From Blogger To Author: Life Lessons From An Open Adoption Advocate

Lori square 2Lori Holden has been blogging in her head since 1980 and online at Lavender Luz since 2007. I don’t know what her head has to say about making the transition, but I can tell you her readers — from all parts of the adoption constellation — couldn’t be happier.

Here’s a sampling of their comments to a recent post:

“Great post with lots to chew on!”
“I’ve told you this before but I need to say it again you are truly a role model.”
“You’re a class act, Lori. Lots to learn from this.”

As great as it is, this post isn’t about Lori’s blog — it’s about her new book, The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption, which just so happens to be pretty darned good, too. Not only because of what it has to say about open adoption relationships and how to navigate them, but because sections of it were written by her daughter’s birthmother, Crystal Hass. Talk about practising what you preach.

Truth be told, The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption isn’t preachy at all. It’s a wonderful read — warm, generous, and loving. Kind of the way you wish all open adoptions could be. No wonder it’s getting such glowing reviews. Recently I had a chance to ask the self-described “open adoption de-freakifier” about her book, about how she and Crystal set boundaries (literary and otherwise), and about the joys of being Number Two.

1. After six years of blogging about open adoption, what made you decide you wanted to write a book — and this book in particular?

I actually declared myself a writer about 18 months into blogging. I have always loved writing, and with blogging you get a sense of what resonates for people — I love the give and take, the clarity and the refining that comes from this writing medium. I started out as an adoption and infertility blogger but along the way I also began listening to birth parent and adoptee bloggers, who revealed to me a completely different take on something I knew from only one angle. I found myself better equipped to do the adoption part of parenting my children, just from listening to other points of view.

Then I figured, hey, maybe others in open adoption would like a short cut to these insights, a better way than trial–and-error where openness is concerned. This book has been called “the adoption book the Internet wrote” and I consider that a fine compliment.

2. What do you think is the biggest difference about The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption and other open adoption books on the market?

You tell me!

For one thing, it was written by two mothers in one adoption. Crystal, my daughter’s first mom, shares her perspective in how she came to consider adoption, how she chose us, what that first meeting was like, and how she has handled various moments over the 12-plus years of our relationship.

We aimed to offer through the book a 360 degree view of adoption relationships. We assembled mosaic tiles from first parents, from adoptive and adopting parents, from adult adoptees, from adoption professionals, from those in international, foster, domestic open and closed adoptions, from those who became parents via donor egg, sperm or embryos — in essence, we explore openness in situations in which a child is being raised by someone who is not genetically connected to him or her. We cover what has worked well, what left a child hurting, and not just the whys of open adoption but also the hows.

Thirdly, this book acknowledges that contact is not the same as openness. You can have neither, you can have both. You can have contact without truly being open, and you can have openness without contact, as illustrated with the open adoption grid.

3. You’ve described your book as guide to move from an “either/or” mindset (where adoptive parents and birthparents compete for their child), to a “both/and” heartset (where both parties have an equal claim to her or her). How difficult was it for you personally to make that leap?

The premise of the book is that adoption creates a split between a child’s biography and her biology. Openness is an effective way to heal that split and help your child grow up whole.

Adult adoptees often report feeling split. Which do you consider your real parents? they are asked. To choose one set means to deny the other. And when they deny one set, that means they deny part of themselves. This is what happens for the child develops an either/or mindset.

And that mindset can create problems for the parents, too. For if you are of the mind that your child can have only one set of “real” parents, then you have to make one set a winner and the other a loser. Likely you keep legitimacy for yourself and discount the birth parents. And as a consequence you live with secret fears of not being “real.”

Another way, though, is the both/and heartset. Each set of parents has a legitimate place in the child’s heart. Rather than dividing that innocent heart, we enable it to grow and grow. And we don’t need to feel threatened because we aren’t spending our energy denying the realness of the other set of parents.

How well did I make the change? Well, it’s not something I can ever put in the past tense. Both/and isn’t a place we get to. Rather, it’s a shift that informs the way we relate in an adoption. It’s something that I need to be mindful of day by day, sometimes moment to moment.

4. You mention that early on in your journey you were focused on short-term needs: how much would the adoption cost and how long you would have to wait. Not exactly open-hearted! What was it like to go back in time and come face-to-face with the person you used to be?

One thing that came from the closed adoption era was the notion that adoption had no ill-effects on anyone. In spite of the shame and secrecy, everyone would move on without a hitch. The adopting parents would never hurt over infertility again, the birth parents would move on and never look back, the baby would grow up as if born to his new family.

At the time we set out to adopt, I was unaware of the deeper layers, of the complexities. It’s true that many people (some I know in real life) say they suffered no ill-effects of the closed era, but the Internet has made it possible for those who DID experience grief at losing a child or losing a biological parent (see the book The Primal Wound) to congregate and have their voices heard.

So as I look back at my pre-adoption self, I can be gentle with that Lori. She did the best she could with what she knew at the time. Now she knows differently.

5. What’s the one thing you know about open adoption now that you wish you had known before?

That it’s actually easier than closed adoption. Being closed takes a lot of energy, like keeping a tarp down in the back of a pickup while going down the road on a windy day. Being open — which yes, requires energy too — allows flow, which I find refreshing and rejuvenating. I like knowing the other people who think my son and daughter are the most fascinating beings in the world.

6. What about other adoptive parents and birth parents — what do they need to know to have a successful open adoption?

Crystal and I address this in the book. From my viewpoint I’d say a commitment to be there. After all, marriages work over the long haul because the two people in one decide to stay together and work things through. I’d add in clear communication, abiding respect, and an openness to staying open, even when there are bumps in the road. These are the same ingredients for any enduring relationship.

7. How much of an open adoption heart-set and mind-set is learned and how much comes from simple trial and error?

We knew there would be no way to put together an encyclopedia to tell what to do and how to respond in any conceivable situation. What we could provide, though, was a heartset to guide parents through their relationships, a GPS, so to speak. Point it toward a child becoming whole, a child who has what he needs to integrate all the parts of his identity as he grows up. Allow that heartset to help you stay on course.

So yes, this heartset can be internalized, but parenting will still largely be trial and error. That’s just how parenting is, adoptive or not.

8. One of the highlights of the book is its dual perspective — the way that you and Crystal occasionally talk about the same issue, but from different points of view. How did you come up with that approach and, to use a parenting and open adoption term, what kind of boundaries did you set?

For years we have spoken at adoption agencies and for groups of waiting parents and more than anything specific we said, people really enjoyed just seeing us interact together, to be on the same side of something they thought had to be adversarial. Through these appearances, we’ve had the opportunity to know what resonated for people, what they were most curious about, and those are the vignettes and issues we addressed in the book.

As far as boundaries, I suppose in this the book was our “baby” and we were on the same side — or page, perhaps — of gestating it, nurturing it, birthing it, bringing it up. With the focus on the book and not our egos (get the metaphor?), I can’t recall any boundary issues arising around the writing of the book.

9. How difficult was it to balance sharing your children’s stories — for instance, Tessa’s question about why Crystal and Joe, her birthparents, couldn’t be her parents — with protecting their privacy and their relationship to their birth families?

Let’s just say it is a balancing act and I was especially mindful as I worked on those parts.

10. One of the joys of reading your book was your seemingly utter disregard for how you come across, especially in Crystal’s section. For instance, I don’t think too many adoptive parents would want it to be known that they were their birthmother’s second choice. Were any topics off-limits?

I do love to tease Crystal, “We’re Number Two!” It’s become part of our family lore, and it makes our story even juicier. (I should add that she welcomes this teasing.) Plus, all’s well that ends well.

Naturally, we’re not going to share anything that we could foresee would hurt each other or those we mention. That is, if you’re talking about topics off-limits in the book.

As far as topics that are off limits with each other, I don’t believe there have been any. I feel like I could ask Crystal anything (anything that’s my business — that’s my part in respecting her boundaries) and get a straight answer. And I offer the same to her.

11. What was the most surprising thing you learned about yourself and/or about open adoption from reading Crystal’s contributions?

That even though I have stumbled through setting healthy boundaries in other relationships, Crystal and I seemed to have a knack for doing this well together. Many times we’ve discussed how easily everything came to us, thanks to us both being open to openness during our first several very intense meetings.

I also believe that this healthy boundary-setting with Crystal has helped improve my other close relationships. This was, perhaps, one of the most mindfully-built relationships I’ve experienced, and I can now understand more deeply the benefits of relating with intention.

12. What was the biggest surprise for her?

My guess is that she’d say her biggest surprise in writing her parts of the book is that she was able to be so open and authentic at a time when both the stakes and emotions were so high. And that it turned out so well for all involved in a long-term way.

13. You mention that adoption agencies still have a long way to go to prepare adoptive parents and birthparents for the road ahead. What three things could they do better?

a. If I could wave a wand in Adoption World, my first decree would be that adoption counseling focuses on the process rather than the outcome. This would keep the adoption agency/facilitator/attorney focused on the child and on its own ethics (such as finding a home for a child instead of finding a child for a home) rather than making sure an adoption goes through. This idea come from an interview I conducted with Marcy Axness, PhD, in chapter 3, in which she brings up several brilliant points about mindful pre-birth matching.

b. My second decree would be that all adoption agencies/facilitators/attorneys put their full weight behind opening birth records to all adoptees. If they were to do this through their professional associations, their lobbying arms would then work to restore access for all citizens to an honest and accurate record of their birth. Birth certificates from past eras would be unsealed. There would be no more amending birth certificates to falsely claim that a child was born to a woman when, in fact, the child was not born to that woman. This very basic civil right would be equally applied to adoptees as to non-adoptees. More about this in chapter 5 of my book.

c. My last decree would be that post-adoption support for both placing and adopting parents be included in fees (or covered by charitable donations, in cases of some nonprofit organizations). And that adoption professionals of all three types (agency/facilitator/attorney) make affordable post-adoption support available to the adoption constellations they helped create for years afterward. Adoption isn’t an event; it’s an unfolding, much like a wedding vs a marriage. When people feel stuck regarding issues around placement or adoptive parenting, they should have a place to go for support and counseling.

Have you read The Open Hearted Way to Open Adoption? What did you think of it? What do you think makes a successful open aodoption relationship? Share your comments in the section below.

Do you have an open adoption story?
If you’re interested in doing an interview, contact me here any time or check out our Guidelines For Guest Posts at America Adopts!