Thoughts on Open Adoption

by Camille on November 30, 2011

A few weeks ago, I participated in the Open Adoption Interview Project in which I was paired with Debbie, a birthmother. You can find my responses to her interview questions HERE at her blog,  Marginally a Mother. Reading her blog provided an interesting viewpoint on numerous adoption-related issues, and I hope to use some of her ideas as writing prompts for some thoughts of my own. And while I tried to fully answer all her questions in the interview, I want to elaborate on a few issues here.

So today….some thoughts on open adoption. (And please know that in writing this, I respectfully acknowledge that there are some people in closed arrangements that are perfectly happy and well-adjusted. I’m not judging the circumstances of your adoption experience, but I do want to share why I’ve come to believe that in most cases, openness is the right choice.)

Debbie asked, ” What led you to believe open adoption was the correct answer for your family? What have you struggled with the most? What has been the most joyous aspect of the openness?”

When I tell people about the extensive degree of openness we currently have with Ellie’s birth family, I get looks ranging from polite incredulity to undisguised horror. Most folks outside of the adoption world (and perhaps too many inside) don’t get it. They assure me that I’m her mom now, (Really? I had no idea!) and ask if I’m sure if that’s what best for her.

Well, here’s a newsflash!!! I’m not sure of anything, but I’m fairly decent at research, and studies point to (ding, ding, ding!) open adoption, when possible, as the best option for all parties involved. Apparently, it reduces stress, improves self-esteem, and increases post-placement satisfaction for all involved. Is it easy? Heck no! But “easy” is almost never the right path to take.

Early thoughts on openness

As I said in my interview response, I was fairly (ok, maybe a lot) hesitant about open adoption at first. I was working hard to become a mother, and I’d already experienced painful loss. The idea of “sharing” my child with anyone was uncomfortable. Impractical. Complicated. But I almost felt like I didn’t have a choice…like the agency was pushing open adoption and that if we requested closed, we may never be selected.

Thank God for the agency and their commitment to education. They made me read books like this:

And this:

 

These books, along with blogs and other resources, helped me better understand the thoughts and emotions on all sides of adoption; I accepted that my insecure feelings were secondary to what was best for my child (sucked it up!), and I developed a fondness for the idea of the triad (cue Superman theme song…)–the birthmother, adoptive mom, and adoptee–existing together in a perfect triangle of mutual respect, appreciation, and harmony….a bit ambitious, I know.

In the perfect adoption scenario in my mind, we would meet the birthmother and spend numerous visits sharing coffee and pie (always…there was pie), as we came to know one another. We would decide on visits, picture updates, etc. and enter into our adoption relationship as trusted friends.

Ummm….yeah. That didn’t happen. We met C. for the first time at an Applebees on Wednesday, and the social worker called us on the way home to say she officially wanted us. She went into labor that Saturday.

In the beginning….it’s scary. Most new things are scary. 

While we expressed our desire for an open relationship that night at Applebees, we obviously didn’t have time to work out the details…or build that whole trust thing. Thus, in all honesty, we were rather a wreck during the revocation period. The social worker e-mailed to say C. was having a tough time, so we sent pictures and letters with what we hoped were reassuring words. At that point, I still believed an open relationship was best, but I was also completely terrified that C. would change her mind.

Yet, once the revocation period passed, so did my fears. We met C., along with her mother and sister, in a park in March for our first visit, and I found it easy to share with people who obviously loved Ellie too. What new mom doesn’t like to brag? And most birth moms are an extremely gracious audience.

Shape-shifting: Defining our current open-adoption  

As for our open adoption relationship now? Yeah, well…human relationships don’t always follow the path of the equilateral triangle. At the moment, ours is more a twisted, pentagonal, swirl?

As I’ve shared previously, soon after our first visit, C. left our lives for the current time. However, her mother and sister (L & L) became even more determined to maintain a relationship, and we welcomed them. After a few visits, we decided to exchange personal information and cut out the adoption agency when contacting one another.

We e-mail every other week or so, and we meet for visits every month. I share links to my Facebook albums of Ellie pictures, and they send links to pictures of kids and cousins in cheerleading competitions and prom dresses. We talk about schools, jobs, doctors, etc. Aunt L. came to our house for a reception after Ellie’s baptism, and they provided their addresses for Christmas cards.

The Ls are strong, kind, and beautiful people, and together, we are a paradigm for openness. I’m so grateful for their support, but honestly, I feel guilty at times that the relationship is with them and not C. I know Ellie will have questions one day about why her birth mother isn’t in early pictures. Where was she? What happened? There will be some difficult explanations. An emotionally-charged reunion? Future hurts? Likely.

But I’m convinced the degree of our openness with her family and our attempted openness with C.  is still the best choice in providing a solid foundation on which Ellie can face any future difficulties.

Adoption is everywhere! 

Since we’ve adopted Ellie, I’ve met so many people who have adoption stories of their own. An adoptee working at the hair salon. Another adoptee at the bookstore. Adoptive parents in various stages of the journey at play groups, Kindermusik, and among Facebook friends. I know these people have always been there, but lately, it seems as if fate presents a waving, golden flag to us both saying, “Hey! Talk about adoption!”  I’m not sure why. Maybe now that I’m part of the adoption community, adoption “talk” just weaves its way into my everyday conversation more naturally and paves the way for sharing. It’s strange to find myself at a checkout counter engrossed in the personal story of a complete stranger, but I cherish each one of these experiences.

And most of these experience have provided reassurance that we’re doing what is best for Ellie by working to maintain an open relationship with her birth family.

Folks I’ve met over the past 10 months: 

– A middle-aged adoptee who loved her adoptive parents, but desired to know her birth mother. After a lengthy process of legal forms and filings, she found her and rejoices in their new relationship.

– A middle-aged adoptee who was contacted by a previously unknown sibling. The adoptee was at a vulnerable time in her life, and she was thrust into a relationship with a birth family that turned out to be hurtful and manipulative. At that point, her birth parents had passed away and thus were unable to provide emotional support.

– A young, married adoptee who is too afraid to have her own children because she knows nothing about her birth family and her own medical history.

– An adoptive mom who responded with fear, hurt, and confusion when her teenaged daughter expressed a desire to find her birth family.

– Numerous potential adoptive parents actively seeking closed adoption….most likely due to the same fears I had at the beginning.

Concerned United Birthparents, Inc. writes on their site,

“By denying adoptees knowledge of their origins, our society treats adults as eternal children. Like all citizens, adoptees have the right to know their histories.”

In a pamphlet, they further argue that adoptees have right to identify and meet their birth parents if there is a need.

We not only know Ellie’s origins; we maintain as much contact as possible. Because of that, Ellie will come to know her birth family, for better or worse, with the support and guidance of Charlie and me by her side. She will know a significant portion of her medical and genetic history. They’ll be no searching, no surprise visits from unknown relatives, no endless wondering “why?” Certainly, considering our current situation with C., there will be questions, but Ellie will have people in her birth family to answer those questions and offer additional support.

Of course I have concerns…

All that said, I’d be lying to pretend I don’t have concerns at times. Is open adoption the answer for every situation? No. A friend is adopting two little girls from Honduras; their parents are dead. Children adopted from foster care often have violent, abusive adults in their past, and obviously, they don’t need connections to that trauma. In our own situation, I know that things with C. are likely going to be complicated and uncomfortable at times. But can you think of the family where things aren’t complicated sometimes?

There are a dozen scenarios, but if you are considering adoption, I encourage you to consider as much openness as possible. Read books. Read blogs. Talk to adoptive moms, adoptees, birth moms, counselors, etc. Make an informed decision.

As a child can never have too much love, you might be surprised to find how easy it becomes to expand your definition of family.

 

 

 

 

Lori Lavender Luz December 5, 2011 at 1:08 pm

Terrific post! Thanks for the link to the research.

I like what you write from adult adoptees and from CUB because it shows that it’s completely normal (even expected?) for a person to wonder about his/ her origins, and doing so doesn’t diminish anyone else (read: adoptive parents).

I also like how you state what’s going on with C, by qualifying it “for the current time.” One of our children has a birth parent who made a similar decision. I call it an “open door” adoption.

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