Angela and Andrew’s Story
ANGELA & ANDREW
The first time I had really heard of openness in adoption was when my husband and I were completing our home study and our adoption practitioner raised the subject. After meeting with her, my husband and I discussed open adoptions. At that time we both agreed that anyone who placed their child for adoption should not be allowed a relationship with the child unless it was mutually agreed upon later in the child’s adult life. We felt that, when we adopted, we would want to control the information our child had about her origins and would not want any contact with the birth parents. At that time, we had no idea of how much our perspectives would change through the journey ahead.
Months of reading, research, counseling and discussion helped shed light on the open adoption perspective, but it was the insight of a young birth father that had the biggest influence on us. He made it very clear that he did not want his child back; he just wanted to know how his child was doing. He helped us understand how open adoption could be beneficial for birth parents, but we still had critical questions. Can a child handle having contact with her birth family? And, more importantly, can we handle having contact with the birth family?
These questions propelled us to examine critically what it was we wanted for our child. As our home study was in its final stages, we decided to consider some level of openness in an adoption, since a number of research studies suggested that such openness was beneficial for adopted children. Nonetheless, we remained hesitant about the nature of the relationship and its effects on our family.
Everything I believed about open adoption—all the myths, stereotypes and linear perspectives changed the moment Sara placed my daughter into my open arms. Sara is the birth mother of my daughter Alia. I felt a wave of emotion for this woman who made tough decisions in the best interest of her child, even when social pressures were telling her that she could look after this baby alone. Sara somehow saw through her own needs and was able to make clear decisions about the future of her child. I knew then that not only did I think it best for Sara to have contact with Alia, but that I also wanted Sara in my life too.
From the very beginning, we have had an open relationship with Sara. We call, e-mail, visit and exchange pictures with Sara as if she were part of our family. At first it felt like an insurance process to prove that she had indeed chosen the right parents to adopt her child.
The communication was always friendly, but I felt a need to update her constantly on any new development and, to be completely honest, sometimes I resented this third party communication. However, as months passed and the relationship became more natural for all of us, Sara truly became part of our family.
As with all family relationships, there are challenges to overcome to make the family dynamics work. For me, the central challenge was embracing the concept of open adoption and living it day-by-day. I was on board, in theory, and felt the benefits would be wonderful for my child, but I did not know how to keep thoughts of Sara from interfering with the kind of relationship I wanted to nurture with my daughter. After a few weeks, I began to realize that I was Alia’s mommy—the person who looked after her every need, and I no longer felt threatened by the presence of her birth parent. I also found comfort in the fact that Sara had chosen us as parents because of a connection she felt to us; she truly believed this baby was destined to be ours. That was the beginning of seeing our family as “normal”.
I have learned, however, to be selective when we mention our relationship with Sara to others. t is so normal to us now that I forget that most of the world does not see it the way we do. I also have become increasingly aware of little ears listening and make sure that Alia’s birth family is always presented in a positive light.
The logistics of keeping in touch with Sara are also a bit of a challenge. The onus is on us to keep her updated with photos and letters, and we know she looks forward to them. Someone once told me that the only person who is as interested in every detail of my daughter’s life as I am is her birth mother. I realize that every kernel of information I give to Sara about Alia helps to paint a picture of her daughter’s life, which helps with Sara’s own healing around relinquishing her baby for adoption.
I also have learned to take great care in planning and handling Alia’s birthday and other family celebrations. Even though we have a very positive relationship with Sara, we know that some sad feelings are closer to the surface during the time of Alia’s birthday. Consequently, under the advice of some great adoption professionals, we have decided not to get together with Sara on that special day, so that Alia can celebrate her birth without the reminder of her adoption being so prominent.
Although the success of every adoption relationship depends on the people involved, the effort made by everyone is worthwhile if the child’s best interests are at heart. There are numerous benefits to this kind of family dynamic when we all share the same goal of making the child feel loved and valued.
A connection to their cultural heritage is one factor that adopted children may feel is lacking in their lives, especially if their adoptive families do not share the same language, religion and race as the child’s family of origin. We have found that our lives have been enriched by integrating Alia’s bi-cultural heritage with our own. We do know Sara’s cultural history and share recipes, stories and language with Alia. Although we do not have contact with Alia’s birth father, we do what we can to expose our daughter to his culture.
Any psycho-social issues that a child may have to deal with pertaining to adoption may be minimized by having some kind of contact with the birth family. For example, with such arrangements children do not need to create a “fantasy” parent as a means of coping with their early losses. In this way, open adoption relationships help to normalize the adoption experience for children as there is easier access to have questions answered earlier in their lives.
Children may not fully understand why they were relinquished and adopted, but in an open adoption they will have some experience with their birth family and a context from which to draw information.
One of the biggest benefits of open adoption for me is that our relationship with Alia is based fully on honest facts and that there are no secrets about her origins. I appreciate that we talk about her “special Sara” as easily as we do about other members of our family. I know Alia has positive feelings about her birth mother because I can see her face light up when we mention Sara. I hope this connection will help Alia to be comfortable with who she is as she gets older.
The joys of being an adoptive family are numerous and I think that having an open adoption relationship with my daughter’s birth mother has added to our experience. I have come to the conclusion that children can indeed handle having contact with their birth families; it is adults who make things more difficult than they need to be. Time will only tell if the decisions we have made will benefit Alia in the long run. In the meantime, I will enjoy the presence of Sara in our lives and learn from my daughter how to accept everyone into our family with open arms.
Angela and Andrew adopted their daughter, Alia, through Beginnings. This article appeared originally in IMPrint, Volume 47, Winter 2006-07, the newsletter of Infant Mental Health Promotion (IMP), affiliated with The Hospital for Sick Children, and is reprinted here with permission.