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 part of the Open Adoption Bloggers list 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.
We often hear about open adoptions where the two sides don’t want the same level of openness. First mothers who don’t get updates as often as they would like, or not as many visits each year. Or adoptive parents who want to include their child’s first mother in his life, but she is not ready.
But what we don’t often discuss is when people on the same side of the triad can’t agree on the level of openness in an adoption.
- It could be a wife who wants a fully open adoption but the husband only wants to send letters once a year.
- Or a first mother isn’t ready for an open adoption but the first father wants to be part of the baby’s life.
- Maybe a spouse isn’t supportive of their partner entering into reunion with their first mother.
- Or a partner who came along after the adoption and isn’t comfortable with your relationship with your placed child.
- And the classic Hallmark movie of the year scenario: Your mother-in-law is convinced that the baby will be snatched away from under your nose if you have an open adoption.
How would/do you navigate these situations? Does your current relationship impact the type of open adoption that you have? How does this affect your current relationship?
The last time I talked to my mother, she was telling me that the missionary friends who had just visited ended up looking at my wedding pictures—many of which include Cricket. There is a whole series of me holding this baby, and then some shots of this baby with two other women, and my mom said that they were friends and this was those friends’ child. I’m not sure how it happened, but I have become her adoption confessor: whenever she lies about the adoption, she comes to me for absolution. Every time I forward a couple of pictures on to her, she tells me that it makes her both happy and sad to see them—but that I shouldn’t stop sending them.
Mr. Book’s family has a less conflicted attitude: they think that we shouldn’t have done the adoption, they tell him that being able to make that decision makes us bad people, and they have decided to pretend that Cricket is dead. They strongly disapprove of us having any contact with the kid. I sent a picture of newborn Cricket to Mr. Book’s mother before this policy had been officially instituted, and she hasn’t spoken to me since—the adoption has effectively ended my relationship with that side of the family.
Those pictures I put up yesterday? Mr. Book hasn’t seen them yet. He got them when I did, and by now I have ordered prints, received them, and put them into the Cricket photo album—and my husband still hasn’t seen them. I asked if he wanted to look at them with me the other night, and he got slightly angry at me, asked me not to pressure him. I won’t bring it up again for awhile…but he’s never looked at any of the pictures unless I was beckoning him over to the computer, asking him if he’d be willing to see.
Sometimes I feel like I’m the only one on our end who wants to do anything related to the adoption. Sometimes, honestly, it feels like too much. But when I’m genuinely getting overwhelmed, Mr. Book steps up: Nora just had a birthday, and I handed him a card and asked him to write it. He wrote something charming, stuck it in the mail, and it just wasn’t my problem—such a relief. I had assumed that I would need to address, stamp, and mail it, and I know it sounds tiny, but he did all that and I don’t have to worry about it.
I have of course read in many books—memoirs and novels, mostly—that becoming a mother means that a piece of your heart lives outside of your body, and runs around doing dangerous things, and occasionally screams at you that you are a fascist. I hadn’t realized that giving a child up for adoption also means that you are gaining a great and permanent vulnerability. It’s not like I sat down and thought about it that clearly, of course. If I had sat down and thought, I am going create a hostage to fortune, and then I am going to send that child to other people where he or she can be used to hold me hostage by even well-meaning parents.
Please don’t mistake me: I’m not mad at anyone but myself. But I’m feeling angry at myself about the adoption today. It just feels too hard right now. If I don’t hear for Ruth for a couple of weeks, I don’t know whether it will ever help to know that it’s probably because Nora’s having crunch time at work, or Cricket’s not sleeping well, or Ruth herself has caught a cold, or the dog has found a bag of peanut M&Ms and everyone had to make a trip to the emergency vet at three a.m. I wonder whether it will always feel like my fault—and I suspect that it will. Of course, there’s always therapy.
I’ve been reading The Primal Wound. Maybe that’s behind some of this. I feel deeply skeptical about Verrier’s theory, while at the same time I want not to be disrespectful of any adoptee who feels this wound in her own heart. But I find myself very frustrated by the book. Of course, the adoptions she describes don’t seem to resemble this one almost at all. The one thing that the book has really done for me is make me think about conversations I imagine I’ll have to have with Cricket in the future, and I just get upset. I think about the not insignificant chance that he’ll tell me to get out and mean it, and I get further upset. I know how pointless it is to brood about this, but here I am.
When I was planning the adoption, I genuinely, 100% believed that there was no loss of any kind for Cricket—he was going to parents with money and dedication who were very prepared to parent in a loving and thoughtful way, he’d have birthparents in the background to answer questions and assure him that he was never unwanted, and he’d just be better off—it seemed very uncomplicated in that way. I thought that the only loss would be mine and Mr. Book’s. I didn’t even see a loss for the adoptive parents, since they didn’t really pursue technological/hormonal solutions and certainly had no expectation of producing their own genetic offspring. I’ve since learned that Ruth and Nora may very well have experienced some loss with the adoption, although they haven’t hinted at that to me. But what about Cricket? Has he really lost anything? In the end, I know that he gets to decide whether or not he has experienced a loss, but if anyone has an opinion from experience, I would like to hear it.
A woman who is both a birthmother and an adoptive mother has joined the birthparent support group I attend. I met her for the first time Thursday night, and her presence made me incredibly uncomfortable. I don’t think of adoptive parents as the enemy . . . but for whatever reason, having her there made it feel like less a safe space. It was very strange, and I feel a bit guilty. The only thing she actually did that I can point to as making me uncomfortable was correcting women when they were talking about their children. Like so:
Tara: When I was at my son’s wedding on Saturday—
Adoptive Mom: You mean your birthson.
Tara: . . . Yes. Anyway, at the wedding . . .
Chloe: I don’t speak to my daughter; she doesn’t want contact.
AM: Your birthdaughter.
Chloe: Yes—my only daughter.
Additionally cringe-y for me were moments when women said things about adoptive parents in general: Heck, Chloe said that she can’t get past thinking of them as people who take away people’s babies. Another woman talked about them as people who buy their babies. I don’t think that adoptive parents are baby-stealing bourgeois pigs anymore than I think birthmothers are alcoholic whores who want to steal the babies back, but I can see why it would be therapeutic to have a place where you can express these (extreme, unfair) positions to an audience who understands why you’d want to say these things. And I kept stealing glances at the adoptive mom, whose expression I saw as smug, and I felt this strong anxiety: the closest I can come to explaining what it felt like is a sort of “Mom! Dad! Don’t fight!” It felt like something bad was going to happen. I guess I’m glad that women still felt free to speak their minds . . . but I’m also, perhaps unfairly, hoping that the adoptive mom doesn’t come back.
There are three group members who are birthmothers and adoptees, and for whatever reason, that doesn’t bother me. One of them, Tara, is organizing a birthmother panel for Adoption Mosaic, and she wants me to be one of the speakers. I’m more than glad to do it—the whole thing has grown out of a showing that group held of the documentary Adopted. Adopted, for those of you who haven’t seen it, is about a woman who was adopted as an infant from Korea and about a couple who are adopting from China in the present day. The documentary is extremely critical of all four adoptive parents and the practice of international adoption, and I mostly agree with the point of view (but not entirely—my views on international adoption, however, are probably not useful or relevant). When Adoption Mosaic showed the film, the audience was about 125 people (they asked people to sign in and list their triad status): ten adoptees, eight birthmothers, and the rest either adoptive parents or prospective adoptive parents. At some points during the movie, there were jeers and laughter that felt incredibly inappropriate to the members of our support group in attendance, and Tara spoke briefly to the crowd, explaining this fact. Some adoptive parents approached her after that, saying that they never hear from a birthparent perspective and would like to. Thus the panel. They haven’t nailed down an exact date yet, but I’m thinking about it already.
Miranda Mammen is looking for interested birthmothers to be part of an art project:
For my project, tentatively titled Beyond Juno: The Birth Mother Project, I am seeking birth mothers, first mothers, women who have placed a child for adoption from the New York City region to be interviewed and photographed for a feminist art/activism project. Participation would require a physical meeting with me (roughly an hour and a half long), where I will conduct an informal interview regarding the participant’s life and experiences with adoption and capture some portrait photographs. The aim of the project is to give voice to birth mothers and to encourage discussion around their experiences and identities.
Please note that it is certainly possible for a participant to remain anonymous; a woman’s name can be changed and her face obscured if she prefers.
My therapist asked me how I see my role in Cricket’s life in the future, and then she asked me where that role comes from: is it my ideal, is it what I think I deserve, has someone else suggested it to me? I told her that I see myself as trying to be available for whatever he wants and intending to take an interest in whatever he likes (this has been the subject of a couple of intense conversations between myself and Mr. Book; I tell him that if our futurekid ends up liking golf, or country music, or whatever, we have to become fans of whatever it is. This was sort of born when I visited Ruth and Nora while still pregnant and met their friends’ kid; he is a rabid baseball fan in a community of people who could care less about sports. I happen to be a baseball fan myself, and he seemed so desperately grateful to talk to someone who knew who Hideki was that I thought, If he was my kid, I’d learn to love baseball. So now I feel like I’ve pledged to love NASCAR, or reggae (I keep trying to list things that I genuinely hate), or whatever Cricket and my future kid/s love, because I believe that it’s important. Not that I’m not hoping against hope that NASCAR isn’t a passion of theirs, of course. As for where it comes from—well, I told her that it’s what Ruth seems prepared to accept. I see myself as sort of a distant family friend with possibly interesting information—that’s what I think Ruth wants. I asked Mr. Book the same question, and he said that he doesn’t see himself as having any role in Cricket’s life. “But you are the only dad!” I respond. I very well might attach too much importance to that fact, but it’s true; we had a boy, and my husband is his only dad. It seems likely to me that that will be important when Cricket is a teenager.
Other than that, I spent most of my fifty-minute hour explaining to her that Ruth runs the relationship and seems to need that; weirdly/amusingly, she assumed that this meant that Ruth is “the man” in her relationship, which (setting aside the idea that that’s kind of a stupid template to use, since a lesbian relationship really doesn’t require anyone to be “the man,” that’s sort of the point as I understand it) isn’t the way she would see it if she met them—she asked which of them stays home with Cricket, and it’s Ruth. She was surprised. Perhaps I should have added that Ruth is also the one with long hair who does the cooking. I’m not sure that traditional gender roles are helpful, and sometimes I wish they were less present in my head. When I was in California for the wedding, I ended up talking to a friend (I like her a lot, so she probably needs a blog name. How about Renata—I’ve always liked that name) about my ambivalence around making traditional choices. I end up feeling some guilt about my own choices, but I guess I like to think that that keeps me honest, and makes me less likely to make assumptions about other people’s relationships (e.g., “So do you stay home with your children? Your husband does? Really, never would have expected that. Do you at least do the cooking?”). Or maybe I’m rationalizing my need to keep the guilt alive.
Amanda, I think you’re right—it does in some ways feel like a next step to go on this (what sounds like a terrible) island visit; Mr. Book is already really excited about the idea, so I’m trying to frame it in my head as a leap of faith. I am going to trust that nothing terrible will happen and that, while I can’t run away, I won’t need to; at least that is the goal.
Okay, more. Ruth has suggested that we visit late in February. In the last email I wrote to her, I kept having the impulse to write “You know what? Let’s close the adoption.” I didn’t, of course, and I don’t mostly want that, but when I got her email, I didn’t quite know what to do. So I took it to Mr. Book. “Of course, we should definitely go up there, it will have been two and a half months since we’ve seen him,” said he. So that’s I guess what we’re going to do. Not sure why I’m so ambivalent right now. We’ve been missing things: he’s walking now; he’s They also want us to visit during Passover, which could be a bit complicated—I think I’ll try to explain that I’ve got a lot of Catholic duties during the same time frame and see whether we can work something out.
I have also found the perfect chocolate chip cookie recipe. No foolin’: I have tried many, and this is simply the best.
Ruth outlined three future visits: February, April, and then she asked whether we would want to go to Nora’s family’s island in May or June. (Yes, they own an island. That whole income disparity thing really makes itself felt at times—while Ruth and Nora aren’t rich by any means, they are comfortable.) Honestly? No, that sounds awful to me; trapped, surrounded by their family, with no way out short of faking a medical emergency. But I think Mr. Book would enjoy seeing the island, and I think that Nora is excited about the idea. She doesn’t often seem interested in us or the relationship, so I’m hesitant to reject an overture from her. And, heck, I don’t really feel like I can refuse any visit without a really rock solid reason (i.e., better than “I don’t want to”).
I got an email from Ruth proposing a visit late in February. =)
Three or four times last year, I wrote Cricket a letter—my dad travelled a lot when I was small, and the postcards he sent from around the world mean a lot to adult me, so I thought that making sure that he had a written record of the fact that we care and have been around might be a good thing. The problem is that it is super awkward to write to a baby: I had some better moments, like talking about the hawks we saw while driving up the coast, and some less good moments—like telling Cricket about our inability to find a decent Mexican restaurant in town. I don’t want to quit writing, but I have found myself dreading it a bit.
Mr. Book’s mom sends him cards for every holiday, and while I was looking at the Christmas card on our fridge, I realized that I should steal her idea: we’ll send Cricket holiday cards, write as much inside as will reasonably fit, and avoid the need to fill whole pages with small talk for a baby. Maybe it’s a cop-out, but I feel relieved. I ordered some cards that I really like—minor mental derail when I realized that Ruth and Nora probably won’t like them at all (just an issue of taste; they aren’t in any way offensive), but I decided to go ahead—and we’ll start the year off with a Valentine sent in a couple of weeks.
I’ve decided to wait two months after Ruth’s stated intention to schedule a visit—February 8—and then ask about whether they have a visit time in mind. I don’t really want to have a visit right now, to be honest, but I almost never do; I want visits to go on, I just don’t look forward to or really enjoy the actual visits. But if we’re going to make regular visits a normal thing, we should probably go ahead and put another one on the calendar. I don’t really know how big an impact my request to discuss serious stuff has had on Ruth and Nora. I don’t know whether it is making them reconsider visits, or whether it was a minor irritation that hasn’t really stayed with them. I think that asking is a pretty bad idea, but I do wish that I knew. In the absence of that knowledge, I guess my job is just to act normal and be cheerful.