answering some questions, part one (edited to add links)
As I wrote last year, I’m still struggling with writing about adoption — i.e., what to share or not, how to convey that which is not solely my own. I have always tried to retain some privacy for the others involved. Much as I want to write as it helps me process my own thoughts and emotions, I don’t because it may infringe on someone else’s story that isn’t mine to share.
So I was somewhat relieved for the opportunity to write about open adoption in another context. Curious single adoptive mom (international) O Solo Mama recently posed a series of (what she called “ignorant”) questions about open adoption, asking whether it is really beneficial or actually harmful. “I question whether most people have the stomach for open adoption or if it even best for most,” she writes. “Perhaps it is only best for those who can.”
We can only know our own experience; anything else may seem incomprehensible. Experience shapes our views and serves as the lens through which we see the world. Our personal experience in adoption, for instance, necessarily distorts our views, inherently limiting our ability to truly understand the experience of another in the constellation. In that sense, understanding adoption is somewhat like viewing a kaleidoscope, in that it looks different depending on who is holding it and how, with each turn bringing new light and a uniquely distinct perspective. Open adoption is also ever changing — a set of dynamic relationships that evolve with time, experience and perspective.
That said, I don’t claim to be any kind of “expert.” I can only speak from my own experience as a parent living in an open adoption with a 19 month old child who does not yet fully appreciate her origin story or realize its potential impact. Yet the decision to enter into a fully open adoption was made with strong interest and deep commitment based on what we believe will be best for our daughter.
While I won’t tackle all of O Solo Mama’s questions, I thought it was worth responding to a few here, with Part Two to come (because my answers are long).
“If open adoption is so great, why do so many people suck at it? By this I mean, not honouring commitments, closing the adoption, telling the other family they’re not ‘doing this thing’ correctly or playing the ‘for the sake of the child’ card?”
Like Lori, I’m not sure that “so many people suck at” open adoption. I think there is no single “right” way but rather what works in a given situation. Every adoption is different. Every family is different.
Many problems occur when expectant parents, birth parents and adoptive parents don’t share the same ideas or desires with regard to “openness,” or when they are not honest about what they really want.
Sometimes it’s not adequately discussed in advance. My sense is that most families in adoption are not well supported to build a strong foundation for a meaningful ongoing relationship. With few exceptions, I think most adoption professionals fail to educate expectant and prospective parents about the benefits of real openness — i.e., the child’s ongoing access to his/her family of origin, as opposed to merely sharing minimal information — and equally important, how to maintain a positive relationship over time. (We were fortunate to work with a highly skilled and ethical professional who is an exception to this perhaps broad overstatement.)
Sometimes both sets of parents don’t share the same understanding about what “openness” means in practice. What does being “family” mean? Calling every week or just on holidays? Monthly visits or annual? What about birthdays and other milestones? Without a shared understanding and ongoing honest communication, expectations on either side will inevitably breed disappointment.
The unfortunate reality is that some people also fail to honor the commitments they made. Contrary to popular belief, this happens not only with adoptive parents but with birth parents too. I don’t know how many adoptions start out open but become less so over time, or how many start out closed or semi-open and grow more open. No doubt relationships are dynamic. People change and grow. Our lives are busy and full. But there are so few valid reasons to walk away from such an important commitment.
It saddens me to hear of a birthparent who placed with the expectation of ongoing contact that has since diminished, or to think of a child whose access to his/her family of origin is restricted for no reason other than inconvenience or insecurity. While adoption affects all sides of the extended family, the interest of the child who had no choice in the matter should be paramount.
Perhaps it seems inane or goes without saying, but I think everyone in adoption should be required to give their best. It may not always be easy or comfortable, but when you enter into such a sacred commitment affecting the lives of others, I think you must honor it with your best self, even when that means doing more or better — i.e., stepping outside your comfort zone because you understand that your actions fundamentally impact others. If that’s what O Solo Mama means by “playing the ‘for the sake of the child’ card,” then by all means, yes.
Most importantly, I think it’s critical for everyone to be completely honest and authentic about their commitment to and capacity for openness. Open adoption is not for everyone, although I do think it should be the standard (more on that in Part Two). Yet even adoptive parents in a closed adoption can still act to convey a sense of openness and respect towards the child’s family of origin. I think the commitments we make are ultimately to the child.
“Do you ever feel like you should give this child back? Does the thought ever seize you totally as you watch your child with her bio-family: ‘ooops?'”
This question seems to stem from an insecurity about becoming an adoptive parent, regardless whether the adoption is open or closed. To be the best parents we can be, we need to overcome whatever fears or insecurities
If the question asks do I ever feel guilt or regret that I became our child’s mother, the answer is a resounding no. If the question asks do I ever wonder what their lives would have been like if our child was never placed with us, the answer is not really. If it asks do I ever wish I could eliminate any sense of loss or pain for our daughter or her birth mother, the answer is of course, but that is not possible.
When I see our daughter interact with her birth family, it gives me incredible joy to watch her connect with those whom she shares such deep roots, to see her soak in the love and attention of those who cherish her. She is still too young to appreciate who they are, exactly. Yet she knows they are family and that they adore her. By the time she understands her origin story, she will know that many of these people and their love have been in her life from the start.
There is a reason that our daughter’s birthmom decided not to parent. There are reasons why our child was not placed with a birth relative and why we were chosen to become her parents. Simply being chosen as her parents was such an empowering act. Through our open adoption, our parentage has been consistently validated as those closest to our daughter have treated us as her mama and papa from before she was even born.
Of course that doesn’t that mean it’s not hard when we see our daughter’s birthmom and try to imagine the range of emotions she might feel before, during and after a visit. But once she made her final decision to place our daughter with us, never have I questioned it. And she has repeatedly conveyed that she made the right choice.
I’m guessing kids are not hung up on how many relatives they have. Tell me that the thing that hangs up the public all the time about open adoption and other unconventional relationships—two mommies, two daddies, three, four, parents—is the least of your worries because it seems to me it is.
This is not even an issue for me. I don’t think this is even an open adoption issue but rather an issue of adoption in general, or any non-traditional family.
I don’t think we give kids enough credit. They understand step-parents and multiple grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins. When we share our philosophy about open adoption, we often say you can never have too many people to love a child. A child in a closed adoption still has other relatives; they just don’t know them. We’ve heard from adoptees in loving families who spent a lot of time and energy wondering about and searching for people who look like them, who share their heritage. Knowing about the people who share your biology and ancestry should be a birthright. Even as mother to my child, what right do I have to restrict that?
NOTE: Part Two is now up. To read eloquent and thought provoking responses from some other Quakers in the house, see these answers by adoptive mamas Dawn of This Woman’s Work, Lori/Best Light of Write Mind Open Heart, and Heather of Production Not Reproduction, and birth moms Jenna of Chronicles of Munchkinland, Susie of Endure for a Night, and A Life Being Lived of Carrying a Cat by the Tail. Check out comments by others on the original post here.