One of my favorite bloggers is Heather at Production, Not Reproduction. She’s coordinating an Open Adoption Roundtable, and you can head there to see what other bloggers are writing about on the same topic.
This week, she is prompting is us to "Share your wish list for your open adoption(s). Your list can be tempered by reality or packed with hopeful ideals.” As she anticipated, there is already some very enlightening exchange between various representatives within the adoption triad. (For the uninitiated, that's the birthparents, adoptive parents, and adoptees).
Here’s my first contribution to the Roundtable. Of course, it is very much “packed with hopeful ideals,” since we are waiting to make our match and to actually be in an open adoption!
Open Adoption Relationship Wish List
The open adoption match is frequently compared to dating, and I think it is an analogy that often works well to describe the “get to know ya” phase of the relationship. And I suppose that placement is somewhat like a wedding, in that it requires a huge leap of faith that entwines at least two families forever.
As part of our homestudy, M. and I had to reflect a bit on our ideal open adoption situation. After some reading and talking, M. shared something that I think is so wise. He said that he’s come to believe that what’s needed for a good open adoption is what’s needed for all good, long lasting relationships.
So for this Roundtable Forum, I started by thinking about what I believe are the key ingredients to my strong marriage. Sure ’nuf, I think the list could be applied to other family relationships and close friendships. Here’s my wish list, with specific reflections related to open adoption.
Affinity. What first drew M. and I together was our shared interests, and what drew us closer was our shared values. In my ideal open adoption, our birthmom will be attracted to us because she likes doing some of the same things we do and has some similar outlooks on the world. It is so much easier to build and maintain a relationship with someone when we can, for example, gab about the same books or movies, and when we don’t have to avoid a flippant comment (say, about our last president) because we fear it will offend.
Honesty. I want our birthfamily to know that M. and I have and will continue to represent ourselves honestly – warts and all. When we say we want an open adoption with continuing contact, we mean it. When we match, she should feel confident that she is basing her decision on authentic information and genuine intention. We’d like to have the same confidence in her and all members of the birthfamily.
And, our hope is that we will be able to continue to be honest with each other throughout our lives together, and especially with the child that we share. We don’t want to keep any of our child’s story hidden from him or her, and will work hard to make sure s/he knows it well (in an age appropriate way, of course).
Trust. So important, yet so slippery! One of my greatest open adoption-related hopes is that we will be able to easily earn – and then keep – our birthmom’s trust. In my experience, there are two important parts of trust in a relationship: trustworthiness and trusting. To have a good open adoption, everyone involved will have to behave honorably (see “honesty” above) so that they can be trusted by the others to do what they say and say what they do. This won’t be difficult for M. or me. But being able to trust someone else, in my opinion, often has more to do with the “truster” than the “trustee.” Past experiences, early observations, and/or natural proclivities can influence a person’s ability (willingness?) to trust another, regardless of true trustworthiness. Trusting is sometimes hard for me, and I know I will have to push myself to assume the best of a person or situation.
Placing a child with another family must be the ultimate act of trust. It will be critically important for us all to know in our bones that the others have our child’s very best interest at heart. I’ve come to understand that the biggest fear – and a common disappointment, I am afraid – for birthfamilies is not having the level of contact with the child that they desire. This makes me so sad. I suspect that trust – or rather, lack of it – is at fault in many of these cases. What I wish for our open adoption is that our birthfamily will trust that we will follow through on our oath to stay in touch to whatever extent they are comfortable…and that M. and I trust our birthfamily enough to continue to believe that their ready presence in our child’s life is what’s best for him or her.
Good Communication. I think that at the root of trust and honesty (and affinity, for that matter) is good communication. And conversely, trust and honesty are essential elements in communicating well. To have a strong open adoption, we must be open. We all will have to risk sharing what we think and feel – assuming we know what we think and feel – in ways that are fair and compassionate but direct. And we must especially work to listen.
Acceptance. I dream that as our child grows, so will awareness and appreciation for adoption and with that, new laws that protect all members of the triad and new practices that support us. I wish that when the time comes for our little one to do the "family tree" exercise at school, there will be no raised eyebrows or difficult questions.
Hand in hand with broader societal acceptance is, of course, individual acceptance. I hope that our birthmother can always feel proud of her decision, M. and I and our extended family can always feel confident about how our family was formed, and our child can always feel good that s/he is different and yet no different than the kids next door.
Respect. Like trust, this must be both earned and given. Respect means understanding and feeling okay with boundaries (we won’t need to know everything about our birthparents’ lives), reaching beyond our comfort zones in a effort to ease someone else’s, recognizing that our child’s story is his or hers – not ours – to tell, and understanding that, like all relationships, there will likely be ebbs and flows, peaks and vallies in our open adoption but that persistence is important. I suspect that in open adoption, birth and adoptive parents must sometimes stretch to understand that although their lives might be quite different, they are equally deserving of respect.
It should go without saying that our birthmom will have our deepest respect – and gratitude – for her adoption decision and placing her child with us.
Looking over this little list and my notes, it strikes me that they are mostly wishes for our relationship with a birthmother and her family, which perhaps minimizes the most important member of the adoption triad: the child. Suffice it to say, even when I don’t explicitly allude to it, I believe these things will be critically important in both our and our birthfamily’s relationship with the kid at every stage of life.
I want to give a special shout out to Ginger at Puzzle Pieces: Adoption. Her Roundtable contribution is so astute, and it obviously shaped a lot of my own thinking and writing on the topic. (Thanks again for sharing, Ginger!)
I fear that in open adoption – as in all relationships – preaching these values is easier than practicing them. Still, I think it is helpful to envision perfection, so that I have something recognizable to work toward. Besides, at this point, so much of our adoption experience is about dreaming and wishing. And as I’ve been known to say, “If wishes were horses…I might be trampled by the stampede.”