What I Wish Others Knew About Open Adoption

This guest post is by Chemene, an adoptive mother and adoption support group leader. 

When I was in my 20’s I wished for a time machine to go back and change the things I did in high school. 

You know those really important things: Break up with my boyfriend sooner; study for a test days NOT hours before while in homeroom; get better clothes!  

In my 30’s I wished I could go back to my childhood and experience that feeling of no responsibility; no bills; no taxes; maybe relive even my first childhood kiss. 

But recently I asked myself would I go back now to make changes?  My answer would be a little different.  It wouldn’t be 100% yes, it would be more like 50/50.  

In my now late 40’s I have realized that all those mistakes and uneducated choices is what made me who I am today.  Why would I change that?  

I wouldn’t meet the same people or go to the same places. I love what I have become and wouldn’t want to change that.

But one thing does bother me and if I could go back and have a chat with my 30 year old self I would say…Open your heart and your mind!

I started my adoption journey years before I actually went to get certified.  I went with my BFF in 2004 to an agency in California.  

I went with her to support her journey through infertility.  She was looking at different options to grow her family.

I will be brutally honest here and state I wasn’t ready to hear about adoption. I was going through the very early stages of my own infertility journey and none of what I heard at the orientation session sat well with me.  

I actually walked out! Why did I walk out?  Fear.  Pure fear.  It was an unknown journey and I had no education on this path.  

No one who had gone through it before.  No internet to help me access articles of others and no Facebook!

I have found over the years families come to me and start off just like I did: Closed-minded and uneducated.

But closed-minded isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It means they haven’t learned enough on the path and haven’t experienced enough to understand what they are saying is inappropriate or insulting.

Take open adoption, for example.  Many pre-adoptive families learn the phrase and use it in their social media campaigns as a hashtag to get out to the masses that they want to find a match with an expectant family.  

But do they truly understand what open adoption means?

It’s unfair to put it out there that you’re ok with open adoption while behind closed doors you’re not even sure what it truly means.

That’s not ethical for the expectant family and definitely not fair to the child. Back in the day I had no idea what open adoption meant, and I was afraid.  

I thought of open adoption as a bad thing for a child. That it would confuse them.

Today, I would tell my 30-year-old self that your lack of knowledge is hampering your understanding and you have to stop thinking of just yourself in this journey. It’s not about you!!

How about after you bring home a baby?  Many families feel that once the baby comes home that’s the end of the journey. Phew, the hard part is over!

Sorry to burst your bubble but that’s just the beginning! This parenting thing isn’t easy no matter if your child is adopted or not.  

Open your mind to learning different techniques, different parenting skills, and how to be flexible as your child grows.  

I was completely closed-minded when I began 10 years ago and after leading a support group this long, I have met people that teach me things every day.  

Last year I went to the Empowered To Connect simulcast in NJ.  I had no idea what this conference was about, but I was willing to learn and listen.  

Do I have to agree with everything? Absolutely not.  But I was willing to hear what was said.  And let me tell you it gave me the best parenting advice I have ever had. Can’t wait to go again this year.

This year my group grew exponentially with foster to adopt families , which in turn taught me more things about adoption.  More options, more paths to building a family.  

I had no idea there are children locally in need of families. But if I didn’t get out there and listen to professionals, listen to my friends, and read, I wouldn’t know any of this.

Read, listen and educate.

Fear can stop you from learning and preparing you for the future of your child.  

Are you the type of person who scrolls through Facebook and when you see an article on adoption trauma, your thumb just swipes it away? Or do you click on it and say that’s not gonna be my child?  

Let me tell you the one thing I have learned that we cannot disregard: As amazing as adoption or open adoption may be, it comes with loss.  

And if you ignore that loss your journey could turn against you.

It took me years — and I mean years — to feel that I could open my heart and my mind to others giving me input.

My group is more of a parenting group at this point and some pre-adoptive families leave because they are not ready to hear about the “after” portion of the journey.  

That’s smart in some ways. If you feel your mental health is important you have to do what’s best for you.

But I will steal a quote from another member who said to me, “It’s like me saying I want to be a doctor but I don’t wanna learn anything until I’m in the operating room.”  

You have to do what’s best for you and your family. But for me, I wish I had that time machine!  My 30-year-old self would have appreciated it!

Chemene is an adoptive parent of a 7 1/2-year-old boy adopted January 2010 and a biological son born April 2014.  Over the last 15 years her journey has taken her through IVF and loss to adoption and family.  She now spends her time as a full-time mom and an adoption/foster care support group leader for those waiting and those who have found their forever families.

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