Open Adoption, Closed Heart

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“If you don’t like something change it; if you can’t change it, change the way you think about it.” ~Mary Engelbreit

In my previous post “Open Adoption 101”, I said I would talk about my feelings on  the concept of open adoption and how they’ve evolved, and I also planned to elaborate more on the benefits of open adoption for the child. Well I think I’m just going to discuss my perspective today, and leave the benefits and create a third installment on open adoption.  This topic is pretty vast, and a very important part of open adoption, and can’t be smooshed into one little rambling blog entry.  Well it probably can be, but not by me.

But before I do, I just have to say that I have read and heard so often from others about how much your opinions and outlooks will change as you make your way through the process.  I totally understood how that could be, as I think this happens with any life altering undertaking, but I certainly didn’t count on any momentous changes before we even sent in our application.  But I was wrong, and open adoption was my first serious change of heart.

Before we had the official “we-can’t-get-pregnant-so-now-what” conversation, I had casually researched adoption.  I say casually because it wasn’t really a confident, “okay, I want to know what my options are”  kind of research. When I first started looking into it, I was still slightly in denial about our infertility, and on some level felt that if I really researched adoption, it would somehow jinx us completely and whatever remote hope we had of a bio child would be extinguished.  So first I searched surrogacy, and then when I got a bit braver, I searched  “adoption in (my city)”, just to see how much info was out there.  I would click on the odd link, but just skim the pages, not really reading any of the info.  I was “grazing” if you will.  Eventually though, the reality set in that a bio child was not in the cards for us, and it was time to get serious about taking another route to parenthood.  So M and I had the conversation and my real research began.

Now I wouldn’t say that my grazing research afforded me any sort of in depth knowledge on adoption, but I thought I had a pretty good handle overall, on how adoption worked.  So when I started actively reading, and came across open adoption, I was quite shocked that a) I’d never heard about it before and b) that people actually did this.   I mean I’d heard of people having relationships with their birth families.  But the stories I knew of were children who’d been raised in their birth family, but just adopted by another family member.  (One form of what is known as kinship adoption.)  Or adoptees who located their birth parents and reunited with them.  The only degree of openness I was familiar with besides those,  was semi-open adoptions; instances where there were exchanges of pictures, letters, cards, and perhaps gifts (totally fine by me).  But I wasn’t aware of face-to-face interactions and ongoing relationships at all.

I like to think of  myself as a very open minded person, so my instantaneous rejection of this idea, caught me off guard.  As soon as I knew what it was, just the word open adoption caused a knee-jerk reaction of “Nope!”  After learning about it, I remember coming across an adoption agency that said they only did these kind of adoptions.   They wouldn’t even consider any potential parents who weren’t willing to accept an open adoption plan, because they approached all of their adoptions this way until the birth mother requested otherwise. And that actually had me thinking, “Oh my God, if they’re all like this, maybe we can’t adopt either.”

If you’ve read my entries about infertility “Rant”, you’ll have a pretty clear idea of just how badly I have always wanted to be a parent.  So my thinking that open adoption could actually be a roadblock to that, tells you just how much I rejected the idea.  Now to put it in perspective, I didn’t carry this opinion around with me for months on end.  Mainly because a large part of what was bothering me wasn’t just the idea itself.  It was also the fact that I couldn’t even bring myself to even say that I didn’t necessarily agree with it, but I could be accepting of it.  That really bothered me.  A LOT.   I could accept that I wasn’t wholly on board with the idea, but totally rejecting it went against my belief in being open minded, and I hated being challenged on that level.

So what made all the difference?  What flipped the proverbial switch?  Well, basically more research.  But this time, I did more than read the experts take on things.  I looked for accounts of personal experiences from parents (both birth and adoptive), in books, blogs, and chat boards.  I just couldn’t get past my hesitation, and I needed to know how other people did.  Surely I couldn’t be the only person that felt this way?

No, I wasn’t.  Many personal accounts from adoptive parents I came across reflected feelings and thoughts similar to, and in some instances, the same as mine.   And throughout these stories ran common threads of discomfort and anxiety.

  • Because my child knows his birth parents, will that somehow influence her to go back to live with them when they get older?
  • Won’t it make it harder for the child to bond and accept his adoptive parents?
  • If the birth parents don’t agree with my methods of parenting and discipline, are they going to interfere?
  • If my child suffered from mental, physical or sexual abuse at the hands of their birth parents, how can I be expected to have an amicable relationship with them?
  • Can I really face the birth parents knowing that I am potentially a painful reminder that they are no longer the parents to this child?
  • What if the birth parents don’t like me, or think I’m not good enough to parent their child?
  • What if my child likes his birth parents better?

When I looked into how birth parents feel about open adoption, I had to take into consideration, that most accounts I was reading were from birth parents who’d chosen an adoption plan for their child via private adoption.  Again, public adoption isn’t usually a voluntary scenario, so there wasn’t as much on the birth parent’s side of testimony.  In that respect, I had to rely mainly on the adoptive parents who were in those relationships.  However, what I did from the birth parent’s experience, was that they feared judgement, and rejection for their decision or bad parenting choices, from the birth parents as well as their child.  But most importantly, was that they often echoed the exact same fears and anxieties as adoptive parents, just from the opposite side of the fence.

This put me at ease a great deal because many of these same birth parents and adoptive parents, overcame their fears and were now involved in positive and/or successful open adoptions.  That’s not to say all fears and awkwardness will suddenly disappear, and even if you the adoptive parent, embrace the idea wholeheartedly, that doesn’t mean the birth parents will.  However, those who took the leap had no regrets whatsoever.  Even when it wasn’t idyllic.

The second discovery that helped me turn the panic switch off was in some ways, and even easier solution-it isn’t about you.  It’s about the child and meeting their needs.  When I put it into that perspective, somehow it became more palatable.  (Notice I said palatable, not gratifying.)   But continuing to read, with a different mindset, made all the difference.  Suddenly the information was reinforcing all the positive outlook I was gaining instead of compounding the negative one I used to have.  That said, I’m not completely blinded by my new take on things; I know it won’t be all unicorns, rainbows, and warm fuzzy feelings.  But ensuring that I’m meeting my child’s needs,  is my number one objective and I’m prepared to do whatever it takes to do that.  I want to give them everything they need, and hopefully a little bit of things they don’t really need, but would be damn cool to have.

It’s funny how your perspective can do a complete 180.  At the outset, I kept thinking to myself, open adoption was the worst case scenario.  Hopefully we would luck out and be involved in a semi-open adoption where we could avoid the face-to-face contact.  Now I find myself desperately hoping that the child we adopt will still have full contact with their parents, or at least some part of their bio family, because that  would be the best case scenario.

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6 responses »

  1. I am an advocate of open adoption. As and adoptee from to 70’s, it’s a very different concept than what I myself experienced. When I placed my child for adoption when I was almost 20, her parents (not me) wanted open adoption. I went along with it, the parents and I in agreement that if we saw it hurting the child we would discontinue. I believe it was more difficult for me than it was for them. I saw her in a family that I wasnt able to provide at that point in my life and there was no way around the sting. The adoptive parents are dear friends to this day. OUR daughter is 22 and she is very much a part of our lives. We learned much along the way, but overall, it seemed the best thing for her. She loves her family and never wanted to leave them for me. Love wins. Every time.

  2. Stephanie, thanks so much for sharing your story. I think it’s wonderful that you agreed to open adoption at a time when it wasn’t the norm yet. There is no doubt that your daughter has benefited immensely from this.

    I so appreciate that you took the time to post and share your experiences as both a bmom and adoptee. As a potential adoptive parent, you read so much, that at times it can be overwhelming. I know that for me, it’s the personal stories of others on all sides of adoption, that help me put things in perspective.

    It’s especially nice to hear from a bmom and get that perspective. Too often, bmom and amom experiences don’t cross over in blogs and books. I think if both sides understand the fears and hopes the other carries, it might make it less awkward and daunting to be joined by open adoption.

  3. Search for the WordPress blog “letters to little man.” I love their openness – it is the bmom’s perspective.

    I started out same as you, but all research and stories point to openness being the best and only win-win option.
    Blessings!

    • Thanks instantmama. I’ll most definitely check that one out. I’ll also be checking your blog out as well. Six foster kids at once?! Huge kudos to you for taking on a journey most would definitely shy away from. I can’t wait to read your story.

  4. We are involved in an open adoption and love it. We initially thought semi-open was our path but our daughter’s birth family wanted visitation… and honestly, we couldn’t pass it up. So glad we said yes! It has been an amazing experience so far. We are relatively new at it, only a 1.5 years in, but each visit, each email, every exchange we make is so gratifying. And I know we can save every picture and note for our daughter. It really takes the mystery out of adoption… something that most adoptees in closed adoptions struggle with. The two hardest parts about it for me are: 1) family members that don’t quite understand why you want it open and 2) leaving with our daughter after every visit and seeing the tears in her birth mom’s eyes… that will never get easier. Her many sacrifices will not be in vain, I am certain of that. Thanks for all the research you’ve done and for being so honest in your search for answers 🙂

    • Hi Kas. I replied to this way back when, but for some reason it didn’t post. Anyhow, thanks for your comment. It’s so nice to hear from those who are living the experience and can support that open adoption isn’t an impossible relationship; that it can be done. I know some can be challenging, but I think that sacrifice is small in comparison to giving your child the gift of maintaining a connection to their history. You’ve given that to your daughter, and I truly believe that she and all of you will be the better for it. So glad you’re enjoying the process.

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