Open adoption is a concept that is highly misunderstood. Often even the mention of openness in adoption is met with uncomfortable looks, from everyone from prospective adoptive parents to friends at church to strangers in the grocery store. That discomfort is born from fear. And let me tell you, open adoption is nothing to fear – fear of confusing roles, co-parenting, influence, jealousy. Friend, nothing could be further from reality. Open adoption is beautiful.
When my husband and I first discussed adopting, we were terribly young and naive and thought we’d want a closed adoption someday, since, you know, it’d be so much better and easier. How wrong I was! I see that now, with ten years of marriage and three adoptions under my belt.
Our first adoption forced me to reckon with my fear of open adoption, because there was no way our adoption could be closed. We adopted our daughter Makinzy when she was seven. It was a private adoption, done without an agency, brought together by our church families. It was essential that Mak have parents, but at seven years old, it was also essential she maintain some sort of connection to the birth family who raised her. At seven, closing off all semblance of her family, of her identity, would have crushed her. Who would ask a seven year old to forget everything she’s known and loved? How is that better and easier? So we navigated uncharted waters, and we established norms and traditions that included her biological family when appropriate and possible. It wasn’t always easy, but we found the more receptive and open our arms were, the better things worked. We maintained authority as her parents, but invited her birth family along for the ride – welcoming them to birthday parties, holiday events, church and school celebrations, and games. We set boundaries on what to buy for her, what to give her, and what to say to her. We had to say no sometimes. It involved tough conversations that had to happen, but it has resulted in a solid relationship with them and now, she’s a thriving teenager with a firm identity. Her family is our family.
Our second adoption was through a Christian agency, and we entered into the program with more experience than many of the prospective adoptive parents around us. While many were still needing to hear presentation after presentation on the importance of openness, we had lived it already and we were all in for an open adoption, which nowadays, is the norm. For the most part, gone, thankfully, are the days of hiding it, with shocked older kids finding out they’re adopted, with a long lost family out there somewhere to be found. With our second adoption, we were able to met our birthparents ahead of time, text them, and develop a relationship. My mom and the birth grandmother grew close on a way only grandmas understand. Our birth mom even let me help coach her through labor, and I got to be the first face my daughter saw as she entered the world. What a gift, one I’d never received without the miracle of open adoption. When our second daughter passed away (she was born with a complex congenital heart defect that ultimately ended her precious life), no one knew my broken heart like the Mama who lost her first.
Our third adoption, our son’s, is obviously open too. His birth family was slower to embrace openness, but we’ve followed their lead. As they’ve been ready, we’ve started forming a relationship through occasional visits, invitations to church, and lots of texting. We don’t know each other well yet, but oh my, how much love we already share. We share his life, we share love for him, and we are family.
I’m sure there will be tough conversations and awkward seasons and less-than-perfect situations come along. There are boundaries to set, rules to make, understandings to be reached. There’s no avoiding some hurt, because adoption doesn’t happen without first some kind of loss and brokenness. But the reason openness is so important is that it helps open the wounds to healing. Birth families just want to know the child they gave life to is happy and loved. They relish that confirmation. Adoptive children deserve to know their roots, the good and bad. Even when a child is adopted from a hard place, “protecting” them by hiding, dismissing, or diminishing the birth family disvalues their identity, their history, and their story.
Openness in adoption should not be feared, despite how scary it may seem. It does involves sacrificing what feels emotionally safe for what is feels emotionally dangerous, yet it is almost always best. It’s not easy, but being a parent means doing the hard things for the good of your kids, and it’s no different for adoptive moms and dads. Open adoption needs no longer be something we find uncomfortable, but something we celebrate. It’s hard, it’s beautiful, and it’s worth it.