Yesterday was World Adoption Day. Millions of people all over the country drew smiley faces on their hands and took to social media to share with the world their personal stories of – or simply just their celebration of – adoption. If I had the stomach to be on social media and post more than I already do, I would have done the same.

I have been surrounded by adoption my entire life, and I could not be more thankful. I have had the rare opportunity to be on both sides of this incredible situation. I have been both the family receiving a baby (or in our case babies), and I have been in a duo of scared teenagers who decided to give their baby a better life through adoption. Both situations were scary. Both were incredibly hard. I would go through both again today without a second thought.

My sister came into my life on a summer afternoon. I was relatively unfamiliar with adoption, being that I was only five years old. Unbeknownst to me, my mother and father were in the process of becoming foster parents for some time. I remember being in the passenger seat of our 1995 Ford Windstar van, and we were driving quicker than usual. Even at five years old I could tell my mother was nervous.

That afternoon a social worker brought my sister to our house. I remember sitting on the floor and just watching her all night, until my parents made me go to bed. I don’t really remember what I thought about how she came to be in our family; I just remember thinking that I loved her. She was my sister. A little piece that was missing in our family was put in place. We were complete. Or so I thought.

Over the next five years, my family fostered several children. My sister was shifted back and forth from her biological family and ours several times before we finalized her adoption. I’ll never forget realizing how hard that must have been on my parents. I couldn’t understand it at the time. To this day, I still can’t understand it fully.

Several years later, on a cooler November night, another social worker brought my brother to our house. This time was different. I don’t remember lying there and watching him all night like I did my sister; I remember worrying about him because he would not stop crying.

My sister’s situation was becoming more settled by this point, and even though I can’t remember the exact time line. My brother’s adoption was the complete opposite of my sister’s. There would be no tumultuous back and forth. My parents would not be up worrying about whether or not they would get to keep him. We had no real clue where his family was. I’m sure they exist, I’m positive they are out there somewhere, but when he came to our house that very first night he was there for good.

Both of them are grown now. So happy, and so healthy. My parents did the greatest thing I had ever known anyone to do. I always admired how much they loved my brother and sister, and how easy it was for them to do so. I remember when I first began to understand the situations they had both been adopted from, I thought that I hoped my parents loved them more than me. Not because my parents didn’t love me; they adored me. My siblings needed that much love, and more. They deserved it. And they got it.

As I got older I started to think to myself that one day, when I was older, whether I was married or single, I would adopt. I’ve always wanted to; I still do. I will someday. I thought for sure that the next time adoption would significantly alter my life would be when I welcomed a child into my own home. When I gave some little baby in need a home. I was very, very wrong.

High school came along. I was a teenager and absolutely positive that I had the world by the balls. I had everything planned out. I wanted to move to Boston, go to Berklee College of Music and then somehow miraculously pay off tens of thousands of dollars in debt touring the world as some ridiculous musician. Don’t laugh, I was a teenager.

My sophomore year I started taking journalism class because not only was I a musician with some serious delusions of grandeur, but I was also a fairly intelligent dork, that liked to write. It was in that class I met the woman who would become my “high school sweetheart”.

She was a year older and the editor, and at first neither of us were greatly taken back by the other. I don’t think she even acknowledged my existence until my second semester. I had noticed her, but I was really only interested in chasing as many girls as I could, and I was 99.8% sure she had a boyfriend anyway, come to find out she didn’t. Long story short, once we did realize the other existed, we quickly became best friends.

For me it all culminated to one afternoon when we were on a deadline and I had left something in the journalism room. I had no responsibility other than my own articles at that point so I figured I would go, grab whatever I had forgotten and leave. I went in to find that my editor and best friend had just suffered what can only be described as a stress-induced breakdown, and had literally thrown every piece of paper, binder, computer mouse, keyboard and writing utensil within her grasp all over the room.

As I helped her clean it all up, neither of us said a word, but I knew I felt something.

Weeks turned into months, and a week before Christmas we had our first “date.” Taco Bell and a movie at her house. It was sweet, it was high school love. We spent the next two months figuring out just how to define our relationship, how to smoothly transition from “best friends” to “going steady.” It was an amazing time, and I genuinely believe we were as happy as any other couple that young has ever been.

I’m not trying to write our love story down; it’s written and anyone who wants or needs to know it any better already does. I’m giving all these details to make it clear we really did care for each other. That way it’s not that big of a stretch to imagine what happened next.

Sex. We were teenagers. Of course it happened. Of course we thought we were immune to the most obvious outcome of that action. Well, guess what? We weren’t!

Our relationship went on for nine months and we started to, or so I felt, grow apart. After a very rough month in particular, I left her. In the middle of a football field on Friday night, I chose to not love or care for her anymore. I wasn’t nearly as grown up as I thought I was. Had I known at all what was coming, I would never have made that decision. Not because the timing looked really, really bad on me but because we were about to need each other more than ever before, and I had just torn a hole in our relationship that we wouldn’t repair for a long time.

Not long afterwards, she found out she was pregnant. When she told me, I remember sitting there terrified. I didn’t say a word for what felt like hours. She finally looked at me and simply pleaded, “Please say something.”

I still couldn’t talk. I was scared. More scared than I had ever been. Only few things have ever given me as much of a scare since then. I don’t remember what we said until we said one thing: adoption. We decided that day that adoption was the only option for us. And so our journey began.

Several weeks later we began to date again. I don’t know if this was simply out of fear, necessity, or actual love. I like to believe the latter; regardless it wouldn’t last. We began to argue more and more about the fact that even though adoption was the right choice, it would require a huge sacrifice on her part in the form of the physical separation from our son, which – knowing what I know now – of course she was afraid! I, like so many other boys in my position, thought I knew exactly what she was going through. I thought it was exactly what I was going through. It wasn’t.

I pulled away from her, using the excuse that if we kept getting closer I thought it would be harder for us to choose adoption. Maybe that was actually a part of it. If it was, I inflated it way too much. I knew adoption was the right choice, but I also knew that I didn’t get to make the final choice. So, I emotionally withdrew from her, and this time, she called off our relationship, but I had already left her.

If you’ve kept reading this far, thank you. I wanted you to have the basic details before I got to my point. Adoption gave me my brother and sister, and it would give my son a home and a family. There are three types of adoptions though: open, semi-open, and closed.

Some people don’t know this (I didn’t), but there is something called a closed adoption where the parents place the child up for adoption and intentionally don’t swap contact information with the adoptive family, and therefore never see the child again, at least until he or she is an adult. This is what my brother and sister have. There are also situations called open adoptions; this is where the birth parents can remain in contact with the child and his adoptive family. Semi-open adoptions have terms which define when and how the birth parents can be in contact with the child, fully open adoptions are as you can imagine, fully open.

Open adoption saved my life.

Over the next several months, even though we had broken up again, we went to a couple meetings together regarding the process of placing our baby up for adoption, I even went to one doctor’s appointment. We met one day to look at a book telling us about the family that she thought she would like to meet. We argued and debated. We had long phone conversations. We said bad things to each other, we apologized, and we said bad things again. All of this sounds like any other teen pregnancy. Then we met our son’s adoptive parents.

They were, and still are, two of the most loving and generous people that I have ever met. They didn’t just want to adopt and give our son a home, they wanted us to be able to watch him grow up. They didn’t just want us to watch him grow up, they wanted us to still be his family. They didn’t just want us to be his family, they wanted us to be their family. They had another little boy dying to be a big brother. I loved that. That was me not too long ago.

That’s when I think everything started to change. Not for me as much, but for baby-momma, as I’ve come to affectionately call her. The day we met them, she was a wreck. Exhausted, most likely from the fact that the separation she had feared this whole time was being realized. I don’t know for sure, but she went back and forth. Later she began emailing the woman who would be our son’s mother and she felt better.

It took me longer to come around. In a lot of ways. I wasn’t physically connected my son, yet. She already was. She was already putting our son’s interests before her own, and I think knowing that he would be so loved, whether she decided to keep him or go through with adoption, made her feel better as well.

The matter was far from settled; we had many more details to debate, and debate them we did. Long nights with no sleep were abundant. I was becoming erratic. I was terrified she wouldn’t choose to go through with adoption. Of course, this was because I really believed that adoption was my in son’s best interest; I knew they could provide for him in ways we could not …but I would be lying if I said it wasn’t also for selfish reasons.

I wasn’t ready to be a dad. I wasn’t ready to man up and be responsible for my actions. I hadn’t done so up to that point and I was terrified of having to do it all at once with no choice in the matter.

The day came, and my son was born. His mother and I had not spoken very much in the weeks prior to his birth except for little details here and there. In fact, I’m very sad to say I wasn’t at the hospital when he was born. That night though, we talked for hours as she sent me numerous pictures of the beautiful baby boy that our high school romance brought to life. We were both happy. For her that separation she had feared was finally here, and she was sad. We were both exhausted as well, her more so than me. I myself was conflicted. I was terrified of going to the hospital because of differences I had with her family and friends, but I wanted to go sprinting down the halls looking for whatever room they were in because I knew I should be there. I wanted to be there. Looking back on it now, that’s exactly what I should have done.

This story is by no means a sad lamented collection of “coulda, woulda, shoulda” moments. This is the greatest story of my life. I can’t even tell it in a way to do it justice. Ten days after his birth, the adoption was finalized. My son was with his family, and everyone was so amazingly happy. I have never in my life seen a moment that depicts joy as well as the photo of them all gathered round when everything was finalized. That is happiness. I know what that photo also represents for baby-momma, and I could write a whole article on that alone. That moment of pure love and joy was worth everything that happened and if I had to do it all again for just that picture, I would.

It doesn’t stop there though. It wasn’t until a week later that I met my son. I drove to his adoptive family’s house, and for the first time held that precious little boy. For the first time I experienced that I wasn’t just some dumb teenager whose carelessness resulted in them adopting a baby: I was their family too. It was amazing. On that first trip however, the wonder of that realization was totally lost on me.

I was numb. Yes, I was enamored with that baby boy. Just looking at him made me smile. It also terrified me. I didn’t know where I fit in his life. I knew I wanted to fit, I knew his parents wanted me to fit, but I didn’t know how. You know that old saying that everyone tells expecting parents? The one about how a woman becomes a mother when she finds out she is pregnant and a man becomes a father when he holds his baby for the first time? It’s true.

You see, I knew adoption was what my son needed. I knew undoubtedly that he would be better provided for and be happier. I knew it was the right thing for him. I had also convinced myself that it would excuse me from growing up right then and being responsible for my own actions. I was so wrong.

When I learned he had been born, I could hold the weight of it. When I learned the adoption had gone through, I could hold the weight. When I held him for the first time, I could hold the weight. But when I got in my car and drove away that night, the weight was finally too heavy, and I pulled to the side of the road to buy my first pack of cigarettes as it crushed me.

I had just left this amazing situation that was truly the most incredible thing I had ever been a part of, and all I felt was guilt. I had finally become a father. Not in the biological sense, because that was long recognized, but in the sense that for the first time I realized that he was the most important thing in the world to me. And I felt like I realized this nine months too late.

All that time I had to be a better dad by being there for his mother, and I had wasted it. All those opportunities to keep a brave face when she was scared instead of getting scared and defensive as well, and I’d squandered them. Those nine months were the only time where I was his “dad” not his “birth-dad,” and I was a terrible one.

These thoughts kept running through my brain as I slowly fell apart. I pulled over God knows how many times to just sit on the side of the interstate and cry on the way home. I felt myself slip away. I was realizing I would have to be honest with myself and a lot of other people about the fact that I wasn’t the man I should’ve been, because I wasn’t even a man yet. I started to derail.

I spent the next year and a half consciously and unconsciously trying to destroy myself. I was wracked with guilt and hatred for the person I had been. I had come to love my son and his adoptive family so much and all I could think about was how badly I had failed them. I knew that his mother had her struggles and that made it worse for me. I kept blaming myself more and more. I would wake up at night thinking I should have been better, I could have been better. If I had, then this would be so much easier for us both. I wasn’t a dad at all and my son was going to hate me one day when he learned how much of a schmuck I was to his birth mother.

That’s how open adoption saved my life.

If we had kept my son, the immediate necessity of caring for a baby day to day would have completely outweighed the importance of me coming to terms with myself and his mother. By the time I would have been able to do so, it would’ve been way too late.

If we had chosen a closed adoption, then the pain and loss of never knowing him…never knowing whether or not he was happy, would have only worsened the rift between his mother and myself. I could have never made my peace and I would’ve continued to throw myself away like I had been doing.

We chose an open adoption. We chose two amazing people who made us and our families a part of theirs. I get to see my son on his birthday and Christmas and in between. I get to have the kinds of conversations with his adoptive dad that make me realize how blessed I am. Like the one I had with him on a park bench one summer day that let me see I wasn’t the bad dad I made myself out to be. I get to see his moms love and cherish him. Yes, that’s moms the plural. My son has two moms and two dads and it’s amazing. I get to see him and his older brother play and argue the way brothers do.

I was able to mend my relationship with baby-momma, who is now one of my closest friends again. I’ve met and really like her significant other. I am happy. Without our family the way it is now, without open adoption, I would not be.

I gave this brief synopsis of my story to say one thing. Thank You!

Adoption is a huge decision. Just like closed adoption wasn’t the right choice for us, open adoption may not be right for everyone either. You have to weigh your options and make the best decision for you and your baby. You may even keep the baby. That is amazing too!

To anyone who may read this while going through an unplanned pregnancy. Do not give up! Do not feel lost or hopeless. You are not by any means.

If you are an expectant mother, I applaud you. I pray for you and I know that everything will be wonderful for you and the baby. If you choose adoption, thank you. If you choose to keep your baby, thank you. Either way, you have made this world a better place and your child will always be grateful to you for that.

If you’re an expectant father, scared out of his mind the way I was, that’s okay. I think that’s the one thing I wanted to hear that I didn’t. It’s okay to not know if you want this. When that baby comes, you will. Whether you know it or not.  It is absolutely 110% okay to be scared.

In the meantime though, there are ways you can make this easier on yourself. Don’t run. Don’t hide. You may not be ready to be a man yet, too bad, it’s time to be. There is a woman carrying your child that is more scared and more terrified than you will ever be, and she’s not worrying about herself as much anymore. She’s worrying about the baby you created with her. It’s your job to worry about her in all the areas she might forget, whether you’re together or not.

Lastly, to the families that adopt children: I will never, ever be able to say thank you enough. You are life savers. You are dream makers. You are the people that have changed my life for the better twice now, and I was never even adopted. Thank you so much. For everything you’ve done and will do. I will always have nothing but respect for you, and one day I hope to join you as well!

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