Birthmother · reform · Uncategorized

Changing Our Expectations in Adoptive Families

Miriam James

When expectant parents and prospective adoptive parents consider adoption for their family, it helps to recognize that adoption will and should and needs to look different than a biological family. The times of closed adoptions, secrecy, and lack of conversation about the adoptee’s heritage and biological family have taught some very hard lessons-especially for many adult adoptees.

Expectant parents considering adoption need to understand that it isn’t about them, or even the adoptive parents, but it’s about the child. Adoption is not an easy out; from the moment of conception, you become a parent, no matter what the outcome. And over and over again, we’ve seen that open adoption, availability, access to information and answers for their questions, benefits the child and the adult adoptee. I’ve known birthmothers who didn’t want open adoptions from the very beginning, and I’ve known birthmothers that did want them, but with the hormones after delivery, with the grief and trauma constantly resurfacing during early visits, they began to question if they should continue.

Adoption is hard for everyone- and some months or years will be harder than others- but open adoptions (and semi-open when dealing with addiction, abuse, and toxic family environments) are in the best interests of the child. It’s okay to take breaks as long as both parties understand how to be flexible and how to always keep the doors open. Any kind of parenting has challenges and pain as well as rewards and joy and being a birth parent is a kind of parenting that involves responsibilities towards your child’s well-being, even if you aren’t doing the day-to-day parenting.However, to expect a birth parent to know and accomplish all of this without support and counseling from qualified professionals and other birthparents is unfair. Just as it’s unfair to expect adoptive parents to know how to navigate openness all by themselves. This is why working with a reputable and unbiased agency that provides counseling and education before, during, and after placement-well into adulthood-is so invaluable. And why I’m so leery of DIY adoptions.

Adoptive parents likewise can initiate conversations not only with their children, but with the birth family, either personally or through a mediator who can genuinely help guide the arrangement, help keep the peace and grow a strong and trusting connection between the two families for the sake of the child and not just meet the desires of the adoptive family. It’s in this area that not all adoption agencies are created equal.
I understand the desire, especially if considering adoption because of infertility, to create a family as close to what a biological family would have looked like, I understand the uncertainty about openness, and the natural instinct to want a child to yourself, but that is why I started this with the fact that adoption is not just another way to fulfill that. The very nature of adoption must not only be willingly acknowledged but embraced and appreciated. It’s when these truths aren’t accepted that adoptees are hurt, and biological families, and inevitably adoptive families as well.

Ideally, all would come to this understanding before placement, but there are resources for all families who recognize they would like to make changes. Even with the best education, experience will continue to teach, mistakes will still be made by all, and ultimately, each family will have to develop what works best for them. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach. For those who cannot have open communication with biological family members, the principle of openness with your child about their story, identity, heritage is the same. How that plays out will look different for everyone.


One thought on “Changing Our Expectations in Adoptive Families

  1. Really a well-written piece. As a woman who has been struggling to adopt with her husband after going through 6 rounds of IVF and a miscarriage, then seeing our international adoption program close last week, we have been baffled by the black and white nature of many domestic adoption agencies. While we don’t have any interest in a closed adoption for the reasons you stated, some agencies consider open adoption in only one light, and after spending a day and a half at one of those agency’s “trainings” where one of the things you must do if you adopt through them is sign a contract for visitation with the birth parent, no matter what, we were deeply disturbed at the lack of flexibility and understanding of the diversity that comes in both the birth parents and the adoptive parents, and treating adoption like co-parenting with the birth mother and father. We have since found an agency that does semi-open adoption, which respects the birth parents wishes as well as the adoptive parents. We absolutely want to meet the birth parents if at all possible and be able to send them updates, but know that the concept of visitation in the early years is something we need to simply figure out as we go along, and I know a lot of birth mothers have said the same thing from their perspective (for example not wanting contact initially but absolutely loving getting an annual update or whatever works for both parties). The training that comes with adoption in my opinion is really poor and we’ve gotten more out of reading books and talking to people who have actually been through it than the agencies who are really just using their trainings as ways to sell their product and justify the 35 to 50 thousand dollars they charge for the privilege of becoming a parent.


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