Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Another birth mother panel

We attended a birthmother panel from our adoption agency last week. It is mandatory for all their clients. I have to preface this by saying that I am aware that I have a bias already, as one who wishes to adopt a child. I am also aware that their experiences don't always mirror the experiences of others. I'm leaving out a few identifying details as well. There were 3 birth mothers, including one who shared her experience last year. I have to say, that it was quite obvious that these young women loved their children. In no way did I get the impression that they did not consider the children they gave birth to as not theirs, though they did not claim proprietorship. One person asked what they looked for choosing a profile. They talked about looking for something that clicked with them, whether it was an activity they liked or a love of dogs. Of course, they were looking for a couple that were financially and emotionally stable. They noted that if they had gone through infertility, that was a plus because it showed the couple could weather hard times. Then they went through the book, picked the ones they liked and then met with each of them. Based on how those meetings go, they make a decision.

I did ask why they decided to not parent their children. They all said it was for financial reasons. Because of their life circumstances, including jerk boyfriends who broke up with them, they felt that they could not give the child what they deserved to have.

One girl was an adoptee herself. She expressed how painful it was growing up not knowing where she came from. She believed it was in the best interest of the child to know their original parents. Another girl had given up TWO of her children. She became pregnant in high school, relinquished the child and THEN changed her mind and kept the child for 4 months before giving the child back to the adoptive parents. The second time was a couple years later (apparently she forgot about the torment she went through) and became pregnant again. She made a remark about wanting to have children of our own one day but until then she could go to someone else's living room to see her children play.

Another birthmother expressed that she was having difficulty in seeing her young son because the adoptive parents were not returning her calls and letting her see the child on the birthday or Christmas. Her next step was for mediation. I don't know the details of her open agreement with the parents, I don't think it's legally enforceable, though, correct me if I'm wrong. I could tell she was really distressed about not being able to spend time with the child. At the same time, I could well imagine the adoptive mother trying to deal with a growing child's questions as to what role she played in the child's family life. She may have had holiday plans that did not include the birth mother or realized that she wanted to control the frequency of access to the child.

We left as soon as it was over, dashing out. I did have a charity function to go to but that wasn't the reason I was in such a hurry. I have to admit, I got the impression that adoptive parents had all expense and responsibility of raising a child and the birth mothers still wanted to play a big part in the child's life. The issue may be the frequency of contact, the type of contact and the fact that people often change their minds about open agreements. What happens when teenage rebellion rears its ugly head and the birth mother can easily become default parent? DH and I discussed the type of agreement that we could live with when we get chosen. I get that open adoption is what's best for the child, not the adults. I don't mind being in contact with a birth mother, knowing the person and important medical factors, but I don't want to have a monthly visitation either. I want to be a child's mother, not a babysitter or a guardian. I certainly know how DH feels and he happens to be a very protective person. Trust me when I tell you he's not as flexible as I am. I appreciate and respect a woman's choice to have a child and place it for adoption so that they can have a better life. That's a kind of sacrifice that I could never understand. I've already thought of the type of gift I would give the birth mother to commemorate the child's birth.

I've read adoptive parents' blogs about open adoption and I've read the books about how important it is for the child. I get it and I would never keep their origins a secret from them. I guess I just have to wait and see what happens and just keep my heart open.


Anonymous said...

Your thought seems to mirror those of mine and my husband's. We will take on the long nights, 3am feedings, paying for braces, buying formal wear, etc. We'll be the ones to hand out hugs as well as discipline, and the birthparents will show up to take the kid out for ice cream? Just doesn't seem quite fair. Seems to me that it will make it really easy for my angry 16-year-old to shout that I'm not the boss of her and she's going to her REAL mom.

Re: the enforceability of contact agreements, one of the agencies we spoke with told us that it varies from state to state. I believe that in VA (just off the top of my head) is one of the states where the legal world can step in and FORCE adoptive parents to abide by a written contact agreement and if you want it changed, you have to appeal the courts. Ack.

Me said...

The fears you stated are just one reason why I could never do open adoption.

Wordgirl said...

Oh I so understand what you're saying - -just the other day I read a post from a woman who had adopted and her honest, raw, real struggles with the decision when the adoption, in this case of an older child through an international adoption, doesn't go well-- and I thought to myself again how all of these paths test us, don't they? They ask us to think about our fears, to wonder how strong we might be in the face of 'X' circumstance....I can say from, albeit a different position -- as a stepmom coparenting with the 'mother' - -that love pushes you past the boundaries you might not otherwise imagine crossing...

*sigh* my heart is with you friend.

And man wouldn't it be nice to sit at a coffee shop and just eat croissants and drink rich coffee -- carbs be damned!

Much love,


luna said...

in cal, contact agreements can be filed with the adoption papers in court but they will never set aside the adoption. a judge could order the parties to abide, but mostly it will depend on the circs and the ability/willingness of both parties to comply. ideally, you build a trust and honor whatever agreement makes both sides comfortable, so courts stay out of it.

for what its worth, the birth mothers I've heard have all respected the adoptive parents role as the child's parents and never expected to "re-claim" the child later. they all knew they made the best choice at the time. as for what role they will have, it's up to you all to define the openness AND the boundaries.

I hate that money is even an issue. I know we're not in the position of so many other couples waiting to adopt. but ultimately we have to hope someone will connect with us because we are who we are, not because of what kind of car we drive or how big our house is... but a girl can dream, right?

OHN said...

Our adoption happened to be closed because that was the way our agency operated. Personally, I would find it very hard to have an open situation. I was so scared that at any given moment someone could swoop in and take our son away. I know now that those feelings were unrealistic but once you hold that child he is yours and you become fiercely protective.

I have known open situations that worked beautifully but it wasn't something I would have been comfortable with.

Guera! said...

My husband is completely closed to the idea of open adoption. Since we probably won't adopt a newborn it might make it a little less challenging since our case worker told us that parents who legally have their children taken away as opposed to voluntarily giving them up have no motivation to parent or be involved with their kids. I have to say I would have a really hard time with open adoption if we adopted an infant from a birth mother who chose us.

loribeth said...

Started & deleted comments several times. All I can really say is, I hear ya. It's a complicated situation, for sure. "Just adopt," indeed....

Anonymous said...

I understand that many potential adoptive parents look at open adoption as if it were a situation similar to that of divorce. The custodial parents (the adoptive parents in this analogy) do all the heavy lifting of parenting and the weekend parent (the birth parent in this example) comes in and plays fun parent for a short time, and then hands the kid back off to the "caregivers" until the next visit.

All I can say about that as an adoptive parent in open adoption is that I've never seen or heard about any open adoption relationship that resembles such a scenario. I am my daughter's mother and my husband is her father. We are not co-parenting with her firstparents. We exchange letters, e-mails and phone calls and periodic in person visits. (All of this is decided by the adoptive parent before you match...if you are not comfortable with in person, just do cards and letters).

Also, all in person contact (something that is not a feature of all open adoptions, by the way) is done with us present. Zara's firstmom does not take her for outings, buy ice cream or take her shopping. There are no pseudo-custodial visits like people seem to imagine (such as in the divorce example I gave.) Most people in open adoption who do in person meetings don't even meet at their home. They meet at a neutral location. Our agency has an annual picnic and that is where many families meet so there is less difficulty of explaining who this is and why she or he is here.

But the point I'm really trying to make clear here is that open adoption is not co-parenting. There isn't any competition or threat between you and the birthparents. Sure it can be tricky initially until everyone gets settled, but birthparents are not running around snatching babies back and adoptive parents are not stealing them from mothers in the hospital.

Will my kid say to me at 16, "I'm pissed at you and I'm going to go live with my REAL mom!" Probably. As an adolescent medicine doc I know that the teen will lob a salvo at whatever s/he perceives to be your weakest area. So yeah, I know Z is going to say that to me.

But here's the thing. First, my response will be that she is currently living with her REAL mother and going to live with her birthmother is not an option. And second, as I am a friend to her firstmother, this eventual issue will have been discussed, as will our plan for handling it so that there will be no triangulation. We will deal. That's what you do with teens.

But if it wasn't adoption it would be something else. I'm going to live with my friend's mom because you're too old and strict! No matter what, there will always be something thrown.

Finally let me get back to the birthparents. I don't know, but when Zara's firstmother handed that precious little bundle to me during the entrustment ceremony she put together in the hospital to formally entrust her to us as her parents and I saw the heartache this decision caused her, and I knew that there was no way that I couldn't keep my promise to let her know how this little one did as she grew. I cannot imagine handing over a child I gave birth to because of my financial circumstances and never hearing anything of them again until perhaps they searched for me after they turned 18. It is not fathomable. She entrusted this baby to me. It was a small thing for me to keep her apprised about how she grows.

Well I've written a book here, but you've touched on a subject that is very, very significant in my life. I know many families living in open adoption and it works. You are the only parents of the child, yet the firstfamily knows the child they never stopped loving.

Be well.

Pamela T. said...

Ditto Me's thoughts.

chicklet said...

I hate the financial aspect, it drives me absolutely crazy, but the open adoption thing I don't know that I could even do. Your fears are my fears, and it's what puts me to wanting a closed adoption if we do one. I'm okay with my child knowing where they came from, but an open and interactive relationship? No way. And that's not me being close-minded, it's me knowing my own insecurities and lack of patience, and how it just would cause me more grief. You're very brave being open to open adoption. I think it's great that you can do it.

Barely Sane said...

I could write a novel on the financial aspect of the whole IF/Adoption world, but I'll skip it.

What I AM going to mention is the term "open adoption" that keeps getting thrown around. I think that many placements today have a certain level of "openness" and that as a prospective adoptive parent, you would hopefully be matched with a prospective birthmother who shares your same ideas on the subject.

I would never invite a stranger I just met into my home. Rather, I wait until a relationship has developed and there are certain comfort levels. You may find you are matched with a birthmom you totally click with and find you have compatible personalities. Or you are matched with someone with whom your only common ground is the adopted child. You just never know until you are immersed in it which is why I think that openness agreements tend to start out with minimal contact but usually flourish over time.

Just my 2 cents worth.

Anonymous said...

I agree with "me." I ended up choosing donor eggs to have a child. While that comes with it's own issues and expenses, in the end, it seemed like the less difficult road to travel. I wonder is it possible anymore to have a closed adoption with an open window in case the first mom and child want to meet at some point in the future? I would never want to take that away that possibility from my child, if that were possible. Ironically, the only program we were offered for DE was an anonymous program, so all I will have is a small bit of information to pass on.

Michelle said...

Just wanted to add one additional thought to this posting. You have to remember that the birthmoms you saw on the panel are not a random selection -- these women have agreed to come talk to a group of strangers about their experiences. In my opinion, this will slant the discussion to the extremes (such as highly positive or highly negative/extensive contact or denied contact) as those having an extreme aspect to their situation are more likely to want to have a forum. Extremes like this seem to be on either end of the "bell curve" of open adoptions.

Based on what I have read on various adoption boards and within my adoption support group, the great majority of open adoptions are in the middle -- letters, photos, one visit or, more commonly in my experience -- no visits.

Having lived through joint custody with my older children, open adoption is a completely different experience -- both physically and emotionally.

Don't know if you will find this helpful -- but I did want to comment on the selection effect that occurs in such presentations.

Lori Lavender Luz said...

I have both types of adoptions. DD's is fully open and DS's is closed because his birthparents have chosen it.

There are so many dynamics at play -- at least 5 in each adoption. Yours, your husband's, the two birthparents, and the child's. Not to mention any siblings (either birth- or otherwise).

I think there is a cosmic order to the way things come together. You will find the situation that fits you.

DD's situation seems to be what she needs. Her personality is such that she NEEDS to know. Ongoing and frequent contact with her birthparents is a healthy thing for her. And, as TeenDoc said, it does not feel like either of them show up just for the fun parts and are waiting in the wings to take over when she's a teenager (though I might ask them to, lol. Kidding.).

DS, on the other hand, seems (at this stage) to not need contact. Knowledge of names, and the occasional photo are enough for him.

I just don't like to live from fear. From good sense, yes (DD's birthfather was just recently added to our lives, since there were some reasons for being closed). But from fear, no.

Unless it involves scuba or skydiving. Then I'm all about fear.