Closed-era adoptee asks open adoption questions

July 19, 2011

in Adoptee

closed adoption and open adoptionPeople raised with shame and secrecy  in closed adoptions sometimes find it difficult to imagine the alternative of open adoption. My friend JoAnne has posed the following questions to me, some that I can answer and some that I can’t.

I invite any and all of you who blog about open adoption to chime in on any question(s) you choose. Leave your linky below by August 31 so that others can come visit your answers.

1. Can the adoptive parents really go back on their word after the adoption has been finalized and do whatever they please in regard to updates and pictures?

They can. They do. They shouldn’t.

(In the vast majority of cases.)

There is an inherent power shift in adoption. Until relinquishment, the first parents have all the power (although many have told me they feel anything BUT powerful). After finalization, the adoptive parents have all the power. Legally, it is never a shared power. But pragmatically, my belief is that it’s best for the child if the adults focus on the child’s need to integrate his biology and biography by figuring out a way to all be present in his life to whatever degree works for each family cluster.

I can’t tell you how reprehensible I think it is for an adult to promise the world when you DON’T have what you want and then change the rules once you DO have what you want. It’s morally and ethically wrong, it shatters the Golden Rule into pieces, and creates some very strong karma that I wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end of.

But. I do not personally know of anyone who has done this. I do know of adoptions that have been closed by one party or another because circumstances change. But I am unaware of anyone who promised openness out of baby lust and did not follow through. I am sure it happens, though.

A few states do honor open adoption agreements. But open adoption is often compared to building a relationship with your in-laws. You are joined by your love for your spouse, and as a gift to your spouse you do all you can to make it work. Rarely do we need the law to mediate between in-laws. And when we do, it means something has gone horribly wrong.

2. Who is the go-between for communication with most Open Adoptions: the case worker, the placing agency, or the lawyer handling the adoption?

This is probably done on a state-by-state or even agency-by-agency basis, but in our case the agency advised us about the benefits of open adoption and told us we would be creating our own relationship. That, similar to a matchmaker of yore, once the introductions were made and we decided to connect, the agency would step out as intermediary.

However, our agency was there for us years later when we wanted help establishing a relationship with a first father who was unavailable during Tessa’s first 7 years.

3. What are the advantages and disadvantages for each of the above contact persons?

In my state, all adoptions must go through an agency. In our situation, the social worker worked for the agency, and we felt well-served by both. Our social worker was not adversarial with us (no white-gloved judge), and both our children’s birth moms say they also were assisted ethically by the agency, being given resources on parenting as well as space to make their respective decisions. The efforts of every party seemed to be focused on the babies. It set a good tone for us to develop our own ideas of child-centeredness and openness.

I cannot speak about how interactions with lawyers or facilitators  can go.

4. How can case workers be involved in Open Adoption as well if DHS are already so understaffed and the budgets are maxed out for the thousands of forgotten children lost in the system?

I think, when you say DHS (Department of Human Services), you are talking about state or county agencies that intervene when biological parents are suspected in cases of abuse or neglect. More and more, these agencies are recognizing the benefits of openness for a child placed in foster or foster-adopt situations. You can find thoughtful posts on this topic at Social Wrkr 24/7 and Our Full Circle.

5. Is there an incentive such as money for the adoption agency to be still involved indirectly and indefinitely for an Open Adoption? Does it cost the prospective adoptive parents more money upfront for it to be an open adoption?

To my knowledge, adoption fees are not affected by the presence or absence of openness.

6. If the contract is legally binding, what happens to the adoptive parents if they don’t follow through? Is there really any legal recourse for both parties that are clearly spelled out?

This document, about adoptions in Hawaii, says that adoptions there are bound only by “good faith,” “trust” and the “best interest of the child.”  I would love to hear about this from anyone in a legally-binding open adoption. What is the legal recourse?

Also, I would like to know what happens if it is the first parent who does not keep his/her part of the deal, specifically by closing the adoption. Should the rules be different for each set of parents?

Weaver interviewed Meghann on this topic during the Open Adoption Interview project.

7. What deters the birth parents from coming to your house unannounced?

I’ll answer this with a question: What deters your cousin from coming to your house unannounced? Your sister-in-law? Your friend from high school? Just a social more that says it’s polite to call first. In my experience, our children’s first moms wouldn’t dream of surprising us with a visit, although if they did we’d be pleased to see them.

We don’t consider our children’s birth parents outsiders or intruders. They are a welcome part of our extended family because they are important to our children and also just because we like them.

8. Do you know if there are any court cases where it’s obvious that there are loopholes in Open Adoption that need to be addressed?

I do not — it’s not something I’ve looked for — but I’d be interested in hearing of any.

9. Just like there are issues with closed adoptions and we have the outspoken activists’, etc., are there any Open Adoption opponents or vice versa that are working to be the voice for the birth mothers as well as the adoptive children and their best interests?

In my limited experience, I have heard no hue and cry from first parents opposed to open adoption. The intention of open adoption is not to force openness, but rather to educate the grownups in the equation on the benefits to the child of openness. And to give those grownups the freedom to work out a relationship that works for each of them as much as possible.

I am, however, aware of adoptive parents who are against the trend toward openness.

10. When is the adoptee old enough to choose if they want contact or not? What if they are the ones who want to break off ties with the bio parents?

I’m going to quote myself:

Have you ever heard–or perhaps even made–statements like this? “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.”

Because I see our children’s firstparents as extended family, I am going to replace one key word to see how logical the new statement sounds:

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

Ridiculous, no? Have a child wait until she’s “ready” to meet her grandparents? When will she be ready, and how would you know?

That said, we give our children lots of control over their relationships with their birth parents. If they want to call, they call. If they want to arrange a Skype session or a get-together, we make it happen. If, for some reason, they want to reduce contact, they do. Until they’re ready to resume, which they always eventually are.

I believe two keys for my children are having control and having adoption in our home be normalized to the furthest extent possible.

11. Are there any support groups/legal aids for birth mothers where they can get honest answers with their concerns for open adoptions?

I am aware of Open Adoption Support and Open Adoption Insight, and I’m sure there are more groups that offer advice and support. I hope other responders will chime in with their ideas.

~~~~~

If you have insights to share with JoAnne and other interested closed-era adoptees, please write your post and leave your linky below by August 31.

UPDATED: Here is a follow-up post in response to some of this post’s fallout.

Image: nattavut / FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

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{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

LisaAnne July 19, 2011 at 7:47 am

Very nice post. Very truthful answers. I love likening the realtionship with grandparents to the relationship with birthparents. I also love the statement in response to birthparents just showing up.

I am sure there are birthparents out there who do not have healthy boundaries, just like there are in-laws who try to butt into their child’s family business. But for the most part, adults realize where boundaries are healthy.

This is a great post. Thanks for sharing.

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Michelle @ Mama Bear July 19, 2011 at 7:59 am

Great post! Thanks – these are the same questions I asked myself (and now answer for others) as a closed-era adopted adult and prospective parent in a (what we hope will be) open adoption.

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Baby Smiling In Back Seat July 19, 2011 at 1:49 pm

Very thought-provoking!

I have a follow-up logistics question about #2. Would a service like helping to establish contact many years later fall into the original set of services, or did the agency charge for this later service?

And a clarification on #4: Aren’t there case workers who work solely within adoption agencies, not as part of the DHS system?

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Lavender Luz July 19, 2011 at 2:28 pm

Great questions, to which I’ll give my best guesses.

#2. I believe that if we asked our agency for help with an issue years later, they would do it because it’s right and not because it’s profitable (as what actually happened to us). If they said we’d need to pay for caseworker time, I’d remind them that we already did. I am not aware of any agencies offering a la carte counseling services post-finalization. Infant adoption, of course. I can’t speak to foster adoption.

#4. Yes. In our state, foster adoptions (“DHS” and the like) are handled by the counties under auspices of the state. Our agencie, on the other hand, was a private non-profit that also serves refugees, the elderly, and the county’s foster care systems when requested.

Anyone else have something to add?

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Jessie July 19, 2011 at 2:48 pm

Hi Baby Smiling In Back Seat–

I can answer those questions based on our experience.

#2: Our agency has made it clear that they will be there for our daughter, her birthparents, and us as long as they exist (which will be a long time), all as a part of the original fees we paid. They know that adoption comes with shifting relationships and issues, and they are committed to helping us through them.

#4: We had case workers that worked solely with our agency–in fact, DHS sometimes refers cases to them when they need assistance. I guess I would be surprised if they didn’t exist most other places as well :)

Hope that helps!
Jessie

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Lavender Luz July 19, 2011 at 3:01 pm

Thank you, Jessie. Sounds like you had an ethical agency.

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Kristin July 19, 2011 at 6:30 pm

Really great info for both people involved in adoption and for those of us who know and love adoptees.

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Amanda July 19, 2011 at 8:33 pm

For #5 the answer is yes. Agencies will bill for whatever they can, for as long as they can seems like. One agency I know of in particular charges almost $300 per year in intermediary fees for open adoptions as well as almost $100 per hour for continued counselling for parties involved. Adoptees who would like to open their records held by the agency will also pay a pretty penny as well as pay quite a bit more to have the agency make a phone call to an original parent on their behalf.

They never quite seem to stop making money off of us. I feel special *rolls eyes*

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Meredith July 20, 2011 at 9:21 am

Thank you for the thought-provoking prompt. I really loved the way you answered the deterrence question by substituting grandparents for birth or first parents; I don’t imagine the intent behind the question was to hurt people, but intent can often differ from impact.

When I read question nine, I substituted the word proponents for “vice versa”: are there any Open Adoption opponents or [proponents] that are working to be the voice for the birth mothers as well as the adoptive children and their best interests? Viewing the question this way, there are some awesome first parents and adoptees (as well as adoptive parents) giving voice to their own experiences with OA. Theirs are powerful, eloquent, insightful, and informed voices.

One helpful takeaway underlying some of the questions is that we should look at the dynamics of the system and identify gaps. How can we make independent counsel available to expectant parents? Where do conflicts of interest exist? How much in the way of post-adoption support is being provided? Then we can work together to improve. Thanks Lori!

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I am July 20, 2011 at 1:15 pm

First off, your response to question #10 is fantastic. I’m stealing it.
Secondly, for the gruff curmudgeon response, read here:
http://statisticallyimpossible.blogspot.com/2011/07/open-adoption-roundtable-discussion-28.html

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Julia July 20, 2011 at 2:57 pm

We are in an open adoption for my daughter (age 4) and so far it has been great for all of us. We are closer to the birthfather. He drives 500 miles to visit a few times per year. About once a week or so she will say that she wants to talk to her “Daddy Jose” and we call him. He regularly sends her little trinkets in the mail (stickers, silly bandz, stuffed animal, bathing suit, etc…). She LOVES getting a package and it helps her remember him. I text and send pictures to the birthmom pretty regularly. We have visited her twice in the 2+ years since the adoption. My daughter doesn’t have as close of a bond with her so I don’t push it.

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Lavender Luz July 21, 2011 at 2:16 pm

Thank you, Julia, for sharing your story. Interesting how your daughter is closer to the birth father than to the birth mother. Also, that the previous commenter is a birth father!

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Cindy July 20, 2011 at 7:13 pm

Hey, I don’t have a blog so I’m going to try and leave my opinions here.
I’m not sure how else but this is trying…(BTW, I’m a first/birth mom)
1. Can the adoptive parents really go back on their word after the adoption has been finalized and do whatever they please in regard to updates and pictures?

Well YEAH! In fact my son adoptive parents HAVE changed their mind.
I mean, they have kept me updated for the most part, but only when I have asked more than a few times, over a generous amount of time. They have good excuses but often make strange comments related to the fact that they were told ‘most birthmoms’ lose interest after a couple of years and that other family/friends who adopted have adopted from birthmoms who don’t even ‘want’ contact.
I often feel like they are trying to tell me that my interest in ‘their family’ is abnormal. Maybe I should have ‘moved on’ by now, but I haven’t and likely never will ‘lose interest’ in my son.

2. Who is the go-between for communication with most Open Adoptions: the case worker, the placing agency, or the lawyer handling the adoption?

When I was considering placement I was counseled by a adoption agency social worker(it was my own choice to be counseled as well). I liked her, she was very nice. She was the ‘go-between’ when I gave birth and allowed me time with my son just after he was born without the adoptive parents. Although I knew they were waiting just outside the door. Their was lawyers appointed to both myself and the birthfather for the signing of the papers(which happened almost a week after I gave birth because ‘my’ lawyer could not be reached until then, I gave birth on a long weekend)
During the open adoption relationship I have experienced since then, there has been NO ‘go-between’. It’s like the agency has been forgotten by even my sons adoptive parents and the agency also forgot who I am as well, I am sure.

3. What are the advantages and disadvantages for each of the above contact persons?
Well, I guess they get to see if everything worked out OK. IDK.

How can case workers be involved in Open Adoption as well if DHS are already so understaffed and the budgets are maxed out for the thousands of forgotten children lost in the system?

This question horrifies me. Also, it doesn’t apply to me. I will never forget my son.
I highly doubt that thousands of children are really ‘forgotten’.
I wouldn’t even WANT a case worker. I have no need of one, neither do my sons adoptive parents. I am confused as to what purpose they would serve.
Why would they be needed at all? It just doesn’t make sense to me.

5. Is there an incentive such as money for the adoption agency to be still involved indirectly and indefinitely for an Open Adoption? Does it cost the prospective adoptive parents more money upfront for it to be an open adoption?

I think this question is tasteless. To be honest, I think Open Adoption has fewer costs because all the work of ‘blocking’ birthparents from adoptive families is not necessary.

6. If the contract is legally binding, what happens to the adoptive parents if they don’t follow through? Is there really any legal recourse for both parties that are clearly spelled out?

Nothing. No. Not that I know of anyways.

7. What deters the birth parents from coming to your house unannounced?
Um… normality?! Personally, the thought of just showing up at my son’s adoptive home is not even something I would consider in reality.
It would be really unpleasant and probably make for a horrible visit.
To be honest, I much rather just ‘show up’ unannounced at an event that my son may be involved in. You know, like a public sports game that he’s in, or performance of some sort.
I dream of coming across my sons adoptive family while camping or visiting a museum or fair ground some such ‘public place’. I would never invade ANYONES home for any reason. Not even my own sister.

8. Do you know if there are any court cases where it’s obvious that there are loopholes in Open Adoption that need to be addressed?

Only the loophole that makes it possible for adoptive parents to completely ignore birthfamilies. Is that a loophole. I’m not sure what that even means.

9. Just like there are issues with closed adoptions and we have the outspoken activists’, etc., are there any Open Adoption opponents or vice versa that are working to be the voice for the birth mothers as well as the adoptive children and their best interests?

Probably.

10. When is the adoptee old enough to choose if they want contact or not? What if they are the ones who want to break off ties with the bio parents?

If an adopted person wanted to end on Open Adoption relationship, I would have to believe that they have good reason to do so. As in, they aren’t getting along with said birthparents, etc. Otherwise this kind of ‘breaking ties’ would seem like something that many adults do to form ‘their own life’.
I think if my son didn’t want to know me after 18 years of Open Adoption, I would be upset, but respectful and always make sure that I could be reached if/when he changed his mind about knowing me.
I have know of several birthmoms(through a forum) that have had the experience of being rejected by their found children, but these were closed adoption.
I guess we’ll just have to see what is the trend that happens when the children of Open Adoption become of age to tell us if they like knowing their birthfamiles or not.

11. Are there any support groups/legal aids for birth mothers where they can get honest answers with their concerns for open adoptions?

I was part of a support group for birthmoms in the first year after I had my son.
I decided it was not for me because most of the other women were so much younger than me. They were/are very nice, but I just couldn’t ‘connect’ very well with them. It was hosted by a free, non-profit pregnancy care center in my city.
I do visit a very good forum called ‘Birthmom Buds’ that I very much enjoy.
It is a private forum just for birthmoms and I have been on it for years now.

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Lavender Luz July 21, 2011 at 2:38 pm

This? “they were told ‘most birthmoms’ lose interest after a couple of years and that other family/friends who adopted have adopted from birthmoms who don’t even ‘want’ contact.” — Speechless.

Ditto with #2. Your agency sounds, um, like one I wouldn’t recommend.

Point well taken about #10. Who knows what our children will think of how we handled things, once they’re all grown up? Like everything in parenting, we can only do the best with the info we have at the time.

Thanks for participating, Cindy.

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a July 20, 2011 at 8:23 pm

I love when you do these sorts of posts. You always have such fascinating information – both in the post and in the comments.

Cindy’s responses make me so sad. She seems to have had fairly realistic expectations, which the adoptive family seems to find overbearing/overwhelming. To think that someone would actually counsel a family that the first parents would lose interest is unthinkable. That seems like it’s bordering on fraud.

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Melissa @ Full Circle July 20, 2011 at 8:41 pm

First off, thank you for including me in this amazing post. I consider it an honor that you thought of me. If I can stop spinning long enough to throw decent thoughts together I will add a post and Linky in!

My kiddos birth mommy emerged this week and our social worked told me just tonight they spoke on the phone. She asked if I would consider letting them have contact down the line (years from now)… When they are ALL ready. My SW already knew my answer and told her of course. She left her ph #.

I know darn well that # will be long disconnected and have asked our SW if she would be willing to give me her social security #.. I would keep it safe.. It will just make it easier to find her.

If we do make it to adoption, we must do what is best for our children. Our family tree has many beautiful branches and leaves..

Denying them contact with bio family (THAT ARE HEALTHY AND SAFE) is a crime that Karma will have the final verdict on.

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Socialwrkr247 July 20, 2011 at 10:18 pm

Thanks for mentioning me! I posted my responses on the blog here – http://eyesopenedwider.blogspot.com/2011/07/open-adoption-roundtable-28.html

I do have a bit of a foster slant to things – but found the questions interesting to think and write about. Thanks for posting them Lori! :)

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Mel July 21, 2011 at 11:20 am

I actually sort of have a question back to JoAnne — since I can’t answer her questions. As a closed era adoptee, I know that open adoption may be very different from your experience. Is learning about it simply interesting in the same way that learning about Christianity is interesting for me as a Jew, but I never feel a longing to have been raised Christian? Or is learning about it make you wistful for an option that wasn’t open to you? Or is learning about it making you thankful you never had to deal with this. I imagine it must be a mix of emotions rather than a polarized response that fits neatly in a box. But I, for one, would love to hear your thoughts.

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Catherine July 21, 2011 at 12:12 pm

As someone not familiar with adoption really at all this is so interesting to read. It seems there are so many people affected and tied up in a single adoption and the different ways those relationships work out are fascinating.

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Amy S. July 21, 2011 at 1:22 pm

Below you can read my link to find my answers to the eleven questions.

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meghann July 22, 2011 at 5:28 am

I can’t get my post to link up; for some reason the linky tool thinks mine isn’t a “valid Internet address” lol. But here it is: http://www.bflomama.com/2011/07/22/oar-28-•-questions-from-a-closed-era-adoptee/

xo

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Lynn August 3, 2011 at 11:54 am

As an adoptive mom in an open adoption, I found some of these questions rather bizarre! You can find my responses to those I feel qualified to answer at the link below.

http://openheartsopenminds.blogspot.com/2011/08/answers-to-open-adoption-roundtable.html

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Ginnie August 5, 2011 at 12:18 pm

I’m a birthmother in what used to be an open adoption, but has since become mostly closed. My responses to the questions are in my blog.

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Ellie August 28, 2012 at 1:21 am

I just came across this blog recently and I am completely and utterly relieved to finally find something that I can relate to. I am adopted. I am 21 years old, and I have always known who my birthmother was. My adoptive family was usually open with me, and when I was old enough to “understand”, I received the letters that my birthmother wrote me. I kept them with me, longing to understand who she was and to one day get the chance to know her, so when I was 14, I wrote her, not expecting anything by my adoptive mother’s caution. My birthmother wrote back within days, and she sent me a scrapbook with pictures from her past, i.e from when she was pregnant with me to pictures of her current family. The emotion in her writing came springing off the page, and I immediately felt a surreal connection to her. We talked for a while, and eventually visits turned into my longing to spend a summer with her. I came down to Texas to live with her in May. I connected with my siblings and her new husband, and after many long, emotionally charged talks, I learned that my “open” adoption wasn’t so open after all. To my disappointment and complete horror, the letters and pictures shared with both parties were not the “open” adoption that was once agreed upon 21 years ago. She has a signed contract that was signed not only by her, but by my adoptive parents as well. The contract states a visit every 6 months of my life. This did not happen. These visits stopped when I turned 2 years old when my adoptive mother could no longer bear the burden of sharing her child.
I am writing this not only to share my story, but to make people aware that something needs to be changed. I’m young, and I love freely without condition, but my anger for what happened without my knowledge is a constant aching that presses from my heart. I could have had this woman, my birthmother, in my life. She could have helped with countless things, the most important ones being my eating disorder, my lack of knowledge with where I came from, my identity as a young girl, and my trust issues. Instinctively, I honestly believe that I was robbed of someone special. She carried me for 9 months, delivered me, kept me for 2 weeks, then gave me to people whom she trusted to keep their word. She gave them HER baby girl, her only child, and they turned back on a promise to a scared, unsure 16 year old child.
This, to me, is an outrage. I know it hasn’t only happened to me. There has to be more cases like this, and something must be changed. Adoption is a beautiful thing in certain circumstances, but in others, it can be a lifelong challenge to move on. My birthmother was a child when she had me, but she wasn’t incapable of parenting. Sure, we would’ve gone through difficult things. We would’ve had our fights, shared our concerns, and surely would have had moments where we wanted our space. But we also would’ve had each other, and if someone in her family had just been willing to offer some help, my life would’ve taken a drastic change, and people wouldn’t have lost so much.
I’m not trying to offend those who have adopted — just want to get the word out that there are two sides to adoption. It’s not black and white, and more people need to become aware of the side effects with all three parties.

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