I am pleased to introduce to you: Cynthia from The Night Kitchen.
How did Cynthia come into my blogging life, and how did we discover just how much we have in common? Through Heather’s Open Adoption Blogger’s Interview Project, which marks the 1st anniversary of the Open Adoption Blogroll and Open Adoption Roundtable.
I was matched with Cynthia. Below are my questions and her answers. To see HER questions and MY answers, go raid The Night Kitchen.
You are the mom of two sons, Wendell, 4, and River, 1. How would you describe the openness in your relationships with their first families?
The level of openness is different with each of my son’s first families, and has also changed a lot over time- sometimes towards more openness, sometimes less. Actually, i’ll correct that. I would say that the level of openness has remained the same throughout- what has often varied in either direction is the level of contact.
We always knew we wanted contact from the beginning, and our desire for more of that has grown over time. We have found that in most cases (well, all cases) we have wanted more contact than their first families have wanted or been able to have. I have yet to be in a situation with either of their first families where I wanted less contact than they did. Most of River’s first family lives in our town, so we see them or some part of them pretty frequently. One of their childcare providers is a good friend of ours, so when we haven’t been able to get together with their parents, we’ve seen the kids. Wendell’s paternal birth family lives all the way across the country, and almost all contact with them has been through his grandmother and aunt. Mostly text messaging, which I can’t say i’m thrilled with- but i’ll take what I can get… and my texting skills are getting better. We’re planning a visit out there in the Fall, if we can confirm that we’ll get to see his birth father as well. If that can happen, I think it will be pretty huge in so many ways. I write more about contact with Wendell’s first mom below.
What have been the best parts about having openness in your adoptions? The most difficult?
The most difficult parts have been the times when contact hasn’t happened. Having to guess at why that’s the case, and wondering how much I should- or even can- do about that. How much to keep reaching out or push, how much to just give space. This is especially the case with my oldest son’s first mother- we had contact for 2 and half years (though during that time she would leave emails unreplied for 6-8 months at a stretch), then nothing at all for more than 2 and a half years. But just in the past month she has friended me on facebook, and i’m hopeful that we’ll have a visit soon. The facebook contact feels easy and good, as visits always did. Which is partly why it feels so weird when contact drops off. I have kept a photo album going for her from the beginning, so that when there is a lapse in communication, she’ll have something that marks the time as his life unfolds- rather than something that was created retroactively. I want for her to have something that’s just hers, rather than only looking at our photo albums after the fact. Does that make sense?
What’s been the best, or the most rewarding, or the most spiritually satisfying has been the actual contact. Experiencing open adoption as another extension of our (already immense!) extended family. Seeing my sons play and connect with their siblings (so far we have only been able to have contact with River’s siblings by birth, but they all interact as if they were family. Right now anyway, it doesn’t seem to matter whose biological sibling is whose). I love seeing features or expressions or eccentricities in my sons and knowing where they came from. Not wondering! I really relate to your answer on a similar question I asked you- you said that you are a wonderer, and if you had been an adoptee, you would have wanted to know about your origins. I feel the same way. Therefore it feels natural to want to give that to my sons, too. What was perhaps a surprise in the beginning is how much I found that although I initiated open adoptions for the benefit of my children, I craved and needed that contact and information, too. My sons are still too young to articulate whether its what they want or need- but I know that I do, and so that’s where I’ve started. Of course that all began from believing that that kind of contact is in their best interest.
You have a post where you are talking about birth fathers with Wendell, which ends up covering reproduction. You also mention that Wendell concludes that his brother was placed because “he wasn’t cute enough.” I think you handled it well, but you expressed some regret. If you could go back, what would you say to that?
Originally, I wished that I had explored more where that comment was coming from- that, instead of immediately refuting it, I had asked in a neutral tone, “Oh, you think that? Where did you get that idea from?”- drawing more information out of him about the origins of that idea. Since then, however, I feel better about how I handled it. I do think that 4 year olds are constantly testing out ideas about how the world works in SO many ways and that in that moment, he was exploring that one with me. It isn’t up for debate that that particular idea is not the way the world works (as far as i’m concerned), so refuting it is important. I have faith- or am trying to- that my sons trust the environment of openness in our home, and will bring up ideas with me when they need to. I have to trust they know this in order to let go of a conversation as soon as he needs to, and not push it when he’s done. I really wouldn’t want the take away message for him to be: “well… mommy freaks out when I trot out my half formed ideas, so i’ll just keep them to myself.” You know?
As for the discussion on reproduction, I have NO idea if I did the right thing by giving him the full scoop (or most of it), but am guessing that even here I could have done worse. I know it won’t be the only conversation on the subject, and hope that I’ll have plenty of chances to get it right. That’s what I have to believe about all of this, really.
How have you balanced your desire for openness with your need to set some boundaries with one of your sons’ first parents?
Perhaps surprisingly (in one case especially), we have never needed to set a boundary for contact with any of our sons’ first parents. On the contrary, as I wrote above. I wish I could write about that more here, but it’s hard to do without violating some privacy issues i’m trying to guard. This does touch on one of the hardest things about open adoption for me, though. While I view and behave as if our sons’ first families are extended family, one significant difference is that our other extended families are not really connected to them (beyond me sharing pictures of each with the other). I hope that will change someday, but there are good reasons why that isn’t the case right now. That’s hard for me. I want the people I know and love to know and love one another, and right now I often feel a split within myself because that isn’t the case here. I have to keep secrets from people I love (including my mother!) to protect these privacy issues, and that has been extremely challenging sometimes. I don’t like secrets!
As a side note, I don’t think i’ve ever written about this on my blog, but the only difficulty i’ve ever had with openness in adoption was with Wendell’s birth father’s girlfriend, who was 16 at the time of his birth. I’m going to try and write about that sometime, because the story is worth telling and did affect my growth as an adoptive parent.
Would you tell about the open adoption conference that your agency is hosting in 2011?
The plans have been slower to develop than I’d hoped for, but we are in the process of organizing a conference on open adoption here in Virginia in February or March of 2011. We want the focus to be on the practicalities and regular old realities of living in an open adoption- with symposiums as well as interactive workshops. Our hope is to attract members of the adoption community (like yourselves, dear readers) not just social workers or those in the field of adoption and foster care. “We” is: myself, the head of our adoption agency (who is herself an adoptee as well as first mom), and another adoptee who is involved in adoption reform. More to come…
How do you figure out if something regarding your kids is a parenting issue or an adoptive parenting issue?
I think that in most cases I would hope for my response to be the same regardless. That is, whatever issue is going on for my kids, I want to be present, listen, pay attention, and respond with love. To get them whatever resources they need, if its something I can’t handle on my own. That said, of course I do and have wondered about this question when certain things have come up, and in most of those cases i’ve called my social worker to check in. Or asked some of you all what to do! Increasingly, I trust my own instincts about what to do… though it’s also true that every new developmental stage shakes up this confidence… perhaps in order to strengthen it again?
How did your agency prepare you and your sons’ first parents for open adoption? What did they do well and what could they have done better?
I really have no complaints here. They have several workshops that you are required to attend before you adopt, all of which were very good. The agency was started by an adoptee, and is currently run by an adoptee and first mom (mentioned above), who has become a good friend and trusted advisor. Our agency makes a commitment to you for the life of your child that they will be there to support your family. They know that adoption is a lifetime experience, not a one time event, and their services really reflect that. In fact, its the many conversations i’ve had over the years with our social worker/ now friend that led to initiating this open adoption conference.
And what about you? What, besides your family, what lights you on fire? What are you all about?
I feel like, when you have young kids, you“get”one extracurricular activity besides work, if you work outside the home (and I do, part time- i’m an acupuncturist and herbalist). Right now my one thing is Ashtanga yoga. Most weeks, I can manage getting to the studio 3 times, which is a huge blessing. But- with and without the kids- I also love and need walks in the woods, backpacking, gardening, poetry (Wendell Berry is a favorite and who my oldest is named after), photography, my big southern family, and good friends. Those are just the first few that come to mind.
Tell about when and how you started blogging. I started blogging (I hate that word) 2 years ago in March of ’08 very hesitantly and with trepidation. The main reason I decided to start writing is that reading other people’s blogs (Dawn’s, in particular) really affected and accelerated my growth as an adoptive parent. I wanted to be in conversation with those people and I felt like the only way I could do that was to write myself. Most of the time, i’m still a pretty halfhearted blogger and a terribly slow typist, but I so value what i’ve learned online from reading progressive adoptive parents, adoptees, and first parents. It has really, truly affected my real life family, and the way that I see myself as an advocate for adoption reform.
I’ve added Cynthia to my Reader — how about you?
For more interview pairings between open adoption bloggers, visit Production Not Reproduction.