Monday, February 7, 2011

Pulling Back in Open Adoption

A few years ago, Laurie and I met a couple who said that they had “adopted” their birthmother when they adopted their child. She had become a member of their family, spending the night on holidays, even baby-sitting the child.

In foster-parent training, Laurie and I learned that, when you adopt from foster care, birth families rarely maintain an open relationship. When preparing to adopt our second child, as a newborn, our agency taught us about the benefits of contact to everyone involved.

When we met M, we loved her immediately. She relaxed us with her sense of humor, and thrilled us when she told us that the baby in her tummy was ours. “I want you to be in the delivery room with her when she’s born,” she said to us. “I want her Mom and Dad to name her.”

Our relationship blossomed over the first year. After we brought Vivi home, we met with M every few months. In between visits, we exchanged phone calls, e-mails, and texts. We even spoke in training sessions together, to couples interested in adoption. Our agency told us that hearing our story alongside M’s gave new families a good perspective on open adoption.

Then, some time after Vivi’s second birthday, that relationship changed. As M became comfortable with us during our visits, she began to make more personal remarks, including some that contradicted what she had told us earlier about her pregnancy. Eventually, Laurie called our agency to explain the situation, and we had to involve our lawyer to confirm that the adoption was unassailable.

While our worst fears of something disrupting our family settled down, our hurt at M’s actions took a while to process. We never considered ending the relationship—M is our daughter’s birthmother, and, because of that, she is our family, too—but we decided we needed to pull back a little. The summer passed, and we remained out of contact with M.

One night Laurie was on the computer when she received an instant message from M. It read, “I’m so sorry for everything that happened.” Laurie responded that we were hurt by the events that had transpired, and that we had needed some time to work through it. M's response was quick, “Well, I hope you all have a good life. Take care.”

We sensed that M was reacting this way to keep herself at a distance, should we decide to break off contact, so we quickly explained that, while we were disappointed, she was not going to get rid of us that easily. She was family. M said she couldn’t believe that we still wanted to maintain a relationship. Her family had been telling her that one day we would stop all correspondence, and she thought this was it.

The next time we met, we told M that family members have fights and disagreements, but that doesn’t mean they never speak to each other again. These days, we visit less frequently, but continue to send photos almost monthly. Through this experience, Laurie and I learned that an open adoption is an evolving relationship, requiring patience, love, acceptance, boundaries, and communication.

When I think about the couple who “adopted” their birthmother, I wonder whether we missed an opportunity. They said they thought they would receive one addition to the family but, to their delight, they got a second. I don’t see M that way. Laurie and I hoped for a child, and we got one, with Vivi. The bonus is that we have one more person in our life who cares deeply about her.

This article can also be read at

1 comment:

Dana said...

Wow! Does some of that hit home with me!

We adopted our two daughters through the foster care system. At the time the girls had a good relationship with their biological maternal grandfather and his wife. We didn't want to disrupt that bond and we (the grandparents and my husband and I) had to decide to trust each other. We said we'd let them see the girls. They said they'd not let the girls' birthmom see them as not to "mess with their heads". You probably know what I mean. (She has since moved out of state.)

So, the grandparents come to the church Christmas programs, are at every birthday party, and the girls spend the night with them every so often. We pop in to see them, have visited at the hospital, and feel at home at their home. They are now part of our family, too. Honestly, I didn't know how it would work out, but it's been a very, very good thing as far as we're concerned.

All of that is to say that I know it isn't easy to add M to your family, but keeping those lines of communication open is a good thing. At the very least, it avoids a "surprise" contact when you aren't expecting it. Hope that makes sense!

By the way, I've been reading both your's and your wife's blog for awhile now. Everything strikes a cord with me because we've been there, done that, more or less.

Blessings to you and your (expanding!) family!