November 21, 2008

Some More Detail

I continue to be impressed with the revocation period discussion. A lot of good points are in there. I think it shows how many overlapping issues there are when you're talking about transitioning a child from one family to another. There's a lot of worry and risk on both sides, no matter how you structure it.

Dawn's post today made me want to talk a little about what it was like to work this out with Ms B. Firefly's first mom wasn't keen about the idea of a revocation period when we brought it up. At all. There were a few things going on there that she expressed to us or to her social worker:
  1. She anticipated that the relinquishment would be emotionally painful and worried that waiting to file the papers would drag that out.

  2. She read it as hesitancy on our part toward the match itself. Her felt need was to see us excitedly preparing to receive her daughter. She worried that we were trying to give ourselves an out--that we wanted to be able to call the whole thing off if we brought Firefly home and weren't happy with her.

  3. She was offended that we seemed to be questioning her decision-making process and her commitment to her adoption plan. I did worry about coming off as patronizing. There's a fine line between arguing that the generalized experience of many first parents makes revocation periods a good idea and telling someone, "I know better than you how you're going to feel after the birth."
Ms B's social worker was really helpful in interpreting our actions to B and putting them in the context of larger ethical issues in adoption. And she also kicked all of our asses a little for thinking so much about the other party that we weren't being 100% honest. When we had reached a bit of an impasse in one meeting, she sent all three of us home with what she called "emotional homework." I can't remember Ms B's assignment now--it had something to do with allowing herself to be recognized as Firefly's mom and acknowledging that the decision about placing always needs to be re-made post-birth. But ours was to give ourselves permission to be excited about this possibility--to set aside blocks of time when we wouldn't second-guess every emotion--and to share bits of that with Ms B.

She was more or less saying, "You've made your point, now you need to balance it with the full picture of what's going on for you." We thought we were sharing our happy anticipation, just tempered by the "if." But all B was hearing was our emphasis on the "if." She was spending too much of her time worrying that if she did place Firefly with us that her daughter wouldn't be welcomed into our family with all the unfettered joy and love that every child deserves. Which of course couldn't have been further from the truth. And B's response was to our perceived detachment was to try harder to convince us that she wouldn't change her mind. Which of course made us freak out and say "if" every other sentence. Without that social worker I think we would have turned into some kind of adoption mediation farce.*

Even with all of that, I don't regret doing it. Once we got past that impasse, the revocation thing wasn't an issue. And working through it actually got us to a more honest point with each other because we stopped second-guessing what the other party was thinking. That's had an impact on our post-placement relationship, too. She knows we're not afraid to hear if she's struggling and we know we can be free to love on Firefly around her.

The thing about domestic adoption the way we did it is that there is going to be emotional overlap between the beginning of one line of parenting and the beginning of the other. Adoptive parents can't bundle up all their love, anticipation and joy for this possible child of theirs and release it only once the relinquishment is final any more than placing parents can turn off their love the moment they sign the consent forms. And in open adoption that overlap isn't completely a bad thing. It can become part of the foundation for strong, lasting relationships. But the overlap also runs the risk of being coercive and hurtful. Finding a balance between those two possibilities was really, really hard for us (and who knows if we succeeded). Which is why I think safeguards like revocation periods and impartial advocates are important, whether they're written into law or otherwise made standard practice. In this one aspect, it would have been a lot easier if the revocation period had just been standard.

* There were a lot of good things during that match time, too, and a lot of topics where we really connected, particularly in our approach to open adoption. This was just one area where we just couldn't seem to hear what the other party was saying.


Anonymous said...

You know, what stands out to me most in these conversations is the huge need for ethical, educated, skilled adoption professionals. Your social worker sounds so...balanced...unbiased. Contrasting her assistance in your adoption process with much of what I've seen and experienced, I would feel like your experience was somewhat rare.

I'd love to hear others' responses to your social worker's role. Perhaps in an agency that is really committed to facilitating open adoption, the social workers do a lot more work to have both parties actually interact in an honest and healthy way? It seems less "important", when you're not planning on engaging in a future relationship that requires the management of expectations and emotions. And let's face it, how many agencies are really working for the success of open adoptions?

You are keeping my attention over here, Heather! Thanks for the engaging discussion.

Kathy's Korner said...

I think your SW deserves a big heaping pile of kudos!!

I love that she gave you all homework and time to process.

Anonymous said...

I think that you found a truly unique agency and social worker. This is certainly NOT the experience that we're having. And here's what kills me: My husband and I are both mental health professionals, so I think we've been handling all of the interactions very well and always thinking about the ethics of the situation -- but what about other adoptive couples left to just "wing it?" I don't think we had any better options in our area, either. Well, maybe right now I do, because I'm furious with our agency (re: the other thing I told you about), but overall, they're probably on an even playing field with the other agencies, and we felt more comfortable with them because we knew someone working there. Everywhere else seemed completely impersonal. The further I get into this and the more that I know, the more horrified I am at the way things are run.

luna said...

really interesting hearing about ms. b's concerns. sounds like you had an incredible social worker to help navigate through those really hard issues and work through those emotions. I also think that's very rare. I know our agency would not really be capable of that, but I hope our consultant will, as her focus is very child-centered.

thanks for elaborating, heather.

Guera! said...

Ditto the comments regarding your social worker. She sounds like not only a very experienced professional but wise as well. I have loved reading your story.

Anonymous said...

You certainly did have a great social worker and agency!

It was interesting to read that Ms. B saw your “ifs” as being hesitant about becoming Firefly’s parents rather than an attempt to make the adoption more ethical. I guess it would make you feel bad to think that the couple you have chosen as parents for your child is less than enthusiastic! I never thought of it this way. We were all “if” this and “if” that in our pre-placement meetings with our daughter’s birthmom and she would always talk about the adoption as if she had already made her decision (which I suppose she had). I was even hesitant about being too gushy in our first post-placement meetings or letter (lest I look like I was being braggy) until our social worker told us, “you don’t have to hold back you love for your daughter. [Birthmom] wants to watch you parent her child – that’s why she wants the open relationship!”

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