Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Being Open to Open Adoption

If you are arriving at this post through a Google search and have never read my blog before, please go back and read this post first. Thank you.

A few months ago I read a post in an online forum which was titled "Why I'll never have an open adoption." The post said, in effect, "Why should I share my child with another woman? I'm the one who is caring for him every day. I'm the one who has to get up with him in the middle of the night, discipline him and pay for his college. Why should she get to have all of the fun parts of motherhood while I do all of the work?"

I didn't respond to the post at the time, but in my head I've been responding to it ever since. When I read it, it was June. We were in the beginning stages of open adoption with M & T and I was still wrestling with my own attitude toward open adoption. I can demonstrate this by linking back to a couple of my first posts in March: here I refer to being excited to meet M & T because "we'll get a better sense of whether or not they seem committed to letting us adopt Clio, and we'll be better able to predict what she'll look like eventually." Wow, I was looking at that match meeting selfishly. And the next post, in which I demonstrated that I still had a very superficial friendship with open adoption. Finally, my description of our match meeting, which is fairly superficial as well. These posts paint a picture of the war between my heart and my head at that time. My head was full of knowledge from the reading that I'd done, which had convinced me that open adoption is in the best interest of all members of the adoption triad. My heart was apprehensive at the thought of sharing my baby with anyone; infertility had made me greedy for a child. I was afraid of M & T because the mythology of open adoption said that they were unstable people whom I needed to tiptoe around and flatter, because our fate was in their hands. Later, I found out that M & T had been just as apprehensive about meeting J and I; they were afraid we would reject them, either because we wouldn't like them or because we would decide we didn't want a biracial baby after all. M later told me how relieved she was to walk into the room and meet us for the first time to find that we were both smiling at her. The match meeting with M & T and our first lunch together felt like first dates; it is stressful to begin and nurture such an important relationship.

Our SW has said to us a few times that she believes birth families usually choose an adoptive family that is just like them, but a bit older and with a more stable life. In December 2007 we contacted her for a 6-month check-in (initiated by us). We fished for information about how often our profile had been shown (her policy is not to contact families until there is a potential match) and whether birth families had said anything about our letter or profile that we could improve. She reassured us that our letter and profile were wonderful and repeated "the right birth parents haven't found you yet; the birth parents I've had are choosing adoptive families who are like them in some important way..." At the time, I thought it was just a platitude, a line she delivered to keep us patient in our wait.

However, when J and I have been matched, with both M & T and with R & G, her words have made complete sense. Although our initial contacts with M & T were awkward, we quickly developed a friendship with them (with M much more quickly than with T, as he was more reluctant to be open with us) and the better we knew them the more clearly we saw how they would fit into our lives and how we would fit into theirs; M's daughter asked to be our babysitter for Lucy and I readily agreed, simply asking her to take an infant CPR class (doesn't everyone ask that of a babysitter, or am I super paranoid?) and our time with them in the hospital during Lucy's birth was fun and friendly. Our openness with them made their final decision more difficult to accept, because it felt like a personal betrayal, but our experience getting to know them obviously changed my attitude toward open adoption; it is clear when I look back at the difference between the my early blog posts and the posts I wrote in the early days of our match with R & G.

Yes, I was obsessed with comparing them to M & T and looking for signs that they would break our hearts again, but I was also eager to get to know them as individuals and show them that I cared about them, not just Evie. I am so relieved and happy that R came to Evie's baptism and that she has been visiting the private website we set up for them with pictures, etc. (it's similar to this one but private and with a higher picture to text ratio, hahahahaha!) Getting to know G has been wonderful and we hope for the same type of relationship with R. As we've gotten to know them both, we've seen parts of ourselves in them and parts of them in us, and our SW's words seem to me both wise and beautiful. We've created a new family with R & G and I'm flattered that we have things in common with them, just as all families do.

If I were to come across that forum post today, here's what I would respond to the original poster (unless I was PMSing and then I might just chew her out):

Assuming your child's birth parents are interested in open adoption, please consider being open to open adoption, as long as it is in the best interest of your child (as my SW puts it, open adoption doesn't work if birth parents are a danger to themselves or others). No two open adoptions are exactly alike, just as no two friendships are exactly alike. An open adoption is a relationship you build with one or both birth parents of your child. As with any relationship, the beginning might be awkward, but think of it this way: aren't many new friendships based on something you have in common? Yes, so what could be a more wonderful thing to have in common than love for a child? Is your family closed to new additions? Of course not; just as you would welcome a new niece or nephew, a new sister-in-law or brother-in-law, a new aunt or uncle, there is room in a family to welcome birth parents. Are you willing to share photos of your child with your friends? Of course, so think of how much more fun it is to share those photos with people who will think your baby is as cute as you do! Do you send out a Christmas letter to your friends and family during the holidays? Sure, so why not print one more copy and send it to you child's birth parents? They might be the only people who actually read it! Do you invite everyone you know to your house for a Christmas party, or to watch the Super Bowl, or for a BBQ on the 4th of July? You're already cleaning the house and putting a cute outfit on the baby, so why not invite the child's birth parents as well? You'll be pleasantly surprised at how gracious your friends and family will be; it will make you proud to know them (I speak from experience).

You could look at this from another perspective: you're the one who gets to hug and kiss your child every day, the one who watches him grow and learn each day, the one who gets to take credit for all of the cute and smart things he does, the one who hears "I love you, Mommy" and whose arms comfort him when he is scared, sick and tired. Yet his birth mother is the woman who loved him so much that she decided against abortion; she is the woman who suffered the aches and pains of pregnancy and the agony of labor and delivery; she loved him enough to make an adoption plan for him and do the agonizing work of following through with the plan after his birth. When she read your profile, she saw something in your family that you can provide and she cannot. Despite the fact that her choice of your family springs out of a feeling of inadequacy or inferiority about her own situation, she has bravely opened herself up to a relationship with you. She sees something in your family that she desires in her own; you represent her hope for her own future, in some important way. Looked at from this perspective, why does she suffer so much for this child and yet not get to experience any of the fun stuff? Because she loves him.

Caveats and Addendums:
  • Open adoption is not for everyone. If your child's birth parents are not capable of a healthy relationship with him or her, it is not in anyone's best interest to pursue open adoption at that point.
  • Sometimes birth parents are opposed to open adoption; regardless of their reason, adoptive parents must respect that decision.
  • Speaking from experience, let go of your fear that your child's birth parents will come to reclaim her if they know your address or if you invite them over to visit for her first birthday party. States have varying laws about when and how birth parents can contest an adoption, but in a domestic infant adoption it is rare to have this problem, unless the birth father was unidentified at the time of the adoption and is identified later.
  • My definition of open adoption: birth parents and adoptive parents share personal, identifying information (names, addresses, phone numbers, e-mail addresses) and build a mutually-agreed-upon relationship.
  • My definition of closed adoption: only first names and other non-identifying information is shared; birth parents and adoptive parents probably never meet and the adopted child has the option to search for his birth parents when he is 18.
  • My definition of semi-open adoption: the adoptive parents obtain identifying information from the birth parents in order to send them photos, letters, videos, etc. The adoptive parents do not share identifying information with the birth parents. The birth parents and adoptive parents may meet before the birth and at the birth, but rarely or never after the birth.

I would never presume to recommend open adoption to everyone, because every adoption is different, but I am very glad I was open to open adoption.

Readers, this topic is so big that I'm sure I've left important things out, despite my verbosity. Feel free to comment and add your own thoughts about this important adoption topic!

1 comment:

  1. I'm posting on open adoption this week. We have three children in open adoptions (two from Haiti!). We also have been trained in how the spirit of open adoption works when there has been abuse or neglect.

    Just as you've so beautifully implied: open adoption is a mindset, not a cookie cutter formula. Sometimes there can be openness with birth parents, sometimes with extended birth family (or, perhaps, former teachers, friends or neighbors), or maybe just with pictures, information and documented stories. It's all about giving your child everything they might need to navigate through life as an adoptee.

    And sometimes you find yourself blessed with more family, in the meantime!


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