Choosing Open Adoption
If you are choosing open adoption, then kudos to you, because even before your adoption happens, you are making a commitment to a lifestyle with the potential to enhance your child’s future.
And that’s a really big deal. (So good for you!)
You may not understand exactly what this means, though? That would be perfectly understandable, because open adoption is defined differently by different people and agencies. Yet in order to know what you’re committing to, it’s helpful to be able to see the big picture, so let’s take a look at what choosing open adoption really means?
At Abrazo, we don’t just see open adoption as a means to an end, unless that end is about ensuring that adoptees here can grow up always knowing their adoption truths and the people connected to them. It’s about sharing information and sharing love and recognizing that only the adults can commit to this relationship for themselves, because ultimately, every adoptee has the right to decide for himself or herself if they want to actively maintain these relationships for themselves, once grown.
Choosing open adoption means choosing to not shame your child by making his/her adoption a secret to be hidden at all times. It doesn’t mean necessarily “going public” with his/her adoption story, because that’s the adoptee’s decision to make, of course. But it does mean always acknowledging your part in the first chapter of the adoptee’s life story and answering his/her questions honestly in an age-appropriate manner, because that’s part of being open, after all.
And know this: choosing open adoption will not make everything easier. It doesn’t ensure that the adoptee will never struggle with having been adopted. It will not ensure that nobody has to grieve any losses. In fact, agreeing not to pretend the adoption never happened may be harder on the parents, even if it ultimately makes things better for the adoptee. But this is all supposed to be about whatever is best for the adoptee, right?
So if you’re going to do this thing, then do it with openness and honesty and integrity and empathy for all parties.
Openness Before Placement
If you’re placing, you might be thinking this just means you’re going to choose your baby’s new family and maybe get to know them beforehand. (And yes, that’s part of it.) If you’re adopting, you may be thinking this means you’re going to have some idea of who is planning to give you her child and maybe have some contact with her before. (And yes, that’s part of it.) So far, so good.
There are some uncomfortable truths that go along with openness, though, and it’s important to know these. For starters, openness means transparency, which means recognizing that however appealing an adoptive family may look in their profile or however sure of their plan an expectant couple considering adoption sounds on the phone, you’re going to (hopefully) get to know each other really well before placement, and you’re not always going to like everything you see. Nobody is perfect, and the stress of the adoption process can amplify anxieties and fears along the way, so keep this in mind.
And no matter how well you get along, or how pleasant your visits are, the awkward truth is that you likely wouldn’t be building the friendship you are if you didn’t both need something from the other. And neither side can promise that the end result will be what either side hopes it will be, because the future is never guaranteed.
So keep in mind that all plans are necessarily subject to change, and trust each other to make the best possible decisions, no matter what that may mean after the birth.
Openness After Placement
If placement does happen as planned, then expect that your roles and your needs are going to change dramatically, and that’s going to mean an adjustment on everyone’s part– but no less concern for each other’s needs. Becoming new parents is stressful, no matter how long-anticipated a dream it has been; bearing witness to the sorrows that adoptive placement entails is never easy. And losing a child (no matter how it happens) is always going to incur grief, however certain a birthparent may be about “what needed to happen.” So be gentle with yourselves and with each other. Birthparents and adoptive parents often feel they have to “put on a brave face” for the other after placement, but the more honest you can be about what you’re feeling and what you need from the other, the better it is. (For everyone.)
Adoptive parents in open adoption can sometimes struggle with feeling guilty after placement, because they are acutely aware of the collateral losses that their dream unintentionally caused the birthfamily (and, yes, the adoptee, too.) Birthparents in open adoption sometimes find themselves feeling envious of or resentful towards the adoptive parents they genuinely love, for getting to take over their parenting roles. These are all normal feelings as everyone adapts to their new roles, and having a trusted adoption caseworker or counselor to talk to can help put these emotions in proper perspective.
Hopefully, your adoption professional (whether that’s an adoption agency or an adoption attorney) will have helped you work out a written post-adoption contact agreement, whether it’s legally-enforceable or not, so that everyone knows what can be expected to happen and when. (Please don’t just go “free-style,” because however awkward these negotiations may seem, it’s way better when there’s a voluntary contract that helps everyone feel more secure.) It’s okay to have more contact than you have committed to, but please don’t do less. And if you need to change the arrangements that were made, make sure you make those decisions together, for the child’s sake.
The irony of open adoption is that if you do it right (and you keep that relationship healthy,) the person who is likely to appreciate it the least is the adoptee. Why is this? It’s not because openness doesn’t matter to the adoptee or doesn’t make a difference in his/her life– it’s because he/she has never not known the benefits that come with truly open adoptions. And that means his/her parents (all of you) did things right.
Choosing open adoption doesn’t mean the adoptee will never take issue with the decisions that were made on his/her behalf; in fact, it means you may not be shielded from the fallout if the adoptee doesn’t agree with what was done or how things unfolded. (But that’s okay, too.) Because an adoptee who feels empowered to be open about his/her feelings about the adoption, whether positive or negative, is an adoptee who truly has gleaned the benefits of openness. This means that openness achieved what it was supposed to. (And that you and the other parents can weather any discord together, as the committed friends-and-family that you are.)
Adoptees are not a gift that parents can ever give each other. However, choosing open adoption can become an act of love on the part of the placing and adopting parents, when they all work together with their child’s best interests always in mind.