Laura Dennis: what adoption reunion can teach us about openness

December 5, 2012

in Adoptee, Adoption, Guest Post

One of the best things to come from the Adoption Blogger Interview Project is that each year I run across new-to-me bloggers who help me see adoption from a new perspective, who make me ponder yet another facet of it.

Laura Dennis, authorI was happy, then, to “meet” Laura Dennis last month, despite the fact that she lives in Serbia. Laura is a mom to two small children, a trained dancer, an adoptee-in-reunion, and an author. She grew up in Maryland, went to graduate school in Southern California and expatriated to Belgrade, where she wrote her memoir, Adopted Reality.

I read it — in just three sittings. I gave it a bunch of stars. I’ll have a future Q&A post with Laura about her book, so pick it up yourself if you want to follow along at that time.

For today, though, Laura and I are swapping blog posts. She offers here a post about the lessons of reunion that can be applied to open adoption relationships.

For Openness as well as Reunions, Be Flexible But Tenacious

Reconnecting with my first mother was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. Knowing her filled a hole in my sense-of-self that I hadn’t quite realized was there.

I have so much to say about my reunion, I could write a book about it. Oh wait, that’s right, I already did. Adopted Reality, A Memoir, is about my adoption and reunion, and brief bout with insanity. However, it doesn’t address the topic of maintaining a long-term first family relationship.

The Adoptee-First Family Reunion
As the Baby Scoop Era enters the Open Adoption Era, those participating in each can benefit from learning from the others’ experiences.

Each first family reunion is unique. It’s a family relationship like any other that needs work, time and nurturing to grow and develop.

I met my first mom when I was 23, and during the first few months, she and I constantly felt we were playing catch up. Truly we were … we had 23 years-worth of separate lives to rediscover!

loving hands

I missed the shared experiences of my first family — vacations, holidays, inside jokes. Not only that, but I’d had my own, in my adopted family.

Merging these families is something akin to what happens when a couple gets married. Who do you visit for Christmas? Who do you spend vacations with? The questions extend beyond logistics. … What happens when the shiny reunion glow begins to wear off? How is a “real” relationship built after the honeymoon period?

Creating a Lasting Relationship
I’m not exactly sure when this began to happen, but over time, my first mom became just another family member. I stopped trying to play catch up.

Just like my adoptive family, my first mom and my biological extended family are now just … my family.

When that happens, we should all be happy. It means those who felt such a deep loss over so many years are letting go of their hurt.

Figuring out what that connection is won’t be all fluffy kittens and prancing through the park. It may involve disagreements and misunderstandings. But that’s okay. In a family, we don’t reject one another. We may be hurt, but we get over it, we forgive, we let go.

Because that’s what family does.

Why should anyone care about adoptee reunions?
Here’s the thing about closed adoptions. First mothers and adult adoptees are coming out and saying, Maybe that wasn’t the best way to do things.

Maybe cutting off all contact between the birth mom and the baby isn’t for the best. Maybe the adoptive parents are open-minded enough to see the birth mom not as a source of emotional competition, but someone who also loves the baby.

Open adoptions are so new; we don’t have a “crop” of adult open-adoptees who can talk about their experiences … yet. One of the problems, though, is that many open adoptions are closing after a few years. Fewer letters and phone calls, eventually no more face-to-face meetings.

Worse, there is generally nothing in place that legally or contractually binds the families to remain in contact for the sake of the child. There are adoptive parents who mislead the agency, stating they wanted an open adoption … just to get the baby, intending to cut-off communication once the ink dries. There are also first moms drifting off with their contact, finding it too hard to watch someone else raise their child.

What can these open adoptions learn from closed adoptees in reunion? My advice would be:

  • Try to keep in mind: kids grow up. I, too, have this problem. My (biological) kids won’t always be two and four. No doubt, they will hold me accountable for the mothering I do now. Adopted children become adopted adults. Adoptedness doesn’t just “go away.”
  • Take your child’s interests and desires into account as he or she grows.
  • Be flexible. We’re all human, imperfect, with good days and bad days.
  • But be tenacious. Don’t give up. Please don’t let an open adoption become a closed one.

When the relationship settles into that normal, day-to-day phase? When the original mom to your child is “just” another family member, and vice versa? That’s a good thing.

Just keep at it.

~~~~~

East Coast US native Laura Dennis lives with her husband and two crazy kids in Belgrade Serbia, where she blogs about expat (adopted) mommy life. Her memoir, Adopted Reality, is available on Amazon in paperback and ebook.

Photo credit: tungphoto via freedigitalphotos.net

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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Addison Cooper December 5, 2012 at 9:32 am

I know that some relationships do become closed as time progresses. I wonder how many of those are “closed by choice” and how many are just “open but underutilized?”

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Lori Lavender Luz December 5, 2012 at 12:16 pm

I’d never thought of it that way: “open but underutilized.”

I’d say there’s a bunch of those at some point or another.

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JoAnne December 5, 2012 at 10:32 am

such an interesting post; thanks for sharing. I loved Laura’s great visual words, “won’t be all fluffy kittens and prancing through the park.” It made me want to hear from teenagers and adult adoptees whose open adoptions had become closed while they were growing up and their feelings. Did they internalize it as something they must have done wrong as a child? In the future, will blame be placed strictly on the adoptive parents, even if the open adoption became closed for reasons totally out of their control? How do adoptive parents make it not about anyone’s fault and reassure a child that it’s not about them? Just my thoughts for whatever they are worth :).

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Lori Lavender Luz December 5, 2012 at 12:18 pm

Your question about how to not place blame while reassuring the child of his/her worth is a good one.

And also you make me think that viewing each other as extended family is so critical to making sure the connections stay strong.

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Esperanza December 5, 2012 at 10:43 am

What an interesting post. I’ll definitely be picking up the book. Thanks for sharing.

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Lori Lavender Luz December 5, 2012 at 12:19 pm

I think you’d really dig it.

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Laura Dennis December 5, 2012 at 11:51 am

I know, right? Closed by choice or just a kind of ‘benign estrangement’ type of arrangement. There’s this interesting survey conducted by an adoption agency, that asked adult adoptees for their opinions on open adoption. http://heartofthematterseminars.wordpress.com/2012/11/28/learning-from-adult-adoptees-281-voices/

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Lori Lavender Luz December 5, 2012 at 12:25 pm

Thanks for posting this link! The prevalence of “contact” and the myriad meanings of it is interesting. Will look forward to more from this study.

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Laura Dennis December 5, 2012 at 11:54 am

Joanne,
I wonder that, too. I want to know how those who grow up in open adoptions fare, compared with us closed adoptees. Right — if an adoption starts to close, how does the adoptee process that without feeling a new rejection? What about the birth mom — if the a-parents move away and don’t make contact a priority? It’s going to be so interesting to see how this pans out …
Thanks for commenting!

@Esperanza – I’ll look forward to hearing what you think of my memoir — it’s about more than adoption and reunion, and has a somewhat controversial mental illness component. Please, do keep in touch!

Laura

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a December 5, 2012 at 2:50 pm

I never stop finding the ins/outs and pros/cons of adoption fascinating. For every issue, there are so many sides. I wonder if there will ever be an “optimal” adoption, wherein every person involved feels fully empowered and complete in their family, both adopted and biological. I know that’s the aim, but I wonder if it’s attainable, due to the imperfections present in every person. Regardless, more information is usually better to creating good outcomes. Thanks for sharing here…

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luna December 5, 2012 at 11:54 pm

thanks for sharing your perspective here.

we always tout the openness in our adoption, but in truth there is still nearly a whole side of our daughter’s birth family that we don’t have much of a relationship with, despite our efforts. one day our daughter may have to navigate her own “reunion” with her birth father, as she hasn’t seen him since she was an infant.

as every adoption and every adoptee is different, I wonder if she too will be able to say this one day: “We may be hurt, but we get over it, we forgive, we let go.”

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Laura Dennis December 6, 2012 at 3:51 am

@ a – I agree, there may not be an “optimal” adoption, but moving towards it with our language, our policies, with the entire process — YES I think it is a great goal.

@ luna – Thanks for sharing your experience. Relationships with birth fathers can be so tricky. Personally, mine wants nothing to do with me, and yes, that does hurt. But I tried. This “secondary rejection” may be something that your daughter faces in the future, but the fact that you’re thinking about it now is a good sign that she’ll have a great support system in place to help her process.

Laura

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