As an adoptive mother, I knew I wanted an open adoption. As we communicated with our son’s birth mother throughout her pregnancy, we talked about the option of open adoption, and what that might look like for our specific situation. She wasn’t opposed to it, but didn’t seem to share the same enthusiasm for the level of complete openness I was hoping for. I was willing to respect her needs, but after spending two sacred days in the hospital with her after our son was born, I couldn’t imagine walking away and not keeping her as a big part of our life. Once again, I expressed my desire to have a relationship with her, and this time she agreed. I was very excited as we made tentative plans to see her during our summer time visits to the state where she lived.
But after the first few months, our communication dwindled. She recognized that she needed space and time to heal. I laid low, while still sending periodic emails and picture updates, but I continued to have strong feelings that our son needed her in his life. I wanted him to be able to have a very open adoption with his birth mother. But what could I do about it? How could I increase our level of openness?
To begin, she needed to know that we were going to keep our promises. At the very least, we had agreed to emails and picture updates. And so even when I got no response, I continued to send them every few months. In those emails, I asked for her thoughts on the matter. I hoped that she enjoyed receiving them, but if not, I asked her to let me know what she needed. She never asked me to stop sending them, and so I continued. After about a year, she found herself in a better place, and she began responding and communicating.
She also needed to know that we loved her unconditionally. In our emails, we expressed our deep love for her. We told her how much we respected her. We shared experiences where our son acknowledged who she was. We let her know that our door was always open and that she was welcome to reach out to us at any time.
It was important that she felt our sincere desire to have an open adoption with her. I think that many adoptive couples express their desire to have an open adoption at the beginning of the relationship, but once the baby arrives, they retreat into their own world, and don’t do much to actually foster a strong bond. I wanted her to know that we actually DID want her in our life. I reiterated those feelings to her over and over again throughout our communication. As our son grew older and began to understand his adoption story, I shared things he had said, or needs he had expressed, letting her know that it wasn’t just important to me, but that it was becoming important to him as well.
I didn’t give up. That’s not to say I pressured her at all. I tried to be very respectful of her space and her needs, but I kept up my end of the bargain. Slowly but surely, our relationship began to open up. The emails turned into texts and the texts turned into actual strings of conversations. Those were my favorite days.
I needed to be patient. I’ll admit right up front, that patience is not one of my strong points, but I recognized her need for space. I recognized that we were at different points in our adoption journey. I understood that the way I felt about things might not be the way she felt about them. And so there were days when all I wanted to do was reach out to her, but I sat on my hands, for a while in order to let her have time.
And so, if you have found yourself in this same position of wanting to change the level of openness in your adoption relationship (whether you are an adoptee, a birth parent, or an adoptive parent) these principles can apply to you too. It is important to remember that this is a relationship and relationships are fluid; they grow, evolve, progress, and regress, all the time. It is normal for those involved in a relationship to have periods of heavy involvement, and times when they are not as active. Our priorities change as life changes. School, friendships, health problems, family struggles, jobs, other children, and other relationships can all cycle in and out of the number one spot regularly. We need to be flexible and understanding of the inevitable changes that will take place in the lives of the other members of the adoption triad. And just like all healthy relationships, an adoption relationship should be based on communication.
If you are hoping for more openness, send an email or letter expressing your love and the desire you have to form a stronger relationship. Suggest some ways in which you wish this could happen. It might be through phone calls, texts, or visits, but no matter what, the best way to foster openness is to be more open yourself. It can feel frightening since you don’t always know how the other party will react to this request, but you will never know unless you try. If the response is positive, you can begin to implement your suggestions into creating a more open relationship. If the response is negative, you could suggest something that may seem less overwhelming to the person who is feeling unsure. Don’t forget to acknowledge their emotions and ask about their needs as well. Through expressing your concern for them, you may be able to come to an agreement that feels comfortable for both parties.
Work on building relationships of trust first, and then the levels of openness will most likely increase on their own. Be patient with one another. Strong relationships don’t just happen overnight. It takes time. Don’t get discouraged. Just keep taking baby steps forward and in time, you will have built a wonderful open adoption relationship.