Friday, July 31, 2015

When Open Really Means Closed...

My wife and I adopted our son about five and a half years ago. The adoption is considered a semi-open adoption – we send pictures and a letter to our son’s birth mom once a year and she sends him back a birthday gift usually a few weeks later (the timing just happens to work out that way). We have many friends who are in adoptions classified as open adoptions. Their agreements range from frequent contact to in person meetings. When I compare their situation to ours, it feels like ours is pretty closed. I know it is not closed in the technical sense, which would mean no contact at all, but its pretty close in my opinion. I call it closed when I speak about it because that’s just how I feel and will do so for the remainder of this blog.

For years I have heard so many stories from adoptive parents in open adoptions. I have heard about the swapping of emails, connecting through social media and talking on the phone. I have been told of visits, seeing birth parents for their child’s birthdays and even spending holidays together. For the most part, I’m told that these interactions are very positive experiences. Obviously, there are some situations that are not optimal due to varying circumstances, but I have mostly heard of all of the great experiences we are missing out because of our agreement.  Their situations sound wonderful and they speak about them with huge smiles on their faces.

We don’t have this relationship or strong bond with the person or people who gave life to our child. We don’t swap emails. We don’t talk on the phone. They have never been to our home and we have never been to theirs.  So how do I feel about all of this? How do I feel about missing out on everything and open adoption can be? Short answer: absolutely fine.

This may seem odd after reading the wonderful things I just laid out and will likely surprise many of you to see someone write this.  It will be especially surprising to those who have been told that an open adoption is the only way to go. However, this is how I feel and if I am being completely honest, I actually prefer it.

I have heard the arguments for an open adoption many times. An open adoption is so beautiful. An open adoption is very beneficial to the adopted child. You are missing out on a wonderful experience. etc.  To be clear, I have never had an open adoption, so I’m not entirely sure how it would feel to have one. The people that I know who do have an open relationship seem to like it. I also know of many who are in closed or in semi open adoptions that wish they had more. Honestly, I have no issue with that – everyone has the right to his or her opinions and wants.

What I do have an issue with (and the reason that I am writing this) are people who feel that a closed or semi-open adoption is not ok. That open adoption is amazing and everyone should want that. I feel society has decided this at some point and ran with it. Try to search the Internet for the advantages of an open adoption and you will get pages upon pages of hits. Now try searching the advantages of a closed adoption. Wait – you are telling me it’s not the same? I can’t believe it (please read the sarcasm here).

This simple search should tell you all you need to know - that the societal view on closed adoptions are pretty closed minded. In an era where we are accepting of gay marriage and the transgender community, why are we so closed off to closed adoptions?  (This is not an apples to apples comparison, but hopefully you get my point). I see the benefits to an open adoption and completely understand why one would want that. This person or people gave you an amazing gift and if they want to be part of it and you want them to be a part of it, then so be it. Keep in touch with them through email, send updates on Facebook, and even have them to your home if you so choose. If that works for you – great. However, it doesn’t work for everyone and I don’t think those that are not in open adoptions should be looked down upon.

In my opinion, there can be some red flags regarding an open adoption. Not every birth parent is someone that that you can trust or feel good about around your child. Again, I understand the ultimate gift they gave you, but it’s about the child’s best interest. Do you want them around someone who is in and out of rehab or jail, for example? Obviously, that would be an extreme situation, but I am using it as an example as it could be a possibility. Even if you yearn for an open adoption, the situation may not end up being one in which it’s good for the child.

I also personally feel some children can become confused about the relationship with a birth parent. Do they have two moms now for example? If the birth mom says that something should be ok that their adoptive parent didn’t – would they know who to listen to? This may sound a little far-fetched, but remember we are potentially talking about young kids here, so who knows what goes through their minds. What if they ask the birth parent why they gave them up? Will every birth parent give the answer that you think your child will understand? (many of these examples are actually from one of the few hits I had from my closed adoption Internet search)

The other person to consider in all of this is the birth parent. What are his or her wishes? Some simply do not want a relationship with the child. In our situation, I know that our birthmother had a very hard time placing our son for adoption. We did get the opportunity to meet with her once. She was a wonderful woman who wasn’t at the stage of her life where she felt she could properly raise a child. She came from what appeared to be a good family (we met her parents as well at that meeting). She was not poor, didn’t have drug issues or an arrest record. She was the kind of woman an adoptive parent dreams of in a birth mother for the most part. However, she didn’t want to have too much contact after the adoption was finalized. She requested pictures and a letter yearly until he is 18 years old. We were told later that she has had a lot of difficulty dealing with her decision and had to seek professional help to aid her in dealing with it. I don’t believe she ever thought it was the wrong decision, but I can only imagine how tough that would be to go through.

Am I eternally grateful for the gift our birth mother gave us? Definitely. Do I feel she would deal well with an open adoption? No. Do I feel its best for both parties in our situation to keep the adoption closed – sorry - semi-open? Absolutely.

I am sure my son will go though many ups and downs though his life dealing with being adopted. We will support him in any we can and answer every question to the best of our knowledge. We agreed to always be as open as possible with him on the subject and will do so always. We are in close contact with other adoptive families and he has many adopted friends. We surround him with all of this in the hope that it will help him cope with some of the issues and feelings he is likely going to deal with. His happiness is our ultimate goal and doing the best we can to get him there is our most important job.

I truly don’t believe there is a right or wrong stance on the subject of open versus closed adoption. There are only opinions as there is with any issue. While I always thought closed was the most comfortable type of adoption for me (truth be told – I am even uncomfortable every year when it comes time to send the pictures and letter), I understand others feel differently and I respect that they feel that way. All I am asking is for those same people to extend that courtesy to people like me.

Written By Rick
Adoptive Father

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