Why I am anti anti-open adoption: a public response to private statements

April 5, 2011

in Adoptee, Adoption, Adoptive parenting, Birth parent, Open Adoption, Reunion in adoption

Private bulletin boards certainly serve a purpose. A private board can be a safe place for people to connect and explore sensitive issues more deeply than where the whole world could see. I’m in full support of that. A private board can also be a place to vent, and I’m also in support of that.

I’m on a couple of private adoption boards from various corners of the triad and see that the boards do, indeed, serve well these two functions. Time and again, members get comfort, get “gotten,” find clarity, release frustration, feel better, move on.

But there is also a dark side to one-sided private boards: the pile-on. The phenomenon where a person states an issue (or worse, names a person) and one by one others pile on that issue, feeding off each other with righteous energy that can fan the flames way past a sell-by date, and with little thought to an alternate view.

I witnessed this recently on a thread on a private forum for adoptive parents. with a thread called something like, “Why I am anti-Open Adoption.”*

The pile-on (my word, and yes it’s a little inflammatory and probably not what the poster and participants thought they were doing) went on for four pages before I was brought into it, against my best intentions.

You see, one of the participants had found an open adoption blog and began using excerpts from that blog to prove her anti-OA points. It turned into a bit of a personal pile-on.

She didn’t realize until later that the blog she was quoting was mine. The one you’re reading.

So I joined the fray, which wasn’t really much of a fray. The one thing we agreed on, respectfully, is that we will not change each other’s minds.

So why did I  spend quite a bit of time responding? Because some future person on that board who has not yet made up her mind about openness might read through that thread. I wanted to have my counterview there for her to factor into her decisions on how to parent her child, how to relate to her child’s birth parents.

And why am I going to share my salient points here? Because the thoughts expressed privately there are possibly also felt privately by people elsewhere who are evaluating how much openness they themselves are open to.

So this is for you, future googlers.

~~~~~

I have a confession to make.
Back during Adoption School, when being a mom was just a theoretical concept (by the way, our agency was nothing like what’s been described in this thread — it told us the benefits of open adoption to the child and said we would eventually form our own relationships with first parents, which it then left us to do), I did not embrace OA because the highly-paid social workers said it was proving to be better for the child than shame and secrecy. I did not choose it out of gratitude to the woman who would eventually make me a mother.

I chose OA for selfish reasons. I looked ahead to the time my theoretical children would turn 18 and *I* didn’t want to go through the jealousy and insecurity *I* might feel at that time if they decided to wonder, to seek, to meet their birth parents.

That, I thought, would gut me. I thought I would feel betrayed. I worried I would think my children disloyal.

And then I wondered how that might feel for them. Being split between their love for their parents and their curiosity about their birth parents. Would they be afraid to even wonder (much less search and meet) because of the ensuing feelings of disloyalty for my husband and me?

How could I do that to them, tear them in two?

I think it’s natural to wonder. I would, had I been adopted. This doesn’t mean all will, for I’ve certainly met many closed-era adoptees who have expressed no desire to explore their roots.

But if my children turned out to have the curiosity that I do, I didn’t want them to have to mend an 18+ year split. I thought that reunion at that stage of life would be incredibly complicated because of all that was missed. How would you forge a relationship with a stranger who was once (and, in my view, always) so intimately integral to your very being?

It seems to me that search and reunion after a lifetime of separation would be very difficult to navigate — not just the relationship, but the feelings that go with establishing it. If I can prevent my children from having to go through search and reunion, I thought, I will. The way to do this is to facilitate contact with birth parents from as early on as possible.

(I am not talking about the “scary” birth parents you fear — I’m talking about normal people who made a tough decision and who give me the same respect I give them.)

Turning over the reins
For many years, you will be able to call the shots about your children and their birth parents. You can direct the language and titles they use, you can direct the amount and type of contact, you can control what information gets through in either direction. You are in complete control.

But at some point, your growing or grown children may wonder. They may want to explore their heritage. They may want or need dynamic medical information. They may want to explore their feelings about their birth parents. Are you going to try to stop them? Are you going correct them if they use terminology you don’t like? Are you going to squelch their curiosity? Guilt them into not wondering, not seeking?

Trying to love your child’s birth parents gives your children permission and encouragement to love themselves because of the prominence you have in the child’s life. I suspect that any feelings you have about birth parents, positive and negative, end up internalized by your child.

When you get your spouse, you also get in-laws. And you make it work.
When you got married, you got not only the one you love but also his/her family. Same with adoption. You could think of your child’s birth family as in-laws or extended family members. You don’t get to choose them, but you do your best to make it work because of your common love for another. If everyone gets along — BONUS. You rarely cut in-laws out of your life just because you want to be the Only Important Person to your beloved.

Co-parenting/fostering /caretaking
Open adoption is not coparenting. But it is honoring the role of the birth parents in my children’s lives. That takes away nothing from me; it only adds to my children.

PLEASE REMEMBER I am not talking about the stereotypical crack-whore-birthmother [said tongue-in-cheekily, a la Claudia and her CWBM shirt] or the abusive birth father that you can encounter with fostering (edited: although, as SocialWorker24/7 points out, openness makes sense for these children, as well, for the same reasons; it just has added facets that the parents involved must work out).

I am talking about two people who happened to get caught having sex via unplanned pregnancy and who love their child so much they made a huge sacrifice for his/her well-being. (And this is why lack of coercion is so important to YOU the adoptive parents — so that the decision to place is made freely.) These are loving, honorable people, not too different from all of us, probably.

And psssst…you left off  three and a half words when you quoted me: Until my children are grown, I am merely the caretaker of themir birth parent relationships.

Why so closed up?
I ask you this: as you read through my| posts | that | bothered | you, did you feel threatened? Why do you feel motherhood is a coveted position? Did you yourself once covet it? What is behind your need to be the “only”? Why does it have to be either/or for you?

~~~~~

This has gotten long, so come back next week for part 2.

* No parts the thread except for my own contributions are directly quoted here. The statements of others are merely paraphrased here in my words.

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{ 30 comments… read them below or add one }

Pam/Wordgirl April 5, 2011 at 8:02 am

Lori,

This is such a wonderfully clear response.

I’ve always admired your capacity to approach parenting with an open heart and an eye to what you felt was best for your children and your family.

I am a co-parent through step-parenthood — and though open adoption and co-parenting may be the barest things in common (it takes a certain amount of open-heartedness and transforming of your old vision of what constitutes family) — it seems, at least to me, wholly different.

I haven’t read the threads you’re talking about — but from what you’ve written here they seem to conflate the two experiences.

It’s telling to me that the words excised from your quote change the meaning so completely. Sometimes people think they can manipulate someone else’s words to suit their purposes — but it represents a misuse of the language — not so mention a deeply flawed argument on their part.

You shine with integrity Lori — I have always thought so — this post is one more example of that.

Xo

Pam

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geochick April 5, 2011 at 8:58 am

Wow. It must have been so difficult to stay composed while your words were being twisted by someone trying to make their own point.

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Mel April 5, 2011 at 9:28 am

An amazing response in an amazing post that I need a day or two to mull over, read several more times, before I can pinpoint why I thought this was one of your best.

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Deathstar April 5, 2011 at 10:05 am

Amazing. It is because of you and others like you that I have a deeper appreciation and knowledge of open adoption. A source of support when you are searching for perspectives regardless of whether one might choose to emulate them or not. Frankly, I think agencies should provide a link to your blog (and others) to prospective adoptive parents.

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Gaby April 5, 2011 at 10:20 am

Ugh. I so dislike sweeping generalizations that bunch everyone into ONE perspective only. Don’t you think these types of decisions are best made case-by-case, with the child’s best interest in mind, looking at different angles, etc? To simply say open adoption is evil or closed adoption is wrong in all situations is arrogant, I think, and narrow-minded. Ours is a forced closed adoption by birthparent choice and I wish it was not. At the same time we are doing the best we can with what we are given. So any extremes bother me.
I quit reading private forums for that reason. I could not believe how ugly people can get in the anonymity of this channel. I bet it was frustrating to get dragged into it and misquoted on top of that!

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Andy April 5, 2011 at 10:48 am

You rock!

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Valerie Power April 5, 2011 at 11:37 am

I am so tired of living in a society that constantly judges and places the decisions people make in their lives as either “right” or “wrong”, “good” or “bad”. As I’ve blogged repeatedly myself, we all make decisions based on OUR life’s direction, OUR life experiences and OUR personal beliefs, which, inherently makes them OUR decisions. To judge those decisions is to judge the very essence of who someone is. ALL paths lead to the proverbial top of the mountain, people. And until we “get” that, these hurtful judgements will continue.

As a nearly 30-something, single, college-educated, very well employed woman, who owned her own home and car, had travelled and “lived” life, I decided to become a foster parent. After my training, and the placement of my first foster child (a 13-month old brought to me from an ER due to severe abuse & neglect who stayed with me just weeks short of one year) my home was designated as a “rehabilitative home” for abused infants. I heard repeatedly, “Why would you do this to yourself?” “Why don’t you just have your own child?” When I tried to explain myself, all I heard were continued judgments and “suggestions” for how to run my life and make decisions everyone else thought were right for me.

I finally learned to smile, nod and “thank” these people (internally, I also learned they didn’t want to hear it) for helping me, through their questioning, continually assess where I was in my life and either re-affirm the decisions I had made (and the path I was on) or make changes based on MY re-assessment of where I was.

After repeatedly watching these abused children placed back into abusive homes, I made the personal decision to leave foster care and adopt. My attempts at adopting here in the US were repeatedly “judged” because I was single. The agencies informed me, “Birth mothers don’t want to give their babies to single mothers, that’s why they can’t keep them in the first place.” (I beg to differ, but that’s a whole separate blog) and family and “friends” said, “Just get married and have your own! That way you KNOW what you’re getting into!”

Uh, excuse me? Do you think I got to 30 still single because I lived the life of a hermit and avoided men? Had the “normal” path to parenthood embraced me, I’d have embraced it right back. But, it didn’t and I was determined to be a mother.

What I also knew now more than ever, was the number of children not only in our US foster system, but systems throughout the world who NEEDED a loving home. Hadn’t I already proven to the state and all those around me that I COULD mother? And, not only could I mother, but I THRIVED at rehabilitating abused infants while working full time, cooking all our meals (as an organic vegetarian, the local fast food restaurant isn’t an option for me – another life decision on which I’m repeatedly judged) and still maintaining a healthy social life (and, collective GASP, still dating)?

I refused to allow the judgements of the US foster system, adoptive system or the people around me make this decision for me. I kept going and discovered international adoption. As I started my final journey to motherhood the judgement continued. “You don’t know what you’re getting yourself into.” “International adoption is a scam.” “These people are going to take your money and leave you without a child.” “These birth mothers are all drug addicts and alcoholics.” “The odds of your child being born with HIV are…….”

I often sat back at baby showers of friends and co-workers WAITING for that one person who would have the GALL to say, “Have you ever considered this baby may have birth defects?” Of course, it never happened. We’re too “civil” for that. So, I wondered, why was it the first thing out of someone’s mouth when being told I was considering adoption? EVERY parent has to deal with the awful reality that some children may be/are born with challenges we could never foresee, but we continually choose to be parents anyway.

The hardest part for me adopting internationally was that open adoption WASN’T an option. Having been a foster mother I KNEW having a relationship with and an understanding of the mother who gave life to these children helped me be a better mother. So, I’ve done the best I can. From the time my daughter was placed in my arms, we have honored and acknowledged ALL the mothers in her life – the one who gave her life, the foster mother who cared for her for 5 months until the adoption was complete and the mother who has cared for her every day since (me). We openly discuss all three and plan for the day (should it ever come) where we get to meet them (or meet them again).

Personally, I don’t see how there’s ANY way to parent a child without honoring the ENTIRE path on which that child came to you. And, just as I say daily that all paths lead to the top of the mountain, I believe ALL paths that lead to parenting are OUR paths to be navigated, blazed and climbed without judgement or criticism.

Lori, I’m sorry my response became a blog into itself. Obviously, this one just really got to me.

Know this, *I* honor your path to parenthood. Namaste, my friend.

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Lavender Luz April 5, 2011 at 3:01 pm

I do hope the day comes when your daughter’s birth family comes into your lives. In interesting book about just such a story is “Bones That Float.”

http://bonesthatfloat.com/

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Baby Smiling In Back Seat April 5, 2011 at 11:52 am

What an unpleasant surprise for you to get drawn into this brouhaha.

Some people have a real need to be their child’s only — not just in terms of other types of parents like first parents and step-parents, but also caregivers, other relatives, even partners. I have seen mothers choose day care over nannies explicitly because they are afraid that their child will love the nanny more. I have seen many mothers shut fathers out of parenting decisions and actions, ostensibly because the fathers don’t do it right or don’t know as much, when it is evident to me that any incompetence is the direct result of the mother’s exclusion of her partner.

It is so clear that you are the opposite of that.

I don’t know whether you can ever persuade any of the anti-OA people, given that many of their issues aren’t about adoption at all, but you have so much to teach to those still making up their minds. Those of us not involved in adoption at all who just happen to be curious, like many of your readers, get to reap the benefits too.

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Concerned about foster care April 5, 2011 at 11:57 am

“I am not talking about the stereotypical crack-whore-birthmother or the abusive birth father that you can encounter with fostering.”

Oh, dear. As if adoption weren’t a contentious enough subject, without bringing the foster care system into it. Seems like every direction is a minefield, doesn’t it?

Granted, there are children in the system who needed to be there. But there are also children who were forcibly removed from their natural parents for trivial reasons. Children whose parents loved them. Children whose parents could have given them a safer home, if even a fraction of the money used to support the foster care system had gone to helping the parents instead. Children aren’t supposed to be taken away because the mom’s fibromyalgia makes it difficult for her to keep the house clean, or because the furnace needs replacing, or because the child is autistic or bruises easily or has a rare genetic disorder, but sometimes those are precisely the children who get removed. The National Coalition for Child Protection Reform has documented many cases where child protective workers have overstepped their bounds, often with the best of intentions however misguided. Babies and children who should have stayed with their parents get adopted by strangers instead. Unfortunately, parents whose main offense was poverty, as opposed to abuse or actual neglect, get lumped in with the crack whores in the public imagination. I wish more people were aware that child protection agencies abuse their power sometimes. I wish we could destroy the myth that every child in foster care was a throw-away from a neglectful and unloving household.

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Lavender Luz April 5, 2011 at 3:06 pm

Thank you for weighing in with your perspective on these important issues. There are so many layers in adoption that even the layers have layers!

And, as a social worker pointed out, the same reasons that openness benefits the child in infant adoptions often make sense in foster adoption (but with even more layers of complexity).

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Jessie April 5, 2011 at 4:16 pm

Thoughtful and insightful post as usual, Ms. Lori! It’s interesting to see the very real fear that people have (not just adoptive parents, but a lot of people) of open adoptions. I believe a lot of it is fear of the unknown and unprecedented, because how many of us have a relationship quite like this before we adopt? I have to admit (somewhat embarassedly) that I feared it more before I learned what it could be, but my husband and I made the decision to pursue an open adoption for our children for many of the same reasons you did.

Now that we have been blessed with our first child, whose birthmother is Amazing (with a capital A!), we see open adoption more as a matter of course than anything else. I get challenged on that a lot by well-meaning people who just don’t understand. In the beginning, I used to try to explain it, now I am so comfortable with everything, that I leave it at “Her birthmom is so amazing, we’re lucky to have her in our lives.” and let the confidence speak for itself…

I’m rambling, but wanted to thank you for another great post and add my two cents.

Jessie

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Jamie April 5, 2011 at 7:57 pm

I would like to echo EVERYTHING Pam said. And also, it blows my mind that anyone could use life as an example of anti-OA. BLOWS MY MIND.

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Kristin April 5, 2011 at 8:27 pm

You are amazing my friend.

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a April 5, 2011 at 9:22 pm

I think one of the reasons I read your blog is because you have the personality traits (that I lack) which allow you to succeed in open adoption. I find your parenting stories to be a good guide for me, even though I have not adopted. I hope that your stories will help me provide support for my nieces, who, since they’re from China, have the opposite of open adoption.

It’s sad that others have used your story to bolster their own decisions. Make your choice, stand by it, and don’t twist someone else’s words to support your view. At least they chose the reasonable person who wouldn’t get into a flame war…

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Michelle @Gotchababy April 6, 2011 at 5:46 am

I heart this post. I hate it when “the Internet explodes” as I like to call it – nice job outlining your positions. This is a fantastic summation post of all those things people wonder about they entertain the idea of entering an open adoption. Keep doing what you’re doing, and I can’t wait to read part two!

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excavator April 6, 2011 at 8:02 am

Well said, Lori. Your children are lucky to have you.

Love

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J April 6, 2011 at 8:09 am

All day I couldn’t get your post off my mind Lori. At times I find myself feeling as an adoptee pigeonholed. It’s almost as if I want to stay loyal and true to my adoptive and first mother friends, I must just always see it their way. It’s taken me awhile to figure out that there’s not anything wrong with me if I do see some issues from a slightly different point of view. I firmly believe Open Adoption is a healthy, selfless choice on the part of the adoptive parents as well as the bio parents. Although it would have never been possible in my particular adoption circumstances, there are not teachers, doctors, role models, psychologists, etc., in my life who wouldn’t say openness and knowing about my beginnings would have helped me tremendously to feel more secure and understand my place in this world better. I work with children everyday that regardless of the poor choices their parents make they still have the right to have that “openness” and be able to love them unconditionally. I admire adoptive mothers who put their painful losses aside and truly want what’s in the best interests of the child.

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Lavender Luz April 6, 2011 at 8:35 pm

Thanks for your perspective as an adoptee and as a caretaker of children. People who know their roots sometimes cannot comprehend the void that exists for people who don’t.

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Bea Gle April 6, 2011 at 2:02 pm

without having read the boards . . .I just wanted to say/add that I *thought* I preferred a closed adotion too.

But that was before I became a mom. Sure, I was agreeing to open aption, everything I read said it was best. But it scared me and at a gut level, I did feel threatened by the idea of another mother out there. But now that I have a son, and he does have another mother, I an see that that fear was unwarranted (though completely understandable at the time). I am so grateful to my son’s birthparents that I can’t even imagine now fearing them or keeping him from knowing them. I also love my son too much to keep their love from him. I am so glad that, for me at least, this all worked out in the end.

Not sure how useful this comment will be to anyone. But I know that while I was researching, contemplating, and then waiting for a match, I scoured the internet looking for happy outcomes. And, I am glad to say mine was. And I know many more adoptive families with equally happy outcomes. And while there are indeed some babies born to crack addicted women who are then placed for adoption . . . it is hardly the norm or the majority and even (some of, if not most of) those stories have happy endings.

I’m so glad you are out here blogging about the bright side of open adoption.

xo

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Lavender Luz April 6, 2011 at 8:40 pm

“I also love my son too much to keep their love from him.”

Yes, yes, yes.

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Dora April 6, 2011 at 2:49 pm

Lori, I love you! Good lord, quoting from your posts?!?! IMO, those posts speak eloquently of OA. That last one from a year ago! How did I miss that one? Magnificent! I wish you lived next door, so the kids could play and we could hang out over mojitos. :-)

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Sheri April 6, 2011 at 3:34 pm

Lori — this post is brilliant! I have personally witnessed the beauty of Open Adoption and feel it can be a great choice for all involved.

I’ve also witnessed closed adoptions, some that were great and others that were surrounded by curiosity, fear, jealousy, feeling rejected, etc. Again…it depends on the situation what might be best.

But to make blanket statements about Open Adoption and misquote someone is wrong. I’m glad you took the time (and maintained your poise) as you wrote about this difficult subject.

Again, one word: Brilliant!

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Dannie April 7, 2011 at 3:44 pm

I read your blog with interest because it’s something that I didn’t think about honestly going through the foster/adoption route. I was always open to semi-open for 2 reasons 1) to have adequate medical history for my child and 2) to get that while preserving a safe environment if needed (foster care has many issues….some families are really harmless or have other family members e.g. grandparents that are elderly but aren’t at fault and need to visit….and some families are dangerous, it’s just life.

I ended up not having a choice. both parents are in the wind and do not have an internet footprint. Some days it’s nice to not have to worry about added relationships, some days *I* am the one that is sad…since my little one is still a toddler.

I come from a Religious denomination that does infant/child dedications…which means we “hand over” our children to God so a) I rely on God to help my choices in parenting and b) it’s a reminder that really in my belief system my child is not selfishly my own….no matter what. For me it helps me keep perspective…after all children grow and we muddle through adult relationships that may be similar or may be different than how we live. This happens with all children….

My only hope is that I can nurture my child and navigate her path in life with stability and the ‘safeness’ to try to do whatever it is she ends up being…

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Lavender Luz April 7, 2011 at 8:59 pm

An excellent point, Dannie, about many foster families.

And I like the big view that stems from this: “in my belief system my child is not selfishly my own.”

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Shannon April 8, 2011 at 8:24 pm

Great points, I especially like what you said about the in-laws.

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Kir April 11, 2011 at 1:43 pm

Lori,
you are always so eloquent in your answers, that I can’t imagine any one quoting you in a way that would be ANTI anything.

I liked your point about in laws, because that is exactly what I think about when I adoption, even before you brought it up. That you don’t just give up your family because of it, there are always things about your ILs etc that you might not like but you learn to live with and around it. IT was the perfect parallel.

I love that way you talk about adoption, in a way that makes it easy for those of us that have very little experience to understand it and understand those of you who have children because of it. Your words always give me a wonderful window to that world.

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Tonggu Momma April 13, 2011 at 8:12 am

We adopted from China. We were not anti-open adoption – that’s not why we chose China. But we also did not fully realize the tremendous impact of this total lack of information. We have zero information about our daughter’s first family. If anyone is vehemently against open adoption, I suggest they adopt from China and then navigate life with a China-adoptee who LONGS for information about and a relationship with her first family. What is that oh-so-true childhood phrase? “Secrets, secrets are no fun. Secrets, secrets hurt someone.”

Usually they hurt the adoptee the most.

I realize that some situations are dangerous, and that families need to protect their children. That doesn’t mean we can’t foster an attitude of openness even if contact is limited or impossible. My husband and I strive to have an attitude of openness with our daughter even though we don’t even know her first parents names, ages, anything. We know nothing, but that doesn’t mean we don’t talk about them, or about the possible reasons they made the decisions that they did.

(And yes, I realize that it may be possible to connect with our childrens’ first parents, but it’s by no means easy. Several families who have adopted from China have been able to find their children’s biological families. Looking at the details of our daughters’ findings, this may be possible for our eldest daughter, and quite probably impossible for our waiting daughter – we are traveling in May or June to adopt her.)

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AdoptionSTAR April 18, 2011 at 8:51 am

Lori, this is a great post. I especially appreciate the analogy of the birth family to in-laws. It makes perfect sense. In both situations, it’s best, for the person that you love, to forge a relationship with these extended family members.

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Kathy November 17, 2011 at 2:09 pm

As usual, I really appreciate your perspective here. I am sure this wasn’t an easy post for you to write, but often those are the most important ones for others to read. As if you are struggling with something, odds are there are many others out there grappling with it too.

I love the analogy between birth parent/adoptive parent relationships, with that of in-laws. I hope that most people in both situations get to have genuine, healthy and positive relationships, but when that isn’t possible, I get that we have to do what we need to in order to keep it civil and make it work for the children and other key family members involved (that often will otherwise feel caught in the middle, as you said).

Thanks for another thoughtful and provoking post for me to chew on. xoxo

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