How One Couple Overcame their Birth Father Fears
Mike, Ashley and Leo’s Story
Mike and Ashley had known for a long time that they would grow their family through adoption. Almost a decade ago, when the couple was engaged, Ashley told Mike that she wouldn’t be able to have biological children. Like Ashley, Mike had grown up with cousins who were adopted, and he was on board with her plans to adopt from the start.
Still, like any adoptive parents, they came into the process with some fears. They were afraid of having their hearts broken if the prospective birth mother changed her mind. They were nervous about the conversations they would have with potential birth parents, and what their open adoption would look like after placement. What if they were chosen by an expectant mother they had nothing in common with? Would they have to share the roles of “mom” and “dad”? Would an open adoption confuse their child?
And then, when they were chosen for an adoption opportunity and learned that the birth father would also be involved, it raised a whole new set of concerns.
Being Chosen by Both Birth Parents
It was early September, the weekend before Labor Day, when Mike and Ashley got the call that would change their lives forever: They had been chosen by a prospective birth mother — along with the baby’s father, who was involved in and supportive of the process.
Mike and Ashley were immediately thrilled. They were excited that the prospective birth mother would have her boyfriend’s support during the process, and that they would be getting more complete medical and family history information for their son from both birth parents. But, the couple admits, they were also fearful.
“When we first found out the father was in the picture, we were excited — and then we got really nervous, thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, does this mean they will change their minds at the last second? What does that mean for us?’” Ashley remembers. “Is the birth dad excited about this choice? Is he mad about this choice?”
Ashley scoured the internet for advice about adopting when the birth father is involved, and found a surprising shortage of information. She learned that, unfortunately, not every prospective birth mother has the support and involvement of her baby’s father throughout the process. Because it was a relatively unique situation, Mike and Ashley weren’t sure what to expect with him in the picture.
“But as we got to know them and time went on, we started to realize that it was actually really nice having him in the picture,” Mike says.
“I think our fear was that a supportive, involved birth father might mean that they would choose to parent the child on their own, because he’s committed to her,” Ashley adds. “But what really ended up happening was him being committed to her and supportive of her made the adoption a lot more smooth, because she had someone in her corner, a built-in person, always… We had such a successful experience, and I think in part, that was due to him.”
In fact, having an involved birth father benefitted their adoption in ways they never imagined.
‘So Much Fear Subsided’
With more than two months left until the due date, Mike and Ashley had plenty of time to get to know the prospective birth parents. But, like many adoptive couples, they worried about what that first phone call would be like.
“There was a lot of fear in the unknown, and I guess what I would say is that you’re always scared of what you don’t understand and what you don’t know,” Ashley says. “But from the very first phone call — it’s not that every ounce of fear left, but so much of it subsided.”
On the call, Ashley says she and Mike nervously chattered about all types of topics. Mike and the birth father bonded early on in the conversation, talking about their shared interests in cooking and meteorology. But after that, the prospective birth father went quiet, which brought Mike and Ashley’s anxieties bubbling back to the surface — Oh, no, they remember thinking. Maybe he doesn’t like us.
Toward the end, the adoption specialist mediating the call asked if the prospective birth parents had any other questions for Mike and Ashley. The birth father broke his silence with the hardest question the hopeful parents had been asked: “What does it mean to be a good parent?”
The depth of the question stunned Mike and Ashley.
“We were really put on the spot, so I had given him my best, honest answer,” Ashley says. “And afterwards, he told the social worker that he really liked our answer and felt so much better and so much more confident about the decision they were making.”
Naming Baby Leo
After that first phone call, the two couples really hit it off, exchanging numbers and texting back and forth regularly throughout the rest of the pregnancy. The prospective birth mother shared ultrasound photos with Ashley and sent her coupons she got from her OB/GYN to use for baby items. Ashley sent pictures of their preparations for the baby: their dog wearing a “baby security” bandana, and the proud parents holding up a onesie adorned with the name they chose: Leo.
“We really loved [the name] Leo because it stood for bravery, and we had told [the potential birth mother] that we just felt like she was so brave,” Ashley says. “At 19, I don’t think I could’ve handled myself like she did through the entire process, and I like that his name means bravery. I think it’s a great way to honor her.”
And for Leo’s middle name? The couple chose Tim. Not only did the name honor Leo’s birth father, but Ashley’s father was named Tim, as well.
“I recently lost my father to cancer, and he had been so supportive of our plans to adopt,” Ashley says. “I was really struggling with the fact that he wouldn’t be here to meet him and be a part of it. And when we matched, and the birth father’s name was Tim, and his father’s name was Tim, I just felt like it was meant to be. It was cool to be able to honor Leo’s birth father and his grandfather with that same name; it’s something that ties both together.”
As the due date drew near, the two couples got some surprising news from the expectant mother’s doctor: The estimated due date had been a little off, and she would likely be delivering a week earlier.
“She was like, ‘Yeah, that won’t happen. I’m feeling great; I think I have at least another week or more,’” Ashley remembers. “Then, that night, I had this dream that she went into labor early, and I was like, ‘Gosh, I just have this feeling that she’s going to go into labor. I think we should go to Target, get some baby stuff and at least pack a suitcase now that her due date’s been moved up.’”
Mike, Ashley says, thought she was crazy, but the couple went to Target on Friday night to buy the essentials and pick up some food. When they got home, Mike wanted to go to bed, but Ashley’s gut told her otherwise.
“I’m just like, ‘You know what? I will just feel so much better if we just put it in the suitcase, so if we get a call, it’s just ready,’” Ashley says. “And I kid you not — we packed the suitcase at like 11:30 at night, and we zipped the zipper, and my phone binged.”
The text was from the birth father. The prospective birth mother’s water broke, and they were at the hospital. She was in labor.
Mike and Ashley rushed to make the five-hour drive to Michigan, where Leo would be born. They drove through the night, arriving to a hotel around 8 a.m. where they planned to get a couple hours of sleep. But within an hour, Ashley got another call: the prospective birth mother had asked the nurse a second time to allow Ashley in the delivery room and, even though it went against the hospital’s COVID-19 policies, they were going to allow it.
“The whole nursing team was wonderful,” Ashley says. “They were definitely breaking the rules because of COVID. I wasn’t supposed to be there… Honestly, the only reason I think I made it into that room is because [the birth mother] asked the nurse a second time, and the nurse was like, ‘Okay, I guess this is important to her.’”
A Bubble of Calm
Thanks to the birth mother’s advocacy for herself and for Ashley, the new mom was able to be in the delivery room to support the birth parents and watch little Leo’s arrival into the world. Shortly after, Mike was allowed into the room as well. He gave Leo his first bottle, and the two sets of parents watched together as the baby was weighed and measured.
In many adoptions, the hospital time is one of heightened emotion and stress — especially during a global pandemic. But, thanks to the support around Mike, Ashley, and the birth parents, and the relationship the two couples had built with each other, their experience was one of peace and joy.
“It was election weekend, so there was a ton of turmoil in the world,” Ashley remembers. “We were just thinking, ‘How crazy is this? There’s all this crazy election drama, and there’s a pandemic happening, and we’re adopting in this hospital right now.’ There was a lot of chaos, but inside our small little bubble in the hospital, it was quite calm.”
Mike and Ashley credit the hospital staff with helping to make their hospital experience such a positive one. The nurses made two sets of footprints, two sets of crib cards, and two sets of bracelets — one for Mike and Ashley, and one for the birth parents. Later in the day, the staff celebrated with the new parents, playing music, congratulating them, and taking pictures of Leo with both his birth and adoptive parents.
“They took pictures of Leo with all four of us so we could have pictures of all of us together, which was really special,” Ashley says.
A Heartfelt Goodbye
As positive and celebratory as the hospital experience was, Mike and Ashley had been preparing themselves for the challenging step ahead: saying goodbye. When it was time for the new family to be discharged — an hour earlier than scheduled, thanks to the hospital’s changing COVID-19 policies — an adoption attorney met with the birth parents to complete the adoption paperwork, then with the new adoptive parents.
The couple anxiously asked how the attorney’s meeting with the birth parents had gone and how they were feeling. The attorney told them that the birth parents were happy with their decision and that they felt confident they had made the right choice.
“As an adoptive mother, that was really important to me,” Ashley says. “I really wanted to make sure that the birth mother was taken care of. Eventually, I’m going to have a 16-year-old son, and I want to be able to look him in the eye and say we really cared about his birth parents and we wanted to make sure that they were comfortable with their decision. I feel really confident now that that was the case, and that makes me really happy.”
Mike and Ashley credit the birth mother’s support system for much of that positive feeling — including her family, her adoption specialists, the amazing hospital staff and, most importantly, the birth father.
“Ultimately, I think that he made that decision for her a mutual one that she felt very good about,” Ashley says. “I think that because they were partners in it, she had someone after the adoption who she could rely on, who had been through this experience with her.”
They also credit him with making the goodbye a little easier.
“I was expecting a really hard goodbye, and I don’t know if we got lucky, I don’t know if we just had the most serendipitous match, but it was certainly a heartfelt goodbye — but it wasn’t particularly sad,” Ashley says. “I think that it would’ve been a lot harder to say goodbye to [the birth mother] and watch her leave by herself. But there was a lot of comfort for us in watching them leave together, him holding her hand, carrying her bag, knowing that she had a support system that she was going home to.
“Whether or not they stay together forever, the fact that they had this shared experience together and that he was supportive of her, I think that was pretty unique,” she adds. “I think we were so scared at the beginning about the birth father being involved, and in the end, he was the person who ended up making things so much easier.”
'Something Threw Us Together’
Three months out from the adoption, the new family of three couldn’t be happier. Leo is hitting all his milestones and “becoming a chubby baby with his little thigh rolls,” Ashley says.
The couple still stays in touch with Leo’s birth parents, sending occasional text messages and uploading pictures weekly to a photo-sharing app called Tinybeans. The app puts the ball in the birth family’s court, allowing them to check for updates and leave comments when they want to, and not check when they need a little more space.
Looking back on the fears they had at the beginning of the process, Mike and Ashley say they’ve learned and grown a lot. For now, they are satisfied with their little family of three, but they say that if they adopt again, they will be able to let go of many of the fears they had the first time around. They are sharing their story to help other hopeful parents let go of those fears, as well.
“Now that we’ve gone through the adoption, one of the biggest things I could tell parents that are looking to adopt is to be open, because you don’t know what to expect,” Mike says. “You’d be surprised that it will probably end up being a lot better than you thought it would be.”
“I thrive on the unique, so I hate that I’m using the cliché that it was meant to be, but it really felt like that,” Ashley adds. “It felt like there was something that threw us together.”
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