Things I have learned about life since I adopted my daughter:
1) A Lakota Indian saying translates into ” We are all related.”
I am more connected to the world at large, because by committing legally, spiritually, and psychologically to parenting through adoption, I see the other.people as part of a larger, human family. By adopted the biological child of another man or woman, she became a part of our smaller family. When we waited to adopt, as many who choose the path of adoption, we filled out forms ad nauseam, took a deep breath , we opened our hearts wide and thought “Is there a child out there for us, that needs us as parents?”
2) Biology is not everything, nor is it “nothing.”
I can never know what it is like to be adopted, as I was raised by the same parents I was born to. But if we look at all the families that contain only blood relatives, we know that biological connection is , by no means, a guarantee of a closely knit, or deeply connected family.
I can attest, as I know many others can, that a biological connection is not required to feel the deep, life and world-changing love that I have felt as a mother. Even people who don’t adopt a child develop lasting, deep and permanent relationships with people with whom they share no biological connection. Think of life long friendships, partners and spouses, and families blended after divorce. Adoption has always been a part of history.
However, not having a biological connection to those in your family is not something to “forget about.” Biological relatives, especially a birth mother, can share with a child medical, ethnic/racial, genetic information. They can also share their feelings about the adoption of the child..the sense of loss and pain. Though this is emotionally complicated, a child can know that the adoption was not about them being unwanted. As many of us who were born to and raised by the same parents, a biological connection is no guarantee of a closer bond, a harmonious relationship, or freedom from conflict or disagreement. I believe , from reading and my own observation, that lack of access to information about your biological family leaves a void and sense of loss for people. In addition, an adoptee loses out on something social scientists call “genetic mirroring”..be able to see physical similarities in other people. I believe some people feel this loss more strongly than others. Adoptive families are real families. Acknowledging biological connection is not a sign of disrespect to the adoptive family.
3. Take nothing in life for granted
Generally, when one speaks of entitlement, it has a negative connotation. But there are some things in life that we do **cosmical-ly* feel entitled to : safety, food, stable home life, that later in life we will have children if we want them When I realized that getting pregnant was not going to be a given for me, I naturally turned to adoption. (That will take me to #4) Becoming a parent is a part of life’s plan for most people. Many people don’t end up doing that, by choice or chance. When it is something that comes so easily to some (even unwanted) and not to others, it is a loss to be dealt with. I really think grieving fertility is a complex process. Even though I was never one to go ga-ga over babies and pregnancy, there came a time when my arms REALLY did ache for a child. The idea of my husband not being a dad seemed like a total waste.
I made a list of reasons why I wanted to be a parent: someone to share my life with, etc. etc. Of the many reasons I came up with, only about 4-5 required me to give birth to the child I parented.
4. Adoption is about finding families for children, not finding children for families.
Based on some of the marketing you see, you’d think otherwise. Though many of us (NOT ALL, though!) come to adoption after having difficulty having a biological child, children are not placed for adoption so that we can have kids. Adoption is complex, and becoming a parent is the byproduct of a choice that is a loss for both expectant mother and child. Adoption has been a part of the human culture since the beginning of time, although attitudes towards it have changed throughout the years. As long as there is war, poverty, imperfect choices, there will be adoption.
That doesn’t mean adoptive families are wrong, or ill-gotten. It just means adoption is a reflection on an imperfect world.
5. I must teach my children to own their stories
While I feel that allowing a space and place for my daughter to express her feeling about adoption, I don’t want the sadness and grief to define her life. Like many adoptive parents, I have read and listened to the stories of adoptees, adoptive parents and birth parents that have come before us. The ones who have chosen to acknowledge and deal with their feelings, both positive and negative, and then go on to embrace life with a richer understanding of the complexity of life…that is the dream I have for my children.
6. Adoption does not cure infertility.
As someone who has navigated the terrain of infertility and adoption, friends will often ask me if I can talk to their friend who is going through something similar. 95% of the time, I am happy to do this, because there were people who were willing to do it for us.
One thing I did learn, and it surprised me, is that feelings of loss about infertility resurfaced when we became parents through adoption. It wasn’t huge, but it would take me by surprise at different moments, like when someone would ask “Who does your daughter look like more? You or your husband?” Being of the open book variety, I sometimes gave people more information than they were probably asking for..i.e. our baby joined our family through adoption, etc etc
**The month after our daughter turned 1, we discovered we were pregnant. Our son, the little brother, was born 7 months later, ushering in a time of medical problems and joy. That is another post for another day.
I came across these questions on Adoptive Families.com My answers are in italics, under madre41596. For those unfamiliar with the term ,’closed-era’ refers to a time when adopted children were not permitted access to information about their adoption or their birth families. The records were sealed, and depending on the state you lived in, you could not access them, even to obtain vital medical information. This really a civil rights violation, in my eyes, as it withholds information vital to identity formation (what ethnicity am I? Are there any hereditary conditions in my birth family I should be aware of?)
Closed-era adoptee asks open adoption questions
July 19, 2011
People raised with shame and secrecy in closed adoptions sometimes find it difficult to imagine the alternative of open adoption. My friend JoAnne has posed the following questions to me, some that I can answer and some that I can’t.
I invite any and all of you who blog about open adoption to chime in on any question(s) you choose. Leave your linky below by August 31 so that others can come visit your answers.
1. Can the adoptive parents really go back on their word after the adoption has been finalized and do whatever they please in regard to updates and pictures?
I agree that to not honor a commitment is unkind and dishonest to the birth family. Also consider the impact it would have on your child. How would they feel knowing that you promised something to their birth family, and then failed to honor that commitment?
My advice to those considering adoption, be careful about what you promise. If it feels overwhelming to you to agree to what an expectant mother is asking, then rethink whether you are in the right situation. Also, give them the benefit of the doubt, and share your concerns. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Be cautious in what you commit to during the first years, at this is a busy, demanding time. Be willing to work, or re-evaluate things when you hit bumps. I think its important for prospective adoptive parents to realize that THERE IS an additional layer of responsibility in adoptive parenting.
I also think expectant mothers and family need to be prepared to honor commitments. Often the pain of reminders leads some to drop off, but it can be very distressing for adoptive parents to lose contact with their child’s birth family. If they have cultivated a relationship, it feels like a loss, or there may be concern about the birth family, or their feelings.
Not all open adoption relationships end up the same way. For us, it has been natural for us to have a relationship with our daughter’s birth mother and family. We really enjoy it and genuinely care about them. But it does require work and patience.
Adoption professionals would do a great service for those involved to not sugar coat open adoption as problem-free, either. As an adoptive mom, I have dealt with painful feelings stemming from seeing my daughter with her birth mom and family, and I know the reverse is true as well. This doesn’t mean that the choice to have openness of some kind is wrong.
2. Who is the go-between for communication with most Open Adoptions: the case worker, the placing agency, or the lawyer handling the adoption?
Our particular agency did not work out very well in this regard. The different workers we dealt with had differing ideas of what “open adoption” meant, and how it should go. I also believe some of them gave lip service to the concept of open adoption, but actually did not feel comfortable with it. When I approached one professional about an upsetting early meeting, she suggested that I drastically reduce the contact right away, without discussion.
However, this was not true of other adoption professionals we dealt with. As our daughters birth mother lived several hours away, her birth parent counseling was contracted out to an agency near her. This agency turned out to be a resource for us, and helped us deal with some emotional and logistical issues that honored our child, the adoptive and birth families.
3. What are the advantages and disadvantages for each of the above contact persons?
I also have no experiences with lawyers, etc. We chose to have no “intermediary” for our relationship. However, other adoptive parents I have met have used to agency to send pictures and letters. We used an agency. I recommend that for many reasons. I have no experience with private adoptions. I don’t think that is a path I would take.
4. How can case workers be involved in Open Adoption as well if DHS are already so understaffed and the budgets are maxed out for the thousands of forgotten children lost in the system?
We did not work with foster care, but I do have a close friend who adopted her 3 children from foster care, and also has gone on to foster other children. I think it went by a worker by worker basis whether they developed a rapport with the family where honest, open exchange about the best interests of the child could actually happen. I think its imperative to acknowledge that many children taken into foster care come from chaotic, abusive, or unsafe situations. Openness can be a psychological minefield and delicate balance. However, my sense is that the tide is shifting slightly to acknowledging the benefits of contact with the birth family. I think training and boundaries for foster families and birth families is crucial. I have personally seen first hand the biological mother of one of my friend’s foster children blame ONLY the system, the foster family for the separation, when in fact, this is far from the truth.
Another caveat I have: the openness does not have to mean the birth parents, specifically. Often grandparents and aunts/uncle, siblings who could not be caregivers wish to maintain a relationship with a child. I think a child knowing that its not about being “unwanted” but about people not being able to care for them is extremely important.
5. Is there an incentive such as money for the adoption agency to be still involved indirectly and indefinitely for an Open Adoption? Does it cost the prospective adoptive parents more money upfront for it to be an open adoption?
Madre41596: Per the letter of the law, there should not be. It was made clear to us that all financial assistance needed to go through the agency. This is to ensure that no “bribes” or promises are made to influence an expectant mothers decision. Overall, I think this protects the interests of both expectant parents and prospective adoptive parents, who are both under a lot of emotional/psychological stress, and might be vulnerable to coercive situations. In a perfect world, people act honorably, and my own impression is that they do. But sometimes things go wrong.
6. If the contract is legally binding, what happens to the adoptive parents if they don’t follow through? Is there really any legal recourse for both parties that are clearly spelled out?
I can’t speak knowledgeably about legal repercussions in these situations. One of the philosophical strains regarding legally binding agreements is that it does not allow for evolving situations and relationships. Some argue that a legal document would negatively impact the tone and dynamic of an open adoption.
7. What deters the birth parents from coming to your house unannounced?
Madre 41596: I always hesitate to speak in terms of “all birth mothers” for they are individuals. However, I think many birth mothers choose parents outside their geographic area so that they can have some distance from the situation and the difficult emotions, even if they intend and plan for communication and visits.
I know Lifetime-esque movies and media stories have portrayed birth parents “stalking” the adoptive families, but I believe that to be a stereotype and myth perpetuated by low incidence situations.
In the seven years since my daughter’s birth, I have never felt an invasion of privacy. Were there difficult to understand emotions in the early years? Yes.
I, , my daughter’s birth family to be intertwined with ours, and thus our extended family. It doesn’t fit into a traditional family tree. I even hold members in that family who I have never met in a special place in my heart because they are a part of my daughters biological ancestry. I think I see a similar affection in families have adopted a child from another country. Because knowledge of birth families is often scarce in those situations, a yearning for knowledge and connection to the country of the child’s birth is often there.
I now consider members of my daughter’s birth family my friends, which is something that may or may not happen in other adoptions. I often have more contact with them than members of my family of origin. I think we all know that our relationships with family members can vary in-depth, harmony.. and evolve over time.
One of the things that I appreciate about my daughter’s birth mother is how she affirms our daughter’s place in our family , we as her parents. She was born to H. and D., and that will never change. Likewise, we are the parents who are raising her, passing on our traditions, values, knowledge, gifts, life experiences , just as we would to a child born to us. My daughter needs to know that her place in our family is forever, unconditional.
8. Do you know if there are any court cases where it’s obvious that there are loopholes in Open Adoption that need to be addressed?
Only through word of mouth, second-hand, have I heard or read about where some individuals felt the presence of the prospective adoptive parents in the delivery room (though invited) felt coercive. Some have argued that the “waiting period” should be longer. This would result in more children placed in transitional foster care, which people can evaluate for themselves. However, despite the fact that the prospective adoptive parents seem like the one on the receiving end of the all the blessing, it is a very difficult psychological place to be to not know if they child you are caring for and planning will become a part of your family. Prospective adoptive parents face an issue with “entitlement”–while no one should feel absolutely entitled to a child not yet born, when the decision has been made part of the bonding/attachment process involves coming to terms with your “entitlement” as a parent.
I mean in no way to minimize the pain and loss a birth family feels before, during and after adoption. But I don’t feel qualified to represent that POV. A could place to visit is http://www.birthmombuds.com
9. Just like there are issues with closed adoptions and we have the outspoken activists’, etc., are there any Open Adoption opponents or vice versa that are working to be the voice for the birth mothers as well as the adoptive children and their best interests?
Madre 41596: In the vast amount of reading I have done in books and internet, I think some birth parents need to others (adoptive families, adoption professionals, the public) to know that the openness does not away all the pain of the adoption decison/process.
10. When is the adoptee old enough to choose if they want contact or not? What if they are the ones who want to break off ties with the bio parents?
madre41596: The whole open adoption parenting thing, like parenting itself, comes with no guarantees. Through a mix of research and spiritual reflection, I believe that knowledge and some sort of relationship with the birth family is the best route to go. There is less wondering..less secrecy. I really question the previous conventional wisdom that a child would wait until they are a young adult to go and search for birth family, by themselves. Why would I want my child to not know things that could help in forming a more accurate and healthy identity as they grow? Why would I want them to navigate that emotional terrain by themselves?
I know of adult adoptees who felt they would be betraying their parents by searching, and wait until they die to do so. I can understand the emotions of fear of rejection by the adoptive family, but I feel like waiting would be like living waiting for the other shoe to drop.
As for breaking off ties, well, that’s hard one. I would prefer to think of someone needing distance or time. But I suppose there are situations that are too difficult to navigate for some. I don’t personally know of any.
Honestly, I have had several friends and co-workers over the years who were adoptive parents. None of them had the degree of openness we did, if any at all. One of my closest friends doesn’t agree with my philosophy. But our decision has been thought through thoroughly.