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open adoption by closed adoptee

#flipthescript 9: The Healing Power of Open Adoption

Paula Fahey was born, relinquished, and adopted during the closed adoption era. She experienced the happy/sad of adoption — she loved her parents yet she wondered about her birth parents. She’s now also on the birth family side of an open adoption and weighs in on the element of openness.

The #flipthescript series gives adoptees the microphone during November, National Adoption Awareness Month.

adoptees flipthescriptImage: Tracy Hammond

I Felt Both Welcomed and Curious

I am an adoptee, born in the early 1960s, at a time when adoption was shrouded in secrecy. I was raised by loving parents who always did their best to make me feel wanted and welcome. As a young child I fantasized about who my parents might be and wondered if one day I would meet them. Sensing that questions about my birth family made my mother uncomfortable, I tried to keep them to a minimum. Sometimes though, my insatiable curiosity won out, but my mother never had any answers for me.

open adoption by closed adopteeI reunited with my birth mother when I was 26 and it was magic. We connected immediately and discovered we had many similarities. She had played violin with the Boston Pops when she was younger. I loved music too and was a singer. I loved to read and write poetry and she did as well. When I went to her apartment for the first time I was struck by the four large, completely full bookshelves in her living room. She told me that these books were her most prized possessions. I “got” her and she “got” me.  

She apologized for relinquishing me and I assured her that I was not angry and had a wonderful life. I never felt any ill will toward her or toward my adoptive parents. I adored my parents and know that my life was supremely better because of them. 

What Made Me Hurt (Not Who)

It was not the people in my life that made me hurt. It was the adoption itself that caused me pain. It left voids in my life and holes in my heart. I had intermittent waves of sadness and yearning as a child. I have always had a nomadic soul, wandering virtually from one place to the next, looking for a safe haven to call home. I tried to fill this void with alcohol, food, work, perfectionism, all the while running further away from myself. I wonder if knowing more about my beginnings and family when I was growing up might have helped me to connect the dots in my identity. I think it surely would have given me a greater sense of belonging in this world.

Life has slowed down a bit for me and I now have more time to think about things. In these quiet moments, I realize how profoundly I have been shaped by adoption. If my adoption had been more open, it would have helped me to develop a stronger and more secure identity. I am continuing the work on myself and I have found tremendous healing of late connecting with other adoptees. The power of being around people who have been there is undeniable. I can share feelings and experiences about my adoption without being dismissed or told that I should be grateful to my parents.

Adoption 2.0

Even though my adoption was closed, I am experiencing healing through open adoption. My husband and I have a 15 year-old granddaughter who is an adoptee who remains in our lives.  Her mother, my step-daughter Miranda, struggled with substances and daily life and made the difficult decision to place her her daughter for adoption.

Tiva is in a loving supportive family and we have always had an open relationship with them. Though they live over 1500 miles away, whenever they come to town, we get to see her. We also have received letters and pictures throughout the years. She has always been in our lives and we have always been in hers. It’s as natural as breathing and we are profoundly grateful to her parents.

The Phone Call No Parent Wants to Get

In February of this year, my husband and I received the phone call we had been dreading yet anticipating for several years. Our daughter Miranda had fallen asleep while taking a bath and was gone. She had lost her almost lifelong battle with drugs at the young age of 36. It hurt the most when we thought about what might have been. We were polarized, paralyzed, gutted, and numb. How in the world would we tell her daughter Tiva?

My husband contacted Tiva’s mother, who agreed to deliver this difficult news. Within a few hours we received a phone call from Tiva; she wanted to know how we were doing. She assured us that we were a team and we would get through this together. She also said that she felt that in death her mother would be able to be there for in ways that she never had in life. Her love, grace and wisdom brought comfort to all of us.

She and her mother let us know that they would attend Miranda’s memorial and that Tiva wanted to provide some input. She wanted the day to be joyous and did not want any of the family to wear black. The memorial was beautiful and the highlight came at the end of the program when the rain cleared and sun shone through the stained glass windows of the chapel. We filed outside and watched as Tiva released a single white dove to symbolize her mother’s journey home. She told us how healing it was for her to be at the service with her biological relatives. She experienced love, loss, grief, family and healing that day. We experienced these things too, as well as the joy and hope in Miranda’s legacy. We will be forever indebted to her parents for enabling her to be there.

Room at the Table

It’s been 9 months since Miranda’s passing and we have been in close contact with Tiva.  We chat about school, clothes, music, her family and her mother.  She has many questions about Miranda and I do my best to answer her. I remind her of how much Miranda loved her and how proud she was of her. Miranda was a talented singer and harmonica player and Tiva is now taking voice lessons and wants to sing, too. Her vocal coach says she is a natural. I love that her parents are supporting her as she finds her innate gifts and talents. She really is far better off being with her family, but I resist the urge to tell her this. I know what it feels like and this would really hurt coming from someone in her mother’s family.

We are all here to love and support Tiva. Love is infinite and there is room at the table for all of us. Everyone in this remarkable young lady’s life has unique gifts to share with her and no one’s presence diminishes another’s. We will all play an important role in her life and her story.  She tells us that she feels love all around her from both families. This is beautiful and I am hopeful that this feeling will be with her always and help her as she navigates through life.

My Superpower

I take my role with her very seriously. I endeavor to be the woman I wished I’d had in my life when I was an adolescent. My superpower with her is my status as adoptee. I understand the inner workings and inner life of an adoptee and this provides an unspoken connection between us, an adoptee who has been there and understands.

Our contact provides immense healing for me. The pain of losing Miranda and the pain of my adoption have lessened ever so slightly. I am free in the moments I spend with her.  I received a second chance to experience adoption and that’s remarkable. Both families stand together so Tiva will always know she is wanted, treasured, and loved. Open adoption has made this possible.


Paula Fahey lives in Portland, OR with her husband Brian.  She is currently attending classes and working on a degree in creative writing. She loves spending time with family and friends.  She also enjoys traveling, playing music with friends and learning new things.  She is an adoptee who is currently exploring the effects adoption can have on a person and ways that healing can take place.


Other Posts in the #flipthescript Series:



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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14 Responses

  1. This read like a love song to open adoption. so, so beautiful and true. Paula explains so much of what adoption involves and feels like for both the adoptee and the parent (grandparent) of an adopted child. Amazing. Thank you Lori and Paula. The door opened a little wider. Let the world see our lives.

    1. Thank you so much Anne Heffron for your beautiful words and most of all for your encouragement to open the door a little wider. It feels better than I could have imagined.

  2. The healing power of Open Adoption… for WHO? Adoptive families? This is very misleading, as the majority of so called “open adoptions” close at their whim. Ask natural families how “healed” they are, won’t you?


    1. It’s not right for anyone to promise one thing and deliver another, Sam. Adoptive parents need to better understand the impact removing contact has on the others involved, including the adopted person.

      At the same time, I have known cases in which contact became not good for the child — even cases in which the child has asked parents to close things down, at least temporarily. So we must also give discretion to adoptive parents, and encourage them to act from love/compassion and not fear/insecurity.

      When you say the vast majority close on a whim, is that anecdotal evidence, or is there a study you can point me to?

    2. Sam, this title encapsulates my experience and I have been on both sides of the fence. As an adoptee and a birth grandmother I feel qualified to make this statement for myself. In no way do I want my thoughts to diminish the deep pain felt by adoptees and natural families when they are not able to connect.

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

    1. Hi Lynn,

      It’s just unavoidable! Even in the best circumstances, with the most loving homes and parents, issues related to the trauma and loss show up from time to time.

      Thank you for reading my essay and commenting.

  3. This is such an interesting perspective, and shows the importance of both sets of families, through reunion or through open adoption where there isn’t the secrecy piece. I am so sorry for the loss of Miranda. How heartbreaking. The visual of the funeral with no black and the dove released really touched me. I felt very much a sense of loss, but also of family, extended. Thank you for sharing this perspective.

    1. Jess, thank you so much for your kind words and condolences. I so agree with you on the importance of both families. We all have an important role to play.

      Thank you for reading my essay and sharing your thoughts.

  4. This was beautiful. Paula, I think we are about the same age, and I really appreciate the dual perspectives you were able to provide us. And Lori, as always, I learn so much from reading your blog! 🙂

    1. Hi Loribeth,

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts! I am so grateful that I have had these two very different adoption experiences. I am also very grateful to Lori for giving us this forum for expression.

      Warm regards,

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