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Strong Back, Soft Front, Wild Heart: Two Open Adoption Pioneers on Figuring it Out

It takes a strong back and a soft front to face the world.

Roshi Joan Halifax, Zen teacher,
as quoted by NYT best-selling author
Elizabeth Lesser in Cassandra Speaks
and by Brené Brown, PhD on Unlocking Us

And, I submit, to cultivate an vibrant and effective open adoption — as you’ll discover with this latest episode of Adoption: The Long View.

Three things converged as I prepared for this episode.

First, The Talk

I interviewed Kim Court, a birth mom who placed her son for adoption in 1988, and Linda Marie Mueller, who became an adoptive mom to a son in 1992. Both are my friends, and I have long wondered how each of them figured out how to create a healthy open adoption way back in its early days, before practically anyone else was doing it and before there was much guidance on it.

Prefer to read Episode 110? Here’s a transcript (but listening is so much better).

Second, a Book

During the time of the interview, I was reading Elizabeth Lesser‘s Cassandra Speaks: When Women Are the Storytellers, The Human Story Changes. Elizabeth Lesser is an author of several bestselling books and co-founder of the Omega Institute for Holistic Studies.

Here’s a quote I pulled from the book, itself a quote from Zen teacher Joan Halifax. It immediately made me think of the different ways people attempting to be in an open adoption might approach the concept of strength. Some have an inner strength that doesn’t need much defending, and some have a brittle strength that does. I find myself exhibiting both types at times.

All too often, our so-called strength comes from fear not love; instead of having a strong back, many of us have a defended front shielding a weak spine. In other words, we walk around brittle and defensive, trying to conceal our lack of confidence. If we strengthen our backs, metaphorically speaking, and develop a spine that’s flexible but sturdy, then we can risk having a front that’s soft and open, representing compassion.

This place in your body where these two meet — strong back and soft front — is the brave, tender ground in which to deeply root our caring.

I knew that this is what Kim and Linda had been telling and showing me when we talked for this podcast: strong back, soft front. But there was more.

Third, a Listen

The last piece was tuning in to an episode of Brené Brown‘s Unlocking Us. I listened while walking my dog the day after recording the interview with Kim and Linda. When Brené feels fearful and wobbly about something, she calls forth these three qualities:

  • Strong back
  • Soft front
  • Wild heart

A thunderbolt struck me on that walk. These 3 ingredients are the same ones Kim and Linda intuitively knew to use in their open adoption relationships! Brené offered the perfect three-part metaphor for how Kim and Linda had started the early days of their open adoptions.

Joan Halifax, Elizabeth Lesser and Brené Brown are connected by the Omega Institute. Brené Brown got the first two ingredients from them, and explains the third one she added, which is at the core of her work on vulnerability:

The mark of a wild heart is living out the paradox of love in our lives. It’s the ability to be tough and tender, excited and scared, brave and afraid.

Kim Court (birth mom) and Linda Marie Mueller (adoptive mom): an Open Adoption Podcast

I am so excited, then, to bring you two women who, for 30 years. have infused their open adoption relationships with their own strong backs, soft fronts, and wild hearts. You’ll understand the magic that can happen when people are strong enough in themselves to be vulnerable to others.

open adoption podcast

Kim Court is a birth mother who placed her son in a fully open adoption in 1988. For more than 30 years, she has maintained a close family relationship with her son, his family, and even the birth father’s family. Kim is a professional writer, currently in the process of writing a memoir about the personal and private struggles she faced as a birth mother and a parenting mother in the years following her son’s placement. Originally from Massachusetts, Kim now lives in Delaware with her husband and their two daughters.

Not connected to Kim by history, Linda Marie Mueller is an adoptive mom who found herself swimming upstream against societal norms. In 1992, Linda was chosen to be mom to her son by his first mother. That very first word of that very first phone conversation — “hello” — led Linda to see Joann as a real person, facing a real-life heartbreaking challenge, and immediately Linda’s heart was opened. The power of the ensuing and enduring relationships is being documented in a book to inspire others. Linda has been a speaker and writer about open adoption over the last twenty years and was honored as an Angel in Adoption by the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute in 2012. She is a graphic designer and babysitter/chief spoiler of her son’s dog, Captain.

Episode 110: A Birth Mom & Adoptive Mom Open to Open Adoption When it was a Brand New Thing

As you hear in this episode, both Kim and Linda were open to being open. They somehow had that key ingredient that makes closeness and intimacy possible: vulnerability. Such a scary thing, but the payoffs are, as Brené Brown says, everything of true value one can want out of life.

Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, joy, trust, intimacy, courage, everything that I want more of in my life. And an armored front sounds good when I’m hurting, but it ends up causing us so much more pain in the end…just like we can strengthen our courage muscle for a stronger back by examining our need to be perfect and please others at the expense of our own lives, we can exercise the vulnerability muscle, we can build that strength that allows us to soften and stay open rather than to attack and defend. 

— Brené Brown on Unlocking Us podcast

I know you’ll enjoy hearing from Kim and Linda how they opened their hearts to the unknown and the scary, and how that paid off for them in their richness of their relationships — especially with their beloved sons.

Show Notes an Open Adoption Podcast with Two Pioneering Moms

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A new episode comes out the first Friday of the month. Thank you for sharing, subscribing, and rating this episode!

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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