Category Archives: Open Adoption

Open Adoption Lost and Found

Writing prompt from Lost Daughters for NAM: For those who have searched for birth family, talk about the impetus that lead you to search, the emotions leading up to making contact, and the reactions of those family members you found.
For those who have been found by birth family, talk about your emotions upon being contacted and your response to the person who found you.
For those who have not searched nor have been found, talk about whether or not you feel you ever will search and the reasons for your choice.

These questions aren’t exactly conducive to being answered by an adoptee from open adoption (in my situation anyway), but I want to try to answer the prompt for today.

I was 4 years old when I first remember seeing my mom. I had actually only been separated from my mom 3 years prior when I was just shy of a year old. I’m sure I had prominent memories of her, but sadly, I couldn’t remember them then and I don’t remember them now. I keep focusing on that word, “found.” I guess the implication is that I had been lost during that time we were apart. That doesn’t accurately describe it though.

I felt as though I had been given responsibility to keep up with something that I had failed to keep sight of. I was a 4 year old wandering through life looking for something.
LostandFound
My lack of ability to keep up with what I had been given wasn’t something that I fully realized. It’s like losing all of your traditions. You just know that something that was everything, the meaning, the importance of life, is now gone. Someone asks, “What is it you’ve lost.” And you try to explain, “Well, it’s this thing that used to occur. It was important because it defined everything about me. It doesn’t happen anymore. But I can’t stop looking for it. I’ve been careless and now it’s gone.”

Except 4 year olds don’t have the language to explain that it wasn’t a thing.

“I wish I had a sister,” was the best I could do.

I’m sure I recalled my sisters. Somewhere in my memory I could see the faint images of us playing or fighting or singing together – that tradition I had lost. I said, “I wish I had a sister” so many times that my adopter finally had enough of it and blurted out that I did have a sister. In fact I had 2.

Something found.

So yes, maybe I had been lost. But more than that, I had lost something. Something important. And when that something important walked into the place where I had been looking for it for 3 years, everything went to shades or orange and red, warmth and sunshine. So that is my memory of seeing my mom for the first time. Sunshine.

She radiated tenderness, calmness, sweetness, softness. It was the first time I ever liked the sound of my own name. In her presence, I felt steady, embraced, loved, accepted – it felt like there would be nothing I could do wrong.

To be young and stupid.

So to answer the question, “my emotions upon contact?” I felt like I could stop looking and stop blaming myself for losing. I found what I had lost.

A Letter Never To Be Sent

My mom tells a story of a letter she received from me when I was young. I’d requested to play 20 questions with her only I wanted it to be 100 questions. In my letter I proceeded to ask all the questions that crowded my small mind. Like always, I wanted too much. I expected too much. I was asking for too much.

She never replied. Now she wonders if not answering was a catalyst for me cutting off our contact for so many years. (It wasn’t)

I want to play 100 questions again. I can’t know if my questions today are the same as those I asked all those years ago, but these are the ones in my letter today. A letter that will never be sent.

Dear Mom,

I love you so much and I have so many questions. I fear that asking you to answer these things will take you on a journey back to a time you’d rather forget for many reasons. Regardless, these are the things that weigh on my mind.

What was it like when you were pregnant with me? Was it a similar pregnancy to those of my older sisters? Every time I see a woman who is pregnant, my mind wonders what it may have been like for you. I don’t know if there was a portion of your pregnancy that was ever celebrated. Did you stay inside as much as possible to avoid questions from strangers? When did you first feel me moving in your belly? Was each movement a reminder of our impending separation? Or were you still considering keeping me at that point? Did anyone give you any gifts when you were expecting me? Did anyone offer to help you keep me?

What was it like on the day I was born? How did you know you were in labor? Who took you to the hospital? Did labor last (what felt like) forever? Were the nurses nice to you? What was it like when I was born? Did I cry? Was I silent? Did you hold me? Did you cry? Or did you fall asleep? I know I’m asking you to remember so much and it’s hard to remember small details when a person is in crisis mode, but I’m asking, was it a sunny day? How much hair did I have? Did we stare at each other? Did you sing to me? Where were my sisters when I was born? Did I get to see them? Did anyone take any pictures? Did anyone bring you anything? Flowers? A blanket for me? Did anyone offer to help you keep me? Anyone at all?
baby-holding-hand-847820_640
Did you nurse me? Did you feed me formula? I don’t mind either way. I was just wondering. I know you changed your mind about giving me away while we were still at the hospital. I saw it in the social worker’s report. At that moment you changed your mind, did you feel at peace? Scared? Did you feel like you could hold me more after that? Did you feel more bonded to me? Like you could let yourself go? Was I a happy baby? My little girl only cried when she needed something like a bottle or to be changed. Was I like that? Was I a calm baby? Or did I demand too much?

Between the social worker’s report, what you’ve told me and what others have told me, I’m a little fuzzy on where I spent my first few months, but I know that you and I were reunited when I was about 5 months old and we stayed together until I was 11 months. Can you tell me, exactly what happened that made you decide you couldn’t do it anymore, you know, mother me? Was it anything about me that was too much work? (Most likely you are going to say no, but I ask that question honestly wanting an answer. Some kids are difficult.) Or was it just too much to mother 3 kids? Who was helping you at the time besides your mom? Was anyone making it easier?

The day we were separated permanently … the day I was taken, what was it like? Sunny? Rainy? Cold? It was December. Was it snowing? Did you have a Christmas tree? I know you probably didn’t.

Did you get me dressed to leave? Were you crying? Was I? Were my sisters? Did they even understand what was happening? What was the last thing you said to me? Did you give me something to hang on to that smelled like you? Did you send any of my toys with me? Did I have any toys? Did anyone take a picture of us? Did you watch us drive away? Did anyone in your family or any neighbors at the motel or your work or church offer to help you keep me? If they did, did you think you couldn’t ask for the help? Did people make you feel ashamed?

After I was gone, what did you and my sisters do? Did you try to get your mind off it (me)? Did you feel like your heart had been ripped to shreds or did you feel at peace that one more problem had been solved? Did you wonder the same about me? Did you think having my physical needs met or having more things would make up for the loss of you and my sisters? Did you know that on that day, I lost my world? Did you know that it is a loss that I will never recover from? Did you know that I will forever carry that loss and that it impacts me daily? Did you know that I will forever be obsessed with your love? Did you know that simply being in your presence makes me feel anxious like a school girl with a crush, but not secure as to whether the other person feels the same? Each time I see you, I’m not sure if it’s butterflies in my stomach or if it’s my heart breaking once again.

I’m sorry that I’ve asked too many questions and once again wanted too much.

As always, you have my continued love and adoration.

Your daughter,

Kat

My Favorite Word

Why do I turn every love song into a song about her?

Every broken hearted melodic tune
Cracks in the mirror
Tears on a pillow
My heart is blood stained

We have the same hands
Did we ever touch?
We have the same eyes
Did we even look at each other?

Imagination
Runs away
And I turn away
From images that never existed

The phone rings
Butterflies

Words
That cannot be spoken
Because they were never spoken
Though I long to hear

Heal thyself
So I do
But there’s no love at the bottom of a bottle
The broken hearts say

Shouldn’t it be a different love I’m searching for?

At least there’s other fish in the sea
Except when there’s not

We never touched
She never looked at me
She’s not in a love song
I got left
My heart hurts
When I let it

Numb is my favorite word

Open Adoption vs Closed Adoption

I was raised in open adoption and write about the issues in open adoption often. Sometimes I’m asked if I think it would have been better to have been raised in closed adoption. Open adoption vs closed adoption – which would have been better?

Open Adoption vs Closed Adoption – Which is better?

I’ll say right up front that I think we have to be very careful about painting certain “types” of adoption as better / worse or more / less harmful. Closed adoption hasn’t had a good track record so the adoption industry has attempted to give us a new and improved adoption called open adoption. My personal feelings are that as more voices go public about their experience within open adoption, it will not be so shiny and new after all. At that point, we’ll have an even more new and improved version that the adoption industry will sell. Any time a person stands to make money from adoption, he or she will continue to modify the existing portrait of what adoption looks like to make it seem more attractive.

So is open adoption better? The adoption industry will point you to studies, books and examples that will have you believe it is. They also stand to make money off your believing in that. They want you to believe that if you are in an open adoption and it isn’t working, it’s because you’re doing it wrong. You should be less open. You should be more open. You should have waited for the right age of the adoptee or the right level of maturity. You should be more flexible. You should be less emotional. You should talk to your adoptee about it more … or less.

Adoption industry spin knows no bounds. You can cut off one head and three more grows. I will not mislead you into believing certain “types” of adoption are better than others. Any word that we put in front of ‘adoption’ is still adoption.

Open Adoption Benefits

There are two clear benefits to open adoption.

    1. The adoptee will not need to do an extensive search for his/her family. This is a huge reason ALL adoptions should be open – at least to the extent of the adoptee knowing the names of his/her family including aunts/uncles and cousins. This is also important to prevent unknowingly developing sexual relationships with genetic relatives.
    2. The adoptee and the adoptive parents have access (and should pursue) updated medical records.

These are lifesaving and wellness measures that should be taken by every single adoptive family without exception. In addition, these two benefits are so important that this by itself is reason enough for every single adoption without question to be an open adoption. As we know, there are various understandings and levels of openness, and I consider this to be a most basic level of openness.

What about communication and/or visits?

Once we start talking about the adoptee being involved in developing a relationship with his/her biological parent, it presents a completely different set of situations and challenges. I won’t tell you what is best for your family. I will say that every family considering open adoption should spend time talking about expectations. Every family is different and what works for one family may not work for another. I also think that if the adoption is going to be open to such an extent that the biological family is embraced as an extended family, it would have been better to simply support the mom in a way that would have allowed her to keep her baby. I feel that adoption should be a last option no matter the “type” of adoption chosen.

All adoptees deserve to know exactly who their biological family is without needing to spend decades in search. They deserve to have all of their medical histories so they can make informed choices. For these reasons alone, all adoptions should be open.

Open Adoption Comparisons

In response to a post earlier this week (Open Adoption. Closed Off.) about the pain I experienced in open adoption, I received the following question: “I wonder if that is how kids feel when their parents have shared custody and go on to remarry.” (Thank you to the commenter for the question.)

I’ve talked about open adoption often on this blog and described the pain of what it was like growing up in open adoption. Trying to fit in two families, going back and forth, seeing my siblings living with my mom, readjusting after a visit were all situations that were difficult for me.

I understand why divorce or shared custody would be considered a similar situation. There are complexities for children of divorce. There are usually two homes, possibly two sets of siblings, two sets of expectations and so forth.

Personally, I don’t consider these situations the same as open adoption (though there are the above similarities).

Open Adoption vs. Divorce

With divorce, the parents at one time loved each other (and may still).
In OA, the parents are (typically) strangers or new acquaintances to each other.

With divorce, the parents know, and to some degree, understand the other person’s extended family. (They may not agree, but they have the familiarity to help a child understand the other’s perspectives.)
With OA, the extended families are all strangers and very rarely would either side, including extended family, come to know the other well.

With divorce, the parent that the child is returning to is able to make an educated guess on what standards the child has been held to during the visit. This understanding makes transitions less difficult.
With OA, the parent the child is returning to will be in the process of learning about the other family at the same time as the child.

With divorce, sibling groups would be transitioning together for visits.
With OA, it is typically one child.

With divorce, the two main parents are the biological family of the child.
In OA, one parent is the biological family. The other is family of circumstance. This statement is not intended to diminish the value of either family, but it is a major difference between divorce and OA.

These are just a few of the differences between the two situations that create two totally different situations that cannot be compared. Yes, I agree that in both situations the child must adjust after visits and many of the open adoption concerns are similar, but in OA, the shared history, experiences and understanding isn’t there.

While I do appreciate the efforts of others to understand and relate, there is not any situation that I’m familiar with that compares to that of a child living in the arrangement called open adoption (specifically OA that includes extended visits).

Each time I had to leave a parent, it was heart breaking. I lost my sense of security. Some people say that children are resilient, but those types of statements minimize the pain I felt. As a child, I had the same needs as others. I wanted one family. I wanted to feel protected. I wanted to feel valued and gain self-confidence. I wanted consistency and stability. My status as an adoptee changed none of those things.

Again, this isn’t about whether open or closed adoption is better/worse. I am simply sharing my experience, and it isn’t meant to speak for all OA adoptees. Thank you to everyone who has commented and shared their experiences and perspectives this month. I’ve learned from so many and am looking forward to learning more during the rest of NAAM 2014.

Open Adoption. Closed Off.

When I was young, my adoptive mother made some of my clothes. I was about eight years old and on a two week visit with my biological family when my sister noticed the shirt I was wearing one morning. “Did your mom make that for you,” she asked. I liked to sort of pretend that my biological family was “my family” when I was with them. This question was a reminder that I had a different family.

Once I was back with my adoptive family, I obviously missed my biological family. My biological mom had called one afternoon, but I wasn’t at home and had missed her call. When I came in, my dad said, “Your mom called. She wants you to call her back.” I also sort of pretended that my adoptive family was “my family” but these were the types of situations that brought me back to reality. I had a different family.

I’ve written before about the middle ground open adoption left me in. By being in TWO families, I never really felt in a family. It wasn’t about confusion necessarily. It was about the reality.

It felt isolating. Extremely isolating. I never felt lucky. I never felt grateful. I just felt lonely.

I think open adoption is an adult concept. It centers on an understanding that each visit will end and boundaries must be respected. It asks children to grow up quickly and develop that adult understanding. This happened for me slowly over time. As each visit would end, my heart was slashed. Eventually, a heart learns to harden and not invest so much. The child that repeatedly sees his/her mother and siblings together and fully realizes that he alone was given up must develop thick skin. There will never be any other hurt that cuts this deep.

Other adoptees from open adoption that I’ve spoken to have described the experience using words such as “mess,” “turmoil,” “not fully belonging,” “chaotic” “cursed” “detailed” “told how to feel” etc.

I remember one person asking me what it was like growing up in open adoption as if I could somehow convey the experience in a simple manner. I tried to explain that I couldn’t give a simple answer. There is no way to describe how horrendous it was. There is no way to explain the emotional violence. There is no way to describe the complexity. There is no way to describe the hurt and pain of being there, but not.

How does one explain what it is like to be adopted into one family and adopted out of another family, yet be “with” both families?

The effort of inclusion ensured my exclusion.

It was isolating.
It made me lonely.
Open adoption left me feeling closed off.