August 16, 2008

When There's Too Much to Say

I'm frequently asked by real-life friends for adoption agency recommendations. They're almost always asking on behalf of someone else. They know we have had pretty smooth adoption experiences, all told, so they want to know which agency we used. I typically give them my honest appraisal of the two agencies we used and leave it at that.

This week I was asked by a co-worker to give feedback on a specific facilitator on behalf of a close friend is considering adopting. I spent some time on the facilitator's website, and it's pretty bad. Like this level of bad:

How open do we need to be during and after the adoption process?

The degree of openness you have with birth parents depends on your comfort level. Most birth parents want to talk to you by phone and meet you once before the birth. Often times a birth mother wants to be able to talk to you to share her pregnancy with you. Prior to the birth you may find that some birth mothers rely on you emotionally. Often you may be the only person who is excited about her pregnancy. During the pregnancy these women’s lives are somewhat on hold and therefore they are more emotionally needy than they will be after the birth. If you are able to be a friend during this time and open yourself to her it can be the gel that holds your adoption together. At the time of birth when a birth mother is flooded with emotion she will think of who you are and it can reassure her of her decision.
(So frustrating. It's thinking like that which gives open adoption a bad name. Not to mention leads to such unnecessary hurt.)

I find these kinds of conversations hard to do by email, especially with someone I've never met. There many different entry points for a discussion of ethical adoption. When talking in person, it's a lot easier to gauge where someone is at and what's important to them. And I remember well how hard it was at first to distinguish between the unwarranted stigmas associated with adoption and legitimate criticism of adoption practices. It was easy to buy into the idea that adoption used to be handled horribly (i.e. the baby scoop era), but that modern open adoption addressed all those problems. What prospective adoptive parent wouldn't want to hear that it's possible to have adoption without tears?

I took a stab in the dark and answered my friend's email this morning. But I'm curious how others would approach a response. What would you say?

ETA: What I said


luna said...

I agree you'd want a phone conversation, preferably. I assume you did not know this facil. but you were asked for feedback so you perused her site? curious about people's responses here.

Heather said...

@luna - That's correct. I don't have any first-hand knowledge of this particular facilitator, so the best I could do was go by how she presented herself on her website.

Megan said...

I struggle with this sort of thing greatly. I don't want to be judgmental of those who choose to go a different route than my husband and I did. I very well could have been that person doing a very closed adoption if we hadn't stumbled upon our agency.

While I wasn't very keen on the excessive forcefulness of the book, I do think I personally gleaned a lot from reading The Spirit of Open Adoption. Mostly what it did was to snap me out of thinking this adoption was about what my husband and I wanted/needed. The agency isn't there to find us a baby. It's not about marketing us to expectant parents. The adoption is not about fixing our fertility issues. Reading that book made me realize that it doesn't matter if open adoption is harder for adoptive parents (though, for the record, I believe that it's usually easier than closed adoption ... openness is always better in my opinion), what matters is what is best for the child. Period.

I suppose I would encourage this person to read some books on open adoption and warn him/her that an agency/facilitator who does not speak with respect and dignity towards an expectant mother cannot, by default, truly respect the child. It's a difficult process regardless of how great your agency or facilitator or lawyer is, so you really want to find someone who is not out to degrade your potential child's birth family or DNA. You also want someone who is brutally honest.

I also struggle because our adoption is, in theory, completely open, yet in function we've only had one visit post-placement and only sporadic email contact. How can I be such a proponent of open adoption when we haven't yet been able to form a tight, easy relationship with our daughter's birth family?

Like you and Luna, I will be very interested to see what others have to say.

Dawn said...

I get a lot of these questions (via email and in person), too, and I always lean in before I pull back so first I'd say how exciting this must be for them and how overwhelming it can feel and generally sympathize and then I use some "I" statements like "I remember when..." and then I'd say, "I'd have concerns about this facilitator because..." and I'd lay it all out. But I'd use "I" a lot -- "I think" "I feel" "I've found".

Seems like people are more likely to listen to me -- even virtually -- if I can meet them on their own playing field and then own my feelings as my own, you know?

Then I finish up by saying again how exciting this again and offering my support/ear/shoulder if they need it. Sometimes they take me up on it and sometimes they don't.

Anonymous said...

Just to echo the others, this is hard. People often ask me if I have any advice or suggestions for themselves or their friends as they approach adoption. I haven't quite found the grace that Dawn seems to have, in responding. I am working on empathizing first, and then introducing ethical concerns. At that point of the process, (the early start), I don't find that many people are thinking about ethics, or expectant mothers, outside of concerns that the baby can't be taken away after they adopt. So yea, it's hard, and I find myself avoiding those conversations when I can.

Anonymous said...

Honestly, I'm not sure what to say. I think that the majority of agencies out there don't phrase things the way that enlightened adoptive parents would like them to -- and you know why? Because, in turn, the majority of adoptive parents don't know the right way to be looking at this and would be frightened away from agencies that truly promote openness. The agency we're using, for instance, encourages whatever level of openness all parties are comfortable with and doesn't do truly closed adoptions. Still...their website makes me absolutely crazy. I can't even look at it anymore.

I would encourage these people to actually meet someone at the agency and see how it feels on a gut level. We're working with ours because our coordinator lives right down the street. So even though there are some things I don't love about the agency, I have a personal connection and I always feel in the loop. In contrast, we went to a seminar run by one of the more popular agencies in our area, and after sitting there for 3 hours, I felt like I had a lot of useful information about adoption in general, but I was HORRIFIED by the woman who ran the agency. There was no way I would work with them.

P.S. We matched!

Anonymous said...

I'm just glad that someone's asking YOU because you're so with it and do use a critical eye and see all the issues that are on that website.

Better you than someone that didn't see anything wrong with it - now THAT'S what scares me....

Anonymous said...

Huh. I'm sorry, but I'm still stuck on the idea that adoption (even open) can be without tears.


Kathy's Korner said...

d, I'm with you on the no tears thing. Thats nuts. Tears just are part of the deal. aren't they? I sure shed my share.

That parargraph turned my stomach. The be her friend so you can get this adoption to gel? I feel like it all but said, be her friend so you can get her to continue to commit.

Meg Weber Jeske said...

I find myself often speaking highly of the agency we used and why we like them, while also also acknowledging that the adoption system as a whole is flawed, including our agency.

I, too, encourage people to read about open adoption as much as they can, be it blogs or books or both, so they get a feel for many different opinions and experiences.

It seems like you handled this well. What did you friend think of your response?

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