Tag Archives: birth family

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

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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.