid? Because here's how it impacted me. So I, I think that's been our overall goal is just, you got to be able to answer to that. And I think with regards to our twins, I didn't want them ever to come back to me and say, Why didn't you let us know her? And I've always said she loves them. I mean, it -- she doesn't love them the way I love them. And what's wrong with another loving, nothing, you can't have enough people, adults in a child's life that love them. So that's just an added support person for them. Lori Holden: You've given us a lot of insight on how you are dealing with the relationships and the story for the twins that you received. Let's talk about the son you gave birth to and placed into another couple's arms. What's your relationship and like with them and with him over the last 11 years? Carolyn Savage: Probably not as straightforward as we would have liked or could have predicted. One of the things Sean and I said over and over again that I wish I could take back is that we said we were going to give him to them with no strings attached. Meaning we had no requirements, it was going to be completely up to them, wWhat they told him about us. It's not that I didn't think they had that right. I just know now that I would be more at ease if I knew a little bit more. So, we live in that ghost world a lot. And as time, you know, the first few years as I think this is predictable to, it was a little bit more open. Things got really good when the twins were born because I think his biological mom or second mom or intended parents had a lot of guilt. I mean, they, they understood what we were going through for them and they were, they were they dealt with a lot of guilt. And that and I think guilt is a really common emotion in any of these triads. And when she found out about the twins that made it easier, like okay, that'll fix it. But it didn't. I don't think it did in the way that she had hoped it would. We never really developed the kind of relationship where we can talk like that. So the first few years were good. We would see them kind of annually, sometimes maybe two times a year but then we have not seen him. I think it will be seven years in October. It just got down to birthday. I know in the state he lives they start school the day after Labor Day. That's just their rule. So I always send her an email the night before the first day of school and ask for a first day of school picture. And I always thought I would never ask for anything but I think for my own sanity I have to. I just need to know that he's okay and that he's happy. And of course, I have no way of truly knowing that. And I think that that's something that I work really hard to make Jennifer know that the twins are well taken care of. That they have openness; they have the ability to be in touch with her. There's an open line of communication, I think that makes her feel better. There's just this responsibility you feel towards a human being that you bring into the world. And in my case, I wasn't biologically related to that child. But it doesn't matter. You still want to know. So if I could go back, I would say I would have required, you know, six month updates. The interesting piece of it is whenever I work out, or whenever I reach out to them She responds tenfold. she'll send me 20 pictures and huge updates. But I always have to ask. And so it's not a comfortable thing having to ask, if that makes sense. Lori Holden: So Logan is going to be heading into adolescence soon. As he becomes a teenager and a young adult, what are some of the concerns you have about him building his story, his narrative, his identity, you know, that core work we do in our teen years? Carolyn Savage: So, you know, that's an interesting question. They handled their family differently than ours. And that's not for me to judge. It just is different. So for at least the first four years that we were when we were kind of visiting, I always had to sit Mary Kate, who is a year and a half older than him, down and remind her that Logan and he has two older sisters. They don't know that Logan grew my tummy. And she just looked at me really bewildered, like, Well, why not? But see that comes from the fact that we've just normalized it for her. So she's like, Well, why wouldn’t you tell him that? And I’m like, it's just the way their family is and we respect that. I am under the impression now based on our most recent communication that he knows a little bit. I just don't know exactly how much he knows. The indication to me was that he knows I was there when he was born. So yeah, I was there. But I can't predict what he knows. I think they're really good parents. They'll guide him through that in a way that best meets -- I have to believe that they will guide him through that in a way that best meets his needs. I think someday. She always said that someday she wanted him to knock on our door and say thank you. And I always would kind of cringe a little bit because I'm like, I don't really want that. I don't, he doesn't need to say thank you. But boy, would we love for him to knock on the door and say, Hey, can we hang out for an afternoon? You know, I would just like to know. So I think she feels that there's a gratitude there and I would have that same I have that same gratitude towards Jennifer. But it's more than that. It's the need for a relationship that I think just helps him shape who he is and helps our twins shape who they are. So I think we'll see. He's gonna be 11 and I'll tell you these last 11 years have flown by, in some ways, some ways they haven't. But our story's not completely written yet. So we will see. Lori Holden: Could you boil things down to your best piece of advice for placing parents about the long view? Carolyn Savage: I think try to envision -- it's so hard to, like I said -- we spent a great deal of our pregnancy um just thinking we just gotta get through the birth. We just gotta get through the birth and that moment where he leaves the hospital with somebody else, like that's going to be horrible. So try to set up a plan for yourself immediately afterwards. That includes some mental health care. That's going to be really important, more than you can understand, cuz you can't when you're in the thick of it. I mean, when you're pregnant, you can't think past the delivery. So then I would think very carefully about what you could possibly want, as that child grows, and then ask for those things. And you, it's easier to dial something back and say, you know, I want monthly updates, or you know, whatever it is, I know, that seems like a lot, but ask for the moon. And if you decide later on, you only need the stars, then then it's easier to go backwards. If you can't go forwards. It just doesn't work. I mean, I'm sure it does work in some cases, but it's very uncomfortable to ask for an increase in information, be easier to roll it back. So I think that would be it. It's very difficult to and the other thing is: start to really embrace the story in a way that it becomes part of you and you normalize it for yourself. So that as your life moves forward you have the ability to communicate about what you've been through the decisions you've made in a way that is comfortable for you and productive for your future, future relationships, future children, future family. Lori Holden: That sounds like great advice for the other side, as well, which is my next question. And possibly my last question, which I asked all the guests. What is your best piece of advice for adoptive parents about the long view? Carolyn Savage: I think the best piece of advice I can give is exactly what I've already said. Be upfront, truthful and developmentally appropriate. I think that stories can start out very simple. And then you can add details as you get older as the children as the child gets older, but truthful and appropriate, so that there's never a big reveal. It just, I just don't believe in my heart that that's the best way to go. Um, I think you want them I don't think you would try. You want your child ever thinking that you are keeping a secret from them of this magnitude. That being said, I think always as busy as life gets and as far away from that moment you get where you walked out of the hospital with that baby. Um, again, I think it's normal to experience a little bit of guilt. Um, figure out a way to deal with that productively, um, to as busy as life gets 11 years later, know that the first mother of your child is still thinking of that child and every day probably, and that you want to give them what they need to continue to be comfortable with their decision. Lori Holden: Excellent. Thank you so much, Carolyn for sharing your experiences and your insights and your wisdom about all that you experienced in your journey to build your family. How can people find out more about your story if they want to know? Carolyn Savage: So I do have a book. it's on Amazon and Inconceivable is the title. I also have a public Facebook page under Sean and Carolyn Savage. So it's interesting people do reach out through public or private message, and I always respond, if anyone needs any advice or any just listening ear, that's how they can get hold of me. Lori Holden: Wonderful, Carolyn. Thank you. And thanks to each of you listeners for tuning in, and investing in your adoption’s long view. May you meet everything on your road ahead with confidence, capability and compassion.
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