Topeka — Open adoption promotes honesty, trust and friendship, parents say.
Today, Angie Harralson, 21, has a steady relationship, a full-time job at a Lawrence data analysis company and plans to pursue a college education. But at 18, when she found herself pregnant, Harralson was having a hard enough time taking care of herself.
She wanted a better life for the baby growing in her womb -- much better than living in a housing project on welfare, which is where Harralson said she and her daughter, Sara, would probably be if Harralson hadn't chosen adoption.
Not only did her daughter find a family, but Harralson has, too.
Tod and Jill Megredy of Winfield adopted Sara and also made Harralson a part of their family. Sara never will wonder about her roots or why her birth mother gave her up, and Angie never will wonder if her baby is being well-taken care of because she and the Megredys have joined a growing number of families who are opting to have open adoptions.
About 30 such families gathered Sunday at a picnic with adoptive and birth parents in Gage Park to celebrate their unions. Open adoption allows both sets of parents to forge a relationship before the birth of the child and continue that relationship at whatever level they choose throughout the child's life.
"If you build your family on secrecy and fear, you have a shaky foundation, but if you build it with openness and trust, you have a really good start," said Carol Baumann, who handled the open adoptions of the families at the picnic.
The Megredys and Harralson visit one another at least once a month.
"To me, Angie had to make the hardest decision of her life and the hardest decision anyone would have to make, and I can't see she should be punished by never being able to see her child and never knowing that she is OK," Tod Megredy said. "We don't do this for Angie or ourselves; we do it for Sara."
Though she said all women in her situation should have the right to choose whatever decision is right for them -- be it abortion, adoption or raising the child -- Harralson said she has never doubted her choice for a moment.
"I regret not being in a better situation, but I don't regret getting pregnant or giving her up for adoption," Harralson said.
Melanie and Steve Owens of Leavenworth also have forged a family through open adoption, keeping in contact with the birth parents of their two sons, Dane, 6, and Jordan, 2.
Melanie Owens said many people don't understand open adoption and ask her if she ever worries that the birth parents will try to take her sons away. Owens said fear never has entered her mind.
"Because they know where that child is, they are less likely to want to take them away," Melanie Owens said. "There's not a question. They have all the answers. When people take a child back a lot of times, it's because because of the fear of the unknown."
As Melanie Owens and Jordan's birth mother, Linda, of Lawrence, recalled his birth, both broke into tears. Before meeting Linda, a birth mother decided to back out of an adoption with the Owens just before the child was born.
"She (Linda) was lying there on the bed after that hellacious labor with Jacob and she said, 'Come and look at your son,'" a tearful Melanie Owens said as she and Linda embraced. "He was so beautiful. I knew then that she would never change her mind."