Saturday, August 30, 2008

Open Adoption Revisited

In the past couple of days I've assembled all of the supplies and baby gear we will need to take care of Clio in the hotel for a week, since R will be "full-term" at 37 weeks as of Monday. I've piled all of this stuff on a bench in our great room, ready to throw into the car when needed. This pile includes a car seat, moses basket, bag of diapers and wipes (disposable for the hotel), bag of baby clothes, blankets, towels, etc., video camera and breastfeeding supplies.

It has been hard for J and me to feel that this adoption is real, but this pile of stuff is helping it sink in.

One of the reasons that Clio doesn't feel as real as Lucy did is due to the fact that we haven't yet met R or G. We were supposed to meet G back on August 6th, but he didn't show. We later found out that he'd had a medical emergency a couple of days prior and the drama of that experience had erased our appointment from his mind. We completely understand. We have a tentative appointment to meet him this coming Tuesday, September 2nd, but for various reasons that might not happen either. Of course I will post about it if it does occur.

There is a chance we may never meet R, ever. This makes me very sad, because my open adoption ideal, going into this process last year, was to have an ongoing relationship with the birth parents. In open adoption, the "match meeting" is key to beginning this relationship. I understand that R wants to protect herself from the pain of knowing us and seeing us raise her birth daughter, but I hope that some day she realizes that opening herself up to knowing us on a more personal level than our profile will be beneficial for Clio.

Based on the reading we've done to prepare for adoptive parenting, we know that some adopted children feel the following about their adoption: confusion as little children, angst as older children and anger as teens/young adults. This is reality and we cannot stop Clio from experiencing some confusion, angst and anger as she comes to term with the choices that R, G, J and I made about her future before she was old enough to have any say in the matter. However, qualitative and quantitative research suggests that adopted children who know more about their birth parents experience less trauma while going through these emotional phases. Clio may be more psychologically healthy if she knows for sure that R and G love her, and that they didn't make adoption plans because she is defective in some way. The more contact she has with them growing up, the more sure she can be of these things.

With M & T, I felt as though we were building a healthy relationship. We took photos of the four of us together, grinning happily over M's belly. What a treasure that would have been for Lucy some day, to see all four of her parents in one photo, united in love for her! Going to M's doctor's appointments, I got to know her as a good friend. Having her at my church baby shower was fun (yes, a bit awkward) and furthered my image of what our relationship could be after Lucy's birth. I pictured M & T coming to Lucy's baptism, attending her first birthday party, perhaps even joining our church! M's 13-year-old daughter asked if she could babysit Lucy and I told her yes, as long as she got CPR training. I had a cozy image of M & T as aunt and uncle figures in Lucy's life. I pictured Lucy growing up never doubting that all four of her parents loved her.

I pictured wrong. In the end, the friendship we fostered with M & T became one more painful aspect of losing Lucy. Their decision felt personal, because we know that they fully understood how much we love that little girl and they knew how much they were hurting us. On the other hand, we also know that they will lavish love on Teresa. We empathize with how much it pained them to leave her in the hospital that Saturday morning; we understand that they had bonded with Lucy and couldn't let her go. Understanding and empathy doesn't erase our pain, but it has helped us to forgive them for hurting us.

This time is so different. No match meeting, no doctor's visits, no ultrasound pictures. R, G and Clio are still wholly intangible to us; they only exist on paper and in theory.

Many people have commented to me that they think this experience is better because it doesn't require an emotional investment from us. I'm not sure what I think. On the one hand, perhaps this lack of contact is what J and I need right now, since this is happening so soon after losing Lucy. On the other hand, if this adoption goes through, I will regret not having had the opportunity to build a relationship with R & G before Clio's birth. After her birth, it becomes too easy for us to go our separate ways, exchange letters and pictures for awhile, and then lose contact. This is a familiar pattern in open adoptions, and it is prevented most effectively by the birth parents and adoptive parents establishing a relationship before the baby arrives.

If R & G maintain their distance after the adoption, Clio will have lost an opportunity to know the people whose genes and love for each other combined to create a unique and beautiful human being. For her sake, primarily, I hope that R & G realize how important they are and end up being open to open adoption. It may be hard for them to be open, because witnessing her growing up will remind them of the painful choice they made. Openness may be hard for J and I too, to have Clio tell us someday that she likes R & G better and wishes they had kept her (actually, this will happen whether or not R & G are in her life, and it will happen around age 16 when we tell her she can't drive to ...insert place name here...with her friends for the weekend).
Don't get me wrong; openness can be very rewarding for birth parents and adoptive parents. Our relationship with M & T was on track to be a strong friendship. However, the bond we form with R & G, if any, will never be about the four of us. It will be about Clio.

Adoption can be described (loosely) with the metaphor of a coin: heads is the joy of the adoptive parents, tails is the grief of the birth parents; what connects them is the love both sides feel for the child they hold in common, and that bond is valuable.


  1. I can't remember how I found your blog but I've been reading for a few weeks. I have had friends that suffered from infertility and thats how I started reading some blogs(theirs and then others).

    I was adopted at birth(well 4 months almost) and it was back in 1976 and there weren't really open adoptions. And I have never met my biological parents. And I am okay with that. Better than okay actually...because I was raised by my parents and I am "just" like their biological children...they are my parents and my brothers are my brothers. I don't know any different. And I can't imagine it.

    I just had to comment in regard to your statement that adopted children feel fear, angst and anger. That is not always the case. It certainly isn't in mine. I am confident and secure and feel extremely blessed at the gift myself and my family were given. I hold no resentment and feel no confusion about my birth or adoption. I am secure in the knowledge that I was wanted and loved. It was a great act of love for my biological mother to give me to my parents, and my parents raised me with unconditional love.

    I know it isn't always like that. I've heard many horror stories. But I have also heard horror stories about open adoption(not to scare you!! Just to explain that no one option is right for everyone), and I think its how your baby is raised and what they are told that will speak for who they will become. I have ALWAYS known I was adopted. My mother said the hardest thing she's eve had to do was tell me I was adopted. And she did that the day they brought me home. I have always known I was adopted and I have never EVER felt confusion. Honesty and love and support are the keys to that. I was always welcome to ask questions(luckly we had a social worker that was vey open-as open as she could be-and my parents were able to tell me some details), speak about it, and it was never a secret or taboo. I proudly tell people that I am adopted(use to very often when my "geeky" brother would embarass me;) ) and am open to discussing my feelings.

    I guess I just want you to know what even if your child never meets thier biological parents, and you don't isn't a "bad" thing. They can still grow up feeling safe and secure and confident. The birth parents have a very important job, I am not trying to minimize it...they give the child and parents an amazing, selfless gift. But I firmly believe that it doesn't take genetics to make a parent...and a child raised with the important things (love, security, honesty, confidence) will come into their own just fine. So please don't underestimate the job you will do...your baby needs her birth parents to come into this world, but they will need you to learn who they will become in this world. Not that having more people to love and support them is a bad thing!! You can never have too much love. But her birth parents will still love her...even if its from afar. I know somewhere out there my birth mother is loving me...and I think of her every birthday(and many times throughout the year) and say a silent thank you for the gift she gave to me. My parents.

  2. I'm not sure how I stumbled on to your blog but I'm glad I did. We are currently in the middle of - what feels like- a failed placement. We were really involved with the expectant parents for 4 months. We had a great relationship with them and they came over for dinner, we spoke and texted everyday, etc. We were there at the birth, gave the first bath, the first diaper. We came back at their request the next day to spend time with the baby and meet their parents. It was such an amazing 2 days. We were waiting to hear when to pick the baby up and our caseworker called to say that the birthparents wanted to take the baby home for a week to think before signing papers for the adoption. So we're currently smack middle of that time- we are to hear what our future holds on Tuesday. We think that they will keep the baby. Right now we are so hurt and confused and we can't imagine ever building a relationship with the birthparents again. Your blog has given us such revived home that we can move on. We can get matched again and we can love another child like we do this little guy. Thanks for documenting your journey so honestly. I'm excited for you and your husband these next couple of weeks!!!

  3. Hi Alex! You're absolutely right; that fifth paragraph was too strongly worded and I went back and threw a few modifiers at it to account for the fact that not all adopted kids feel the same way. Sorry about that.

    J and I have read so many books about adoption that are alarmist in their description of how it can traumatize children, but all of the adopted people we know personally are more like you: healthy, happy and secure.

    Since I recently read a vaccine book, I guess I'm thinking of this in terms of vaccination. If you will, those horror stories we've read about adopted kids who commit suicide or run away from home are like the stories of an unvaccinated child dying from the measles (miniscule chance of either), but because parents are naturally protective of our children, we try to prevent something that probably wouldn't even be an issue. However, like the MMR has side effects, open adoption has side effects of its own, and like you said, has horror stories of its own. It's hard to know what to do, but all of the adoption books written in the past 10 years extol the virtues of OA and bemoan the inhumanity of the old system in which you were adopted, and I guess J and I are a bit brainwashed by that.

    I think it's great that you've always known you were adopted, and that shows that back in 1976 things were already changing for the better. Thanks so much for commenting!!

  4. Ashley, I am so sorry. I'm going to go comment on your blog to make sure you see it. *Hugs*

  5. I know how hard these next few weeks will be for you and J, but hang in there.

    And while it's been said already, Chris T was adopted as you know. He has never had contact with his birth parents but feels very well-adjusted and loved. Another friend of mine from years ago named Holly was also adopted, and like Chris, is a well-adjusted and happy woman.

    Open adoption may be right for you and J. It seems like it's not right for R and G. I think Clio will understand and feel loved regardless.


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