Adoption is a serious legal proceeding that involves the termination of the legal parental rights of birth parents and the assumption of legal parental responsibilities by the adoptive parents. (1)
Open Adoption/Cooperative Adoption is a form of adoption in which the biological and adoptive families…have an option of contact…in varying forms: from just sending mail and/or photos, to face-to-face visits between birth and adoptive families. (2)
Touted as the answer to secrecy and shame, Cooperative Adoption or Open Adoption is supported as mutually beneficial to the birth mother, the child, and the adoptive parents. It is said that “the adopted child benefits most from this type of an adoption but all other parties seem to gain as well.”(3) This has not been my experience, nor has it been the experience of countless birth mothers and adoptive parents I hear from weekly who are struggling to reconcile the decision now that the adopted child has reached adulthood.
It sounds like the best of both worlds: the birth mother wants her child to have everything she cannot give them, the adoptive parents are given the opportunity to raise a child, and the child is raised in a stable environment with access to two sets of parents, but, much like divorce, a house divided is not a house strengthened.
I placed my daughter with an adoptive family in an open adoption. I was raising her brother after a traumatic ordeal to gain custody of my own child. I had managed to pull my life together. My abuser had returned to Chicago and had been arrested. He did his time, and was released, and contacted me again shortly after.
I did not have then the strength I have now. I was young, struggling, insecure, and submissive. When he called me and promised prison had changed him, led him to find God, and taught him the error of his ways, and that he wanted to be a part of our son’s life and support us in our journey as a family, I allowed him back into my life. I called his brother, someone I trusted, and his brother confirmed what he had told me. His brother affirmed that he was doing well, and, at that point, he was.
My abuser returned to Portland to be with me and our son, but within days he was back at the drug house. When he came home, I immediately recognized the signs. I asked him to leave. He refused. I called his mother and asked her to talk sense into him, to convince him to leave us and return to Chicago. She called him, and he raged at me for “telling on him”.
He came into my room and threw me against the wall. He yelled in my face. I told him he couldn’t stay with us. After working so hard to regain my son, I didn’t want to risk losing him again, and this man was the reason I lost him in the first place. He yelled that I was a horrible woman, a terrible mom. I told him to leave, to go now. He accused me of having another boyfriend. I told him there was no other boyfriend. The fight continued, and escalated.
Several weeks later, I realized I was pregnant. ( My book will offer more to this story and how the pregnancy occurred.) I knew I couldn’t provide for another child. Abortion wasn’t an option for me, not with my religious convictions. I looked into adoption, and decided on an open adoption. I met with several sets of parents, finally selecting the couple who would become the daughter’s parents. We were among the first to engage a fully enforceable Open Adoption Agreement, meaning we entered into a legal contract for contact between all parties (myself, the adoptive parents, and the child).
When I was three months pregnant, my abuser was imprisoned for domestic violence. I never allowed him back into my life. The damage was done, the ties were cut, and he ceased to be a force I had to reckon with.
My relationship with the adoptive parents developed throughout my pregnancy. They provided funding for my housing, utilities, maternity clothes, food, and doctor visits. They gave me the love I never had from my own family. We became very close, and I gave birth to the daughter in their home in a natural, underwater, home birth. I handed the daughter to her parents, and I went home to my son.
Everyone involved wanted everyone involved. I wanted to be a part of the daughter’s life. I gave her up for adoption because it was the only thing I could give her then. I couldn’t give her the life her adoptive parents could. Her adoptive parents wanted to raise a child of their own, and wanted her to be able to know the woman who chose life and gave her life.
But what should have been good, wasn’t. There was confusion, and resentment. And jealousy. There was her older brother, who I was raising, and later her younger brother, who I raising, and in the middle the daughter, who I did not raise. Later on, her older sister joined her older brother and younger brother in the family unit. Still, the daughter was on the outside.
I was always available to the daughter, and that added to the hurt and pain we both suffered as a result of my decision to have an open adoption. I was available, but as a result of the adoption agreement, I had no legal rights to her, no exclusive decision-making authority, and no option to open my home to her as my home. Our open adoption put her on the outside, and kept her there, and forced that to be as out in the open as the adoption was.
The daughter and I have had an on again/off again relationship our entire lives. We vacillate between love and loath. We drawn back to each other, and driven apart. Nothing about the open adoption has been mutually beneficial for me, for the daughter, or for her adoptive parents. The open adoption sounded like a good idea. We were all on board. I wasn’t giving the daughter up for lack of love, but for lack of resources, and her adoptive parents recognized this. Open adoption was promoted as in the best interest of all involved, when in fact it has hurt all involved.
It has hurt me in that I have been accepted and rejected time and time again as a loving mother, and a rotten, evil, worst-person-on-earth mother. It has hurt her adoptive parents in that she could readily and willingly accept or rejected them as well.
It has hurt the daughter in that she was able to flip-flop between families and support systems, and not ever really have one single go-to for her needs. She was able to manipulate both parties so she could always get what she wanted, when she wanted, how she wanted, and that has stunted her ability to grow up and face an unfair world with strength and resolve.
Adding to the reservations, then and now, is that the life I envisioned for the daughter with her adoptive parents isn’t the life she got. Even though she had all the material desires she wished, her adoptive parent’s life changed, and with it, my dream for the daughter. Her adoptive mother fell into a deep depression which was worsened by alcohol use. Her adoptive father left a career as a doctor and became a long-haul truck driver, and his absence added pressure to his already depressed wife. The daughter was caught in the middle.
She was caught in the middle yet again when her adoptive parents separated. Their promise to each other to remain together for life, and their promise to me that that promise was strong and would hold, fell apart. And there was the daughter, with three homes and no place to call home.
I no longer support open adoption. I’ve seen the pain it leads to. I’ve felt it. I’ve read about others with the same experiences. I would like to take my experiences and warn families that what sounds good on paper, isn’t good in practice. I would like to take my experiences and start a support group in Oregon for birth and adoptive parents to come together and draw strength from each other while we share our decisions and the repercussions.