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Published May 09, 2014, 03:41 PM

A day for birth moms: Open adoption makes it possible to honor birth mothers, too

FARGO – The card and phone call Kaleigh Miller receives each Mother’s Day remind her that she made a difficult but positive decision six years ago. At 16, Kaleigh was pregnant and knew she couldn’t give her daughter the life she deserved, so she worked with The Village Family Service Center to create an open adoption plan.

By: Anna G. Larson, INFORUM

FARGO – The card and phone call Kaleigh Miller receives each Mother’s Day remind her that she made a difficult but positive decision six years ago.

At 16, Kaleigh was pregnant and knew she couldn’t give her daughter the life she deserved, so she worked with The Village Family Service Center to create an open adoption plan.

Open adoptions, which are becoming increasingly common, allow adoptive parents and often the adoptive child to interact with the child’s birth parent(s) and/or family.

Now 6 years old, Kaleigh’s daughter, who’s also named Kaylee, calls two women “Mom” – Kaleigh and her adoptive mom, Leah Greuel.

“I feel very much that we’re a team. I feel like I have a spot in my daughter’s heart that can’t be replaced by her (Leah) as well as she has a spot that I can’t replace,” says Kaleigh, 24.

After she’d decided adoption was the best choice for her child, Kaleigh met Leah and her husband, Kalvin Greuel, during her second trimester and continued to meet with them during the pregnancy. When her ninth month rolled around, Kaleigh changed her mind about the adoption.

“I told them, ‘I’m sorry. I’m going to have to keep her,’ ” she says.

After being home with Baby Kaylee for a few days, Kaleigh realized she wasn’t ready or equipped with the resources necessary to be a parent. She called The Village to see if the Greuels were still interested in adopting her daughter.

They were.

“They brought her home. They’ve been very open with me. I just knew it was what was best for her, as hard as it was for me,” Kaleigh says. “It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life.”

Since the adoption is open, Kaleigh sees her daughter regularly, about six to eight times a year.

“Our relationship has grown into something amazing. There’s so much emphasis on who I am to her. She knows I’m her birth mom,” she says. “I’m very fortunate that I have such an open adoption. They’re in tune with what I need to be OK with it and what they need as well.”

Kaylee’s adoptive mom, Leah, says she and her husband chose the open adoption because they want their daughter to know Kaleigh made a “decision out of love.” The Greuels have two other children with open adoptions.

“We’re so honored by what they’ve (birth moms) put in our family. To teach the children that honoring that part of their life, their birth mom, is a way to say, ‘You wouldn’t be here if she didn’t love you and she didn’t make a good plan for you that included us,’ ” she says.

Leah says people often ask if she feels threatened by her children’s birth mothers and birth families. She doesn’t, explaining that the children “love you, but they love their birth moms, too, and that’s OK.”

Seeing Kaylee grow up is “amazing,” Kaleigh says, but she sometimes wonders if she could’ve raised her daughter.

“I’m at such a different place in my life than I was back then. I see her and think, ‘Well, maybe I could’ve done this,’ ” she says. “I know what I did was right, but it is harder as I grow up. It gets tough sometimes, but I know it was best. I lean back on that. It was the best for the time.”

Carolyn, who asked that only her first name be used to protect the identity of her child’s birth father, agrees that being a birth mom is a difficult but important decision. She chose open adoption for her 22-month-old son, Eli.

“I knew deep down in my heart that he deserved a family that could give him the world. Unfortunately, I wasn’t at a place in my life where I was suited to have a child,” the 23-year-old says.

Her first Mother’s Day was difficult.

“Nobody really knows what to say to you on Mother’s Day. They don’t know whether to tell you happy Mother’s Day or kind of leave it alone,” she says. “I think it’s incredibly important for women who’ve made the decision to go with adoption and make that plan for their children to know they’re being recognized.”

Eli’s adoptive parents, Grand Forks residents Jodi and Curt Sherman, send Carolyn a card on Mother’s Day and photos frequently. Both Jodi and Carolyn say their relationship is comfortable and close.

“Those women (birth moms) have made parenting possible for so many people,” Jodi says.

Carolyn thinks about Eli daily, and when she receives photos from Jodi and Curt, she knows she made the best decision for her son.

“It doesn’t matter what else is going on, if I see that little boy and I see him smile, it affirms that I made the right decision,” she says. “It’s the most important thing that I’ve ever done in my life, to give him life and give him a good home.”

National Birth Mother’s Day

FARGO – When Mardie Caldwell founded Lifetime Adoption in 1986, her mission was to connect adoptive families with birth moms.

As an adoptive mom, Caldwell saw the importance of honoring the birth moms who choose adoption for their children.

In 1990, a group of Seattle birth moms started unofficially celebrating National Birth Mother’s Day the Saturday before Mother’s Day.

“We carry this on to honor the women who have made us mommies and daddies and also for their strength in adoption and their unselfish actions,” Caldwell says. “They really have put their child’s best interests first and realize they, at this time in their life, aren’t able to provide the life they want for their children.”

While not widely known, National Birth Mother’s Day is important because birth mothers may not be acknowledged regularly for their decision, Caldwell says.

“These wonderful women have been forgotten for so many years,” she says. “That’s a day that I can reflect on the sacrifice my son’s birth mother made and how important that is to me.”

To honor birth moms today, Caldwell suggests:

• Sending a card and photos.

• Sharing with your child that their birth mom loved them.

“A child needs to know you care for their birth mother, whether you knew her or not,” she says.

• If you don’t know the birth mom, still reflect on the idea that someone made you parents.

“The main thing is to stand back and take the time to realize that yes, you are the parents and you were blessed to have this child, but that’s because of this special woman,” Caldwell says. “If you know her or don’t know her, this is a time to reflect and honor that and share that with your child.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Anna G. Larson at (701) 241-5525