I've been yearning lately for a common narrative of open adoption, even though I know such a thing is probably impossible. Not that all our stories would be identical, but that I would finally discover some shared tread running through them. Some means by which I can measure my own experience of it as an adoptive parent. There's lots and lots of research I can turn to for data. There are books I can read about the how and why of open adoption. But I haven't been able to grab hold of a satisfying story of open adoption, if that makes any sense. (I have hope for this new collection, but I don't have a copy yet.) I haven't developed a sense of our collective experience as adoptive parents in open adoptions, if even there is one.
There seems to be a standard formula to telling your story as an adoptive parent that goes something like this: Choose one from column A (was infertile/always wanted to adopt), one from column B (preparation process was hard/flew through the prep work), one from column C (waited a long time/hardly waited at all). Conclude with some form of "once my child was finally in my arms it was worth it." I've certainly used it myself. You see it in almost every written piece about adoption, which frankly renders most them pretty boring.
The one advantage of an ubiquitous formula like that is that it is easy to sort the data. After you hear it used again and again, you start to develop a picture of what a "normal" experience of the adoption process looks like. You pick up on what elements or emotions are fairly common to everyone, whether adopting internationally or domestic. Bits which are unique stand out. When I hear a fairy-tale or nightmare version, I can say pretty confidently that it doesn't represent the norm. Having that baseline helped me interpret my own experience. It enabled me to be deliberate as we moved through the adoption process, conscious of what I wanted to do differently. I also found it encouraging in rough spots to know that others had been there before me, that what I was feeling was natural.
I often see those of us in open adoptions trying to wrestle our stories into that formula, but it just doesn't work. After all, the formula ends with the child's placement, which is merely the jumping off point for openness. It's like trying to learn about marriage from Disney movies, which never make it past the wedding. We might describe the amount of contact we have, or summarize its quality, but it doesn't really say much about what is actually going on for us over the years. I know so much about the logistics of many families' open adoptions, and so little about what it has been like to live in the middle of them.
I think my inability to see a common thread is what is behind the mixed reactions I've had recently to major media pieces on open adoption. Usually I don't have trouble forming an opinion when the media touches on an issue close to my heart. But it hasn't been the case lately. Take the recent Los Angeles Times series, for instance. I appreciated the article's honesty. I could relate the story to my own experience at certain points. But I struggled to know how to interpret it. Was this family's story an anomaly? A product of their era? A more intense version of a common experience? A typical example?
I'm not sure where I'm going with this, other than to encourage those of you who are sharing your stories to keep sharing them. Write about what it is really like, as much as you can without invading people's privacy. I know I need to read that. I think many of us do.