our semi-open adoption

our semi-open adoption
There are all kinds of open adoptions. I know several families who’ve adopted and none of them have the same relationship with the birth families. Last week in the post, Birth Family Relationships, I talked about how different contact can look for each family. Connections with birth family can be done through the exchange of letters and pictures (although you will hear others say this isn’t an open adoption, I consider it a semi-open adoption), meeting at the park for play dates, having the birth family over for holidays or a fun day, phone calls between the birth parent and the child. (I would suggest reading the post I linked to above, as it gives tips on how to know what type of birth parent interaction is best for your family.)

Our daughter, Payton, came to us through foster care. Her bio mom, Susan* was homeless most of the time Payton was in our care. Part of Susan’s parenting plan (set of requirements she had to fulfill before getting custody of Payton) was that she gain safe housing, a job, write a letter to Payton, and show in supervised visits that she could care for Payton. She wasn’t able to complete any of these requirements.

Towards the end of Payton’s time in foster care we sat down with case workers and made a plan for future contact with Payton’s bio family. In her case it included extended family members as well as her birth mom. Because Susan hadn’t been able to stay in one place, the case workers set it up so that we would correspond with Payton’s bio aunt Jana* through the Department. We agreed (as did they) to send letters and pictures twice a year to the Department of Human Services (DHS) and DHS would then forward those to the aunt, Jana, who would share them with the birth mom, Susan. The bio family was also welcome to send gifts to Payton whenever they wanted.

We heard from Payton’s bio family on her first birthday after her adoption. The family included a photo, gift, and card, in which her cousins wrote, “I hope you have toys to play with.” I kinda felt like taking a picture of Payton’s room and sending it to them. Her bio mom had included a short note in the card.

We didn’t hear from them again for three years. Yeah, three years! I had been sending photos and letters (although I’ll admit I would sometimes go a few months off the target date). Then in January of 2013 I got a call from Payton’s post adoption worker, Marge*, who I barely have any contact with. She said another case worker came to her, saying she was Payton’s bio aunt and she had a gift for Payton. WOW!

So, Jana had got a job at DHS working on children’s cases. For those of you who are looking into doing foster care, please don’t let this deter you, this is an extremely odd case.

When Marge called, she was at work and whispering over the phone. It was weird, and I felt very unsettled. Jana knew our names, which had been intentionally kept private through the process and afterwards (hence the reason why correspondence was done through DHS), and knew Marge was our post adoption worker. More unsettling.
what open adoptions look like

A little backstory. When Payton was place in foster care (she was in five homes, including one failed attempt at placing her back with bio mom within her first nine months of life) this bio aunt, Jana, had been contacted and asked if she wanted to take Payton. She declined, she was pregnant and couldn’t do it.

After Payton was in our home for a few months we were notified that Jana wanted custody of Payton. At the time our county had their brain screwed on, and they denied the transfer, saying that Payton was bonding with us and another move wouldn’t be good for her. (Payton had also been tossed around, living in different homes constantly, and dropped off with strangers while with her bio mom.)

Of course Jana wasn’t happy about the decision, and when she showed up, knowing our names, and talking about us at DHS I was shocked, and worried. I was put on edge and looking around every corner, wondering if someone was going to show up and try to take Payton. Unfounded fear, but it was there.

Marge called again from her cell after work and asked if she could bring the present Jana had left with her. I said she could. Marge was floored that Jana knew our names, who she was, and felt it wasn’t right that Jana had approached her the way she did.

Because there was so much trauma prior to Payton coming into foster care and then through the time DHS worked on reunification, we chose not to tell her where the gift came from, nor the cards and pictures. (Her diagnoses are listed below.) It ended up being a good thing we didn’t because there were three years between the correspondence. In the end it would have caused more trauma for Payton if she’d known.

When Marge brought the gifts in January 2013 she said that bio mom had another baby. The baby had just turned one. This just might have something to do with the reason the family was reaching out to Payton. But, I wish it wasn’t only because of the arrival of another baby that has a birthday very close to my daughters.

In those years when we didn’t hear from the bio family, there was some relief for me. When your child has PTSD, what was diagnosed as Reactive Attachment Disorder (you can read about that here), Oppositional Defiance Disorder, and a mood disorder, all because of her former life, it’s scary to keep that door open. At least for us. It was even scarier and upsetting when the door had been closed (their choice) and they opened it again. Lots of emotions circled, and circled that January right before Payton’s birthday (January 31). Not something I wanted to deal with days before my daughter’s fifth birthday.

When I opened the cards from the bio aunt, Jana, I was put at ease a little. The fear about her showing up faded quickly with the words she wrote, it conveyed that she wanted the best for Payton and she knew she was with a good family who cared about her. She gave me her phone number in case I ever had any questions about their family. She was kind. The note from Payton’s birth mom, Susan, was short and nice, telling Payton about her new bio sister.

But, what if Payton had contact with them before? What happens when they drop off into oblivion? How does the hurting child feel? Those memories of neglect come back. Those feelings of not being important come roaring in.

This year I was certain we would receive another gift and card from them. We didn’t. It’s now May, and it’s been sixteen months since we’ve heard from Payton’s bio family.

My husband happened to run into Payton’s birth mom, Susan, at the grocery store last week as I was working on these posts about birth families. It’s the first time we’ve seen her outside of DHS in 2009. She now lives in our area, and had her daughter with her. Susan called out to Justin in the store, and they chatted. I was concerned about how her and her daughter were doing, but Justin said both looked good. I’m really glad.

Each adoptive family makes their own choices as to what the openness will look like. Your open adoption may not look like your friends and that’s okay. Ours is a story of how there can be ups and downs in open adoption, but that you always need to take into consideration your child and your family.

*Names changed to protect privacy.

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Jeremiah’s bio mom is back

Jeremiah is having visits with his bio mom again.

I’m sure it all gets a little confusing when you’re not living it day to day. We have been told, “I thought the bio mom’s rights had already been terminated.” That’s not quite the situation. It was discussed, but never came to fruition.

Many months ago a psychologist said that Tam’s (bio mom) rights should be terminated, as she would never be able to parent. Period. Some other Workers on the case said that Tam should be kept in the visits because she was like a playmate for Jeremiah. (If you have kept up with our blog since Jeremiah came, you might remember me mentioning this before.) She brought a calmness to the visit that his bio dad didn’t. In the end it was decided (in court) that T (bio dad) would have his visit one week and Tam (bio mom) would have her visit the next week. We were okay with this compromise.

Tam missed quite a few visits, and then she went missing from the Assisted Living home where she was staying. It took quite a while for her to become stabilized on her medications so she could start up her visits again. In fact, it was taking so long that we thought she might not be able to visit him again. So much for thinking too much without knowing the facts…

We were so blessed with the set up Jeremiah had with his visits. He was only having to visit his bio dad every other week, which gave him an entire week to recoup and live a normal life before he was thrown back into the nitty gritty again. He was doing so well in those weeks when he didn’t have to see his bio parents.

When he had to go back and have a visit with Tam, it really threw him for a loop. It was so strange how differently he reacted to the visit with Tam versus the visits with T. After T’s he  is pissed off. He kicks and screams at me (especially after he hadn’t seen T in one month due to him not confirming for one of them).

After the visit with Tam he cried all the time. When we were at home, I couldn’t leave the room, and anything could make him upset. I had to keep Payton (my daughter) away from him because she would move a toy and he would break down crying. That then set her off because things were so emotional and she couldn’t understand why she couldn’t play with him like she always does.

So frustrating, but I am glad we have a termination date set and are on our way.

feelings on bio parents

In the beginning of this case it was so difficult to imagine two people losing their child because of Mental Health issues. I was so sad for J’s bio mom, as I saw how sad she was, and I could also see obvious evidence that she wouldn’t be able to care for a child.

But T (bio father) quickly became another story. J has obvious memories of his father’s neglect, whether they be subconscious or existing at another level, we’ll never really know. What we do know is that he has visible reactions to T, which are obvious when they are together, as well as after his visits with him.

I used to feel bad for T, and I suppose part of me still does. He can’t keep track of an ever changing child, whether it be the child’s age, how often he should be burped if drinking a bottle, or what he is now supposed to be eating. He has to be told numerous times where J is at developmentally, and even then he will often revert back in time. This is tragic. Some professionals would say that T isn’t making choices in these areas, that he is at a younger age mentally. I, as well as some Workers who have spent a plethora of time with him, have on occasion seen that he chooses to act like a know-it-all.

Like many other humans in this world, T seems to formulate ideas in his mind and he will not be swayed. He has been heard numerous times saying, “I have lots of books at home.” The Workers respond with, “Well then, read them.”

So, yes, at one time I did feel sorry for T, and lIke I said, part of me still does. But, there is an overwhelming feeling that there is someone else in this equation that didn’t ask for any of this, and right now that little boy is my focus. My focus for now does not lie with T and having oodles of compassion for him. Maybe it will come at the Termination hearing,  I am confident it will, as it did when we went to the Termination hearing for my daughter, Pumpkin’s, biological parents.

A Worker, whose goal is to work closely with the bio parents, recently told me that it was very sad. She was referring to the situation with both of J’s bio parents. I told her that while it is sad, there is an innocent life that needs to be protected and made the priority. She said that she was just speaking of the bio parents. I get where she’s coming from. Yet, I realize that they go so far to reunite bio parents with their children, and I am left to wonder, like many others, where the child’s well-being lies in the midst of reunification procedures. They are often left in the dust while everyone scrambles to help the bio parents.

So, while I am looking forward to the Termination, I also realize there is a more somber side. Two parents may lose custody of their child. It just wasn’t meant to be from the get go, but I am happy to have J in our home. We love him dearly.