Sunday, September 6, 2015

There is Open Adoption and then there is us...

I am sitting here typing this as I listen to laughter coming from the living room. It is almost 1am and my wife and Kelvin’s birthmother are sitting on the couch giggling.  Kel went to sleep 5 hours ago, but there they are telling stories and talking about Kelvin’s birth, how fast he has grown, and life in general.  Tomorrow night, my wife will be sitting on that same couch with one of her best friends from college.  This will be with a woman she has known for about 15 years and has been through hell and high water with.  But the laughter will be the same.  This is what “Open” adoption is in our household.

When we started researching adoption, we had never heard about “Open Adoption.”  Talking to a close friend of ours from Washington state, he mentioned casually that he had 4 adopted children in varying stages of “open”. We spent long hours talking to he and his wife about it and were fascinated.  Like most, we were a little apprehensive at first, but the way they explained it made so much sense.  When we decided to really start down a path of adoption, we connected with a work colleague to ask about her experience with her agency and the process.  She was a meticulous project manager so we knew she would be able to tell us everything about what steps come in what order and what the cost was.  We were surprised when she told us her adoption was also “open.”  After long discussions with an agency and each other, we decided that this felt right to us.

When we began attending meetings with the agency who helped place Kelvin, they explained an “open adoption” as an adoption where there was contact and communication with the birthparents.  This was usually indirect, managed through letters and pictures that are sent to the agency and then forwarded on to the birthparents.  It sounded weird sending information through a proxy, but we were assured that this was the most typical form of open adoption and would give both the adoptive parents and birthparents ease of mind.  If we wanted a more open adoption, the agency held a once a year picnic where adoptive parents and birthparents could meet in a safe environment with agency staff present to help with any issues.  The first vision in my head was visiting someone in prison with guards standing around.  To be honest, we have been to these picnics and they are not like a prison but are very nice and a lot of fun.  But still, this felt strange.

So that was “open.” We learned that some families want more direct contact and even court mandated contact.  As the adoption was in Pennsylvania, we were asked on our profile key if we were willing to accept legally enforced visitations.  The profile also asked how many visitations we were willing to commit to as a “social contract” having no actual legal binding.  My wife didn’t even hesitate to write 12.  I was a little more reticent thinking that this could involve cross country travel.  We compromised at 6.  When we turned our profile key in, the agency asked us if we were sure and recommended we really think about what we were willing to do. We were sure and they again asked to make sure we weren’t just saying we were willing to be “OPEN” (yes, they stressed the whole word) so we would be more attractive to birthparents.

The reasoning is simple, there are people unfortunately that claim they want to be more “OPEN” so that they can be seen by more birthparents.  While I am sure this does happen, it is probably a very very small minority of potential adoptive parents that would claim to want true openness as a ruse to increase their chances of adoption. More common is adoptive parents who promise openness only to change their minds and become more distant. There are stories all over the internet and even in adoption circles of families that disappear from the social contract.

We were committed to being truly “Open.”  What happened is not something we thought possible.  We met both the birthmother and birthfather and immediately knew we didn’t want an intermediary.  We shared last names, phone numbers, and emails at the first meeting.  As the adoption moved forward, we kept in constant contact with both of them and their families.  The agency told us this was unusual and the best possible outcome. We agreed about the outcome, but felt like this is exactly what we wanted.  We signed the agreement for 2 visits per year for each of the birthparents (they were not together or even living in the same state by the time Kelvin was born).  We see them all the time and email or text almost daily.  Ok, my wife emails or texts almost daily as it is more her way. I’m lucky if I talk to my family once a month, much less once a week or close to daily.  We also run a private blog where we update pictures every day. Not once a month or on holidays – every single day since Kelvin was born there is at least 1 new picture and usually more like 10.  They look at the blog as do their families.  When a picture is really great, we get emails and texts from the whole family from our parents and siblings to Kelvin’s birthparents and their parents and siblings.

So I sit here and laugh thinking back and realizing that my wife nailed it the first time.  We see the birthparents at least 12 times a year and probably way more.  And she is sitting out in the living room laughing with Kelvin’s birthmother as if they were the oldest of friends.  All I can do is be thankful that the birthparents and their families are such amazing people and that we have all welcomed each other with open arms.  And it saddens me a little to think of all the families: birthparents, adoptive parents, and most importantly the adoptees who don’t get to experience this sense of a greater family.  But as for our extended family, I can’t help but smile.

Written By Noah
Adoptive Father
Group Member

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