Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Nature of Open Adoption

Before we really considered adoption too seriously I had all sorts of ideas about what open adoption was like. Actually, I guess I just really had one idea, and to be completely honest, it sort of scared me. My impression felt a little like co-parenting and seemed sort of bothersome. Let me be the first to point out that my initial impressions were very ignorant on my part. After we started to learn about it, and the different forms that it takes, it wasn't nearly as scary. In fact, in very short order I was able to see and embrace the short term and long term benefits of open adoption. What's important to know and remember is that there are varying levels of openness and also the timing of the openness. Some adoptions are open up until placement of the child, and some remain open for some months or years afterwards. Some of you might not know what open adoption even is. At it's most basic, it means that the birth family and adoptive family know something about the other, even meeting in person or over the phone. It also means that there may be an agreement between the families for communication after placement, whether it be by mail, phone, or in person. Most important, after the adoption finalization all degrees of openness are totally within the control of the adoptive parents. If contact just isn't working out for the best interest of the child then the adoptive family has the right to stop contact.

For us, we have found that our open adoption has even changed from where we were a year ago. When we met Andrew's birth parents last year, (let's call them John and Jane) we thought we knew what to expect. What has transpired hasn't been better, or necessarily worse, just different. At the time John and Jane weren't too sure about how much contact they would want to have later. They were mature enough to know that their needs and desires may change over time. We promised that we would never ask for more contact than they were willing to live with. At the time, as per the recommendation of our agency, we agreed to provide monthly pictures for the first year, then 3 times a year until Andrew is 18. We also agreed to in-person visits at 3 months and then every 6 months.

Our situation was a little different in that Andrew was born a month early so our attorney hadn't had a chance to draft our contact agreement. John and Jane agreed to sign termination papers before the contact papers were ready. However, very shortly after Andrew's birth John and Jane split up, and have since divorced. Due to some actions on the part of John, both our social worker and attorney advised us not to have any sort of contact agreement with him. So, our contact agreement is solely with Jane. We haven't seen John since leaving the hospital almost a year ago. We also have not provided him with any pictures or letters. However, each month I have carefully and thoughtfully prepared a package for Jane and we last met with her in December.

I've thought quite a bit about how all of this will affect Andrew as he grows up. I want him to have positive feelings about John and Jane. I want to be able to tell him about how much they loved him and cared about him having a good life, one that they felt unable to provide for him. I know in my heart that this is true of Jane, after all, we spent a lot of time together and talking before Andrew was born. Also, our visit in December was wonderful, Jane is so proud of her decision to place him with us. As to be expected, Jane has taken steps to get on with her life. She has remarried and moved out of state. So, it's seeming pretty unlikely that she will be calling the agency to set up a visit now, or anytime soon. I feel like the more time passes the less likely it will be. However, when he learns the details (the ones I haven't shared here) I worry about how it will make Andrew feel. I want to protect him.

Something unexpected happened yesterday. B was home, so I left Andrew with him while I ran an errand to the drug store. I usually go through the drive thru to pick up prescriptions, but since Andrew was at home I went inside since I had some other shopping to do. I shopped for several minutes, before finally making my way with a shopping cart back to the pharmacy. There were a couple of people milling around the counter, as if they were waiting for something. I really wasn't paying attention since I was still shopping around. Eventually I looked towards the counter and saw the guy in profile. Something looked familiar, but my gaze continued to scan along the counter. He turned the rest of the way around and I caught his eye. He recognized me in the quick second before I recognized him. Before I could even think to say anything he and the girl had high-tailed it out of the store. It was John.

It really bothers me that he didn't want to talk to me. I'm sure he has no idea about what I do or don't know about what has happened with him since we last saw him. I had no desire to bring up any of that. I had no desire to ask anything of him. I just wanted him to know that Andrew is wonderful, and we have been so very blessed to have been chosen to be his parents. The fact that he ran away makes me feel like he doesn't care, like he was rejecting Andrew. That's not what this adoption was supposed to be like. It makes me a little sad. OK, a lot.

So, I guess what I'm trying to say is that the nature of open adoption can change over time. A year ago I thought it was all about what would be good for Jane and Andrew. Now I realize that I have a part in it as well, that I'm missing out. Right or wrong, I don't know. What I do know is that it is likely that my ideas about open adoption will evolve as we continue to go through it. And don't get me wrong . . . I'd do it again in a heartbeat!


  1. thats weird that he left so quickly, wonder what he told the person he was with about how he knew you?

  2. That is so weird that he left so quickly. I think I would be hurt, also.

    I worry about running into chipmunk's bm around town. We've only met once, so I hope that if we do meet around town that it won't be weird or uncomfortable. We haven't seen each other so far, but it's definitely a possibility.

  3. I like hearing about this. We were really close to going the adoption route and I was exploring adoption through social services, which is almost always open. So it is interesting to me to see the road I could have been traveling. Sounds like John has some issues to resolve. I hope he is able to be there for Andrew when Andrew needs/wants him.

  4. Thanks for sharing about open adoption, I have kind of wondered how it all works.

    As far as John ignoring you, I know it felt strange, but it may have to do with the girl he was with. She may not know about Andrew and he didn't want to explain to her how he know you.

    With my situation, my bio-mom left when I was 7 and wanted very little do with us. I realize now that she was probably embarrassed by her inability to be the kind of mom she felt her kids deserved. John may be experiencing similar feelings, which could be another reason he didn't talk to you at the store.

  5. You are such an incredibly generous person. I am sure that the way you treat Jane with such thoughtfulness and concern helps her to know that she made the right decision in choosing you and Brian to be Andrew's parents. Hopefully John will become more comfortable with the situation in time. And as for Andrew, he'll grow up with a mom who always puts his best interests at the forefront of all her decision making. How great is that!

  6. Thank you for such an interesting insight into open adoption. I have no experience with adoption in any capacity and have always wondered why people choose open as opposed to closed. I always saw it in the selfish manner of "well, he/she is mine now... you gave them up. You have no rights anymore" It never occurred to me that keeping some contact might actually be beneficial to the child. I guess if I was adopted, I would want to know who my parent were and how they could give me up. Thank you for shedding light on that side of it.

  7. That must have been uncomfortable. I'm sorry about how things played out when you saw him and I hope that you will at least be able to maintain contact with his birthmom in the future.

    We are lucky to still have a pretty good relationship with both birthparents, but I often wonder how that will evolve over time as they live their lives, go to college, grow up, get married, have more children, etc. You can't have any idea how it will all play out, but I feel blessed for what we have today.

  8. It's so interesting, sorry, watching and reading, because while I find him taking off a little odd, maybe he also just panicked? Maybe HE feels like shit, and didn't know what to do? Yet it all is just how it has to be - you can't force any of it, so you roll with how it's worked.

  9. Brenda from CA10:21 AM

    Chris... don't take it personally how John reacted. He probably was embarrassed for you to see him after his divorce from Jane. He may decide later to apologize for running off.

    I am extremely happy that instead of being another child of divorce, Andrew has two wonderful, loving parents that will give him the best chance of becoming a compassionate, loving adult (sooner than you think, time flies!) I think that having the open adoption was still a good choice. Andrew has the option of knowing his birth parents and being able to ask questions about the genetic part of him. Remember, you are responsible for the nurturing part which I think, as a psych major, much more important to his well-being.

  10. i love being able to learn so much about adoption. I am glad you are so open and honest.

    I LOVE that clock! I think that is hilarious!

  11. Wow, this is so intresting to me to learn about adoption and the types of adoption out there.
    I love that you prepare a package for Jane with care. Thats gotta be bitter sweet to you.
    Andrew is very lucky to have you as a mommy!

  12. Thank you for explaining this. I didn't know how "open" open meant.

    I'm sorry John reacted the way he did. That had to have been hard to handle.

  13. Extremely insightful. I just wanted to let you know that I still read just don't comment as much any more.