Tag Archives: semi-open adoption

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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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.