Amy Seek, a landscape architect and writer living in London, gives readers an account of her unintended pregnancy 15 years ago, her selection of parents for her son, and the complex — even competing — emotions she experienced during and after placement with her son and with his adoptive parents.
At first I’d envisioned this post with a courtroom-type presentation of the two sides. It might start something like this.
Amy Seek’s Vogue Article: Defending Open Adoption
Court is now in session *gaveltap*. The defense may present its case [we switch things up around here].
Question from a reader asking for open adoption advice
Dear Lavvie: We want an open adoption to avoid a future search for birth parents by our daughter one day, and we don’t want her to have to walk this path alone or to feel like she has to do it behind our backs or without our support.
Your book pushed us to think about our triggers and boundaries. We had a failed adoptive placement prior to adopting our daughter in which we returned a child after 2½ months with us. It was highly traumatic.
We went on to adopt our daughter, now 5, and we are working through our issues. We would like to have a more open adoption someday that includes contact with her birth family. We talk openly and positively with our daughter about adoption and her birth family, and are figuring out how to make the move from Box 3 (low contact + high openness) to Box 4 (high contact + high openness).
How can we navigate our triggers and form appropriate boundaries, in light of the trauma we experienced and the issues we’ve had with a birth parent?
(One example of an issue is that we do not post photos online of our children, but our daughter’s birth parent is posting photos on an unsecured homepage. We were furious because we’d asked please not post photos.) My response: It’s understandable that you would have triggers from a failed placement. And it’s commendable that you’re willing to do your part to heal that trauma. Two things will come of that.
First, healing! Find a trauma-informed therapist in your area (see this excellent state-by-state guide to adoption-competent therapists compiled by Adoption Today magazine) and have that person help you process and release. As I’ve heard said, “what we can feel, we can heal” — which means you’re already primed for healing simply by acknowledging your pain and being willing to release it (sometimes holding on to pain seems like a good idea but really it’s not).
In addition, you’re already doing well in knowing that this past trauma may be affecting your ability to open up. You’re mindful of what may be influencing your openness-in-adoption decisions, which is a strong step forward. [see also Kellie’s comment below, her first point.]
The second benefit that will come is knowing that healing comes. This means that if/when your daughter is faced with her own grieving and healing one day, you’ll be in position to help her understand that healing can come, will come. You’ll be able to uphold that for her from your own profound experience.
At this time, I would say don’t push Box 4 (but also, don’t push it away). Focus first on cultivating openness within your home, your heart, your relationship with your daughter. This will give you space and time to heal from your wounds and deal with your triggers. As you attune to her long-term needs for her roots, her story, her identity, this very opening to her is what will transform your fear of contact into a desire for contact –the shift into Box 4 that you want to want to make (<== that’s not a typo, wanting to genuinely want something.).
The focus on open-heartedness, on being cautiously vulnerable, will also help make boundary-setting easier. When boundaries are set from a place of love for your daughter rather than fear of hurting your own tender spots, they are more likely to be more functional, effective, appropriate.
Regarding the photos, that sounds like a conversation that needs to be had [please see Kellie’s comment, her second point, below]. You can say to the birth parent (let’s pretend we’re dealing with a mother named Kayla) the same thing you might say to a sister-in-law or aunt who posts pictures after you’ve expressly asked them not to. Firmly yet gently, I would say something like,
Kayla, do you realize that even after we asked you not to, you posted photos of our daughter online? We have reasons why we don’t want pictures made public, and we’re happy to tell you why we think it’s in Daughter’s best interest to have this policy. When you go against our reasonable wishes, it harms our relationship. I’m guessing that you WANT to have a trusting relationships with us, with our daughter, so that we can more fully include you in our lives. When you break our trust, it makes us want to hold back and not even give you the pictures because we think they’ll be misused. Isn’t that the opposite of what you want?
Sometimes I take the tone I would use with a loved one (say, my son or daughter) and use it with the birth parent [please see Kellie’s and Amy’s comments below]. By this I mean even if I’m furious, my goal is not to discharge my anger but to help them find their own reason to change their behavior. To teach them how to treat me instead of to punish them for not doing so.
Rather than tell people what they should do, instead I say what *I* might do were I in the asker’s position.
I reserve the right to call on others to help with answers from time to time, to tap into group wisdom.
Please understand I am not trained as a therapist. Please do not rely on words in this space to make your own major or minor decisions.
As always, readers are encouraged to weigh in thoughtfully and respectfully. I ask everyone to remember that this is a teaching endeavor rather than a shaming endeavor, and that we aim to bring light rather than heat. It’s my belief that people do the best they can with what they have to work with, and our goal is to give folks more to work with.
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Not everyone gets warm Hallmarky feelings about Mother’s Day. While the maternally privileged (like me, currently both having a mom and being a mom) buy cards and flowers and/or receive cards and flowers, others dread this time of year.
Many of these Mother’s Day dreaders are connected through the experience of adoption, some also through infertility. Who are some of these outliers?
Women experiencing infertility
Women who are waiting to adopt or who have adopted
Women who placed a baby for adoption
People who were placed for adoption
Though the situations are different, healthy strategies for getting through mid-May with one’s sanity intact are similar (as excerpted from the book I wrote with my daughter’s birth mom, The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption).
3 Tips to Surviving Mother’s Day
1. Find balance. You don’t want to dwell on your pain or discomfort with the holiday, but neither do you want to deny it’s there, because denial gives it power. When emotions arise, acknowledge them — maybe even aloud (“OK. I’m feeling really angry that other people are celebrating what I lack”) — and release. You may have to do this more than once (ha, once would be too easy!). Maybe a dozen or a hundred or a thousand times between now and Monday, May 14.
2.Stay present and in your physical body. When we grieve our wounds, we are in the past in our emotional body. When we worry or are fearful, we are in the future in our mental body. So find something to do that keeps you in your body and present, like physical or creative activities or just plain stillness.
Move. In the remaining days leading up to Mother’s Day, plan to walk, run, hike, dance, mountain bike, swim, rock climb, do martial arts or yoga or another activity. Physical movement prevents emotional stagnation.
Create. Supplement all that movement with creativity. Write, compose, paint, draw, choreograph, mix a song, rap, blow glass, make pottery, or plant and tend a garden. Creating allows your energy and emotions to flow and not get stuck.
Find stillness. Meditate, do tai chi, or simply find focus in whatever you are doing — walking, cycling, washing dishes. Practice finding this place of presence, of uni-tasking and being where you are, of calming the chatter of your mind.
3. Connect with others. Find a tribe of people who have walked or are walking a similar path.
Infertility and Adopting: Melissa at Stirrup Queens tends a ginormous blogroll sorted by neighborhood (such as assisted reproductive technology, third-party reproduction, adoption, living child-free). Creating A Family is also a rich resource, both its site and its Facebook community.
Birth/First parents: Birth Mom Buds and Concerned United Birthparents are two of many online support group options. For in-person gatherings near you, do an Internet search of “birth parent support” plus your zip code.
Brandy, a Colorado adoptive mom, says, “Don’t let anyone steal your hope, joy or excitement. If it would make you feel good to receive a Mother’s Day card, drop a not-so-subtle hint to someone who would arrange for that.” Sarah, another mom via adoption, offers, “Avoid people who don’t understand or who make you uncomfortable. On holidays, be selfish and indulge in what you need, and not what others expect of you.”
If Mother’s Day is difficult because you feel guilty or sad about your child’s first mom (or even if you don’t), says Rebecca Gruenspan, “reach out to her and thank her. Let her know her child is doing well. Give her some peace of mind.” Being kind and respectful makes you feel good, too.
Michelle, adoptive mom of teens,advises that you expand your view from the short-term BECOMING a mom to the long-haul BEing a mom. Read a book about adoptive parenting. Ahem.
Tips for Birth/First Moms
Chanel Young, birth mom in Texas, says, “Be honest with yourself about how you are really feeling and dealing and if the situation permits be honest with the other mother. I am very lucky to have such an open and understanding couple, I don’t really know how I would deal with this if they weren’t as inclusive of me or if it had been closed rather than open.”
Ames Markel, who is an adoptee as well as first mom to a 13 year-old son, says, “It’s OK to cry! Mother’s Day is hard. Let yourself grieve, but always remember that your decisions were made from pure love. And love is a wonderful gift any mother can give her child.”
Tips from the Trenches for Adopted People
Last but perhaps most, for the children-who-become-adults at the center of adoptions…
AuthorLaura Dennis counsels adoptees (and first parents) to allow themselves to heal, especially if they are in limbo about reunion. “For anyone who may have emotional triggers about Mother’s Day, my advice is super simple, but not at ALL easy: Even if you are hurting, you can HEAL. You are not powerless. You can work on your own pain, your own hurt, to make yourself the most whole, ready, emotionally open, and secret-free person you can be, no matter what comes.”
Deanna Doss Shrodes, pastor and writer at Adoptee Restoration, says, “For adoptees who do have children and find this holiday hard to navigate with first mother or adoptive mother issues, I recommend shifting the focus to celebrating your own life as a mom.”
Cultivate kindness from within, says writer and adoptee JoAnne Bennett. “Feeling bitterness from the losses [of my birth mother and adoptive mother] has not been an option for me, but rather the ‘hard parts’ have strengthened my belief that being a caring and sensitive human being with a genuine love for one another is what is most important.”
If you’ve endured infertility or adoption, what coping strategies have worked for you around Mother’s Day?