on education and openness
It took some time for my approach to openness in adoption to evolve.
At first I had no real idea what it involved, what it was, what it looked like. I worked to overcome my initial fears and insecurities about opening my heart as I learned more about truly child-centered adoption. Then I had to envision and process how openness might work in practice and what it would mean for our family. Today I am still adjusting to the complexity of living in a fully open adoption with our daughter’s family of origin, with all of its joys and struggles.
Self education has been key to my evolving views — e.g., from reading books and blogs at the start, to sharing experiences with other adoptive parents, to insight gained from talking with families extended and blended through adoption, especially birth family members and adult adoptees. Of course now living it is my primary source of learning and evolution. I am constantly opening my eyes and heart to the joys and challenges inherent in parenting a child through adoption, and open adoption in particular.
This evolutionary process is among the most powerful and important journeys I’ve made in my life (the others being our struggle through loss and infertility to parenthood, and the natural evolution of sharing half a lifetime with a partner). And I’m still on it, every day.
Looking back I realize how far I’ve come. It’s hard not to look at people just starting out now and think wow, I wish I could share with you all that I’ve learned. I know everyone on this path has to find their own way, but it helps tremendously to have guidance and support. I was once at the beginning of our journey too, at the start of the learning curve. Back then I wasn’t so sure about the extent of openness we would be willing and able to offer.
Early on, I remember thinking we should honor an expectant mother’s wishes about the level of openness she might want for her child, even if she wanted limited contact. It seemed respecting her wishes about her adoption plan was the “right” thing to do. Plus, like many other prospective adoptive parents, maybe I secretly wondered if I wouldn’t have been slightly relieved to have more limited involvement, which would presumably be easier or less complicated. Yet I recognized that line of thinking stemmed from fear and insecurity, and even a (futile) desire to control (and control is merely an illusion).
The more I read, the more people I spoke with, the more families I met, the clearer it became that in most cases, openness was best for the child. I knew openness wasn’t possible with every family. But if we wanted a truly ethical child-centered adoption, then agreeing to a closed adoption wasn’t really an option. We found an ethical professional to help navigate the system and ensure support to any expectant parents we encountered (including exploring parenting as an option). Her focus was educating prospective families and expectant parents about a child-centric approach, about grief in adoption, the significance of openness and the inherent value of birth family remaining a significant part of the child’s life. If we met a woman — or couple — who didn’t want the same level of openness, then we could hope they might expand their view or agree that it would probably not be the best “match” for us.
I think some mothers (and fathers) fail to appreciate the significant role they have in their child’s life after placement — or sadly, maybe they’re just not afforded the respect and opportunity to fulfill it. Education is critical here, too. Expectant parents considering placement need to know beforehand about the lifelong impact. They shouldn’t be sold the fallacy that they will just “get over it,” presumably after they quietly disappear or assume some marginalized role. Adoption professionals should ensure that expectant parents understand how vital their involvement is. Openness should not be used to lure parents into placement, but rather should be prioritized and practiced in the child’s best interest. This requires real education on all ends of the adoption spectrum — reading about the complexities, talking with families living it, and support for people doing it.
When we met the woman who became our daughter’s birth mama, she knew she wanted to remain part of her child’s life. She did not know to what extent that would be possible or likely, and of course she didn’t know what it could look like, or how she would feel after placement. The first professional she consulted, a lawyer, downplayed the significance of openness. When we shared our philosophy — that our future child had a fundamental right to those connections and we had no right or reason to restrict that love, and that we were committed to building a strong relationship — she seemed a bit surprised and at ease. We made it clear that we would welcome ongoing involvement, that it would provide something essential to our child’s well being. While she hadn’t necessarily considered being treated as family, certainly that was our vision. To be clear, this was so much easier once we met, i.e., when we could envision extending our family to this outstanding young woman and those who loved this baby. Thankfully, she needed little encouragement. Reaffirming our open invitation has been an ongoing work in progress.
I should point out that it hasn’t been as simple or clear on the other side, trying to maintain openness — at least in spirit — with our daughter’s biological father. We struggled from the start to open the door and establish a foundation of trust. We did finally meet him two times, though we have not spoken with him in over a year or seen him in three years — since before Jaye was even walking. While we do maintain a connection to his mother, our daughter’s other birth grandmother, there is no consistent presence as we’ve had with her maternal family.
Still, adoption is hardly a static thing. Our relationships are dynamic, ever changing and evolving. And as our curious intelligent daughter is growing up, her questions are only beginning. So I continue to educate myself about adoption, how it can impact all participants, and how openness can shift over time. I continue to seek out information to help me become a more understanding and empathetic parent to our daughter. I read blogs and books, I talk with first parents and adoptive parents. I listen to adult adoptees who share their stories, even when they are hard to hear. Because some day that information, those perspectives, may help me support my daughter as she begins to integrate her own story. They already do. These voices help guide as we navigate through complex relationships and issues. They encourage me to take that extra step beyond my comfort zone, to try to make our daughter’s path easier. Each of these things are so supremely important that I’m grateful for the chance to do them.