It seems a lot of people have trouble with the concept of an open adoption. When I first placed my daughter with her parents, I’d only heard vague ideas. The adoption agency I worked with told me that open adoption meant I might get to see pictures of my daughter as she grew. As I met and talked to many people living various forms of adoption and started to educate myself more on the benefits of open adoption for everyone involved, I started to understand what open adoption truly means.
In an open adoption, not only does the expectant parent choose the family with whom she will place her child and in most cases actually meet them prior to birth and placement, but she will have a relationship with her child and his or her parents long after the adoption actually happens. This relationship can take on many forms though like a friendship or romantic relationship, the idea is to build that relationship over time and not keep things static. For instance, my daughter’s adoptive parents and I agreed to a certain number of update letters sent through the agency and a certain number of visits per year for the first few years. Even when we signed the agreement, we agreed that it was only a start. During the first year after placement we went from only sending letters through the agency and visits with an agency intermediary present to independent visits and my daughter’s mother and I emailing frequently. It is important to remember that if you decide to place your child with an adoptive family that you are just as responsible as they are for keeping the lines of communication open. A relationship doesn’t work if it’s only initiated by one side.
Growing up as the child of someone who was adopted and has never found any member of his biological family, I’ve seen the damage that not knowing your roots can cause. Humans are born with an innate desire to compare ourselves to the people who gave us our genes. We like to blame things we view as negative about ourselves on others in our family, and we want to know from whom the positives came as well.
The reasons for choosing an open adoption are many. They benefit all members of the adoption triad (adoptive parents, birth parents, and child), but most of all benefit the child. If I had the opportunity to redo my adoption with more knowledge prior to the beginning of our relationship, my reasons for choosing open adoption would be much clearer than they were back then. It is my hope by sharing these with you that you will take them and apply them to your own situation should you decide that adoption is the best choice for both your child and for you.
My daughter will grow up with a complete picture of herself, including her biological traits and the traits her adoptive parents will bring out in her.
Open adoption is not easy. In fact, open adoption is sold to many expectant parents considering adoption as a “fix” for the grief that will follow you for life should you choose to place your child with an adoptive family. I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t make the grief disappear. Sometimes the relationship will remind you more acutely of what you’re missing. But we as parents choose adoption not for the benefits it will bring to us, but for the benefits it will bring to our children.
I am often surprised by how little people know about adoption, and I love sharing with them in order to help more and more people understand just exactly what adoption is like in this day and age. I find that the biggest piece of misinformation is that people think all adoptions today are "closed." Closed adoptions do still exist, and there are many reasons that a closed adoption may represent a preferable arrangement, but if you want to have some access to your child, then an "open" adoption is the way to go, and there are many families out there who are more than happy to embrace this scenario.
With open adoption, you can choose which parents will raise your child. You often meet with them prior to the birth at your agency or licensee's office. If you have picked the parents for your child by using an Internet matching site, then perhaps you might meet with the adoptive parents many times at a public location. (Remember though: exchange of ANYTHING, including something as minor as someone buying you a coffee, is prohibited!) If you live some distance apart, you might choose to and communicate through e-mail, Facebook or Skype.
Before your child is born, it is important to seriously consider what you would like the relationship to look like in your open adoption. Does it include photos and letters at certain intervals? Do you want to have visits with the new parents and your child? What do you expect from the adoptive parents? What do you expect YOUR open adoption to look like?
To provide you with a real-life example, I can tell you that our son's birth mother wanted photos and letters once a month for the first year and then again on his birthdays until he was 5. We agreed, of course. While we have been Facebook friends with our son’s mother and grandmother for a few years, until recently, his birth mother had never asked for a visit. We have stayed in touch, though, and only this week, we had the privilege of visiting her for the first time in 8 years.
Our daughter's birth mother, Amanda, is our friend and a regular part of our life. In fact, she even works with me at AdoptionProfiles.ca so we can offer a balanced experience for all those who use our services. She comes to her daughter's birthday parties, and we have family dinners out with the grandparents often. We keep in touch by texting on a regular basis, often daily. And I am proud to add we celebrate Christmas holidays together and our daughter has regular sleep overs!
It might seem odd to consider having two such different relationships with my children's birth parents, but again, not only are my children's birth families different, but so are our children. We respect EVERYONE involved and take things at a pace that is comfortable for each individual. Nine years and two open adoptions later, I can tell you that things are working out very well. What I love most about our relationship with our daughter's First Mom is that she also includes our other adopted child, Macarthur. Yes, we come as a family unit!
People are often shocked by the idea that I would get to know my children's first moms and families, that I would foster a relationship with them, but this is what an open adoption looks like in this family, and it is important to all of us that we help others see what a benefit and joy open adoption can be.
My own father was adopted (in the article to the left, Monika mentions that hers was as well, AND Amanda's father too!), and throughout my life, I have become keenly aware of the problems he has experienced as a result of never knowing who his biological parents were. However, I think part of his difficulty centred on the approach my grandparents took with him, i.e., the dismissive attitude they had about his biological family. I mention this example because I want to reiterate that sometimes simply agreeing to an open adoption isn't enough; you also need to consider how you want your child’s adoptive family to discuss and treat you, both in front of and away from your child. The adoptive parents’ approach will dictate how your children come to feel about you, as well as how they will feel about themselves, both which will affect their lives in the years ahead.
Lastly, I want to mention that although I do have individualized open adoption arrangements for both my children, often, I am the one who initiates contact with their birth moms. People say to me, "Maybe you shouldn't bother them so much; maybe they don't want to hear from you; maybe hearing from you upsets them," but I have often suspected that, from the other side, it would be very easy for my children's birth parents to worry that by contacting me, they might ruffle some feathers or risk getting pushed away. For that reason, I feel it is extremely important to keep the lines of communications open and treat one another with respect and consideration – and, very often, to take a chance and make the first move. I parent without fear, and with love!