Wednesday, November 26, 2008

National Adoption Month - Open Adoption

"Remember, what birthparents relinquish is not their connection to the child. That can never be relinquished. It just is. There is no why. It just is. But what they do relinquish are the rights and responsibilities of parenting."

From A Letter to Adoptive Parents on Open Adoption by Randolph W. Severson, Ph.D

Our family has been involved in open adoption experiences for five years. When I first heard the words "open adoption," I thought what most of you think - "You have got to be kidding me." We have a lot of adoption in my family. Yet, my dad opened his adoption the good, old fashioned way - when he was 50!

Then, I became educated on open adoption, and it all changed. I had been around and familiar with adoption my whole life, but I still had no clue as to the tremendous benefits and need for open adoption. Crazy, isn't it, that I didn't know it all? I was shocked, myself. I was also greatly humbled that I would make assumptions on something so important to a child, without really taking time to understand it.

If you are considering a closed or semi-closed arrangement because you are uncomfortable with the idea of openness, then I challenge you to stop and not move along in the process until you do the following:

**Read at least 3-5 books on open adoption.
**Talk openly with at least five families in open adoptions.

Don't do it because you want to (um ... because you DON'T want to), but because you can't know now, everything your child will need for a lifetime. Realize that your child will benefit from the truth, even if it is painful and ugly and uncomfortable for the adults.

Third verse, same as the first.

Your child will benefit from the truth, even if it is painful and ugly and uncomfortable for the adults.

I have two children that entered our home by birth, and three that have entered (or are entering) our home by adoption. All three adopted children have access to their entire extended birth families - their first families. Some of those connections are easy and sweet and fun. Some are messy and complicated and have boundaries in place. Some involve visits and phone calls. Some of them just exist through old photos and a few fleeting bits of information. Some choose not to have contact. All of them are vital to my children. It is their story. It is their history. It is their access to answers and relationship. They get to take it and use it as needed, throughout their life, as they grow and change and love and hurt and grieve and celebrate.

Not all birth family members are loving. Not all are consistent. Sometimes our children want contact and it is denied. Sometimes birth family initiates and one of my kids pull back. They have that right. We all work through it together, and seek counseling if we're not exactly sure how to navigate something.

Studies on open adoption are still unfolding (although, it's nothing new). Some interesting findings:

Children of open adoptions have a more positive image of their birth mother. (Dr. Ruth McRoy, University of Texas in Austin)

Adoptive parents with fully open adoptions are less fearful of the stability of their adoption, and more comfortable talking about adoption, than closed adoption parents. (Dr. McRoy)

Children of open adoptions are reported to have fewer behavioral problems than children of closed adoptions. (Dr. Marianne Berry, California Longitudinal Study on Adoption)

From the Minnesota Texas Adoption Research Project:
* Parties in open (fully disclosed) adoptions are not confused about their parenting rights and responsibilities.
* Birth mothers do not attempt to "reclaim" their children.
* Children in open (fully disclosed) adoptions are not confused about who their parents are. They do understand the different roles of adoptive and birth parents in their lives.
* Differences in adolescent adoptive identity or degree of preoccupation with adoption are not related to the level of openness in the adoption.
* Adoptive openness does not appear to influence an adoptee's self-esteem in any negative way.
* Adoptive parents in open adoptions do NOT feel less in control and, indeed, have a greater sense of permanence in their relationship with their child.
* Open adoption does not interfere with adoptive parents' sense of entitlement or sense that they have the right to parent their adopted child.
* Birth mothers in open and ongoing mediated adoptions do NOT have more problems with grief resolution; indeed, they show better grief resolution than those in closed adoptions. Researchers did find that birth mothers in time-limited mediated adoptions (where contact stopped) had more difficulty resolving grief at the first interview of the study (when the children were between 4 and 12 years old).

I have discussed open adoption at length before. Here are some of my posts that explain our experience, training and education on open adoption:

What Open Adoption is NOT

Open Adoption Isn't For Everyone - Or Is It? Part 1

Open Adoption Isn't For Everyone - Or Is It? Part 2

Open Adoption Isn't For Everyone - Or Is It? Part 3

Open Adoption Isn't For Everyone - Or Is It? Part 4

Open adoption allows you to really know and understand the adoption process. You know the birth family. You know the circumstances intimately. You know if the professionals are acting ethically. Your questions get living, breathing answers.

Open adoption does not take away grief. It involves relationship, so it is not perfect. I do not write about the sticky parts of open adoption in our home. That information belongs to my children. They accept it or reject it or talk about it or hide it, based on where they are and what their heart needs at the time. We are here to love them unconditionally, and give them a safe place to enjoy or grieve their connection to their first family.

Their stories have twists and turns and involve lots and lots of people - our extended family. And we are so crazy blessed to be a part of it, even when it's hard.

Especially when it's hard.

National Adoption Month - Definitely, Maybe!
National Adoption Month - Kids From the Hard Places

(photo by Lize Rixt)


Carole said...

Isn't that so often the case - that the hard things are also the things that grow us, mature us, are "good" for us?

Thanks for your posts. We're waiting for a match with a birthmom - hoping for an open adoption. When we first began thinking about adoption we definitely reacted to the idea of open adoption. And then a friend's sister placed her baby with an adoptive family. Perspective!

ali said...

great post! id just like to add one point:
be prepared for the level of openess to change! because shawn's mother had already placed a child 3 years prior, we figured she was very certain of what level of openess she truly wanted, but after placing him with us, she made her last contact with us(an short e mail response) when he was about 3-4 weeks old. i still mail the pics and letters every few months,(not sure if she accepts the stuff or not, we sned it to the agency) but she never responds or writes-very different level than i was expecting! we are actually sad that she doesnt want more contact and we miss her every day-shes a wonderful girl. maybe she will change her mind later on, but we have to be ok with whatever she decides. now the agency we went through is in danger of shutting down... what then???? OY.

Christine said...

We have some very close friends in the same situation. They will just always make themselves available (making sure if they move, their mail is forwarded, etc.), and they make sure they are listed on all adoption registries ... so if their child's first mother gets to a point where she can have contact, she will be able to find them.

If the agency closes, keep writing those letters and including pictures. Just put them in a safe place. It will show your child that it is still important to all of you. If the first mother is able to reenter your lives one day, she will see the same thing.

R-Liz said...

Christine-- I have a question for you and other adoptive (open or closed) parents out there:

-- How do you address the questions of people on the outside looking in? Now that our son's adoption is finalized, we're trying to be a little more closed-lipped about the specifics of why he came into our care and what his birth parents are up to now. Not b/c there's any shame in the facts, but b/c we feel it's our son's story, and his to tell. But, he's just now 3 (and 20 months when he came to us), so he's still young. And sometimes I find myself answering a person's questions, and then thinking later I shouldn't have done it. I guess I don't want our son to grow up and feel like everybody knows the details of his life, and he didn't have a say on if they should've known that info in the first place. How do I be respectful of what I think to be "his" story to share, but without giving the impression that it's a bunch of dark secrets?

And does that all make sense?

Anonymous said...

You know, Christine, I normally agree with you on everything .... EVERYTHING ...but... if you read my recent blog then you know how I feel about open adoption. I thank God that that crazy woman who happened to be my birth "mother" had no part/influence in my childhood what-so-ever. And considering her temper/mental instability, I am sure that for the safety of me and my family it was a good thing that she had no idea where we lived and knew nothing about us.

I am glad I didn't meet her or know her story until I was an adult. And even then I will ill equipped to handle her.

As for open adoption, I guess you really have to go on a case by case basis but certainly my experience makes me more than wary and I would encourage anyone to consider carefully if all parties would truly benefit.


Christine said...


When my kids were really little, I would get some crazy-personal questions, "Is her real mom a druggie?" Yeah. Stuff like that.

I would normally just re-ask the question - "Is YOUR mom a druggie?" ha! Kinda' stopped them in their tracks. Or I would just say, "Her first mother's name is J - she lives in Texas. Thanks for asking."

Then change the subject!

Laurie, just got to read your post. I can see your perspective, but we definitely disagree. I actually think an open adoption would have been really helpful for your situation. I think that you are visualizing open adoption as meaning that you would have been forced to have contact with your birth mother, in all her obsessive compulsiveness.

See, some of my children have some ... ummm ... not healthy things in their family trees. In open adoption, I get to be the adult and learn all that is going on with birth family. I get to introduce that to them in a healthy way. They won't just walk into it one day, and find out all the crazy on their own. You definitely got blind sided by your first mother.

Old Severson (that I quoted above) has a really popular saying - that open adoption takes "courage, compassion and common sense!"

dreamingBIGdreams said...

Christine - Thanks so much for this post. We are an open adoption family and love it. Fortunately for us we're adopting internationally right now and we will have relationships with family members from both kids in another country. Oh how we are so blessed!

At first our bmom didn't want a relationship. We were bummed and so happy when she changed her mind. My son will even say he has two mommy's, although he is only 3 and really doesn't even know all that means.

He has some stuff in his history that is HIS to tell and no one else so we don't tell. We'll give him age appropriate information as he ages.

Isn't parenting fun!!

Sara said...

Yes i can see how scary that would be for the adult...I'm glad your children have you. They are blessed. Even when they don't really feel like it.

Stephanie said...

Open adoption. Twelve years later into it, the whole process is still scary. To watch your child feel abandoned over and over again when the birth parent neglects to call or write for years. To have to sit by and always be supportive, remembering that this is the person who gave birth to the beautiful teenage girl that stands before you. To criticize would be in error because it will come back and haunt you. So you hold your tongue and fall on your knees in prayer before G-d asking Him to heal the woundedness in your daughters' hearts and to bring the birth mom and family into the knowledge and saving grace of Jesus. To realize that we are all fallen and by G-d's grace you have been given the awesome responsibility to rear this child to grow up and be a mighty woman of G-d. But when they don't, when they go undiagnosed for years because everyone says that you are too strict and become an adult who is out of control and you see generational patterns erupt, you cannot accuse, nor blame. That would be so easy and so hurtful. True forgiveness is being willing to answer a birth parents letters when they have dropped off the face of the earth for 5 years. It is then that we understand a bit of what Christ experienced in his suffering and death. Open adoption - it is a painful, messy process, but it is what is best for my children. They need to know where they got their hair and eye color from. They need to know their heritage. And maybe when they are old enough, they will find out the whole messy, ugly story. But until then, their birth mom loved them enough to give them up, to give them a chance to be loved in a different home. And it is my job to protect them and their story. Only they and G-d can re-write their story into the beautiful redemptive picture that adoption has come to be

robyncalgary said...

ive been reading your blog from first entries and this is as far as ive gotten so far. i want to comment on this particular post to truly thank you. i am a single mom of 2 daughters who's fathers are not in our lives, the man my older daughter knows as daddy isnt her biological father, he disappeared from our lives over 2 years ago, shes never met or known of her bio dad, my newborn's dad is a sociopath (i found out when i was 6 months preg and severed all contact with him). anyways i just wanted to thank you for encouraging, urging and pushing me to realize and accept that i need to be honest with my older daughter about where she comes from, even though it might be PAINFUL, UGLY AND UNCOMFORTABLE for me. thank you thank you thank you. now i just need to find the courage and right words to explain it to her in age appropriate words and a loving way so she wont feel abandoned or unloved. wish me luck :P lol

i know youre super busy im sure with your own angels, but if you have any advice or ideas id greatly appreciate any you might have :) <3