extension and expansion, part one
There may be no real definition of extended family, but you know it when you feel it.
We have only known K since mid-December. Yet the magnitude of the journey we are embarking on together is enormous. In the beginning, it felt a little like what speed dating must be like — soon we’d have to figure out whether there was a real connection or if we all would be moving on to find our “right” match. Once it felt right with K, we were lucky to have time to get to know each other better before any final decision would be made. (Of course that time would work against us too, if we were to spend it worrying about all the things that could go wrong…)
Building a relationship with K has been key to our views and feelings about this entire process. I’ve said this before but it’s true: The time we’ve spent together in the past 10 weeks has enabled us to create a foundation — to cultivate a trust and comfort with each other that is so critical as we inch closer to the birth of K’s baby. While there are still three months to go until her due date, already we have come to regard K as extended family. Like all family, we don’t expect our relationship to always be perfect or easy. Yet we intend to be honest with each other, and we truly want the best for her.
Before we met K, open adoption was still somewhat of an abstraction to us. I had begun to read a lot about it (in books, articles and blogs), we had seen the beauty and love in families extended through open adoption, and we continued to educate ourselves. Open adoption made a lot of sense to us for many reasons, and we decided it was something we wanted for our child. Still, until we met K and spent some time together, we weren’t really sure how it would work for us. It was a mere concept yet to be applied in practice.
Now, after getting to know K and her amazingly supportive mom and brother, we can see how our family could so naturally be extended in an open adoption. This baby will be born to an outstanding young woman, with a fantastically loving grandmother and sweet uncle. If we should become this baby’s parents, it would feel only natural to want these people in our child’s life for the love and connection that only they can provide. We will be able to give our child so much, but that heritage is the one thing we can not provide; we can only work to ensure that it is accessible. Of course we hope that the rest of the baby’s family comes around too, in time…
For us, it is about abundance. We feel no need to restrict the love that may flow to and from this child. Quite the opposite — we believe that the more people to love the child, the better. Our wise comrade Lori recently wrote that loving her children’s birthparents is a “gift” she can give her children to help enable them to fully love themselves. Such a beautiful notion, that is. We also believe we have no right to limit the information accessible to our child. As s/he grows old enough to ask questions about his/her family of origin, who better to answer those questions?
Still, not everyone “gets” open adoption. And not everyone wants a “fully” open adoption with ongoing contact, as we do. I realize it is not necessarily intuitive, unless you can truly view it from the child’s perspective. I think to really open one’s self to openness, adoptive families first need to overcome their own fears and insecurities and challenge their own assumptions. Is there reluctance to enter into an open relationship due to concern that the child won’t know who his/her “real” parents are, or will “reject” the adoptive parents for the birth parents? Is there fear that it will feel like “sharing,” or that the birth family will try to “interfere” or “reclaim” the child? Is it just “inconvenient” to maintain another relationship? Is there a lack of trust?
It may take a certain amount of work to get to the point of embracing openness. I imagine for many, it’s just too much. Surely open adoption is not for everyone.
Of course, birth parents also have to be willing to share identifying information and maintain some level of contact. I realize this is not always possible. Yet I also think many agencies do a poor job counseling expectant mothers in general, and about openness in particular. On the other side, not every birth family believes that the adoptive family will comply with an agreement to maintain contact — with good reason, too, as there are families who would say or do anything for a child.
It’s not hard to see why the general public fails to comprehend how open adoption can work, regardless of the level of contact. There are complexities and challenges. Plus, circumstances change as people grow. It is a dynamic relationship that must be flexible enough to evolve over time.
We can already see the benefit of opening our hearts not only to the process and possibilities, but to the people we encounter along the way. While we are only now just beginning to extend ourselves in our own relationship with K, we can already feel our hearts expanding in abundance…
To be continued…
I would be remiss if I didn’t take this opportunity to direct you to a new blogroll of Open Adoption Bloggers compiled by Heather at Production Not Reproduction. It is intended for all voices in the open adoption triad. Check it out here, read more about it here, add your blog here, and grab a button here. With her sensitive and compassionate portrayal of life in two open adoptions with her beautiful children, Heather has been a great resource for a prospective adoptive parent like me. Check it out!