May 16, 2007


Pop quiz! There is a lawyer in my state who arranges domestic infant adoptions. Her standard "offer" to first parents is a single post-adoption meeting in which they will be allowed to view their child and his/her adoptive parents from across a restaurant. How does this lawyer describe the adoptions she facilitates?

(a) open
(b) semi-open
(c) closed
(d) cruel

If you guessed (a), you're correct!

I've been feeling lately that I need some different labels for open adoption. (Because what the adoption world really needs is more labels.) On the one hand, "open adoption" has been so co-opted at this point that it is used to describe almost anything (see above). It takes some reading between the lines to figure out just what is meant in a given situation. On the other hand, "open" is too narrow a descriptor in some situations. I believe an adoptive family can have an open approach/attitude toward adoption even if they currently don't have contact with first parents--openness in what may technically be a closed adoption.

Many times people try to quantify the level of openness. It's not just an open adoption, it's very open or completely open or pretty open. I'm uneasy about assigning myself a degree of openness. Puppy is still so young, and I think all of us parents are growing into our relationships with one another in a natural way. Also, I think such qualifiers imply a ranking of sorts: more open must necessarily mean better, even though "more" has never been defined. There are so many variables that affect what an open adoption actually looks like day-to-day; what is possible (or appropriate) in one situation may not be in another. And what seems very open to one person can seem much less so to someone else.

Technically, our family is in the category of "open adoption with visits." I've never liked the phrase; it sounds so formal and stiff. And, again, the emphasis on the visits says nothing about the daily reality of how adoption is approached.

"Child-centered open adoption" comes closer. It describes our philosophical core: mutual partnership of parents for the benefit of the child. We try to base our choices right now not on our own comfort levels, but on what is in Puppy's best interests. However, I'm not sure how well it conveys that idea to people who aren't familiar with the term. After all, the general public's understanding of adoption tends to be that it is always in the child's best interests

One label I've seen in a few scattered places is "integrated adoption." I like what it conveys. It makes the openness about more than sharing names or medical histories. It's about integration of families and identity. And it's fairly easy for people to understand: we're trying to integrate Puppy's first family into our family life; they are doing the same with us. That can be through face-to-face contact, but also how we talk about one another, who we include in our definition of "family," whose pictures are on the walls and in the albums. It's not just about the number of visits or calls, but the smaller choices by which we include his first family into our family. I also like that it can be shared with those in closed adoptions or international adoptions who are also integrating first parents into their family identity, limited as that option may be by circumstances or distance.

That term is working for me right now; I may try it on for awhile. Puppy's is an open, integrated adoption. Let's see the aforementioned lawyer try to apply that label to her adoptions.


Anonymous said...

I use fully open when I want people to understand that I have visits. Integrated makes me think about creating integrated units to teach, but it could grow on me.

Tammy said...

Integrated definitely has possibilities for sure. I'm with you though. I define open adoption in a pretty limiting way which means that I've stopped (with a heavy heart) calling our adoptions open. Even though that is what we intended and committed to when our kids were placed with us. But their First Families are choosing not to be a part, only in a limited and very passive way.

I appreciate your perspective and have added you to my blogroll. Hope that is okay.

Heather said...

Tammy, of course it's okay! I've enjoyed getting into your family's story as well over at your blog.

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