How Open Adoption Went From Being Something I Thought Was Good to Something I Really Wanted

The more I learned, the more passionate I became about open adoption.

Sheyann Barger August 04, 2015
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Adoption was no stranger to me. Not unfamiliar in the slightest!

From a very young age, my extended families were a beautiful rainbow of ethnicities and cultures, and that diversity came to my family through adoption. I had cousins who were born in South Korea, India, Haiti, and across the USA. All of them had their own stories of how they came to be in our family, and owned their places there quite naturally. Honestly, adoption was so familiar to me that I never really realized how unique adoption truly is until I married my husband and saw my family through his perspective. Then, very interesting differences slowly came into my perspective.

Enjoying an afternoon with my aunt and uncle’s large, diverse family on a rare weekend without nursing school clinicals, the conversation began to revolve around adoption, as was natural when four of my aunt’s children were “homemade” and nine were “specially imported.” That day, two of my cousins, biologically half-sisters, were talking about their grandparents. I half-listened until I fully comprehended that they weren’t talking about our shared grandparents, or their father’s parents. No, they were talking about their birth mother’s parents. They were discussing their biological, maternal grandparents: visits, recent phone calls, gifts they’d sent. My mind snapped into focus immediately. I listened intently, then asked questions as quickly as I could think of them.

“You have contact with your birth mom and her parents?”

“You ALL have contact with their birth grandparents?”

“What is that like?”

“Do they just want to see K. and B., or do they enjoy visiting and spending time with everyone?”

“How do the other children feel, the ones who don’t have contact with their birth families?”

I was definitely intrigued by their level of openness, and how comfortable they were talking about it. I loved the idea of the kids having another set of grandparents to love them. Being raised with an extra set of grandparents (and an extra whole family) from very different circumstances had been an incredible blessing for me! Openness and maintaining contact was logical to my mind and brought peace to my heart in that moment. I filed that moment away and moved on with my life.

Fast forward four years. We’d graduated college, moved closer to home, bought a home, started our careers, and had spend months seeking answers to our infertility issues. We looked into adoption, but the timing didn’t seem quite right, so we chose to focus on each other and our careers. Open adoption was the furthest thing from my mind.

Then, in one day, I became a mother and adoption became a large, important, and overwhelming part of my life. That day, our son came to our family through an emergency placement and his birth mother firmly requested a closed adoption. While her reasons were, and are, very valid reasons for desiring a closed adoption, as I rocked my son that night, my heart hurt a little bit. We’d asked and encouraged her to consider continued contact in some form, but she was firm in her decision to have a completely closed adoption. After her court appointment to terminate her parental rights, we never saw her again.

Over the next couple of weeks, many people tried to reassure me that our closed adoption would be easier for my son, myself, and my husband: that I’d be able to have him all to myself, that I’d be able to bond with him better . . . the reasons went on and on. But my heart just knew that it could be different; I’d seen and fallen in love with a different reality and filed it away years before. When we began the adoption process again 19 months later, we definitely, confidently checked the semi-open adoption box, and tentatively checked the open adoption box. Frankly, I was more comfortable maintaining contact, while my husband felt less comfortable with a very open adoption. We still had much to learn about adoption.

Over our three-year wait, we were active in the adoption community, both locally and online. We were able to hear many experiences others had with open adoption, closed adoption, and semi-open adoption. During my night shifts as a registered nurse, after the patients were asleep, I’d research adoption. I would read blogs written by adoptees longing for connection with their birth parents. I’d read blogs written by birth mothers longing for their biological children. I read the blogs of birth parents who were promised openness, then suffered unimaginable heartache when those promises weren’t kept . . . or worse, when contact was completely terminated.

I spoke to many people who were adopted and noted that some seemed to feel a great loss, sense of abandonment, and an intense longing for answers or biological connections, some to the extent that their adoption was perceived by them to have damaged their lives. Others processed differently and, while they had questions surrounding their adoption and placement, were satisfied and at peace with their lives. The more I read, the more I could see the value and importance of the biological connection that adoptees and birth parents feel through open adoption relationships. But what about the adoptive parents? Wouldn’t they feel jealous? What about co-parenting? What if safety concerns for the child emerge? Wouldn’t the child feel confused by more than one set of “parents”?

On the other hand, more pressing questions came to mind: Would my child experience intense feelings of loss or grief or abandonment? What if he asked questions about his biological family that I couldn’t answer and didn’t know? As I spent time pondering these questions, I always thought of my little boy. Even years after his placement, my heart longed for that connection with his birth mother, and I knew that if I was longing for her, I couldn’t even imagine how his heart would also long for her in the future. She might have chosen me and allowed me to be his mother, but I wasn’t his birth mother. I could never give him that connection to his biology and DNA, couldn’t answer questions about his placement from a birth mother’s perspective—nor would I ever want to take that special role in his life.

For the first time, I feared for the day that he’d become aware of that missing person in his life and feel that loss. I feared for that day more than I feared her, more than I feared for the mythical threat that her continued presence would pose to my relationship with our son, and definitely more than I feared the foolish notion that having both a birth mother and an adoptive mother active in a child’s life could cause confusion. No, the myths and stereotypes that had been recited to us no longer scared me. What bothered me was knowing that a day would come when my child would need something in life that only his birth mother could give him. At that moment, I fully understood the crucial nature of openness and unconditional love between a biological family and an adoptive family created for one who was adopted.

Our daughter came into our family in 2012 through a very, very open adoption. We were able to form friendships with her birth mother, her grandmother, her aunt and uncle, and seven wonderful, energetic cousins. Then, over time, we were able to strengthen those friendships and allow that relationship to blossom and develop into a familial relationship. Open adoption wasn’t perfect. It was often not easy and occasionally still isn’t easy. However, openness in adoption impacts every member of our family who belongs to the adoption triad.

My daughter, at 3 years old, knows exactly who I am, who her birth family members are, and that we all love her. There is no confusion for her. There is no threat to my role as baby girl’s mother by having her birth mother love her. In fact, I absolutely adore having somebody else who loves my daughter as much as I do! I love sharing texts and photos with her birth mother and spending time with her! Baby Girl’s safety is not compromised by her biological family’s presence, even when they are struggling (like everyone, they’re human and have rough times too). They love her!

There is an overwhelming peace of mind  that comes each time I think about the honesty and answers, as well as love and support, my daughter will have if/when she ever wants answers about her placement. There is peace in knowing her biological background and medical history. There is joy in both her connection and relationship with her family, as well as our connection and relationship with her family. Now open adoption isn’t a nice thought filed away in the back of my mind—it is one of my passions, it is a fundamental aspect of my life.

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Sheyann Barger

A country girl through and through, Sheyann was born and raised in Southeast Idaho. Sheyann is married to her college sweetheart, has two highly energetic children, and is currently learning how enjoy life in Utah--in the "city." Adoption has always been a part of Sheyann's life, and when her children came to her family through adoption, adoption became an enduring passion. Her other passions include photography, reading, motherhood, her faith, camping, spending time with family, and, right now, completing insane amounts of paperwork to bring one last child into her family.


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