SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — November is National Adoption Month, a time to help spread the word about adoption issues and the need for more adoptive and foster families.
An important step is understanding what adoption looks like today. In the past, many were closed, meaning adoptive and biological parents never met or even knew each other’s names.
But today, most are open and in tonight’s eye on KELOLAND, a local birth mom and her daughter’s adoptive parents share what open adoption looks like for their family.
“This one is my favorite pictures of her, isn’t that gorgeous,” Stacy Reck said.
Looking through old photo albums, it’s easy to see the love pouring out of all of these parents faces.
“Stacy and Kasey sent me a picture of this little onesie,” Dani Tjaden said. “It says Adoption: adored and loved by both my families.”
An adoration that all started with one shocking revelation.
“She was a surprise,” Dani said. “I was fairly young still and I found out because I threw up in my driveway.”
It’s something that would happen many times over the next six months.
“I didn’t gain a single pound during my pregnancy because I threw up so much,” Dani said.
A difficult, unplanned pregnancy that left Dani with some tough choices.
“I just knew I wasn’t ready to do the mom thing. But I loved her, she was a little bean,” Dani said. “It was a hard decision. My mom actually was the one who brought it up initially, because I just wasn’t ready and she knew it, even though I didn’t like to admit it. But she was right.”
Dani decided adoption was the best way forward.
“Emotionally it was very hard because it was admitting to myself that I wasn’t quite the person that she needed me to be,” Dani said. “But as far as setting it up, it wasn’t that difficult.”
While getting set up with an adoption agency was easy, Dani says the next step of choosing an adoptive family was overwhelming.
“That was so hard, reading through the books it’s hard,” Dani said. “I’m looking at obviously the best faces of these people and trying to decide who’s best to raise the baby that I’m creating. It was emotionally exhausting.”
Then a friend of a friend mentioned the name of a Watertown couple who were waiting to adopt.
“Right after we got married, about a year later, we tried to have kids on our own, we tried for about seven years…. We did a lot of discussing and finally we were like, I think adoption is the right choice for us,” Stacy said. “From there we waited about two years before anything happened.”
Then Stacy and Kasey Reck got the phone call they’d been waiting on: they’d been chosen by a birth mom.
“The reason why I wanted to pick Stacy and Kasey is because I knew people who knew them, it wasn’t the closest connection ever, but still, I knew people who knew them, so I felt a little better about that,” Dani said.
After choosing the Reck family, the next step was to actually get together in person.
“We met for the first time at a coffee shop with her and her mom. Of course, it was nerve-racking because it was our first time meeting and you just want to squeeze her and say oh my gosh, is this really happening? It just felt right from the very beginning,” Stacy said.
While the connection felt great, the decision was still a very hard reality for Dani the rest of her pregnancy.
“There were very emotional days that, pregnancy hormones aren’t fun, I’d all of sudden start crying for no reason because I was thinking about the decision I had made. I was not unhappy about the decision I had made, it was just, it was a hard thing,” Dani said.
Things would get harder for Dani once it was time to meet her baby for the first time.
“The hospital was pretty hard,” Dani said. “They were there the entire time and that was great, and I loved that, I just remember the last night being really emotional about it because they were going to come back in the morning and take her and I was going to be discharged from the hospital and that was very emotional and hard for me,” Dani said.
She says the first few weeks and months after baby Kellyn was born brought more emotions.
“It’s the things that you’re missing that you know you’re missing that are difficult, even though I made the decision, they are her parents, I am not. It was hard knowing I was going to be missing those moments,” Dani said. “And they were very forth right, saying here look she took her first steps, or she did this this and this and I loved that, it’s just, I wasn’t there. So that was a little hard. But as the relationship between all of us grew, that became easier.”
A pain that got easier every day, thanks to the open connection between their families.
“Sending me pictures and giving updates on how she was and everything was very helpful,” Dani said.
“We just let her lead,” Stacy said. “She said she wanted to meet with us monthly, so for the first year we met monthly and really grew that relationship. From there, they babysit for our kids, they love them both, it’s really amazing, they’re an extension of the family really.”
Now Dani and her parents are a huge part of the Reck family and love being there for both Kellyn and her sister Kennedy, who was also adopted.
“You know both girls are ‘very hi Dani, let’s go do this, let’s go do this,'” Dani said. “They crack me up daily and they just make me smile.”
“The girls, they just love! They’re always like, let’s go to Terry and Dan and Dani’s house. They absolutely just love them all,” Stacy said. “It’s amazing to have them come for birthdays and Christmas and in between we meet a lot and the love that the girls have for them.”
It’s the kind of open relationships the Recks couldn’t picture before they actually got into the adoption process.
“In the beginning we were kind of like, I don’t know if we can do the open adoption, because we don’t understand how this is going to work,” Stacy said.
But now that they’re in it, they wouldn’t have it any other way.
“It was the best decision we made as far as being open, every situation is going to be different as far as the birth mom. So, for us, after a couple months, it was like, oh yes, this was the right decision for sure,” Kacey said.
A decision to open all of their hearts and create a unique family and a relationship they wouldn’t change for the world.
Bridget Bennet: What makes you feel so good about that decision today?
Dani Tjaden: Because of absolutely how happy and safe and well taken care of she is I know I did 100% what was right. She has a life that she loves and she’s fabulous and she has the most amazing little sister who is full of sass and wonderfulness and amazing parents who would do anything for her, so I absolutely know that was what was right.
Dani says one of her biggest fears as a birth mom was choosing an adoptive family who would then decide to cut her out of her daughter’s life after the adoption was finalized.
“Should they decide tomorrow that I would never see her again, I have no rights to change that. So that was a definite fear, but not anymore,” Dani said. “I love Stacy and Kasey, they’re part of my family. We all are just one big happy little unit, strange that we are. But it was a very legitimate fear when it all started.”
While every adoption relationship and situation is different, both Dani and the Recks encourage anyone looking to adopt to stay committed to keeping that open connection strong, not only for each other, but especially for the good of the child who gets to grow up knowing and loving every part of their family.