‘She’s going to be amazing.’ Her birth mom asked for nothing, even though I would have given her ANYTHING. As much as Finley was a perfect fit for our family, so was Lex.’

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“Six years ago, I spent Mother’s Day in our empty nursery sitting on the floor, weeping. I had my weak moments, this was one of them. I tried not to question, ‘why me?’ Instead I tried to visualize the future I wanted so badly. I couldn’t quite picture a child’s face or imagine what life would actually look like. I just knew it would be complete. After facing the constant emptiness and heartache of infertility, I knew in my heart adoption was our option. It was how God was leading my husband and I to become parents.

Courtesy of Christina Smallwood

Unless you’ve experienced it, you’ll never be able to fathom what it feels like to be ‘waiting to adopt’ or a ‘hopeful adoptive parent’. Talk about hope. You essentially are waiting for someone to look at a scrapbook about your life and say, ‘Yep, that’s them. I want them to parent my unborn child.’ It’s a big freaking deal – because odds are there are hundreds of ‘scrapbooks’ to choose from. What makes our life so special that we will be chosen? Why us? I feel like this is the forgotten stage of the domestic adoption process. Some families wait years and years to be chosen. How could you possibly expect me to go from wanting to be a mother so badly, to dismissing the very person that is responsible? Let’s remember she actually CHOSE me to do this, out of many deserving candidates.

I thought I could be the Adoptive-Mom that shares photos with a Birth-Family and occasionally has a visit. Never did I think I would be in an active open adoption. Never did I think I would feel so confident that the mere use of certain ‘adoption trigger words’ would no longer trigger me. It’s taken a lot to get me here, but I can’t help but think it was a chain-reaction set off by one thing I did. Shortly after we were chosen, I wrote a letter to myself. I wanted to remember all that I was feeling. I encourage every waiting mother to write this letter. It is VERY important that you remember how you felt in this chapter of your life.

Christine Bentley Photography

The day we got THE CALL was one I will never, ever forget. Being chosen felt like a lottery win. It’s all a big blur, but I remember our attorney’s wife telling me, ‘You guys were their second choice, and I asked them if they were sure. They assured me they wanted the Smallwood’s.’ I pictured the life of this expecting couple and everything they were possibly going through, and I was filled with different emotions. Every emotion. I was full of joy for us, but I was equally filled with sadness for the expectant mom. Our greatest gift was surely going to be her biggest heartbreak. Every time I could feel my ‘sad’ emotions creep up I would reassure her we were a great choice and we would do everything to be the best parents. My new hope was to be the EXACT parent she wanted for her unborn baby girl.

They wanted to tell us when they were together. It was the 4th of July and we were having our entire family over for a BBQ. We made it a surprise gender reveal and announced to our family we were chosen to parent a baby girl!

We got the call in the middle of the night that Finley was born by emergency C-section. She was 9 weeks early. We rushed to the hospital and got through the rigamoro of the hospital. I’ll never forget walking into the room and seeing this miraculous 3 pound little angel resting peacefully in the dimly-lit room. I remember staring at her and telling my husband, ‘she’s going to be something amazing.’ It was there in the NICU I promised her I would do everything in my power to give her the BEST life possible. The doctor’s told us she would have two options:  She might not ever walk or talk, or she’ll be fine – only time would tell.

Courtesy of Christina Smallwood

She was in the NICU for 5 weeks total. After about 2, it came time to sign THE PAPERS. Her birth mom, Lex, was relinquishing her rights and we were accepting parental responsibility. Such a legal matter. I know we are trained to abide by the law, but in this capacity – it felt unnatural. I remember sitting across from each other at the table and passing her the pen, being scared to make eye-contact with her for fear I would feel too intense of guilt. The tears streamed down our faces, for a million different reasons. She was willingly giving us the precious life she created, and we were promising her to cherish it.

Our verbal agreement was to exchange photos and have some physical visits within the first year. I was encouraged not to make any promises I knew I wouldn’t keep. Let me tell you, that is VERY hard to do when it is something you want more than anything. Lex asked for nothing because she didn’t need anything, even though I would have given her ANYTHING she requested. The beauty of our relationship was always the trust, the unspoken trust we established on day 1.  I honestly believe that as much as Finley was a perfect fit for our family, so was Lex. A piece of that puzzle I struggled to imagine back in that empty nursery.

Courtesy of Christina Smallwood

At one of our first visits we got to chat. I remember wanting to soak up every moment of our time together. We shared stories and I got to watch Lex beam with pride as she was identifying with all the similarities between Finley and her.

‘She has my eyes,’ Lex told me. Finley absolutely does.

Courtesy of Christina Smallwood

Open adoption can be such a beautiful thing when all parties involved are healthy enough to handle this type of relationship. It is difficult no matter the circumstance. I’ve never felt threatened by Finley’s birth-family because we’ve always maintained a mutual respect and gratitude. They’ve never commented on the decisions we’ve made as parents, there are clear boundaries that are honored. Even when we all have our issues, we communicate through them. Ultimately, we share the same desire for Finley to know she was loved through the placement process and is continuously and unconditionally loved by her birth-family. I believe this is the foundation for a successful open adoption. Lex chose to place Finley in our lives, and that is the sole reason we are Finley’s parents.

Grow Lovely Photography
Grow Lovely Photography

Finley is 5 years old and we still have a handful of visits a year. It’s what works for us. A few days ago, Lex got to experience a ‘first’ with us. Finley lives with Cerebral Palsy (from a brain injury as a result of her prematurity) and she stood up on her own and walked to Lex. It was amazing and we were in shock! I was so, so happy we could experience that moment all together. What a treasure.

Courtesy of Christina Smallwood

As I sit here writing this, I think about all of the women who spend their nights sitting in empty nurseries. I can’t tell you what having family and friends’ support means to someone in this place. My prayer is for you to know you are loved and you are worthy. I pray you know when the time comes, that your pain and suffering will be flushed away and overpowered by joy. I love the Bible verse about joy coming in the morning, because I always felt I was the saddest and the emptiest at night. I pray the nights be short for you. I pray your journey to motherhood is an inspiring one. Lastly, I pray you share your story with others to bring them comfort during this time.”

Grow Lovely Photography
Grow Lovely Photography

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Christina Smallwood of California. You can follow their journey on Instagram and her websiteDo you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here, and subscribe to our best stories in our free newsletter here.

Read more beautiful adoption journeys:

‘The judge looked at my husband and I. ‘Thank you for taking in a child in need.’ Without missing a beat, my husband replied, ‘We needed her more.’ Truer words have never been spoken.’

‘It was just her and I. We laid in her bed, holding this sweet boy, talking about the future. As 48 hours passed, it came time for us to leave the hospital. We all walked out together, one family.’

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