My Closed Adoption Dilemma

This guest post is by Virginia Castleman, an adoptee and author.

my-closed-adoption-dilemmaWhether you are interested in adoption or fostering, or you yourself are adopted, or you know someone who’s adopted, the question of open versus closed adoptions may come up.

I fall into the “adopted” category and the state I was adopted in (Michigan) has closed adoption laws.  In closed adoptions, the birth parents “give up” all connection with the child, so there’s no calling their child, sending gifts, or getting updates from the adoptive parents.

Closed adoptions are legally enforceable, and believe me, there’s no getting around the laws.

Open adoptions, on the other hand, have more options. Birth parents, for instance, may be allowed to visit the child, send presents, correspond with him or her, and keep channels “open”.

Children in open adoptions have access to health information, and for teens and women hesitant to give up their child, this option feels less threatening. Open adoption is not legally enforceable, so the adoptive parents can cut off communication.

The pros and cons, like so many “hot button” topics vary, depending on the side you’re on. Parents placing their child/children might prefer the closed adoption as it allows closure on their decision and allows them to move on.

Adoptive parents might prefer closed adoptions as it allows them to center their attention on their adopted child and not have to deal with the issues of the birth parent(s).  Issues of “co-parenting” therefore are eliminated.

As an adoptee, I grew to hate closed adoptions.

I had no way of knowing that the law was protecting me, since in my case, there were allegations of neglect on the part of my birth parents. On a personal level, however, when I wanted to find out who my parents were, it was nearly impossible due to the closed adoption laws.

And believe me, I tried. I had to wait until I was living on my own to search, as my parents were not in favor of me finding my birth parents.

I turned into a pseudo-detective in the process. I wrote the governor of Michigan and addressed my letter to “Dad”. My opening line of the actual letter said:

Dear Dad,

You know I am not your child, but I don’t know that you are not my father.

I then went on to explain how important it was for me to locate my birth parents. I got what appeared to be a form letter back stating that Michigan adoption laws are closed to protect the birth parents, and while the governor was sad that I could not reach my goal, the law was necessary . . . Or something to that effect.

Years later, through a process that would curl your toes, I did connect, but not with my parents initially, but with my siblings.

I learned that the agency that handled our adoption was Lutheran Social Services, and when I wrote them (I was about 24 at the time), they wrote back and said that if my siblings were to write them a letter wanting to find me, they would make the connection, but that the siblings had to write a letter before that could happen.

I think you can probably pick up on my frustration. As it was, ten years later, I got a call from my adopted brother. He wasn’t really adopted; he was the natural son of the family that adopted me, but to me he was my adopted brother and the parents were my adopted parents.

Anyway, he called and said he’d received a letter from Lutheran Social Services stating that a birth sister had written them looking for me. He also said he called our parents and told them to approve the connection. Did you catch that?

I, who was at this point a 34-year old, had to have the permission of the parents who adopted me to make that connection possible. If it hadn’t been by accident that they sent the letter to my brother (he was a “Jr”) rather than to my adoptive parents, I might never have met my siblings.

I was able to locate and talk to my birth father before he passed away, and to meet my birth mother.

It was a truly awkward moment not just between us, but for her four other children who didn’t even know that my sisters, brother, and I existed! Some people carry denial to the nth degree.

But my point in sharing all this is that as a child I felt closed adoptions were a violation of my right to know my roots, but I would later discover  that the reasons behind closed adoption laws might have been valid.

Unfortunately, hindsight is 20/20 and it wasn’t until after I met my birth mother that I truly understood why closed adoption laws exist. Still, am I worse off having met her? I don’t think so.

It forced me to look at the positive. She’s no longer with us, but I am grateful for the union between her and my father that created my siblings and me. No other combination would have made that possible.

Perhaps, in closing, it’s fair to say that legal intervention has its own pros and cons with regards to adoption. I admire families that can handle open adoptions. As in all situations, the better we are educated about the pros and cons, the better decisions we can make for our children.

Children’s book author Virginia Castleman’s latest book, Strays, is a middle-grade novel about the plight of two sisters facing adoption. The mother of three boys, Castleman teaches at the college level and works as a marketing manager for a Reno, NV business.

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