Adoptive mother: Questions about open adoption

I often get questions from people about our open adoption. Questions are usually those based on fear. For example: “Aren’t you afraid that the birthmother will want him back?”, “Aren’t you afraid that your son will be confused about who his ‘real’ mother is if spends time with his birthmother?”, and “Aren’t you afraid she will step in someday and try to parent him?” These questions come from various sources, even people who have adopted themselves but have not gone through an open adoption. I’m used to these sorts of questions and I understand people’s concerns as I too asked similar questions when my husband and I pursued our own adoption. However, having recently gone through an open adoption and being in regular contact with my son’s birthmother I can honestly say “No, I’m not afraid of any of those things.” Letting fear get in the way of things is not what a successful open adoption is all about.

Open adoption means opening up to the birth family in whatever way all involved feel comfortable. When I first heard about what an open adoption was about, I admit, I was terrified and did not want to open up my life to a stranger. Luckily my husband and I worked with an agency in our area who took the time to educate us on the benefits of an open adoption verses a closed adoption and in our training sessions with them we realized being open was a very good thing for everyone in the long run. By the time we were officially on the list to adopt a child our minds had transformed so much that both my husband and I commented that if we didn’t have a chance to be involved in some way with the birthparents then we weren’t sure we’d want to adopt that particular child.

Perhaps because I’ve been immersed in the adoption world for a fews years now I forget that not everyone knows what I do about adoption and questions that I get from other people still catch me off guard at times. Two months ago, a hairdresser who was cutting my 1 1/2 year old son’s hair found out he was adopted and asked me, “Why didn’t his birthparents love him?” This particular question was so astounding to me because it was clear how terribly misunderstood adoption is. Why didn’t they love him? Are you kidding me? His birthparents have nothing BUT love for him. Clearly this person just really didn’t get the sole essence of open adoption which is in a nutshell, immense love. I assure you, a birthmother that didn’t love her child would never in a million years go through the painful process of birthing her child; find suitable adoptive parents to raise her child; and then give her child to them – only to have her choice be misunderstood by society later on.

My son’s birthparents put faith in us to raise their child when we could not have a child of our own. They gave us the biggest gift anyone could ever give another person – a family. How could we as adoptive parents be fearful of the very people who gave us this gift and put such huge faith and trust in us? To deny them the simple pleasure of seeing how their child is doing over the years to me is clearly not an option.

In adoption the adoptive parents are often viewed as saviors. What many people don’t realize is the adoptive parents don’t view it that way at all. In fact, in my husband’s and my case we view the birthparents as being the saviors. If it weren’t for them I shudder to think about where I’d be right now. But I do like how our son’s birthmother put it in one of her emails to me: “We, all 4 of us, saved our son. And maybe our son is saving all of us in return. Maybe we are all saving each other.” So true. Our little boy has saved me. If I died tomorrow he would have saved me from the deepest, darkest despair. It’s amazing to think that one person, even a little baby, can make such as huge difference in this world simply by being. Perhaps that is the greatest lesson a birth of a child can teach us, that simply by “being” each and every one of us is making a difference in this world.

Birthmother: Answering questions

By Birthmother – I was at a typical getting-to-know you gathering on a Friday night, casually making new acquaintances, when I met a particularly loud-mouthed woman.  She had a knack for saying the wrong things and asking the wrong questions.  For instance, she asked me if I had children.

This question is always hard for me to answer.  Yes, I’ve HAD children, but I don’t HAVE them.

When a doctor or medical professional asks this question, I immediately say, “Yes.”  They may need to know that my body has gone through the physical process of bearing children.  When a casual acquaintance asks, however, they’re usually trying to fill space in a conversation… they’re not likely to want to get into that conversation.

So what do I do?  Even 5 years after the adoption of my daughter, I still find myself choked up and grasping for words when confronted with this very simple question.  If I say, “No, I don’t have children,” I feel like I’m denying the existence of two amazing children.  I think of these children every day!  Their pictures are on my fridge!  How can I deny them?  And how can I resist the urge to mention how amazing they are?  But if I say, “Yes,” I have a lot of explaining to do.

I decided to open my silly mouth and tell this nosy woman the truth; I’ve given birth to two children, but gave them both up for adoption.

The woman sat there silently, staring at me as though I had admitted to something horrific.  She made a point of extending her open-mouthed silence as long as she could, widening her eyes at me, to make sure that her shock was evident.

I should point out that in 5 years of being a biomom this was the FIRST person to openly disapprove of what I’d done.  I was at least as shocked as she was, but I attempted to move on with the conversation politely.  I explained that the adoptions are open, allowing me to watch the children grow and see how loved they are.

She asked me, “How old were you at the time?”  I said that the youngest child had been born less than 2 years ago.  I was 29 years old.  I was not young.  Her shock continued.

She asked me, “Were they [the children] disfigured or disabled in some way?” at which point I may have looked at her as though she were horrific.  Why would the health of my children be relevant?  Would it have been more OK for me to walk away from my children if they were in medical trouble?  I said none of this aloud.  I explained that both children are healthy and beautiful and wonderful, perfect in every way.  Her shock continued.

Finally, she looked away from me.  She said, “I will not judge you.  I will not judge,” in the tone of someone who, clearly, was judging me very harshly.  I laughed out loud and mumbled something like, “I would hope not, you don’t even know me!”  Then I turned the conversation to other topics and we went on with our evening.

My friends rush to my defense when I tell this story.  For instance, they call this woman “narrow-minded and dumb,” saying that her own ignorance caused her to behave the way she did. They express shock and anger that anyone would think badly of me for choosing adoption. They remind me how strong I am, how wonderful it is that I gave the gift of parenthood to two childless couples.

But I can’t shrug off this woman’s questions as easily as my friends can.  Because every woman who chooses adoption for her child has to be familiar with this question, “Why?  Why did you do it?”

Even if I get remarkably lucky and no one ever asks me this question out loud again, I have no doubt that I will ask it of myself every single time I see or think about my children.  And someday my children will ask me this same question.  I’m going to have to answer.  Every biomom will be held accountable for her own answer.

I can try to explain about being scared of parenthood, not having a maternal instinct, not wanting to bring a child into a marriage that was not ready for it.  Those are my personal reasons, though they might not make sense to anyone else.

But when I see my children in the arms of their adoptive parents, when I see how loved they are, this seems like all the answer I could ever need.  Adoptive parents devote uncountable resources to seeking a child.  You can’t miss it when you’re looking at their adoptive parent profiles; they are so ready and willing to give everything they have just for the chance to give their love to a child.  How rare and wonderful for a child to be so completely wanted and prepared for!

So whatever my reasons, I know that by choosing adoption I have achieved something profoundly good.  My choice created a family where before there was only a dream of family.  I made someone’s dream come true and I gave my child a loving home.  There is nothing better I can say.