When Roger and I embarked on the journey of adopting a baby a few years ago, everything we “knew” about adoption was from decades past:
- You waited on a long list until the agency matched you with a situation. Top of the list of criteria for the match? Your place in line.
- You tried to make the building of your family as close to “normal” (read: biological) as possible. You didn’t talk much about the adoption, either inside or outside of the family, and you certainly didn’t have any contact with birthparents. The goal was to make it seamless, almost as if adoption were never part of the story.
- As the child grew, you continued not talking about adoption. Surrounding my friends who had been adopted was an air of secrecy. When we did speak of adoption, it was in hushed voices. These friends didn’t know much about their birth families, their birth story, or their origins. And it would hurt their parents too much to wonder too much. So they tried not to.
In the early part of the 21st century, our agency introduced us to this newfangled thing called “open adoption.” Wikipedia (a shared consensus rather than a definitive pronouncement), at the time of this writing, defines open adoption as, an “arrangement allowing for ongoing contact between members of the adoption triad.” It adds, “an adoption is open when the biological mother (and/or father) may make the actual decision on who is chosen to parent their child.”
It may seem, then, like closed adoptions were the “default setting” of the ages. Wikipedia further explains, “all adoptions in the United States were open until the twentieth century. Until the 1930’s, most adoptive parents and biological parents had contact at least during the adoption process.”
Far from being newfangled, it turns out that open adoption had always been the norm, with closed adoptions the aberration. Adoptions became closed when social pressures mandated that families preserve the myth that they were formed biologically.
Roger and I learned all that we could about open adoption. Over the years, we have replaced the myths with these ideas:
- Adoption isn’t about waiting passively in line — it’s about who we are. A couple in an unintended pregnancy would make a conscious decision about us parenting their baby. The criteria for their decision would be our values, our bundle of experiences, and our vision for the future — US!
- Why try to deny that our family was built by adoption? Is my ego so fragile that acknowledging the birth mothers of my children takes away from me? Loving and respecting our children’s birth parents is just another way to love and respect our children.
- Walking a fine line between dwelling on adoption it and denying it, we tell our children (now ages 8 and 6) their adoption stories once in awhile. We encourage them to talk with us about it as their cognitive skills grow. I believe that anything kept under a rock can get moldy, and I want their adoption tales to bask in sunshine.
- There are many more benefits to open adoption. Our children have access to their medical histories and to clans who look like them and love them. Also, our children will not have to go through the potential minefields of search and reunion just to get answers to their wonderings.
In public, Roger sometimes kicks me under the table me as I proudly reveal the way we became a family. After all, he reminds me, I am merely caretaker of my children’s stories. Someday they will choose what to tell and to whom.
But it’s my story, too, and I am so happy about our story I share often and a lot, in an effort to combat myths from a bygone era.