Open Adoption Roundtable #9

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.

This round we’re going to consider one critique of fully open adoptions. Have you ever heard–or perhaps even made–statements like these?

“We have medical histories and can share the information we have about their birth parents with our children now. If they feel a need to initiate contact with their birth families when they are adults, we will fully support them.”
“The decision to have a relationship with her bio family should be hers when she is ready. Creating a relationship between them before she wants it might cause issues in the future.”
“Children deserve to have just one family during childhood and not to deal with anything adoption-related until they are more mature. A fully open adoption robs a child of a normal childhood.”
These statements are from people participating in closed and semi-open adoptions. I paraphrased them slightly, but left the meanings intact.

The writers share a certain point-of-view: that direct contact during early childhood between birth families and children placed for adoption may not be the best idea. Adopted persons should be free to initiate relationships with their first families–or not–on their own timetable. The parents (first and adoptive) in an adoption shouldn’t make such an important and personal decision for them.

What is your response? Do you agree or disagree? Why?

This afternoon, I got a package from UPS—it was a small box containing the birthday card that I ordered for my son a couple of weeks ago. In about four weeks, I will fill it out—Dear Cricket, Happy Birthday, thinking of you, all my love, your birth mama Susie—and mail it. There are a number of arguments to be made against the perceived scariness or inappropriateness of open adoption, but I want to start here: Who on earth could think that it’s a bad think for a child to get one more sweet, harmless card on his birthday? What is the loss to him, really? When I talk to people who think that my card is damaging, a bad thing, a violation, I don’t know what I could possibly say to them. I just get stuck on “But it’s his birthday, and I sent him a card. You’re supposed to send cards on someone’s birthday.”

I know, of course, many of the arguments against open adoption, but I think that most of them are predicated on this idea of the birthmother as a dangerous woman: an unstable, baby-snatching, drug-using creature with wild eyes and snatching hands who signs that birthday card “ALL MY LOVE FROM YOUR REAL MOMMA!!! P.S. I AM COMING TO BRING YOU HOME BABY” Thing is, I’ve talked to a lot of first parents and I’ve never met that madwoman. I’ve met grief-stricken women and women who’ve had a lot of trouble in their lives, but I think that the birthmother who tries to climb in through the nursery window is a very rare creature. I think that open adoption works best when prospective adoptive parents and prospective birth parents choose each other; when they know that the people on the other side of the relationship are not something they can’t handle. If you are matched with someone who frightens you, perhaps this is not the match for you. In situations where children have been removed from the birthparents’ home by the state, you may or may not be able to have a healthy open adoption. But for the rest of this entry, I’m going to talk about domestic infant adoption.

“Children deserve to have just one family during childhood and not to deal with anything adoption-related until they are more mature. A fully open adoption robs a child of a normal childhood.”

This is a bit of a head scratcher for me. What you grow up with? That’s your normal, whatever it is. I grew up dirt poor and abused, and that was normal. I know kids who grew up surrounded by extended family, wandering from house to house because everyone in the neighborhood was an uncle or an auntie—and that was normal for them. I grew up with three siblings and young parents, and that was normal; Mr. Book grew up an only child of older parents, and that was normal. The fact that an open adoption can provide the adopted child with an even bigger network of relatives who love him or her doesn’t seem freakish, to me—it sounds like one of the better things about adoption.

Part of the reason that I’m confused by this one is that I can’t think of anything we’ve done or planned for Cricket as part of his open adoption as potentially harmful; he’ll have one more birthday present at his birthdays, he will occasionally visit Stumptown and its museums, and his birth parents come over for dinner every so often. In so far as a baby cares, he has seemed pleased to see us so far. He is especially fascinated by Mr. Book, and spends a lot of time staring at him—Mr. Book is his only dad, and I suspect that having his birthdad around and able to answer questions may be really important to him as he gets older. I do emphatically not think that kids raised by queer couples are missing out, but I do think that the ability to have man-to-man talks if he wants to might be valuable to Cricket. Mr. Book and I are planning to have a child in a year or two—it seems like just a good thing for Cricket to get to see futurekid.

My perspective may be skewed by the fact that Cricket has several factors from having the prototypical All-American childhood—he is already the adopted child of Jewish lesbians, open adoption isn’t going to be the one thing that makes him stand out in a WASPy population. Life is complicated, and family is complicated, but more loving family can be a very great gift.

“We have medical histories and can share the information we have about their birth parents with our children now. If they feel a need to initiate contact with their birth families when they are adults, we will fully support them.”

Well, I have a problem with a couple of assumptions made here. At the most practical level, medical histories can change—Mr. Book’s mother has just had a tentative diagnosis of multiple sclerosis, which is not on the medical histories we gave the agency because it hadn’t happened yet. But more than that, there are two biggies here: (1) “[We] can share the information we have about their birth parents with our children now” and (2) “If they feel a need to initiate contact.”

First off, I think there is no substitute for a birthparent’s explanation to the placed child of the reasons for and circumstances surrounding the placement. If and when Cricket asks why I “gave him up,” Ruth can say, “Why don’t we call her and ask?” Don’t get me wrong, I’m not looking forward to those conversations—but I owe them to my son, and I don’t think that even the most well-intentioned adoptive parents can explain as effectively. And, just like medical histories, the information about the birthparents changes—they marry, they have other children, they go to prison, they win Nobel Prizes. The only way to provide really accurate and up-to-date information about the birthparents is to keep in touch.

That idea about “if and when the adoptee feels the need” worries me—if the adoptee has to ask, then he or she is raising the issue, and that may lead adoptive parents to feel betrayed or hurt—so perhaps the adoptee will wonder and never ask. And if there is a reunion, that is a complicated and difficult emotional experience in and of itself: a whole lifetime of hurt expressed over a short period of time. There’s a forum post that I have saved on my computer, made by an adoptive mom, that bothered me so much that I took the trouble to copy it. One fragment of it runs so: “And as for the “reunion” word….it is very one-sided. From the bparents side, I can totally see why they would feel like it is a reunion but (infant) adoptees do not remember their bparents so how can you feel reunited with a stranger? I think adoptees create a very idealistic scenario and create emotions that they think they should have. Genetics do not determine emotions toward a person….I’m sorry, I just don’t get it!” Of course I disagree with this woman about almost everything, but one thing that struck me is that her fear about adoptees idealizing their firstparents is mostly easily dealt with by letting the adoptee meet his or her firstparents. My firstmother is not Joni Mitchell; she is a very nice woman who had a wild adolescence and now works in advertising (for example). I once read a different woman, a birthmother, talking about her open adoption relationship (a forum post long ago, and I can’t for the life of me remember who she was); she said that if her teen birthson ever ran away to her house, she’d call his adoptive mom first thing. They are friends—not enemies. This I suppose also ties into the statement:

“The decision to have a relationship with her bio family should be hers when she is ready. Creating a relationship between them before she wants it might cause issues in the future.”

Everyone has issues in the future—creating a relationship makes it possible to resolve them. And, of course, parents make these decisions for their children all the time; you do not ask Junior whether he wants to have a relationship with Gramma, or smelly Uncle Rick. You are the parent, and you help to build relationships between your child and his family. You make decisions on behalf of your child all the time, and I think that to suddenly adopt a hands-off kind of policy in regards to the birthfamily is intellectually and emotionally dishonest. Your child can’t create familial relationships on his or her own—by leaving it up to the adoptee, you make a relationship impossible at first and then merely difficult, handicapped by the years spent in the dark.

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3 thoughts on “Open Adoption Roundtable #9

  1. Pingback: Roundtable #9: Critiques of fully open adoption « Open Adoption Bloggers

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