Tag Archives: adoptive parents

To Be Or Not To Be?

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So now we’re at the point, where I’m not so patiently waiting for the weekend to pass after seeing three siblings on Adopt Ontario, that I had called and requested more information for. I’m still torn if we’re ready to embark on this journey, but at the same time, I keep looking at their profiles, hanging on our fridge, and I’m desperately excited and drawn to these three little ones. I’ve spent the last 48+ hours picturing us with two sons and a daughter in all kinds of family scenarios. It feels right. They are the first thing I’m thinking of when I wake up and the last thing I think about at night. At the same time, I’m trying incredibly hard not to get caught up in my thoughts and dreams in case it doesn’t work out. My heart isn’t really in agreement with me on that mission though, so it’s a bit of a struggle.

Fast forward to Monday. I managed to survive the weekend. I was off work that day and trying not to watch the clock. At around 11am, I got a text from E asking if I’d heard yet. I told her I hadn’t and her next question was did I call back yet. I told her no, and she more or less asked what I was waiting for. We agreed I’d email instead and try emailing a couple of her contacts in case the person I contacted wasn’t in. The nerves started to build and I was drawing a total blank on Carter’s name. So I went to Adopt Ontario to look them up. When I did, my heart sank. They were gone. I told E, and finished the sentence typing, “Gasp!”. She told me not to panic, that perhaps they just had to make an adjustment to their information. Worst case scenario someone had expressed interest in them, in which case, legally they have to take their profiles down. But she assured me that it didn’t mean it was over. So I sent the email, now a million times more nervous than before.

I had to wait a couple of hours, and I think it’s pretty obvious the answer I received, but here it is….

There is a family that is being explored at this time for these children. I am sorry that this is the news I have for you. Please keep checking in on the site as there are always children coming up.

Everything in me deflated. Such a disappointment. I texted E, and she told me not to give up hope, that just because a family was being explored, didn’t mean that they were the right family. Their profiles could reappear, I could still be their Mom. As I said to the contact at Adopt Ontario, as sad as I was to receive that answer, I was happy for them if they were on their way to their forever home. Ultimately that was what was most important. It just surprised me that a sibling group of three disappeared that fast, being they’re one of the hardest to place categories of children right now. So naively, it didn’t even enter my consciousness that there would be other families that quickly.

In my heart of hearts, since this experience, I don’t think these were our kids. I know from hearing other’s stories that just because there’s a connection, it doesn’t always lead to adoption. I wouldn’t be disappointed if I were wrong. Well, let me rephrase that. It would break my heart if I saw their profiles go up again, knowing that it didn’t work out with the other family. For both the kids and the potential parents. I still would selfishly be happy to have another chance, but that still wouldn’t mean we’d ultimately be chosen. And we’d still have to do some soul searching to see if we were willing to make the changes to find a new home so we could take these little ones in if it got to that point.

For now, whenever I go to bed, I put a little wish out to the universe that these children did find their forever home, and that they received the adoptive parents that they need and deserve. I tell the universe that our paths are meant to cross, so be it, but that I hope they’re happy and healthy with their new family. Ultimately, I know I can’t keep hoping they’ll find their way back to us. Not only because it wouldn’t be fair to them to make them wait longer than they already have, but also because I also can’t call a halt to the journey before we’ve started. I know if I focus on these little ones, I may be overlooking the children we are meant to find. Avery, Matthew and Carter made a huge impression on my heart, and I know that won’t change regardless. If they are meant to be ours, they will be. If not, that means our children are still out there, and meant to be with us. Whatever happens, I will never forget these three. So I keep a little place in my heart for them, and I’m pretty sure I always will.

Now these kids weren’t the ones, and I must admit, if they garnered that reaction, it kinda scares me what kind of disaster I’ll be when we find the kids we actually end up adopting. And if I’m that bad when I see a picture, God help me when we actually meet them for the first time!

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Tidal Wave

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So as I said in my last post, I was really disappointed at not being able to attend the ARE. But for some reason my disappointment lingered over the weekend. At first I wasn’t understanding why I was so upset, other than I’d been waiting for months, and would have to wait months again to attend the next one. But still. I felt kind of silly putting so much weight on this. But as I thought about it, I came to the realization is that my disappointment was probably compounded by something that had happened earlier in the week.

My husband and I drive to work together with me dropping him off and picking him up. He’s finished an hour later than I am, so I usually just stay at work and plug away at whatever I’m working on. This particular day, I didn’t feel like working any more, so I decided to check out a website that profiles children up for adoption within the province, called Adopt Ontario. I go on this site daily; once in the morning, and then usually again later in the day to see if any new profiles have been added. (Yes, I’m obsessed, lol!) This afternoon, there happened to be 3-5 additions which is a lot, so as always, I got excited to see who these new little faces were.

So I started scanning the familiar profiles looking for one tagged “new”, and came across a light brown haired, beautiful little girl with a gentle smile and a ribbon in her hair. I’ll call her Avery. I noticed as I was clicking on the link for her full profile, that there was also a sibling link on his page. I clicked on that one to open in another window while I read Avery’s profile. She was five years old, loved girly things and art. The whole profile sounded really good, so I excitedly clicked on her sibling’s profile and found a boy with freckles and a sweet smile, that I’ll call Matthew. His profile also sounded great; he was seven years old, was getting straight A’s in school, bonding with his caregivers, both very happy children who by all accounts were adjusting well to their foster home. I was definitely interested, when I noticed on his profile, that the “sibling” link, actually said “siblings“. I clicked it, surprised that there was a third child. This was the first time I had seen a sibling trio on the site. When I clicked on the final sibling link, there was a tiny little brown haired boy I’ll call Carter, with a mischievous air about him. He was three and again, had a very positive sounding profile. All the siblings were said to get along and play well with eachother. The fact they were bonding with their foster family was great, because that signals that if they’re bonding with them, they’ll be capable of bonding/attaching to others, specifically their adoptive parents. Attachment is a huge issue in adoption, for obvious reasons.

Upon reading the profiles, I immediately texted my friend E. She adopted her son, and volunteers with CAS. My text was something like, “Omg! If we were adopt ready, I would express interest in three little ones on Adopt Ontario right now! They’re gorgeous!” That was it, no prefacing it with a “Hi, how’s your day?”, or “Hey E!” Nope, my words spilled out as quickly as my emotion was about to….cue the tidal wave. As soon as I sent that, all of a sudden, I started tearing up, my heart was racing and a whole spectrum of emotions hit me like a ton of bricks. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, and it was freaking me out. I tried to stifle it, because if I let go and laughed, it would have been this psycho freakishly scary laugh, and if I full on cried, it would have been a serious ugly cry. One of those ugly cries where it’s SO ugly people can’t tell if you’re happy or sad. It was not an attractive moment for me, and I had to shut my blinds to the hallway. I was terrified of someone walking by and seeing me bawling amidst my facial twitches I was sure I was having as my muscles wrestled between frowning and smiling. (Thank God it was after hours and there weren’t many people around!)

Meanwhile, E’s response to my text was exactly like this: “DO IT!!!” (Have I mentioned before that I love her? Lol!) I wrote back that we didn’t have room for three, or I would in a heartbeat. I was a mess, so I had to share. I told E that I didn’t know what was happening, but that I was completely overcome with emotion and couldn’t contain myself. It was all rather unsettling. I don’t know if I’ve ever experienced emotions that sudden and that conflicting before. I just kept telling her I was a mess and I didn’t know what was wrong with me. She put it totally in perspective: I’d made a connection with these kids. She told me something about them just clicked and that’s what happens when you see a child or children that you can really identify yourself potentially parenting. Really??? No sooner did I ask myself that, than I realized that’s exactly what was happening. I honestly didn’t think when I saw a child or children and I thought may be ours, that it would garner that reaction. I envisioned it as you being drawn to them, requesting more information, and just being able to see yourself with them and feelings growing stronger, the more you got into the process. I never imagined it being this powerful and immediate!

A few months after we decided to adopt and I’d been looking at profiles, I’d come across two little brothers that I just couldn’t get out of my head whenever I thought about adoption. I must have looked at their pics and re-read their profiles a hundred times over, even after learning they had an allergy to cats. Their allergy was a definite no, because we couldn’t part with the two cats we have. They’re our first babies, so we need cat friendly kiddos. That was the only thing that held me back from requesting more info for us. Eventually, I saw their profiles come down, and I had mixed emotions. It seemed foolish because we couldn’t adopt them, so obviously I should have been completely happy to see their profiles come down. I was very happy that they were potentially being adopted, but selfishly, I was going to miss those little faces. Up to this point, I really thought that I had a strong connection with them, but my reaction to them was absolutely nothing in comparison to these three.

So after E made sense of my breakdown, lol, we kept talking about the possibility of adopting these kids if we were really interested. She said “Do it!” and “Just do it!” about a dozen or so times, while I kept giving reasons why it wasn’t feasible. First it was that we didn’t have two spare bedrooms; the boys would have to have a room and Avery would have to have one, as per CAS they can’t room together after a certain age. E told me that CAS may be willing to assist us if we were to rent a bigger place temporarily until we could buy a house that fit a family of five. Then it was, well before I go expressing interest, I really should talk to Mike about this. We talked about adopting a sibling duo, but I didn’t know how he’d feel about three. (Had I even really considered three?!?) So yeah, I’d talk to him and see how he felt and then if he was on board, I’d email for further information. E had an answer for that, which I’m sure you can guess what it was. Then before I could even express concern about financially taking on 3 children at once she had an answer for that too, telling me that there could be subsidies for these kids being there were three. She kept encouraging me to request further information, and I really wanted to but something was holding me back. What was it?

I think it was a combination of the emotion catching me off guard, the fear of my requesting info and it not working out, and just the fear and excitement that this could potentially be the start of our path to our kids. E of course said all the right things and asked what was the worst that could happen? We would either move forward in the process, or be told we weren’t going to be considered. There was no mystery, we knew the possible outcomes. And she brought up the point that if she were in my position, she wouldn’t be able to not inquire and always wonder, “what if?”. I knew, like her I would always wonder, so I agreed to call. E had contacts there, so she told me who to get in touch with. So my fingers nervously dialed the number and as the phone rang, I just kept thinking, “This could be it. Oh my God! This could be it!!!” Of course, as if I weren’t anxious enough, I got her voicemail. It was Friday afternoon, and almost 5 o’clock, so it was to be expected. I just was not looking forward to waiting the entire weekend to see where this would go. So I wrapped up with E, with promises to text her the minute I heard anything on Monday, and I was on my way (profiles in hand), to go pick up Michael.

We left his parking lot, and I think we drove a block or two before I said at the stop light, “So I did something today….”, as I reached into the back seat for their profiles. Michael starting looking at them and said, “Yeah they’re really cute, and they sound healthy.” Surprised that there was no comment about them being a trio, and noticing that he hadn’t yet looked at Carter on the second page, I said, “There’s three of them.” All he said was “Yeah.”, as he kept looking at the profiles. He flipped the page and still nothing. I then told him they were siblings, and I had requested more information. He said, “You did, yeah?”, then there was a pause and he said, sounding somewhat alarmed, “Wait, there’s three of them? They’re all siblings???” And once again, my eyes welled up, and all my emotions started tumbling out of my mouth in a big jumble as I recounted my reaction, and my conversation with E. I told him I figured he would think I was crazy inquiring about three, but I just had to. Once again, wonderful and amazing as always, he told me that he wasn’t concerned about there being three. He said it would be a challenge, but he knew we were capable of it. It was just a matter of us having room for three. My heart had a big exhale at those words. So I recounted my conversation with E, and we agreed to wait to hear from Adopt Ontario on Monday. He just added that he didn’t want me to get my heart set on these little ones just in case. I assured him I wouldn’t, despite my reaction I was still not all in just yet.

As excited as I was, I just wasn’t sure if we were willing to potentially pack up and move to a temporary rental accommodation, sell our house, and look for a larger house, while trying to help these little ones adjust to us and us to them, while we all adjusted to a new life? It would also mean likely moving to a house in the future because on average, it takes about a year for families to form the basis of attachment, and for the kids to adjust. Moving is also traumatic for foster kids because they’ve had the experience of moving out of their childhood home, and often, moving through multiple foster homes. So we would have to play it by ear and see how it went if were indeed to be chosen for these children. That in turn conflicted me because I was thinking that if I wasn’t willing to move for these kids, was I really the best choice to parent them? Shouldn’t I be willing to do anything right from the start? Then I felt I was getting ahead of myself. Ultimately, we were interested in these children, but we really didn’t know much about them yet, nor did we know their story and how they came into foster care. A lot could change. But I still couldn’t stop my heart from smiling and whispering, “But what if???”

The Benefits of Open Adoption

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“When you honor the birth family, you honor the child.” ~Sherry Eldridge

Alright, so now you have the blog that explains open adoption (Open Adoption 101), the blog about my feelings toward it (Open Adoption, Closed Heart), and now, you’ve reached the last installment in this series, which speaks about the positives of being involved in an adoption that’s open.  If you haven’t read either of those, I’d advise you to at least read this first one if you’re not familiar with the concept.  So it’s time to get your notebooks and pens out again class.  Let’s discuss the benefits of an open adoption….

Those who are new to the adoption process, or those on the outside watching a family member or friend go through it, are often shocked to find out about the concept of open adoption.  Once they find out what it is, their next question is usually, why would anyone want to do that???  Well read on…..

Believe it or not, open adoption is beneficial for all three parties of the adoption triad; the birth parents, the adoptive parents, and the child.  Ultimately though, the huge developmental and emotional benefits it holds for the child are most important.

Identity & Self-Esteem

Imagine looking in a mirror and not having a clue who you look like, or where any of features came from.  How lost and disconnected would you feel?

Connection to their birth family gives a child a sense of identity and where they came from.  It helps to give them a with better self-esteem,  and knowledge of who they are.  Identity can be a particularly challenging time for teens as they’re discovering the world, and their place in it.  Couple that with being adopted and having limited or no connection to your birth family altogether, and it can become terribly painful, to the point it can have lasting effects into adulthood..

Children who have connections to birth parents or extended family know why they entered adoption, as opposed to it being left up to their imagination.  Unknowns left to a child’s imagination, can become wildly off course. They start thinking their birth mother didn’t want them. Or it was their fault; they were an awful child (cried too much, behaved badly, wouldn’t listen), and their parent couldn’t possibly love them.  Or they were so bad that people came and ripped them away from their family because of it.   If they know and have positive relationships with other members of their birth family, they can see this was not the case.

Now some people would argue this point, by questioning scenarios of foster children who were severely abused or neglected.  If your child was not old enough to remember the abuse, why would you want to make them aware of it?  And why would you want them in touch with someone that abused them?

Children should be aware of what their history entails, even if it’s negative.  To lie and put a positive spin on their history is of no benefit.  Establishing trust is one of the biggest challenges for adoptive parents and their children. Especially foster children who may have been moved from foster home to foster home before being adopted.  So if  the child looks into their adoption when they are older, and finds their a/parent lied to them, it could potentially destroy the relationship. It’s better for the child, to reveal honest, age appropriate information to them as they grow.  When the information is revealed, it’s important to impress upon them that it was not their fault, and that their parent made a bad decision.  For example, tell the child that no matter how much a baby cries, and how frustrated a parent can get, it’s never okay for them to hit their baby.  That was a bad decision.  It’s also important never to tell the child their parent was a bad person, or the child may feel as though they might be bad too because they are born from their birth parents.   Bad choices don’t make a person bad.

In most cases, if the child is severely abused, the parent will not have the right to see them, as it’s obviously detrimental to the child.  However, that doesn’t mean that there might not be a healthy relationship with another member of the birth family.  Having other birth members in contact, will reinforce that they are lovable and were not deserving of what happened to them in the past.

Security

Children who do not have an open relationship with their birth parents, may choose later on to make contact with them.  This can pose another challenge because they may feel afraid of hurting their adoptive parents and/or be afraid of rejection from their birth parents.  Lack of contact doesn’t just occur with closed adoptions.  Unfortunately, in open adoptions, there is are a lot of children who initially had contact with their birth parents, but over time their birth parents withdraw and they lose contact.  In these instances, it is extremely important, that even if there is no longer a response to phone calls, emails, or letters, that you continue to maintain contact.  It will make them feel more secure in searching for their birth parents if the desire arises.  They won’t fear hurting or disappointing their adopted parents because they know they support them in being connected to their history.  It also gives them the security of a safe place to come back to in order to process their feelings about the connection that does develop, or their feelings of rejection if it doesn’t.

Medical History

A child’s birth family can supply very important information on a child’s medical background.  They can supply missing links that may not otherwise be known if the only information an adoptive family has was given at the time of birth.  Medical conditions that develop in the birth family may could develop over time, and may not exist at the time the child was born.  An ongoing relationship could be very beneficial in a quicker diagnosis and treatment of medical issues an adoptive child may encounter later in life.

Love

This one is probably the most obvious, but can still be overlooked by those who reject the idea of open adoption.  Love is an important and integral part of raising a happy and well adjusted child.  So why would anyone reject expanding the circle of love that embraces their child?  Two families means twice the love, and twice the support, which can only be a positive thing.  An adoptive parent can’t be naive enough to think that their love is a cure all for the painful adjustments adoptive children face, but it is definitely one of the most important building blocks.  So if love can be multiplied, a child has a good foundation to flourish.

So those are the cornerstone benefits of open adoption for an adoptee.  This is just the tip of the iceberg, as there are benefits for all members of the triad, but ultimately, it is the child’s benefit that is most important.

Despite the benefit, it won’t necessarily be easy.  You don’t have to like open adoption, you just have to be accepting of it.  Like it or not, birth parents are a part of your child’s life, whether you have an open or closed adoption for that matter. Your child’s life doesn’t start the day you adopt them.  Like any other child, an adoptee needs to feel unconditional love, support and acceptance.  That means accepting the whole child; past and all.  Hell, we all come with baggage.  If you have a past, you have baggage.  It might be a regular suitcase, a trunk, or if you’re lucky, just a  carry on.  But it’s there, with your ID tag is attached to it.  Whatever the size, it’s always lighter, the more hands that are there to help carry the load.

“This was what love meant after all: sacrifice and selflessness. It did not mean hearts and flowers and a happy ending, but the knowledge that another’s well-being is more important than one’s own.”

                                                                       ~Melissa de la Cruz, from Lost in Time

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.

Hello Class…. Welcome to Open Adoption 101

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Once I had my preliminary research on public and private adoption, the next thing I started looking into was open adoption.  Open adoption was probably the first thing and only thing that I objected to when I first read about it.  It made me squeamish, it felt awkward, and impossible.  The more I read about it though, the more I gradually came around.  I’m going to explain in my next entry how that came to be, but today’s blog is another lesson in adoption.  I’m going to explain open adoption and the other degrees of openness that adoption can sometimes include.  So get your pens and notepads ready.  Let’s begin….

In both private and public adoption, there are various degrees of openness between the adopted child, birth parents and adoptive parents.  Adoption is no longer kept in the shadows.  It isn’t something families refuse to speak of because it’s some shameful dark secret.   Things have changed since the days when unplanned pregnancies resulted in a woman leaving town to “stay with family”, while her secret was taken care of, and she was sent back home and told that it was best for everyone involved if she just forgot it ever happened.  Yes, it’s come a long way since then, thank goodness.

Today, many adopted children not only know who either or both of their birth parents are, but they also have open relationships with them where there are varying degrees of contact and information exchanged.   Some even have the same knowledge of, and relationships with, siblings and their extended family as well.  Like me, this may come as a shock to some of you as you hear this for the first time.  That seems to be a common reaction.  If that’s your reaction, I hope that once I explain how it works and the reasoning behind it, you become more open to it as I did.

So what is openness in adoption?  Openness is the amount of contact and information that the birth parents, adopted child, and adoptive parents have within their relationship.  As I mentioned, the degree of openness can vary depending on circumstances.  Back in the earlier days of adoption when it was taboo, all adoptions were closed.  This meant that children were given no information about their birth parents, nor were the adoptive parents.  That is if the adoptive children had knowledge of their adoption at all.  (Everything that’s wrong with that, is material for another class on it’s own.)  Gradually, over time, some openness was allowed with some agencies, but still with limitations.  No identifying details were shared,  just very basic personal characteristics and medical/hereditary information.  Today, this still happens, but very rarely.

Semi-Open Adoptions

From here out, I’m going to use just the birth parent for explanation purposes, but this relationship can encompass just the birth mother, the birth father and/or extended family as aforementioned.  A semi-open adoption is when the birth parents have interactions with the adoptive parents and child, that entails non-identifying interactions.   The identity of all parties is usually not shared, and contact is, most often in the form of letters, cards, and sometimes emails.  Contact is usually mediated with the help of an adoption worker, or attorney, depending on whether it’s a private or public adoption.

Open Adoptions

In open adoption, both the birth parents and adoptive parents as well as the child, have a completely open relationship in the sense that identities are known on all sides.   Contact varies from adoption to adoption, but it can be anything from letters, phonecalls or photos, to face-to-face visits.  These visits can be once a year, or frequent and regular get-togethers.  They may include casual meet ups at home, the park, or family gatherings for holidays and special occasions.

How the degrees of openness are defined and executed are the same whether you go through the private or public adoption process.  What does differ between the two adoption options, is how the degree of openness is set.  There are no stats out there to say which adoption method offers more openness over the other, because it’s the circumstances which dictate what degree of openness occurs.

In private adoption, the adoption is birth parent driven.  The birth parents choose to place their child for adoption, and in most cases choose the adoptive parents for their child.  The decision is theirs as to where on the openness spectrum they choose to place their relationship with their child and the adoptive parents.

In public adoption, the adoption is most often due to severance of parental rights.   There are a number of reasons children are placed for adoption with child protective services; abuse, neglect, inability to parent, a death in the family, and sometimes (though not as often), parents willingly relinquish their rights.  In this method, usually the courts dictate what level of parental contact there will be.  The degree to which it is exercised within the legal boundaries can still be the choice of both sets of parents, but it is not entirely in the hands of the birth parents as it is with private adoption.

Both methods can still impose a closed adoption option.  In both private and public adoption, the birth parents may find it too painful to remain in contact, and opt for a closed adoption.  But in public adoption, sometimes, regardless of the birth parent’s wishes, the court deems a closed adoption the best option for the safety and well being of the child.

So now you know the definitions, but how does this all work?  How can you adopt a child, and as their parent, potentially share their life with their birth parents?  Why would you want to?  Ask a lot of adoptive parents, and they will tell you they had the same reaction that I did when they first learned about open adoption.  They didn’t want to even entertain the thought.  It made them uncomfortable.  Would they be co-parenting this child?  How could they face their child’s birth parents and share their child’s life without feeling guilty for taking them away from them?  Alternatively, how can they have a relationship with the person who may not have taken proper care of their child, or worse?  What if the birth parents didn’t like them or their parenting methods?  Or worse, what if their child liked their birth parents better?  So many questions, and the answer doesn’t address any of them.  The answer is that it isn’t about the birth parents or the adoptive parents.  It’s completely about the child, and their well being.

The reason closed adoptions are no longer the only way is because a child needs to know where they come from, no matter how or when their journey into adoption begins.  Even a child adopted from birth recognizes when they are taken away from their birth mother.  They have spent nine months surrounded by her body, her smell, and her voice, and then suddenly removed and placed in the arms of strangers they have no connection to.  Children adopted at an older age will already have memories of their birth parents.  They may not all be good memories, but they are the child’s history, nonetheless.  The clarity of older an adoptee’s memories will vary depending on their age when they leave their birth family, but they will be there, regardless.  But those memories are finite.  They will stop before their memories with their birth family begin.  There is a huge gap, that no amount of love, care and nurturing can fill.

An adoptee’s need for their history is as personal as their adoption story is.  I’m not going to pretend to know the desire behind the need to know who your parents are.  I’m not an adoptee, so I can’t even begin to speak with an authentic voice, and wouldn’t deign to try.  However, I do have personal experience witnessing someone who doesn’t have their complete history, and the anguish it caused them for many, many years, and still does on some level.  I have seen the pain of just not knowing where you came from.  Of having a part of you missing.

I don’t expect my words to sway you if you’re not at the point of accepting open adoption as a viable option for you and your future family.  But I do hope that I might sway you toward keeping an open mind and doing your due diligence and learning more about the benefits of open adoption.  I know personally, I want my children to look back on a life that was the best I could give;  I want them to have laughter, infinite unconditional love, and a safe place to fall.  The one thing I can’t give them is their life, but that doesn’t mean I can’t give them a relationship with the person who did.