“What are your thoughts on open adoption?” What would happen if you posed the question to someone at a dinner party? Would they even be familiar with the term? Let’s say they had never heard of it before, and you explained that open adoption exists on a continuum from barely open – all correspondence between adoptive parents and birth parents is filtered through an adoption agency, with all parties remaining anonymous; to completely open - vital relationships flowing gracefully among all members of the adoption circle. What do you suppose their initial response would be?

Prior to my daughter’s pregnancy and the placement of my granddaughter in an open adoption almost three years ago, I, too, had never heard of the term. When the concept was explained to me, it sounded wonderful. But it also triggered a lot of questions about how such a paradigm would operate and be successful. So I went to the library and started reading.

As my daughter’s pregnancy advanced, along with preparations for the adoption, I shared with friends and family what I was learning about open adoption. The reactions I received were passionate. Not everyone, I learned, saw open adoption in the same hopeful light as I did. People just didn’t believe that it could work. They insisted the child would be terribly torn between two worlds – her adoptive family and birth family. That it would be too painful - not only for the child, but for everyone vying for a significant role in the adoptee’s life. The consensus was that an open adoption simply created too many complicated relationships leading to inevitable conflict, remorse and grief. Their advice fell into two camps: either keep the baby and raise her in the family (the preferred choice for most people), or place the baby in a closed adoption and let everyone move on with their lives – end of story.

But maybe in considering only these two options, we are missing one of the most salient and beneficial offerings of open adoption – learning how to see beyond our own point view; learning how to feel compassion for ourselves and others when challenges arise, instead of devolving into blame and anger; and always returning to our common intention of love and well-being for the child we all care for.

These are lofty ideals and circumstances are continuingly going to test the sincerity of our intentions and our ability to follow through in attaining them. For this relationship model to be dynamic and successful, each individual will need to come face to face with their own fears, vulnerabilities, and expectations. We need to be entirely honest with ourselves in terms of what we are bringing to the open adoption circle and what, specifically, we hope to receive.

Each member of the circle contributes to the harmony and balance of the whole. We are interconnected, and bound together in service to love, not only towards the adopted child, but for ourselves and for each member of this extended family. No one holds greater importance than another, which may be a difficult concept to consider. One would naturally assume the adoptive parents, the folks actually raising the child 24/7, should hold some kind of hierarchical status. This is the beauty of the circle paradigm - it’s not a pyramid! Yes, certainly the adoptive parents will have a deep, sustaining bond with their child. This affinity, as with most parent-child relationships, holds a profound influence. But for the adoptee to feel a true sense of wholeness, incorporating all aspects of their being, they also need to establish loving bonds with their birth family – the source of significant genetic and familial traits that also play an invaluable role in the child’s ongoing development.

When the importance of these extended relationships is clearly recognized and honored, then it simply becomes a matter of cultivating them – investing the time and energy into consistent and quality communication, and supporting the child in doing the same.

However, none of this can take place if we have not yet learned how to turn inward, recognizing and honoring the innocence, beauty and completeness of our own being. If we approach the adoption circle with a host of unmet emotional needs, with unresolved feelings of remorse, resentment and/or grief related to the placement, then we are not advocating for the child but rather for ourselves, and this sense of victimhood/entitlement will surely sabotage us. I’ve watched entitlement creep into our adoption circle like a noxious weed, and it requires a great deal of conscious care and tending to get it out.

Shortly after my granddaughter’s birth, my daughter started posting photos of her on Facebook. She was a teenager and like any new mother, wanted to share pictures of the baby with her friends. Facebook was the forum they all used. Seems harmless, right? Just like that pretty little green thing growing next to your zucchini. Maybe it’s a volunteer from the neighbor’s flower bed? Not! Soon after the photos went live, the adoptive parents found out and were not happy, explaining how they did not feel safe with their daughter’s pictures circulating on the internet. They asked my daughter to stop posting.

And there you have it. In the blink of an eye, what started off as an incredibly supportive and congenial relationship among these three reasonable individuals, quickly escalated into a full blown battle over who held the photo rights of my newborn granddaughter. One hell of a noxious weed to deal with!

Seeing deeply into the situation, I recognized my daughter’s attempts to hold on to her baby through those photos and through claiming her right, as the birth mother, in posting them. Simultaneously, I witnessed the adoptive parents simply wanting to protect their daughter, while assuming their legal, parental rights to do so. How do we encourage a broader perspective when there is so much internal conflict and so much at stake?

Almost three years into my granddaughter’s life, the waters have settled. The volatile, unstable nature of these primary relationships has gradually evolved over time. Mutual trust and respect has been restored. My daughter is planning her first trip to visit – the adoptive family having moved cross country nearly two years ago. Undoubtedly, this will be a pivotal reunion. We have each put forth great effort in cultivating our adoption circle since those early, tenuous days. Yet still we stumble and are temporarily blindsided by each other’s actions and reactions, from time to time. What else would you expect from such strong, dynamic personalities, my granddaughter’s notwithstanding?

Creating and sustaining a strong open adoption is a lifelong commitment. But whatever we learn and accomplish on this journey together will most certainly serve not only the adoptee, but all those around us and perhaps even our communities and society as a whole. It is this dynamic potential that truly matters.

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