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healing through open adoption

Does Open Adoption Work?

My last post touched on the debate spurred by publicity for Amy Seek’s new memoir, God and Jetfire: Confessions of a Birth Mother. I started with a courtroom scene but decided to go this route instead. (You don’t have to have read that book to get this post.)

Rorschach Test

I see the debate about God and Jetfire as a sort of Rorschach test — people see in it what they bring to it. If you think adoption is a blessing, you think Amy Seek was brave. If you see adoption as abhorrent, you think Amy Seek made an unnatural choice and that she’s paid the consequences through regret over the years.

does open adoption work? it's a rorschach test.

And if you see adoption as infinitely complex, you notice the nuances in her story, the shades of gray and hues of color, so much deeper and more intricate than simple black and white interpretations. It becomes more difficult to sum up the book — or the experience of open adoption — in just a sound bite or two.

Does Open Adoption Cure All?

Those living in open adoptions can attest that it’s not a panacea. It’s not a magical thing that will mitigate the grief that comes from placing. Nor it is a magical thing that mitigates the grief that comes from being placed. Nor is it a magical thing that cures infertility and mitigates the grief that brings many adoptive parents to adoption.

healing through open adoption

Openness simply allows all this grief to be dealt with more above-board, more openly, through connection rather than in isolation. There is less stuffing of issues, of emotions. There is still stuff to deal with, however.

Adoption is hard, and so is open adoption.

Closed Adoption is on its Last Legs

There are some avant garde agencies that have long sought to infuse the lifelong process with genuine, heart-based openness, realizing that openness is the antidote to shame. Other agencies — a majority, perhaps — are pulling up the rear of the parade, possibly using open adoption as a carrot to get women to place and fulfill demand for babies. With the advent of the Internet and how it has (a) naturally opened things up and (b) given ordinary people a megaphone — along with (c) advances in DNA testing — closedness in adoption is on its last legs.

The question for parents and agencies, therefore, isn’t Shall we do open adoption or not? Because of the twin technologies that inherently make connections — the Internet and genetic testing — the question is instead:

HOW shall we do openness in our adoption?

Not IF, but HOW

If The New Republic headline were true, then the remedy would lie in educating people about open adoption — including its grief and challenges — and supporting them as they create and sustain their own ethically begun and adoptee-centered open adoptions. With education comes empowerment.

We need to share ways to legitimize both families, for the sake of the baby/child/teen/adult at the center. We need to show people how to move from the old Either/Or mindset to a new Both/And heartset.

We need to acknowledge that a grief-free experience is not likely for anyone involved. We need to teach people not to be afraid of grief, and that when dealt with intentionally, grief need not own us. Indeed, grief may open us up to the richness of loving and being loved and in taking part in complex, ever-changing relationships.

I think Amy Seek might agree with that. In an interview with her hometown newspaper, she says:

I think it helps everybody when people tell stories, especially about grief. I am very carefully documenting the grief and the various kind of unexpected ways it comes up in my life, but I wouldn’t call it a sad story. It’s a human story.

Dear Readers, what nuances do you note about open adoption? Not black, not white, but gloriously complex and multi-hued?


Lori Holden, mom of a young adult daughter and a young adult son, writes from Denver. She was honored as an Angel in Adoption® by the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute.

Find Lori’s books on her Amazon Author page, and catch episodes of Adoption: The Long View wherever you get your podcasts.

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21 Responses

  1. Does open adoption work. NO.

    It is a con, a lure to gain one’s trust with false promises. It is actually WORSE, because once you realize you were duped by people who have YOUR child, you also realize YOUR child is in the hands of despicable liars who will do anything to get what they want, including but not limited to fraud and deceit. No, not a healthy environment for a child to be in. Thanks!

    1. Hi, Sam.

      I didn’t include the same disclaimer on this post that I did in Part 1 — Note: Though tempting, please do not comment on the headline only, without reading the full post.

      — and I wonder if you read just the headline or the entire post. It’s so much easier to respond in black and white than in infinite shades of the in-betweens.

      I’m sorry you were duped. That’s not OK and it’s not an honorable way for people to treat each other.

    2. Yes, I agree. It happened to my family and I am sick about it. There is no peace knowing these kind of people are raising our precious children.

  2. Thank you for raising these questions and for encouraging a more honest, open conversation about the layers of complexity.

    The following paragraph from your post is something that should be taught to all — regardless of whether they have considered adoption:

    “It’s not a magical thing that will mitigate the grief that comes from placing. Nor it is a magical thing that mitigates the grief that comes from being placed. Nor is it a magical thing that cures infertility and mitigates the grief that brings many adoptive parents to adoption.”

    Keep writing, Lori. You are making a huge contribution and growing society’s knowledge and empathy…

  3. I did read it and the answer is still no…….open adoption is being used like a lure… catch a baby instead of a fish….it is the carrot given to insecure mothers…..that they will still somehow be able to have a relationship with their children. ……and the mothers end up walking on eggshells for 18 years……never able to be a mother to their child …watching some one else … and their children spending years saying goodbye. Why are some adoptions called open when the parents don’t even know the names of their children or what state they live in…..and if they are lucky they will get a photo 6 months after it was due….because they begged in an email….it was held out as though it would make it easier….the openness held up like a prize….a booby prize.

      1. The ‘How’ is a moot point if the ‘Why’ is addressed honestly.
        The why is the most important factor in adoption.
        I have had a ‘healthy, close to perfect’ open adoption and it never sorts itself out. It is just never cool.
        It is not good, ever to gift a child to another woman. That baby is your own flesh, your own blood. Not a karmic gift, not a solution to their infertility.

        I send gifts, cards, emails and get all this back in return. A materialistic love and affection, which is genuine enough, as long as everyone plays the game.
        If the daughter between us goes off script, hell breaks loose. I want nothing to do with either of them. The pain and regret rears up in a wild white rage at how badly our culture values adoption. Such a sick, unnatural FALSE (((solution))) to a short-term issue.

        It hangs over the birth mothers head like the sword of Damocles, always ready to sever the hard-won balance; balance meaning to a birth mother- not about to drop to her knees and beg the gods for another chance, collapsing in eternal grief, wondering where the hell she found herself- separated from her own blood ostensibly by her own hand, watching her dear baby with another woman as mother.
        She means well, I meant well too, but I was led astray by my own mother- someone I had to trust at the time.
        I spend no more than half an hour in my mothers presence once per year at the most before I start getting angry at how badly she misled me. How perpetually nonchalant she is about it all still, after 24years.
        I can’t admit my fury to the adoptive mother because she’s a nice woman who raised my child when my parents basically abandoned me after signing me up for a $10,000 loan to go to university. They earned too much to pay for my tuition, but not enough to help me out when I needed it most. When, like 50% of the planet, I created a life without intention.
        Look at the WHY.
        Not at the how, it is irrelevant. Our culture is so deeply sick it genuinely boggles the mind if you’re honest with yourself.

  4. First, I want to thank Amy Seek for taking the time and emotional energy to write about her experience. God bless Amy for her courage.

    Second, adoption is loss. The grieving process for adoption begins at a different point for each individual in the triad. As an infant closed records adoptee, I’ve lost my mother and father permanently. It’s worse than a death, with death you can visit the grave, talk to mutual friends of the deceased, and there are churches that set up grief groups for those left behind. As an adoptee, we are expected to be grateful for our losses.

    I can empathize with Amy’s experience. Our losses may not be exactly the same, but they are painful. Being told as an adult by other members of the triad how I’m to address my family is extremely rude. My mother, father, siblings, and other relatives of birth are part of me. Your insecurity problems belong to you.

    My own adopted children were older when adopted, and they have two mom’s and two dad’s. Plus, they have a multitude of living and deceased grandparents. Their family members have access to my Facebook account so they can see regular pictures and know about events. We try to make sure their family members have sporting event schedules so they too can come and cheer on their child. They even join us in the bleachers. We do what we can to stop the losses; we do not become the political correct vocabulary police that encourages the loss of something so simple as an insignificant title. We also make opportunities for family fun with all members, and they are invited to special events such as science fairs and graduations as equal parents and family members. My husband and I are proud to be part of their families and we wouldn’t have it any other way. Our children have lost enough. To our adopted children, we see ourselves as more family, not a different family. Open adoption can work, but it’s up to the adoptive parents to make it happen.

    As adoptive parents, we hold the strings. We can determine what behaviors in the birth family can end the relationship. My question to that is: would you permanently stop your own mother from coming to your home if she did the same thing? Your adopted children know the answer to that; you can’t fool them. Let’s face it, what goes around comes around.

    Thanks Lori for your perspective on this subject. You did a very nice job.

    1. I would say that open adoption works, but it’s up to BOTH sets of parents to make it happen. I was sending letters and pictures to an apartment at which my son’s birthmother no longer lived, but she didn’t bother to tell me she had moved. The phone number I had for her had been disconnected. She dropped off the face of the earth for more than one year. And she’d drop in and out after she resurfaced. She’s in a stable place now, which is awesome. I know several APs who would love to have better relationships with their children’s birthparents, but can’t because of the birthparents’ unwillingness. There are three parts to open adoption, and, for the first decade or so (at least) all of the adults have to work together in the spirit of openness.

      1. I’m so glad you brought this up, Robyn. While I do think that adoptive parents are usually the ones in a position to first extend the hand of openness, there are limits to what can be built without birth parents accepting that invitation and staying in relationship.

  5. I know my niece gave up her first child for adoption and based on her Facebook page, it doesn’t appear to be an open one. Or she’s just not posting about it. I do know that she grieves intensely for her baby and got pregnant again (as a single) not very long after giving up her first baby. She’s raising this second baby. I like to think that open adoption, done well, could stop this pattern of giving up, then getting pregnant again right way. Does anyone know?

    1. I don’t know if there’s research showing that open adoption would assist in breaking the pattern, but it’s my belief that by not dealing with something, it doesn’t necessarily go away. I would say, intuitively, that openness — that is, allowing something to come up from the subconscious and be acknowledged — would be a good first step in finding a healthier way of dealing with unresolved grief.

      I hope your niece is able to find comfort and healing.

  6. Lori,

    First I would like to say “Thank you” to you for writing about this. It is something that many people, especially those who have not been a part of it do not and cannot understand. I am excited that you linked this blog to the Open Adoption videos.

    When I got the packet in the mail inviting me to be a part of those videos last fall, I can honestly say that I never expected them to be more than something for birth-mothers and prospective parents to look at. At the time it was just a way that I could help out a little, since I couldn’t come in and talk because I was away at University.

    This post has been a great read, it has allowed me to see some other viewpoints. As one of the young adults featured in the Open Adoption videos I was touched to know that those videos meant enough that you would include them.

    As I said in my video having an open adoption is something special because there is no wondering about who your biology is. You have all your pieces and the openness of the adoption allows birth mothers (especially young ones) to not have to make the choice between themselves or their child. They choose the parents, they know where their child is going and it is their choice. It is the chance for birth mother to not have to choose between their future and their child’s, to do what is best for that child and still have a relationship.

    As Jill M. posted about earlier I understand her loss and I know what it means to not know an entire portion of ones family. I have an open adoption with my birth mother, but know next to nothing about my birth father. I can’t imagine what it would be like to grow up without my birth mom in my life.

    For those who read this and do NOT understand think of it like this. What would you say if someone asked you: What’s it like to be a twin? To have red hair? To have a gap between your front teeth? To have a stepfamily? (The questions could go on and on). Most likely your answer would be to shrug and respond: I don’t know, I’ve never known it to be any other way. This is who I am.

    As an adoptee “What’s it like to be adopted?” is a common question and my answer is always: I don’t know, what’s it like not to be adopted?

    My point in this is this: We live in a world full of shades of grey. Like life nothing is black and white. Adoption is the same way. All Children at some point in time have a bone to pick with their parents. Every single person alive has something they do not like about the people they are the closest to in the world.

    People are NOT perfect. If they were they would not be people. So to judge someone or to judge an agency by one bad experience is to be blind to all the joy they have made possible. To look down your nose at something you may not TRULY understand is stupid. You can make all the judgments in the world; you can bury your head in the sand and pretend. However, it will not change the fact that Open adoption takes an incredibly difficult situation and essentially turns it into something positive.

    As an adoptee I know this and I know how special it is.

    So Lori, thank you for writing this.

    Taylor R

    1. Hi, Taylor. Thank you for making your way here and raising your voice. I hope you’ll do so again!

      I went back and watched the video again to match your written words with your spoken words 🙂

      Thank you for helping parents like me better understand what it’s like to be adopted. My very best to you in what is sure to be a bright future.

  7. I appreciate all sides of the discussion around this. It really takes all parts of the triad to make it work.

    As to the question about “if your own mother did X would you cut her out?” Well, yes, I’ve done that to a large portion of my family – much of it being how I was treated and how they felt about my daughter’s adoption or her biological parents.

    Maintaining a healthy open situation for this shared family member means the world to me and to my husband and to the biological family. I am resent the idea that it was a lure or a trick to get a baby – that was not, nor will it ever be a statement that applies to our family. I don’t invalidate someone else’s experience if that was the case, so please don’t invalidate mine. My daughter’s mother and I have a close bond and friendship that goes beyond our daughter. We share interest in each other, in hobbies and each other’s lives. I often advocate for parents to get along for the sake of this shared life – and not to match if you don’t think this is a person you can keep a steady relationship with for the rest of your life.

    1. I appreciate your desire and dedication to keep your adoption very open. This is in no way to disrespect you as a person. What confuses me about an open adoption like yours is the fact that it’s possible that an adoption never had to happen at all. It’s so confusing to a child to have 2 mothers. What it really feels like is having 2 partial mothers, never being complete with one whole mother. Is it not possible to take care of this child without the title of mother? Or even allow the child to go back to the biological mother? If she is very much in the child’s life then why the separation? If it is possible for mom to parent, then why do we keep them torn between two families? Again, this is not personal and I’m not questioning your ability to parent. It’s very puzzling to me. I honestly believe most mothers and children would prefer to be together as natural family in an open adoption but will never mention it because it comes with a terribly frightening risk. What would happen if adoptive parents in healthy open adoptions would consider this if it was safe? Especially early on in their adoption. This is why I believe in open guardianship appears to termination of rights by adoption. Again, this may not be possible in your case but I know it’s possible in many. What are your thoughts?

      1. I remember my daughter looking at me with such sincere longing when she was about 8years old. I knew that was exactly what it was, but I had trained myself to absolute hardness of heart after the first six months because I knew the papers were signed and there was no chance of a reprieve. It was a matter of survival.
        When I started being honest with myself after 20 years the pain of this memory was killing. It crushed me brutally all over again.
        She wanted me to be her mother because I *was* her mother.

        There is no healthy way any adoption can work for all involved, open or otherwise, unless the birth parents and all their immediate and extended family are dead.

  8. Yes. The grief is a constant. It comes and goes in waves. Openness just helps me be there to support my children, to let them know it is okay to grieve and do so openly. It opens the doors to frank conversations on what life would have been had they not been placed. I hope when they are old enough, my children will speak for themselves.

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