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I placed my daughter in an open adoption in 2002. I started this blog in 2004 as a place to journal and eventually I became part of a community. The community has moved on, but I have decided to come back.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Do I Ever Want to Walk Away?

Round is Funny asked if I've ever wanted to pull away from my open adoption. The short answer is yes, many times.

She also wondered how my daughter's parents handled it, but the thing is, I've never really pulled away. I don't initiate contact much and they have asked me to make more of an effort in that area, though I think they've given up on that by now. The truth is I stink at keeping in touch with everyone and it pretty much runs in my family. I have no idea if they ever have to do damage control for my lack of communication or how they do it if they do.

But.....I do have lots of thoughts about why it's so tempting to pull away.

First things first, it is a myth that open adoption somehow makes things easier. You know that whole group who might admit that closed adoption is wrong and harmful, but argue that open adoption is all sweetness and light, especially for birthmothers. Because I can see my daughter and know that she is okay and be a part of her life, there is this misconception that I don't (and shouldn't) have any of the well-documented negative effects of relinquishment. Um, it's not true (though I confess to having no personal knowledge of being a birthmother in a closed adoption). I do have plenty of those same loss-related issues.

And out among most of the rest of the world, it's really hard to defend and explain open adoption. While intellectually, I believe in the benefits, it can be hard to stand behind them.

Let's face it, even among those who accept open adoption, there is still a sense that open adoption is about making things better for the birthparents. It is a sacrifice that adoptive parents make because they are so good and kind-hearted. It is the only way women these days will give up their babies (those birthmothers have become awfully demanding, haven't they?). It's about lessening the effects on the birthmother. The message is that I should feel very lucky that I am allowed to see me daughter. Her parents are awfully generous for allowing me to visit.

Even those who acknowledge that adoptees benefit from knowing their roots cling to the idea that it should be on their terms, not the birthparents'. And because little kids aren't seen as able to make those decisions, those same people usually leave it up to the adoptive parents or for some later date when the child is deemed old enough to ask for contact. An alarming number of people truly believe that open adoption is harmful. Because most of these people happen to be adoptive parents and therefore deemed more respectable by the general public, it seems they get a lot more support for their side.

Still, even if we assume that both parties understand and agree with all of the benefits to all the triad members, there is basically no support from society, including a big chunk of the adoption world. All of the false messages I've already mentioned (and many more) are the majority view. My daughter's parents' social workers told them that open adoption would be confusing and that they never should have given me their address. My friends encouraged me to walk away and "let them be a family." Even today, most of the people in my life continue to tell me how lucky I am to be allowed to see my daughter. Even those who are supportive of my open adoption are supportive because they care about me, not because they really believe it's better for her. When the rest of the world can't see the benefits, it can be very hard to keep believing in them yourself.

During the first year of my daughter's life (and beyond), my daughter's parents questioned the need for openness. I see this in the general population as well. People are starting to understand the need and desire for information, but beyond that? Not so much. An actual physical relationship? No way. Actually thinking of yourselves as family? Crazy. For awhile, my daughter's parents felt the same. They wondered if having all that information about me would be enough to meet that need for my daughter. Couldn't I just put everything down on paper so they could answer any questions as they arose? Did my daughter really need to physically know me? And on my side: wouldn't I get over it better if I just walked away?

By accepting that adopted children do need to physically know their birthparents,we have to acknowledge both the bond they share and the loss that is felt. We have to accept that eternal connection. We have to be willing to accept that the relationship is important. We have to really believe that the biological family is still family. I've met very few people who really feel that in their core.

Birthmothers often give that validation to each other, but it often comes across as a way to help ease the pain and guilt associated with losing a child to adoption rather than a genuine belief that the connection should be valued. Often it's said out of happiness for the birthmother and no other reason. There's nothing wrong with that, but imagine that even in the small group of other birthmothers you know, you are still a misunderstood minority. I've participated in some communities where I was made to feel guilty about grieving my open adoption. How could I complain and grieve when I at least still had contact.

There are other people who say the words because the literature has convinced them, but it is clear they are still questioning the truth of it. The truly adoption-ignorant (nothing insulting meant with that description) can most easily be persuaded. Give them a few of the arguments and a light bulb goes off (oh yeah, that makes perfect sense). Everyone else gets caught up in choosing a side or just sticks to the one adoption story they know and clings to how that was done.

I still think it goes back to society. We are a long, long way from embracing open adoption.

There are no visible models of open adoption. It's not a well understood way to make a family. Living open adoption fully requires the willingness and ability to constantly educate people and to fight against the preconceptions and prejudices (this goes for all involved parties). It can involve sharing more than you want to share about your life. It involves all the same complications as other family relationships except that most of the world doesn't see you as family and is more than likely to encourage you to cut ties when things get hard.

Open adoption means that the people I get close to have to accept that part of me. While it may be unhealthy, if my daughter's adoption were closed, I could live as if she didn't exist. Other than the lie of omission, there would be no covering up. I could bury that secret away and live my life in blissful denial. People do it all the time with a variety of dark secrets.

Living open adoption also means accepting the somewhat opposing beliefs that I am both unworthy of mothering my daughter and important enough to have my own unique relationship with her. For me, sometimes the openness makes me wonder why I thought I couldn't raise her. If I was trying to protect her from my bad parenting, then what am I doing still playing a part in her life? Shouldn't I be staying away? Isn't that why she isn't with me?

Added to that is the message that because I chose to give her up, I have an obligation to stay out of her life. As the relinquisher, I have also lost my right to have a valid opinion about adoption. My choice and my sins have taken away my right to advocate for open adoption. I'm not allowed to try to persuade people that open adoption is healthy because clearly my motives are not pure. Clearly, I'm just not able to let go, to accept that I gave my daughter up. I just want to infringe on her parents right to be parents, to get all of the joy of being a mother with none of the work. I know you've all heard those statements. I can bet you that every birthmother who has ever planned to be in an open adoption has heard them too.

I've said it a lot, but it is absolutely true that the pregnancy and surrender cause enough shame and guilt. These additional comments only help add to the feeling that you are not worthy, that your presence in your child's life is actually harmful, that your reasons for pursuing openness are only about you and not about the child whose life you forever altered (with an emphasis on the blame- I am still the sinner because I abandoned her- almost every blogger has touched on that issue this month). We get those messages from everyone.

99.9999999% of society doesn't understand or believe in openness. Every one of them questions your worth, your character, and your motives purely because you made a choice to give up your own flesh and blood. It is hard to combat those messages, especially when you consider the amount of trauma involved in losing your child, the devastating and unexpected aftereffects of placement, and in some cases the personal history that contributed to your decision to place.

I had it drilled into me that open adoption was good for my daughter, that it was the only humane way to do adoption, and that I had an obligation to her not to walk away. Not a lot of women get that message. Very few women get that message. Yet even with that message drilled into me, I still question my daughter's need for me. My reasoning: Lots of people love her. Seeing me so often causes her pain and distress. I disrupt everyone's life with my visits. Surely the naysayers are right- having the information about me is enough. I should step aside and let them be a family. I should let my daughter decide when she is old enough.

To keep believing in open adoption, you really have to trust the people who taught you about it. You really have to feel enough self-worth. You really have to have people in your life who believe in it too and encourage you to keep in contact. You really have to see the benefits over time to be able to keep investing in open adoption.

And it is an investment. I thought I chose not to parent, but I'm there answering questions and interacting with my child. I'm making decisions about what I'm modeling for her, what things I'm willing to talk about, how I handle difficult situations. I'm influencing her. I didn't get rid of the hard parts of being a parent- I added new complications. I may not get to decide what she eats or what her bedtime is, but I have to decide what message I want to send her about her birthfather, about love, about losing her, about why someone could give up their child.

I had to trust virtual strangers to raise my child and I get to witness firsthand the things that make them great parents as well as the things I would do differently. I get to witness someone else's family traditions and customs become my daughter's norm while mine remain unknown. I get to watch strangers come to know my daughter better than I do.

I get to watch my daughter go through all the milestones from the sidelines. I watch as she turns to someone else for comfort even as I feel all the instincts of a mother to protect her. I pray that she will embrace some of my values while recognizing that I am not the main influence on who she becomes- I gave that up.

I say goodbye to her over and over again. My heart breaks every time I leave. In between I wonder if I will see her again. If she were sick or hurt, would anyone think to call me? When?

Yes, many times I want to walk away. When it gets too hard or too complicated, I want to believe that I am unworthy. I want to believe that I am confusing her. I want to believe that I can move on. I want to believe that our bond is not that important. I want to believe that the couple raising her are the only one's that matter. I want to believe that she will be fine without me. I certainly hear those messages enough.

But then I'll remember her voice calling my name- making sure I'm not far away. I'll see her face as she looks to see if I'm watching. I'll remember her tears as she told me she missed me. I'll remember the way she nonchalantly said that she liked being in my belly. I'll think of the way she sometimes looks at me as if seeing a reflection of herself. That's when I know that I need to stay. That's when I know that open adoption really is good for my daughter. And then I recommit to staying in her life.



21 comments:

Heather said...

Thank you for sharing this. I just wanted to let you know how significant your writing has been for me as an adoptive parent in an open adoption. Reading about your relationship with your daughter has helped me better understand the bond between my son and his first parents, as well as the shared loss. I have always thought that the phsyical, in-person relationship was important, but I've gone from believing it philosophically to really believing it in my heart.

Jenna said...

I'll be featuring this in Fresh Outlook Friday this week. You said SO much here that NEEDS to be read by others; not just adoptive parents or those undeducated on adoption, but birth mothers struggling with these issues themselves. I feel a lot of what you said here, as well, and I want to thank you for taking the time to write it all out.

(I'm also linking this post from The Chronicles blog.)

mama2roo said...

That gives me even more insight into why my son's firstmom may have a hard time keeping connected. I think I figured some of it out but you did such a nice job of pulling together a lot of points I hadn't thought of before. Thank you.

Dawn said...

I strongly strongly strongly believe that Madison very much benefits from having her first mom physically in her life and am very grateful that Jessica is able to do that right now (both practically and emotionally). You're right that most people don't "get" open adoption but here again first moms bear the brunt of the prejudice. I get a lot of praise for being so "giving" and I know that Jessica isn't praised that way. I get told how often Jessica should be "grateful" to us instead of how fortunate Madison is to not lose this very important person entirely.

You said a lot of very important stuff here -- thank you.

Poor_Statue said...

Thank you to all of you. Dawn, I appreciate what you said about other's reactions. You're right. I get no praise for my commitment to openness even from the people in my life. And it's not that I need it, it just underscores the misconceptions and prejudice.

Anonymous said...

Don't misunderstand silence from the people in your life for disapproval or even indifference. You have taken considerable time to sort out your feelings and translate them. Perhaps those close to you are still in the process.
The world is a better place because you allowed your daughter to be born and raised by parents that were ready.

Round is Funny said...

You are great - you know that?

Your post just makes me ache for a relationship like yours with Roo's birthfamily, despite the difficulties.

Pool Snapshot said...

This is so powerful. Thank you so much for writing this. I agree with Jenna that this needs to be read by a lot of people.
And you are definitely NOT unworthy.

Possum said...

I can't start to imagine how very hard this all is for you - but as an adoptee - I think it is so very important for you to stay front and centre (as much as possible) in your daughter's life.
She is part of you - you are part of her.
FOREVER.
Adoptees need to know that they are loved - especially by their first mums.
She will love and respect you more for all this. You are making a history together - even if it is in small doses here and there.
Yes - I very much believe that you could have parented her - so very well - but decisions were made - and you can't go back.
Now you MUST remain in her life - she needs you.
I'm so sorry that it has to hurt so bad.
Biggest hugs, Possum. (an adoptee from Down Under)

Possum said...

I just re-read my comment - I hope I didn't come off harsh at all.
It was not what I was hoping for.
I haven't caught up on all your posts yet - but I'm sure that if you had been given the right support - and told the truth about the pain that would lie ahead for you (whether you had an open or closed adoption)- perhaps other decisions may have taken place.
Oh - I hope you know what I mean.
Can't get my words right tonight.
Sorry.
Poss. xx

shanamadele said...

Just another open-adoption mama saying thanks for posting this. I found it very helpful to read.

Going Back to Square One said...

Thank you for this, THANK YOU.

pinecone said...

Thank you for posting this. It helps me to understand my son's birthparents better.

I hope more people start to "get" open adoption as time goes on. Even as an adoptive parent, I am sometimes hurt and often annoyed by the negative comments I get from people....and at those times I start to realize how much more difficult it must be for the birthmom or dad.

You are a brave woman.

Nicole said...

This is the single best piece of writing on what open adoption is, for us first moms, that I've ever read.

THANK YOU for writing it.

Thank you.

Marnie said...

This post is just amazing. Thanks for writing and sharing it.
Your writing is changing people's ideas and lives, including mine, my son's, and his first mother.
As a member of an open adoption it seems to me that there is a lot of unspoken fear about openess, which causes some of the reactions. When I get the "why would you want to do that?(have an open adoption)" it is rarely followed up with an actual silence where I can explain why. The asker usually goes on to elaborate why they think it is a bad idea- even though they themselves are not in an adoptive family. Like they really don't want to hear a good reason.
I want to say something here about the ebb and flow of contact- related to how you expressed your feelings but not finding the right words..... maybe just thanks for validating that maybe some space occasionally isn't a rejection, just an ebb....

Attila The Mom said...

Really great post. It's so hard to get rid of the stereotype that adoption is a win/win/win for everybody involved. I so enjoyed reading this.

cloudscome said...

I want to say thank you for writing this too. You did such a great job of clearly saying many very important things. I want even more to know my son's first parents. I am hopeful for the future. Now I see a little better what they are up against.

Mom2One said...

Wow. Powerful, beautifully written.

Debbie B said...

I just found your blog and have followed you to your new one but I read this post and I really wanted to comment.

I'm a new adoptive parent in an open adoption. Our daughter was born in April. It's so refreshing for me to see an open adoption that is actually working. I've read on so many birthmom blogs that the adoptive parents stopped contact. It really saddens me to see how they break their commitment.
We have an okay relationship with our birthmom but it is only the beginning so it's just a bit awkward. I hope that as time passes it will become more comfortable, well as comfortable as it can be. We also have gotten to know some of her family as well. Our daughter has more grandparents & great grandparents because of this relationship. We love it. Love to see our daughter loved by so many.

The last paragraph really touched me. The reasons that you stay in the relationship.
I'm so thankful for our birthmom and I hope that she will feel similar as our daughter grows.

6p01156e85b1b7970c said...

Your genuine, heart-deep writing speaks volumes in behalf of birth mothers.

I am quite sad that "99.9999% of society doesn't understand... questions your worth, your charachter, your motives". I thought we had evolved and made more progress than that. Obviously, more voices like yours are needed.

I was touched by your conception of your role as a parent, "the messages you send about her birth father, about love, about losing her". You are part of your child's life tapestry and she is part of yours, which can never be denied or altered.

I will want to continue learning from you as I work to serve mothers who choose to reliquish. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

I am one of the birthmoms whose adopted family has walked away from. It has always been painful for me. And continues to be very painful- especially with some recent inquiries from her into my family. She has made it clear that she wants no contact with me.

The wound has been reopened...I have been waiting for this day since she was born- the day that I might have a chance to talk to her again...not sure what to do.