November 04, 2009

The "Openness" of Open Adoption

The term “open adoption” means different things to different adoptive families, largely due to the birth mother's preferences. For our daughter, her adoption is considered “open” yet we have no contact with her birth mom. We do send pictures and letter twice a year—at the birth mother’s request prior to completing the adoption paperwork—but that’s it, even though we are in the Chicago area, where Ava was born, once a year. We have tried reaching out, to no avail; we’d like have some contact for Ava’s sake.

Enter Kamari, baby number two, and holy cow, “open” adoption has taken on a whole new meaning. As I understand it from our adoption coordinator, this is what open adoption truly is/should be; having not been through this, it’s a bit of an adjustment right now and will take a little getting used to.

So let me back up briefly. We were introduced to our birth parents (yes; birth mother and birth father—not the norm) back in May and then officially matched (i.e. they officially chose us) in June. We didn’t go public with this—even to our families—until the baby was almost born because, well, we’d had one fall through at the 11th hour and we didn’t know how this would turn out.

The cool thing about being matched a few months before the baby was due was that it allowed us time to get to know the birth family (which is the point of open adoption) on our own, without a bunch of questions, raised eyebrows, or the like from family and friends. The concept of open adoption is very difficult for some to wrap their head around, as evident by the hoards of awfully strange (and sometimes inappropriate) questions I get asked all the time.

With open adoption, you have a contractual agreement, which may state how many visits per year you will have with the birth mom (and birth dad if he’s in the picture), how many letters and pictures you’ll send yearly, etc. This is mostly a way to ensure the birth family will be able to obtain some level of contact after the baby is born, the point of “open” adoption. [Note: if you are reading this and thinking this is just too much to handle, domestic (open) adoption my not be for you—it’s important to know your limits, as well as what you’re potentially in for.]

Many family and friends are surprised by our agreement and how many times we “have” to see the birth family. I don’t think of it as “having” to see them. They are our friends now; they are part of our family and will be for a long, long time. I think of them like an aunt and uncle, or really close friends that your child might call aunt of uncle. And, if I stopped to think about how many times a year I see some of my family and friends, I’m sure I’d be surprised by that number—but you don’t think of it that way with friends and family.

In any case, it is different and does take some getting used to. For example, when they are cooing over the baby and calling themselves mom and dad, I sort of feel like a third wheel, which is awkward—obviously I’m not a third wheel; I am mommy.

Also, we are only two months in and see the birth parents a bit more than anticipated (we’re trying to be accommodating knowing this is hard for them). But I know it won’t be this way forever. Right now it’s just so new for everyone. And, the bittersweet reality is that our happiness is their loss. I know for me, that realization helped put a different perspective on the situation; one I hadn’t previously dealt with, with our daughter’s situation. It’s not that I didn’t realize the joy I was experiencing was at the expense of someone else’s loss, it’s that that someone else what not right in front of me on a regular basis.

I am 100% in support of open adoption for many, many reasons. Now that I’m in the thick of it, though, it’ll take some getting used to, but I know the little bit of sacrifice I’ll need to make to add in two more people (people who gave us the gift of life) to our busy lives will be worth it in the long run.


Momma Moe said...

I have 4 kids, all adopted from very different situations. Our openness ranges everything from one birth mother whom we never met, and wants no contact, no pictures, no info, etc., to one birth mother that visits in our homes, takes vacations with us, etc. It takes all kinds to make up a world, and most of our ride, we've had to make it up as we go along. Good luck...I've been in your shoes.

rredhead said...

Openness doesn't always involve a contractual agreement, and openness contracts aren't binding in any state. That said, I think they're a good idea, and openness itself is worth the inconveniences.

A K Drew said...

I agree that openness is most definitely worth any inconveniences. In our state, these agreements/contracts are binding--legally we are obligated to follow the contract to the letter, whether we want to or not. Same for our agreement with our daughter's birthmom in IL.