I am so blessed to have such a huge support network of other adoptive parents. So when I reached out to them, telling them I’d love to share the beauty of adoption through pictures of our children and quotes that touch our hearts, I got a great response! Thank you everyone who sent me pictures and quotes!
If I can give one piece of advice, it is that in all the training you will receive, you may not be taught that starting off the relationship on the right foot can never begin too early. When I say that, it means learning positive adoption language is a big deal. You may learn a few things like to use “created an adoption plan” over the dated version of “giving up for adoption”. There are many other situations though that choosing your words carefully can go a long way. But it really isn’t about just being politically correct, it’s about respect. It’s about understanding people’s feelings. It’s about willingness to learn.
Today with open adoption being the more normal route domestic adoptions are taking, starting that relationship off with respect is so important. As adoptive parents we are gaining something that we could not achieve on our own; a child. Imagine the heart ache and loss the expecting mother goes through every day leading up to placing her child and will likely feel every day after the placement. Respecting her as a human and the parent of that child shows you love not just her baby, but her as well. And don’t forget about the father, he may or may not be involved, but until you know otherwise, assume he is.
Remember, positive adoption language is not just about being politically correct, but respecting her. Moving forward in an open adoption requires respect. Respecting her for her decision and not just going after her baby and saying “all the right things” will create a lasting relationship that your future child can respect you for. There are many resources out there to ensure you understand positive adoption language. If it is not offered in your adoption training, seek it out for yourself, you’ll be happy you did.
Part of respecting her, is also respecting her story. Respecting that her story is also your future child’s story. People can be nosey when it comes to adoption. Some are genuinely curious about adoption, some just want to the juicy details. So decide how much you want to share with people and stick to it. People will ask all sorts of questions that you never dreamed of. IE. “Why is she giving him up?” “Is she on drugs?” “Does she know who the father is?” “Why doesn’t she want to keep him?” Etc. Keep in mind that what you share with people now, may get back to your child or give the inquisitive people less respect for the birth mother in the future. While you may have the best intentions of sharing the story with people, they may repeat it back at inconvenient times. If your open adoption ends up being like mine, we invite our son’s birth parents and other biological family over a few times a year for family gatherings. We want everyone to feel comfortable. They are all part of our extended family now. While a person may be at a low moment in life at the time of placement, often the reason for them creating an adoption plan is to not to just give their child a better life, but to also give them the ability to improve their own life.
I think that letting the expecting mother know that you will support her in any decision she makes is very important. It shows a great deal of respect. Yes, of course you want to be a parent and adoption is your goal in having this relationship with her, but her knowing that you will be ok if she decides to parent or picks another family over you, goes a long way in her trust in you as good people. But don’t just say it, MEAN IT! Get yourself in the right frame of mind before entering the relationship. She is not there to make you a parent. You are there to parent her child.
Starting off on the right foot with the expecting parents will help you in a lifelong respectful relationship that will be cherished by your child and all members of the adoption triad for years to come.
Adoptions come with complex emotions. One of those emotions that most birth parents and many adoptive feel is guilt. I think it is completely understandable (yet unnecessary) for a birth parent to feel guilt. They may feel guilty for making the adoption plan, for not being in a better place in their life, to wanting more for their child and themselves. But, at the same time, it is my hope that they also see the all the positives of why they are making that choice. It can come as a surprise when people outside of adoption learn that adoptive parents may also suffer from feelings of guilt.
Guilt is a loaded word. The definition of guilt to many people is that you have done something “wrong”. However, I think these people are just looking at the word guilt differently. While some may use the term “guilty” to describe the feelings they have for feeling joy with their adopted child, other words could easily be used in its place. Empathy, Compassion, Appreciation, Affinity, Pity, Sympathy, etc. It really is about the person feeling the emotion and to what degree they perceive the situation. Some people just tend to beat themselves up more than others. Some people rely on the good in a situation to thrive or survive through it. (Some people just lack understanding and feel entitled. Let’s hope none of my readers are of that variety.)
When we were in the process of adopting, I went through a variety of emotions. Guilt was one of them. Guilt came in many forms: Guilt that I couldn’t provide my husband with a biological child (or that I wasn’t sure I even wanted to). Guilt that I wanted to adopt a newborn. Guilt that I questioned my ability to parent outside my race. Guilt that I was going to “sell” myself as someone with more resources for parenting a child, to an expecting mother. Guilt that I would get to be called “mommy” by a child she loved so much. Guilt that I would experience all the firsts. Guilt that I would never understand how tough her decision was. Guilt that I may not be a perfect parent either.
While Ezra’s birth mother is an incredibly strong woman, I know this hasn’t been easy for her. She seems at peace and very proud of Ezra as well as her decision, but still, I am sure there are times that she wishes she could have parented him instead of placing him for adoption. Ezra’s birth father has always shown more emotion when it comes to the struggles he faces with adoption. He has always been extremely kind to us and never showed us any resentment. He is always smiling when we are together and he is very affectionate toward Ezra. These things just show me how much he cares. Watching the yearning in his eyes gives me guilt. It gives me guilt to know that we have the ability to give “more” and because of that we were chosen to parent their child. It is very normal to celebrate success, but when it contributes to someone else’s pain it is more guilt producing.
Guilt in adoption hopefully fades with time as the open adoption relationship blossoms into a healthy, loving extension of your family. Understanding that these people chose you to parent their perfect little creation is something you should not feel guilt over. But just because it is OK to not feel guilt, does not mean it is OK to feel indifferent or not want to help ease their pain. Sharing an open adoption and open communication is good for all members of the adoption triad. However, if you allow guilt to consume you, you may begin to suffer in other areas and your child will also suffer.
Have you experienced any of these emotions?
I hope everyone had a wonderful Easter! We were able to go see Ezra’s birth parents and siblings on Good Friday since Joe was home from Chicago and we all had some free time. We all had our own things going on for Easter, so it was nice to spend a couple hours hanging out and catching up, plus we got to see their new house! We are all getting together again on Mother’s Day weekend to celebrate and I had a little gift picked out for T for Birth Mother’s Day to celebrate all 3 of her children, but of course, I couldn’t wait that long and gave it to her when we visited. (She knows I am terrible at waiting!)
A year and a half into our adoption, new things are constantly coming up. I am starting to think a lot more about how I will talk about Ezra’s adoption with him as he begins to understand what it means. Holidays bring the unique relationship forefront. Having an open adoption and often celebrating holidays together with all our extended family, brings a different dynamic to adoption. Also, things come up between us and his birth parents now as we all try to navigate this process. I LOVE how open J (Ezra’s first father) is with us about his feelings on the adoption. He is so honest and addresses things so respectfully. He asked us on Friday what we would like for Ezra to call him and T moving forward. Obviously Mommy and Daddy are reserved for me and Joe, and although J obviously longs for that title a little with Ezra, he also knows that it would be very confusing. We tossed around a couple ideas and landed on just using first names for how Ezra will address them, but Joe and I will still talk to him about who they are. Ezra also has biological siblings. Isaac is Ezra’s brother as far as Ezra currently understands, but there will be a time where Ezra learns more about his biological siblings. They are a couple years older than Ezra, so they already have a slightly better understanding of who he is to them.
With holidays, there is also the involvement of extended family and friends. Whether it is on the child’s biological side of the family or the adoptive, when everyone get’s together, especially the first few times, it can be awkward. The beauty is everyone is so in love with the child, there is that as an instant connection and bond. Sometimes it can be a little strange though for people like me, who are ultra aware of other people’s feelings. I am constantly over thinking, protecting, being cautious, and trying to stay politically correct or comforting. So, I may fumble over the introduction when introducing Ezra’s birth parents to people. Or I may feel uneasy saying “Come to mommy” to Ezra with his first parents right by me. I may keep a watchful eye on conversations and interactions with different members of the family. With time, these fears are easing as our relationship grows. We all love him so much and we just have to show Ezra that we are all willing to do EVERYTHING it takes to make his life the best we can.
This year’s Mother’s Day weekend cookout will be our third full family gathering. A few people from my family that weren’t able to make it to the first events will be attending, so I am not out of the woods yet with my watchful monitoring, but I am sure it will go great. I know new things will continually come up as we learn to navigate and understand open adoption, but I am glad I have support and amazing people in our journey to help us along.
So, there are a few things I would love your feedback on? Comment below.
1. What holidays are your favorites to celebrate with you child’s birth family (or adoptive, if you are a birth parent)?
2. Have you ever had any hiccups between your family and the birth family at events? If so, what happened and how did you handle it?
3. What does your child call his/her first parents?
If you are in the Cincinnati listening area, you can tune in live on the radio, or if you are outside the station’s reach, you can click the links below and stream the show live. I was super nervous, but Rodney did a great job putting me at ease and the conversation flowed naturally. Tune in to the show for information about my adoption story and upcoming books!
Here’s the schedule for Sunday Morning Magazine with Rodney Lear
Airs Sunday April 13th: (times are EST)
7:00 a.m. on WKRQ-FM (101.9)
7:00 a.m. on WYGY-FM (97.3)
6:00 a.m. on WUBE-FM (105.1)
6:00 a.m. on WREW-FM (94.9)
A few nights ago I realized my favorite part of open adoption. It is sharing my proudest moments with someone else that is equally proud! I just LOVE when my son does something new and I can share it with his birth mom. Sure I can say it to my family or post it on Facebook. It may even get a bunch of likes and comments. But other than his birth parents, no one is quite the same level of proud of him as we are. That is a very special bond.
My husband has been away on business for a few weeks. He has luckily been given the ability to come home for the weekend to spend time with us (and because he teaches a Saturday class at a local college). This weekend we tried basking in as much family time as possible. Friday after we picked up Isaac from school, we went out to dinner and since the weather was perfect, we headed to the outlet mall to get the boys some new gym shoes. When we returned home, the boys still wanted to be outside (Ezra loves being outside and is constantly running to the door saying “side”). Joe and Isaac were tossing the football around and Ezra was just cruising around the driveway and the yard in his new Nike’s. Of course, like any proud mom with an iPhone, I was snapping pictures. Then I remembered that T, his birth mom, had asked if he was starting to run yet. So when he was chasing the dog, dad and brother around the yard, I switched the camera to video mode and recorded a little one minute clip of him running around and “playing” football. I couldn’t wait to send it to her!
Her response was pure joy! “Look at him run. I love it. It almost looks like he’s been running and walking for years!” I typed back “he’s a pro!” and her next message was when it hit me… she said “I’m so proud.” It is those moments that I know that no matter how many likes a picture gets on Facebook or how many oohs and ahhs grandparents, friends or other family members give, no one else in the world shares the same love for him with me and Joe as his birth parents do. They’ll never tire of seeing pictures that look exactly the same as the ones I took the day before. They’ll never think I talk too much about him. They’ll never think “Gosh this woman is obsessed with her baby.”. They get it. They are still his parents too, even if they aren’t parenting him. They are proud of him. They love him. They take joy in his happiness.
So many people are still scared off by open adoption, simply because they don’t understand it. Open adoption is not co-parenting or fearing that my status as “Mom” is at risk. It is sharing the joy of a child that is loved by many. Imagine depriving them that joy of knowing how he is doing, that would be a terrible heartache to be responsible for causing. Being able to share with him their love, well that in itself is very special. He will know he is precious, loved and cherished.
“He is mine in a way he will never be hers, yet he is hers in a way he will never be mine, and so together, we are motherhood.”
Sarah Baker | May 18, 2013 | 10:13 AM
My biggest advice and unfortunately, a lesson I had to learn the hard way, is set boundaries immediately. Often the agency you work with will initiate the first meeting and prepare both you and the birth mother for what to expect in the type of adoption that is being proposed. But, that doesn’t always mean that all parties understand or “hear” the expectations. As the adoptive parent, you can’t allow the want for a child to cloud your good judgment. Getting yourself in a position of not being able to follow through on promises is unfair to all parties, even if it’s by omission. Meaning, the birth parent may express something they want and if you don’t know how to address it and so you just nod and smile, then in his/her mind, you have just made a promise. That is the lesson I learned.
Be up front about everything. How often do they want to see the child and how often are you able to make it happen or feel comfortable with? How often do you want to talk on the phone? How often will you send pictures or letters? Are gifts at holidays and birthdays allowed? All questions you should consider.
It is known today that open adoptions are healthier for the child and the birth parents than the formerly done closed adoptions. But, just because they are more common today and healthier, doesn’t mean they are more understood. People still relate to closed adoptions and family members may not understand the need for open adoption. You may ask them to do some research or share with them the information you learn in your training. It’s rare to find a birth mother who doesn’t love the child she is carrying, so open adoption may be something she is excited about. She may also feel like she loves that child so much that an open adoption would be too difficult for her. Hopefully that’s not the case.
Things open adoptions are not:
• Custody arrangement
• Long term child care
Things open adoptions are:
• Birth parents having knowledge of wellbeing of the child
• Self-identity for the child
• Love and communication
With Ezra’s birth parents, we have what we feel is the perfect amount of communication and visits. At just 4 months old, we have seen his birth mother a few times. On Mother’s Day weekend we invited her and her close relatives to spend the day with our family at our house for a cookout. With social media and text messaging, it makes staying in touch so easy. His birth mother and her family love seeing pictures and videos I post of him and we occasionally swap baby stories and milestones via text. She is so proud of him and loves seeing him grow. She has told me that there is never a day that she regrets her decision and feels we were the perfect choice for him. That melts my heart. I may have had to learn a hard lesson with our first match to set boundaries, but Ezra’s birth mother and I are both on the same page and it’s because we, together, came up with the way we wanted to proceed at the very beginning.