Monday, March 7, 2011

Open Adoption Roundtable Questions

He's such a cutie, huh? This is one of the pictures they've sent to me since I've been back in Singapore after the holiday visit. I haven't asked the origins of the hand-me-down he's sporting, but I love it.

Apparently, adoption has been getting some interesting press lately, with shows like 16 and Pregnant and whatever other shows are out there that I've never seen. I have no idea what they're portraying, but I can take a few guesses. There are very good reasons why people are leary of open adoptions. So here's my tribute to the wonderfulness that has worked out for us so far. These questions are from Jessica at O Solo Mama, and presented as a discussion forum at She asked them very honestly, admitting her own ignorance and lack of knowledge/experience. I thought they were interesting to address, and have spent the last month reading and re-reading my response to them. I haven't changed anything since I first wrote it out at the beginning of February, but I'm finally posting it.

1. If open adoption is so great, why do so many people suck at it? By this I mean, not honoring commitments, closing the adoption, telling the other family they’re not “doing this thing” correctly or playing the “for the sake of the child” card?
Well I guess people suck at open adoption just as they suck as so many other things in life. Parents involved in either side of an open adoption aren’t the only ones who mess things up when it comes to parenting, so I really don’t think that’s a fair question or assumption. I for one, am not too worried about “sucking” at being in this relationship. I didn’t choose Doug and Maura because I didn’t think they or I wouldn’t make any mistakes, I chose them because they were people with whom I could build a relationship with that would allow us to talk about and work through any struggles or difficulties we will have (which has already proven true).

2. From the standpoint of first parents, open adoption sounds like something that could prolong suffering. Could this suffering potentially outweigh the good of knowing where your child is? Who helps the first parent?
Suffering is bearable, pain can be dealt with, and yes I certainly do feel the pain of loving Reed so much and being so far away from him. But am I resentful of that suffering? NO! Does it outweigh the good? HELL NO!!! Placing a child for adoption is going to have suffering no matter what. Why run from it? Why pretend it’s not there when it’s going to follow me around in some form or another anyway? If suffering is going to be there, I’d much rather suffer through looking at pictures, reading e-mail updates and skype chats from half way across the world, through struggling to find the perfect birthday gift for him, through not being able to squeeze him tight enough when I do see him, and then to try to appear ‘together’ through it all. I’ll take any amount of suffering no matter how long it lasts over not having him in my life.
As far as who helps the first parent, well, that is a sore subject for me. I’m not an emotional wreck (most of the time) or depressed, I’m not struggling in life, I’m not unable to take care of myself, I’m not without support, I certainly don’t have any regrets or am unhappy in any way (clarification: in my book, pain from loving someone so much does not equal unhappiness). However, it would be so wonderful to have someone to talk to that understands what I’m going through, to help with the complexities of life and relationships in general after adoption. God knows I don’t know what I’m doing, and it would be nice to talk to someone who at least has some experience in dealing with first moms. One of the attractive selling points of the adoption agency that D and M chose was that they offered life time counseling for the first parents, but when I tried to take them up on that offer I was sorely disappointed. However, Reed’s parents are big advocates of counseling and we’re all hopeful that good, quality, professional support will be in our future.

3. I’m guessing kids are not hung up on how many relatives they have. Tell me that the thing that hangs up the public all the time about open adoption and other unconventional relationships—two mommies, two daddies, three, four, parents—is the least of your worries because it seems to me it is.
People who have read my blog have heard this before and I’ll repeat it many times after this: During one of the first conversations I had with Doug and Maura, they said, “the more people who love a child, the better.” I’m not worried about Reed being confused, our common goal is that he will be surrounded from all sides by people who love and support him.

4. Do you ever feel like you should give this child back? Does the thought ever seize you totally as you watch your child with her bio-family: “ooops?” (OR for f-parents: Do you ever feel as though you need to take this child back? That nothing is stopping you beside an agreement that feels false? Does that feeling go away?)
NOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!! My heart yearns for Reed, I ache for him. But would I have it any other way, raising him myself? No way. Let me tell you a little about my decision making process concerning adoption. I was in Thailand, traveling around between jobs, living a very nomadic lifestyle and absolutely loving it, when I found out I was pregnant. I considered all of my options. I could abort: nope, that was quickly eliminated after about 2 seconds. I could keep him: so I thought about me moving somewhere, acquiring things like an apartment, a bed, more than just a few sets of clothes, health insurance, dishes, furniture, baby stuff, etc., and then finding a job to help me pay for all of that stuff plus child care where he would spend most of the day. Each thing I thought of seemed like a weight being put not just on me, but on him. Could we have done it? Absolutely. Did I have any peace about it? Not at all. Then I thought about adoption. The thought of him not being in my life or I in his was out of the question, but I had never heard of open adoption. However, as I imagined a scenario in which we both entered into the family, he as their son and I as, well, I didn’t quite know but I was somehow embraced into the picture, my heart lifted. I could imagine it with perfect peace, and I had an overwhelming sense that this was what he was created for. I remember the night when I told him what I was going to do, I hadn’t even taken the pregnancy test yet. I was sitting alone on the beach, telling him about where we were, and about the kind of family I was going to find for us. And at that moment, I got this overwhelming knowledge that he had been loved and sought out by this family for much longer than I had ever known about him. I said with full conviction, “You have NEVER been unloved or unwanted!”
I had no idea who this family was at that time, but I knew they were there, and I knew he was theirs. As soon as I met Doug and Maura (and by ‘met’ I mean finding their adoption profile online and then communicating through e-mail since I was by then in Alaska at my summer job and they in North Carolina), it was obvious that we fit each other. With other couples I had contacted, I still had questions. But with D and M, I felt a peace and excitement and joy sweep over me as soon as I read their profile. Our first phone conversation and then their trip to Alaska only confirmed it. Since meeting them, there has never been a time when I haven’t been absolutely sure that Reed is exactly where he needs to be.
Over Christmas when I spent a week with them just after his first birthday, I was reminded even more of how much he belongs with them. And it isn’t a “I wish he was with me but it’s best for him to be with them” kind of feeling, it’s just an all around “Yes!” kind of feeling. I love him so much that it hurts, and it hurt when I was holding him but Maura was the one he wanted. It hurt when he sat in her lap, played with her belly button, showed her his books, fell asleep in her arms. I’m aware every single day of his absence in my life and not a day goes by that I don’t wonder what they are doing together. But I also love his parents and I can’t imagine them being apart. In fact, I don’t love him apart from them, to me they are inseparable. I genuinely believe that Reed was created for Doug and Maura, and it would be a disservice to the Universe for anyone to take them away from each other.

5. How do children ever cope with knowing they could not be kept? When they see their natural parents having more kids, what do they think? Who helps the child in this situation? Both sets of parents?
These are all questions I have as well. Enter the need for professional counseling. While I’m not completely opposed to having children, it’s not something I desire and since I’m already 34 my chances are rapidly dwindling. I’m ok with Reed being the only child I ever have; I’ve never felt a biological clock ticking away.
As far as who will help Reed, well, I assume both sets of parents in our case. All of us want him to be supported on all sides, and I expect that we’ll communicate with each other about his needs for help and support. As his parenting parents, Doug and Maura will obviously provide the bulk of it. But as the ones most likely to have the answers to his probable questions, Bill and I also want to be there for him every step of the way.

6. Can you say comfortably that some surrendering mothers could not cope with an open adoption or do you think that it should always be the standard?
I can say comfortably that the option of openness should always be the standard. And I don’t mean for the birth mother to have the option to make that decision within so many hours or days within placing the child, but throughout the child’s life. I’m also fully aware that there are some women (and men) who are not emotionally or otherwise ready for that kind of relationship just yet. In those cases, I firmly believe that everything should be done to help them get ready for that kind of relationship. The object of counseling should be to guide them into a place in which they can have a healthy relationship with their child and adoptive parents. Adoptive parents should support this kind of counseling, and to not be afraid to welcome birth parents into their lives. As I was searching for and contacting potential parents, I was met with some responses of not being comfortable with that level of openness. While I could understand the hesitation and caution, it still had the feeling of, “We don’t want you, just your baby.” A parent should not be expected to separate completely from their child.

7. Is there ever a reason (aside from extreme/illegal behaviors) to close an adoption totally?
No. There may be a time to reduce or restrict contact or communication, but I still believe that the goal should be to move beyond that point into a healthy relationship. In this case, counseling would be critical for all sides, but I think it’s that important. I can understand the adoptive parents needs for protecting their children. Another one of my favorite things Maura said during our first phone conversation, in the context of discussing my role in Reed’s life, was that she “will protect him like a mother wolf,” indicating that if I or anyone else does anything to hurt him she will snarl her fangs. I loved it. That’s how a mother should be. It must be scary for a couple who is wanting to start a family to embrace a birth parent, not fully knowing what they’re getting into. But the option –and hope- for a comfortable level of openness from both sets of parents should always be there.

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