oart, and other thoughts on open adoption

May 24, 2013 § 15 Comments

The Open Adoption Roundtable is a series of occasional writing prompts about open adoption. It’s designed to showcase of the diversity of thought and experience in the open adoption community. You don’t need to be listed at Open Adoption Bloggers to participate or even be in a traditional open adoption. If you’re thinking about openness in adoption, you have a place at the table. The prompts are meant to be starting points–please feel free to adapt or expand on them.

In her OAB blog post this week, Kat Cooley wondered if there is some way to predict whether (adoptive and first) parents entering into open adoptions truly understand the importance of openness and are really committed to doing what they can to make it work. She asked readers to comment on what drives them to maintain their open adoption relationships. It sparked some great–still ongoing–conversation in the comments section. I encourage you to read the post and comments for yourself.
Reader Racilous suggested that we continue the conversation in a roundtable, which I thought was a great idea. (And for those of you who left comments on Kat’s column, you already have your roundtable post started!). In Racilous’ words:

Why has or hasn’t openness worked for you?

If you are in a healthy functional open adoption, why do you think it’s working? If it doesn’t work, why do you think it stopped working? Do you think the success or failure was about education and expectations going in? Do you think it was that your personalities matched or clashed? Do you think there is something you do or did during the relationship that kept it going or was there a certain point that it changed the relationship from bad to good? Was it a mixture of all of these things?

This is my first roundtable. Yay! I never do the OART questions because most of them don’t apply to me. Hearing from his parents once every six months doesn’t give me much to write about–although if they manage to keep up that schedule, I will be surprised. I honestly expect them to feel inconvenienced and start slipping up, sending pictures yearly or not at all.

I do think that the reason this adoption isn’t open is because of “education and expectations,” on my end and theirs. When I filled out the paperwork for the agency, I could check off what kind of openness I wanted. I had to select from the options it gave me, which were quite minimal. The agency seemed to define openness as receiving updates every 6 months or once a year. When I got to the question that asked “until what age would you like to receive updates?”, I checked “other” and wrote “until adulthood.” The list only provided “1 year,” “3 years,” and “5 years” as options. I thought that was strange, and I wondered why I would want to stop hearing about my child just because he was 5 years old.

I thought we (his parents and myself) would handle our relationship independently of the agency and of the agreement–which I erroneously hoped would be a baseline guide for contact–and it was a huge surprise to me when I gave them the baby and found out I would only be contacting them through the agency. I can imagine the agency likes to do things this way, as it might seem more reassuring to adoptive parents.

While I was pregnant, it never concerned me that I wasn’t told their last names or what state they lived in. I figured that was a measure to protect the PAP’s privacy, and once the adoption occurred, we would have each other’s information. I was very wrong. I found all their “identifying information” in a Google search, which might make me a crazy stalker, but I don’t call them or friend them on facebook or travel 2000 miles to sit outside their home.

It was also a huge surprise when I didn’t hear from them after placement. Even though I’d agreed to the six-month updates, I figured that once they’d met me, they would want to get to know me better, or tell me about the baby more often. I’m embarrassed to say that now. How disgustingly naive.

While I was pregnant, I was trained to think of the baby as not mine, and my biological connection to him as meaningless. So I can only imagine how they were trained to think of the baby as theirs. No matter how much they may have liked me, or how much of that was my imagination and their polite manners, it was never the plan to have a relationship with me. Talking to the birthmother isn’t synonymous with “real” parenting. Despite the anger I might seem to have, I don’t actually blame them. I know they are totally uneducated about adoptive parenting and they truly are doing what they think is best for their baby and for themselves. I get it.

Also, I would not be surprised if the agency had told them it’s best to keep an emotional distance and not to “bother” me and stir up grief, or whatever. I wish we were closer so I could ask, because I am curious if the agency has told them anything about me. It’s hard to believe that they would be upfront and honest about not talking to me: “After she went home from the hospital, i texted her the next day to tell her the name you picked out. :) she thought it was so cute!!! We haven’t spoken to her or heard anything since. I’m sure she’s doing great tho!!!! :) :) :)”

Then again, maybe they don’t lie and I simply don’t come up in conversation.

I get a lot of comments that say, “I hope your adoption becomes more open,” and I don’t know if I agree with that. I don’t believe open adoption is the perfect bandage it is built up to be. I would still feel depressed and angry no matter how open of an arrangement there was. Even if I got to play with him on the weekends, it would not change my regret. I do think more communication and a different attitude would make things easier, in some ways. Even the tiniest gestures on their part, things that would cost them nothing, would matter so much to me. Just something like “thinking of you” on Mother’s Day or wishing me a Merry Christmas, or sharing cute stories about the baby, or talking about themselves and how they had a fun weekend, would mean everything.

I no longer sit around hoping for a more open adoption. There were a few months where I did, and I couldn’t stop wondering what was wrong with me that they didn’t want to talk to me. I know not to take it personally now. I have resigned myself to not ever having a relationship with him or with his parents. My one and only hope is that the baby will not be worse off, as he grows up. For a relationship to be more open, they have to want that first. It’s not something I can beg for. I have a lot to lose if I asked for more contact and the answer is no, but they have nothing to lose from making the same request of me.

[Sidenote: There’s always someone who disagrees with me when I say this, and they’ll be like, “No, no, a lot of adoptive parents want more contact too, they’re just too scared to ask.” I know that’s true for some people. I cannot speak for adoptions other than mine. I don’t know about other people’s lives and how it all works. But I know my own situation, and I know they’re not being quiet to please me.]

In summary, I blame the agency for not encouraging communication. I could blame myself for not requesting more contact and openness, but I hardly feel entitled to make requests. C and L are both pleasant, friendly, and humorous, and there were no personality clashes when we met. I felt like we got along amazingly well, in fact, and hoped for closeness. I liked them a lot from their booklet, noticing how many interests we had in common. We met once while I was pregnant, and liked them then, too. I don’t believe the last part of the question applies to us, either. We’ve never had any rifts or offended each other in a manner that would close off the relationship (that I know of). It’s hard to have disagreements when you don’t talk!

One last thing before I end this monster post and go for a run (yay!). I check their facebooks from time to time. C has nothing public; just her profile photo that never changes. But L has the occasional public status and photo. He recently posted some photos of the baby, and I had so many evil thoughts. They had him dressed in the most hideous clothes: a collared golf shirt that old men wear, and bright kelly green pants! And since he’s 9 1/2 months (I read that baby fat peaks at 9 months) he’s looking like a fat little doofus of a kid. His hair is also very light, which surprises me. I have light brown hair, but not that light, and David’s is dark brown. Anyway, just in case anyone thought I was a nice person: I’m actually an asshole, and I think they’re a dorky little family. Yep.

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§ 15 Responses to oart, and other thoughts on open adoption

  • teradanielle says:

    I know these feelings, most of them. Except I have often wondered if things would have been “easier” closed or semi-closed because then they couldn’t know me enough to say I am not worthy or likable or lovable or what ever..of course I know it’s all the shits one way or another. I do wish that we had a truly open adoption (open in spirit) I think it would not have been the double loss it has been at least. To lose a child and then to be rejected is a pretty awful blow to ones self esteem…sorry A, I’m not very positive today :(

  • Aw, sweetie. I’m glad you’re coming to realize that their actions are completely without any regards for you, for better/worse. Hooray for grace in knowing that you aren’t faulty or anything.
    All of this just sucks. As a parent, I get where you are coming from. And I don’t understand anyone who doesn’t get it. Or who would dress a baby up like a senior citizen.
    I guess my hopes for you, is that you continue to grow in grace for yourself. I like this a lot. :)

  • Rain says:

    I am baffled as to why adoptive parents behave in such a ignorant way! To be fair, I’ve had my ignorant moments too….but at least I’m trying to improve. And if I were in your shoes, I’d feel just as bewildered by their behavior (and bad fashion sense) as you are. Honestly!

  • freebairn says:

    I stopped hoping for Christmas cards after about 6 or 7 years, I think. I think I stopped being butt-hurt about it at somewhere around 10. But, then, 19 years later, I was very hurt and offended that they didn’t send something congratulating me on my marriage. I sent them a letter – through their attorney (another thing that chapped my hide more and more with each passing year that we couldn’t exchange letters like REAL people!). Then when I ran into the adoptive dad at the hospital a year and a half after the fact, I had to remind him that I’d sent them a letter telling them I’d gotten married. He thought it was news when Luke had showed them my facebook and told them I’d gotten married 10 months after the fact…yeah…that told me a lot about how much I really meant to them. And I don’t know why that hurt, but it did. And even though their obligation ended when he turned 18, I would have liked to have heard from them anyway. To not hear from them beyond what they had obligated themselves to made their expressions of love and gratitude toward me in their letters all those years feel disingenuous.

    I think I am with you. I did ask for more direct contact when my son was around 9 years of age, but they very politely shot it down. I’m not 100% certain, but I think I’m glad now. I think I’ve always thought that the emotional roller coaster of seeing him then not being able to see him would have been murder on me and a whirlwind of confusion for him.

    In the final analysis, there’s no way to look at adoption as anything other than something that sucks, really badly, no matter which angle I look at it from.

  • monk-monk says:

    This is 2013, I don’t understand why adoptive parents aren’t taught the importance of it being open. Makes me realize the situation with agencies is even more insidious than I’d even thought.

    Glad you’re able to see some pictures, sorry they are being douchey and not reaching out to open up for you.

  • Gidget says:

    Ariel, thank you for writing this blog. I have read it for a while and your writing and experience is teaching me a lot. Please keep writing.

  • Harriet says:

    This is super wrong in every way. Your agency does not sounds very commited to openness *um obviously* and seems to have a totally different definition of the concept that ours did. All I can say is one day your little dude is going to want to know you at some point (you can’t hide adoption!) and you will be able to find each other.

  • Cindy G says:

    I get why you don’t want to force them to let you into their lives.
    As a birthmom myself I remember feeling like I was not supposed to be getting as many pictures or seeing so much on FB.
    My son is 7 now but when he was just 7 months old they dressed him in a chicken costume for Halloween. I still think that it will be a picture that he will be embarrassed by in the future. Just sayin’

  • artsweet says:

    I feel like an odd mirror of you! I stalk my daughter’s birthfather on FB, downloading profile pictures of him so I will have pictures of him and his other kids to show Posy when she gets older…

    I really wish – for your sake and your son’s sake – that your adoptive parents were more open and upfront with you. If I knew them, I would shake them for you ;)

  • artsweet says:

    p.s. I don’t know what you password protect, but if you’re comfortable, I’d love to have your password. artsweets@gmail.com.

  • JessLif says:

    I was wondering if you would be willing to share your password with me? I was thinking about you recently and was hoping to read your last post.
    JJ1425L@aol.com

  • dmdezigns says:

    I just foung your blog today. I’m an AP, having as open a realtionship with my little ones bparents as possible. Right now, the limitations are dictated by them and their situation. I hope it’s okay to comment. First – the last comment of the post – about them being a dorky little family. I chuckled. I couldn’t help it. And you have every right to think that. I often wonder what LO’s first parents think of us as family. I know only that she appreciates the pictures and stories. We did give her an email, a phone number, and set up a special fb page just for LO to share personal things with them in between the agreed upon updates. I’ve done our updates as scrapbook pages including what you would put in a baby book, stories, milestones, likes and dislikes. But it’s hard, I get very little feedback mostly through the agency. All I can do is keep my word and do the best I can to keep lines of communication open. We’ll be in their area in November and they asked to see LO. We’re going to make that happen. I think it’s going to be awkward and hard for us but we’re going to do it. I think it’ll be in every ones best interest.

    I think you’re right about expectations. We were lucky, the agency had their standard form but they also indicated that continued contact, the level and type, could be set by the 4 of us after we met. We could choose to exchange information. We didn’t share everything. Mainly because we don’t share everything when we first meet anyone. We’re more private people. And relationships take time and effort on both sides to build. I obviously am just catching up on your history so I didn’t read the response from them that you published. I know as you referenced that there are APs who want more contact. But if we’re honest, it scares most of us. Even understanding how beneficial it can be for LO, how much I want what is best for her only, it’s still hard and takes time to get comfortable.

    I’ve struggled with whether or not to acknowledge Mother’s Day. I did in a private message with no response. So I’m not sure if it was right not. I ablsolutely agree that more communication on both sides would help. These are hard situations to navigate. I wish more APs were open to understanding the purpose of the updates for first parents and for keeping lines of communication open for these children.

    • Thanks for commenting. I agree with building a relationship slowly–but that’s how women are coerced in the first place, with an adoption that is semi-open but a lot of “maybe in the future” attached to it. There should not be any maybes floating around, and that was the agency who put that in my head. That is who I’m criticizing here. It was incredibly coercive and not done with my best interests or my son’s, only the a-parents. You were serious about starting slow and opening the adoption over time, but a lot of people aren’t.

      I’m private too, though I would gladly share my phone number, email address, and physical address with someone who gives me their baby and who poses no threat to my safety. I get not sharing everything when you first meet anyone, but that’s not comparable to this situation, which is so unlike others. I don’t usually have babies and give them away to strangers, either.

      You were right to acknowledge her on Mother’s Day. She’s a mother too and you wouldn’t be a mother without her. A short message is very warm and respectful and does not inhibit you from enjoying the holiday for yourself, as you deserve. She probably didnt respond because she finds the relationship awkward too. I hope things become more comfortable for you both soon.

      • dmdezigns says:

        Absolutely it’s used way too often in adoption as a form of coercion and that should stop. There should be no promises made that aren’t kept and unfortunately, people being people, that means all promises need to be legally binding. It’s wrong that they aren’t. Way to many APs close things down either because they didn’t get a response, or because it was awkward, or because the first parents are perfect. They say adoption is a permanent solution to what is often a temporary problem. Too many APs use those temporary problems as a justifaction to give into their insecurity.

        I got that you were criticizing the agency and I think you’re right to do so. In our case, we weren’t her first placement. And she shared with me how frustrated she was that the previous family didn’t keep their word on updates and how hurtful that was. I think that’s part of why they are sooo important to me.

        Thanks for the good wishes. We have years to get comfortable with each other. As her life situation calms down, she may be better able to connect. In the meantime, I’ll keep reading blogs like yours, to make sure I don’t lose my compassion for her. Thanks for sharing your story.

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