Here is the story.
Here they are, playing together in the basement of Grant and Susan Grebner's Washburn home.
Meet Collin, a precocious, inquisitive, 4-year-old, rock-collecting NASCAR fan.
There's Jac, short for Joseph Aristotle Carter. He celebrated his first birthday on Aug. 10.
Of course, there are the Grebners, Collin's parents. And there's Amanda Holland, Jac's mother and Collin's mother, also.
The Grebners are Collin's mother and father. Amanda Holland is his mother, too.
With Susan Grebner's prompting, Collin explains.
"She's my birth mother," he says, looking at Holland. "A birth mother means somebody who loves you very much and you got born in her stomach."
The Grebners are his adoptive parents.
Holland lives nearby, in Oglesby. The Grebner family sees her and her family regularly. They met several times before Collin was born; they even discussed names for him. The Grebners took Collin to Jac's birthday party. In a pinch, Holland's mother will baby-sit Collin for the Grebners. Merely by playing together, along with Holland's son, they illustrate a radical shift in the way infant adoptions happen in the country.
'A history of secrecy'
There was a time when Holland was not supposed to know the Grebners, and Collin was not supposed to know his birth mother. In fact, his birth certificate would not have mentioned Holland's name.
"Adoption agencies felt everyone would be better off if we pretended the birth mother didn't exist," says Jeanne Howard, co-director of the Center for Adoption Studies at Illinois State University.
"Looking back, it's very peculiar, but we went along with a history of secrecy, a secrecy based on shame."
Though precise figures are hard to come by, the era of closed adoptions, as they are known, is all but over in adoption placement agencies. Open adoptions are far more prevalent than closed, Howard says. All of the major national adoption agencies, except the National Council for Adoption, endorse some level of contact between birth parents, adoptive parents and the child.
The trend toward open adoptions is spreading to international adoptions and adoptions of children in foster care. But it began in the 1970s with domestic infant adoptions, among the least common of all agency adoptions. In one sense, Howard suggests market forces were at work, particularly the market for healthy white infants.
As the stigma of unwed pregnancy declined, more women opted to keep their children. Meanwhile, children who had gone through traditional closed adoptions, along with birth parents of those children, were searching for one another, giving rise to an emotional movement to unseal adoption records. And private adoptions, arranged by attorneys, were flourishing. Such adoptions allowed more leeway for birth mothers and prospective adoptive parents to negotiate the terms of the adoption.
"Part of it is, women who surrender their children now have more say-so, quite frankly, given supply and demand issues," Howard says.
But the growth of the search movement forced all parties to look beyond market forces to what was best for the child.
"What we're seeing now is a movement toward understanding how those connections can be good for kids."
Degrees - and definitions - of open adoptions vary, one of the reasons it's difficult to track not only just how common but also how open most open adoptions are.
'An ongoing relationship'
"Open adoption means communication and an ongoing relationship between birth and adoptive families," says Mary Kay Collins, adoption supervisor for Catholic Charities, who was also the caseworker for the Grebners' adoption. "The relationship is largely defined by the families themselves."
Relationships may range from both sets of parents exchanging photos and gifts several times a year to, as in Susan Grebner's case, a road trip with Collin, his adoptive grandmother and his birth grandmother to visit Holland while she was living in North Carolina.
Grebner admits she was skeptical and a bit fearful when she learned Catholic Charities requires open adoptions for domestic infant adoptions. She and her husband didn't know what it meant; she envisioned scary scenarios and controversial custody battles. They would have to submit an adoption profile, something like an audition scrapbook and video of themselves as a couple and prospective parents.
But as she and Grant went through adoption counseling, learning more about open adoption and sorting out their feelings about parenting, Susan came to realize, "She's giving us her baby; can't we give her our address?"
Grant says meeting Holland and her family and learning the values they shared made him see her as a person, not just an anonymous birth mother. "I felt comfortable Collin would be in a good place no matter what she decided."
Holland's initial reaction was different.
"I thought this was great," she recalls. "It offered me some kind of control. I could pick the people I wanted and meet them." Still, she worried about the potential for awkward situations. Her mother didn't tell her at the time that she doubted Holland would ever get to see the baby once the adoption was finalized.
Though some states do, Illinois does not have laws to enforce open adoption arrangements. Legally, adoptive parents could cut off contact at any time.
"It's more of an ethical decision families make, a moral decision," says Collins, the adoption supervisor at Catholic Charities.
The Grebners say the relationship is working out in all the ways they had hoped. "And then some," Holland adds.
When the Grebners decided to adopt a second child, Holland wrote a letter for their adoption profile.
"Dear Birthmother," she wrote, "I know if you are reading this you are in a hard position right now. I was once there myself and do not envy anyone who has to go through it."
She went on to say how the Grebners did not pressure her, how they respected her and her family's feelings.
Little Sophia Grace, born in June, is in the basement also, fast asleep while Collin and Jac play. Coincidentally, her birth mother's first name is Amanda, also.
"Now," Susan Grebner says, "I think I would've been disappointed if Sophia's mother hadn't wanted an open adoption."