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.