Preparing for Open Adoption? One Adoptive Mother’s Thoughts

This guest post is by Barbara Freedgood, an adoptive mother and psychotherapist.

barbAs I sit watching the snowflakes falling outside my kitchen window, my mind wanders back to the time when my husband and I were adopting. So here come my thoughts.

When hopeful adoptive parents talk about adoption, they often talk about it as if it were one thing. That one thing is finding a child to love and raise as family, but that is actually just one outcome of adoption.

Adoption begins with a dream and turns into a lifelong series of challenges that evolve as the child and family grow. Adoption is a process.

If you thought infertility took grit, try adopting! For many of us, before we ever consider adopting, we have already been trying to have a child for some time. (I promise not to tell you to mourn here. I’m quite sure someone else has done that!)

So we are tired, but we are also really good at trying. It’s a tough process, adoption.

Today, those of you adopting here in the United States and Canada are greeted by an entirely new world from the one we encountered some twenty-five years ago when my husband and I set out to find our children.

Our son came to us in 1990, our daughter in 1999.

Back then, open adoption was practiced but not widely promoted.

Prospective adoptive parents were counseled to offer some small token of contact with birth parents in the way of pictures if they wanted them. They were advised to tell the children they adopted that they could search for their birthparents when they were eighteen, if they so desired.

Adoptions were by and large closed and at the time. We believed that was best for lots of reasons. We thought open adoption would be confusing to our children.

And let’s face it, when you’re considering becoming a parent, you don’t usually think of sharing your child with another set of parents as a first choice!

What we did not understand, what nobody told us at the time, was that we would be sharing our children psychologically with another mother and another family. We did not understand that our children would long for this family that they never really knew.

And we believed, as most people adopting do, that our love could cure all.

Fast forward to the twenty-first century, when closed adoption is, in effect, no longer an option. My children have struggled with their losses as have my husband and I.

Our children have needed more than love. They have needed therapy. They have needed special schools and services to help with issues possibly created before or during pregnancy and by adoption. They have needed to know where they come from.

In order to help them we decided to search for their birth families.

The first reunion, which is ongoing, has been wonderful and successful, if not without pain. The second has not. The failure of the second reunion has caused a great deal of suffering for the whole family.

So am I offering you a cautionary tale, or a strong argument for open adoption, or just one family’s story?

The hope is that open adoption will mitigate losses so that children can know their histories and not feel that they were placed for adoption because they were in some way bad.

In the best-case scenarios, they can maintain connection and garner even more love from having two families. It will not, however, erase the loss of possibilities not lived.

Open adoption will not solve the challenges of those children for whose welfare the biological mother truly does not care and for those who are subjected to in utero trauma such as alcohol, drugs, or violence. They will need more care than you can even imagine.

Love will not be enough.

Most likely, they will need a lot of services. The accomplished advocate that you have become going through infertility and then through adoption will serve you well.

The adoptive parent-to-be is a bond looking to happen.

I realize as I write this that you may very well see me as anti-inspirational at a moment when you truly need to be cheered on. There are plenty of blogs, books and websites that will do that for you.

As I look back, I wish that someone had been as honest with me as I am being with you. I would have been much better prepared for the journey of parenting a family formed by adoption.

And yes, I would do it again!

Barbara Freedgood, LCSW is the mother of two children adopted at birth in the United States and psychotherapist in private practice in New York City. She is the author of the article: Loss and Resiliency Form a Family: A Relational Story of Adoption available through her website. She runs post adoption support groups for adoptive parents of children of all ages.

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