“Are you guys doing an open adoption?” This is a common question. I realize that most people think there are two kinds of adoptions: open and closed. While I guess that’s technically true, the variations of an open adoption vary greatly from one family to the next. And a family can have a closed adoption, but still be open.
Typically most people perceive an open adoption as having communication with a child’s first family, versus a closed adoption where there is no communication. As our first-mom’s due date neared, many people asked us if it would be an ‘open adoption’. I would stumble over my words and end at the truest statement for where we were at the time; “We hope so”. Occasionally, I got the ole c’mon lady, don’t you even know what kind of adoption you’re going to have look. Usually, people nodded with their arms crossed in front of them. Maybe they understood what I was trying to say. Maybe not.
I just didn’t have the vocabulary at that point to answer some of the questions we received. I’m too honest by nature, and always find myself wanting to say more than I really should in an effort to connect with others on a level that’s valuable to me. It wasn’t until I attended an Adoption Knowledge Affiliates meeting about openness, that I finally found a comfortable place on this open vs. closed pendulum. It’s amazing how those four extra letters, n-e-s-s, changed my perspective and empowered me with the vocabulary I needed to answer questions.
Not only that, but those four letters released me from the tension I was feeling about open versus closed adoption. Now, when people ask me if we have an open or closed adoption, I tell them “we’ll always be very open with our son about where he came from and who his first mom and dad are” because being open is more than keeping contact with a first family. It’s about a commitment to be open with your child. A promise to be available and honest about any questions they have. A responsibility to be proactive and start the conversation sometimes. This kind of openness happens regardless of whether or not there is contact with a child’s first family.
Because sometimes, you don’t have control over contact with the first family. Sometimes, you try but they just can’t keep in touch. Sometimes they don’t want to. And sometimes, that hurts your heart for your child. But it isn’t the end-all be-all of an adoption circumstance.
Sometimes, openness in adoption means your family grows in ways you never expected. Our son has a sister, a couple of years older than him, who lives out of state with her adoptive family. While it was certainly something we considered and hoped for when we began our journey to bring him home, we didn’t really think we would be fortunate enough to know our son’s siblings. But we are. A couple of weeks ago, after emailing and chatting on the phone, we got to meet our son’s, sister’s, adoptive mom (Whew! That’s a mouth full) who we’ll probably end up calling Mama Beth or Aunt Beth. She brought bags full of her son’s clothes for us, held E and laughed with us in our living room as we talked about them coming for the summer. It felt like family. Because it is family.
So, for me, openness in adoption means I have a big job. One that requires being a historian, record-keeper, investigator pen-pal and organizer.
It means my son can always come to me.
It means he can always ask me anything.
It means sometimes I’ll tell him he has eyes like his first mom, and that I thought she was very pretty.
It means I write down all the little things I remember about his first dad and tuck them away in a shoe box.
It means my son has an aunt Beth in another state.
It means sometimes his heart may be broken, because I will always tell him the truth.
And there will always be joy and laughter when I tell him how God killed our car battery so we could be with him as soon as he was born.
What does openness mean to you?