how I (almost) shied away from openness (not why you think)

I’ve been pondering the issues raised in my last posts, which were in response to some interesting questions about open adoption (part one and part two). Note the new Open Adoption Roundtable references the original post and links to replies by others.

Clearly, I feel strongly about openness in adoption. Yet while I believe that adoption, when necessary, should work a certain way, I don’t presume to tell others how their families should function. As I noted before, I can only speak from my own experience. My views are inevitably filtered through my lens as mama to our daughter through a very open adoption, with its joys and challenges.

So I found myself ruminating over answers to the questions about the impact of open adoption on first/birth mothers. Of course I couldn’t answer those directly. I answered as an adoptive mama, trying to do what I believe will be best for my child. Still, I shared my view that open adoption should be the standard. Yet I realize the only thing I can truly impact is my participation in our own adoption.

This reminds me of when we were preparing to adopt and I was poring over our materials wondering what an expectant mother might think of us. We had worked hard to determine what kind of adoption we wanted, through education and much discussion, among ourselves and with others. We knew we wanted openness, but we couldn’t know what someone else would want. We decided to just be honest and hope to meet someone who wanted an ongoing relationship and participation.

Just before we finalized our letter, I got nervous about pressing for such extensive openness, but not because I didn’t want it. Of course there is a natural fear of the unknown. But I figured we would only “match” with someone that we could envision a future. Yet just before our outreach began, I started to wonder about possibly scaring away an expectant mother who might not want ongoing involvement in her child’s life after relinquishment and placement. I couldn’t possibly imagine what that would be like for her, or for him. So I proposed revising language that said, in effect, we want your ongoing participation and we are committed to maintaining a lifetime relationship, and replacing it with something like, we will do whatever makes you [the expectant parents] “comfortable.”

When I thought about it, the proposed revision made sense. How could I push my own views and desires on someone else? I couldn’t. So I was ready to back away from the commitment M and I made to a fully open adoption, because I was afraid it might make us less appealing. When I discussed this with our advisor, she adamantly rejected my proposal. In the end I agreed and the original language remained, as she helped me realize a few important things.

First, authenticity was critical. We believed that if we were authentic during this entire process — i.e., about who we were, what we wanted, what we were capable of, how we were prepared to parent, etc. — that the “right” person in an impossible position would find us and say, “yes, them.” It was then that we realized that all of the prospective families out there weren’t our “competition” but rather that we would find just the person who was “meant to” (for lack of a better term) find us. Just as we didn’t want to reject openness out of fear, when we decided we wanted a truly open adoption, we knew we shouldn’t compromise such a fundamental decision out of fear either.

I realized we weren’t forcing anything on anyone (we couldn’t possibly force anything). We were simply being honest about what we wanted.

Second, I was prepared to say, in effect, let’s just all stay inside our comfort zones because maybe that would be easier. But I realized it wasn’t going to be easier. I thought again about why we wanted openness in the first place — i.e., to get to know each other, to establish trust and open communication, to help alleviate the uncertainty for our child’s birth parents and loss by other members in her family of origin, and most importantly, for our child to have the benefit of knowing her first family, to feel connected to her roots, and to experience their love, if possible. I knew that would not be easy for any of us, necessarily. But we felt it was important to try to offer that, even if it meant stretching outside our zone of comfort.

Third, talking to others involved in adoption helped me realize that our desire for a fully open adoption with ongoing involvement might actually make us more appealing to someone who had already decided to place. We spoke with families including birth parents who shared that view and encouraged us. On the other hand, I’m aware of plenty of families (through our agency and here in the blogosphere) who resist real openness and whose philosophy is narrow, believing that minimal contact is better — i.e., families that don’t share last names and addresses, who mediate contact through agencies/lawyers, who restrict contact and communication for reasons other than the child’s safety, etc. We figured if we could provide something that expectant parents wanted — and many if not most of them do, especially mothers — then we should say so. (As an aside, it makes me ill to think of prospective families that might promise openness as an inducement to place when their intentions are otherwise. That is fraud, plain and simple.)

Finally, we had no control over what anyone else wanted or did, nor should we. We could only control our own actions. We could say yes or no, if presented with a choice. We could make a commitment and honor it. We could hope to develop a positive relationship with our child’s family of origin and encourage their participation in our extended family. But there are no guarantees.

Openness in our daughter’s adoption has continued to provide immeasurable joy for me, as her mama, though it is not without its challenges. But in reality we face challenges with our biological families too. Our little girl is not yet two and we have yet to see how openness will impact her. But I couldn’t imagine doing this any other way.

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~ by luna on January 24, 2011.

4 Responses to “how I (almost) shied away from openness (not why you think)”

  1. It’s great that you buck the stereotype of the hesitant pre-adoptive parent. And also the one that will say anything to become a parent. You present the lower-key parent who says,

    “Finally, we had no control over what anyone else wanted or did… We could only control our own actions…We could make a commitment and honor it.”

    Quite a twist on conventional wisdom!

  2. Wow. What a great attitude. Ours is definitely on the “we all know where each other live and have each others cell numbers end” … but…. oh well, we’ll see how this all evolves. A new discovery every month!

  3. […] parent does not necessarily mean they would be a good adoptive parent. That takes awareness and dedication and the ability to put your child’s needs above yours in a way that inherently exceeds the […]

  4. […] 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 […]

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