Thursday, January 25, 2007

Open Adoption isn't for everyone .... or is it? Part 4

Birth family members deserve the benefits they receive through open adoption.

For some, open adoption starts out solely focused on the benefits to their child. I found myself feeling that way in the beginning, because the relationship you have with birth family does take time to grow. We did not meet our child's mother while she was still pregnant. We had one phone call, one visit and within two weeks our seven month old moved to her forever home. We did not have months to hang out and get to know each other. We had a third child and a brand new set of relationships to develop.

It was very hard for me. I was juggling bonding with my new child (who was openly grieving the loss of her foster parents), helping my older two children adjust to their new sibling, and yet finding myself grieving heavily for J and R. I knew that one day my child would look back at the baby book journaling and at pictures. There would always be a relational connection to how she valued herself and how she saw her birthfamily valued. She would want to know how her birthfamily valued us, as well.

In those early days it was up to us (the grown-ups) to develop our relationships, and in our situation it took extra work from everyone. It would have been easier to have a few less phone calls, cards or visits. Yet, it helped J and R through the most fresh and raw stages of the grief. These were the people that gave their child life. They entrusted her to us ... to provide for her the things that they could not. The one thing that she would need, and the one thing that only they could give was their love and connection. Yet, that could only happen if it was a goal for all of us.

Day by day, through the extra effort, the extra day of vacation for visits, the forethought of how many extra pictures to order for extended birth family (all organizational things at which I STINK - pre and post adoption!) ... well, low and behold, we found ourselves becoming friends. We talked about things other than my youngest. We shared concerns and dreams. We would sit and listen to music together. Sing together. We were connected forever the day they entrusted us with their child. Now, over time, we have grown to love one another.

If a prospective adoptive parent cannot understand that they and their child are forever connected to their birth family ... they should halt their adoption process and allow their head and their heart time to understand and embrace that truth. Even without contact, an adoptive parent in open adoption will strive to give their child connection and answers. They will ask questions even when their child is not talking. They will never assume that silence = lack of interest.

My dad never went a week without wondering about his birth father. We talked about him openly. He had a picture and letters (long story, for another day ... if he'll ever let me buy the rights to it! ha!). I found that I also thought about him constantly. We all look just like my dad. We knew that he looked just like his birth father. As the grandchild, I felt that hole in my life. That hole was filled the day that they started to communicate with one another. I can't imagine what that did for my Dad if it had such a profound effect on me.

Children have the right to benefit from connection AND privacy.

Our open adoption has changed in just three years. My daughter started to ask to spend the night at her birthmother's home. That was never discussed in the beginning of our adoption match. I had two other children that were so deathly shy and such horrible sleepers that they wouldn't/couldn't spend the night at a grandparent's house until they were much older! Yet, our youngest could sleep anywhere/anytime, has never met a stranger and simply does not have the same personality as her siblings. She was a go-with-the-flow kind of gal. I was also the mother of THREE (definition: "I'm a lot more laid back than I ever was as a mother of ONE!").

I looked at my husband and said, "She wants to spend the night with J. Instead of us all making a day trip and having just a few hours again, we could meet halfway. This would give them lots of time together." He looked at me and replied, "Ya know, that sounds perfect!" J was just as surprised when we called her to offer. None of us saw that coming. In fact, during our match meeting we directly addressed the fact that I was not the type of mother to just let my kids go with someone other than us. I had never been comfortable with that. I had also never had a child that would have been comfortable with that ... until our adoption!

In our situation ... it grew to that level ... and much more quickly than any of us would have EVER expected.Our daughter has spent the night with her birthmother and brother twice. It gave them time to do hair, visit all of the extended family (including the massive amount of cousins, of which she is the ONLY girl on one side!), play, talk. I know that it also has given J time alone to say some things to her child ... personal things ... very private things. Maybe our daughter doesn't get it, but I know it has meant the world to J. Things like this don't happen in every adoption. It did for us, and we felt prepared and confident when the opportunity presented itself.

Our open adoption has already seen big change. Now, I've also noticed my daughter getting a little more protective of her adoption story lately. Sometimes I'll mention J just in conversation and she'll frown and say, "Don't talk about my J!" She's being private with it. We've all talked about the fact that she may have times in her life when she does not want to visit or talk to birth family. That's part of her journey, and we will all support her.

I hope I've helped, just a little bit. I hate to stop, because I'm sure that I've missed something. I'm sure that in my rushed typing I have fudged some adoption language, and there is someone that is upset by my snafu. I've probably left a question unanswered. So, until I hit this topic again, remember ...

It is a journey.

It's a mindset.

It is built on losses.

It takes courage, compassion and common sense.

Yet, it forever changes the lives of those it touches.


Jenna said...

Goodness girl, you left me in tears.

Thank you.

Hillary said...

Thanks for sharing these posts (I've just now read all four). It seems to be such a supportive, healthy option, particularly with the availability to the child or the birthparent to start or stop contact. I've never really thought that much about adoption, cause I've had no connection to it, but it's been interesting and enlightening to read about your experiences with and your heart for open adoption.

Anonymous said...

Hey girl, you have done a marvelous job of opening eyes. Even some of us who dealt with adoption that was not technically open can understand how emotionally healthy open adoption can be. You can share my story any time. I would love to write the story but it doesn't seem that will happen any time soon. While my adoption was different, lived with my birth mom and my adopted father (yes I adopted him as much as he adopted me), there was always an empty spot because I knew who my birth father was. You know the joy and completion that I received once we found each other. You witnessed it first hand. I only regret that it was so close to the end of his life. I rejoice that we had a few months to connect and to find out we were alike in more ways than our looks. Finding him also helped me find my two half-sisters and my half-brother and our relationship has blossomed despite separation by many miles and cultural differences (they're all yankees). I'm beginning to learn about the rest of my family, but that's another story. Maybe I do need to write it all down. At least my children need to have it even if it doesn't interest anyone else.


chiapett said...

Hannah's birth dad came to visit us last week. We had a great time. Thanks for your moving post.

btw, if you get a free moment, I've resurrected my blog ( ) and would welcome your insightful thoughts...

Dave Pettigrew