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How I Opened to Open Adoption

Everything I Knew About Open Adoption Was Wrong

Many years ago after we’d run the gauntlet of infertility diagnoses and treatments, we set out on a new and daunting journey, that of adoption. We thought that meant waiting in a long line until our number came up, when an agency would call us with news that we’d gotten to the top of the list and our baby was available. We’d live happily ever after, never to think about adoption again.


Turns out all that was wrong. There would be no line, no list, no adoption-be-gone. Instead, there would be an expectant mother considering adoption (and possibly father), and our fate would be in HER hands. Further, she/they might want to be involved in our lives now and forevermore.

The thought of that scared me so much I had half a mind to return to my reproductive endocrinologist and endure more pointless invasive procedures.

I had to calm myself down. I had to examine my fears. I had to open myself to the scary unknown.

Calm Myself Down

At first I thought my husband and I would be the stars in our family-building drama, but as events unfolded, I realized it would instead be more of an ensemble piece. I had to get to know the others who would be cast. My motto has always been, “if at first you don’t know what to do, seek knowledge.”

I began to get more familiar with the perspectives of birth mothers, first during our adoption agency’s homestudy process, when we  met a panel of women, each who had placed a baby. Next was through adoption forums and blogs, places where both adoptive parents and birth parents, as well as adoptees, shared their experiences, sometimes leading to difficult but valuable discussions as we sought to understand the others’ viewpoints.

Then I began tuning in to adoptee voices. These helped clue me in to possible experiences my children might have, ways moms and dads parent and the effects those ways can have on sons and daughters in building trusting relationships and forming identities.

I realized our story would more likely have a happy ending if I morphed my Either/Or mindset (so prevalent in the closed adoption era) and embraced instead a Both/And heartset.

Gaining knowledge and making a new plan that felt expansive — these things helped me calm myself down.

Examine My Fears

There were so many fears.  The biggies:

In other words: If there’s another mother around, how can I be the Real Mom?

I dug these out of my not-so-sub-conscious and took a deeper look. Like other creatures that thrive in the dark, many of my fears evaporated in the light.

I saw that it wouldn’t be right to put a child in the position of having to rank their moms. I decided I didn’t need to split my child to meet my own needs. And I wondered if it might actually be a joy to share. Someone who loves bragging on my child the way I do? That just might be fun.

After looking at things from my hypothetical child’s view, I knew I had to find a way to avoid splitting the baby. I decided to declare myself Real. And the other mother, as well.

Open Myself to the Scary Unknown

Just about everything good that’s ever happened to me, and to many other #LivingFearless storytellers, has come from jumping into the unknown. Going to college far away from home. Moving to Japan. Getting married. Teaching in Syria (pre-war). I had no reason to believe that becoming a mom through open adoption would be any different.

My regrets have more often come from closing myself down and shutting myself off from scary things.

It’s not like I was making myself vulnerable to villains. I was opening myself up to the people who made my kids, whose choices made me a mom. I was opening myself up to the the richness of these unique relationships, figuring out how to love and honor our kids and do our very best by them. I was opening myself up to the complexities of relationships, to the beautiful mess of my own imperfect humanness.

The day we were to bring our daughter home from the hospital — and despite the advice to head straight home and make a clean break —  we instead carped the diem. We made an unexpected detour, jumping headfirst into the scary unknown.

That leap, and all that’s come after it, continued my determination to cultivate a #LivingFearless life.

This post is part of the #LivingFearless campaign, sponsored by Protection1.  What have you done that required a #LivingFearless spirit?

See also:

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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17 Responses

  1. The examining your fears. A lesson that can easily be applied to so many aspects of life. It’s hard to do as these are usually deeply rooted and fast solutions (and resolutions) are always preferred in the immediate. But that’s usually not how it works, is it. And often, those quick fixes aren’t endurable meaning we will ultimately have to address the root.

    Lots to reflect on with this. Particularly the fear and the learning to sit with it; examine it.

  2. Ah yes, you describe familiar partners in the adoption dance: fear/courage, open/closed, birth/adoptive family, her/my/our child. Somehow, thankfully, we migrate from the world viewed through a “solo” lens to the inclusive “ensemble” perspective. Awesome piece.

  3. Once so afraid…then mad that my second wouldn’t have what my first had…full open adoption (born in Russia). You have described it all very well!

  4. We opened up by researching the benefits of open adoption to the child. Also we had the wonderful opportunity to attend a birth parent panel with their open adoption stories. It was really amazing to hear real life stories of how it could work.

  5. When we started on our adoption path, I was anxious about the idea of an open adoption. It scared me when I thought about sharing my child with another woman. What if he ended up liking her better? What if she wanted him back? So many questions!!! Well, my perspective changed when I met a new client (I’m a real estate agent). She and I became fast friends & I learned she had placed her first child for adoption. It was an open adoption! We talked for hours about her experience and she opened up my eyes to what it really means to place your child for adoption. The idea became a lot less scary and became the route that my husband & I wanted to pursue. When we were matched with a birthmother, I was ecstatic she only lived 30 minutes away. I had come to the realization that I wanted my child to receive love from as many sources as possible. Having an open adoption meant I could always tell him that his birth mommy loves him with all her heart, but just couldn’t give him the life she knew he needed. He was going to be a lucky boy & have the love of not one mother, but two mothers!
    I guess I became open to open adoption after hearing from a birth mothers point of view. Our little guy is now 9 months old and he has the love of a village behind him! Thank you for your article, I enjoyed reading it!

  6. We were highly influenced by a real-life friend in our area who has a very open adoption situation. (As in, they have the child’s birth mom come and stay with them occasionally.)

    Because of the beauty I saw in that relationship (in that myriad of relationships, really) I knew without a doubt that I wanted an open adoption for our daughter… OF COURSE… it was going to be led by her birth mother.

    I can honestly say that I didn’t see this as what adoption looked like! I had never thought much about whether the birth mother would want to be involved in the child’s life (mostly because I always expected to adopt from China and that option isn’t usually available).

    I can say I’m beyond grateful for the influence of that family that lives an open adoption lifestyle in front of me. They don’t believe in the kittens and rainbows version of adoption but they absolutely ADORE the little girl that they are raising and respect her birth mother. Now I am getting the opportunity to share my (biased!) views of open adoption with other friends who are just starting the journey.

  7. and I bet you are friends with Aly the fighter too. open adoption is a farce designed to make adopters feel good. They have the power to destroy lives.

    1. I am so sorry that you feel that way. As a birth mom, I know for me it has been extrodinary to be a part of an open adoption situation. The amount of respect, love and admiration that I have for my child’s parents, and the amount of love, respect, and kindness they have shown me, has been the most beautiful gift. If you’ve had a bad experience, i sincerely am so sorry. Just know that for some birth moms, it’s not a farce. It’s an extension of love.

    2. “It scared me when I thought about sharing my child with another woman.”

      But what about some other woman sharing HER child with you. Make no mistake, all adoptive parents care about are themselves. Open adoption is nothing but a farce.

      1. That is NOT true. The most heartbreaking part of adopting was knowing that on the other end birthmom’s heart was breaking. He is our son. I am his mom. She gave him life. What could be more amazing and wonderful? Why would I not love the woman who gave me the most amazing gift in the world?

        Yes- “sharing” a child is a scary thought. The sharing goes two ways though. I’m sure it is scary for bio mom too. But guess what? We don’t own our children. We are to love them and raise them and send them into the world to (hopefully) be kind human beings.

        1. JRH Can you treat the child’s mother any worse? “The most heartbreaking part of adopting was KNOWING that on the other end birthmom’s heart was breaking.” (I/we knew his mother’s heart was breaking but I/we did it anyway)

          “He is OUR son. I am his mom.” (no ownership in that statement is there?) She ends up reduced even farther in your next paragraph to ‘bio mom’. What’s your next level of “love” for her? Breeder?

          “She gave him life.” (and that’s all she is to you, a biological reproductive unit.)

          “What could be more amazing and wonderful?”….. “birth mom’s heart was breaking on the other end” is amazing and wonderful? So it’s amazing and wonderful when a mother loses a child and is heartbroken from it. Really? Were you ever heartbroken from the loss of a child?

          1. Stop. She is my friend. You are offending me by your interpretation of how you apparently view her. I sure hope she doesn’t read your comments because she would be offended as well. She loves me as much as I love her. We respect each other. She chose not to parent and chose us to parent. No one forced her to do so. She views the adoption as a good thing that came out of a bad situation. I assume from your hostility you’ve had a bad experience. I’m sorry about that. Just know that there CAN be genuine open adoptions.

        2. Oh really? Funny. My heart was breaking and still breaks and all I got was the silent treatment and no promised updates after a certain point. Now I get to watch my adult child fawn over these people, who blatantly and with malice chose to cause more pain than was necessary by treating the way they did. He knows what they did, yet still chooses behave like a sycophant towards them. It sickens me.

          They could say the “loved me” until their face turned blue and I’d never believe it. I have come to the conclusion that in exchange for the pain of her infertility at one point in their lives, they wanted to inflict as much pain and damage to the woman who’s child they adopted. That would have been ANY woman. Unfortunately, I was the one who folded. If I could go back, these people would never been in our lives. What they did and continue to do is diabolical and sadistic. Truly sick.

          You don’t own anyone’s children, that is for sure, but so many adoptive parents act like they do– holding on for dear life to a child that someone else brought into this world. They even go so far as laying guilt trips on the children they adopted if they want a relationship with their natural families when they promised an “open adoption” at first.

          I will never believe anyone agreeing to an open adoption truly wants that, from the adoptive parent’s point of view. It is a means to an end to obtain an infant. Once they reach their end all bets are off and they know there is nothing the mother can do. Not yet anyway. Hopefully, more laws will be set in place that also protect and honor natural families, not jut adoptive families.

          1. I’m sorry you were treated this way, Sam (“My heart was breaking and still breaks and all I got was the silent treatment and no promised updates after a certain point.”)

            Based on your experience, I can understand why you feel the way you do about adoptive parents. I am of the belief that when people know better, they do better.

      2. Sam has a point that needs to be heard and understood.

        “It scared me when I thought about sharing my child with another woman.” Another woman? Other woman?

        Rewrite to accuracy and truth.

        “It scared me when I thought about sharing a child with his / her own mother.”

        ‘sharing(losing) child with(to) …another woman. Yeah it is scary, heartbreaking, devastating, hurtful, damaging..I could go on.

        They are our sons and daughters and will forever be so. Even if raised in another home.

  8. Yay for adoption! Adoption is LOVE! We knew when we started on the adoption path that we wanted some level of openness- I wanted to be able to tell our child his birth story. I am adopted (closed- they all were back in the day) and I was always so curious about my story. How did this adoption come about? What was my birth family like? Did I have siblings? I never ever wanted to replace my parents. I just wanted to know. (The year we started our adoption journey my bio brother contacted me! Now I have most of the answers!) My husband and I wanted the information and photos to share with our adopted child, we weren’t sure if we wanted anything more than written contact after the baby was born. Well as things evolved and we became comfortable with birth mom we decided to get together! Now we have the most awesome relationship with her and her family. They’re our extended family as well as our son’s

  9. Stop. She is my friend. You are offending me by your interpretation of how you apparently view her. I sure hope she doesn’t read your comments because she would be offended as well. She loves me as much as I love her. We respect each other. She chose not to parent and chose us to parent. No one forced her to do so. She views the adoption as a good thing that came out of a bad situation. I assume from your hostility you’ve had a bad experience. I’m sorry about that. Just know that there CAN be genuine open adoptions.

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