Why Open Adoption?

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We are asked from those who do not quite understand about adoption, Why Open Adoption?  I think first we need to explain the general thoughts/definition of Open Adoption –

This is an excerpt from What Is Open Adoption? by Brenda Romanchik. Ms. Romanchik is the birthmother of Matthew, born in 1984 and placed in a fully open adoption. She is one of the founders of Insight: Open Adoption Resources and Support and is the author of A Birthparent’s Book of Memories, Birthparent Grief, Your Rights and Responsibilities: A guide for expectant parents considering adoption, Finding Our Place: Birthparents in Open Adoptions and the upcoming Birthparenting. She lives in Royal Oak, Michigan with her husband and the two children she is parenting, Katarina and Daniel.)

What is Open Adoption?

“Ask five people what their definition of open adoption is and you are likely to get five answers. Some may think that allowing an expectant parent to choose the prospective adoptive parents from a profile of non-identifying information is an open adoption. Still others may say that those who met prior to placement and who exchange pictures and letters after the child is placed in the adoptive home are participating in an open adoption. This definition is, in fact, a variation of a semi-open adoption or openness in adoption.

So what is an open adoption? The primary difference between a truly open adoption and a semi-open adoption is that the adopted child has the potential of developing a one-on-one relationship with his or her birth family. It is not about the adoptive parents bestowing birth parents with the privilege of contact, nor is it about birth parents merely being available to provide information over the years. Direct contact, in the form of letters, phone calls and visits between the birth family and the adopted child, along with his adoptive family, is essential if they are to establish their own relationship. After all, how can we honestly call an adoption open if the child is not involved?

For many who are just beginning the adoption process, the concept of open adoption appears to be another complication they would rather not deal with. One prospective adoptive mom, weary from years of infertility, asked me at an adoption conference, “I am pursuing an international adoption because I don’t want to have to deal with my child’s birthfamily in any way. What can you say to me that would make me change my mind and pursue, instead, an open adoption?” My answer to her was simply this: “No matter where your child is adopted from, you will, as adoptive parents, need to ‘deal with’ your child’s birthfamily whether you know the birthfamily or not. This birthfamily is a part of who your child is. Open adoption allows you to know your child better by knowing his birthfamily.”

Expectant parents considering placing a child for adoption are often just as leery of the prospect of open adoption. Many are told, or feel, that ongoing contact will make it difficult to move on with their lives. Some are afraid that seeing their child will be too painful. Many worry that their involvement might confuse the child.

Making open adoption child-centered.

Many adoptive professionals encourage prospective birthparents and adoptive parents in the pre-placement process to choose the level of contact “they are most comfortable with having.” The philosophy of comfort does not take into consideration several very important factors, one being that open adoption should not be based on making the adults involved comfortable; rather it should be about providing for the needs of the child. Much of the open adoption experience is uncomfortable and awkward, especially in the beginning. While it is true that many children are only as comfortable as the adults around them, it is also true that many of us do things for our children that we are not totally comfortable with because it is good for them.

The other factor that the philosophy of comfort does not take into consideration is that adoption is a lifelong process. Many birthparents in the crisis of planning for an adoption look upon continuing contact as an option too painful to contemplate. Many adoptive parents, on the other hand, just want to be a family, without the added complication of visits with their child’s birthfamily. Most open adoption agreements are based on these feelings that occur around the time of placement. These agreements do not allow contact to ebb and flow according to the needs of all involved, most importantly the child. As time goes on, many birthparents, adoptive parents, and the adopted child find they want more contact, but feel they are not able to ask for more because of the original agreement. In cases such as these open adoption becomes a contract instead of a covenant.

According to Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary, covenant is defined in part as being one of the strongest and most solemn forms of contract. It is also described as being sacred. For open adoption to work best, birthparents and adoptive parents need to see their involvement with each other as a sacred commitment, or a covenant they make to each other for the sake of the child.

Patricia Martinez Dorner, author of Children of Open Adoption and Talking to Your Child about Adoption, encourages us to see open adoption as just another form of blended family. In adopting, adoptive parents are welcoming the member of one family into their own. This “blending” of families is not without its share of uncomfortable moments, but the beauty of birthparents and adoptive parents accepting each other as family is twofold:

One, birthparents and adoptive parents really get to know each other. It allows them to see who the others are outside of their adoption experience. Birthparents can be seen as more than someone who found themselves in a difficult situation and adoptive parents can be seen as more than an infertile couple. Being able to know each other as complete human beings allows for greater acceptance. The adopted child is also able to know his birthparents as they are, rather than creating a fantasy birthparent. Instead of spending countless hours conjuring up an image of a person they do not know, they can use that energy for other things.

Two, it gives the child a sense of wholeness. There will no doubt be times when birthparents and adoptive parents take up the responsibility of maintaining the connection with each other. An infant, a toddler or a child cannot carry the burden of maintaining the connection between his two families. An adopted child whose birthfamily and adoptive family come together in a familial way, will grow up with greater certainty. There is a saying that the greatest gift parents can give their children is to love one another. I think it is inclusive of all parents, not just married couples.

So, what does a family blended by open adoption best compare to? In their book, The Open Adoption Experience, Sharon Kaplan-Roszia and Lois Melina state: “In practice, the relationship in open adoption is…comparable to that between in-laws.”

In marriage, a spouse accepts his or her in-laws because he or she realizes that they are an important part of who his or her spouse is. In open adoption, the adoptive family and birthfamily make a commitment to stay in contact because they also realize that the birthfamily is an important part of who the child is. As with in-laws, relationships vary. Some open adoption relationships develop into friendships while others are more distantly involved. All, however, recognize that they are family to one another, and important in the life of the child.”

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I chose this explanation as I felt it most reflected our family and beliefs … we are a family made through adoption … My husband and I are the parents of two girls who are now age 9 and 7 years old. We have very open adoptions with each of their birth families. But you see when we first started this journey to parenthood through adoption we were scared by our early readings on what open adoption was/is. You see living as a family in open adoption is not for the faint of heart …

Why you ask? Well it’s a human relationship for one and these need work and love to develop and prosper, if you don’t like the person you are in a relationship with how will you continue in your relationship? Two any relationships have their ups and downs, but being a family means you work through the downs to walk through the ups together … you see when you enter into an open adoption relationship you become family! So for those who may be faint of heart or for others considering this as a family-building option you need to learn what it is and not let your fear overtake your emotions … open adoption is not just about us, it is about our children, our girls and all of their family!

We began our journey to parenthood through adoption after a time of trying to get pregnant on our own and through many methods working with a group of fertility doctors. But that is not where our story ended, it was only the first chapter on our road to being parents. We realized we wanted to become parents no matter how it happened … it was about becoming “mommy” and “daddy” and it didn’t necessarily have to happen by pregnancy so we started reading about and learning about adoption.

The first books we read did scare us as we didn’t have any connection to any families at that time raising children in an open adoption so we were scared of the unknown. We found an education support group for adoption through our local chapter of Resolve. We attended an information night and met many other couples just like us … hmmm we were not alone (after feeling very alone on our trying to bear a child journey) that was a good start! We then immediately signed up for the 8-week education group to gain as much information and understanding of what may lie ahead for us if we were to take this path to parenthood. Again we were not alone, our group was made up of 6 couples just like us trying to figure out if this was the right path to have a family and quite frankly what it was like. The 8 weeks were filled with lots of information and meeting families who were now parents of children who came to them through adoption. We met birth parents who were part of their child’s family. We met adult adoptees who did not have contact or a connection to their birth family and we could feel their losses. We met older children whose family always included their birth family. We saw it right there in front of us, we saw how regular/normal it was for them we saw it didn’t have to be scary or confusing … we saw that this was a way we may be able to have a family!

It was through our adoption facilitator that we continued to gain more information and meet many families made through open adoption. We found a community of people (again just like us). It was with the wisdom and guidance of our facilitator and the community of these other families we knew this was how we wanted to have a family and what we would want for our future children. We wanted to be sure that when we met or talked with an expectant woman that she too wanted the same; and that being an ongoing in-person familial relationship for all of us. We wanted to be sure that the adults making these initial decisions were all working from the same page, that we all wanted to be a family together for our child/children together.

We saw that in choosing open adoption as a way to have a family, our children would always have a connection and know and be loved by ALL of their families! We wanted them to know who they look and act like, we wanted for them to know siblings and grandparents, aunts and uncles. We wanted to have this family to be there for them to help heal their losses.

So here we are today we are a FAMILY together involved in each other’s lives, we see each other, we love each other, our girls know their families ALL of them from their birth parents through to great grandparents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and siblings. We realize everyday how blessed we are by the transformation of our family from just the two of us to our daughters and their families together as one family! We are blended together seamlessly as one and for our girls they know no different they just know that we are all family and that we all love and care for them and each other and that’s how we roll as a family!

Are you living as a family in an open adoption?  What is your experiences?

Day 6 of #NaBloPoMo #BlogHer

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remembering the woman who helped us become a family

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This is the time of year that I think back about what I have in my life, my family, my friends all of it. It is today that I think of Ellen Roseman, the adoption professional we worked with during our journey to parenthood. Who through her guidance and wisdom taught us what it would be like to be a family built through open adoption.

It was during our journey and being a part of her client base that we attended monthly meetings that were very influential in our learning and embracing what it means to be a family through open adoption. This was a place where we found our community and support. These meetings usually held on the last Saturday of the month were supportive, friendly full of discussion and always ended with a yummy potluck!

There was always a nuance, a way someone has handled a situation, the right approach that can be learned through hearing others experiences for the good and bad. I will say when I attended these meetings no matter the discussion I always walked away learning something new. It was not just prospective and adoptive parents who attended these meetings, it was birth parents, expectant parents and extended families. We witnessed the love of family in seeing the blend of families coming together through a child shared, loved and cared for.

Ellen was our guide sharing her wisdom and love that brought us to the family we are today and it did not stop after our girls’ official adoptions.  We continued to be a part of each other’s lives.

Ellen through her work and love for family created such a beautiful legacy in the adoption community, and living as we do with ALL of our family we celebrate her life by being in the moment. It was sad when our community lost this woman who taught so much to all of us about being a family.

We love you Ellen and think of you often even today.  Our girls miss you and so do Tim and I.

This is Day 4 of #NaBloPoMo #BlogHer

Near the end of summer break

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It’s been awhile since I posted and I realized today as I sat her to think there are only 7 more days left in my girls summer break from school …

We have had an action packed time from swim team, ballet, birthday celebrations for each of them, girl scout day camp and travelling to birth family and family.

Our summer started with my oldest needing to learn the definition of disrespect. Preadolescence is a hard time as she tries to find her footing and I (we) try to parent her. This is all coupled with me going through menopause, fun times in our home cheers to mid-life mothering!

Family travel included our trip to Minnesota and visiting with and staying with my older daughter’s birth family.  We were so excited to stay and C’s sister’s home and really visit with everyone.  In addition to seeing and staying with her birth mother’s family we spent a great day with her birth father, his wife and her sister.  This visit came with some sadness for my younger daughter who was sad that it wasn’t her family we were with these days.  Our family cares for and loves our daughters equally so it wasn’t as if she was feeling lack of attention or love, but to her it was not being with her birth family that made her sad.  She and I talked and we discussed our family and our geography to each of our girls’ families.  J was born in CA and her birth family lives an hours’ drive away.  A was born in MN which requires to plan ahead for a visit both when C comes to visit and E or when we spend a part of our summer vacation visiting.  At seven she can understand that, but she was still sad that we weren’t visiting her family then and there.
During this summer, I felt a shift in my changes physically.  I had some challenges still being on the pill so took myself off a month ago which may or may not have been the best decision as I have been suffering more with my peri-menopausal symptoms.  I will be turning 52 in 3 months so I’m sure this is all part of the aging process.  This summer was my try at gluten-free eating and it has proved to be successful and I am happy to have tried and found the symptoms to go away.

The end of summer means a restart to our routine: alarm clock set, school, ballet, soccer, Girl Scouts.  I look forward to this but at the same time am sad that our more carefree days of summer break are nearly over.

How was your summer break?

who is real in your family?

re·al1  ˈrē(ə)l/ adjective 1.  actually existing as a thing or occurring in fact; not imagined or supposed. 2.  (of a substance or thing) not imitation or artificial; genuine. “the earring was presumably real gold”

It’s Friday, the eve eve of Mother’s Day.  My youngest at school pick up sheepishly shared that in class they made Mother’s Day cards and she made it for her birth mother who will be seeing on Saturday.  She seemed upset that she only made one, and I shared that if she wants to make a card for me she still can on Saturday.

That evening we could hear our girls screaming at each other in our back yard. It turns out our youngest was telling her sister, “You are NOT MY REAL SISTER!” which of course was hurting her sister.  This was a new conversation in our house, our youngest telling her sister they are not real sisters together.

Technically she is right.  Each of our girl’s was born to a different birth mother so they don’t share the same DNA.  It is through our family building of adoption that makes them sisters and that has never been questioned by them to each other until now.

Our younger daughter, now almost 7, has been processing a lot lately, with questions of why she is part of our family and how we came to be her parents… Yes this is Why we have Open Adoptions in our family Our family was built through domestic adoption, both of our girls entrusted to us at birth by their birth parents.

We live in a family with each of our girls and each of their birth families.  This is all our girls have always known. The newest conversation of “REAL” was brought up by our youngest and she seemed to be seeking answers to who is her real family? and who is not?  I was surprised to hear her use this term as it is something I am more accustomed to hear from strangers “do they see their REAL mom?, are they REAL sisters?” and more.

Adoption has been part of an ongoing conversation in our family since our girls were born, they’ve always known that they were born to another and placed with us.  They have relationships with their birth mothers and extended family and know their birth fathers too.

But it is this conversation that upsets me because I cannot fix my daughter’s losses and I cannot fix mine either.  I am here to try and help her process what she is feeling and she has her birth mother to ask these questions of too.    But these questions are a reminder to me that I am different as a mother.  My girls are not yet old enough to understand my loss too.  All of us have experienced loss in making our family. All of us live with this loss either out in the open or tucked away for private moments. The conversations last night brought a twinge to me that I know these will be conversations that we will continue to have as each of our daughter’s figure out who they are.  But sometimes the words hurt my heart.