Lately, I've been reading about, talking about, and thinking a lot about open adoption. For those unfamiliar with what that is, open adoption is when birth parents have some kind of contact with the adoptive family. It is important also to recognize that open adoption can take many different forms. Some include; sending annual letters and pictures to the agency and the birth parents having the option to pick them up, emailing between the two families (or the adoptive family emails to birth family), texting, supervised visits, or open communication and visits.
Honestly, when I first thought about our adoption and the type of adoption we wanted, I did not want anything more than sending updates to the agency. Later, I realized that response to the idea of open adoption came from a place of fear. I was afraid of open adoption because I didn't know anything about it. My fear was that my child would be confused as to who his or her "real mother" was. I was more scared when I heard that about 90% of adoptions are now open, but luckily, now I know that is a ludicrous fear.
The great thing about having an ongoing, personal relationship with the birth mother is that the child then has 2 "real mothers," one who gave birth to him/her and the one who takes care of him or her on a daily basis. Both mothers should, and hopefully will be loved for different reasons and appreciated in different ways.
Open adoption is a beautiful picture of a family brought together by love. We hope that our birth mother wants a relationship with our child and will become part of our extended family. But, we want what is best for our birth mother. If she wants only updates we will do only updates, but remind her that we are open to more. Of course, a relationship like this will need boundaries, and we will discuss those when the time comes. I think the most important thing in a relationship is communication, and that applies to this relationship too. If we think she is intruding too much, we need to speak up. If she thinks we are not communicating with her enough, she will need to speak up, and we will need to be willing to hear her. The relationship with the birth family is just like any extended family, there needs to be open communication, trust and respect from all parties involved. And that is what we hope for our child. How can it not be beneficial for the child to have more people loving him?
I also believe it is healthy for the birthmother to know where her child is growing up, and to have reassurance that she made the right decision for her baby. We often overlook the birth mother in adoption, just viewing her as a bystander or the one who gives us her baby and then we forget about her. But her feelings and opinions are equally important here. She is the one who made the adoption plan for her child, she is the one who picked us to be her child's family, and she is the one we have to keep our promises to. Her opinion is valid and important, and we need to remember this is her baby through her biology just as much as it is our baby through adoption. Yes our roles are different, but one is not more important than the other.
When I tell people that we really hope for an open adoption I, not surprisingly, get mostly negative responses. We have been asked:
"Well what about when they are 16 and want to move in with their birth family because they are the "fun" parents?" Too bad! The birth family has no parental right, and therefore no way to tell them that is okay. Just like if a teenager says they want to move in with an aunt or uncle. Unless mom and dad say so, it's a no.
"What if they move in next door to you?" If they do, the same rules and boundaries still apply.
"What about when things get messy, they probably will since most birth moms are on drugs and/or are teenagers." Well, first the average age of a birth mother is 25, and if it is not safe or gets messy we can tighten our boundaries, and our social worker can always get involved if need be. And, obviously, if our social worker advises us not to give our personal information to our birth mom we won't. I hope after reading this that your opinion will change to view open adoption in a more positive light and to be supportive of families that have chosen open adoption.
What I think it comes down to is that it is important for a child to know where they come from, and to have someone to ask the hard questions to about why they were adopted, and what their biological history is. Most open adoptions are successful and don't get ugly, despite what you see on Lifetime movies. And if ours does, obviously, we will deal with it! We want above all our child to know he or she is loved by us, and by his or her birth family.
I would also encourage you if you or someone you know is considering adoption, please have them at least learn about open adoption before shutting it down as an option. It is scary, but it is often what is in the best interest of the child.
And, as always, if you have any questions please call or email us. We love to talk and educate people about adoption.
Adam & Kristen