Open Adoption: Is it worth the angst, fear and complication?

Open Adoption: Is it worth the angst, fear and complication?

For over two decades, National Adoption Month has been celebrated every November in communities across the country. National Adoption Day, always the Saturday before Thanksgiving, is November 18. I am an adoptive mom who is celebrating that there is now open adoption. 

Six in ten Americans have had personal experience with adoption, meaning they themselves, a family member, or a close friend was adopted, had adopted a child, or had placed a child for adoption.

For decades adoption was shrouded in secrecy, shame and sealed records. In the early 1990s a new way of adoption—called open adoption— slowly began to take hold. Open adoption means that the adoptive and the birth families are known to each other and can maintain contact. Every situation is different and contact can be limited to letters and pictures, or it can mean visitation between adoptive and birth families. Today, most adoptions are open. 

My husband and I entered into open adoptions twice in the early 90’s with little guidance available. We chose to invite our children’s birth parents into our home for visitation. Even so, we had a lot of fear and angst. After nearly three decades, we know now how important it is for our children to know and connect with their biological families. We were fortunate that this option was available to us. 

I will share some of what I have learned about open adoption from the lens of each of the triad members: the adopted child, the birth parents, the adoptive parents. 

The Adopted Child

It is appropriate to start with the experience of the adopted child. Keeping the child as the North Star helps to navigate the complexities of open adoption. 

I thought bringing my babies home from the hospital meant that I was starting with a clean slate.  I would do the nurturing and the loving and my children would grow up as if I had given birth to them. But adoption is never that simple. We are all a product of nature and nurture. The child comes with tendencies and abilities from their biological family. Connection to the child’s birth family and adoption story is an important part of an adopted child’s development and sense of identity. And if this biological connection remains a mystery, the child can grow up with a void. 

In our arrangement, my children grew up always knowing their biological families. While visitation was not frequent, it was enough to fill in some important holes. My children were able to see similarities in physical traits and tendencies with their birth families. This is often referred to as mirroring. Even little things like our youngest child seeing for herself how she shares the gift of gab— just like her birth mom—helped her understand herself better.  And our older child inheriting their birth mom’s tiny stature and artistic flair, was a form of validation as they grew. 

While my children experienced loss related to the ability to grow up with their biological families, they never had to wonder if their birth parents loved them. They benefited greatly by openness and love from their adoptive and birth families. As young adults they now have the ability to contact and visit each other. Last year my oldest child spent Thanksgiving with their birth family for the first time. Our other child, as a young adult, looks forward to visits each summer with her birth father and his family and especially loves time with her birth siblings. 

Sharing love with birth families has never taken away from the love and loyalty that my children feel for us, their parents. Having this birth family connection has helped them grow up whole. 

Birth Parents

When hopeful parents consider open adoption, they often have fears around having a relationship with birth parents. Will my child get confused about parental roles? Will the birth parents want to be too involved? Will it be safe for my child to visit with birth parents? 

Typically, adoptive families find that they can develop healthy relationships with the children’s biological families. It takes work, but when they develop trusting relationships, it benefits the child greatly. 

People often think that an expecting mom is making an adoption plan because she does not love the child, or she is just a teen runaway, or that she may come back and try to reclaim the child. In reality the typical birth mom is in her early 20’s and old enough to recognize that making an adoption plan might be the best choice for her own life and for the life of the child. Birth mothers are thoughtful about the choices they are making and have deep love for the children they place. Being able to have some form of contact with the child as they grow can be comforting and healing for all involved. 

Imagine how healthy it is for the child to hear their own adoption story directly from their birth mom or birth dad. Often open adoption allows for this in age-appropriate ways. 

Our children are now young adults and have healthy contact with both their birth mom and birth dad. When our oldest child turned seventeen, their birth parents reconnected after each being divorced, and married each other. Because we had maintained a lifelong relationship with both of them, our family was naturally invited to the wedding. It was wonderful for our child to witness their birth parent’s marriage. Imagine how heart-warming it was for these birth parents to have their child at their wedding. And when they had a baby, a full-birth sibling to our child, we were part of that celebration too. 

Our youngest child has a strong relationship with her birth father and says that hearing her adoption story directly from him gave her great comfort and understanding, and helped her to accept her adoption reality. Importantly, much of her birth father’s own healing was rooted in the ability for him to speak to her directly about why he made an adoption plan. 

My children’s birth parents did experience a tremendous loss when they relinquished the parenting of their children to us. However, when you ask them today, they our proud of the decision they made so many years ago. They reflect on the fact that it was a very hard choice and they are grateful for openness. Now they are rewarded with an extended family that includes their birth children.

Adoptive Parents

Like many adoptive parents, we entered into open adoption because we really wanted to be mom and dad. Beyond that, we had everything to learn. 

We had a lot of fear and angst. How awkward would it be to raise a child with the birth parents in the picture? However, the idea of openness began to make a lot of sense. Over time we discovered that we wanted more, not less, contact with our children’s birth families. 

Imagine being an adoptive parent and being able to ask your child’s biological family a medical history question. Imagine seeing the delight on your child’s face when their birth mom comes for an occasional visit bearing gifts and they spend all afternoon working on a craft project together. Imagine your child’s biological father coming to visit and playing soccer in the backyard with your child. These are happy memories for our family. 

We found that as the children grew, we became a busy family with school, sports and commitments with our own family of aunts, uncles and cousins. We vacationed and spent holidays with our own parents and siblings, as most families do. Staying in touch with birth families on top of this, required work. 

When we were able to connect with our children’s birth families it was clear that the children could never have too much love in their life. And feeling the love first-hand from their birth family was powerful. It in no way diminished the love our children had for us.  

Our family was transferred out of state when our children were only one and five years old. This meant that visiting with biological families required significant travel. We made it a priority to stay in touch and have occasional visits while the children were growing up. The important piece of our relationship though was not how many times we saw each other, rather it was the spirit of openness. The ability for our children to ask questions and get honest answers made raising them a lot easier. 

Adoption has changed in important and significant ways. As we celebrant National Adoption Month we can celebrate the fact that adoption has moved from the era of shame and secrecy to an era of openness and transparency. Keeping the focus on what is best for the adopted child, we can better understand the benefits of connecting that child to the birth families. Even if it is not possible to stay connected to a birth parent, connections with other members of the child’s biological family can help make that child whole. 

Open Adoption: Is it worth the angst, fear and complication? For us the answer is a resounding yes! Like most things in life worthwhile, open adoption is not easy and requires work and often professional help. For all members of our adoption triad, and most especially for our children, we would not want it any other way.  

 

Linda R. Sexton is an open adoption pathfinder, speaker, author, blogger and adoptive mom. Her award-winning book: The Branches We Cherish: An Open Adoption Memoir is now available for pre-order on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.  Request her as a speaker and sign up for her blogs/news at lindarsexton.com.

 

29 Things I Wish I Knew Before Adoption Entered my Life

29 Things I Wish I Knew Before Adoption Entered my Life

Written by First Mother, Claudia Corrigan D’Arcy has been online and involved in the adoption community since early in 2001. She originally began independently researching adoption issues in preparation of the successful search and reunion with her own son, Max, whom was placed for adoption in 1987.

This Grown in My Heart Adoption Carnival Topic was supposed to be “10 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Was Touched By Adoption”, but I can’t use the feel good wording of “touched”.
*

I was not touched by adoption, it’s more like torched, trampled, traumatized, terrorized, tortured, and torn apart by adoption.

Overall, I feel like I allowed the destructive force of adoption into my life.

maxbabybaloonAdoption was almost more like a crack that happened in my soul. A crack that I thought and was encouraged to believe would be temporary or always below the surface. Over time, the rest of life worked its way in, like water in cement, and caused the  

So that gives me number one on my list; the rest is really really easy and I can, also quite easily go on and on, but this carnival only called for the ten things we wish we could have known.. I think I just have to go over it.
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  1. I wish I knew that relinquishing my child to adoption was not a one-time event that I would recover from by the most major life-altering “decision” that would alter the very course of my existence for the rest of my life.
    *
  2. I wish I knew that adoption would not be a decision made entirely by me and affect only me, but would have life-altering implications across the entire berth of my family. I thought nothing of how it would affect my mother, my brother, and of course my children, both the one that I relinquished and the children I had later on.
    *
  3. I wish I had known what I really was giving up when I relinquished my Max. I understood the concept of a baby, but I had no clue what it really meant to be a mother. I could decide to give up something that I never had to begin with.. or something that I never let myself have a chance to really experience.
    *
  4. I wish I had known that public assistance, social services, paternity, child support, and all manners of help in general was nothing to be ashamed of, to be afraid of asking for or receiving or something that made me less of a person. I still think about my adoption counselor explaining to me rather briefly how I “could” keep my baby and go on welfare and how very horrified I was of that thought and I never even attempted to consider it.
    *
  5. I wish I had known how it would feel to know for the rest of my life that I had assisted in denying a man the right to have a relationship with his only child. Had I thought through the ethical complications and moral obligation to the truth and this man’s rights, then I would not have to live with the knowledge of how I horribly and inexcusable wronged another human being.
    *
  6. I wish I had known that I was strong and capable and worthy of being the mother that I was meant to be. The normal self-doubts of a young person basically untried by life were not bolstered in the face of adversity, but rather exasperated and exploited.
    *
  7. I wish I had known that it was not my job, nor obligation to make another couple’s “dreams of a family” come true. I wish I had known that I should not have taken pride nor comfort or some sick sense of self-satisfaction by allowing other people’s needs to go before my own, not that I have an issue about giving of one’s self. I donate my knowledge, I give my time, I volunteer; but a child is not giving of oneself, an adoption is giving of another.. a child. I had no right to do that.
    *
  8. I wish I had known that my son’s parents would not be quite as grateful and thankful to me as I had expected, hoped or been lead to believe. I wish I was not quite as disappointed that they just won’t speak to me and I have the distinct feeling that they really would just like me to go back away. I wish that didn’t hurt.
    *
  9. I wish I had known that children really aren’t interchangeable. Just because one party wants something and another party isn’t so sure, doesn’t mean that we can switch things about and pretend we are God and it will work out OK.
    *
  10. I wish I had known that my son had basic rights to his family, his truth, his heritage, his father, his siblings, and me; more than I ever gave us credit for. To think that I could have thought so little of myself, my family, and all the individual traits and histories that make us unique and THAT could have been replaced with a one-paragraph bio and a few pictures is so insulting to every ancestor that breathed before me.
    *
  11. I wish I had known that you cannot re-write life as it comes to you. That we can’t cheat it and pretend that things happened differently than we would have liked. And sometimes, most times, given time time what seemed to be a disaster is actually part of making things work out exactly as they should, but we just don’t know it yet. I wish I had learned to just accept things as they come and live the hand that was dealt to me even if it meant being a mother at 19.. because I was a mother at 19!
    *
  12. I wish I had known that it was possible to love most fiercely and deeply someone that you haven’t ever really met. I wish I had known that I would know my son before I got to meet him again. That I would know his face and it would be so familiar to me. I would know his smell and I would need it to breathe. That I would know and understand how he felt, thought, and would react just because I knew…way before I ever knew.
    *
  13. I wish I had known how much it would suck to hear my other kids say things like” I forget what Max looks like”, or “I don’t feel like I have another brother,” or “If we got real poor would you have to give us away, too?”
    *
  14. I wish I had known that adoption, which was supposed to preserve my teenage way of life, turned out to be something that completely changed my entire life and here I am, over 20 years later and adoption is still a major factor in my daily existence, my thoughts, my dreams and, even worse, is also a factor in my whole family’s lives as well.
    *
  15. I wish I had known that genetics really play a huge portion of who we are and that things like our mutual love of pirates, combat boots, Mohawksand died hair, alternative music, god in the woods, being buried in plain pine boxes, Dr. Pepper, Boston cream donuts, thunderstorms, reading, and writing with these dern dots…. was all part of who he was before he was born. I wish I knew that my genes had carried more than the color of his skin and the familiar look of our feet and it was something that irreplaceable.
    *
  16. I wish I had known that not every adoptee thinks that being placed for adoption was the best thing since sliced bread, are not grateful, are not happier to have a bigger house, and sometimes, can be quite adversely affected by the whole experience. It was really hard to accept that the thing that I thought was “best” could have actually been much worse.
    *
  17. I wish I had known that there is no real “ready” to become a mother and that the mythology of motherhood as our society has crafted is a vicious losing situation. I wish I had known how easy it is for us to turn on each other and judge our fellow sisters because we are all so concerned about getting it wrong and not being the best supermom on the block.
    *
  18. I wish I had known that it was going to be crazy hard this way, being a birthmother, and that all the pain and sacrifices and sleeplessness would be coming to me anyway, but without the joys and pleasures of being with my child. I wish I had known that I would have wanted to make it work, that it would have been worth it to give up the fun.
    *
  19. I wish I had known that Fear is never a good basis for making a decision.
    *
  20. I wish I had known that the “scandal” was all in my head and that within six months no one would have cared much less remembered. I wish I had realized that my family would not have thought that I was a piece of poop for ver but would have loved and adored my baby as I would have.
    *
  21. I wish I had known that having a baby at 19 would not have “ruined my life”, that being a mother at 19 would not have “ruined my life” and that adoption, well it pretty much ruined my life .. or at least got closer to ruining my life s anything else ever did.
    *
  22. I wish I had known that school could have been put off a few years, but my motherhood was happening now.
    *
  23. I wish I had known that I was being exploited and enabled and I walked right into it.
    *
  24. I wish I had known that adoption was not glamorous or romantic, but that life being a birthmother pretty much sucks.
    *
  25. I wish I had known that the adoption agency really didn’t have my best interest at heart and they weren’t my best friends and I shouldn’t have worried about making them proud by being the “best darn birthmother” and following all the rules.
    *
  26. I wish I had known that putting everyone else’s wants and needs before mine for almost 20 years did not make me better, nor stronger, nor noble, nor brave and didn’t get me a key to heaven.
    *
  27. I wish I had known that a piece of paper would not make me an un-mother.
    *
  28. I wish I had known how much it would really really hurt and how, really, even after reunion, there is no normal and it is never over.
    *
  29. And then one final wish that I still have now; of all the things in my life and all the mistakes and bad decisions I have made, with all the missteps and situations that came to me, whether by my own hand or been done by wrong by someone else; I wish there was a way to change the past and make just this one thing all go away.
    *

I wish I had never let adoption into my life.

Celia Center Is Now On a Mission to Support Adult Adoptees of California Restore Equal Access To Their Original Birth Certificates

Celia Center Is Now On a Mission to Support Adult Adoptees of California Restore Equal Access To Their Original Birth Certificates

How do we Restore Equal Access For Adoptees in California?

By beginning a healthy dialogue of understanding, education, and compassion for all… so legislators feel compelled to restore adoptees original birth certificates without restrictions.

Celia Center is not a political organization, however we feel deeply for adoptees who have been “blindsided by adoption” in not knowing their genetic, medical, and birth history.

We are hoping to be a voice in California to be an influencer, to restore access to original birth certificates for all adult adoptees.

We support the inherent right of adult adopted persons to access and obtain these records regardless of when their adoption occurred.

We want to be clear, Celia Center does not support Bill AB1302.

We support opening a dialogue with fellow adoptees, first-birth parents and adoptive parents to help legislatures understand why this matters to adoptees. 

We want to be respectful and talk about the best ways we can have civil conversations together to restore access to birth certificates in an ethical, humane, and efficient way together as Adoptees, First-Birth Parents and Adoptive Parents. 


Let’s not split and divide on this matter, let’s conquer and side on this matter.  

 

Learn the Basics of Rights

 

Effective advocacy requires a basic understanding of rights. Here are some links to helpful background information and case law:

Making the Most of Adoption Reunion: Affirmations & Videos by Marlou Russell Ph.D. Author and Adoptee

Making the Most of Adoption Reunion: Affirmations & Videos by Marlou Russell Ph.D. Author and Adoptee

  • Adoption reunions bring family members together.
  • An adoption reunion is the continuation of a previous relationship.
  • Triad members are connected forever, regardless of whether they actually meet.
  • Adoption reunions can happen at any time – in open and closed adoptions.
  • Searching for one’s birth family or children is a natural extension of genetic curiosity.
  • Reunions can bring up many emotions – loss, grief, regret, hope, fears, gratitude.
  • Each person will process reunion feelings at their own pace and in their own way.
  • Being with groups of people who understand reunion and adoption can be helpful.
  • Respect your stage of loss, mourning, and healing. Respect the other person’s too.
  • Allow reunion relationships to unfold. Force and fear push people away.
  • Letting go of expectations frees the other person to come forward.
  • Maybe it’s not about you. Ask, observe, clarify.
  • Holding on to hurt, blame, and regret binds you to the past.
  • You may be creating the opposite action you desire.
  • Fear leads to grasping – leads to backing off – leads to feeling rejected.
  • “I’m sorry for anything I have said or done that may have hurt you.”
  • You can release others without losing them or approving of their actions.
  • Forgiveness releases the forgiver.
  • You can always be gracious. Sometimes you need to strive for superficiality.
  • It is what it is – birth, step, grand, adoptive.
  • Boxes, letters, poems and art. Groups, politics, rallys, and blogs. Kickboxing and knitting.
  • You can play the adoption card – or not.
  • Who are you without the adoption piece?
  • What lessons have you learned from your experience with adoption?
  • What are you holding on to? What would happen if you let go?
  • Old habits die hard. New habits often bring freedom.
  • How can you make your life whole, peaceful, loving, kind, and meaningful?

    Marlou Russell, Ph.D. is a psychologist specializing in adoption issues, an adoptee in reunion, and the author of Adoption Wisdom: A Guide to the Issues and Feelings of Adoption. Visit Dr. Russell’s website www.marlourussellphd.com for more information.

ADOPTION WISDOM offers insight and understanding of adoptees, birth parents, and adoptive parents. Includes chapters on Adoption Awareness, Basic Truths of Adoption, Search and Reunion, and an Ideal Adoption. ADOPTION WISDOM is a book for anyone who wants to kinow more about the lifelong impact of adoption.

Because I Know You’ll Understand by Adoptee and Art Therapist Nicole Rademacher

Because I Know You’ll Understand by Adoptee and Art Therapist Nicole Rademacher

This is for my fellow adoptees,

for my community, for my tribe.

Because you get me.

You do.

We don’t know each other, but it’s like we’ve known each other our whole lives

even if my life is 3 times as long as yours.

The pain we feel, we don’t have words for,

those were taken away when society decided that our stories didn’t matter.

When we were taught to be grateful,

to ignore what we cannot remember–hoping we’d forget

that there are people, and papers, who can corroborate our dreams. 

Adoptee, the ache in my heart reaches yours, and yours to mine.

Together they create a looking glass and through that looking glass, our land exists.

The 11-year-old version of me naively sees butterflies and rainbows,

but the me on the other side of that looking glass…

I see slivers of trepidation and prisms shrouded in old car smog.

I see unstable arcs headed for bounds of turbulence.

As I breathe, the smog enters my lungs

inducing an awkward, melancholic tickle in my throat.

As I look up, the arcs sway to and fro.

I get dizzy.

It’s the fog I am emerging from.

Adoptee, I got you.

Just like you got me.

We equate even though we’ve had to assimilate.

Our voices count.

1 by 2, 2 by 3, 3 by 4 … side by side.

A Daughter’s Bill of Rights by Adoptee, Janice Stevenor Dale

A Daughter’s Bill of Rights by Adoptee, Janice Stevenor Dale

Excerpt From “Portrait of an American Daughter”

By Janice Stevenor Dale copyright 2021

There is no societal, cultural standard for the treatment of adoptees. There’s no Dr. Spock’s handbook for adopted parents, nor one for children. How could there be a way to communicate with newborn babies to teach them what is about to happen to them? Teach them coping mechanisms for being abandoned without explanation, often for a decade and many times longer. It is left to chance and we all just shoulder it to the best of our abilities. So, often people just ignore the adopted person as if you don’t exist. I can honestly say that because I am adopted, I have personally experienced being denied these rights, suffering repeated traumas and rejections from my adopted family and extended adopted family, and my birth families and extended families as well as my husband’s family.

This is a declaration of the daughter’s bill of rights. It is a list that few people discuss and many people take for granted; if you live within a normal, blood- related family you will rarely encounter these barriers. But, if you are adopted, your rights, continuing into adulthood, remain compromised. It is quite easy for a male dominated court to determine that a human child who cannot speak nor write, nor hire an attorney to represent their own rights should have their rights removed and maligned for the sake of other adults, those who did conceive you, or cannot conceive. The practice is inhuman and wholly unfair to the children. Scientific research is opposed to the practice, as it is proven to invoke long term psychological damage to the child. Family members from the adopted side as well as the birth side don’t know what to do. I am a member of an adoptive family in which there were two adopted children both products of church accessed closed adoption in the 1960s. My adopted mother had several siblings that could

not conceive, so we had three adopted cousins. All quite hush-hush. I always aspired to be a good daughter; but it was an unachieveable goal. I worked extremely hard to be a good daughter and failed miserably. I wish I had known at 20 what I know now. It took society almost my entire life to begin the groundswell of truth surrounding adoption.

Thus, I courageously add to the movement. I’ve created the Daughter’s of Bill of Rights for my own declaration of independence, to elevate the reality of adoption for every adoptee and prospective adopted parent, in the hopes that the suffering will be understood and lessened for those following me until adoption can be eradicated and honor returned to families.

The Daughter’s Bill of Rights

Right to the TRUTH about what happened and why this child was given up for adoption
Right to be part of an ever-lasting family
Right to receive unconditional love by all family members

Right to know that I’m adopted
Right to counseling throughout my life with a counselor who understands adoption from my adult point of view, from the adoptees viewpoint
Right to my own real birth certificate
Right to reject a falsified birth certificate
Right to know my own real name
Right to change my name and use my own real name, or name I choose

Right to use that name as my identity, fragile as it is may be, and for others to refer to me as the name I choose
Right to know my birth families when its right for me
Right to know which family you’re a permanent part of

Right to a forever home
Right to know your family histories and to be a part of that history
Right to know your ancestry, your ancestral locations, to know where you’re from,
A right to choose which family and history feels most right to me, should I feel I have to or need to choose;
Right to be treated equally with other children in each family or extended family
Right to be treated equally by all adults of those families, to be held in esteem openly and outrightly, not quietly in secret, in shame.
Right to be invited to thanksgiving and Christmas dinners where family is celebrated;
Right to receive invitations to weddings of family members;
Right to attend weddings of family members;
Right to be in family pictures at those weddings;
Right to receive birth announcements;
Right to receive graduation announcements;
Right to attend graduations;

Right to receive notice of deaths in family; Right to receive invitations to funerals; Right to attend family celebrations;
Right to attend funerals;

Right to be seated with the family at those events
Right to inheritances in every one of my families, adopted and birth families;
Right to be accepted as a family member to those family members in hospitals and nursing homes;
Right to interact as a normal family member would and from time to time; to ask for emotional support, maybe even financial support;
Right to be informed when a family member is in the hospital;
Right to visit them as a family member in the hospital;
Right to be with a family member when they pass away;
Right to be treated like a family member at my death;
Right to be buried with my family;
Right to have society know the burden that is cast carelessly on adopted children;
Right to affect legislation to remove the burden from the child;
Right to have my birth family redeem the past, to break the cycle and include the adoptee and their other children equally
Right to be included by all

Right to be loved Right to be

For without all of these rights, society continues to degrade the child given up for adoption throughout their life with mistreatment and abandon, despite the intentions of love by the adopted family. While the birth parents ‘go on’ with their lives, and face their own demons, they often believe in forgetting the past. The child has no opportunity to forget, the issue is front and center every day. The child carries the burden their entire life, passing the pain into future generations, making that child pay dearly for the transgressions of their birth parents. I am a good daughter who was robbed, at birth, of my full potential. I was thoughtlessly tossed away like a piece of trash, unwanted. I was pre-meditatively sacrificed by at my birth by my birth family to save the reputation of my teenage mother. In doing so, I was cast into a world where my rights were forever changed. I was robbed of the opportunity that every other daughter has, to have emotional familial fulfillment, to fulfill the simplest of human needs to, in the end, be a good daughter to my parents.