Open discussion about Open Adoption

Earlier I visited O Solo Mama's blog and read her recent piece titled, Ignorant Questions About Open Adoption. After I submitted my lengthy reply I realized I forgot to explain why I think Open Adoption IS a good standard to encourage and follow.  As regular PPL readers may already know, when I think about adoption, I think about those children adopted through illegal means; I think about those children neglected and abused by Aparents and/or members of the Afamily.  When I think about adoption, I think about the adoption agencies that lie to and mislead AP's, (ie, health issues and orphan-status), and I think about the children who have one or both parents in prison or in a mental facility, but have living grandparents who love and miss the grandchild(ren) lost-to-adoption.  Truth is, when one has a really bad adoption experience, it's hard to believe or accept there are those adoptive situations that are really healthy, open, honest, and good.  It's hard being that unsure child always wondering, 'What's wrong with me?... why can't I have what other people have?  Why can't I have Normal, too?"

Given the lack of transparency in adoption practices, and the limited nature of post-placement monitoring, I would like to think a standard policy requiring open-contact will force adoption agencies to choose candidates more wisely, ensuring better matches and placements for children who have no control over where they live, or with whom.  I know if it were me, I would want all efforts made to preserve an existing family, however if family preservation would not be possible and adoption was the only recourse, I would want as much information and access to original family members as possible.  The way I see it, if a living first family member, or adoptive parent refused to maintain open contact and open communication with 'the other side', I would begin to see  that wall of silence as a red-flag, sending a strong warning sign:  something happened; something is wrong.

With all of that, below is a copy of my answers to O Solo Mama's seven questions... 

1. If open adoption is so great, why do so many people suck at it? By this I mean, not honouring commitments, closing the adoption, telling the other family they’re not “doing this thing” correctly or playing the “for the sake of the child” card?

2. From the standpoint of first parents, open adoption sounds like something that could prolong suffering. Could this suffering potentially outweigh the good of knowing where your child is? Who helps the first parent?

3. I’m guessing kids are not hung up on how many relatives they have. Tell me that the thing that hangs up the public all the time about open adoption and other unconventional relationships—two mommies, two daddies, three, four, parents—is the least of your worries because it seems to me it is.

4. Do you ever feel like you should give this child back? Does the thought ever seize you totally as you watch your child with her bio-family: “ooops?” (OR for f-parents: Do you ever feel as though you need to take this child back? That nothing is stopping you beside an agreement that feels false? Does that feeling go away?)

5. How do children ever cope with knowing they could not be kept? When they see their natural parents having more kids, what do they think? Who helps the child in this situation? Both sets of parents?

6. Can you say comfortably that some surrendering mothers could not cope with an open adoption or do you think that it should always be the standard?

7. Is there ever a reason (aside from extreme/illegal behaviours) to close an adoption totally?

My response:

– Question #1: If it’s so great, why do so many suck at it?
I liken it (OA) to watching your ex marrying your best friend, or maintaining an open marriage. Some would see it as an enormous threat; others would see it as the extension of a family. I think, in order for the entire dynamic to work, each adult needs to have an established sense of self, a measure of maturity, and a willingness to love without jealousy. A sick sense of humour would also help. I’m 42 years old, and I still don’t know too many women comfortable enough in their own skin to understand, appreciate and respect boundaries within a relationship. I mention women specifically, because based on my own experience, when it comes to relationships, it’s the territorial/insecure female that creates more drama than anyone else. Then again, most of my friends came from really messed-up families, and the men have learned to voice no opinion.

– Question #2: Who helps the first-parent?
Good question… because if the first-parent had the help he/she really needed, would there be a need for adoptive parents?

– Question #3: Tell me that the thing that hangs up the public all the time about open adoption and other unconventional relationships.

Adoption is NOT like a divorce where mommy and daddy re-marry and there are now 2 mommies and 2 daddies and 18 places to go on holidays. Adoption is NOT like any single-parent relationship because there isn’t just one missing parent-figure missing, there are at least two other people missing from the whole human equation. Adoption breaks families in ways divorce and death never can. Where divorce, death, and donor-sperm remove half the living biological essence, another half of biology remains in present-form. Adoption breaks and separates biology in ways a non-adoptee can’t fully understand. For example, my friend agreed to an Open Adoption plan when she was 18 and relinquished parental rights (and control) to a married couple. The AP’s kept in-touch for less than 2 years; after repeated requests, (made by my friend), for updated photos of the little girl, it was decided – by the AP’s – having two mothers would be too damaging/confusing to ‘their’ child. Well, what happened to their civil agreement? The AP’s decided the rules should change… which legally, is their right. The hang-up I see is rooted in good ol adoption issues non-adopted people don’t quite understand completely. The ‘Who am I?’ question is also asking ‘What’s inside of me?’ (what’s good and what’s bad?). Allow me to explain. If a parent dies, there are no more attempts made by that parent to see the child, and the child can eventually visit a grave or monument, and grieve the loss of a parent who once was a part of his/her life. There are stories, there are pictures, and there is contact with people who knew and loved that person…. the ghost becomes a source of sad comfort, and that child grows knowing parts of that parent are still ‘inside’ in the form of genes, traits and all that goes with biology and reproduction. If a parent divorces, if visitation is denied, the parent can take the other parent to court. In best-divorce situations, both parents find a way to expand their family, not reduce it. In bad-divorce situations, the child will hear stories, see pictures, and have contact with people who knew and didn’t like the other parent. In really-bad divorce situations, the ‘really bad’ parent will lose parental rights, and the remaining parent (for better or worse) will be the primary biological presence in that child’s life. In addition, like the child who lost a parent in death, the child who lost a parent in divorce knows (eventually) genes and traits from both parents, get mixed and passed-on to the child, through reproduction. Now let’s look at a child who may or may not know or remember biologic parents, and that child gets adopted by complete strangers, with no biologic connection to either birth-parent. If an AP denies parental visitation, the child ends-up having two half-dead parents, who may or may not haunt him/her throughout different phases of that child’s life. If an AP denies visitation, and then abuses the adopted child, the child will learn to hate in ways that… go beyond words. Consider the way in which parental absence/rejection, followed by new-parent abuse can affect a child’s development of self. Not pretty… because when that child looks in the mirror, all he/she will see is a void, followed by disgust, sadness, loss, and hatred. And please make no mistake, the early years are EASY. It’s when the adoptee gets older — late teens, early 20′s-30′s missing ghost parents become a huge haunting, (often kept-secret from AP’s), personal issue. Example: Try experiencing pregnancy/childbirth knowing you have birth-parents who may or may not be alive. Real fun. The hang-up is not how many relatives a person has…. it’s the not knowing who created the person you know as ‘you’…. it’s the not knowing what genes and traits dwell inside. It can be scary stuff, especially if all you hear are bad/negative things.

– Question #4: (RE: return to sender)
Returning out of love, and returning out of disgust or frustration are two different things. Personally, I have huge issues with disrupted adoptions, but I’m guessing the question posed here is along the lines of ‘ do you return the found treasure to it’s rightful, original owner’… and ‘do you ask to have your gift sent back to you, because you changed your mind?’ All I can offer is this — I wish my first parents came back, telling me they made a mistake. And I wish my Aparents had to guts to admit, ‘we made terrible mistakes’, and then allow me to walk-away, without saying horrible things about me because I didn’t want to stay.

–Question #5: How do children ever cope with knowing they could not be kept?
How does anyone cope with rejection? How does a person cope with getting fired? How does a person cope with divorce papers? Now imagine that pink-slip coming not from your boss, or your spouse, but BOTH parents, and imagine not having the communication skills needed to express anger, frustration, sadness, grief, and fear. I will explain how I learned how to cope — all those messy feelings get buried, get drowned, get jumbled and mixed around and those thoughts and feelings created a whole new language few seem to understand. I think what ultimately happens is this — unresolved feelings/issues eventually morph into a neurosis that few recognize as a warped coping mechanism.

–Question #6: Can you say comfortably that some surrendering mothers could not cope with an open adoption or do you think that it should always be the standard?
As described in Question/Answer #1 and #3, there are many AP’s who can’t cope with open-arrangements, so difficulty coping is not limited to birth-mothers, or adoptees for that matter. Like in any extended family dynamic, there are always going to be those who handle awkward situations very well, and those who make a mess out of everything. There are those who can cope with stress, and those who lose their freaking minds over a simple glitch. This is life, with family…. the only standard is, each family situation is different.

–Question #7: Is there ever a reason (aside from extreme/illegal behaviours) to close an adoption totally?
That decision should come from the child. Even if my first-mother was in prison, or a mental institution, I still, at some point would have wanted to see her. I would still have wanted to see her with my own eyes, hear with my own ears, so I could learn what this person is and has become. I would have wanted that first-person experience because it’s the only way I could render my own informed decision… should I work on the relationship, and let one develop, or should I walk away, thanking my lucky stars I was given a better alternative? If I had the facts I needed, I would have been able to properly deal/cope with the reality of my own situation.

Other responses are posted there, and on This Woman's Work.

I hope others will offer their opinions on openness in the adoption relationship.  I myself am quite curious... do others think a standard of openness would alter the way adoption agencies and orphanages operate?  Would mandatory open-status deter PAPs or birth-parents from making an adoption-agreement?  [It seems the wish to have no contact with first-parents is what drives Americans to consider ICA.  Sure, traveling to a foreign country for an 'orphan' may cost more, and the wait may be longer, and the child may be deformed, or sick, but at least the child would have no parents, with emotional strings attached.  Meanwhile, it seems foreign parents would be more willing to relinquish a child, or more, if they knew contact would be maintained, and the child(ren) would return.]  Finally, what role, if any, should adoption agencies have in terms of establishing a relationship between adopter(s) and first-family member(s)?

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