An Open Response to Anti-Open Adoption Sentiments, part 2

Posters on a forum for adoptive parents discussed their reasons for being against open adoption. In part 1 and here, I share my responses to them (background).


I don’t understand how you believe that agencies coerce pre-adoptive parents into openness. Just because you don’t like the options available to you doesn’t mean you are being coerced. If you go into a vegetarian restaurant and are not able to order a hamburger, are you being coerced to change your eating habits?

If you don’t like the match that’s presented to you, either because the desired amount of contact or the values of the expectant parents are not similar to yours, DON’T TAKE THE MATCH. Wait for one that works for you or move to a program that offers more opportunity for closed-ness, such as other posters here have done.

Evidence, anecdotal and otherwise
Anecdotally, you say, see the boards?? OA is a disaster because so many people complain about it. Anecdotally, I say, I know of lots of families making OA work. I say half-full; you say half-empty. So what does empirical evidence show?

OA is still fairly new and, as you point out, the children of the earliest are just now coming of age or are young adults; hence the dearth of studies available.

However, here is one article about a study funded by the National Institutes of Health:

Leve [Researchers Leslie Leve, Ph.D., and Jenae Neiderhiser, Ph.D., are among the principal investigators in the Early Growth and Development Study, funded by the National Institutes of Health] theorizes that both birth- and adoptive parents become more comfortable about the adoption as time passes, and with greater comfort comes a desire for more contact.

But Leve also ties this desire to larger, more universal trends in our society. “Individuals who have participated in adoption plans are likely no different from those who haven’t, in terms of wanting more contact and a better relationship with extended family members, biological or not,” she says. “The dispersed nature of our society prevents many of us from having as much contact with extended family as we want.”

And there’s this:

In fact, the researchers found that openness significantly correlates with satisfaction and post-adoption adjustment among birth and adoptive families alike.

“You can add openness to the list of things you don’t have to worry about,” says Leve. “It almost always works out.”

She explains that birthparents and adoptive parents select the amount of openness that fits their comfort levels. “A birthmother who wishes to remain anonymous and have no contact with the adoptive family is not going to seek services through an agency that advertises itself as promoting openness.”

Neiderhiser, herself an adoptee, endorses an attitude of openness to all adoptive parents. “The more you talk with your children in an open, positive way about the fact that they were adopted, the less of a problem it will be for them.”

Findings of the MN/TX Adoption Research Project (are you reading, researchers? We’re ready for your latest data from Wave 3, underway from 2005 to 2008) include these regarding the adoptee :

…adolescents demonstrating integrated adoptive identity had coherent, integrated narratives in which adoptive identity was highly salient and viewed positively. For example, one teen said, “When I was little I worried I was placed because she didn’t want me. Now I know I was placed because she cared enough.”
Remember, this study is not studying the effects of adoption. It’s looking into the effects of open adoption.
Adolescents having contact and expressing satisfaction with the contact (45.5% of the sample) stated that the contact provided an opportunity for a relationship to emerge that would provide additional support for them. They also expressed positive affect toward their birth mother, felt that the contact helped them better understand who they were, and made them interested in having contact with other members of their birth family, such as siblings. Adolescents having contact but not expressing satisfaction (16.3% of the sample) typically wanted more intensity in the relationship than they currently had, but they were not able to bring it about. They felt that they could have good relationships with both adoptive and birth parents, and that they did not have to choose one over the other. Adolescents not having contact and satisfied with the lack of contact (17.1%) felt that adoption was not an important part of their lives. They did not feel that it was necessary to have contact, sometimes expressing concern that contact might be a bad experience for them. They felt they were better off where they were (in their adoptive families) than they would have been if raised by their birth parents. Finally, adolescents not having contact but dissatisfied with the lack of contact (21.1%) sometimes desired contact but were unable to bring it about. Some had negative feelings toward their birth mother or assumed that she had not made an effort to have contact. Some worried that their adoptive parents or birth mother might feel bad about their pursuing contact. [2006]

Regarding birthparents:

Birthmothers who were older at the time of placement were more likely to be satisfied with their current openness arrangements at Wave 2. At Wave 2, birthmothers who were older at placement also felt closer to the child’s adoptive mother than did birthmothers who were younger at placement. Most birthmothers reported feeling positive or very positive about their relationship with the child’s adoptive mother and father and were satisfied or very satisfied with these relationships. At the same time, the majority of the birthmothers indicated that they had at least some concern about whether their contact or potential contact interfered with the adopted youth or adoptive family functioning. Almost 20% were “very concerned” about this issue. [2001]

and this regarding adoptive parents:

At Wave 1, when compared to parents in confidential adoptions, those in fully disclosed adoptions generally reported higher levels of acknowledgment of the adoption, more empathy toward the birthparents and child, stronger sense of permanence in the relationship with their child as projected into the future, and less fear that the birthmother might try to reclaim her child. [1994]

Regarding your concern  about the lack of public representation of adoptive parents on the Internet:

That made me laugh (not in the funny-ha-ha kind of way)  because that’s exactly what I’ve seen birth mother and adoptee groups say about themselves — each feels underrepresented, voiceless, powerless.

Further, members of birth mother groups have said that adoptive parents are the only “winners” in the game because they are the ones who end up with the baby and have all control over relationships. Members of adoptee groups say they were the only ones who don’t have a say in the matter of their adoptions, so they are the true victims.

No one has a lock on being the oppressed party.

If we keep beating, the horse will surely die
Clearly, I am not going to change your mind any more than you are going to change mine on these issues. I don’t even  belong on this thread based on its title. I did not join the conversation until later when it became about me.

I am happy, though, that a counter viewpoint is here in case others who are on the fence about openness explore the ground we’ve covered.

Peace out.

17 thoughts on “An Open Response to Anti-Open Adoption Sentiments, part 2”

  1. Well said Lori! I can’t believe after my 10+ years on the internet adoption wagon, that we are still rehashing the same issues, day in and day out. when will people listen?

  2. This kind of hubbub makes me crazy.

    There’s a hubbub going on now in my kids’ school district regarding recently announced teacher layoffs and corresponding increases in class sizes for next year. Everyone is screaming at the school board for proposing these cuts, instead of targeting the true problem, which is that we in California keep rejecting taxation at the ballot box and yet demand ever-more-expensive services without being willing to fund them.

    It makes me want to move to Mars. So, good for you Lori, for finding the energy to continue to fight the fights worth fighting, when I just want to crawl away and hide.

  3. Wow. It seems like someone is pretty bitter about OA. That’s unfortunate. I would be curious to know what made them that way.

    And can you send me the password? Please?

  4. Wow again. Is it just that the unhappy and unsatisfied are the most vocal? And those with success stories (open or closed) just go on in their everyday life and don’t dwell on it?

  5. Hello, dear friend. xx 00
    Thoughtful post and I think you nailed it square on the head with “wait for a match that’s right for you”.
    People condemn what they fear, aka the unknown.
    Isn’t this whole open vs.closed debate really turn on the fear of the adoptive parents that the child will love the bios more??

  6. I really like to think about things….sometimes it taks me a while to be a commenter but then when I get some courage, I go all out 🙂

    For the most part (not in every case…generalizations are bad) it seems as though families in the USA are very nuclear….as in parent(s) and children. That is the whole world, anyone/relative that there is a disagreement with…then limited contact or no contact usually follows. It appears to me (although I may be wrong) that many adoptive families do harbour fear of not only if a child will love the “other” better than them, but that they would HAVE to keep in touch or have contact via e-mail, letters, etc. if they don’t like what is happening in the lives of others.
    Relationships are hard. They are rarely stagnant, and one has to move and grow, change, morph, cry, laugh, become frustrated, have joy and it is hard work…much less to do that with people “outside the nuclear”. Can people do it if they want to? I believe so, but it is not easy and sometimes the best intentions will be hard as well….maybe it appears to be one-sided, maybe it’s too little or too much….and then that’s where *I* have seen more of the venting, which then can feed into someone’s strong opinions.
    I have to say that I respect the families that are able to do OA and do it honestly and openly (parden the pun) I mentioned briefly in your part 1 that due to my adoption route, I was ready for semi-open, because I was unsure if true OA would be possible if risk factors were present and quite honestly had never heard of an OA happening through foster care/adoption. I decided to turn an early match down for a cute preschool boy early on in my journey. Mother wanted a very, very, open adoption which *I* wasn’t sure if I could even honor everything she was hoping for and due to father’s history, I was unsure if it would be safe to be that open so soon….I also had to think that I was single and needed to make sure it would work without major safety issues that would worry me or lead me to think that I was being stalked (particular case, not generalizing from foster care either). I expressed my hesitancy because of the above and recently talking to my AW from the county, heard that this little guy was doing very well in his adoptive placement and that the mother was doing well with their arrangement…..I was very happy. Every situation, every possible relationship is different and has to be worked on honestly. It’s the only way to be free in knowing that the child’s best interest is served.
    I wish I had any kind of communication at this moment via the county, a P.O. box or a seperate e-mail. I feel very close to my child’s mother just by reading about her from my daughter’s file. I pray that when the time comes (if it does have the opportunity to come) that there can be some connection be it a year from now or 20…everything is just so important.
    Anyways off of my commenting streak! (sorry 🙂 ) Sometimes I feel like I have all these feelings inside and they come out at the strangest times. I am happy to have found and read your blog. I like to read how different families deal with different situations.

  7. I’d love to read the protected part (and how did you protect just a section)?

    So incredibly true: “If we keep beating, the horse will surely die.” And yet, I think it was really important for you to set these thoughts out there.

  8. This is so well argued and well reasoned. You are a good writer. I hope to see you writing for the Huffington Post! 🙂

    Sometimes I wonder and naysayers, and wonder if so much of their arguing against adoption (some members of my family are like this) isn’t a reaction based on fear of the unknown as well as guilt.

  9. As an adoptive parent, I know that a lot of my own trepidation about open adoption was fear of the unknown. It was born out of the unsuccessful attempts to conceive naturally or though IVF. That whole area of my life had been medicalized and beginning adoption meant even more scrutiny. It was difficult to warm to the the concept of “openness” when all I heard was first hand accounts from birth mothers who talked about overnight/weekend visits and increasing demands to visit on major holidays. I never heard the other side. There were no opportunities to speak to other adoptive parents who had open adoptions at our agency. Reading books didn’t help. It was really the experience of others (like you) that taught me something. It is a relief to me to know that by being keeping that “open” (at whatever level) in our adoption is a responsibility that I undertake for the sake of my child. Oddly, I certainly feel closer to my son’s birth mother because now I know what she had to go through with her first. I think about her often and I know she thinks about him every day.

  10. You go Lori! You are phenomenal.

    But these battles are the reasons that I stopped blogging on adoption and participating on adoption boards. It was too exhausting, too draining, and too frustrating. I also find that there is often a lack of self-awareness and major case of the-universe-ends-at-the-tip-of-my-nose that spans many of the parties in adoption dialogue. It becomes about them and not the child, And they conflate the child’s needs/wants with their own. I just got too tired.

    So now I take photographs, blog about life in general, and manage our open adoption relationships with the honor and respect they deserve.

  11. Brilliant post, as usual, Lori. This sort of thing is exactly why I’ve more or less stopped participating in online adoption communities—although I do still occasionally blog about adoption. People are opinionated, yes—and that’s not a bad thing—but because it’s such an emotionally charged issue everyone sees it only from their own perspective—and I’ve found that relatively few people are really, truly willing to try to understand that other people’s perspectives are just as valid as their own. Even people on the same side of the triad tend to denigrate the experiences of others if those experiences and the resulting feelings don’t absolutely support their own.

    It’s exhausting, and my two young children have me exhausted enough. Maybe when the kids are older I’ll have more energy, but in the meantime I’m grateful that people like you are sticking with the conversation. I feel like I’m somehow shirking my duty & it’s nice to know there are people out there picking up the slack. xoxo

  12. Lori,

    I think I may have said this already today, but I’m so grateful I found your blog. On some level, the furor over open adoption puzzles me. I want my kids to have everything that they need to feel loved, secure, and treasured. If that includes access to their birth parents, I want them to have access to their birth parents. End of story. I am baffled by parents who put their own needs and fears as a higher priority than their children’s needs.

    Thank you for your powerful words! I’m looking forward to reading more!


  13. I don’t know the entire story behind this post, but I want to thank you for your anti-anti-OA stance. 🙂 My girlfriend and I are waiting to adopt via OA and, like Deathstar, I have some insecurities stemming from fertility treatment and the miscarriage that followed. I feel like my right (is it a right? I guess that’s the question) to be a parent is under constant scrutiny from myself and people-on-the-internet who seem to think adoption amounts to privileged people stealing babies from the under-privileged.

    I believe OA is a valid choice for birthmothers–as valid as parenting or abortion, which progressive people don’t seem to question–and that our agency is helping expectant women decide what’s right for them. Thanks for affirming what I hope is true, when there are so many articles/posts/etc. that seem to confirm my deepest fears.

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