Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Open adoption is a gift

As unusual as it may be, our children are able to have fully open adoptions. I say "unusual" because two of my children were born in another country, adopted and brought to the United States and then that adoption was dissolved. After all of those events, it took a lot of effort to locate their first family (and someone willing to help us maintain that contact).

One of our children was born not terribly far from us, and she joined our family when she was seven months old. Her mother was prepared to make an adoption plan before her birth, but ran into some obstacles. She wanted a fully open adoption. Our agency only provided and trained adoptive parents for such. Yet, at the time, they had no waiting families who were open to a child of color.

Yeah. It still sucks the breath right out of me to remember hearing those words.

So, our agency told her that they were fully committed to helping her locate a family who would only participate in an open adoption. Until that happened, they were able to provide an amazing foster care situation (seriously, while foster care is never ideal, this family is truly a jewel). Her other option would be to go to another agency that might provide "levels of openness" but her child could be placed with a family at birth.

After all of the stories I have now heard about mothers being promised things before birth, only to have them change down the road, I am so very thankful that J not only made the choice she did but that it was even available to her! Our agency worked tirelessly to locate several families, and despite the fact that it had been many months, J ... as her child's mother ... selected who would parent her daughter. She was treated with every ounce of respect she deserved.

Fast forward almost a decade, to this sweet child who is at an age where they are processing their losses through adoption. Feeling so many things. Acting out to try to communicate what is going on. In those moments, on the hardest of days ... she has us both.

She can pick up the phone and call her very first mother. She can ask her anything. She can be mad at her and she can love her. She can sit in the lap of her adoptive mother while talking, or walk as far away from me as possible.

J and I also talk about how we are each trying to help her. We work together, and brainstorm how we can better help minimize any competitive feelings of loyalty. Both of us have breaking hearts for this child we love so much, yet we also have such love and respect for one another. I want to be everything to my child, but I'm not. I never will be. Many times in the last year and a half, I have had to step back and allow my child to get what she needs from the woman who loved her first. I also know that when I do that, I'm providing J with healing for her heart. It IS her place. It IS her role in our daughter's life.

I certainly had years of jealousy issues, knowing how my child would feel about their first mother and how that made ME feel as a mother. Yet, when I allowed myself to watch my daughter love me, I had to .... well, I had to grow up. She loves me. I am her mother. But she does have another mother. A woman who, even if we didn't have such positive circumstances and relationship, she would STILL have a primal connection with deep within her soul. When I acknowledge that relationship. When I say the words. When I say, "We both love you. You are our daughter," I cannot explain the amount of relief that comes over her face. It's immediate. She needs to know her very first mother loves her, and that her adoption was not because of anything she did. She needs J to be much more than just someone who "gave birth to you." She needs to know they have a connection. She needs to feel valued by her, as she is valued by me.

Every open adoption looks different. They can't all be like this. They AREN'T all like this in our home. Yet, we never stop striving for each of them being as healthy and accessible as possible. Right now, in our home and even amongst the tears and pain ...

Open adoption is a gift.

(photo by Billy Alexander, used with permission)


Becky said...

We also have an open adoption but our circumstances are different. My sons birth mother has not maintained any contact with the adoption agency over the years. Not even once. In the minimal investigative efforts that I have been able to do ... his birth mom has moved 10 times in the last 8 years. I wish very badly that I could give him contact with his birth mom ... as he needs her as well.

Christine said...

Becky, we have some very dear friends who stayed available and kept searching for years. Finally, just this past winter, they made connections with a sister of their child's first mom.

The first mother is still not agreeing to contact, but is okay with the extended family doing so. It's giving this boy so many answers and connection he desperately wants.

Never give up. Stay available.

Ten Beautiful Years said...

We had the opportunity to have an "open adoption" the idea really appealed to me.

After talking to the family that had the oldest of the three half-siblings originally placed with us for adoption. I just didn't have peace about the open door to bio-mom.

Bio mom was addicted to a very dangerous lifestyle. The oldest's foster family actually paid for further "recovery treatments" out of their retirement fund after bio-mom exhausted all other avenues.

I believe with all my heart that bio mom is LOVEABLE!!!! And I believe she LOVES her kids... I just knew she was not a "safe" person for them to be around.

I have encouraged our children with the truths that their bio-mom loves them very much, and that she was just too sick by addiction to care for them properly.

The choice for complete closure was one I wrestled with... truly...

but I simply had no peace about an open door. I couldn't ignore that!

One thing I've learned and I pray I'll never forget is to pray for God's direction and strive to follow the path I have most peace about.

The oldest of the sibling group we adopted was murdered when she visited our kid's bio mom the year she turned 18. Bio mom is not the suspect.

But like I said... it was apparent that bio-mom was very addicted to a very dangerous lifestyle.

I would give EVERYTHING for that not to be the case.

Christine said...

Open adoption means history and answers. It doesn't have to mean just the first mom.

Search through and read all my posts on open adoption. We were actually trained and prepared for open adoption in adoption from foster care - where parental rights had been terminated.

Extended families, former neighbors, teachers, you name it. Connections are so vital for our kids. Don't give up until you find as many healthy connections as possible.

Sarah said...

Thanks for your post, Christine! In other posts have you gone into more detail about how you've stayed in contact with your kids' first families from Haiti? I would like that very much, but I'm not sure how to go about it.


Beth said...

This is a great post! We are at the beginning phases of finding out what our girls open adoption will look like. I have email contact and send pictures regularly, she would like to see them. Unfortunately this has led to a lot of hurt and little respect for us in the past. We are praying as to how we will respond when she asks to see them post adoption. Part of me wants the girls to have a say. I want them to want to see her before I thrust them into that situation. But they are very young. I am willing to do anything to help them. It's just very hard to know what that is. Right now we are focusing on building a healthy relationship with their bio brothers.
I'd love to hear more about this!

Anonymous said...

I'm in the "information collecting" stage of the adoption process. When we were asked to consider open adoption on our intake form we said "possibly" because we really didn't know much about it. Now that we've read a lot more, books and blogs, I can see what a huge positive influence - yes, gift - it can be.

At the same time we're looking at domestic public older child adoption, and we're being told in this situation that open adoption is very unlikely and often viewed as negative for the child because of past abuse. Do you have any reading / other parent blogs etc... you would recommend on what to expect how to help and older child prepare for the loss of first family, work to keep foster links open and what we might consider in this situation?

Tudu said...

We have extremely open relationships in all of our adoptions. We managed to find a way to do this even with horrific abuse in their past by their first parents,we include old foster parents and their aunts and uncles. In our private adoptions, we include their mothers and all extended family in all of our group/holiday functions. Our nearly 10 yr old spends a couple weekends a month with her mother and sisters while our youngest is still having supervised overnights a couple times a year.

I can't begin to tell you all the benefits we have seen with these relationships. We even had extended family members at one of our adoptions. This let the kids know we are all together in this. Once we experienced open adoption we were positive we couldn't do a closed and fought the state to find a sib group that had family we could work with. It hasn't always been easy and since their families lives are still chaotic and riddled with mental illness, we have to find it in our hearts to look past their issues and forgive their mistakes. We have heard numerous times from their first families that our relationship is the first they have had that is unconditional. They are learning from us how to parent their other children in a healthier way. It is a gift, to all of us.

Christine said...

I think Tudu did a wonderful job answering many of these questions. Make sure you read her comment (and visit her blog and ask more questions - she's a wealth of information).

Beth, think about it like this: do you take your kids to see their grandparents now? Aunts and uncles? Cousins? Do you ask them if they want those family contacts and visits?

No, we just do it. Sometimes we have boundaries with certain relatives due to issues, but we still typically see them and have contact with them. You should absolutely be doing that with your kids at this point. You bet. Don't wait until they are old enough to decide if they WANT contact. HAVE contact until they are old enough to decide how much.

My daughter, now, retells her story over and over again ... and details that she never, ever leaves out are visits with her first mother and father (one in particular when she was ONE and one of the last times she had first mom/dad/brother at the same time - it ALWAYS comes up). It is a big deal to her. If we did not have that contact she would wonder why - why did we not choose to see her first family? Were they really important to us, or do we think something is wrong with them ... with her, etc.

I highly suggest you read "The Open Adoption Experience." Also read "Twenty Things Adopted Kids Wish Their Adopted Parents Knew" (there is a link on the right side of my blog in the sidebar - I'm rereading it right now as a refresher). It's GOOOD stuff.

Christine said...

Sarah, I google searched my brains out for six months straight, hoping to find a Flickr pic of a missions group or anyone who had posted a pic or talked about the first family to my kids in Haiti.

Sure enough, one day I found a pic of their older sister. A ministry had fitted her for a prosthetic leg. I contacted the head of that ministry and found out she had regular contact with the family. She translates emails for us. We can upload videos to YouTube of the kids and she can stream that for them. We send pics and photo books to her parents' home in Canada, and when she visits she then takes them back and shares them.

In their last adoptive home they worked through someone in Haiti to maintain contact, but this person asked for money - A LOT. Money for "the family" but also money for himself. I did a little research and decided to break that tie when the kids first came to us. I then had to make it priority to "refind" the family through a positive contact.

And, we did it! This woman is wonderful and has really helped us determine how to help the family in sustainable ways. She asks for nothing in return.

Beth said...

Thanks for the reply. I see your point. The thing I have a hard time with is how manipulative and self serving she is. I'm not mad or bring ugly by saying that she just is. She will whisper things in their ear like "we will be together soon. This isn't forever.". It's very hurtful to the girls and leads to a lot of confusion. Granted this was before she decided to relinquish rights. So maybe things would be different.
   She told their brothers that they didn't have a sister anymore and they would never see them again (which they did a week later). I don't write this to bash her but to earnestly ask you what do I do?  She will go to great lengths to hurt someone just because she is hurting...even her own children!  I do believe she truly loves them and wants the best for them. I have thought about waiting until she asks to see them and then talking to her before hand, prepping her. Like this is OK but please don't do this____. But that sounds so insulting!  
     I'm devouring all these responses and welcome any input. I really would love to feel like we are working together for the girls to heal but so far I feel like she is willing to hurt them to help herself (subconsciously).  
     Ok lay it on me...

Christine said...

You are very right that it could be this was how she was handling and processing her own grief before rights were relinquished. I have no idea how I would handle myself ... my own choices, in a situation like that. The tugging of being their mother and the reality of my decisions.

I really doubt she would say those things now, but she may have been so desperately hoping they would be true before.

Meeting up somewhere busy and fun could be an ideal solution for everyone. A park is a great idea, because there is not too much forced intimacy for anyone - they can all take a break from one another if need be. If she does say something you find inappropriate, watch your girls. How did they react? You can certainly bring it up later with her, AND with your girls if you think they absorbed.

More than likely they are simply going to absorb that this woman loves them, too. They will slowly understand her issues, and hopefully she will slowly understand theirs. You might be the perfect person to help her with that.

I have said a gazillion inappropriate things throughout the years, just as I'm trying to do my best by my kids. Sometimes I'm just not thinking or assuming I'm helping when I'm squelching my child's feelings.

When I know better, I do better.

And they may also have meltdowns after a visit. This is to be expected no matter WHAT happens at the visit. Our kids are grieving and loving at the same time. It is healthiest for them to process little by little as they grow. It is VERY common for a child to show some sort of reaction after visiting with their first family. It may be utter joy. It may be anger. It may be silence. It may be more fantasy play.

Beth said...

It's a heavy decision. One that forces me to come to grips with my own issues with her. Although I felt like I had forgiven her for her poor care of the girls, I'm finding I may have just taken a few steps toward forgiving her.
I'm honestly frustrated with her for the anger and hatred that gets aimed at me almost daily. I keep thinking if only she would take some responsibility for it or show some remorse over it all it would be so much easier to forgive her and work with her. But I do realize I need to forgive her regardless of how she views the past. The girls healing depends on it.
It's much easier said then done. What can I say...I'm a work in progress too:)

Christine said...

Beth, it IS hard. And she might get to that point one day. But if/when that ever happens, it is HARD for you. No denying that.

You know it's hard for her, too. However, it's okay to acknowledge your own mountain you have to climb.

Adoption ain't for sissies! Doing it right by your child is TOUGH. Worth it, but you can't ignore the TOUGH part.

FYI - are we friends on FaceBook. Cause we oughtta' be.

Lavender Luz said...

Love this.

Especially in the comment section when you said, "When I know better, I do better."

Dennis Nesser said...

I've been working with men over the last 4 - 5 years. It never occurred to me, coming from a good home, the problems young men, and I'm certain women, have when they have lost that connection to 'bio-parent'. In mens' work we call it 'father wound' when the father isn't present, especially in boys and young men lives.

We live in a situation where we know where the bio-father is and yet he wants nothing to do with our son. Has never even picked up the phone to call and wish him happy birthday.

The rage, the hatred, the lack of self esteem, the lack of connection to the cosmos is just incredible.

I can appreciate the jealousy issues, and yet I think as parents we just want our kids to stop hurting inside, and are willing to take some of that pain ourselves to make them feel better. What I would give to see my son stop hurting for something he has no control over.

Thanks, keep up the good work!

God Bless,

Kimberly said...

Such a difficult topic. I am in the same boat as another mom, don't want my kids around bio mom for their safety and protection. I also needed the rejection to stop, so we could start healing. My kids had been in 10-12 placements and they needed to know we are their forever family.

We do maintain contact with siblings. We often talk about bio mom and how she did love them even though it may not have felt like it, she has an illness. We have also talked about helping them when they are older to find their mom if they wish and reestablish a relationship, or just tell her their feelings(antwone fisher style).

Somtimes open adoption isn't the answer, but you are dead on when the kids need to have background and questions answered and as much info as possible. My kids were older and have much of that from their memories. that is why it was so important to us to adopt a sibling group, so that they could be that for each other - no matter how difficult that is for us.