answering some questions, part two
This is Part Two of a long post (Part One) that attempted to answer some interesting questions posed by Jessica, a single mama through international adoption who blogs at O Solo Mama. I’ve enjoyed reading the enlightening responses by others — quite a range of views from birth parents, adoptive parents, adoptees from closed adoptions, and people interested in adoption or who know nothing about it. You can also see the links in my last post for responses by some open adoption bloggers.
Here are a few more of my responses to Jessica’s questions about open adoption.
“From the standpoint of first parents, open adoption sounds like something that could prolong suffering. Could this suffering potentially outweigh the good of knowing where your child is? Who helps the first parent?”
This is a really important question for a number of reasons. First I think it gets to a central myth at the root of many closed adoptions — i.e., that birth parents will simply “get on with their lives” and “forget” about the child they relinquished, that “out of sight = out of mind.” But a myth it is.
Because loss is at the core of adoption, some form of suffering is unfortunately inevitable, I think. But that is an adoption issue, not open adoption. The question is whether openness — i.e., access to information or ongoing contact and involvement with the child and his/her family — may actually be worse than not knowing or no contact. Does the pain of seeing your child parented by others outweigh the benefits of somehow knowing your child (whether through pictures, letters, calls, visits, etc.)?
In questioning the benefits and whether openness may do more harm than good, Jessica writes, “I see first parents as pretty much always having to do the stuffing back of emotions.” It’s true that (all) parents can’t (or shouldn’t) unload personal burdens onto their children, who are neither equipped nor responsible to handle such things. Though I take the comment to also refer to the perceived need of first parents to hide their emotions from adoptive parents, as well. I would hope that in a healthy functional open adoption, there is enough honest communication and opportunity to explore or at least accept some of those hard emotions. Though I realize this is an ideal rather than the norm. Yet even with the most positive relationships, the reality is that birth parents often need far more support than they have.
Because I’ve never relinquished a child, I can’t speak to the pain of seeing my baby in another mother’s arms or envisioning someone else rocking her to sleep, or the anguish of wondering whether he is even alive and well, or what he looks and sounds like, or whether she has my eyes or my grandmother’s laugh.
I have spoken to our daughter’s birthmom about how it is both wonderful and sometimes difficult to see our daughter and watch her grow. We have shared tears over the beauty and pain that is our family story. Yet she has repeatedly said it would be so much worse if she didn’t know, if she couldn’t see our daughter or felt restricted by us, if we lived farther away, or if her mother could not be grandmother to our little girl. Our daughter’s birthmom knows that she will be a part of our family forever, too, that our lives are inextricably linked by our love and care for this child.
From my own experience, I just can’t see how a closed adoption would be better for anyone.
I don’t think openness prolongs suffering so much as it brings issues that exist to light. I like what Heather says in response to a different question: “Open adoption makes tangible what is true; it turns existence into presence.” Openness creates an opportunity to express and try to resolve some of the tough issues in adoption, in the same way that airing and cleansing a wound is necessary for healing.
Finally, the question is important as it asks something for which there is no good answer. “Who helps the first parent?” Unfortunately many birth parents are on their own, seeking resources and support wherever they can as it is not readily available. There is a glaring and shameful lack of support for expectant parents and birth parents — from inadequate education about the lifelong impact of relinquishment and grief when considering placement, to the benefits of openness and ongoing support for those trying to maintain connections with children in open adoptions. It serves everyone to help ensure the availability of these critical services.
“Can you say comfortably that some surrendering mothers could not cope with an open adoption or do you think that it should always be the standard?”
Again, I can only speak from what I know. I can’t answer whether some women would be unable to handle an open adoption. I do absolutely think openness should be the standard. Yet that will look different for every family. I also think that anyone considering adoption — expectant and prospective parents alike — needs education and ongoing support including counsel when necessary. If openness brings to light issues that may rest beneath the surface without such contact, then everyone needs tools to handle those issues as they arise, especially parents who relinquish.
I answer as an adoptive parent who wants the best for her child. This means helping our daughter understand her origins and how she came to be our child, helping her integrate her story with life in our family (or as Lori says, her biology with her biography). It means, to me, being the bridge to her family by birth until she can decide to maintain those connections herself. It means not restricting who may express love and care for her well being. It means feeling worthy of being our daughter’s mother, but not claiming her as “my own.”
I love the quote that Dawn included by open adoption advocate Sharon Roszia: “The system needs to stop asking, ‘Who does this child belong to?’ and start asking, “Who belongs to this child?'” I think that statement gets to the essence of child-centered open adoption, that children have a fundamental right to have these vital people in their lives.
I think about birthparents as “lifegivers” and the importance of ongoing involvement. While some birth parents do have less capacity for contact, I still believe there is an obligation that, despite having relinquished their legal rights and responsibilities, exists on a more fundamental level to that child.
Wanting the best for my child therefore also means doing what I can to help ensure that her birthmom continues to get the support she needs. While important for her healing and well being, I realize that as my daughter comes to term with her origins, it will be important for her developing sense of self too.
A groundbreaking 2006 study found that birthparents often fare better (i.e., have greater peace of mind about their decision and greater ability to resolve grief) when they have access to ongoing information about and contact with the child they placed for adoption. In contrast, those faring worst were women who placed with the understanding that they would have contact but were later cut off. Research indicates that women from the closed adoption era had significantly greater incidence of chronic, unresolved grief than women with ongoing contact with or knowledge about their placed children.
No, openness can never eliminate the grief associated with relinquishing a child. Openness can present challenges and require a lot of work (inside and out). But I still can’t see how a closed adoption would be better.