The Open Adoption Debacle

Open adoption.  It promises a sanctuary for mothers and fathers who are placing their children with adoptive families, full access to the truth for adoptees throughout their lives, and the presence and reminder of the first mom and/or first dad of the child they adopted to be a constant in the lives of the adoptive parents.

I have heard so many stories of open adoptions being closed or semi-closed from hurt birthparents and I have heard many stories of birthparents who consistently overstep their boundaries from many worried and frustrated adoptive parents. 

So where do we draw the line?  Who is right and who is wrong?  To examine this, I think we must go back to human nature and more importantly human instinct. The birthmother who has carried and nurtured her child for the first 9 months of it’s life has had quite a good amount of time to form a bond with that child.  During the last few months of that pregnancy, the bond grows the strongest with the mother being able to feel almost every movement, every hiccup and even startled responses to outside noises. So while she cannot actually see the baby, she is aware of its presence and patterns.  There is no denying that this will form a strong maternal bond to the child.  A mother’s instinct is to care for this child once it is born and to protect it ferociously, even sacrificing her own life for the well-being of her child.  When that child is abruptly removed from her life her instincts and bonds are not removed. She is then left with a desire, want and need that cannot be fulfilled any other way.  Only time and understanding can help to heal that wound, even though it was willingly inflicted. Birthmothers need to be offered (and accept) counseling services to help them through this time and more importantly, they need to be matched with adoptive parents who are fully aware of every emotion a birthmother will go through upon the relinquishment of their child. 

Adoptive parents have similar instincts and bonds.  They obviously have strong maternal and paternal instincts to even want to go through all they’ve gone through in order to successfully obtain a child of their own to parent.  While I have not gone through this journey or experience, I am close to people who have and I can say that it is not an easy experience.  It begins when you are faced with the fact that you cannot have children that are biologically yours.  A mourning process begins and it is critical that this process is allowed to come full circle to ensure a healthy outcome in any future adoption.  Adoptive parents need to mourn the children they had hoped for, the ones that are made the traditional way that come to you by means of your own labor, delivery and birth.  The ones that didn’t require lawyers, fees, adoption agencies and another woman to make them parents.  If potential adoptive parents do not allow themselves the opportunity to properly mourn this loss, they may never, subconsciously, truly accept the fact that their family was made an entirely different way which brings about an entirely different way to parent.  Of course they understand they have adopted, but if any part of them is still attached to the idea of a baby of “their own” (meaning not belonging, never has belonged to someone else) then issues are sure to arise in the future.

And then we have the adoptee.  The most innocent of all parties in the triad of adoption.  The one whose interests are supposed to be put above all others.  But sadly, even with the best of intentions, it is the adoptees own parents (birth and adoptive) that end up placing them at the lowest point on the totem pole.  Not always, but sometimes.  I fully believe it is in the best interest of every adopted child to have full access, from the get go, to their birthparents.  It is part of who they are and where they came from.  So many adoptees that grew up in closed or semi-closed adoptions have expressed feelings of not fitting in.  Even when they had the ideal childhood with ideal parents.  Something always just felt “off.”  This doesn’t apply to all adoptees but definitely a good number of them.  Imagine never knowing where you got your eyes, your nose, that funny dimple in your arm.  Imagine never knowing why you are goofy when the rest of your family isn’t.  Imagine not knowing if that goofiness that you have means that something is just really wrong with you, since no one else in your family seems to understand it.  This thought process can be applied to almost any trait that any human being has.  We take it for granted, those of us who live in families where everyone is biologically related, that we can just say, “Oh my gosh, she is so smart, just like you were at that age.”  or “Wow, I cannot believe that my granddaughter got my upturned nose.”  Adoptees face (their whole lives) the fact that they did not have that opportunity growing up…and even though it doesn’t mean they are an outcast (and were in fact very wanted), they can’t help but feel that they were outcast anyway.  No matter how loving an adoptive family is, they cannot give them those biological things.  Only a biological family can do that. 

Open adoption is such a complicated issue and it would take me too much time to cover every aspect of it.  But here are some reminders that can be used to make an open adoption a successful one.

Adoptive parents – remember that it will take a good amount of time for a birthmother to mourn the loss of her child.  How long did it take you to mourn the loss of the idea of biological children?  Now imagine how long it would take to mourn the actual child.  Be sensitive, be gentle.  Don’t assume that every action is to undermine your authority as a parent. She chose you to be parents for a reason.  But she will need much reassurance that she made the right choice.  If she is doing something that is making you insecure or uncomfortable, imagine your mother, sister (or another woman you are close to) doing those same things.  Would it still make you uncomfortable.  Does your sister call you everyday and ask how your kids are doing?  Does your mother tend to grab the baby out of your arms when she comes to see you?  I would consider either of those things normal behavior for a sister or mother….why would it be abnormal for a birthmother?  Innately it is your own insecurities as a parent (because of a loss that was not allowed to be completely mourned) that allow your brain to get uncomfortable and upset.  There may be times a birthmother is being truly inappropriate, but it is essential that you first make sure it isn’t just your own insecurities at play. 

Birthparents – Please allow yourself to mourn the loss of your child.  Whether or not you made that choice, it is still a loss nevertheless.  You must accept it in order to heal and move one.  Understand that the parents you chose for your child are also in a very fragile state.  They are new parents and are trying to find their place in the world of parenting AND being adoptive parents.  Which presents a whole new challenge of its own. 

As long as both sets of parents are willing to understand that being a birthparent and being an adoptive parent means something totally different than being a parent, things can work out well.  It is not ideal and it is not perfect.  This must be accepted.  If you cannot accept this then becoming an adoptive parent or birthparent is definitely not for you.  Trying to make it ideal or perfect will always end in failure and hurt feelings and ultimately it will be your child who suffers in the end. 

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