My cousin, Dawn*, and I were teenagers when we sat on her living room floor flipping through a photo album. On the first page my Aunt Deidre* was pictured with a big smile, holding a precious baby with an adorable beauty mark on her forehead.
That day, Dawn shared with me that her mom had offered to give her birth mom’s information to her when she turned eighteen. My Aunt had told Dawn she could contact her if she wanted.
Like most families with adopted kids, I never saw Dawn as being adopted, although I knew she was, it never stuck out in my mind. So, when she brought this up I was a little surprised, and many questions surfaced in my mind about how her mom must feel, about how difficult it would be to say, “Here’s your birth mom’s name, if you’d like to contact her.”
Then Dawn expressed that she didn’t want to search out her birth mom. She said she didn’t need to talk to her or go looking for her because, as she said,
“My parents are right here.”
Dawn is now in her early thirties, and her love for her adoptive mom shines. She still has not searched out her birth mother, and doesn’t have the desire to.
I share this because these aren’t the stories that are circulated, the ones we hear about are those who go searching for their birth parents because they feel a void in their life, they feel there are unanswered questions, they don’t feel their life is complete. It’s great to hear those stories, but we miss out on the ones where adoptees are content and don’t feel the need to have a close relationship with their birth mom.
I came across another similar story last year. Justin and I shared our foster/adoption story at church for National Adoption Awareness Month and afterwards we welcomed any questions. I met Jessica* and later talked at length with her on the phone. She was adopted and is considering adopting.
Jessica asked questions and told me about her search for her bio mom, only because she wanted medical information. After traveling across states, trying to get records which are sealed, and hiring lawyers, she has yet to get access to her birth family information.
As we talked she came to a realization that hadn’t hit her until that moment on the phone, which was how much her adoptive mom went through emotionally. She said, “My mom is very sensitive, and I never realized until now how hard so much of this has been for her.” Jessica was referring to the beginning stages of her parents adopting her, to the pain her mother must have felt when Jessica expressed she want to look for her birth mother, even if the only reason was for medical purposes.
She cried and she told me over and over how close her and her mother are, how much she loves her, and how much our conversation showed her the sacrifices her adoptive mother had made. It wasn’t my goal in the conversation at all, but it’s what she saw, and really seemed to be what she needed.
Her love for her mom was enviable in a way, just as my cousins love for my Aunt Deidre.
I think both of these stories show that not everyone has a deep desire to be connected to their birth mom. If someones does, it’s perfectly fine, but those are the majority of stories we hear. Jessica’s and Dawn’s aren’t talked about, and it seems it’s becoming taboo to do so. Their stories are beautiful to me because I see deep love and a bond that doesn’t need replaced nor added to. It’s enough for these two women. We don’t hear these stories in the adoption community.
I struggled for months about writing on this topic. I’ve seen open adoptions worked out in many ways. Some are extremely involved, with the kids spending the night with birth parents, and birth parents visiting for holidays and weekends. Some families allow the kids to talk to their birth parents on the phone, some meet at parks.
When considering what an open or semi-open adoption will look like, consideration must be made for how the child came to adoption, for it happens through many different avenues. Infants are adopted domestically, children are adopted from Russia where they may have been homeless for a time, starved, or abused. Foster children in the US have either been neglected, abandoned, or abused by their bio parents. Each situation need to be weighed individually to assess what involvement the child can handle with their biological parent.
I’ve seen families involve bio parents in their lives with weekly phone calls and monthly visits with the parent who abused the child. I don’t think enough consideration is given to the child when involving bio parents in these situations. I believe so much more harm is done and healing is halted when a child is confused as to where their loyalty lies. Likewise, sometimes children and teens can’t figure out a relationship where their bio parent abused them and yet they’re in constant contact with that parent.
Parents will complain about their child’s behaviors, wetting the bed, sneaking food, aggressive behaviors at school, manipulation, and yet they don’t look at the relationship the child has with their birth parent. These behaviors can definitely exist in hurting kids who don’t have a birth parents constant presence, but if adoptive parents don’t give the child time to heal and put the child first, they are fighting an uphill battle.
So much emphasis has been placed on the birth parents today that I feel strongly that children’s needs and desires aren’t being met.
We have a semi-open adoption with our daughter, Payton’s, bio mom and Aunt, and I’m glad for the way we’ve handled it. If it would’ve been done differently, Payton would’ve been damaged even more emotionally, and she already had a hard enough time as it was. Next week I will share what our semi-open adoption looks like.
Each family involvement with birth families will look different, and in all cases, there needs to be balance. Involvement with birth families will also look different depending on your child’s chronological and developmental age. What is your child saying to you (verbally and through actions) they want?
*Names have been changed to protect privacy.