Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Supporting Loved Ones Who Are Adopting

Throughout our path to parenthood, M. and I have been amazed and touched by the thoughtful and caring things that people have said and done for us. Sometimes, sweet gestures or just the right words have come from unexpected places when we needed them most.

Let me also say that I know that infertility and adoption are very foreign subjects to most folks and that they can feel awkward to discuss because they often connect with very personal issues and/or loss. We understand that, so we cut fumblers a lot of slack. We recognize that most missteps aren't intended to be negative and probably even come from a "good" place. Never-the-less, we've received a few thoughtless comments or questions that are curiosity-overgrown-to-nosiness that have stung and left me (yes, me!) stumbling for an appropriate response.

So, I thought I'd write some about things that can be said or done (or not said or done) to support a loved one who is adopting. But as it turns out, Heather at ProductionNotReproduction - one of the bloggers I follow - has already written on just this subject and done a marvelous job! As I told her when I asked for permission to link or quote from her site, "Why mess with perfection?!"

I hope you'll check out her original post AND then the one she wrote subsequent to it that incorporates a lot of the great input she got from other readers.

Here is Heather's spot-on advice on supporting family members who are adopting.

Again, I invite anyone with further input or questions to be in touch. You can add a comment or send me an email or whatever works best for you. Remember, we want an OPEN adoption, which to me means being open about our circumstances, thoughts, and feelings with anyone who is kind enough to care about them.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Why is OPEN Adoption So Important?

This is a question we’ve had to ask ourselves a lot over the last year and a half, and one we’ve had to explain to others over the last couple of weeks.

Truth be told, when we first began to consider adoption, it was an uncomfortable concept. We had a lot of concerns. In fact, as we learned more about the various kinds of adoption available to us, we found that our concerns were quite typical. Heck, I’ll run through most of them for you. But I’ll also indicate why we’ve come to recognize that those concerns were ill-placed:

If we have contact with our child’s birth mother…

Won’t our kid feel abandoned?
Maybe. But we think these kinds of feelings are more likely in closed adoptions, when the child (or the adoptive parents for that matter) don’t have an opportunity to explore reasons and motivation for placement directly with the birth family. Instead, we hope our child feels very, very wanted. So wanted that one mother carried him or her for nine months, and then carefully selected a family. So wanted that she made what is likely the most difficult decision of her life and then followed through on an adoption plan. So wanted that another family took on the awesome responsibility of parenting and welcomed the little one – someone without any blood ties – into their live with open hearts.

Won’t our kid resent our adoption and/or miss her birth family?

Again, maybe. And again, we think that openness will minimize the possibility or intensity of these kinds of feelings in our child.

Hopefully, “missing” the birth family won’t be an issue because they will be part of our lives. Ideally, if our kid misses her birth mom, she’ll pick up the phone and call her.

Won’t our kid think the “grass is greener” and wish to be with the other family?

(Can’t you just hear the 15 year old shouting, “My birth mom would let me wear this!”?) Research has shown that adoptees without information about their birth families tend to romanticize them. While there may come a time that our child suspects life would’ve been better/easier/more fun with another family, in an open adoption he will have information about why the plan was made in the first place, and information about what the birth family is like now. The desire to spend time with them (or not) will be based in reality, not fantasy.

Won’t we get pulled into someone else’s troubled life?

Like in any relationship, establishing boundaries will be important. But it was unfair of us to assume that there would be any more “trouble” in our birth family’s lives than in any of our other friends’ or family members’. Indeed, the fact that an adoption plan was developed says a lot about someone’s strength in trying to make the best of a very difficult situation.

How could we feel like the “real” parents if other parents are involved?

Adoptive parents ARE the real parents. AND so are the birth parents. I think feeling comfortable with this concept requires several things. First, confidence in the special bond we – the adoptive parents – will be able to build with our child. (M. and I have that confidence…and I hope our kid’s birth parents will have a special bond as well, just a different kind of bond.)

Second, it requires a re-interpretation of what it means to be a “real” parent. In this day and age, traditional nuclear families seem to be exceptional. So why do so many people still think that the main ingredient in a parent-child relationship is a genetic connection? Isn’t real parenting more about what you do than who you are? What do “real” parents do? Most fundamentally, they do the things they believe will help their child become a happy, healthy, independent human being. Biology has little to do with enabling those behaviors.

Third, feeling comfortable that our child will have other parents – and additional extended family members - involved in his life also requires the conviction that the more people who care deeply about our child, the better. Wouldn’t we all love to have more people who remember our birthday? Are excited when we reach a new milestone in life? Tell us that their lives are fuller because we are part of it?

Won’t out child lose her cultural identity if she is not with her birth family?

This is a concern, especially if we adopt trans-racially, which is likely. But again, being part of an open adoption will help. For one thing, we’ll HAVE information about our child’s heritage, so then we can work on incorporating those traditions and experiences into our lives.

Ideally, our open adoption will include plenty of visits. So in fact, our child is likely to come into contact with plenty of people who look like her. If, for example, we are struggling to figure out how to “do black hair,” I hope I can just ask her birth granny for help, or whatever.

We also believe that cultural identity is about a lot more than genetics. So there is also a good chance our child will come to appreciate Scandinavian Christmas decorations and Irish beer as we do…

Would it be illegitimate to raise our child our way, if our parenting choices differ from the birth parents’?
We will have to trust that our birth family is placing their child with us because they will support our parenting choices.

Again, ideally, we’ll be able to share enough information about ourselves and our parenting philosophy that when the birth parents elect to match with us, they will feel informed and comfortable about our approach. Sure, they might not understand or even agree with some of our decisions, but they will accept that we are parenting this child, and that means that we are the “deciders.”

Won’t she want to take him or her back, once she sees how cute/smart/awesome the kid is?

Okay, this is the big one, for me and probably most adoptive parents. Research shows that this fear just isn’t based in reality. In fact, when birth mothers regret their decision to place (which is rare), it is most often not because the kid is thriving, it is because they worry that the child is suffering or in danger. And – broken record – openness usually helps calm those fears.

That’s not to say that receiving regular updates and photos of a jolly baby in another mother’s arms isn’t likely to be painful for a birth mom. It usually is. But the loss and grief of adoption is there whether there is contact or not. Hopefully, with a good, strong open adoption, our birth family - in addition to the pain and sadness of placing their child – will experience the joy and delight in being involved in her life as she grows.

And a little bit more…

Adoption – open or closed – links two families together forever. Unlike marriage, it usually happens rather quickly and with limited information about all of the people involved. Never-the-less, I often make the analogy that birth families are to adoptive families as in-laws are to a married couple. They may not be who you would choose to be related to, but you have come together because of love for the same person.

Just as I have counseled friends with difficult in-laws to work hard to build a strong relationship for the sake of their spouse, M. and I will try to nurture a respectful, honest, and – hopefully – loving relationship with our child’s birth family.

(BTW, I have great in-laws who I have come enjoy and love very much. But that was kinda a crapshoot, like it may be with our birth family.)

There is an I in Open Adoption

We elected to pursue open adoption mainly because we believe it is healthiest for the child. We’ve learned that openness can also be helpful to birth families, and I hope the things I’ve outlined here explain why.

But I have come to realize that I want an open adoption for selfish reasons too.

I read recently about a birth mom who took part in a panel discussion and workshop for other birth parents. They discussed what they want from their child’s adoptive families, and what was striking to her is that birth mothers crave friendship from adoptive mothers.

Do I crave friendship with our birth mother? Sure, that would be lovely. But really that’s not necessary. Mutual respect and appreciation, yes; but she doesn’t need to be my buddy. In fact, chances are that our life situations will be so different that it would be unlikely we’d pay much attention to each other in other circumstances (which is kind of sad).

However, in noodeling all of this through my mind and heart, I realized that I want to know how our birth mother is doing after she places our child. If I don’t, I will really, really worry that she regrets her decision.

If we’re in touch, there is a chance that she could TELL me she regrets it (and oh, that would be devastating to learn), or I could surmise it. But at least then I’d know, and I could deal with it.

I’d rather cope with reality than obsess about things on which I can only speculate and cannot influence in any way. I suppose I am just not one who appreciates mysteries.

Of course, in our seemingly perpetual state of waiting, all of this is hypothetical. We’re able to dream about the ideal…and worry about the less-than…. So, I’m eager to hear from you, dear readers. (Knock, knock, knock – anybody out there?)

What would be/are your concerns about open adoption?

Or, why do you advocate for it?

Where is my conjecturing off base?

What has been your experience with open or closed adoption?

Are there things M. and I should be doing now to prepare ourselves better for it?

Thursday, August 6, 2009

So Close(d)

So….we did eventually get in touch with S. And she’s great. Very easy to talk with, mature, and articulate. She lives on the other side of the country and is due in mid-September. Most significantly, she checked out our web site and is very interested in placing with us.

Sounds like an easy match, right? Not so much.

She doesn’t want any contact after birth. She is very adamant that she knows it would be too difficult for her. She is not interested in photos or updates or anything.

And to make it more complicated, there would be no contact with the birthfather or his family either. Plus, she has another child – who would be our child’s (half?)sibling – with whom we would also not have contact.

We know, from our research and conversations with current triad members, that relationships in adoption - like in all of life - change. Often, those that start open, end up closing. Or those that start closed, end up opening.

But we cannot count on that.

I had a great conversation with an a-mom earlier this week. When I shared our dilemma with her, she said that initially, her birthfamily said they wanted no contact too, but that the relationship they built during the match forged the trust and appreciation she believes actually made it possible for them to place their child. She is convinced that if they hadn’t had a lot of contact before the baby was born and if the family hadn’t been convinced that they would continue to have contact, ultimately they would not have been able to give their baby up.

I also talked with a dear, long-time friend who's followed our path with great empathy and support. She sounded kind of astonished when I told her we were struggling with the decision about whether to match. She knows how long and how desperately we’ve wanted a child. And she’s married to a very normal, well-adjusted good guy who was adopted and has no more than a faint curiosity about his birthfamily. Couldn’t we have a healthy child without openness? M. and I agree that we probably could.

M. and I have had to re-evaluate – and re-re-evaluate – our commitment to openness. We know it is unlikely we’ll find a situation that is “ideal.” Is lack of openness one of the things we are willing to be flexible about? How important is it going into a situation agreeing that openness is the best thing for everyone involved, especially the child?

This morning I called our counselor and told her that we have decided to pass on this situation.

I feel sad.

I feel sad that we won’t be parents in September. I feel sad that S. will have to go through the difficult process of finding a family for her child again. And I feel sad for a child that will most likely be raised without knowing her or her relatives.

This was a very difficult decision, but it is the right one for us.

(Going through another six months without any additional contacts would, I know, really test that conviction, so please, please, please….)