May 20, 2009

Open + Adoption = Love

The word “open,” when put together with the word “adoption,” can be a scary concept for many unfamiliar with its true meaning and intention. I know we had our reservations before adopting our daughter. But then we talked with friends who had adopted and who had been adopted, talked with our adoption agency coordinator, and did some further research on our own.

There are a lot of misconceptions about what open adoption really means. And because all domestic adoptions are now considered “open,” I can see why that might frighten a prospective adoptive family. My hope is to help ease that fear a bit because open adoption can be a wonderful thing for everyone involved.

In a nutshell, open adoption means a sharing of information between the birth and adoptive families (the records, so to speak, aren’t sealed like back in the “old” days). It can also allow for an ongoing relationship with the birthmother (and possibly her extended family), which can be an amazing, rather than scary, thing for the child, as well as for the adoptive and birth families. But the level of information shared is up to both the birthmother and the adoptive family. Just like with any relationship, it builds over time.

The degree of openness between an adoptive family and a birth family is usually decided before the child is born and is something both parties agree to. It doesn’t mean the birthmother will be at your house every weekend (unless through the building of your relationship with her, you all decide you want to spend that much time together). But whatever level of openness is agreed upon, it needs to be honored throughout the child’s life.

Studies have shown time and time again that if a child who was adopted has some information about his or her birth family, that child may not struggle with some identity issues and the like. Think about how hard it would be to know absolutely nothing about where you came from. Now think about what it would be like to at least know the name of your birthmother and maybe to have photo or a letter from her. Even better, what if you got to meet that person and build a relationship with her?

It truly is an amazing thing—a child can never be loved by too many people.

When researching “open adoption” for this post, I was saddened by some information I came across from a few extremely negative women telling birthmothers that open adoption is a lie and that once you “give up” your child, you will never see him or her again. It breaks my heart to read that adoptive parents have gone back on their word to have an open adoption and are not remaining in contact with a birthmother. What’s even more heart-breaking (for me personally) is that I know a birthmom that this happened to.

It’s inexcusable, and frankly despicable in my opinion, that an adoptive family would not honor their commitment. Open adoption has many benefits for a child, as well as for the birth and adoptive families. If honoring the openness of domestic adoption, as well as respecting the birthmother who gave life to the child you adopt, is not something you can see yourself doing, International adoption is probably the way to go for you.

With our daughter, though we have an “open” adoption, we don’t have a relationship with our birthmother. We send pictures and letters twice a year, but we don’t hear back from her. This saddens us and we hope to one day have a relationship with her, but she isn’t yet comfortable with that. We respect her feelings. In the meantime, we honor her by telling our daughter her adoption story (at our daughter’s request) every night before bed. We share as much information as we have—including a photograph—and let our daughter know she is loved by many.

Additional information on open adoption: