'How I Ended Up Friends With My Daughter's Mom': 1 Mother's Story

adoptive mom birth mom and daughterFrom left to right: Melinda Mack, her adopted daughter Hannah, and Hannah's birth mom Danielle Vincent

When Melinda Mack adopted her baby daughter Hannah in 1998, she gained something far more surprising in the process: she became friends with the biological mother of her child, Danielle Vincent.

"I think the most amazing part of this is how much Danielle and I love each other," says Melinda, a 55-year-old therapist living near Seattle, Washington. "She wasn't just our birth mother, she is part of our family."

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Melinda first started down the adoption road at the age of 38, after struggling for years unsuccessfully to have kids with husband Keith. They found they disliked the traditional "closed adoption" approach -- which keeps the identities of the birth mother and adoptive family confidential. Instead, they decided to try an "open adoption," where they would not only know the birth mom, but could pursue an ongoing relationship.

"We thought it would be important for us and our child to know her birth mom and care about her," Melinda explains.

At that time, Danielle was a 22-year-old college student with an on-again-off-again boyfriend named Don, and she was pregnant. She knew she never wanted kids, but while adoption appealed to her, a closed adoption did not.

"To me, it seemed to perpetuate the idea that adoption is a shameful thing," Danielle explains. "It also didn't seem to be in the child's best interest."

The two women are part of a growing trend. While no statistics exist on the number of adopted kids in contact with their birth parents, "openness is part of the discussion in adoption planning more so today than in the past," says Victor Groza, a professor of parent child studies at Case Western Reserve University.

The dynamics of such an arrangement can be difficult to navigate. "It may feel threatening for the adoptive parent," Groza explains; it also sets up both parties for disappointment if their relationship isn't as close as they hope. 

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Nonetheless, Danielle and Melinda knew these were risks they wanted to face together as soon as they talked on the phone. "We talked for over two hours, and not just about the baby, but our favorite rides at Disneyland -- it was like I'd found a best friend," Danielle recalls. "From there, we made the weirdest double date ever at a Thai restaurant and had a blast. We even popped across the street to a photo booth and took some ridiculous photos of all four of us hamming it up."

"As soon as I met her, I thought, Wow, I really like this person," Melinda recalls. Since the feeling was mutual, the adoption paperwork was soon finalized, giving Danielle and Don the right to visit their biological child up to six times per year. Throughout the pregnancy, Danielle and Melinda continued to hang out a few times a week. On Melinda's 39th birthday, Danielle celebrated by taking her to the movies.

And on the day Danielle gave birth, Melinda and Keith were right there in the hospital room. They named their child Hannah, with the double middle name "Don Danielle" as an homage to the birth parents. From there, even though Don gradually faded from the picture and Danielle moved down to Los Angeles, Danielle continued to fly up to meet the Macks for birthdays and holidays. Hannah grew up knowing she was adopted and that she was once in Danielle's tummy.

But by the time she turned 6, having two moms started to mess with her head.

"At one point Danielle, Hannah, and I were walking on the beach, and I had to run back to the car to grab something," Melinda recalls. "When I got back, Hannah was clearly distressed. Later on she cried and cried, saying, 'I thought you were leaving me.'"

At that moment, Melinda made one of the hardest decisions of her life: to tell Danielle that they needed to take a break from seeing each other. It did not go over well.

"At first I took it personally," Danielle recalls. "I felt like Hannah really deserved to know more about me and have me more in her life. But I'd given up that right. This could have easily compromised our friendship, but the reason it didn't was I knew Melinda was just making what she felt was the best decision for Hannah. And if I didn't like that, I should shove off."

For years, Melinda and Danielle barely spoke, and Hannah seemed fine with that.

Then, when Hannah turned 13 and got her own Facebook account, she sent a friend request to Danielle. Once Melinda heard they were in touch, she followed her daughter's lead and started corresponding more with Danielle herself. In 2013, Danielle met with Melinda, Keith, and Hannah for coffee and heard all about Hannah's latest robotics projects. 

"Hannah's going to set the world on fire," says Danielle. "And seeing Melinda and Keith made it easier to recall how much I love them."

Since then, Melinda, Danielle, and Hannah have continued to stay in touch regularly through emails, phone calls, and the occasional visit when Danielle is in town.

While Melinda feels she "struck the jackpot" finding Danielle 16 years ago, she acknowledges that open adoptions are not for the faint of heart.

"When you know so much about each other, it can make things harder -- sometimes it's easier not to know!" admits Melinda. "We had the best situation because Danielle was intelligent, didn't use drugs, and had financial resources. But even with highly functioning people, it still feels like your heart is being ripped out of your chest. With adoption there are always feelings of loss -- for the birth family as well as the adoptive family. Still, I'm glad it's an option and am so glad I met Danielle."

"Open adoption is not all sunshine and roses," agrees Danielle, now 39. "But it's one of the most rewarding respectful and mutually admiring relationships I've been blessed with. I couldn't have hoped to find a better mom. And even when she made decisions I didn't agree with, I knew she was doing it for Hannah. And that made me respect and value our friendship even more."

How do you feel about open adoption? 

 

Image via Danielle Vincent

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