In this Homegrown with Hope, we hope to shine some light on a topic that is often shrouded in secrecy.
Social workers in Bismarck say there are misconceptions around adoption we need to clear up so more families can make decisions that benefit the future of children and parents across our neighborhoods.
We begin with the birth parents and the stigmas they face.
"It's a hard process," Ashley Aaker, a birth mother, says of making and living with the decision to place her child for adoption. "All of it is a very hard process."
Ashley is a mother to two children already and says she doesn't fit the stereotype many of us might have about birth parents.
"I'm not a bad person. I love my family. I love my kids. I'm just in a rough spot," said Ashley.
Pregnancy and adoption social worker Kim Wood says there is no one-size fits all for the women or couples who come to her for help. She says she helps teenagers, college students and women established in their 30s and 40s looking to make a plan.
She says most of those choose to parent instead of adoption.
"They face a lot of judgment and they lack a lot of the support they need to be successful, no matter what that is," said Kim Wood.
Ashley says the thought of not raising her daughter was so painful, she wrestled with the decision of whether to place her for adoption until she went into labor.
"I drug my feed for the longest time on this thing. Up until I had her in the hospital. Then, I called Kim and I was like, I think it's time," Ashley remembered.
Kim met Ashley in the hospital with a stack of books of families hoping to bring home a baby. That night, Ashley considered the sibling her baby might have, the traditions she might form, and the memories she'd make with a different set of parents. The family she picked was there to meet Ashley and baby in the hospital.
"Watching my daughter and her parents when they met, just the love in their eyes. It was a very good feeling, just to be able to give someone something they couldn't have after trying so hard."
Years later, she stays in contact with the adoptive family. Through a process called "openness," adoptive and birth parents can strike a balance of communication throughout a child's life. Kim explains some families choose a closed adoption, while others choose various degrees of communicating with birth parents.
"I think a big misconception about openness is that it's co-parenting. That somebody is going to be telling you how to raise your child. That's not the case," she said.
Ashley says she was wary of openness at the beginning.
"I just didn't want to be a burden. As the last couple of years have gone by, I've realized it was kind of a good decision that we chose the open plan," Ashley said.
Now she has come to cherish the reminders of the role she played in growing one family and caring for her own.
Kim says the community can play a role in tearing down hurtful stereotypes by taking the time to listen and support women and couples with their decisions on parenting or adoption.
For questions about adoption services visit the link attached to this article.