Thursday, January 20, 2011

Open Adoption

Needing to take a writing break, so today is a remix of an old post from November of 2008. Retro Christine, if you will.


"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. NOTE: open adoption does not mean putting your child in a situation that is not safe or that is an abuse/neglect trigger for them - but you can locate and hold onto those truths and answers for them - for when they are ready.

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)


Integrity Singer said...

the reason I consider our adoption as "semiopen" is because the kids' biomom is psychotic/extremely unwell. In the past visits with her have ended in the police being called (or in one other case, biomom's new hubby answering he door with a loaded double-barreled shot gun)

so we're "semi open" out of self preservation from psychoses. and because the biodads for all three of them are either AWOL or didn't give a flyin' flip. so we don't either. (perks of adopting kids from a psychotic woman, she shags with psychotic men)

good god, i could write a book on psychoses...

Lynn said...

I fear that this comment may get too long. I apologize in advance for taking over your comments section.

The adoption of our middle son at birth was closed. Not because we wanted it that way per se. But because (I believe) that's what the birth parents wanted.

He wasn't adopted thru an agency. His parents voluntarily relinquished rights at birth. I believe they were going to take advantage of the Safe Haven law in the state we lived in at the time. But, when speaking with professionals at the hospital after his birth, understood that it would be easier for their child if they formally relinquish rights. But, they never wanted to initiate any contact with us - the foster/adoptive family.

As far as our son is concerned, he has always known about his adoption. We talk about it regularly. He knows as many of the details about his birth family as we do.

I've always had a nagging desire to "find" his first family for him. I'm not sure why. But I think it was because I figured "finding" them early after the adoption would be easier than trying to track them down when he's 18 or older.

I found his first mom on Facebook. Should I initiate contact? I would prefer an option adoption setting but our son is only seven so he's not really old enough to make that kind of a decision is he???? (My hubby is much, much more nervous about open adoption than I am as well so I must factor that in.)

I'm just dying to know other peoples' opinions on this.

Ali said...

We are in a semi-open (that is what the agency called it) but in all reality, it's closed. We were disappointed that it ended up being as closed as it is. We were supposed to at least get a picture of the bio mom, but didn't even get that. We found out the bio mom's full name and the agency freaked out. I know that we will have some hard times with our son in the future because of it. I am sure our next adoption will be different.

There are times that I google the bio mom's name in hopes that I can at least find a picture to show our son when he is older. But no luck.

My God Given Mission Field

Erika said...

I wanted what you have. Our adoption is open by virtue of the fact that our children were older when removed from their first homes and adopted by us. 1/4 birth parents involved in our family relinquished parental rights (semi) voluntarily AND asked us to adopt. The other 3 were and remain resentful of us. We tried, but things got really bad for us. First family pissed that we "gave" daughter a "lesbian" haircut (the bob cut she begged for, and carried out by a professional salon) - can you imagine what that felt like for the child? Child abuse hotline calls full of outright lies?!? Every letter sent home was met with a screaming hysterical call back to us about how we were screwing with their minds (kids wrote about fun things they were doing). I think I would offer this caveat for other families in similar situations: If the first family doesn't support you and your family, visits are probably not going to be in your child's best interests. They weren't in mine. Maintain first family connections to the extent you feel is possible. Ours have framed photos all over their rooms, we talk, we write down memories with them... visits are just not going to work for us.

Missy said...

I am the proud birth mother of a 12 (almost 13) year old son with whom I am VERY blessed to have an open relationship with. I placed him in 1998 when open adoption was practically unheard of. I'd read a book (David's Story) when I was pregnant and formulated the idea of what I wanted our relationship to look like. The Lord led me to his parents and they were just as open to exploring an open relationship as I was.

13 years later I can honestly say it was the best decision of my life. Our families are close, in an extended family way, I've been able to be a part of his life, my parents have been able to be his "grandparents" and he knows who I am and why and how he was given to his parents.

Our only goal was to love my son and his family has welcomed us with open arms, allowing us to do just that. I have a book in the works... I just need to find time to actually pour my heart out into it! More people need to be aware of the benefits and potential complications of an open adoption but it is well worth it for every member of the family to explore it as an option. It was the perfect answer for ours and I am infinitely grateful to be a part of my son's day to day life.

Aleisha said...

Our adoption was private, and the birth mother asked me for access to him on weekends. The situation for us is this...I stay in contact with her, she holds a hero's place in our home, and I love her deeply. I tell her she's like my silent partner in motherhood...she did the part that I can't do, and I'm doing the part that she wasn't up for. However, I want his contact with her to be his decision...when he's old enough to make it. I have many adopted friends who only felt confusion, because they met their parents during their childhood, and wished that they had grown to the place where they could compartmentalize their parent situation. Now, I don't have any idea about children who have already known their families...but, for us, we are our son's one else. It's not a revolving door, however, his adoption is very much an open subject. Pictures of us with the judge, loving talk about the woman who brought him into the world, and an emphasis on his intrinsic value. We absolutely honor his origin!

Missy said...

I whole-heartedly agree that the decision to remain in contact with the birth parents (or family) should ultimately rest in the adopted child's hands once they are of the age to make those decisions. I've said from day one that the decision is my son's and if he should decide he doesn't want us in his life, we will respect that.

As they are growing up and throughout their childhood, however, the decision needs to be the adoptive parents and whether or not they feel comfortable or secure enough in themselves to extend the graciousness of an open adoption to the birth family.