Open adoption is not about you.
There, it’s out in the open. The big elephant in the room.
Open adoption, or adoption in general, is not about the adoptive parents. It is not about the birth parents. It is about the child.
Sure, it feels like it is about you, especially when you adopt an infant or young child. The baby you have been waiting for, sometimes for a long time, is finally there.
Or, it may feel like it’s about the birth family, trying to help them heal their indescribable grief all while struggling to feel entitled to parent your child. But it isn’t.
Openness is about the child, first and foremost, always and forever. Remembering what openness is about can be hard as you travel the path of an open adoption. The emotions and fears that come about because of openness can feel overwhelming for all parties at different times of the journey.
Our ‘story’ of openness started like many others. We initially had no idea what open adoption really was and it seemed scary, almost like co-parenting. Throughout the home study and waiting process we kept thinking about how we wanted our open adoption to look— what we envisioned for our family’s future. We pictured visits at birthdays and around holidays, including extended family and, of course, in our minds everyone would be happy and know that this was the best decision for our child. We knew the birth parents would be sad and grieve, but we were unprepared for the extent of their pain and the emotions that visits would bring for all of us, including our child.
When we were first matched with Anna it seemed too good to be true. She was parenting two children already and was choosing adoption because she wasn’t in a financial situation where she could parent another. Anna and Lee (our son’s biological father), were no longer together and he wasn’t supporting Anna in her pregnancy, although he was aware of it.
Our relationship with Anna developed rather organically, with myself having the most contact with her. Our relationship grew into that of almost sisters, we considered one another family, except that I was raising her child, not her. And because of that, there were bumps, personality conflicts, and hard feelings along the way. Openness hasn’t been “easy,” but we are committed to being open with Anna and her family no matter what, for the sake of our son. We started our relationship before he was born, and I hope to always continue that, even through the tough times.
Starting a relationship before the birth of a child is relatively easy compared to the “unknown,” which, in our case, was our son’s biological father.
When our son was four years old, we were contacted by Lee’s sister. She shared some family history, some medical info and some insight into the man we never met. It was unexpected contact, but it was a relief to know his family thought of him. Our perception of this man was (admittedly) not stellar and relied heavily on Anna’s feelings and experiences. Still, we felt that we owed it to our son to be able to tell him where he came from because, after all, it was about him. We knew we couldn’t look into our son’s eyes in the future and tell him we knowingly kept his dad from him.
Because we did not know if Lee was interested in contact with him, or if it would be in our son’s best interest having him in our lives because of what we had been told about him, we started by adding him to our son’s Facebook page where we posted pictures and updates for his birth family. Eventually we were contacted by his dad’s wife, and then by Lee himself. Our connection grew from there. We planned for the relationship to grow slowly, as we needed to be sure that this new situation was going to be healthy for our son and our other children. To our surprise, we found that opening up to this new part of our son’s family was surprisingly easy, and that while he had made some mistakes in the past, he was a man who loved his children.
We thought that, since we had successfully navigated openness with Anna, we had this whole thing down pat. We knew not to promise more than we could deliver— not to agree to things we weren’t comfortable with. We were, after all, seasoned adoptive parents with a successful open adoption already, right?
Still, we were sorely unprepared for the emotions that our first meeting would evoke. The night before the first visit we climbed into our son’s bed while he slept and just cuddled him and cried (well, at least I cried!). We were terrified of what the next day would bring. Although we felt like he was a good person, what if his dad met him and then decided he wanted nothing to do with him? What if they didn’t show up? What if they did, and we didn’t have the rapport we had over Facebook? Were we doing the right thing for our little boy and how would he feel about it down the road?
Openness can be scary, even when done right. As parents, we want to protect our children from anything that may hurt them. But sometimes, you have to put aside your fear and take a risk. Nothing of worth ever comes easy. Meeting Lee and his wife was scarier than meeting Anna had been, but it definitely has been worth it. We have had several visits with Lee and have met some of his extended family. We have yet to have a visit with both Anna and Lee at the same time. Our son hasn’t asked for one yet, but I’m sure he will as soon as he hits bigger milestones.
How will we all handle that when it happens? The same way we have handled openness thus far— by remembering that it isn’t about us. It doesn’t matter (so long as everyone is safe) if ‘we’ like the choices our children’s birth parents make. It isn’t about liking them or their families (although we are lucky in our circumstances to be able to say we do!). It is about allowing our children to know who they are— to celebrate the people who made them, and invite them in as part of our family because that is what is best for our child. We try to never speak negatively about our children’s birth families, because speaking badly about them is speaking badly about our child, who is part of them. And after all, we do this for our child, not for ourselves.
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