Tuesday, May 30, 2006

What open adoption is NOT

After Gem's comment on my open adoption post, I thought I would tackle some of the myths and concerns of open adoption.

First of all, open adoption is not shared custody, step parenting or in some way a more legally relaxed adoption. When you adopt through a reputable agency, the expectant parents' rights are fully and legally terminated ... period ... end of story. The adoptive parents are the parents ... period ... end of story. So, the fears of a birth parent returning one day to demand their child ... hmmmm, well let's say that were to ever happen. They can demand all they want, but they are not the child's parents. They can take the child, but that would be kidnapping. See? A legal adoption makes you the parent, as if you have given birth to that child. We'll get to all of the scary Dateline stories later. For now, hang with me.

In open adoption, your child is adopted (like every other adopted child), but you have contact with some or all of the birth family. With every adoption it is different. We have contact with my daughter's birth mother AND birth father, her full blood brother, and ALL of their extended family. Some only have contact with birth grandparents, some with only one of the birth parents, and some birth mothers have had contact, disappeared for awhile and then reestablished contact later in the child's life. These relationships are as unique as the children they serve. None of them look exactly the same.

Which brings me to my next point: open adoption has indescribable value for adopted children ... period ... end of story.

But what if they were abused or neglected? What if the birth mom has an addiction? What if they steal? What if they are in prison? What if their language and behavior is in direct contrast to the limits you have for your child? What if they have a mental illness? Good questions!

Our agency really emphasizes the words of Dr. Randolph Severson, in his book, "A Letter to Adoptive parents on Open Adoption":

Openness means that everyone involved in the process, whether adoptive or birth parents, is open to meeting and talking with each other both prior to and subsequent to the placement. How much communication and contact will occur is impossible to say. But, in an open adoption, the assumption exists that there will be as much as possible within the limits of courage, compassion and common sense.

Hmmmm ... courage, compassion and common sense. That's what we all must exercise as parents. So, in open adoption you push yourself to be courageous - building relationships with someone new and, perhaps, different from yourself; maybe recognizing that your child will benefit from the truth, even if it is not rosy. You must have compassion - knowing your child has a connection with birth family, and your child will see how you view and respect that connection and place that same view and respect upon themselves. Without a doubt, all parents must have common sense - the birth father is in prison, so you can encourage letters and perhaps phone calls; the birth mother is known to steal, so you have visits at a public venue instead of your home; the child was abused or neglected, so you work diligently with caseworkers to find extended family, teachers or caregivers that had a loving, safe relationship with the child.

And this explains the root of most of the fear. The descriptions above are how most birth parents are viewed. If they could "give up" their baby, they must be on drugs, not love the child or have some sort of chemical imbalance. You would think that after all of these years, the stereotypes would be abolished, but change is slow. Surf around and find some birth mother blogs. You'll find a wide array of women. You may even find a reflection of yourself ... the way your life could have played out if you had faced different circumstances, or had less support. I see myself in all of their faces.

The fact is that birth parents have as much love for their children as we all do. They don't give up love. They don't give up that connection. They don't give up and walk away. THEY are the first in this journey to show courage ... compassion ... and common sense.

Some people say they can't have an open adoption because the birth parent has disappeared .. or they've died ... or it was an international adoption. Well, what can you do to open up your child's past to them? Their history? Can you search for that birth parent? Can you talk to extended family, friends or coworkers? What can you discover about them? How can you record it for your child. What does the caseworker remember about them? Foster parents? Are there old yearbook photos at the library?

Our CPS trainer adopted one of her foster children. The daughter was not allowed contact with her birth mom. Birth mom was severely abusive and would spend most of her life in prison. So she (the adoptive mom) made the daughter a detailed lifebook, having to make photo copies of the one yearbook photo she could find, and dressing up the only other picture - a mug shot - with pretty stickers. The child's story was written out in age appropriate language, and as she has grown, her mother has explained the details a bit more. Eventually she will face the graphic details, but none of the realities have ever been withheld from her. She has her story. As an adult, she will feel confident in having boundaries about her past, and any future contact she'll have with her birth mother. That part of her has always been in existence.

One day my daughter will be old enough to realize that her birth mother had a choice. She will wonder why she is parenting her brother, but not her. Her birth mother will answer those questions. It will hurt. They will cry. All adopted children will face those feelings. However, my child will face them as soon as they surface, and she will see the tears in the eyes of her first mother ... hear the love in her voice ... start to understand, if only a little bit, the most painful decision of her life.

So, back to the scary Dateline stories ... how do those creepy scenerios take place? Each time I see those stories, I start to dig a little deeper. People like to cut corners. I'm as thrifty as they come. However, you should find a bargain on dry cleaning ... not on a child legally entering your home! There are a lot of handshake agreements that go on. Many times family members or close friends will step in and care for a child for someone, and it is "agreed" that they are being "adopted." These people don't finalize the adoptions. They don't receive training and counseling. There are no background checks run. The expectant parents are not counseled. Sometimes the proper legal steps are not taken to identify the expectant father so that he can terminate his parental rights. Those people are playing with fire. Some of them get burned.

This goes for expectant parents, as well. You have rights - click here to learn what they are. If an agency does not support those rights, find a new agency. Find someone who provides thorough counseling for you and the adoptive family. If you feel like they are trying to "talk you into adoption," walk away. You need professionals who can guide you through the realities of parenting, so that adoption is your choice only after you have investigated your ability to parent your child. This is your child. Ask as many questions as you need to ask. Trust your instincts.


That concludes our lesson on the myths and fears of open adoption. I would like a one page summary by tomorrow, with footnotes (which should be easy - all notations will be "Christine's Blog.").

Class dismissed.


Anonymous said...

Well, bless you! Good, thorough discussion on what OA is and isn't. That said, I just have one teensy problem.

This goes for birth parents, as well. You have rights. If an agency does not support those rights, find a new agency. Find someone who provides thorough counseling for you and the adoptive family. If you feel like they are trying to "talk you into adoption," walk away. You need professionals who can guide you through the realities of parenting, so that adoption is your choice only after you have investigated your ability to parent your child.

It's hard for an expectant Mother (not birthmother since she hasn't yet signed the TPR) to realize when she's being taken for a ride. Why? She's never been down this road (if it is the first time she's placed.) It's often said that you don't know how to be a firstmother until you are one and, hand in hand with that, you don't know how to place a child, deal with an agency or demand respect until... sometimes, it's too late. My agency? Screwed me over AND the adoptive family. Thankfully we're both great families and survived their atrocities. But others just aren't so lucky.

But definitely: don't cut corners. Best advice ever. :)

Anonymous said...

Although I have not experienced an adoption, I am forever curious about the process. Thanks for sharing this, I never really knew what an open adoption meant for both sides.

Unknown said...


Thanks for the input. I've made corrections to that affect!

Harmonia said...

Thanks for sharing this info with your viewers...very interesting!

Marshamlow said...

You obviously love your children very much and are actively trying to give them the best life possible. My adoptive parents were the same. Yet, being the child in an open adoption was horrid for me. I hope you wont mind me putting into words what I felt.

I felt very much a part of my adoptive family. However, when we had to visit or talk about the birth family it made me die inside. I never said that to my parents. I felt that it was being pointed out and talked about the fact that I didn't belong. When we went to visit and the birth family, who were much less affluent and didn't have our values, it felt like a reflection of me. I felt that the adults were pointing out and exposing the dirty poor girl who lived inside of me and it was traumatic and awful. Yet, I never complained. I just felt like dying.

I couldn't analyze my psyche and tell my parents that I was being torn apart and humiliated. My child's mind worked in a very different way than my adult mind. I needed to feel included with my adopted family as a child. My very good friend who grew up with me and was adopted as well, he didn’t meet or get to know his birth family until he was in his 30’s. He never felt like an outsider in his home as a child and he has a great relationship with the birth family now, when he is old enough to not understand it.

Unknown said...

That is a tragic story. Parents should definitely let their children lead in that area when they are old enough. For instance, my daughter asks to call her birthmom and see her. However, it will always be her decision. I assume there will be times she will not want to be at her home (just like there will be times she might not want to bring friends to her own home).

We will have adoption stories prepared ahead of time for our child: A, B, and C. If a stranger asks a question about her being adopted (it's obvious because we are different races), she can just let me know how she is feeling that day. If it's an "A" day, then she doesn't mind us talking about it and sharing details. "C" would mean that I politely say, "That is her private information, but we appreciate your interest."

We will also talk ahead of time about her relationship with birth family. We will give her permission to choose based on how she is feeling about herself and her birth family as she grows. It's so important to give your adopted child PERMISSION to feel ... whatever! We will also talk with her birth family about this as she grows, so that everyone understands she is not denying any of us, but working through her grief in her own way. We have to expect her to feel that way.

Excellent point. Our agency provides ongoing counseling for anyone in the adoption triad, so that is something that we can all utilize throughout her life, as well.

Anonymous said...


I'm glad that you'll let your daughter lead in this area. We have much the same "rule" for when Munchkin is able to voice her opinion on whether visits are good or bad. Thankfully, since D is such an awesome Mom in general, should Munchkin decide that she DOESN'T want contact with me for awhile, D has promised updates just so I don't worry.

I know there will come a time when Munchkin wants her space and while it will hurt, of course, I'll afford her that. I've always had her best interest at heart and, darn it, I'll follow through no matter the cost to me!

Sharon said...

What a nie post. The part about your daughter finding out why her birth mother gave her up brought tears to my eyes! You children, all of them, are blessed to have you.

Anonymous said...

I'll have to direct dh to this post. We were talking about open adoption recently and he said the idea scared him and brought up many of the myths. I am all for it because I've never known my father and I know firsthand how hard that is!

Amy T. S. said...

Hi. You're beautiful.

Thanks, Lana, for introducing us!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the informative post - it helped me understand open adoptions in a new way.

Michelle V said...

What a great post. I'm blogging and linking to your article (set to post June 27th) Thanks!!!

LaReinaCobre said...

Oh, this post is awesome. You are awesome, Christine. I've been interested in open adoption for years, and you are right - it is not easy, it is not about blaming or being the hero - but healthy relationships and self-esteem for one's child.

*sigh* I am so inspired.