'It Was So Easy To Say Yes'
Today’s guests: Meaghan McKracken, Levi and Meghan.
Meaghan McKracken is 35 years old. She has been in a polyamorous marriage for 11 years, and has a young son with her husband. Four years ago, Meaghan got pregnant, with a man she was dating. None of the options sounded right for her — except adoption. And not just any kind of adoption: an open, inclusive adoption. In this episode, I’ll introduce you to Meaghan, and the couple she chose, Levi and Meghan. And I’ll share the extraordinary story of how they found each other, and how they’ve evolved to be, as Meaghan puts it, a “weird little family unit.”
KRISTIN KALNING: In the not-so-distant past, the most common type of adoptions in the U.S. were closed, or confidential. That meant that records of biological parents were kept sealed. Back then, prevailing wisdom held that closed adoption would protect the adopted child from the shame of being illegitimate and the adoptive parents from fear of disruption.
This period, which ranged from the mid-1940s through the early-1970s, is called the Baby Scoop Era. An estimated four million women placed their newborn babies for adoption during that time. Most were young and unmarried, and most report that they were given little choice. Abortion was illegal, and having a child out of wedlock was considered shameful. Adoption was presented as a chance for a “clean slate” for both birth mom and child.
But then several things happened at once: the feminist movement of the late 1960s, the 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision, and the popularization of the birth control pill. Young people were questioning authority like never before, and with that came shifting social and sexual attitudes.
By the mid-1970s, the number of unmarried, pregnant women who chose to place their babies for adoption fell sharply. So too did the practice of confidential adoption. Today, between 60 and 70 percent of domestic adoptions in the U.S. are open adoptions. An open adoption means that both the biological and adoptive families have access to identifying information about each other. Open adoption doesn’t necessarily mean sustained contact between the biological and adoptive families, but that varies widely.
I’m Kristin Kalning, and this is Real Life Adoption, a podcast of stories from people whose lives have been touched by adoption. In today’s episode, I’m going to introduce you to a very unique family, with a very open adoption. A little heads-up before I do. The birth mom and the adoptive mom in this story have almost identical names. Birth mom is named Meaghan, and adoptive mom is named Meghan. You got that? There’ll be a test later.
Birth mom Meaghan McKracken is 35 years old. She has been with her husband, Jeff, for 15 years, and married for 11 of them. The couple has a six-year-old son, Soren, and the family lives in South Seattle. Meaghan previously worked as a massage therapist, but these days she teaches at a massage therapy school.
Meaghan and Jeff are polyamorous. That’s another word for open relationship, or open marriage. For Meaghan and her husband, it means that they are open to the possibility of including another loving relationship inside their marriage. Their relationship has always been this way, and it works for them.
Four years ago, in February 2015, Meaghan learned that she was pregnant. The child’s father wasn’t her husband, but a man named Craig Ivey that she had been dating for a few months. We’ll hear from him in just a bit.
Meaghan remembers that at first, she was utterly terrified. She wasn’t intending to get pregnant, and she had no plans to expand her family. When she and Craig first became intimate, they’d discussed what to do if she got pregnant, and decided on abortion. But when faced with the reality of a pregnancy, Meaghan says that abortion just didn’t feel right. That’s when she started to strongly consider placing the child for adoption.
MEAGHAN MCKRACKEN: When I was reading through material, looking at those options, and kind of soul searching, there is this sensation of relief inside of myself when I was thinking about adoption. It felt clean. It felt healthy for me. It felt like there was possibility there, and for me, it left me with a little bit of a dream or a vision – a direction to go. When I thought about abortion, it didn’t feel, in my heart, right. It felt ill. It felt forced. It didn’t feel vibrant. It felt a little traumatic. It felt hard. I felt weepy when I contemplated that. Disconnected. And when I contemplated parenting, it had a lot of sensations of shame and guilt, actually, when I considered parenting. Partially because it was not in my plan, and it felt convoluted, and I just didn’t feel healthy and vibrant. It, right from the start, felt unclear and messy, and I didn’t have this vision of the future that made sense in my head. So adoption was the one that really was shining for me, that filled me with hope.
KRISTIN: Meaghan says that her husband, Jeff, was supportive of whatever choice she made, although he had the same feelings she did about terminating the pregnancy. Craig, her partner, was in a tight spot. He says his relationship with Meaghan was a great one, and very loving. The three of them would often get together and hang out. But Craig didn’t want to be a parent – had never wanted to be a parent, in fact. When Meaghan told him she was pregnant, he says he first wanted to make sure she was OK. And then, he figured they’d do what they’d agreed to do: terminate the pregnancy. But it was clear that Meaghan wasn’t on board with that plan anymore. Here’s Craig.
KRISTIN: So describe what it felt like to be with this woman who you cared about, who was pregnant, and who didn’t want to do what you’d agreed to do.
CRAIG IVEY: Yeah, that was a struggle. Her biggest challenge was initially even coming up with a plan – still trying to figure out what we wanted to do. Early on, we still had the option of abortion, adoption, or keeping the baby, so it was very complicated in the beginning.
KRISTIN: What were some of those conversations like?
CRAIG: They were very challenging because we had to address myself and her, and even Jeff. We all had to talk and see where everybody’s feelings felt about each of the scenarios that we could go down. They were really difficult.
KRISTIN: Did that start to feel adversarial?
CRAIG: I wouldn’t say adversarial is the right word. We got to a point where communication kind of broke down, and we were struggling talking with each other, I think, because our emotions were keeping us from having healthy communication.
KRISTIN: By April of 2015, Meaghan had made up her mind to place her baby for adoption. She went looking for an organization to help her through the process, and found Amara, a Seattle-based adoption agency. And though she loved the counselor there, the agency was moving away from domestic placement and toward foster-to-adopt, which is now its specialty. Her counselor steered her toward Open Adoption and Family Services, another agency in Seattle.
Craig and Meaghan began researching family profiles at Open Adoption and Family Services, or OA&FS, as its known. By this time, Craig had come around to the idea of adoption, but was grappling with a lot of strong emotions.
CRAIG: I felt good about it because, for me, it didn’t feel like it was my path to raise a child. It just felt like the right thing to do. So that’s why. But it was still challenging, though. There is no doubt that the idea of having my own child in this world, and what would become of him without me being his parent, was certainly going through my head.
KRISTIN: As they began to narrow down their search, Meaghan started to formulate her ideal plan for the open adoption. The first plank of her plan focused on what was going to be physically healthy for both her, and for the baby. Meaghan had been an overproducer of breast milk for her first son, Soren, and she wanted to be able to provide breast milk for this baby, too. Quick note, from here on out, we’re going to refer to the baby as Rowan, since that’s his name now, and that’s how Meaghan refers to him in our interview.
MEAGHAN: I know that even though I had not struggled with supply issues, the first thing that would need to happen is stimulation and nursing. With me, I had struggled a little bit with too much breast milk, and so there had also been quite a bit of congestion and clogged ducts with Soren, and so I also knew that, for me being able to have access to Rowan to help with any congestion and clogged ducts was going to be importation.
So I started to build a plan around nursing, and so that was one of the first things that I really could identify that was important to me: is this going to be helpful for baby, physically, and this is going to be helpful for me. I know that postpartum depression with things like hormone regulation, nursing moms can bounce back a little bit better, and I was already anticipating that some of that was very much going to be on the table, and so that even if I could fight that off a little bit with these steps, that intention, in and of itself, would do some good.
What that looked like was having a slowed-down transition. And I call it a gentle transition because I had read quite a bit about separation anxiety in newborns, and for me, I didn’t want there to be this sharp, severed moment of “goodbye,” right? For me, that felt traumatic. That felt like this landmark in this infant’s new life of things being cut away, and it didn’t feel like a healthy cut away, it didn’t feel like a rite of passage and building a family. It felt like something that was more abrasive and hard and tearful every time I thought about this goodbye moment. I didn’t want it to be a goodbye. I wanted to be a hello – this person is new to the world.
I started with these ideas, these feelings, these intentions around that. This hello and what that could look like. This family-building. I wanted to be able to have time with Rowan, but I also really, really wanted the adoptive couple to be able to have a lot of time with Rowan right away. I wanted us all to be there saying “hello” and greeting this person with joy. They’re new into the world, and the first thing that they need is to just be surrounded by love. So that was huge for me, that idea of how can just enwrap this little human in as much love as possible?
KRISTIN: Meaghan finally decided on a couple who had done an open adoption before. But per OA & FS’s rules, birth and prospective parents aren’t allowed to meet before the third trimester.
I asked Shari Levine, the executive director at OA & FS, about this rule. She told me that OA & FS wants a birth mother’s decision to place to be well informed. In the first trimester, a woman may not even know she is pregnant. And if she does, she might have a knee-jerk reaction to place for adoption. But by the second trimester, the baby is moving around. The pregnancy feels more real. This is the place where birth moms are equipped to make a thoughtful and reasoned decision.
OA & FS is a pro-choice agency. And it provides all-options counseling for birth parents – abortion, parenting, and adoption – in a straightforward, non-judgmental way. This counseling is provided free of charge. If birth mom isn’t in a safe place, their social workers take steps to help with housing. If it’s a job she needs, they help with that, too. Their goal, says Shari, is for birth mom to feel like she came to the table with her life balanced and settled.
Still, for Meaghan, waiting until her third trimester before meeting Rowan’s potential parents was deeply unnerving. She had nailed down her adoption plan, and she wanted to make sure it was compatible with the couple she’d chosen.
At the same time, Meaghan was confronting head-on what she terms as intense social stigma against birth mothers, and strong negative reactions from people in her life. Meaghan had been very open about her choice and was shocked by the excoriation she faced from friends, family, and strangers.
MEAGHAN: Adoption lives in this interesting world between pro-choice and pro-life. I was not anticipating as much negative feedback from so many spectrums as I did. That was me being pretty naïve. I just think that because I could parent, because I had the capacity to parent, there were a lot of individuals who could not comprehend why I wouldn’t be parenting.
So, there was this idea of, “Well, what kind of woman would place her child for adoption when she had a choice to not do that?” And there’s no love in that decision there. They would accept the decision of adoption from me if it was from a disempowered state, but not if it was from an empowered state on which I was saying, “I feel this is best.” So that was hurtful from that side of it, and then there was a shocking amount of individuals (who were pro-choice) who I felt a lot of anger and resentment from for not choosing abortion. That one was really surprising to me, where there was this narrative of, “You’re choosing adoption for attention.”
KRISTIN: Meaghan’s immediate family was pretty confused by the scenario at first. But once she gave them some guidelines, explained her vision of family, they were on board. Sure, they could make room. Sure, they could put more plates at the table.
Her extended family was a different story. Not many of them knew about her polyamorous marriage, and their rebukes were a stinging slap. She heard terms like “cheating” and “promiscuous” from people she loved, people who she thought loved her.
MEAGHAN: There was just a lot there that was really off-topic. It was really distracting, and it was all this noise. It was all this bitter, angry, confusing, frustrating noise, and at the center of all of this noise was me, pregnant with this little human inside of me that I could feel wiggling around, who I felt was like, “Hey, I have somewhere to be.” And that resonated with me; I’m like, “I need to find you parents. Where are they? They know they’re out there!” And that little, quiet alone time with this person, in and amongst all that chatter and all those the crazy-making of “You’re just pregnant,” and “You don’t know how you’ll feel,” and the dismissive of these feelings – this human who is dependent on me to set them up for success.
KRISTIN: When she reached her third trimester, Meaghan was able to meet the couple that she had in mind to adopt Rowan. Things got muddy pretty quickly. She could sense that there was anxiety about the gentle transition, but she wasn’t getting much clarity there. Their counselor stepped in, and the couple admitted that they wanted to go home to Portland immediately after Rowan’s birth. They wanted to bond with Rowan exclusively for 60 to 90 days, which would preclude nursing and contact. This was not Meaghan’s vision.
So, at 7 ½ months pregnant, Meaghan pulled the plug on the Portland couple, mainly because of that lack of transparency. She’d created this plan, something that didn’t feel traumatic. The Portland couple had said OK, and then somewhere along the line, they’d planned something else and not told her. Maybe if they’d had more time, maybe if there hadn’t been that frantic anxiety they could have worked it out. But in the moment, it felt like a power differential. So she said no.
As all of this was going on, Meaghan and Craig’s relationship was deteriorating. In fact, they haven’t spoken since Meaghan chose not to place Rowan with the Portland couple. Both Meaghan and Craig have their own perspective on why things went south, but it’s not my role to adjudicate here. The pregnancy stirred up powerful emotions, and they simply proved to be too much for such a new relationship. Things were said, things weren’t said. As far as I could tell, the two remain respectful of each other, and their individual relationships with Rowan.
Once the Portland couple was out of the picture, Meaghan had to find another family – fast. She read through, as she puts it, a ridiculous number of waiting family profiles. She wrote up a birth plan, and a communications contract. In it, she asked for photos and letters at least once a month, visitation once a month, and a visit to a counselor once a year. Meaghan’s counselor at the agency sent out a screening email to waiting couples, asking who might be interested in a highly inclusive adoption. From there, Meaghan whittled it down to three couples, and asked each how they felt about her birth plan. One couple stood out.
Quick note: I’m going to refer to this couple by their first names only. They wanted to protect their son’s identity.
One half of this couple is Levi. Levi is 42 years old. He works as an administrative coordinator at a nonprofit arts organization. He’s also a musician, and plays in two bands. Meghan, his wife, is 45, and works as a groundskeeper at a children’s hospital.
The couple met 18 years ago, in Boston. Meghan was throwing a party, and the backyard of her Jamaica Plain house was adjacent to the backyard of a mutual friend. The friend invited Levi to the party, and he ended up staying all night. Later on, he looked Meghan up in the white pages, which shows you how long ago this happened. A year later, the couple moved to Seattle, and four years after that, they got married. One thing that they knew, all along, was that they absolutely did not want kids.
Meghan had a list of reasons why she didn’t want a kid. One was that her younger sister had gotten pregnant at 17, and dropped out of high school. Her older sister had three kids with serious medical issues. Meghan didn’t want a child unless she was 100 percent in for parenthood, and all it entailed. And it seemed obvious to her that none of those things would ever be her reality.
For Levi, having a kid just seemed like too much of a risk. What if he wasn’t good at being a parent? What if he didn’t like it? And anyway, did people need to be making more people, when the planet could barely sustain the ones it had? The couple never really discussed having children, because they both were on the same page.
Then, Meghan turned 40, and felt her opinion on the topic begin to shift. Suddenly, she actually did want to have a baby – a revelation that she viewed with incredulity. She shared this feeling with Levi, whose mind was similarly blown. For a month, it was a constant topic, and eventually, Levi came around. Meghan went off birth control and got pregnant almost immediately. Eight weeks later, she had a miscarriage. Meegan was devastated.
After her miscarriage, Meghan felt frustrated by her doctor. So the couple decided to go a fertility clinic to get some answers, even though they had no intention of doing fertility treatments. Meghan and Levi were aware that any window they had left to conceive was rapidly closing. Meghan diligently charted her cycles, and took Femara, a fertility drug. She also took an ovarian reserve test to see what shape her eggs were in. Here she is.
MEGHAN: I was actually kind of relieved to find out that my eggs were horrible! So, I was kind of surprised. At the time I was calling it infertility relief instead of infertility grief, because they said, “You’re chances of having a baby are well less than 1 percent, and you probably haven’t been able to have a baby for many years.” I’ve always had such irregular periods that I kind of also never thought I could have a baby, so it wasn’t a surprise.
But it was really great because what I really didn’t like not knowing where we stood. I wanted to know is this possible or is it not, because if it’s not possible, now we know what our options are. We can adopt. We can do the foster system. We could do IVF with donor eggs, but at least we know. I just like knowing what your options are. I had told Levi – obviously when I got the call, I called my parents, I called Levi – and when he walked in the door from work, I said, “Do you want to adopt?” And he said yes!
Levi was especially receptive to adoption, and open adoption, in particular. When he was in high school, one of his best friends got pregnant. She and the birth father decided to place the baby for adoption. It was an open adoption, and their tight-knit friend circle knew the name of the family who’d adopted the baby. They knew what they’d named the baby, and where the family lived. In 1994, just two years after the birth of the baby, Levi’s friend, the birth mom, died of a heroin overdose, something she’d picked up after high school. Here’s Levi.
LEVI : That was horrible, and we all went to the funeral, and the family came and actually brought the almost two-year-old daughter. That was just really amazing to see her there. She had these giant Coke-bottle glasses on, even at that age she had super bad eyesight. But just having the family be aware enough, wanting to have her have some connection there and bring her there. We always sort of thought about this kid – those of us who were friends with her mom –wondered where she was, what she was up to, how she was doing.
KRISTIN: Every once in a while, Levi would look for the daughter – first on MySpace, then on Facebook. He knew her name, but he was spelling it wrong. Then, he noticed that someone else in the friend group had gotten connected to the daughter on social media. Levi reached out, they chatted on the phone, and they stay in touch to this day.
Other than that experience, the couple knew nothing about adoption. So Meghan, the researcher in the relationship, dove in and started studying up. Within two days, they’d settled on open domestic adoption, and specifically, Open Adoption and Family Services. They liked that the agency had no religious affiliation, that it was pro-choice, and that they had been working with gay and lesbian parents since the 1980s. It also mattered a great deal, to both Meghan and Levi, how supportive the agency is of birth parents. Here’s Meghan.
MEGHAN: When we were deciding what would we want, the first thing that I thought about is, “What would I want if I was a birth parent? And what would I want if I was adopted?” So, really quickly, it was like, I would want to be a part of that child’s life, you know? So why wouldn’t I want that? I mean, people – so many times I’ve been asked – what kind of a woman would give away their child? That is the dumbest question! When I think about who could become a birth parent, anybody who has ever had sex with someone they don’t want to have a child with for the rest of their lives. You know what I mean? Most adults have had sex with someone, in their lives, that they’re happy they don’t have a child with.
KRISTIN: It was also very important to both Levi and Meghan that the birth mother live close by. That way, they and the baby could have substantial contact with the birth family.
MEGHAN: To me, it’s really important that Rowan grows up not feeling a separation between this part of his family and that part of his family. When I grew up, I have cousins, and yeah, I do know which ones are on my dad’s side and which ones are on my mom’s side, but they’re all my cousins. I really want, and we really want, him to feel like this is all his family – his adopted family and his birth family, it’s all his family. There doesn’t need to be this distinction of the real family, or the not-real family, or the less-important family. None of it should be loaded. There’s no reason. I feel like there’s no other family type – there’s so many different types of families – there’s no other family type where someone is asked to disappear.
KRISTIN: This is the guiding principle at Open Adoption and Family Services. That the needs of children are best served when they maintain a connection to their birth family. If you cut people out of a child’s life, says Shari Levine from OA & FS, you’re cutting out resources. Even in biological, “Leave it to Beaver” families, kids are raised with other people to influence and guide them – teachers, coaches, neighbors, mentors. Adoption, she says, should be no different. At OA & FS, open adoption means tearing down the idea of parenthood as ownership.
OA & FS works really hard to ensure that would-be parents go into the process with their eyes wide open. The first thing they need to square away is whether they’re really on board with an open adoption.
Then, there’s a two-day seminar, which lays out a lot of key topics in adoption. Topics like attachment, mental illness, transracial adoption, and prenatal exposure to drugs and alcohol. Couples then decide what they’re comfortable with: from race and gender, to mental health history. Also, the level of drug and alcohol use birth mom has disclosed during pregnancy – from mild, moderate, to severe.
OA & FS counselors work with families to try and remove judgment around a birth mom’s lifestyle, so they can have a warm, accepting relationship with her. Any judgments they hold of her, says Shari, are judgments of the child.
OA & FS is licensed in Washington and Oregon to approve families for adoption, and to ensure that they’re placing a child in a safe environment. With that, comes paperwork. Adoptive parents must supply vital records, financial records, submit to criminal and background checks, and complete a home study. Home studies are required in all adoptions, domestic or international. They’re created by social workers or case-workers who have interviewed the prospective parents at length, and who have done at least one home visit. Generally, the home study includes information about family background, education, employment, daily life routines, and details about the family’s home and neighborhood.
From there, would-be parents create a booklet, with a family introduction letter. They do a video, which is posted on the OA &FS website. In the video, couples answer two questions: why do you want an open adoption, and what do you appreciate about each other?
Prospective parents also put together a more in-depth family book, describing their lifestyle and values, and what they hope for in their adoption relationship. Birth parents who are interested in that couple can request the family book and, also, their home study.
OA & FS does facilitate connections, when appropriate. If an expectant parent has unique component, and only three families have specified that they’re OK with that component, the agency will look for families that come pretty close. They’ll send an email to those pretty close families, and ask if they want to be presented to the birth parent. Of course, all identifying information, like last names and cities, are withheld for privacy.
Levi and Meghan started the process with OA & FS in October 2014, and by May of 2015, they were in the pool of waiting families with the agency. Their profile was live on the website, and their information could be presented to applicable birth parents.
Levi and Meghan indicated that they were open to a baby of any race and either gender. They were also open to severe tobacco and marijuana use. And initially, they were OK with moderate known mental issues with birth parents, and mild alcohol and hard drug exposure during pregnancy. But after talking to other parents who had adopted newborns addicted to methamphetamine, they decided to change their selections to include severe exposure to everything but alcohol, which they kept at mild.
In August, just three months after entering the waiting pool of families, came a very interesting email. It described a birth mother who had not done drugs, or drank alcohol, or smoked cigarettes during her pregnancy. This birth mother hoped for a gentle transition after birth. She wanted to provide breast milk, and hoped that the child she was placing would be able to have a relationship with his older brother. The email described Meaghan, and this is where our storylines converge. Here’s Meaghan again.
MEAGHAN: They were wildly and enthusiastically open. They were authentic. And you could hear it in their tone in this letter where they didn’t just answer questions. They didn’t say yes or no. They took it as an opportunity to start a conversation. And even though there were pieces in there that were like, we’re not wild about this piece, this is actually more our style, I could work with that. There was again this sense of relief like, “Oh my gosh, I know what is going on.” There’s no secrets. There’s no weirdness. We may not agree on everything, but at least they’re telling me – look, there it is. Right in front of me. They’re saying the words. We can have a conversation if they say the words, right?
There were so many pieces that just were vibrant. I could already have that beginning of a vision of the way that they would parent, which isn’t perfectly, but it’s with honesty. That’s the kind of human that they were, you know? We’re putting ourselves out here. This is us, you know? And that level of openness and honesty was great – I can work with any of this (laughs)! Yes or no, I know what I’m dealing with, and that is huge.
I felt like I had partners in this plan. I had other people on board that were going to help me because I was so confused and so tired at that point, and here they were with open hearts, ready to just step on board. And that’s what I felt from them. It was so easy to say yes to them, and there wasn’t any second guessing because all of the weirdness was out of the way. Initially they had already said yes to the adoption plan, and there were so many pieces of it that they were excited about; they were like, this is exactly what we want. We would love this level of open option.
Moving forward, we met, and it was really comfortable. I had Rowan two weeks – I think Meghan and Levi know the number of days; it’s like two weeks and two days or something – after I met them. They got to come to one ultrasound appointment with me, and then Baby was pretty much here, ready to go! It was super down to the wire, but part of me says, honestly, Rowan was just a little bit early. Part of me says he came because I was OK. Because I was relieved, and that level of stress – like deer in the forest, there’s predators all around me – was no longer on the table, and I met them and things were good, and the plan was stable. As soon as that was OK, we were ready to go! Part of me says that’s why it timed out the way that it did.
KRISTIN: It was not an easy birth. Meaghan’s first child, Soren, had been delivered by emergency c-section. But for Rowan, Meaghan wanted to try for a natural birth. She labored for a good long while, and there was some blood and spotting.
Meaghan had something called low-lying anterior placenta. That’s when the fertilized egg implants low and in front of the uterus. Wherever the egg implants itself, placenta will eventually follow. Placenta attaches to the wall of the uterus and supplies the baby with nutrients and oxygen.
It’s far more common for the egg to implant behind the uterus, near the spine, but it’s usually not a big deal if it’s in front. In Meaghan’s case, though, the placenta was covering her c-section scar. When she started to bleed, doctors were concerned that she may have a placental abruption. That’s when the placenta peels away from the inner wall of the uterus before birth. That can deprive the baby of oxygen, which is not a good thing. So once again, Meaghan had an emergency c-section.
She was still under anesthesia when the baby was born, so her husband Jeff was the first to meet, and hold Rowan. Meaghan hadn’t wanted an audience for the birth, so Meghan and Levi were waiting at home. Craig, Rowan’s birth dad, did come to the hospital. Here he is, describing that experience.
CRAIG: It was very emotional. Jeff was there. He was in the room with me, and I held Rowan. It was very emotional. I was very emotional about it, and there was a still a lot of confusion in my brain. I still felt like I was doing the right thing, but it wasn’t easy.
KRISTIN: What, to let him go?
CRAIG: Just to know that the process is so hard. Knowing that you created this child, and you’re knowingly giving him up. It’s not easy.
KRISTIN: Yeah, I can imagine.
KRISTIN: However, you had met Meghan and Levi, had you not, prior to his birth?
CRAIG: Oh yeah.
KRISTIN: OK. What was that like? What did you feel about them?
CRAIG: Pretty much the moment I met them, I could tell how truly genuine they were. How nice they were. How kind-hearted they were. It was so easy to see it in their faces, in their hearts. You could tell right away.
KRISTIN: Did that help a bit?
CRAIG: That was the best part. Knowing that these two people are so appreciative of the experience. That was huge. That was, yeah, that made so much of a difference.
KRISTIN: When Meaghan woke up, she called Levi and Meghan to let them know Rowan had arrived. Here’s Meghan describing that moment.
KRISTIN: From your perspective, what was it like to meet your child?
MEGHAN: Oh, it was incredible! We had told her ahead of time, you know, she had said, “I may nor may not want you to be at the hospital,” and we were like, “You do what you need to do! You’re going to have a baby. You want us to be on the other side of the planet, that’s where we’ll be. You want us in the room? We’re there. This is your thing.”
We had also wanted to make it very clear, and hopefully we did, to Meaghan that we weren’t trying to take a baby from someone. We wanted someone to want us to raise their child. We had told her if you change your mind after, go for it. This is not our baby, and I don’t mean ours, but this is your decision. It was pretty incredible. She called and said, “I had him.” We didn’t know if it would be a boy or a girl. She said – I’ll always remember this – “Would you guys come in tomorrow morning? I think Rowan would really like to meet his parents.” That was such an amazing thing to hear, just her support of us, too.
KRISTIN: When they arrived, Meaghan had pumped colostrum, so that Meghan could do supplemental nursing. This allows mothers to supplement their babies at the breast with pumped breast milk or formula. New mothers can do this when they aren’t producing enough milk.
It works by taping a tiny, flexible tube to the breast. The other end is placed in a bottle containing breast milk, or formula. The baby feeds from the tube, and the nipple. This has the effect of stimulating the mother’s milk supply.
In Meghan’s case, she wasn’t trying to stimulate her milk supply. Her goal was to share in the feeding, get some bonding time, and avoid nipple confusion. Nipple confusion can occur when an infant is given a bottle, and then rejects the breast for feeding. Remember, Meaghan still planned to nurse Rowan for a bit, and she made a lot of milk. If Rowan rejected her breast, that could lead to clogged milk ducts, and infection.
Initially, Meghan and Levi had planned to stay at Jeff and Meaghan’s house, so she could continue her midwifery care. But to all involved, it made sense for Rowan to go home. Here’s Meghan:
MEGHAN: We had planned an open-ended transition period. The idea behind that was that we would all take care of him together, and we didn’t have an end time, which felt fine to us. How do you know what that’s going to look like until you’re doing it? So, having an end time seemed really silly. We didn’t even really discuss it. It was like, I don’t know, we’ll do what makes sense. We wanted to all take care of him together until it made sense to – that Meaghan was ready to go.
LEVI: Definitely letting her lead the way in that process.
MEGHAN: Yeah, letting her do that. So, her and Jeff came back to our house, and we all stayed here together. Levi and I stayed down in our guest room, because Meaghan wasn’t about to do stairs.
KRISTIN: You gave her your bed, right?
MEGHAN: Oh yeah. Of course! Her and Jeff stayed in our bedroom, and we all took care of him, and it was really incredible. I mean, I feel like it makes obvious sense to me. I don’t know too much of the science, but it makes sense to me that a newborn would recognize its mother through smells, and heartbeat, and everything that has to do with being a mammal.
When a baby comes out of the womb, it’s also meeting its father for the first time, and it’s meeting a father in a way that it hasn’t known its mother, you know? To me, that’s kind of the same as what we were doing. To me, it didn’t make sense that you’d just be like, “here’s a baby!” That it would be more gentle on the baby to get to know us before having to leave Meaghan. That make a lot of sense to me.
It was really cool. Meaghan and I took turns breastfeeding him. She would breastfeed him, and the next time he was ready, I would. We went back and forth. It was really great because she showed me how to do it, and she showed us: this is how you burp him, and this is how you hold him, and he’s doing that? That means he has gas, and this is what you do when he has gas. It was kind of like I would imagine what it would be like if your mom was there showing you how to take care of a child.
KRISTIN: After five days, Meaghan felt like things were really fine. Meghan and Levi were doing great, Rowan was doing great, and she wanted to sleep in her own bed. She knew, from the time they’d all spent together, that she’d be welcomed back tomorrow, and the next day, and the next. Three years later, they’re now in a rhythm where they see each other about once a week. When Meghan and Levi had a gap in child care, Meaghan worked as his nanny for four months, until Rowan was able to get into daycare. Meaghan calls it their weird little family unit. And it works.
On the day that I recorded my interviews with Meaghan, Meghan, and Levi, we were all together. About halfway through, Jeff showed up, with Soren. The boys played easily together, like close cousins. The adults sprawled on the large sectional and chatted in a relaxed, no-time-has-passed way. Like a family. At one point, Meghan called out from the kitchen that they should stay for dinner. As I left, they were conferring on a pizza order, and playing outside in the sun.
(Kids playing and talking with each other.)
Rowan’s birth dad, Craig, is also involved in his life. He visited soon after Rowan’s birth, and he sees him every two to three weeks. They play with his toys, read books, and catch up on what he’s into that week. Craig says it feels sort of like being an uncle. He’s there, but he’s not a frequent fixture.
CRAIG: This experience has been such an eye-opening experience on what open adoption is. I am fortunate to probably have the best human beings on the planet to raise this child that I co-created with Meaghan. They are truly some of the best human beings I’ve ever met. To me, now just visiting them and talking with them, it’s always a joy going over there to see Rowan and seeing the person he is becoming from how they are raising him is just mind-blowing. It’s amazing how good of parents they are.
KRISTIN: Wow. That’s probably the best outcome you could hope for.
CRAIG: I couldn’t have pictured, or written, or done anything better than what it is.
KRISTIN: So, do you view him as your son?
CRAIG: Yeah. I view him as – it’s interesting. I see him as my son, but I don’t see me as his father, if that makes sense. Because I’m not raising him, so it’s to me, part of the creation process. And that’s good, but I truly see Levi and Meghan 100 percent being his parents. I’m a person that just loves and supports from the side.
(Kids playing musical instruments together and talking.)
KRISTIN: So, you got what you wanted.
MEAGHAN: I did. Yeah. And more so. My big thing was that I wanted transparency. I wanted something that I could consent to fully – that I felt I had the information and I could say yes to, and that I wanted it to be really honest. But openness means a lot of different things to different people. This is above what my baseline was by so much. This is inclusiveness to such a level, with such warm hearts and loving nature and flexibility. Yeah, it’s above anything I could have anticipated.
KRISTIN: Did you have any feeling, at all, after giving birth, did it ever cross your mind, “I don’t know if I can do this?”
MEAGHAN: You know, there are lots of times where it is hard – in all sorts of confusing ways that I don’t have perfect words for. There have millions of studies that have gone up that says that stress is something that’s bad for your health, right? Like, stress is going to give you heart disease and make you die. But, funny enough, there’s a lot of studies that have come out recently that talk about when we view stress as positive, when we view stress as fulfilling, like physically, it does not have those negative impacts at all. Our vasoconstriction that causes heart disease and heart attacks doesn’t occur. We actually have dilation that occurs. And that looks a lot like love, and it looks a lot like courage.
So, there’s a lot of times that, throughout this adoption process, it has been hard, but because it has so much meaning, because it is fulfilling, it is enriching. It’s meaningful in my life in ways I can’t express, and a lot of hard-run things are. I can look at this and because the work behind it is rewarding, and I see their family, and they don’t try to limit the pride the I have in saying that I worked for this family, you know? They’re like, yeah; yeah you did! And they cheer me on in this way that makes it powerful, and uplifting, and shameless.
So yeah, it’s hard, and it can be really, really worth it when you get to see the meaning behind it. When I get to be part of the positive side of it. Family is hard. Family is messy, right? There’s no family out there that doesn’t have different complicated pieces that need work. But when it’s thriving, how could I not also just have so much abundance of joy? The positives outweigh the negatives a thousand-fold. So yeah, there’s hard pieces. That’s no big deal compared to all the benefits.
(Both kids playing and talking with their parents).
KRISTIN: Real Life Adoption is hosted by me, Kristin Kalning. To learn more about the podcast, including how you can pitch an idea, go to reallifeadoptionpodcast.com. We’d love to hear from you.