Open: An Adoption Story in Three Voices weaves together the stories of three women as they experience the joy, agony, defeat, and life-giving moments that the adoption journey holds. This story is eye opening as it allows us to experience one adoption story being laid out on three completely different stages. The emotions are almost mirrored as one’s joy is another’s pain, one’s fear is another’s anger and life moves on in between.
This book closely follows Alaina, an adoptive mother, and Alex, a birth mother, as they are forced to make monumental decisions throughout for the greater good of the child they both love: Baby Sara. At the heart of this story, we encounter a common narrative of the adoptive parents keeping the birth parents at arms length for fear that exposing the child to them will cause them to change their mind. How could they not want the child back after seeing how cute and wonderful they are becoming? Alaina and Alex battle their inner demons and significant others to fight for what they feel is right at the heart of both being a mother to Sara and sharing that title, as difficult as it might be.
In a shocking twist of stereotypical characterization, the adoptive mother, Alaina, is the character you initially love to hate. Her vulnerability and honesty is almost extreme. Her inherent selfish nature shows that while we typically tend to view the birth mother in a more immature light, the appearance of having it altogether is not the mark of true maturity. The “sins of the father” allusion is strongly represented as Alaina seems to not be able to move past her own childhood trauma to grow into healthy relationships with her husband, children, or new daughter. However, as you might see with a main character in a long-running sitcom, the growth of Alaina’s character is exponential. The mood of the audience toward her finds it’s shift in the latter chapters as she finds herself and grows to understand the importance of openness in adoption.
While there is an inherent urge to judge Alaina for her admission of selfish motivation, there is the sudden presence of a stark reality of my own story as an adoptive mother. How would my story read on the national stage if I were completely honest about the motivation behind the biggest decisions in my life? What would it look like if someone were able to read my every thought as Alaina has? As the story progressed, I quickly went from a place of judgement to a place of admiration over Alaina’s unrivaled vulnerability. By the end of the book, we see Alaina blossom into a mature, wise, and undeniably empathetic mother to Sara and mother figure to Alex.
Open should be required reading for those embarking on the adoption journey…
Alex produced chapters of this story that are poignant and direct. While one can sense she is holding back, she still articulates the incredible pain she is enduring while remaining unwavering in her decisions. She may make many mistakes, but she is always quick to find the best solution and be sure that it is what is right for all involved. Her love for Sara is undeniable as she journeys through the anguish of placing her child and not knowing throughout the book if she will ever see her again. Her torment is palpable and her chapters captivating as she outlines having to face the unimaginable with very little support.
In regards to the format of this book, Alaina’s story would find itself better suited in a dialogue, diary, or interview format. In her incredibly successful attempt to remain authentic and open, it causes her chapters (the majority of the book) to be immensely wordy and repetitive. The personality differences between Alaina and Alex are largely apparent based on writing styles alone. While the book does give Sara, the child of Alaina and Alex, a voice, I was disappointed to find that voice was confined to one chapter. The book as a whole would be received better in shorter format with the chapters more evenly divided between voices.
Open is a fantastic read for any member or the adoption triad, as it gives one the rare opportunity to see adoption from all perspectives. It shows that there can be multiple heroes within one story. It solidifies the ideas that a birth mother can experience incredible pain and regret, while still remaining firm and completely sure in her decision. It also speaks to the notion that an adoptive mother can struggle with the reasoning behind her decisions while growing up through the adoption process, and then learning to allow others to be vulnerable without feeling threatened.
Open should be required reading for those embarking on the adoption journey as it does well to articulate the many facets of adoption. Open is an honest and heart-wrenching portrayal of the intense emotions that each person will encounter as they embark on a lifelong journey that will take them long past the paperwork as they are bound together forever by the love of a child.