Open Adoption Can Be Hard…

but not for all the reasons I might have thought in the beginning.  

We had a get together this weekend with Woob’s mom and baby sister, the first in a few months.  We had finalized plans earlier in the week, with N’s preference to be this weekend as opposed to down the road, which worked great for us too.  We were driving there, so packed up everything a 2 year old needs for a day (which means simply:  EVERYTHING), and hit the road, leaving as usual, about an hour later than planned.  I put in a call to her cell phone to let her know, but the voice mail was full.  I figured she’d call us if she got worried.

Woob was excited about the trip and knew who it was we were going to see.  We’d been looking at pictures of N, J, and C in the week prior, getting him prepared and re-acquainted before hand.  He stayed awake most of the two hour trip, but for about a half hour, napped.  When we stopped to get out at her apartment, we had to wake him up, let him know we were here, and he got his little gift for J. and headed into the building with us.  He helped us knock on the door, and we waited.  Knocked again, waited.  Nothing.  Silence.  No one coming to the door.  No sounds of the baby or the tv inside.  Just…nothing.  Just the sound of my heart beating in my own ears.

Did I misunderstand?  Are we going to have to turn around and go home?  Did she forget?  Did something happen?    ?…?…?…?  Of all the things that I expected out of the day, this was the very last thing that would have entered my mind. 

We try the cell again, still with no success.  We bang on the door yet again.  Nothing.  I call Grampa G., N’s dad,  which I hate, because its like I’m ratting out his daughter, yannow?  Just wondering if maybe he knows where she might be.  I get the impression they’ve not been in great contact lately, but he starts making some calls and will get back to us. 

By this time, we’ve tried to get Woob back in the truck after riding in it already for 2 hours, and him fully knowing that he has not yet seen those whom he came to see.  And he’s been awakened from his nap.  All of which together is a total recipe for one pissed off 2 year old.  There is no reasoning; he will not listen to us say that we are going to lunch.  The Meltdown has begun.

I will stop here and tell you that I am not at all angry at the situation at this point in the story, just utterly, utterly perplexed.  I know that many readers may be angry on my behalf that we got jilted by the “evil birthmother” and be yelling “see, we told you this wasn’t worth it!”  Which is why I’m writing this here and not telling anyone I know IRL about this mix up.  I don’t want to hear that from them, and if you are someone who is thinking the same, just relax and don’t get your undies in a twist about it.  Read on.

The Meltdown continues through wrestling the boy into the truck, taking him out to go inside the restaurant, through ordering and finding a seat, and through lunch in general.  This is the kind of meltdown in a restaurant that causes strangers to either look at you with hatred because you are somehow infringing on their right to peace and quiet, or utter empathy because they have children or grandchildren of their own.  Its the kind of meltdown that causes nice McD’s workers to come out with a special toy from their stash in hopes the crying and snot will stop.  For the record, it didn’t work.  Neither did french fries or chicken nuggets. 

Grampa G. soon meets us in the restaurant and gets to witness his first grandchild in all his cranky glory, but he has located N. and notes that she is simply mortified at the mix up, at totally forgetting, but she was in the process of moving.  She is on her way.  Woob eventually calms down.  We visit with G. until they get there.  We learn some things.  Things have continually been rough.  As always, there is the priority of survival of self and family, and as it should, thinking about that came first.  The necessity of moving yet again to ensure her little girl would have formula, a roof, stability and support–that comes before worrying when there would be a visit.  When you have a six month old and are without money because you have no job because you are without a car–well that kind of thing takes piority.  I get that and I respect that.  End of story.

They finally get there and we head to a nearby state park and have a really, really nice visit.  Woob got to show off his climbing, sliding, running, talking and rocket launching skills and make funny faces at his sister.  We got lots of pictures and fresh air.  We sweated our butts off in the sun, but froze our feet off in the creek.  We talked. 

C is looking to enlist in the National Guard on a 10 year stint this week and we wonder what this means for all of us.  Will she marry him and move far away?  Will she move on from him while he’s gone?  That step could either be the best thing he could do or the worst, depending on so many factors. 

After several hours, we decided to call it a visit, and work our way towards home with our tired, tired boy.  If we went on any further, we’d be pushing our luck with another meltdown.  We all exchange hugs and blow kisses and talk about the next time, when, where.  We feel good about the time spent together.

The ride home gives me and P2R a chance to rehash.  We usually don’t have long discussions about N and C in between visits, just talking about the latest and plans for a visit and such.  But directly following a visit, we really take it detail by detail, playing out scenarios, sharing what the other might have missed, mulling over the situations and challenges their young family is facing and feeling really crappy that there’s little to be done about it.

So here are the hard parts we didn’t expect in this relationship we share, when we started on this journey:

  • We had no idea we’d care so much.  They have truly become our extended family, and because we care so much…
  • We want to help however we can.  We know we can’t, nor is it our responsibility to fix the hard parts, but we also know that we are in a position that we could help in many ways.  We’d like to offer lots of things, including advice, different forms of support, etc., but the bottom line is, they haven’t asked.  And this means…
  • We have to keep good boundaries.  My nature is to try to fix, to try to mother.  If I had my way, they’d be living in my house and I’d be finding student grants and daycare subsidies and…and…and…  But really, would that be the best thing, any of it?  Maybe or maybe not.  But me bandaiding up their problems would probably create new ones.  Oh, and then there’s that whole thing about me NOT being their mother and them NOT asking for us to bestow upon them our well-meaning help and advice. 
  • We have to keep good boundaries.  We have to find a way to be clear about visits and expectations for the sake of the Woob.  He is obviously old enough to become disappointed if expectations aren’t met.  We cannot pump him up for a meeting that isn’t going to happen.  Although he certainly doesn’t yet understand the finer underpinnings of what’s going on here, he does need to be able to depend on what we say and know we are all following through so that he can trust in this relationship down the road.  Every day he gets a little older and a little smarter, and soon, nothing will be able to be simply waved away as an “oops.”
  • There are very few people who understand this whole thing from the outside looking in.   Far too many people in the world would allow these things to validate their fears about open adoption, so, IRL we choose not to talk about it with any detail.  We are still learning how to talk about the whole thing with people in our family so that they understand WHY we’re doing this, but are afraid of talking about anything but the sunshiny parts.  Which leads to few outlets and really good discussions except for my friends out there in bloggerville.

So those are some things I’m struggling with right now with adoption.  We’ll continue to keep the communication open so that they know we are here for them, will help, will listen, whatever.  I’m open to thoughts, feelings, suggestions, or the sharing of personal experiences with this.



Filed under adoption, birthparents, motherhood, open adoption

10 responses to “Open Adoption Can Be Hard…

  1. suz

    Interesting post. Thanks for sharing.

  2. I hear you. We haven’t had this situation come up but we’ve had others that made this resonate with me.

  3. We’re in a phase with one Puppy’s first parents in which we have to be careful about creating expectations in Puppy that will likely go unmet and about what information we pass on to him when. It’s hard to know when to try to shield him from disappointment and when to let things play out. And it’s hard to not want to just get in there and fix things (as if that’s really possible).

    So, yeah, I can relate.

  4. Lorraine

    Wow, except for the names, this sounds like our situatin with our son’s birthmother. Except our son has 3 older sibs. That wanting to do more is there too……

  5. Funny, we got together this weekend with J & Z this weekend–we couldn’t confirm the meet up because her phone was shut off–but we passed each other in the parking lot. We are figuring out some boundaries on our end–funny, as the kiddos approach ages where they start remembering things and expecting things, it suddenly gets a little more challenging to navigate such relationships.

  6. needsleep259

    Good blog. We have an open adoption and have found it quite challenging. You are right in saying people don’t understand it. And yes, boundaries are ESSENTIAL!!!!
    I just blogged about our experience if you’re interested.

  7. You never mention feeling any guilt or sadness about separating this mother, child and siblings? I am not trying to put words in your mouth or suggest how anyone “should” feel… but am seriously curious if that is difficult for you at all, as it is for me reading the story. Could that be the underlying basis of the “wanting to do more” that both you and Lorraine express?

    I mean – sure: There are rationalizations that if not you, she would have found someone else to place her baby with, no doubt….or would she have if you or anyone had offered more help BEFORE agreeing to take her child?

    Do you wonder, seeing her struggle if her ‘decision’ to place her son has helped her at all? Does it appear to have improved her life…or added one more thing to juggle, as well as more guilt, sadness and loss for her, her/you son and her other child?

    Perhaps all of that is there, too….?

    I think open adoption – truly open as you are describing – in many ways keeps wounds open and oozing.
    In the past, one was able to rationalize a great deal easier that adopting is a win-win and that the mother is somehow “relieved of her burden” and can get on with her life less encumbered…etc. But when you see this played our before your eyes, it’s harder to pretend that it was any kind of a win for her…

    Likewise, truly open adoptions are painful for the mother who has lost her rights to parent her child and watches from the sidelines as someone else does.

    Yes…open adoption is hard. And we are really yet to hear form those who have lived it. there is not yet an adult generation who have grown up in such situations. How will they compute that there mothers had the wherewithal to visit them, but not to car for them? In many ways it is easier for adoptees of past generations and closed adoptions to also believe the rhetoric that their mothers were too young, powerless, etc. How can they accept a fully capable and functioning mother – in some cases – who “chose” to finish her education or career?

    We are yet to know these answers…

    But, that might even bring up another twinge of guilt. How do you feel exposing “Woob”to her inadequacies, her trials and tribulations? Do you feel guilty about being/feeling somehow “superior” The victor? That he might remember and you can say: “Yes, Woob, it was sad. Your mother had so many problem in life…having to move often etc…and that’s why it was BEST that we raised you not her.”

    Do you worry that HE might ask: “Then why didn’t you do more to help her?” as kids are so apt to hit the nail right on the head in their sweet innocence.

    Is that not the scariest fear of all?

  8. SopranoVicki

    Dear Mirah.
    It was under severe duress that I lost a child to adoption during the Baby Scoop Era. It is from my experience with adoption, adoption support and adoption activism that I respond to your post.

    I am 100% in agreement with your proposition that any and every possible form of help should be offered to women and men in crisis pregnancy that could help them to parent rather than relinquish. I believe that whenever possible, children should remain with their biological families.

    However, I also believe that this help should come from all of society; that is, government agencies, private individuals and organizations, such as churches, clubs, synagogues and mosques. I do not believe that it is fair to expect prospective adoptive parents to play that role alone. I do not think it is fair to place all the blame for the relinquishing family’s predicament or feelings on them; particularly, in a situation like this one where the adoptive parents maintain a spirit of empathy and openness (they probably aren’t required to maintain an open adoption by law in their state regardless of what they agreed to before placement occurred). Therefore, I take issue with some of your assumptions about why Woob’s parents want to do more for his mother and baby sister. I take issue about your assumptions about open adoption.

    Simply put, I think Woobs’ parents want to do more for his mother and sister because they are good people who feel empathy for her. I think part of that empathy stems from their love of Woob and their understanding of his connection to his family of origin. I do think they understand what was taken from Woob’s mother and sister and how that might impact them. However, I sure hope they don’t bear all the guilt on their shoulders, when it is society that is to blame.

    Regarding open adoption, it just makes families get bigger and more diverse, like marriage. Open adoption brings lots of different kinds of relatives, along with their strengths and their challenges. It will probably be difficult and, at times, puzzling for Woob to see his mother go over road bumps in her life’s journey. I venture to say he will see other relatives make bad choices or struggle and feel the same way. Granted, his mother’s errors will be more glaring to him and have more direct impact, but contextualized within a life he has observed all along, they will make their own kind of sense. Personally, I think this kind of arrangement (openness) is healthier than all the secrecy and wondering that has plagued adoptees for years. I think that’s harder on a person’s psyche.

  9. thank you, Vicki for your words.

    Mirah, I’m so sorry it has taken me so long to respond to your comment–you obviously took a lot of thought in writing it and I wanted to put a lot of thought into answering as well. And then other parts of life got in the way for awhile as well, but here goes.

    “You never mention feeling any guilt or sadness about separating this mother, child and siblings?”

    I didn’t mettion feeling guilt or sadness over the family’s separation, primarly because that’s not the focus of the post. My original focus was “gee, things that people usually report as being the challenges of OA are so different than what I’m worried about in my own…THESE are the things I’m dealing with.” But since you brought it up, I have had times when i’ve felt guilty about aspects of the adoption, at different times, for different reasons. As I write this TODAY, I say that I DO NOT feel guilty for where we are right now. I feel sad and at times helpless over situations, but today, no guilt. But yes, still I feel the need or urge to do more. I don’t think that urge is related to guilt as much as the care and compassion I feel for her and her circumstances. I feel that urge to help for anyone I truly care about. I do believe however, that there are boundaries around what a person wants to do, what a person should do, and I am still finding my way around those, and trying to be helpful, but respectful at the same time.

    “There are rationalizations that if not you, she would have found someone else to place her baby with, no doubt….or would she have if you or anyone had offered more help BEFORE agreeing to take her child?”

    You could certainly make that rationalization–I don’t think I did here. Do you KNOW what occurred or was offered before the adoption took place? She and I know, the agency knows, and together we will live with the choices that were made then, and our reasons why. I’m okay with you making the generalization that perhaps I didn’t offer or do enough–I’m sure you have good reason to generalize. Could I have done more in front? Certainly. Did I do nothing, with no concern for anyone involved by myself? I don’t believe that to be true at all.

    “Do you wonder, seeing her struggle if her ‘decision’ to place her son has helped her at all?”

    Yes, I DO wonder if her decision helped her, or whether it made things worse, or whether things would have been much, much worse had she not placed. I wonder all the time, but we can never know at this point, having not taken that path. We can only just move forward together the best way we know how. I am CERTAIN she feels sadness and loss, and that loss is a part of her children’s lives as well. I get that.

    “I think open adoption – truly open as you are describing – in many ways keeps wounds open and oozing.”

    Yes, OA surely can keep wounds open, and its up to each family and member of the adoption constellation to try to decide what’s best for them as well as what’s best for the children involved. Sometimes more open is better, and I’m sure sometimes less is better–ebb and flow. It is my personal belief that open is best in our particular circumstance and that’s where we are today. Maybe less open will be better tomorrow. I personally don’t believe that old-school, closed adoptions are the way to go. For all that we don’t know about the effects of OA, I think we know enough about the closed system to gamble on open. I know we can do lots better than the closed system for everyone involved.

    You raise many hypothetical questions about how this will all play out, and I can’t answer those questions about my family in particular or about OA in general. I do take offense, however to your implication (and forgive me if I misunderstood your message) that I somehow use OA as a means to showcase N’s challenges to our son as a way of proving ourselves right or better or “victorious” in some game.

    I will praise the day that N.’s life becomes easier, more predictable and more stable–when she finds people who truly love her for all the things she is and for her heart and mind which are good. I would love to be a part of her getting to that point. Fact is, she’s got to get there on HER TERMS, not mine. If she wants me to be a part of that, I am here, but it would be wrong of me to infuse myself into situations and take over (thus, my original frustrations–how to help? how much? how to offer? can I even give what’s needed? where to even start?)

    Despite how you, I, or the rest of the world will view adoption, my reality today is that I’m the mother of a fantastic little boy. As such, it is my responsiblity to the the best I can possibly do to help him thrive and grow in to a physically and emotionally healthy adult. The things that I do in our adoption relationship, I do to help meet all of our needs in meeting that goal. I believe the healthier and happeir we grown ups involved are, the healthier he’ll be in the long run. I will continue to do my part to try to keep us all moving towards that goal.

    Isn’t that what nay parent does, who loves their child?

  10. cynthia

    I’m late to the conversation but very moved by the thoughtful responses.

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