When I first heard the concept of open adoption, I was skeptical. My perspective on open adoption was new and uncertain. Maybe a better word is worried, or perhaps paranoid. I kind of wanted someone to give us a baby and we would be that baby’s parents, the end. I was very uneducated about adoption at that time. Our agency required all hopeful adoptive parents to attend five adoption-related classes before approval. One of the classes was a birth mother panel. I had the opportunity to hear several birth mothers recount their stories of placement. Some of them had open adoptions, some did not. Hearing, seeing, and feeling the love and emotion they had for their children softened my heart.
Suddenly, birth parents were not “threatening.” They were loving people in a very difficult situation. I began to think about the people involved in adoption: the birth parents, the adoptive parents, and the adoptee. I believed all the decisions made should be made with the adoptee in mind. At first, my thinking was, maybe open adoption is better for the birth family. Maybe I could learn to enjoy a relationship with the birth family as well. But how would it affect the child we were adopting? I have several cousins and friends who are adopted. Since open adoption is relatively new, none of them had a relationship with their birth families. I saw them at times struggle with their own identity, in one case fantasize about their birth mother, and in several cases eventually seek out their biological families. I wondered how that would change with open adoption.
After much thought and discussion, my husband and I agreed to the maximum level of openness our agency would allow, which at the time included exchanging letters and pictures for the first three years, and a face-to-face meeting at placement. No last names were used. I remember being so nervous about the face-to-face meeting. What if she didn’t like us? What if she changed her mind? With a name like Narda, surely I wouldn’t be hard to locate. Maybe I should use a pseudonym. Even after all the classes, I was still afraid.
It was wonderful meeting Amanda, my oldest daughter Madison’s birth mother on the day of placement. I enjoyed learning about her likes and talents, seeing firsthand her personality, and feeling her determination. I could feel the love Amanda had for this baby. She explained to us why she decided to place her daughter for adoption. I realized that just as I believed all decisions should be made keeping the best interests of the child in mind, Amanda had that same vision. Everything she did was for Maddie.
After leaving that day, I told my husband, “I have the strongest feeling that Amanda and Maddie will meet again someday.” That day happened four years later; sooner than we had imagined. Through a series of circumstances, we unintentionally obtained Amanda’s phone number and last name. We called her to let her know and apologize. We talked and decided that we would like to keep communicating. Eventually, our open adoption arrangement included visits.
As an adoptive mother, it has been a blessing to have an open adoption. Madison has always known her birth mother’s and birth father’s families, so she has never questioned who she is. This fills her with confidence. She knows we have been honest with her about the circumstances of her adoption, which strengthens our relationship. When I am filling out a medical form and have a question about her health history, the answer is a text or call away. Maddie can pick up the phone and call whenever she chooses, and her birth family knows they are welcome to call too.
For us, it has been one big extended family: more people who love us and more people for us to love. Mutual respect is the key to making this relationship work. Amanda has always respected our role as parents. Now that Maddie is older, she stays with Amanda without us being present. Amanda still checks to make sure we are fine with the activities she has planned, the movies they may watch, etc. The birth father’s side of the family does the same.
One question I get asked frequently is, “Do you get jealous of the relationship Maddie has with her birth mother?” I honestly don’t feel jealousy. I feel gratitude and joy. Madison and I have a wonderful mother/daughter relationship and her relationship with Amanda takes nothing away from the bond we share. I am grateful so many people care for her and have her back. She has never been confused about the roles each of us plays in her life. She loves Amanda. She loves my husband and me. She loves having extra grandparents and cousins as well.
Another question I am asked is how my other children (both adopted and biological) feel about Maddie’s relationship with her birth mother. We appreciate so much the way Maddie’s family has treated our other children. Amanda enjoys spending time with the rest of my children, too, and makes it a point to come and visit them. Maddie’s grandmother never forgets a birthday or holiday for each of my children. My other children think of Maddie’s family as their own relatives. There have been some feelings that come up from my other children, such as “This or that is not fair.” I know they wish their adoptions could be as open as hers. I will address these issues next month in an article about how open adoption is different with different children within the same family, and how we deal with that.
I am not saying that our relationship is typical of all open adoptions, and I would stress that you should always think about how your decisions are affecting the child involved. The adoptee is the person without choice in adoption. For us, it has been an amazing experience. To read about Madison’s perspective as a now 16-year-old, read the article she wrote. Amanda’s perspective is here.
If you have additional questions about open adoption, feel free to ask them in the comments below.
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