CRAIG AND LISA Smith of Cochecton took their son Chase to Texas to meet his biological mother, Heidi Gilstrap. Pictured, front row, from the left: Heidi’s daughter Kiyah, Lisa Smith, Chase Smith, Heidi’s mother, Christy Blackwell and Heidi’s son, Bryce. Standing, from left: Craig Smith, Heidi Gilstrap and her father Mike Blackwell. Missing from the photo are Heidi’s husband Dave and stepson Noah Gilstrap.
Couple opts for 'open' adoption
By Jeanne Sager
Editor’s note: In honor of National Adoption Day, November 15, we run this story of a local couple’s adoption experience.
COCHECTON Chase Smith is a normal kid in every way.
He plays football and video games.
He goes to school on weekdays and calls his parents Mom and Dad.
Because Lisa and Craig Smith are Chase’s parents. They have been from the moment they got the call from a pregnant teenager in Texas.
She was having a baby, and she’d picked them out of a book of adoptive parents at the Gladney Center for Adoption in Fort Worth, Texas.
It was one of the happiest days of Lisa’s life, she said, and one of the most nerve-wracking.
“You’re happy and you’re nervous all at the same time,” she said with a laugh.
It began a process that would last for nearly a year. First the Cochecton couple had to fly to Texas to meet with their soon-to-be-born son’s mother.
Five months pregnant, Heidi Gilstrap (then Heidi Blackwell) wanted to interview the people who would become Mom and Dad to her baby.
The Smiths were willing to let Heidi lead the way, and the result has been an “open adoption,” a relationship over the past 10 years that has included frequent cards, letters, e-mails and even videos passed back and forth between the two families.
Chase is a Smith. There’s no question.
Lisa and Craig were in Texas for his birth. They brought him home to New York seven days later.
When he was 6 months old, they returned to Texas to formalize his adoption papers.
This year, they returned to Texas. This time, the Smiths boarded the plane as a family of three.
They were taking Chase to meet his birth mother.
Heidi is now married. Her husband Dave had a son, and together they have two more.
But Chase is still a part of her.
That’s the way it should be, Lisa says.
“Because it’s been open from day one, that’s just always been the way it is for Chase,” she said. “He’s known always. We’ve always kept pictures up of her.”
When he was a baby, the Smiths gave Chase a cloth book with pictures of his birth mother.
As he got older, he sent and received cards and pictures. Lisa jokes that she doesn’t have to worry something will be missed on his Christmas wish list Heidi and her parents, Mike and Christy Blackwell, always send gifts too.
When he was 4, Chase asked if he could meet Heidi.
Craig and Lisa talked about it. Then they talked to Heidi.
They agreed that when he was 10, they’d make it happen.
Chase held them to it.
“When he was 9, he said, ‘I’m going to be 10 years old next year,’” Lisa said. She knew what he meant.
The trip was emotional for both sides, but Lisa said it was worry-free.
“It was extremely comfortable,” she said. “I think because of all the e-mails and calls and letters.
“If we didn’t have e-mail I don’t know that it would be the same you can talk to each other in the blink of an eye.”
It’s helped on a practical level too Lisa can pick up the phone and ask Heidi, “hey, does anyone in your family have an allergy to this?”
The medical information has been invaluable.
So has the comfort level for Lisa and Craig.
“I didn’t want secrets and anything to be forbidden,” Lisa said.
If Chase wants to know something, they tell him. And when he went to Texas to meet his “Texas grandparents” and his “Texas brothers and sisters,” he fit right in.
He doesn’t feel out of place at home either. The Smiths are as open about their choice to adopt with family, friends and neighbors as they are with Heidi’s families.
“Until you start talking to people, you don’t realize how many people are adopted,” Lisa noted. “People are afraid to talk about it.
“But if people are unable to conceive, they should know there are success stories with all different options,” she continued. “With Heidi and myself, we both agreed it was both heredity and environment that helps to raise Chase. It worked for us. It might not work for other families.
“You have to do what feels right in your heart,” Lisa concluded. “There’s no wrong or right way. But there are so many different ways to create a family.”
That’s what the Smiths are. They’re a family to Chase, with a Texas extension.
And one day, the fifth grader at Sullivan West will invite his Texas family to come to New York to meet his everyday family.