Roundtable #48: Why Has or Hasn’t Openness Worked for You?

The Open Adoption Roundtable is a series of occasional writing prompts about open adoption. It’s designed to showcase of the diversity of thought and experience in the open adoption community. You don’t need to be listed at Open Adoption Bloggers to participate or even be in a traditional open adoption. If you’re thinking about openness in adoption, you have a place at the table. The prompts are meant to be starting points–please feel free to adapt or expand on them.

In her OAB blog post this week, Kat Cooley wondered if there is some way to predict whether (adoptive and first) parents entering into open adoptions truly understand the importance of openness and are really committed to doing what they can to make it work. She asked readers to comment on what drives them to maintain their open adoption relationships. It sparked some great–still ongoing–conversation in the comments section. I encourage you to read the post and comments for yourself.

Reader Racilous suggested that we continue the conversation in a roundtable, which I thought was a great idea. (And for those of you who left comments on Kat’s column, you already have your roundtable post started!). In Racilous’ words:

Why has or hasn’t openness worked for you?

If you are in a healthy functional open adoption, why do you think it’s working? If it doesn’t work, why do you think it stopped working? Do you think the success or failure was about education and expectations going in? Do you think it was that your personalities matched or clashed? Do you think there is something you do or did during the relationship that kept it going or was there a certain point that it changed the relationship from bad to good? Was it a mixture of all of these things?

What a strange and appropriate time for me to get this prompt; Mr. Book and I are in the middle of a long conversation about whether to tell Ruth and Nora that we may need to officially switch to a semi-open adoption (I say officially because Mr. Book contends that we are already in a semi-open adoption). I’ve also been working on a message to them about this, which is a much-gussied-up version of: You break promises to us over and over again. That sucks, but we can deal with it. But once Kit is old enough to notice (being as Joey doesn’t care at all), if you’re still not doing what you say you will, we’re done. Send us pictures if you feel like following through on that part of the agreement at some point, and we’d appreciate an email once or twice a year about how Cricket’s doing; we will send him birthday and Christmas gifts, and will make sure that you have our contact information. But that’s it. I will stop writing to him, we will stop badgering you to Skype, don’t visit us, don’t contact our children, and don’t help Cricket contact us.

I don’t know whether I’ll ever send that message. If I did, we would still talk to Joey and Kit about Cricket—we’d say that his parents aren’t able to make a relationship work right now, but that we can try to get to know him when he’s grown up. Or something like that. Even if we do decide to pull back, there’s probably no need for an announcement: If I stop nagging, I am confident that contact will dry up entirely. The other night, I got a text message from Ruth containing a question from Cricket, and I was just angry—contact only happens when it is useful and convenient for them. Please, interject yourself into my evening and then vanish again for months. No, really, feel free. (I answered the question and was friendly.) I could run down a list of broken promises from them, but really, what is the point? They cover all the bases, from visits to contact to photos to Skype.

The most likely outcome, I think, is that I will send a message that—if there is an assertiveness scale from 1–10, and if the last message was a 2—is more like a 4 or 5. Here are things you have promised to do and failed to do, here are my concerns, I can imagine that in a year or two we may end up mostly cutting contact with you because of this and because of Kit and Joey.

How did we get to this point? Well, I don’t think Ruth and Nora think that we have a failing open adoption, so this is just to note that they would give a hugely different answer from mine and ours. But I would say that when we all agreed that we wanted to be like family, it would have helped to know that Ruth has cut off most of her family; since the adoption happened, she has also ended her marriage, and her best friend has ended the friendship. She doesn’t seem able to sustain relationships, and ours has lasted this long only because we want so desperately to have a connection to her son—but as that feels less and less likely, we too are thinking about walking away. I still believe that Nora never wanted an open adoption, and sometimes wonder whether she ever wanted to be a parent.

Roundtable #36: Agreements

The Open Adoption Roundtable is a series of occasional writing prompts about open adoption. It’s designed to showcase of the diversity of thought and experience in the open adoption community. You don’t need to be listed at Open Adoption Bloggers to participate or even be in a traditional open adoption. If you’re thinking about openness in adoption, you have a place at the table. The prompts are meant to be starting points–please feel free to adapt or expand on them. 

Write a response at your blog–linking back to this post so your readers can browse other participating blogs–and share your post in the comments here. Using a previously published post is fine; I’d appreciate it if you’d add a link back to the roundtable. If you don’t blog, you can always leave your thoughts directly in the comments.

Open adoption agreements are the documents signed by placing parents and adopting parents that establish post-adoption contact expectations and boundaries. Discussions often focus on their legal weight (e.g. Are the agreements enforceable in court?) or the practical details (e.g. How many visits?), both very important issues. I thought it might be interesting to also take a more personal look at how they have influenced the relationships in our personal adoption constellations and how our views about them may have changed over time.

Write about open adoption agreements. Is there one in your open adoption? What effect does it have on your relationships? If you could go back in time, would you approach the agreement differently?

I have a legally binding open adoption agreement—there’s a copy in a box in my closet. It’s hard for me to know how much that affects our adoption, since Ruth and Nora don’t keep to it. But it is certainly possible that we are only having a visit this year because the agreement requires them to travel to us for a visit once per year. Hard to know.

At the same time, it feels as though the important things in our relationship are wholly untouched by the agreement: And how could they be? Ours is not a relationship that works very well, and that has to do with our personalities and our different hopes and plans. Ruth and Nora were distressed that we had Joey, and the agreement is (naturally enough) silent on the subject; now it’s our turn to be upset that Ruth is deciding whether to have a baby with the man she has recently started seeing, and of course there is no agreement that we could have come to about that. We don’t get a vote in her family-building decisions, just as she has no voice in ours—but oh, how strongly we all feel about these things.

At their best, I think open adoption agreements give both families a chance to make sure that their expectations line up; if the expectant parents want monthly visits and the adoptive parents want one visit per year (or vice versa), this may not be a good match—or it may be an opportunity to talk about why the different parties want what they want, and try to find common ground and a common understanding. Our process involved my nervously suggesting the most that I thought I could ask for, and Nora and Ruth looking uncomfortable when I asked for hard copies of pictures twice a year—they decided that they could send pictures in May and December, but have not been able to do that. Perhaps there was something behind that look that we could have talked about. (Mr. Book wasn’t present for any of these conversations, although I talked with him about what went on.) I didn’t really know what to ask for, although I was comforted by the idea that I had the legally enforceable right to see the child (I couldn’t let myself think of him as my son: poor Cricket) once a year. Now, if Ruth closed the adoption, I think we would more or less let it go—I’d send a Christmas card and a birthday gift for as long as I had their address, but certainly we can’t afford to take them to court and have some discomfort with the idea of trying to force them to see us in any event. If Ruth felt strongly enough to close the adoption, what must she be telling Cricket about us? In that scenario, it would I think feel kindest to step back and try to reach out when he was an adult.

It’s a terrible time in your life. I think there must be some terrible parts for prospective adoptive parents, too—as much as Mr. Book and I now feel that they have a hostage, they must have felt some of that, seeing me pregnant with the child they wanted so much. We all (I see now, but couldn’t then) felt pressure to agree to what the others wanted, because we all felt that we needed each other. Ideally, after their need was satisfied, we would all have grown to love one another, to feel like real family, and been able to work closely with affection and understanding. Instead—well, I really don’t know what things are like from their points of view. Nora has had no contact with us since the last visit, which is what we’ve come to know as normal, but since they are now separated, it feels a bit different. Ruth has reached out to me and talked more about her life and relationships, but that isn’t connected to our talking more with Cricket or hearing more about him; when last we talked, I tried to turn the conversation toward the boys and failed. And she’s going through huge turmoil and changes, and that makes some sense—but she doesn’t act like someone who believes that I am primarily interested in Cricket, not in her. For our part, we are prioritizing keeping her happy and as close as she would like to be, but not for her own sake. It’s a lousy way to behave, but I don’t see a better alternative. Seeing a friend’s tweets from a talk by James Gritter, it was brought home to me just how badly our open adoption has failed: “Three necessary attitudes of hospitious open adoption: goodwill, respect, courage”; “Your arms are either open for embrace or pushing away. No in between gesture.” This isn’t what a conventional failed open adoption looks like: in just over a week, Cricket and his mother will be here. We will be polite and interested, we will have carefully prepared their space, and after they have gone, I will send a card letting them know how much we enjoyed having them. And there is such distance and emotional dishonesty between us adults that I am ashamed.

Open Adoption Roundtable #35

We brought something back with us from Missouri; I’ve been affectionately referring to it as the “death flu.” I haven’t been this sick in a long time, but we’re getting better now—I’m still barking like a seal and sleeping sitting up, but otherwise just tired. And just in time, too: there is a new Open Adoption Roundtable!

The Open Adoption Roundtable is a series of occasional writing prompts about open adoption. It’s designed to showcase of the diversity of thought and experience in the open adoption community. You don’t need to be listed at Open Adoption Bloggers to participate or even be in a traditional open adoption. If you’re thinking about openness in adoption, you have a place at the table. The prompts are meant to be starting points–please feel free to adapt or expand on them. 

Write a response at your blog–linking back here so your readers can browse other participating blogs–and share your post in the comments here. Using a previously published post is fine; I’d appreciate it if you’d add a link back to the roundtable. If you don’t blog, you can always leave your thoughts directly in the comments.

We’ve written about siblings in open adoptions twice before. Now we’re going to look in the other generational direction: grandparents. While the legal processes of placing and adopting focus on the triad of first parents-child-adoptive parents, the reality is that adoption involves extended family, too. So this time we’re offering up a nice, broad prompt to reflect on the influence of, relationships with, and experiences of grandparents in our open adoptions (whichever grandparents you choose).

Write about grandparents in open adoption.

Yesterday, I broke the news to my mother that Ruth and Cricket are planning to visit, and that they have timed the visit so as to avoid her. (My parents, who have wanted this for the last couple of decades, are finally taking a trip to Greece together in late April/early May.) I explained that my hope is that next year, assuming we have a visit next year, I will be able to talk Ruth into having a meal with my parents before we take off to an undisclosed location for the visit proper; I was apologetic about the whole weird thing.

“So she really, seriously just doesn’t plan to let me see him ever?”

“I—yeah, I think that’s right. I’m sorry. But I have this plan for next year?”

My mother was angry, but not particularly worked up or surprised; Ruth has said this to her before, in a card she sent to my mom around Cricket’s first birthday. My mom had hoped that things might change, since she wrote back very politely and has sent timely and tasteful birthday gifts each year, but I don’t think that anything has changed for Ruth.

There’s no question but that my mom is a problematic figure: she opposed the adoption, she made a couple of cracks about kidnapping Cricket in the early days, and she abused me as a kid. At the same time, I’ve been able to watch her with Joey, and while she isn’t perfect (she is seemingly unable to receive feedback from him, and doesn’t tend to listen to what he’s trying to communicate), she’s very warm and loving and clearly delighted by him. They don’t spend much time alone, but while we do things differently than she did, she is respectful of our parenting decisions and invested in Joey’s happiness. In our conversation, my mom said that if Ruth saw her with Cricket, she might change her mind—and that could well be true. Certainly that is a hope behind my meal plan. But I’m far from sure.

As for the other birth grandparents, my husband’s father has been dead for almost six years, and his mother pretends that Cricket is dead. It’s hard to know what exactly her relationship to Cricket would otherwise be—but I don’t think Ruth is interested in maintaining those kinds of connections, based on her total lack of interest in my completely awesome, stable, and available sister, Kate. (This is a real mistake, I think; maybe “birth aunt” doesn’t sound important, but if there is any way at all to get Kate involved in your life or your kid’s, you take it. She’s one of those people.) I want to write more about Cricket and my husband’s family, but that’s a separate post that I’ve been picking at for something like a month now.

Watching Joey really has helped me to understand at a gut level that more people loving your kid is a blessing, whatever else it brings. Watching Joey bolt toward the door at the end of a work day shouting “Oma, Oma, Oma!” with his arms outstretched toward my mom? That is amazing. It seems unlikely that Cricket could have that even with support from his moms, but I wish that he could get a little closer.

Open Adoption Roundtable #34

The Open Adoption Roundtable is a series of occasional writing prompts about open adoption. It’s designed to showcase of the diversity of thought and experience in the open adoption community. You don’t need to be listed at Open Adoption Bloggers to participate or even be in a traditional open adoption. If you’re thinking about openness in adoption, you have a place at the table. The prompts are meant to be starting points–please feel free to adapt or expand on them.

Write a response at your blog–linking back here so your readers can browse other participating blogs–and share your post in the comments here. Using a previously published post is fine; I’d appreciate it if you’d add a link back to the roundtable. If you don’t blog, you can always leave your thoughts directly in the comments.

It is likely that we’ve all had that experience at some time: someone asking us to speak to the choices or feelings of others in our adoption constellation. Perhaps it is someone asking a first parent how their child feels about being in an open adoption. Or someone asking an adoptee why their adoptive parents chose to adopt. You get the idea.

How do you handle such questions when they are asked of you? How would you want the other parties in your open adoption to handle those questions when they are about you?

On what must have been our first visit to the Emerald City post-relinquishment, we ran into a friend of Ruth and Nora’s while driving from one place to another. “Oh, hi Susie!” she said. “I recognize you from the pictures!” I actually cringed, not just a mental cringe but a real life, actual muscles, socially awkward cringe. What I really want is neither fair nor possible; I want never to come up in conversations between Ruth and Nora and their social circle. I don’t want people to know my name, or why I relinquished, or who could give up such a perfect child, or whatever other answers to questions I never want asked.

Setting aside my unrealistic wish, I would choose for Ruth and Nora to be as close-mouthed as is practicable: Why did she place? She thought it was the best decision at the time. What is she like? Quiet. I’d honestly rather that these strangers-to-me assume that I’m a drug-addled prostitute than have any real information about me. Ruth and Nora have never asked my preferences, and I’m sure that Ruth is pretty free with details, because that’s her nature. I try not to think about it.

I can’t think of a time when I’ve been asked to speak for Ruth or Nora; while it’s certainly true that lesbians can bear children, no one seems surprised that a queer couple might adopt if they want to parent. I also don’t tend to talk about them, and at this point—having moved once or twice—am surrounded by people who wouldn’t know to ask. My birthparenthood is mostly invisible.

Open Adoption Roundtable #31

With Halloween just around the corner, I thought this prompt would fit right in:

Write about open adoption and being scared.

The Open Adoption Roundtable is a series of occasional writing prompts about open adoption. It’s designed to showcase of the diversity of thought and experience in the open adoption community. You don’t need to be listed at Open Adoption Bloggers to participate or even be in a traditional open adoption. If you’re thinking about openness in adoption, you have a place at the table. The prompts are meant to be starting points–please feel free to adapt or expand on them.

Write a response at your blog–linking back here so your readers can browse other participating blogs–and share your post in the comments here. Using a previously published post is fine; I’d appreciate it if you’d add a link back to the roundtable. If you don’t blog, you can always leave your thoughts directly in the comments.

There was a question over on Open Adoption Support about why some birthfamiles talk about having lost their placed children, and one woman said that people like me have no right to say that we lost our kids, because we made a decision and signed the papers. Of course, I had already posted that sometimes I say I “placed” my son and sometimes I say that I “lost” my son; more accurately, at those times, I say that I lost my son because I am an idiot. I was upset and scared and self-loathing and determined to have some kind of plan. That scared thing? It turns out, that doesn’t go away.

At least not for me. Cricket is about to turn three, and I’m still scared of him.

I’m not one of those people who is afraid of babies or little kids; I’ve started hanging out in the church nursery on Sunday mornings so that Pete can socialize, and I’m happy to comfort the most fragile and shy babies. (There’s one little boy just a smidge younger than Pete who, when Pete sticks his face in this kiddo’s face to say a friendly hello, bursts into tears.) When I was in grade school, I helped my mother when she volunteered in the church nursery and always liked doing so. In fact, there’s only one baby I’ve ever been afraid of—not a baby any longer—my own Cricket.

Having been made acutely aware of the fact that can lose Cricket—because I lost him—I now am staring down the barrel of decades of being able to lose him again. There are a number of different ways it could happen: his moms could decide to close the adoption, shocking no one; he could tell them in a few years that he wants the adoption closed, something I am certain they’d agree to; and of course he could decide as an adult that he has two moms and that’s it, that these tall people have nothing at all to do with him. This is one of several things that keep me spooky and uncomfortable around him; I look at him (on the computer, Skyping) and feel frozen. Anything that I say could be not just the wrong thing, but the Last Wrong Thing. So instead, by default, my distance is the wrong thing. It’s not just that I can’t win—it’s that I can’t imagine what winning would look like. Can we possibly be close? When I reach out and he responds, I have no earthly idea what to do.

I have an example. I don’t know whether I mentioned it here, since it seemed unlikely to matter, but last month I made a two-minute video for Cricket in which I showed and explained our pool robot. I had learned via Skype that Ruth assumed that when I said “pool robot,” I meant those floaty things that release chlorine—but not so! There is a real robot! So I filmed it and picked it up and described its action. She told me that he is obsessed with the phrase “bear with me,” which I used as I hauled the robot up from the bottom of the pool. And she said this: “He did note that you say ‘love you’ at the end, and this made quite an impression. He talks about this pretty often.” And when she told me this, I didn’t respond directly—I made some inane comment about a different thing that she’d said—because what can I say to that? I reached out a little and he heard me, and now I don’t know what to do.

Open Adoption Roundtable #30

Roundtable time! This one is another chance to think back on the origins of our open adoptions.

Do you remember the first time you heard about open adoption?

If you need some further prompting: What were the circumstances? What was your reaction? If you grew up in an open adoption, do you remember the first time you heard the label applied to your relationships?

The Open Adoption Roundtable is a series of occasional writing prompts about open adoption. It’s designed to showcase of the diversity of thought and experience in the open adoption community. You don’t need to be listed at Open Adoption Bloggers to participate or even be in a traditional open adoption. If you’re thinking about openness in adoption, you have a place at the table. The prompts are meant to be starting points–please feel free to adapt or expand on them.

I’ve been a reader of Savage Love for a hideously long time—so when Dan Savage wrote a book about adopting his son DJ, I bought and read it. He and his husband Terry used OA&FS in Seattle, and he wrote about the process in some detail. It wasn’t until after I had placed my son that I read something he wrote wishing his son’s birthmother would die.

Savage made open adoption sound pretty good; it never occurred to me that it might look different from the point of view of the woman sitting across the table from him, eating lunch and waiting to lose her child to the eager couple picking up the tab. DJ’s mother was homeless, no longer involved with the boyfriend who had gotten her pregnant, and only had housing because the adoption agency was providing it. Dan and Terry seem both desperate to like her and very ready to judge her, in an emotional mix that has become very familiar to me after several more adoptive parent memoirs and blogs. (Not, NOT that every adoptive parent falls into this emotional trap. But too many do.) She is so brave/how could she be so irresponsible.

For what it’s worth, Savage and his husband seemed to treat their son’s mother decently (as recorded in his memoir).

Yesterday I reread Secret Thoughts of an Adoptive Mother, a book that makes me crazy. I keep it around in case I ever need some kind of irritating pick-me-up. The anger that gets directed at pregnant women considering adoption by not all but too many adoptive and prospective adoptive parents really freaks me out. There is some level on which I just don’t understand it. I don’t have any money, but I’m not enraged by the rich people who seem to spend more money than I’ll ever see in what seem to me stupid ways; I’m pretty plain, but I don’t resent the gorgeous. That desire to scratch out the eyes of women who find themselves unexpectedly pregnant makes me recoil every time I see it. You don’t deserve a child, I don’t deserve a child—no one deserves a child. Many people are able to parent, and they come to that in a variety of ways. Being poor, or single, or fertile, or all those things and more doesn’t make someone a whore. And yet these books—The Kid, Secret Thoughts, and others—contain ~*~hilarious~*~ “Dear Birthmother” letters that let the resentment and stereotypes flow freely. How handy that these people will end up in lifelong relationships with the people they so despise.