I will never rescind my emphatically argued stance that open adoption is generally in the best interest of a child. Medical records are the simplest, most concrete supporting reason, but they are by far not the end of the argument. Both anecdotal and statistical research indicates that children fare better when given access to information about and contact with their biological families. Unless biological relatives present a discernible danger to the child, in which case all bets are off and contact should be handled cautiously and in small steps, I would never condone denying or even limiting contact.
But I now find myself wondering, where do we place the line between ‘providing access’ to information and visits and, as adoptive parents, facilitating, or even forcing, such contact?
In both cases, our adoption agreements involve letters and pictures, but at our initiative and consent the adoptions are far more open in practice — email, text, calls, Facebook and visits. Both of our sons have now spent a weekend with their respective biological mothers at around 6-8 months old. We suggested and arranged both visits, feeling very strongly that all parties concerned would benefit. We provided for extensive time alone between each pair.
But past infancy, should we involuntarily arrange visits? Or should we wait until each child expresses a desire to spend more time with his birthmother? In either case, we are in an open adoption, in which information is freely exchanged and available. But I’m beginning to wonder if a dose of Open Adoption Kool-Aid led me to believe that more contact is always better for everyone. If every adoption is different, why would I believe that part of my duty as an adoptive parent is to suggest, re-suggest, arrange and provide visits from several states away? Especially if one or both birthmothers have gone on to lead increasingly complex, and not always healthy or stable lives, at what point is it more my responsibility to reserve visits for a time when my sons can expressly request them, when they will also be more able to process the nature of their families? Knowing myself, and knowing that the information and contact — and moreover, the respect and open dialogue — will always, always be present, would I be acting with cautious protection or doing a disservice to my sons by holding off on further visits?
One vital idea I always keep close: Someday, I will answer to my sons for everything I have ever said or done regarding their adoptions. And I have no regrets. (Even standing up to internet adoption bullies. I’m actually quite comfortable about that.) I have often assumed that this will mean accounting for every opportunity for contact: Did I do enough? But now, after a very thought-provoking weekend with my younger son’s birthmom, which led to much thought about both situations, will I also wonder if I did too much?
If open adoption is intended for the benefit of the child — not to address the coping status of the birthmother, or the collective conscience of the adoptive parents — how do we know when visits are actually benefiting the child? Is there even a ‘we’ in any of this? Aside from basic values — respect, honesty and love for the child — is there anything even approaching a ‘rule’ that can be applied equally to more than one adoption?
I have let myself feel awful that a visit with my older son’s birthmom hasn’t worked out since he was a baby. And then I remember that she hasn’t asked for one, let alone put forth any effort. She never even asks how he is doing. If he likes school. How tall he is. We don’t hear anything. No relationship functions as a one-way street. Why do I still feel like the obligation for contact and the potential for visits is mine alone?
Similarly, I feel awful that our weekend with our younger son’s birthmom was problematic, to say the least. For the well-being of my children, I know that better understandings need to be reached before she can visit again. Why does that feel like failure?
My husband and I don’t have the answers to any of these questions. We don’t feel compelled to have answers at this point. Asking the questions is the important part right now. We’re okay with figuring things out as we go — maybe even with asking a few of these questions to the people who might be able to answer them, because we can’t (and shouldn’t) try to figure this out on our own.
And on that note, I would really like to hear thoughts from any of my readers on this. What has worked? What have you needed to rethink, and why? Has your child’s adoption opened up more over the years? What set that pace? Has it closed, or has contact faded out? Why? Feel free to reply as a comment, or email me if you’re more comfortable doing that than posting in public: firstname.lastname@example.org.