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.

17 thoughts on “Roundtable #36: Agreements

  1. I don’t think it’s true that there’s no in-between. I think we’re in-between when it comes to Mara’s mom. I desperately want a relationship with her, but she’s going to have to be ready for that and I’m going to have to be able to gauge that she is in fact ready. That’s just the reality of a more complicated adoption and I think you have a more complicated adoption. Any Grand Unified Theory of Adoptions is going to try to make universal claims, but there has to be some room for bending too. (Okay, I’ll shut up before I get to postmodernism proper!)

    • I get a little melodramatic about our situation because at times it looks like there’s no reason we can’t have one of those good adoptions; we’re all relatively healthy adults who can be reasonable and are successfully parenting our kids. My impression is that everyone expects foster care adoption to be more complicated re: openness: What’s our excuse?

    • I feel like should clarify that “in between” comment a little, since it was the result of me trying to pick out a 140 character soundbite. The context was adoptive parents limiting an adoption to semi-open for no other reason than not wanting to deal with their own fears or insecurities about openness, then patting themselves on the back for having the word “open” in the adoption. So not that “in between” situations don’t exist or that openness isn’t a very complicated dance at times, but that we shouldn’t fool ourselves into thinking that we can simultaneously push people away out of fear while also somehow making them them feel welcome and wanted.

  2. As always, I’m just so saddened by this and wish things would change. I hope the visit goes well and you have a wonderful time with Cricket.

  3. I can only imagine how hard this is. I’m thinking of you and hoping you guys have a good visit. While it must feel weird listening to Ruth talk at length about everything but Cricket, maybe the insights you gain into Ruth’s thinking could be helpful in the future. I’m not sure how, but it’s important that that you guys still be allowed to see Cricket even if Ruth feels her personal life is too complicated.

  4. I’m sure you thought of this, but… is there any way you might be able to have a frank discussion with Ruth regarding your communication issues and general discontent with the relationship your two families have forged? I think this might resolve (and at least address, which might feel really good in itself) many of the tensions permeating your relationship right now. I know it’s not easy in the slightest, especially since you have such a hard time simply getting hold of her in the first place, but I think she needs to know. If you’re not upfront with her about your own feelings, nothing will ever get solved, and you will continue to stew in your own unhappiness. You write that you are ashamed at how much “distance and emotional dishonesty” exists between adults–you have the power to bridge that gap by simply beginning to be more honest with her.

    • While I like the idea myself, there are a couple of problems: one is that I’ve asked about having similar conversations at about a year and two years into the adoption, and both times Ruth told me that she wasn’t willing to have the conversation. Which is her right, if frustrating. The other problem, as I see it, is just about timing: So much is going on for her right now that adding a “seriously, we need to talk about how discontented the birth family is” problem to it would feel like piling on. I’d very much like to be able to have this conversation in the future, but it ain’t gonna be this year.

      • Yes, I see why you’re hesitant to bring it up now, especially with everything that’s going on in Ruth’s life. I disagree with you about your thought Ruth has a right not to have this conversation with you, however. By refusing to participate in a conversation that you feel is very necessary, she is refusing to engage in the relationship that you two have agreed to try and make work. This obviously isn’t okay, and she should know that (although it seems that she might need some reminding).

        A tactic that I often pursue when attempting to engage in difficult but necessary conversations with unwilling participants is let them decide when to have said necessary conversation. If you say, “Let’s have this conversation” and he/she says, “I can’t have this conversation,” you say, “Having this conversation is really important to me. When would be a good time for you to have this conversation?” And then you can plan on a specific time to have the conversation, and the other person can mentally prepare for it while feeling that he/she has had some control in setting the terms of the conversation. I know this method probably sounds infantile, which it kind of is–and this is especially frustrating because you expect Ruth to act like an emotionally mature adult who wouldn’t need this–but when you feel like you are ready to bring this up with Ruth/she doesn’t have so much on her plate, this might be a good way to actually get your needs met. xx

    • Well, she does really want to parent more than one child, and starting from scratch on another adoption is expensive and time-consuming…. =/

  5. I relate in so many ways to this post. I have nothing more worthwhile to say over than you are not alone in most of your wonderings.

  6. um, I was waiting for someone to comment about the ‘dating a man and wanting to have his baby’ thing. yeah, that. hope this guy knows what he’s getting into. yikes.

    I am reluctant to say this, but I have to agree with the comment above about expressing yourself to ruth, even if it is on her terms (re: timing, place, etc.) I just don’t think you should have to put up with it. I’m not suggesting sharing everything that upsets you — after all, some things you can’t change (e.g., your decision to place with them, who they are as people, their separation, etc.) — just maybe focusing on a few things that could actually impact your future, such as communication issues, your desire/agreement for photos, etc.

    granted, you have your hands full now, with joey and baby on the way. and the timing might not be great for her either. but it sure sounds like something needs to be said. if only to bring you some peace of mind as you try to keep yourself available to cricket.

    of course you can certainly feel free to ignore everything I’ve said here too. xo

  7. I think y’all make good points, and maybe it’s a cop-out, but I do want to wait awhile. There’s so much changing right now that I think it would be more productive to have that conversation when we have some idea of what things are going to look like in the medium term; I don’t have any idea of what arrangement Ruth and Nora are eventually going to come to, and neither does Ruth, in part (I think) because she’s busy grieving the relationship. When they first separated, Ruth said that they were still hoping to visit, and I mentioned as delicately as I could that we have more than one sleeping space available. Ruth said that she couldn’t imagine that they’d be in a place where they’d be unable to share a bed—and now they can’t travel together at all. By the end of the year, I think Ruth will have a clearer idea of what her and Cricket’s lives are going to be like, and I hopefully will have emerged from the worst of the zombie-parent-of-newborn-ness. I do think that I’m in a better position to say “When can we have this conversation?” rather than “Please can we have this conversation,” if only because Ruth closing the adoption (the ever-present worst case) would be awful, of course, but feels survivable in a way it didn’t, once. But it doesn’t seem like an excellent plan to just stew for the next decade and a half (or more!), and I do want a chance to explain my concerns about how their inconsistency will affect Joey and the Possum, quite aside from hurting me and my Mister. Uh, and I need some time to find a better way to put that.

    • You can put me on Team Wait to Talk, because I think Ruth is going to be in a very different place mentally from wherever she is now once the relationship breakdown and all the shakeouts from that have a chance to settle. Waiting forever makes very little sense, but I do think that waiting until she has some stability in her life is tactically wise. You don’t want her to make promises she can’t keep or to write you off as more than she can deal with, and either seems like an option to me if she’s currently overwhelmed and all over the place.

  8. What are the indications you’ve had that Ruth may close the adoption (“the ever present worse case)? I must have missed something. I thought you were doing video chats with Cricket and that she has tickets for she and Cricket to visit. Has she ever indicated that closing the adoption is something she’s considering?

  9. My only thoughts are that now might be a good time to talk – she might be reflecting on her life and how she wants to move forwards and perhaps, if she brings it up, that’s a good opportunity to air some of your hopes. But I absolutely agree that unless she gives this indication, (or talks to you in terms of how she sees her life in the future) you shouldn’t bring it up. I’m not sure if that makes sense… I hope it does!

  10. I can’t imagine how complicated and painful this is. I think waiting until Ruth is ready to talk/things have settled down may be the best way to go (I can’t even begine to imagine having to deal with the Nora leaving for a man situation). Best of luck!

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