June 06, 2007

Thinking it Through: Openness

Openness was the one thing I didn't expect to be deliberating as we started our second adoption. Over the past two years, we've only grown more convinced of the value of open adoption as we've experienced it in our family. Yet T and I have probably spent more time discussing openness than any of our other recent choices. It's become a matter of balancing principles and practicalities, wishes and reality.

When we were waiting for Puppy, we had a kind of "we'll take as much as we can get" attitude about openness. Our agency simply didn't do closed adoptions, so we at least knew that wasn't a possibility. While we wanted the full-blown-visits-relationship-integration-etc. kind of openness, for some reason we didn't think we had much control over whether that happened in our match. The thought that someone might actually choose us to raise their child seemed like enough of a miracle to hope for without adding more. Also, we felt that a woman has the right to control her adoption plan, including the amount of contact. So I think we figured we would just meet the first mom who chose us wherever she was at. If that meant a more distant relationship, then so be it.

Then, of course, the hypothetical adoption became Puppy's adoption, and the hypothetical people became K and R. Over a restaurant table the first time we met in person, I took a deep breath and laid out our hopes for an ongoing relationship. K said she wanted that, too, and so it began.

My desire for openness initially was for Puppy's sake. While it is too early yet to know exactly what K and R's presence will look like in his life, I am glad to be establishing a foundation for a future relationship. Puppy is the primary beneficiary of all this. But over time I've come to see the value of openness not just for Puppy, but for us as his parents. It is difficult to express how having them in our life has affected me. I feel that I better understand some of who Puppy is by knowing them. And their presence makes me more secure in my parenting role. Hearing K refer to me as Puppy's mom is infinitely more validating than any legal document could ever be.

All those experiences from our first adoption have influenced the way we're approaching our second. On the one hand, they convince us that, for our family, another open adoption is the right thing. It is strange to imagine having one child who has all this connection to his birth families and another child without that. If we believe it is the healthiest form of adoption, then how can we not pursue it again? On the other hand, having experienced the practical realities of open adoption, we wonder if we can responsibly take on another. Open adoptions require investments of time and emotional energy; I don't see that as a negative--it just is what it is. Right now we're balancing separate relationships with K and R's families at a distance, trying to maintain Puppy's connection to them. I'm glad to do it. But thinking about juggling yet another set of relatives when it comes to holidays and travel schedules, etc., honestly feels exhausting. We are human. There are very real limits to our time, emotional energy, and financial resources. I worry that if we add yet another family (or two) to the equation we will end up shorting everyone. That is the last thing we want.

That is the bind we find ourselves in: philosophically committed to fully open adoption, but worried that we won't be able to do more than one well. Where do we compromise? What is right for our family?

In all our discussions, T and I keep coming back to the fact that there are no guarantees. Most families we know with more than one domestic adoption have a mix of closed and open adoptions. For some it was that way from the beginning, for others one of the relationships drifted shut over time. We know that open relationships evolve, so what we have now with Puppy may not be what we have ten years from now. And we know that every adoption is unique, so our second won't ever be exactly like our first. But in the end we decided that there were some things we could do to give ourselves the best shot at success.

First, we decided that the only way we can do this well is if our second child's first parents are fairly local. This meant switching from the national agency we used the first time to one which focuses in the Pacific Northwest. It is only in hindsight that I see how helpful it was that we lived close to K and R that first year. I am a doofus on the phone and horrible at corresponding by email, and we don't have the resources to do a lot of travelling. Being able to meet face-to-face enabled us to establish our relationship in a way I couldn't have done from a distance.

Second, we think it will be important to wait for a match with someone who wants to go for full openness from the get-go. Someone wanting to be connected not just to her child, but to Puppy and to T and to me. To partner with us in the adoption.

These decisions seem small as I write them, but carry some real consequences. There were some financial costs associated with our agency switch. And because we are looking for someone local-ish who wants a similar level of integration into our family (and hopefully into their family), the pool of potential matches is smaller. Our wait may be longer because of that.

This is where the challenge always comes--in putting principles into practice. And the challenge is not over. There is still the possibility of being chosen by someone who doesn't want much contact, even given how upfront we are about our desires in our profile materials. Until we're faced with that situation, I honestly don't know what we will do. Are we really willing to say "no"? It is easy for me to do so theoretically, but surely much harder when faced with actual people and an actual child. When someone says "You are the family I choose for my child," how do you say in return, "You are not the right person for us"? In the end I can only hope we will do what we think is right by both our kids, the one with us now and the one we have yet to meet.

2 comments:

StorkWatcher said...

Very interesting points here!

We are in a semi-open arrangement, per our son's birth mom's request. We have no contact from her.

I often wonder if we should request a semi-open the next time we adopt, or go ahead and also look for an open situation, like we would have considered the first time to make things more similar for each child.

Yet, each relationship truly depends on the person (in this case, the main one being the brith mom). So I think we'd have to consider our level of openness on a case-by-case basis, and see what type of connection we feel with people.

But I do worry about having a second adoption with much more openness and how it might affect our son.

MG said...

Thanks for your post on open adoption. This is an area I've been pondering nonstop as we wait for placement through foster/adoption. Thanks so much for being transparent in this.

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