July 03, 2013

Thoughts on Open Adoption

I'm slowly gathering resources and contemplating the process of adoption. Its pitfalls, its joys, its unique issues. At the same time, in the back of my head, I keep in mind that living child free is an option. I wish I could know how I would feel about all this in 10 years...

Adoption sure has changed a lot! Ok, who am I kidding - my only experience with adoption up til now has been what TV tells me and I know TV cannot be trusted to give me an accurate portrayal. But there is a persisting social "truth" that adoption continues to be this secret...thing. You aren't supposed to know who your "real" parents are and your adoptive family waits until you are older before they reveal the horrible truth that you are not biologically related to them *gasp!*

Clearly this is a ridiculous caricature. Open adoption seems to be more common than not, now. When you adopt, you not only welcome the child, but as much of the bio family as you can into the child's life (and therefore, very much *your* life). I think it is wonderful that adoption has become a proud and public process where the good of the child is held up above all else. I worry about the flip side of this. Some adoptions are not open. Some are "semi-open". And if a fully open adoption is generally held as the gold standard situation for adopted children, what does that say for children in any other kind of adoption?

I ask this because, due to my family's situation, I cannot do an open adoption. I have an older brother with a high functioning form of autism called Asperger's Syndrome (although I think the new DSM has done away with this distinction). Life with my brother is challenging. The smallest change to his routine can put him in the *foulest* mood for over a week. Break one of his many (and often changing) internal rules and he will let you know in no uncertain terms. He struggles with dysthymia because he is high functioning enough to *know* that he is different, that something is "wrong" with him, but there's absolutely nothing he can do about it. My immediate family is an incredibly tight-knit group of 5 because we have all had to work together to get my brother and ourselves through some crazy low times. We strive to maintain consistency and constancy for my brother in a world that does not understand him, does not care, and assaults his senses with too much and rapidly changing stimuli.

Bringing an adopted baby (and blended-race baby at that) into my family will be complicated enough. I still need to discuss this with my mom and find out if she thinks he would eventually get used to it or if he would forever make incredibly inappropriate comments around the child (in which case it looks like we're child-free because I'm not bringing any child knowingly into that situation). Also, is there a way I can sloooooooooooooowly get him used to the idea so its not such a big, scary, crazy shock when we announce one day we have a baby. Please don't take any of this to mean that my brother is racist or anything else. He has autism, this is how life works with him, for better or worse.

Even if I can introduce an adopted baby into my family there is *no way* in heaven or on earth that I can open our doors wide to the bio-family. That sounds harsh. But it is the unfortunate truth. I got lucky when M and I started dating and eventually got married: his only parent in the area is his mom and his mom was (get this) one of my brother's former teachers. My brother LOVES her. So introducing the "in-laws" into my family was a walk in the park. God was truly looking out for the good of my family as a whole.

I can't introduce a number of perfect strangers into my family, who show up several times a year for birthdays, Christmas, Thanksgiving... holidays are hard enough without this. (Did I mention my dad also has a mood disorder and becomes The Grinch [a less cute and funny Grinch] from about November through March every year?). I'm not saying I don't want my child to know the woman who gave birth to her, but I am saying we are not all going to skip off together into the sunset as I feel like it is portrayed in many adoption blogs I have creeped on.

Obviously any family will have a rough transitional period where the adopted and bio-families are getting used to eachother, but my family is heavy laden in land mines that I would like to do my best to avoid or at least put minimal pressure on. And spending significant dates (holidays, birthdays, etc.) away from my family in order to be with the bio-family would not be possible except on rare occasions (ask me how many holidays we have not spent with the 5 core members of my family together. I can count them on one hand). That is not a permanent solution.

Ugh, I feel like none of this is coming out right. I feel like anyone who doesn't know me or my family would read this and think "Is this girl for real?" Yes my family is almost unhealthily close. Yes my mom, sister, and I have to work together to keep dad and my brother from hiding in their rooms through every holiday get together. We are functionally dysfunctional, I like to say. Its a delicate balancing act we have learned and I'm not going to screw that up just because my lady parts refuse to give me a biological child.

So, long story short, am I a bad person if I go into adoption looking for only a semi-open relationship with the bio-parents? Obviously as the child gets older, she could get to know those people on her own terms. I don't intend to shut the door completely and they would be honored in our home whether she sees them regularly or not. I just can't move forward with this process and only think about how adopting will impact M and I - it is going to affect our entire family. I have to do right by my brother and take into consideration how bizarre and alien this will seem from his perspective - and then do what I can to minimize the weirdness for him. Otherwise I'm just creating a GIANT problem that will make my whole family (and adopted child) suffer.

Does any of this make sense to any one besides me?


  1. Yes, that makes perfect sense. You are watching out for what is best for YOU, which also includes your family. I don't know a lot about adoption - is closed adoption considered bad or inappropriate these days? In my opinion, I believe people usually put their children up for adoption because they are not in a good place (or willing) to raise them themselves, in which case I wouldn't necessarily want to expose my baby to that. But again, I don't know much about it.

    In the end, kudos to you for thinking about you and your family and choosing to make the right decision for you, not what an agency or society tells you you should do (if that is what is causing you to question it). Good luck!!

    1. Thank you so much for the affirmation! Like I said, I have zero real life experience with adoption and the more I read the more I felt like I was going to irrevocably screw up my child if they couldn't see their bio-family. This whole process is very confusing, I'm glad someone outside of my family could make sense of my word-vomit up there :-)

  2. I don't think you are a bad person for this at all. When we started pursuing adoption we quickly realized a full open adoption was not for us, for different reasons. Every situation is unique and you have to do what is right for you and your family.

    That being said I know that some adoption agencies will not work with you unless you agree to an open adoption. I very much disagree with this. That is very much something that needs to be decided between birth mom / adoptive family, it is not something a agency should mandate.

    Our agency primarily does semi-open adoptions. We are more than willing to send letters, pictures and updates as often as the birth mom wants. When our child turns 18 if they would like to meet her then we support that 100%. But there will not be any direct contact until then.

    I do not think badly of open adoption at all. I applaud those who have done it and has made it work. It is just not something we are comfortable with.

    Any time you need to talk or if you need advice on how to pursue everything please let me know! I'd love to help in any way possible. trishg21@gmail.com

    1. Trisha, you have no idea how tightly I have been holding onto your blog like a life-line. Its really hard to find adoption blogs that are in the process, like pre-placement not post-placement. I think it will probably take me 9 months to a year to really come to a decision with M about adoption. In the mean time, I'm so glad that you are out there documenting the process and giving me a glimpse into that world and how it is not as scary and overwhelming as it seems. Thank you, friend :-)

  3. "if a fully open adoption is generally held as the gold standard situation for adopted children, what does that say for children in any other kind of adoption?"

    This is a great question. I've come to understand that openness is not necessarily the same as contact, although most people use the two terms interchangeably. If you were to ask me to rank the two I would say that parenting with openness is more beneficial to the child than parenting with contact. Which is a good thing because we while we have full control over how open we can be, we have only partial control over the amount of contact we have.

    Take a look at this post and see if it helps you with your question. http://lavenderluz.com/2013/01/open-adoption-grid.html

    And best wishes in your journey, Curly Sue.

    1. Oh my gosh, that article and grid visual *really* helped me, thank you!! I very much believe in open-heartedness in adoption. I don't believe it should be "secret", I would make my child's adoption story part of their biographical narrative from day one. And the bio-parents would be spoken of positively and questions dealt with head on. Thank you for showing me that I can be open with my child about their adoption and create a positive environment for them even if they can't see their bio-parents until they are older. I really appreciate you reaching out to me :-)

  4. Hi!! Thank you for commenting even though I've been a stranger. Adoption has really been taking all my time & emotional energy...I've just needed to focus on it.

    I don't think you're a bad person if you do semi-open, and also wanted to point out that open doesn't have to mean visiting. I've been lucky to meet & become friends with some adoptive couples around me, and all four cases, regardless of whether they're open or semi, have the same level of contact now. They send photos and that's it because the birthmom is the one who does not want more contact. And it's the same story with the birthmoms I've talked with. Our adoption will definitely be open (part of the nature of doing our own advertising), but will most likely be limited to sending photos & emails occasionally.

    I'm really excited that you're considering adoption. It's a different beast than IF & treatments but very doable, if my friends are any indication. Looking forward to hearing more about it!

  5. Hi Curly Sue. I found your blog randomly this morning, and thought I'd comment. Openness is very different than contact. And contact can mean very different things in each adoption. Our son's birth mother lives across the country. We have very regular contact with her at the moment (calls, letters, e-mails). However, we've only seen her twice (both times when our son was just a few days old). We have a relatively open adoption (we know the identifying information for each other) and talk quite freely.

    I have some friends who have regular visits with their children's birth parents and others who never see them, but are friends on facebook. It's up to you and the child and the birth parents to decide what is best for everyone. There is NO one magic way to manage an adoption relationship.

    Good luck on your journey!