Tag Archives: integrating

What are the Benefits & Difficulties of Open Adoption?

Why are adoption agencies suggesting or requiring open adoptions? What are the pluses and minuses of open adoptions? What might be the long-term effects of living in one?

Rachel Garlinghouse, author of the new children’s book Black Girls Can, recently interviewed me on Adoption.net in anticipation of National Adoption Awareness Month. She asked some great questions and here I share Part 1 of our interview with you (part 2 is at MileHighMamas ).

adoption q & a

Rachel: Open adoption has become an increasingly popular choice among adoptive and birth parents, as well as an option that more agencies seem to be suggesting, even requiring. Why is this?

Lori: Because any social construct steeped in shame and secrecy is neither healthy nor sustainable. Hiding something takes a lot of energy, and in some cases, can cause lie upon lie upon lie to cover up. Take birth certificates that are not actually records of birth, for example.

Wait. That’s MY reason, not necessarily the reason agencies are giving. I think many agencies (with innovative exceptions) are following — not leading — the parade. The leaders of the openness movement tended to be groups of people for whom secrecy and shame didn’t work — like birth parents and adoptees from the Baby Scoop Era. Organizations such as Concerned United Birthparents (and others) influenced innovators such as social worker Jim Gritter (and others) to help move toward adoption reform, which means moving from closedness to openness. The Internet has enabled such groups to join voices together to effect change, to create better ways of handling adoptions that value truth, openness, and integration.

  • For adoptees: Openness allows for more opportunity to integrate that which was separated at the time of placement: one’s biology and one’s biography.
  • For birth parents: First parents get the chance to integrate something that did actually happen into the fabric of their lives, rather than attempting to shut the door on a Really Big Event and pretend it never occurred. They can also know and witness how things are going with their child rather than just wonder.
  • For adoptive parents: We get a stretching. We get to deal with our own stuff — our insecurities and fears — to make sure our stuff doesn’t become our child’s stuff. We get to help our children become who they are and encourage them to incorporate all their pieces. We get to connect with others who love our child in the same way we do, who share in joys and challenges alongside us. We get contact with the people who can fill in the gaps on the occasions when we are mystified. We get access to the living history of our child’s tribe. We get to watch our children get filled up in a way we may not be able to provide. We get to model for our children how to navigate relationships and comport ourselves respectfully.

What are some of the potential downfalls of open adoption for triad members?

Well, relationships are hard! What makes adoption relationships difficult is that we tend to come from an either/or mindset: either YOU are the parents or THEY are. If we stay in this Either/Or mindset, we run the risk of “splitting the baby.” We must evolve toward a Both/And heartset (the how of this is in our book).

It can be hard for adoptive and birth parents to communicate, to set boundaries, to be mindful and deliberate in the words and actions they exchange with each other. There can be huge power imbalances. Prior to relinquishment, the birth parents have all the power and the adopting parents feel the fear of powerlessness. After finalization, the adoptive parents have all the power and the birth parents may be left with their sense of powerlessness. Power imbalances make relationships tricky, so it’s in the best interest of adoptive parents to make birth parents feel empowered and partnered in the loving of the child (and no, this is not co-parenting).

The child/teen/adult, can also experience some downsides. At the same time he is learning to navigate school friendships, he is also dealing with the complexity of added parental relationships. Add in birth siblings, birth grandparents and other extended birth family members, and that’s a lot for a kid to deal with. The child/teen/adult can see the grass on the other side of the fence — and maybe even see his siblings playing there — but he does not live there. He may be affected by saying good-bye over and over to birth family members. Openness can be challenging for the child/teen/adult at the center. It is not a cure-all, but openness in adoption is better than its closed, shame-based alternative.

What do you think the long-term effects of open adoption may be for adoptees, adoptive parents, and biological parents?

My expectation and hope is that with openness (meaning not just contact, but the way we open ourselves up to each other), all parties will stretch and grow and know and connect and eventually become whole and aware and loving and loved. I would call that a life well lived.

Click over to Part 2 of this interview on MileHighMamas, where Rachel and I address open adoption agreements, what adopting parents need to consider,  when do adoptees take over their open adoptions, and how social media is changing open adoptions.


transracial adoptionThanks, Rachel, for inviting me to talk about open adoption with you.

Rachel  Garlinghouse blogs at White Sugar, Brown Sugar and is the author Come Rain or Come Shine.  She has just released her new book, written with her daughters, titled Black Girls Can.

This interview originally appeared on Adoption.net.


Find the perfection in imperfection

In the early 1990s, when I was a lonely yuppie, yearning to meet the man who would make my heart sing and to start a family with him, I read a book by Dan Millman called The Life You Were Born to Live: A Guide to Finding Your Life Purpose. I knew that my life was off-track somehow, so career-oriented, and I didn’t know how to open myself up to finding someone worthy of me (and how to be fully worthy of  such a man). Finding someone NOT worthy of me was not a problem; but finding that soul mate, which was a prerequisite to everything else I longed for seemed permanently elusive.

Foo-foo though it may sound, this book uses numerology to reveal one’s life purpose. You take numbers from your birth date and, using Dan’s recipe, boil them all down to a single digit.  I discovered that my number was 4, which meant that my issue to work out for the persona I have in this lifetime was to find the perfection in imperfection.

That resonated for me, an eldest child, the daughter of a perfectionist, someone prone to seeing what’s wrong before she sees what’s right. While I’ve come a long way since that little diagnosis, I am still working on the issue of finding the perfection of imperfection.

As recently evidenced.

Imagine my delight-slash-horror at being invited to be in front of the camera for some boudoir photography. Writers for Mile High Mamas had been invited by the amazing Iman Woods for a portrait session. Iman is renowned for her vintage, pinup, boudoir, fantasy and even family photography and art. I knew from perusing her website that she had all these genres going on, but I fixated on the “boudoir” part. In my mind, I was going to be in my lacy skivvies not only for the camera, but also in front of my fellow Mamas.

Yikes! Preparation for the event felt a little like a walk to the gallows. Naked.

As I got ready that morning, all my body’s imperfections popped out at me. There were spider veins. There was a bruise from falling out of bakasana at yoga the other day. There were scars from minor surgeries, other skin flaws I get for the privilege of living several decades, hairs that don’t belong there, and flesh movement that reminded me of Bill Cosby commercials. The thought of being so exposed and vulnerable in front of my Mama friends made me feel faint. I seriously considered cancelling and making up a reason to not go, I was that distraught.

Our culture does not encourage us to see the perfection of imperfection; our culture counsels us to hide our imperfections. Botox this, plasticize that. Cover up this blemish; whiten those teeth, touch up these grays. Spray on a tan, pluck those eyebrows, plump those lips. Lose some weight (because of the way you look rather than the way you feel), hide those zits and/or wrinkles or at least have the decency to feel bad about them.

Finding perfection in all our natural glory is HARD.

I breathed through the urge to cancel and got myself out the door with the items I thought I might need: a selection of outfits, pearls, makeup, hair pins, shoes and undergarments that worked with each outfit. I arrived early at the studio, the magically-transformed basement level of Iman’s home.

I soon found out two things: (1) our focus would be on vintage, not boudoir style (whew!), and (2) Iman’s special talent, indeed her entire outlook, is to enable her subjects to see and FEEL their own perfection. She has declared her studio a No Dissing Zone, and she, the hairstylist Dawn, and the makeup artist Sarah focused on making us know our beauty from the inside out.

Photo by Jaime

It was a delightful afternoon with Iman and the Mamas. We unleashed our perfections and even flaunted our imperfections (still, I wasn’t ready to bare the spider veins).

Photo by Jaime: Gretchen, me, Lisa

I think, when you see Iman’s final product, you can see perfection through and through.

(And STILL I can pick apart things about my look. Shut up!)

Photo by Iman Woods Creative

Susan, Amber, Jaime, Lisa, Heather, Gretchen, and, with the high hair, me.

More pix and a slide show on MileHighMamas.com.


Have you signed up yet for the book tour for Found: a Memoir by Jennifer Lauck?

There are just a handful of spaces left.

7 points about the birth mom conversations

Recently my son opened up to me asking questions about his birth mom and I responded as best I could. The first two posts in this series simply recounted the conversations. In this third and last post, I offer commentary about the dialog between my son and me and about the comments the posts generated.

adoption heart1. Know what it was; know what it wasn’t. The questions Reed asked and the things he said in his wondering about Michele didn’t hurt me at all (other than the fact that he was hurting). Why? BECAUSE NONE OF IT WAS ABOUT ME. This knowing is what enables me to be fully present for my children during such times. This point is key for adoptive parents to get — deep down in our bones. This was about my son and his innermost feelings. He will have them whether or not I am comfortable with him having them. The question is, can he trust me to feel them on the outside of himself?

2. Become impervious. Allow, encourage, enable your kids to feel their feelings about their birth families, and do it imperviously, as you do when discussing other hurts they might have that also have nothing to do with you: a broken toy, being spurned by a friend, not making the team. The feelings about birth parents are likely more intense, but they are no more about you than these other scenarios are. The questions and wondering about the birth family are not about you and therefore take away nothing from you. Take yourself out of the equation and it all becomes so much simpler.

3. The myth of strength. I am not any stronger than any other parents. It’s just that I get, deep in my bones, #1 above.

4. Don’t dread having these conversations with your child because, hey, see #1. And decide to enjoy rather than endure these moments of adoptive parenting. Opening your heart sets you up for success much better than will gritting your teeth.

5. Don’t dread your child having these feelings, either. If your child doesn’t ever encounter these emotions, great. If they DO, however, why psych yourself (and your child) out ahead of time? Besides, why would you want to deprive your child of all the soul-deepening and self-knowledge that comes from having feelings, which we label as  “good” or “bad”, but can simply be guideposts for how to live?

Do not ever be afraid of your child feeling her  feelings; fear only her NOT feeling her feelings or getting stuck in them. Help your child keep the emotions in motion. It’s the repression and stagnancy that cause problems.

6. Get to know. How did  I figure out #1? By listening to adult adoptees. AndiAndy, Jeni, Amanda, Lost Daughters, Torrejon, others. Don’t internalize everything you read but do listen for gems that will help you understand what may one day be felt by your child, as well as the underlying reasons.

7. Don’t underestimate the strength of your child. A wise school teacher tells me that a child will rise or fall to the level of expectation you set. Notice the strength of my son in these two conversations. He has all that within him. I just held the expectation that he would tap it.

If your child’s story has some difficult components to it, then when you do talk about the hard stuff, envelop him in love and be open to deep wisdom. Also, see the strength and resilience of your child. He needs to see you reflect those traits he already has back to him.

And if you have any further notion that I am “special” in a way that you’re not, please read my Hotel Rwanda post. Anyone strong enough to survive infertility and the adoption process and to undertake parenting is able to rise to adoptive parenting moments like these.

Don’t you tell me otherwise.

Processing adoption: Conversation with my son, part 2

In part one, I told how my still-and-deep-water son was churning some adoption stuff, and how he trusted me to do it with him. I am honored.


Reed and I were running errands the next day. Tessa stayed home with Daddy to build the first fire of the season. Brrrr….it had gotten chilly!

Bedtime and car time are conducive to touchy subject talk because of the non-confrontational positioning. In the car Reed and I were not face to face, and I knew it was a good time to try to get back into the emotional space we’d been in the night before.

“So remember last night? We were talking about the moment when you became our son. You seemed sad. Do you want to talk about that?”

“I dunno. It’s just that I was sad for Michele. No one wants to give away their baby.”

“That’s so right. It was very hard for Michele to do that. But what about you? What do you suppose that moment felt like for you?”

adoption heartNow some would be content to leave this stone unturned, that not everything has to be dealt with. But my view is that what lies dormant affects us unconsciously. And what is brought to the surface can be felt, examined, and released. My hope is that if my son can become aware of his emotions and motivations at age 8, maybe they won’t get buried over the decades and erupt for him massively later in life. I want to give my children a head start on living mindfully, consciously.

These lofty goals don’t mean, however, that he was ready to feel the emotions from the moment when he was placed in my arms, from his birth mother’s.

“I think I had a poopy diaper and I wanted it changed,” he laughed a jittery laugh.

“You’re silly,” I said and laughed with him, giving him space and not filling the silence that followed.

Soon he continued, “I probably wanted milk. I had gotten milk from my mom and now I wanted milk from my new mom.” We both sat with that. A few blocks passed in silence.

“You know,” I resumed, “that moment when I became your mom was such a strange time. Everyone in the room was feeling something very intensely. For Michele, it was one of the saddest and hardest days of her life. For Daddy and Tessa and me, it was one of the happiest. Isn’t that strange?”

“Yeah. I’m sad for Michele. No one wants to give away their baby.” He repeated this, trying on his first mom’s feelings.

“That’s so very true. Especially a baby as wonderful as you, Reed.”

“Mom, do her children ever ask about me?” Reed has a younger brother and sister who visited us last year.

“I would imagine they ask about you, or they will when they are old enough to understand.”

“But what if they don’t know about me? What if she doesn’t tell them?”

“I’m sure she’s not hiding you. After all, they’ve been to our house once and hopefully they’ll come again. I think she’s very proud of the young man you’re becoming. She keeps up with you on my Facebook page, you know.”

“Mom. Would you adopt another baby?”

“We don’t have plans to do that. Is that something you’d like?”

“Yeah,” he said, thinking. “I want to know what it felt like for Tessa when I joined the family. And what it’s going to feel like for Dominic [his cousin] when Aunt Tami’s baby is born.”

I suspect this is also because he has missed out on the big brother experience with Michele’s two parented children and AJ’s new baby daughter.

“I’m not sure that’s likely to happen. You’ll get to be the big cousin to Tami’s baby.”

“NOT cousin. I want to be the big brother to a baby.”

“I’m sorry, Reed.”

We had arrived at our destination.

Which was not an adoption agency.


Later that night I pulled down a small item from the very top of Reed’s bookshelf. It was a brilliant little present to me, to us, from myself of 2003.

Right before I had headed to the Entrustment Ceremony to meet and bring home our son, I had the flash of insight to bring a spiral notebook/journal I’d had lying around. I asked Michele after the ceremony to write a page or so to Reed, to tell her what was in her heart for him that day, what her hopes were for him.

I, too, put my thoughts down in that notebook frequently in those early days, and I recruited Roger, my parents, Grandma Lisa, and everyone who attended his first several birthday parties (we used to do it up big with all our friends — our once a year bash) to write words of love to my son. There are now a couple of dozen pages of people just loving on Reed over the years, until about 2006, when we moved and the book got put away.

At bedtime, Reed was able to read the time-capsule message from his birth mom. He slept with that notebook that night.


Soon I’ll add some reflective thought to these two conversations. You are invited to come back for the final part of this series.