For individuals and families who feel God’s call toward adoption, there is more than one way to live that out. In this episode, hosts, Lynette Ezell and Tera Melber have a chat with Bethany Hall, who defines and discusses best practices on how to navigate open or domestic adoption. She gives helpful tips on setting boundaries with the birth parents from the beginning of the process and on how to be spiritually refreshed and encouraged during the most difficult times.

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Speaker 1: Welcome to The Adopting and Fostering Home Podcast. Whether your family has been on this journey for years or you’re just getting started, we’re here to support and encourage you along the way. And now your hosts, Lynette Ezell and Tera Melber.

Tera Melber: Welcome back, everybody. We are really excited today to have a sweet guest of ours, Bethany, who we actually have known from years past. And it was really exciting, I just ran into her at a training event in Cincinnati not very long ago. I had no idea she was coming, and she walked in the room and you would have thought that we were long, lost sisters because it was really exciting. People in the room were like, “What is going on?”

Bethany is wife and mom to three kids and her middle child joined their family through an open domestic infant adoption. Bethany and her family, her husband, served as missionaries with an orphan care ministry in Monterey, Mexico, for several years. She’s a family nurse practitioner, and she’s currently practicing in pediatric emergency department. In fact, she got home at 4:00 a.m. this morning from a very busy shift, so she’s got coffee in hand and ready to roll. And her husband is pursuing a PhD in international leadership at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Lynette Ezell: They have lots of free time.

Tera: They do; tons and tons. So, Bethany frequently educates on trauma competent care giving curriculum. She trains parents, caregivers, and educators on caring well for children who’ve experienced adverse childhood experiences. So, we’re super excited you’re here today.

Bethany Hall: Thanks for having me. I’m excited too. Like you said, I’m still waking up but I got my coffee. It should be okay.

Lynette: Bethany, we know you are passionate about loving your family well, and caring for vulnerable children, and educating others on how to love kids from hard places as Jesus would love them. We also know that your adoption of your daughter is incredibly open, and so we have tons of questions about this. So, tell us how the Lord began building your family and how you all are making that work.

Bethany Hall: Our journey has been just one of growth and learning so much about loving people well, and I’ve just learned so much from the Lord through our journey. So, I’m excited to just share a little bit about what he’s taught us and what we’ve learned along the way for people that might be interested in pursuing open adoption. I think open adoption is becoming more and more common. I talk to people that are doing domestic adoption now and I frequently hear them talk about this common theme of that they’re being asked to be open and willing to entertain the idea of an open adoption. And for some people, it can be really scary, so I’m excited to share a little bit about it.

Kevin and I, my husband, we always felt really called to adoption even before we were married. Individually, we both had thought a lot about adopting and how God might weave our story with adoption, and we started attending Ivy, like you said, Lynette and just seeing you and Pastor Kevin’s example of adoption. And our church had a very open culture to adopting and had an excitement about it. That really continued to fuel our desire to know more about adoption.

And then, we sat in the class with Tera. I don’t even remember if it was a class, Tera, you might know better.

Tera: Yeah, we did classes back then.

Bethany Hall: Yeah, we had a Sunday night course that was just talking about adoption and what are the different kinds of adoption. And I remember very distinctly, we watched a clip from Sixteen and Pregnant, which was at the time, an MTV show about young girls getting pregnant. And we watched a clip about this couple that was placing their baby for domestic infant adoption. And I just remember being profoundly impacted by watching the grief and just their interaction of that whole situation, of placing a baby for adoption.

And I remember it started a little seed in my heart of thinking, I wonder if God will call us to adopt a baby who also has a family that needs to be loved and pointed to Jesus. And so, that was the birth of that idea in my mind, of what would it be like to adopt a child, but also to walk with a family. And we got pregnant by surprise with our first son. We’d had a about a year and a half of infertility, and at that time, we’re pursuing domestic infant adoption and starting the process.

About a month before we were supposed to start sending our books around… Part of the process of a domestic adoption is a lot of people know is you make a book and birth families can look through your book and decide if you seem like a good fit for their unborn child. And so, about a month before we started that process, I found out that I was pregnant with our oldest son.

Lynette: Of course, you did.

Bethany Hall: Yeah, cliche, but a lot of people say that as soon as you start the process adoption, you’ll get pregnant. And I thought maybe for some people, but if that ever happened, we’re okay with it. So, it was a huge blessing and we were super thrilled to be pregnant with our son. But we also felt like doing a newborn for the first time, being parents for the first time and adopting probably was going to be a little overstretching for us. So, we put the process on hold for a little bit.

And after my son was about two, we decided to start that process again. And so, again, we went through all the long process of all the classes and all the background checks and making our book and we started our process. At that time, we were still really considering domestic infant adoption. We had thought about doing foster to adopt, but with our son being so little, we felt like that was something maybe for the future—just the back and forth of having a child and maybe having them go back to their biological family, I thought it would be difficult for a two year old to understand.

And so, at that time, we decided that the best option for our family would be to pursue domestic infant adoption. And we chose a large local organization to go through, and started that process. Early on, we were matched with a couple, and the process of getting to know them and starting this adoption was very emotional for me personally. The birth mom that we were matched with, I remember we got the email saying, “Would you be willing to show your profile?” And then, we got the other email saying, “They’re interested in meeting you.”

And I met with the birth mom for the first time. I took her out to get some coffee and to get our nails done so we’d have good girl time to bond and talk. And I remember the first thing she said to me was, “I’m really trying to convince my husband that we can raise this baby. And if he changes his mind, I just want you to know that we’re going to keep this baby.” And so, that was a really a big gut check for me, thinking about am I okay doing this even if this ends with them choosing to parent?

And so, for me, I wear my heart on my sleeve. I’m a very emotional person. And so, the journey with her was very hard for me because I had a lot of empathy and sympathy for her as a person of just seeing her go through some of the hard things she was experiencing and the reasons why they were considering placing their baby for adoption. But at the same time, I also had this feeling of connection already with this child that was growing inside of her that we loved and we were praying for and we wanted the best for. And so, our journey definitely was emotional from the very beginning.

Bethany Hall: We had, again, a very open adoption from the very beginning. We met a lot with our daughter’s birth family, more so her birth mom than her birth dad, but her birth dad was also in the picture. At the time, they were still married. And so, they were facing a lot of significant challenges. Mackenzie’s birth mom had been adopted at 5 years old out of the foster care system. And so, she also had a lot of adverse childhood experiences, a lot of things stacked against her. And she just knew that she loved this baby and she wanted to consider parenting.

However, her biological father was raised in a very poor environment and a lot of struggle in and out of shelters, and felt very strongly that they could not provide a good life for their daughter. And so, he had said from the very beginning that he was not interested in parenting. And so, that dynamic between the two of them was very difficult. You have a birth mom that has always wanted to have a baby and also has this pull of, “I want to do things differently, and I want my child to be raised in a different way than I was raised.” But knowing that she really had no job and no way to take care of a child if her partner was not willing to be involved in the process.

Bethany Hall: And so, walking with her through that and just seeing her grief and loss as she solely realized that that probably wasn’t going to be an option for her was very emotional. And when she actually went into labor, she had said she wanted us to be at the hospital. Then, she said she didn’t, then she said she did. And ultimately, she did call me the night she went into labor and I was able to be at the hospital with her and walk the halls with her. Her husband, at the time, was not a very encouraging partner, so she felt very alone. It was a real precious time for me to be able to just pray over her and walk with her in the halls as she labored, and ultimately, to be there when our daughter came into the world. So, that was just a really precious time for us.

Tera: Bethany, I have a quick question for you. When you’re going through all of that stuff with the ups and downs that come with getting to know birth mom and birth dad, I’m sure that especially the initial meetings were awkward or uncomfortable. So, my first question to you is how did you manage that, knowing where to meet and what to do? That’s sounds like a practical question, but it’s not like you’re just calling somebody for coffee. And then secondly, how did you deal with all the ups and downs, the emotions of it all? How did that affect you, your marriage, all of that kind of stuff?

Bethany Hall: I would say, initially, if you have a good agency, leaning on your agency. At the very beginning, when you’re still getting to know each other, it is very awkward, and nobody really knows what to do. And so, the first couple of times we met, we met at the agency. And I would recommend always meeting in a neutral place. So, until you decide your comfort level and where this is all going to go, I would recommend not necessarily having people over to your house, not necessarily giving all of your information.

At the very beginning, our child’s birth family did not know our last name, did not have my personal cell phone number. And so, we just walked very carefully down that road trying to protect them and protect our family as well. So, the first meetings, like I said, we’re at the agency, and then, as we got a little bit more comfortable, we met mostly just in neutral places. We met at a mall or a coffee shop, again, not wanting somewhere where there’s a ton of people as there may be tears involved, and it can be a little bit emotional, but also not somebody coming over and sitting in their living room. And that worked well for us.

Bethany Hall: As far as how did I handle it, I don’t know. Probably my husband would have a different answer than I do. A lot of days, it didn’t feel like I handled it very well. I definitely cried a lot and prayed a lot. And I think when you go into the process of adoption in general, I think you do a lot of wrestling with facing yourself and what are my expectations for this? Why am I making this choice for our family? What is my call? Because I feel like adoption is definitely a call from the Lord.

And so, there were a lot of times where I had to really ask God to remind me of why I started this process. And Kevin still jokes on the hard days. He would say, “You prayed for this,” because I really did. I prayed that God would bring us a family. And it was very evident from the very beginning that he was calling us to walk with this family and not just with this child. And so, I think just asking God everyday to help me wake up and keep open hands, and knowing that, from the very beginning, that none of our children are ours, they’re the Lord’s.

And so, just praying that he would help my heart to be open to her journey. And ultimately, we just said over and over, “God help us to love this child for as long as you are entrusting her to us. And if that means just while she’s at her mom’s tummy or if this means for a short period of time, after she’s born or for the rest of her life, I just pray that we would have hearts to love her and point her to Jesus and hold her always with open hands.”

Bethany Hall: So, I think that was just my mantra and the thing that continued to get me through the really hard days. But again, I lean on my spouse and on the Lord of just asking him to give me strength and help us through those hard moments because there definitely were a lot of tears and a lot of days where we just weren’t sure how this journey was going to turn out.

Lynette: Yeah, and I love what you said, there were so many emotions. I know we had that with one of our grandchildren. I had gotten the call about the child and, because of the mom’s situation she was in, and she was not young, it’s not like we were dealing with the teenager here, she had done life for a while. And so, we would lose contact for weeks. And you didn’t know what was happening. And to be honest, it was trauma that was happening. It was just a very hard situation. But in that, I realized, Bethany, which I know you and Kevin have too, that you just have no control over the outcome.

And I think that’s one thing. We cannot choke the life out of these situations the Lord calls us to and white knuckle all this. That’s our flesh, that’s what we want to do, we want to fix it, especially as women because I noticed the men can go on to work and do their thing. And as women, we do our job, get up and go to our job, try to stay busy or stay busy with other kids in the home. But the Lord really uses that time to show us, “Look, I am in total control here. Do you take me at my word or do you not?” And that’s part of the process, it really is.

Bethany Hall: Yeah, and I think just asking the Lord to give you the grace to learn and grow in the process, and I think not focus on the end point. And that can be really difficult when you’re talking about something with these emotionally high stakes. But I think Kevin and I asked the Lord multiple times to just allow us to obey and to be faithful in the process. And that regardless of the outcome, that we have things that we can learn and grow from, and this family has things that they can learn and grow from, even just in the process, regardless of the outcome. And so, I think focusing on the process and just how God had called me to love well in the process was really helpful for me as well.

Lynette: Yeah, it is. It’s like Tera says, it’s a sanctification. It really is. I know probably after you brought your daughter home, there had to be a lot of conversations about setting healthy boundaries. What does that look like? How did the Lord give you the wisdom to do this? What did he give you in this?

Bethany Hall: As more often than not happens in life, I think sometimes we learn best from our mistakes or the choices we wish you would’ve done differently. So, I have plenty of those to share. We definitely did not do it perfectly. I think me being a very emotional person… Now, my husband has a background in law enforcement. He spent five years working in Louisville as a police officer. And so, he really balances me. I think God has been so gracious to give me a teammate that is less emotional than I am, is more logical, thinks about safety in a time where I typically run headstrong into disaster if I’m left to my own devices.

And so, I think that was something that really important. And then, I would encourage anyone that pursues adoption in general, but especially when you’re dealing with a birth family that you have a very open adoption with is always be on the same page with your spouse, have lots of conversation, bring other people into the mix that have adopted domestically, social workers, people in your organization that can answer those kinds of questions for you and give you advice.

My husband and I felt a little bit on our own just because we went with a very large local organization that do a lot of adoptions. And so, I remember shortly after we brought our daughter home from the hospital, I had decided to give her birth mom my cell phone number. I would not, in hindsight, do that again. So, just FYI, I would not necessarily do that. And now, in the day of social media, there’s so many ways to be able to message without somebody having your cell phone number.

Bethany Hall: Anyways, at the time, I had decided to give her my cell phone number and she was texting me hundreds of times a day in the first couple of weeks after we brought our daughter home. And so, just asking, “Can I have a picture, can I see her?” And also, just really processing her own grief, which was very difficult for me. She would send me messages like, “I don’t know if I can live, I don’t know if I can do this. I think I’m going to have to take her back.” And just for me, trying to bond with a baby and take care of a newborn is a very difficult and emotional time in general, and then to add on this other person’s grief and just deep, deep pain was very, very difficult for me.

And so, there were a lot of nights that my husband and I just laid at bed and talked it through, and he said, “I think we may even need to change your phone number. We may need to reel back this a little bit just because this is not healthy for you. You’re very emotionally tied to this person, and you’re having a hard time separating yourself and bonding with our daughter. And we want us to be able to do that with her. And that’s what’s best for her.”

And so, there was a period of time where I had to set really strong boundaries. My initial thought was I remember calling our agency and talking to our social worker and telling him what was going on. And I said, “What is your advice?” He said, “Well, I wouldn’t let her move in with you.” And I just remember thinking…

Lynette: Was that something I was thinking? I don’t think so.

Bethany Hall: That’s my advice?

Tera: But that’s funny. That’s where he saw it going.

Bethany Hall: Yeah, yeah. And I’m sure that that comes from a place of somebody’s done that. So, I think definitely there can be a lot of pressure in open adoptions, and I think there is a ton of literature out there to support that open adoptions are a really healthy way to go for your child, but there’s not a lot of prescriptive, “This is how you should do it, this is how it should look.” And I think it really looks different for each family.

Bethany Hall: And so, I would say ask God to give you wisdom, have lots of conversations as a couple, make sure you’re on the same page, and that if your spouse says, “I just don’t feel comfortable giving out our address or our phone number or I don’t feel comfortable meeting this often,” that you’ll listen to each other and that you never do anything that your spouse isn’t comfortable with, that you would stay on the same page. It starts slow because it’s easy to give more. It’s really hard to take back.

Lynette: Yeah, really start slow. That is fantastic advice. And I know, at first, you probably had to meet with her alone to build trust, but I would probably not do that, just from personal experience, because words can get so twisted. And then, I’m like you, I have all the feels. And so, I can tend to read more into what people are saying. And then my fear level because if she’s texting you, “I can’t do this. I may end it all. I may have to take this child back,” your fear has to be off the chart.

Bethany Hall: Yeah, it was. And I think, again, just asking God to help us hold her with open hands and to love this family well. And so, I spent a lot of time encouraging her birth mother to go back to the Lord. Thankfully, she is a believer, she’s very young in her faith and immature in her faith. But I just encouraged her often to seek out her own resources and prayed with her, encouraged her to seek out help at a local church. She does have an adoptive family that loves her very much, so just continuing to speak truth over her of the people that love her and supported her.

And the nice thing is in domestic infant adoption, if it’s not in a foster care situation, oftentimes these are able to be finalized fairly quickly. I say fairly quickly, meaning within six or seven months. And so, this isn’t 100%, at least for us, it wasn’t a super, super long process. And so, I think just remembering there is somewhat of an endpoint. I literally had our social worker on speed dial and would frequently call and say, “What do I do with this? What are you thinking? How much longer do you think we’re going to be doing this?”

Lynette: Oh, yeah, we all have those questions in the process. Can you hurry this along? And usually it’s no.

Tera: Now that your daughter is six, what does it look it looks like today?

Bethany Hall: Yeah, definitely been a journey and I think it was helpful for us. Our story is unique with the fact that we did live overseas for four years. And so, that definitely set some boundaries that were helpful, that I don’t know that I would have been as able to set on my own, a natural boundary of being so many thousand miles away and only really being able to meet once a year when we were home on furlough, was helpful for us and I think allowed her birth mom to have a little bit more realistic expectations about what this might look like.

And since we’ve moved back, we are within about three hours of her birth family. And again, I think if you live in the same town or the same city, state where your birth family could even run into you, I think it can be very challenging when that person knows a lot about you or may be able to find out a lot about you. And so, again, I just go back to starting slow, like you said, that may be meeting as a couple, meeting with a trusted friend, or meeting with somebody that they feel safe with, but still may be a neutral party if you know that that person is healthy.

I think a lot of this goes back to learning about and getting to know your biological family. And so, some of them may be older, may have other children, may have going on in their lives that help them to move forward. That was not really the case with us. Mackenzie’s birth mother still has a lot of really hard things going on in her life. She does not have a job. Up until about a couple of months ago, did not have a place to live. And Mackenzie is almost six. So, walking with her has been very difficult. She has not had a lot that has gone on in her life to help her move forward.

Bethany Hall: And so, really, she still clings to her birth daughter is one of the only great things in her life. And that’s really difficult. I have friends that have done open adoption that, ultimately, that person went on to have other children and they’re able to do maybe a Christmas dinner all together as two families, and their child is able to spend time with her biological siblings, and that person is in a healthy place in their lives. For us, we’ve had to continue to have pretty strict boundaries just because of her bio mom having some real struggles with having healthy boundaries.

And so, now, it looks like every year is a little bit different, but we have tried to at least meet up with her once a year, either around their birthdays, their birthdays are about a month apart. So, not on our daughter’s birthday, but sometime in the month before or after. And I have told her birth mum from the very beginning that both of our role is always to make decisions that are best for her, with her in mind. And I said from the beginning that I would never force her to have a visit or a phone call that she didn’t feel comfortable doing.

And so, I’ve just reiterated that over time, encouraging her that my goal is to love her well and my goal is to, as often as I can, keep that line of communication open and keep those experiences there for our daughter to make sure that she has a normal feeling and some good memories with her biological family. But then, if anytime it became too overwhelming for her or was unhealthy, that we would stop those for at least a period of time. And I think that’s been really healthy.

This last year, our daughter started having some more emotional reactions to the visits. She would say she wanted to go, but then afterwards would be very dysregulated, very emotional and defiant in the weeks after the visits. And so, I talked to her birth mom and I said, “I think she’s at an age right now where she understands enough to know that there’s some grief and loss there and know that she has a connection with you but doesn’t have the maturity yet to process it. And so, we may have to dial back and schedule our visits a little further apart.”

And that’s been hard for her. But because we set that framework at the very beginning of, “Our goal is never to punish you. Our goal is never to withhold from you, but our goal is to keep our daughter healthy.” And having that common goal, knowing that she loves her daughter, and ultimately in her mind, even when her heart pulls her away, in her mind, she wants to make good decisions for, our daughter. And so, that helps to have that common language and that common goal.

Tera: So, setting those boundaries at the very beginning, starting slow and making everybody understand that this is a child-centric decision, and that as her parents, that you are making the best decisions possible for your daughter.

Lynette: For her wellbeing.

Tera: For her wellbeing, and for her health, because there will be different times in her life that she will desire to know more, maybe you want to visit more, and then times that she may just want to be a regular, not-think-about-it kind of a kid. And that’s okay too because those things will wax and wane. So, that that is such great advice.

Lynette: That’s great Bethany, that’s really good advice.

Tera: We’ve wrapped that up a bit, but if you had just a piece of advice that you’d like to give others who are considering open adoption or in the beginnings, what might that be?

Bethany Hall: I was trying to think about this over this last week of what would I say, encapsulates our journey? And I think one of the things I already mentioned is be on the same page with your spouse. Things are going to change over time. It’s going to ebb and flow, but you need to be a unified front when you’re discussing new things with the birth family, and also when you’re discussing them with your child. And I think God gives us our spouse for a reason, to be our compass and a balancing factor oftentimes. And so, having those conversations ongoing and praying together as a couple about how God would lead you, I think is one of them.

Another one I think is that all adoption has some loss and trauma woven into it. And so, I get a lot as I teach classes, a lot of families that adopt a childhood at infancy that feel like their child has no trauma and has no loss and want to jump right to the bonding, and we’re an adoptive family, we got them straight out of the womb. There can’t be any problems. And so, inner uterine trauma is still trauma. And I think I’ve learned so much in seeing my daughter and how she responds, often very quickly in fear in a child that’s really never known a home that has a lot of fear in it or a reason for her to fear. But I believe when she was in her mother’s tummy that she did experience a lot of fear through her mom having a lot of fear and living in a very chaotic situation.

And so, even if you bring your baby home from the hospital, those nine months of a baby in the womb with all of those different chemicals of fear and anxiety definitely do play a role. And so, just understanding that your child may have experienced some trauma that affects them, even if you brought them home from the hospital, and not being hesitant or slow to seek advice and counsel and books on how trauma affects children, and even specifically, how genetics can be changed and how your DNA is even expressed differently when a child experiences trauma in the womb. And recognizing that I am not a savior to this child, all I have to offer is Jesus.

I think the profound knowledge that is, for as much as I have to offer my daughter, there’s other things that her birth family could offer her that I can’t. And so, I don’t look at this in any way that I’ve saved my daughter because I can give her a financially and emotionally stable environment, that that makes up for the losses that she’s experienced through her losing her birth family.

And so, I think just always remembering and holding in esteem the birth family and recognizing that, more often than not, these people do have a deep love for their child and wish they could parent. And so, just respecting that and keeping my own attitude in check, I think often, because we can offer financial stability and emotional stability, sometimes Satan would love to give us this pride of what I’ve done for this child. And really, at the end of the day, remembering that her birth family loves her just as much and there are things that they wanted to give her that I can as well, just by biological connection and looking like they’re her family.

And so, allowing that to continue to check me and help me to remember that, really at the end of the day, all I have to offer my child is Jesus and I need grace just as much as her family. I think one of the books we read, it’s a really old book, but it’s called Hospitable Adoption. I think it was written in the ’50s, and it’s even sometimes hard to find. It just talks about this idea of adoption as an act of hospitality and making a person feel like they’re at home. And so, as I interact with her birth family, it can be frustrating to love somebody that’s completely unlike me socioeconomically, emotionally in their just day to day lifestyle. We’re very, very different.

I think something that God began working on me when we were working in another country, and also has used this adoption, is just this idea of being hospitable and giving grace. And so, I think often, as Christians, we can create circles around us where we only ever really interact with people that are similar to us in how we believe and our socioeconomic status and her hobbies.

And it can kind of give us this false sense that we love well. And I think when you’re thrown into a situation where you become family with a person that you never might have chosen to be friends with, even much less family, I think it constantly reminds me of what it really looks like to love when it’s hard. And just remembering to give grace and to love well, even when it’s with somebody that I wouldn’t necessarily have chosen to have in my life, has really challenged me in my view of what it means to love as a believer.

Lynette: Oh, that is awesome advice. And you just sum up my mantra too. Wherever the Lord asked me to go, whatever he asked me to do, he equips me in that. He didn’t equip me for tomorrow, but he equips me for the now. And I think your story is just a beautiful picture of that because you could not predict what was going to happen with your daughter’s birth mom. You could not foresee the hundred text messages a day. And it can go that way more often than not. But the Lord does, like you said, gives us grace and we, in turn, can give that grace and love to those who are struggling as well. And that’s the purpose in all of this.

Tera: Bethany, we just really appreciate your willingness to share your story and I know it will serve as such an encouragement to others. So, thank you so much for joining us today.

Bethany Hall: Yeah, thanks for having me. It was such a blessing.

Lynette: Can you do us a favor? If you’ve enjoyed this podcast, if the information has helped you at all, would you do two things? Would you share with a friend and would you give us a like on iTunes or whatever way you choose to listen to the Adopting and Fostering Home Podcast? We would love to hear your comments and we would love to be a more helpful to you and your family in this journey of foster care and adoption.

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