I read quite a few blogs that consider open adoption from the point of view of the natural parent. I find the dynamics of open adoptions interesting because my own adoption, dating from the Dark Ages of sealed records in lockdown, is so very different.
As a social worker wrote recently on a blog,
"No one should ever be denied this knowledge [of where she comes from]. I heard a quote recently (and posted it on Facebook) that closed adoption is institutionalized denial. It's so true. You can never deny a child's heritage. That's why I love open adoption so much, because I see a child with two families, two heritages, and a whole lot of love."
A whole lot of love? More self-knowledge? What ever could be wrong with that?
And yet, I have been struggling with some of what I read. An adoptee of my era commented thus about open adoption,
"This is just my personal opinion, but as an adult adoptee I have never been totally enamored with the idea of open adoption. I did not want my first parent(s) to take me to the zoo, I wanted to live with them and have them raise me. What if they would move out of town and start a new family and not see me as much or ever? Open adoption seems to me that it could potentially set the stage for repeated rejections. Just speaking for myself, I suspect I would rather have only been a part of my afamily until the age of 18 when I could decide for myself. The only advantage I can see is knowing who my natural parents were would have been better than having imaginary figures in my head. It seems that children have an innate need to be loved and valued by their natural parents. I'm not sure that open adoption would get rid of the pain of being given away in the first place."
I have thought very much the same thing, and have spent much time recently discussing this topic with other adoptee friends.
While I think it would have been wonderful to know before I was 40 where I came from, who my nparents were, whom I resembled, etc., the pain of having nparents around, but perhaps not emotionally present, or only partially emotionally present, would have been very difficult for me. I try to imagine being taken out for ice cream, or to the zoo. Knowing that I belonged with these people, but that I wouldn't go home with them. That my kept brothers and sisters would have what I couldn't--the unconditional love of my nparents, as well as their time. It seems like each drop off would involve repeated, painful levels of rejection and sadness; at least I expect that's how my child brain and emotions would have processed it.
I know that there are some open adoptions that "work," although they are not without their own pain and problems. Then there are those "open" adoptions that seem paradoxical. For example, when an nmom has another child she keeps after the placed child. The placed child wants one-on-one time with the nmom, but the nmom cannot imagine leaving her kept child at home because that child would feel "abandoned." Yes! I didn't make this up. The kept child's sense of abandonment matters; the adopted child's doesn't. Why is that?
Or the nmom who doesn't want to tell her kept child that this other child he meets and plays with is his brother. It's too difficult because the father of the kept child isn't quite open accepting the placed child into the family. Never mind that the placed child is told by his APs that this other child is his brother. Seems to me that the lying by omission is going to cause serious fallout, and most likely for the adoptee. What happens when the adopted child tells the kept child that they're brothers, and the kept child says, "You're lying." Who will be blamed? Who will be distanced and ostracized? I know what my guess is.
Another nmom safe havened her infant but then managed to find out who the adoptive mother was, and has worked on building an "open" adoption. Problem is, no one in the nmom's family even knows she had a child, and the nmom's fiance doesn't know, either. When will the truth be told? Will the adoptee be denied once the nmom has her own kept children? I know if I married someone who didn't tell me that he'd had a child who was adopted, I would be FURIOUS. I would have very serious trust issues with this person, and I am not altogether sure the relationship would survive. Will the child be denied when she shows up as a teen-ager, because no one in the nmom's family knows? After all, it's an "open" adoption and the child *should* feel free to contact her mom. The adoptive mother knows the nmom's name. The child *will* be able to track her nmom down. I am just imagining the pain at being told, "I love you, but not enough to tell the truth about you to anyone else who matters to me in my life."
There is another case in which the nmom is ambivalent about having the placed child in her life. Okay, fine. All parents are ambivalent from time to time. But the contrast between the gooey, expressed love for the kept child versus the coldness and emotional distance from the placed child is remarkable. I know as a child I was very much able to tell who liked me and who didn't. Perhaps her placed child is standoffish because the nmom is standoffish; interpreting the sources of adult emotions is difficult for a child. Is it a two-year-old child's job to be warm and bubbly and open so that the nmom feels good about herself, and thus open to him? Or is it his nparents' job at that point to work on building trust and love, and welcoming him into their lives? Here again is the problem of not telling the truth about this child's existence at church because right now the truth "doesn't matter." But if you have a place in a church and community, what is the likelihood that you will change your mind and tell the truth down the road? It becomes more and more difficult over time, I think. Once down that rocky road, the lies multiply. It's easy to justify not telling the truth, because *does* it really matter? Oh, the child won't know. It's about preserving one's sense of self, and one's place in society--but at the cost of the adopted child who makes the story morally complicated.
I am not judging these people, or saying that open adoption has to be done a certain way. I can't know what it's like to live with giving a child away and having to explain that to the world around me and living with that decision, for good or for bad. I just honestly don't understand how the decision is made to lie, and then justified. Especially by people who profess devout Christianity.
I have been the denied child, the one lied about. The one whose existence made things complicated. I had the wrath of my nmom on my head for daring expose her lies. I am wondering how it will be for these children in open adoptions. Their existence is supposedly known, but not really, or only in circumscribed ways to certain people. My fear is that when they get older, they, like I, will have to pay the price for the lies. The guilt and shame for the lies might be visited on them. I hope not, I really hope not, but it seems as though some of these adults aren't thinking about the consequences that their lying by omission will have on their children.
I am very uncomfortable when people say, "I love you, but I have to keep you a secret." It is harmful and puts the adoptee in a horrible place.
I am glad, in some ways, that I only found my family as an adult. I have been able to process things with an adult's emotional toolbox, and I don't feel that I am competing with my brother for C's love. First, she doesn't love me. Second, I don't need or want her to "mother" me. That time has passed. We can interact as peers, which gives me a huge advantage. This isn't to say that her rejection was easy, just that if I had been around her as a child, and she'd been as cold and distant as she is now, there would have been grave emotional fallout for the child I was. I know myself.
From my admittedly biased standpoint, these not-so-open "open" adoptions put a great deal of pressure on the adoptee not to ask for too much, not to say the wrong thing, and not to want too much love. Sad. Very sad. Outside of adoption, when is it okay to tell someone, "I love you, but not enough to admit who you are to the rest of the family?"