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.)
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.
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.
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:
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.
- With empowerment of women in unplanned pregnancies our efforts would be more in line with Dr Joyce Maquire Pavao’s ideal of finding homes for babies than finding babies for homes.
- With empowerment of adopting parents, they, too will not feel “less than” real.
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?
- Support: The Family to Family Support Network provides the education and empowerment piece that’s sorely needed to make true, heart-based openness work.
- Listen: The Brian Lehrer Show: Navigating Open Adoptions, with guests Kathryn Joyce and Joy Lieberthal, a Korean adult adoptee and clinical social worker specializing in issues related to adoption
- Watch: Teens and young adults share their stories about being raised in open adoptions.
Lori Holden, mom of a teen son and a teen daughter, writes from Denver. Her book, The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption: Helping Your Child Grow Up Whole, is available through your favorite online bookseller and makes a thoughtful anytime gift for the adoptive families in your life. Catch episodes of Adoption: The Long View wherever you get your podcasts.
Lori was honored as an Angel in Adoption® in 2018 by the Congressional Coalition of Adoption Institute.