One of the first issues adoptive parents tackle is the type of adoption arrangement they feel ready to accept as part of their family plan. While this might sound pretty straightforward it can be a difficult decision to make.
Many people have a kneejerk response to the idea of open adoption, one that stems from a concern about the issues it might raise or a reluctance to add that level of birth family involvement in their lives. Sometimes people think a closed adoption, or even an international one where the birth parents live on another continent, will make things less complicated. I mean, adoption already comes with its share of struggles…why add to that?
Yesterday’s post about Forever Family shared Mommysquared’s story about open adoption in their family. It gave an excellent explanation of open adoption and why choosing what might be a more difficult relationship is in the best interests of the child. Her story of how her daughters’ birthfamilies are involved in their life is inspiring; it seems like everything an open adoption is intended to be.
We went into an open adoption with good intentions, but even having the best intentions doesn’t mean there won’t be bumps in the road.
When we met T-man’s birthmother one of the first questions Miss C asked was if we’d be willing to consider an open adoption, and I’d be lying if I said the idea didn’t make me a little nervous. BrightSide and I had already talked about this. We’d done the research, we’d examined our hearts, and I knew open adoption is considered the healthiest thing for the child. But still…
Intellectually I understood the concept, but it’s still a hard leap of faith to make. Committing yourself to making a relationship work, no matter how awkward or frightened or anxious it makes you feel, is a big deal. But we knew it would be best for T-man to have an open connection to his birthmom so we moved forward in the belief that we could make it work.
Our open adoption hasn’t gone as smoothly as Mommysquared’s experience has for her family. They’ve developed a large, blended family dynamic while we’re still struggling to facilitate a dependable relationship between T-man and Miss C, and it’s becoming more of an issue as T-man gets older. He’s in this stage of self-discovery, figuring out who he is and how he fits into the bigger scheme of things, and I think this missing piece of the puzzle makes that hard.
Open adoption, in its purest form, is supposed to be the best arrangement emotionally for the child. But that depends on everyone involved being on the same page about putting the child’s needs first, every single time. Things tend to fall apart without that commitment to put all of our adult baggage aside, and that’s something I can only promise for myself. I can’t do that for anybody else, and it’s hard to watch T-man struggle when there’s nothing I can do to fix it.
Our family faces challenges on the other end of the spectrum, too. While we were blessed to meet Bear’s birth family at the hospital, that’s basically been the extent of our communication. There have been some letters sent through our agency, but Bear’s birthmother has not accepted our offers to get together since the adoption.
I have to respect that this is Miss M’s choice and know by extending the offer we’ve done everything we can, but it makes things complicated here. Bear views T-man’s birthmom as something like an aunt but her own birthmother is a mystery, a situation that’s pretty confusing. We can explain why Miss M chose to place her for adoption, but it’s painful to listen to the longing in Bear’s voice when she wishes she could meet someone from her birth family.
We walk a fine line here, simply agreeing that we wish she could meet them, too, but we don’t have anything else to offer her. We’ve explained one possible reason for Miss M’s decision, but that’s only my best guess for her decision. Only Bear’s birthmother can explain why it needs to be this way, and that’s something she hasn’t chosen to share with us.
Bear enjoyed the visits we’ve had with T-man’s birthmom almost as much as he did, but naturally those visits lead to questions we can’t answer and wishes we can’t fulfill. All I have to offer Bear is a vague hope that maybe someday in the future she’ll be able to meet the family she’s so curious about. I’m left wondering when those vague promises won’t be enough, though.
So we’re living both sides of this issue. There’s our open adoption that’s supposed to be healthiest for our child, an arrangement that’s turned out to be better in concept than in execution. Our son struggles with tough issues…questions about himself, where he feels he truly belongs, what he can rely on as real, and how he’s supposed to get to know someone he doesn’t live with. This is really hard stuff for an 11-year-old.
Then there’s our closed adoption. Aside from the occasional wistfulness, our daughter seems to struggle less with identity issues (for now, anyway). But I see things in the long term. We’re her parents and adore her beyond words, but it’s not like this huge question mark is just going to go away. If she isn’t able to meet her birth family, eventually she’ll face a difficult fork in the road: identity and self-esteem issues may rear their ugly heads, or she’ll have to accept a permanent void in that part of her life.
I know every kid, adopted or not, deals with their own hangups – being human automatically commits us to reality in all its messiness. And while I try not to borrow worry (especially seeing as there’s not a single thing I can do about it), I can’t help feeling unsettled about how having these two very different dynamics in our home will come out in the end.