Since we started our adoption blog I’ve been wanting to start writing some posts about where we are in terms of adoption, what the whole process looks like, etc. I have thought about sharing several different things with you about our process so far. However, I think telling you about why we believe an open adoption is the best option for our family is probably the most important one. As hopeful adoptive parents, it is one of the first things we really had to wrap our minds around.
I’m going to start by explaining what an open adoption is. Traditionally, most adoptions were closed. What this means is an adoption in which an adopted child and adoptive parents don’t have access to records of a birth family. They don’t communicate and ultimately have to conduct a “search” to find one another, if they choose to. A semi-open adoption is an adoption in which an adopted child and his family communicate with a birth family through a third party (like an agency, lawyer, or even a relative). This could look like sending pictures, letters, and updates. An open adoption is probably the most varied type. An open adoption is any adoption in which an adopted child and her family have direct communication with a birth family. This may look like letters sent directly to each other, visits, emails, or anything in between. The main component here is that the communication is directly to each other and not through a third party. Some open adoptions have frequent communication and some have less frequent. Probably all ebb and flow just as normal relationships do (and may be more or less contact at certain times based on what all feel is best for the child). What this typically does not look like is a co-parenting relationship (like you would see in a divorce situation).
Now that we have that established, I would like to share something that seems completely unrelated to adoption, but just bear with me.
There was a math program called Investigations that started sometime officially in the 90’s but seemed to make a big comeback in the 2000’s (is that how you say that decade?) For several reasons, the program was a complete flop. I don’t know the program very well so I don’t know if the program was just a bad program or if it was something that potentially could have been beneficial if executed in a certain way that was never properly taught to teachers being asked to implement it. Maybe this combined with a lack of time to give the program justice or possibly parents who were taught math in a completely different way and didn’t have the tools to support the children at home. At any rate, the program failed. Parents and teachers walked away with a very bad taste in their mouths for “exploratory math.” Everyone came away feeling like, “well, we tried it! We tried doing math the new-age hippy way and it didn’t work. It just failed. Nobody can learn like that and we have to go back to the basics. We just have to do it the way it’s been done. I mean, I can do math so it must have worked!”
I understand this mind set. The experience teachers and parents had with this program was not positive. It taught them to distrust it and others like it. However, it may not have been the entire concept that was wrong but just the program itself (or the other variables I have discussed). As humans though, we tend to throw the baby out with the bathwater.
I was exposed to exploratory math for the first time during my college courses. Like many of the parents and teachers I mentioned, I was really frustrated by it at first. I “understood” math already and this was just a different way of doing it. It was weird, it was strange, it was not right. This wasn’t the way things had been done when I was a kid and they’re just trying to change things to change them! However, as things went along I came to a realization–I didn’t understand math, not really. I had memorized a bunch of algorithms and methods for getting the “right” answer in a series of equations. If you were to ask me the reasoning behind any of these, I would not be able to answer you. In fact, there were so many algorithms and methods that I couldn’t remember them all and so I would have to brush up on them before major tests like the ACTs. Being guided through some exploratory math helped me to understand some mathematical concepts for the first time. I even did an entire video interview project based on people’s understanding of dividing fractions. (Hint: Almost nobody really understands this concept who has been through traditional American math classes). Exploratory math changed the way I felt about math–I started loving it and truly desiring to share my newfound excitement and love for it with my students!
However, when I got a job and started trying to share that excitement with fellow teachers, administrators, etc. everyone still had a bad taste in their mouth. Basically everyone said “no, no, no way!” We actually already had a program we used that was pretty rigid. I told myself I’d bring in exploratory methods in different ways to supplement but never really ended up having the time to plan or implement it (hello first year teaching & first pregnancy at the same time).
What does this have to do with open adoption?
I find myself talking to people about adoption a lot. When I start explaining to them our ideal situation or what we’re looking for or planning to do, we get a lot of confusion or worry for us and our futures. I understand because all of the things those people are thinking about–I’ve also thought about. All that they are worrying about, I am one step ahead of them. Believe me, I think I’ve thought of every scenario possible and fully hashed it out with my husband about 20 times.
The truth is most people haven’t been exposed to a lot of open adoptions. I am also finding out that some have been exposed to some negative examples of an open adoption. Experience tends to cling to us a lot tighter than reason and when we or someone we know has a difficult experience, it is pretty much all we can hear. I so understand that.
However, I want to tell you why you shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater when it comes to open adoptions!
**Just realized I probably shouldn’t use that idiom when discussing actual babies. Please know I have never thrown a baby out with bathwater or thrown a baby. Ever.
Disclaimer: Every situation is different. What works for us may not work for another family. What works for us in one situation may not work in another situation. Although I am discussing our hopes and ideals, I understand that I do not know the future or what it may hold for us. Since we haven’t actually adopted a child, I’m speaking more of reasons I think an open adoption could be beneficial and why we are hoping for one.
#1. Humans crave to know about ourselves
We do. Why else do we spend so much time finding out what Disney character we resemble the most? Or which mythical creature we would be? (Thank you Buzzfeed). All joking aside, we desire to understand ourselves and part of this understanding comes from understanding our stories–while a big part of an adopted child’s stories are (of course) his life with his adopted family, it is not his whole story. Although not all adoptees desire to know their background pre-adoption, it is a safe bet that a large majority of them do and if they are able to know this information, I think it is our responsibility to provide it to them. Some families who have no knowledge whatsoever of a birth family and no way to contact often do other things to help their adopted children feel connected and understand their roots–traveling to their birth country for instance.
#2. Knowing replaces fear
A big issue for an adoptee can be a feeling of loss or abandonment. While it is important to let each child experience this loss and grieve it, having a knowledge of and even contact with a birth family can help heal many of these feelings. If a child can ask questions and talk to the birth family, she can understand why she was placed for adoption and understand that it was driven out of love. Not knowing may provoke a child to wondering and dreaming about her birth family in unrealistic ways. If an adoptee knows her birth family, she will no longer imagine them as spies or famous celebrities.
#3. My personal connection
My parents divorced when I was young and both remarried. I love both of my parents and step-parents and siblings so much. I am grateful for each and every one of them in my life. As I initially contemplated adoption and what open adoption would mean, I felt this intense feeling to not have to share. I wanted the complete love of my child to be all my own. As time went on, I started thinking about my own life. I realized that loving one of my parents doesn’t make me love the other parent less–loving a step parent doesn’t make me love a parent less. Loving one of my siblings doesn’t make me love another sibling less. We all share our hearts with so many. I realized that I wanted my child to feel free to express love to me and Kyle as well as love to a birth family. I’m not talking about a co-parenting relationship (which I think many people imagine when I say this), but one in which a child feels free to love their birth family. I often think of other relationships children have–our daughter, Madison, loves her aunts and uncles and that doesn’t make us feel jealous or protective, but happy.
#4. More love
This is very similar to #3, but basically an open adoption allows a child to have more people who love him. I think that is a positive thing!
#5. It’s about the child
I’ve heard from so many that an open adoption, like any relationship, is a lot of work. It has ups and downs and things that have to be worked out. It may not be the easiest option available. However, I also believe that it’s important for all parents (adoptive parents & birth parents) to do what is in the best interest of the child. That may be something different for each individual child and it may even mean different levels of openness at different stages in a child’s life. However, I think it is important that (if possible) the adoption start open and go in the direction the child needs.
What this will look like if we do embryo adoption:
We’re not entirely sure. I would venture a guess that the vast majority of embryo donations are done anonymously. However, we would like to do an open adoption if possible. The family won’t be the “birth parents” but they will be the genetic parents and genetic siblings. What I envision right now is sort of an aunt/uncle/cousin type of relationship with them.
I want everyone to know that we have been overwhelmed with the love and support we have felt from our family and friends. We are grateful for each and every one of you. When you send us messages or emails, we get so much from it. Please don’t hesitate to ask us questions or talk to us about adoption or infertility. We are happy to talk about it. We also want you to know that we understand if you have worries or concerns about us–we know it’s because you love us! Thank you! We love you!