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?


Kristin said...

Darn these stupid Blogger paragraph breaks. Sorry 'bout that!

Bobby said...

As a gay male couple, we think open adoption makes the most sense for us. We want to be able to answer our daughter's questions as best we can with truthful information. Our birth mother wants minimal communication and we find ourselves being the ones that initiate contact. Almost a week after we took Sabrina home, I sent a batch of pictures to her birth mother. I got back an email that I will keep forever, where she tells us looking at the pictures validated her decision to place with us and made her so happy to see the love and joy surrounding our daughter. She makes a point to always differentiate, even before the birth, OUR daughter as compared to HER daughters (she is parenting two girls). Fears of the baby being taken back are not realistic anyway, as once the relinquishments are complete that is very near impossible legally anyway.

Thanksgivingmom said...

I think your answers are spot on and awesome.

I could talk about my OA experiences for hours (and I do!)

I thin you guys are doing great in educating yourselves and preparing. Just know that OA can be harder than you've ever imagined, but that even when it is, it can still be more rewarding than you ever imagined. Good luck!!!

Ginger said...

Thanks you for sharing this. It was really interesting to read. I'm not sure what you could do to prepare yourselves that you're not already doing.