Ladies and gentlemen, welcome aboard the open adoption rollercoaster. Strap in, hold on, and the ride will stop … sometime. Eight years ago, after a battle with secondary infertility and hours of Googling, we decided to pursue an open adoption. Looking back, even with hours of research, there are a few things I wish I would have known to smooth out some of the jolts, twists, and turns the ride brought with it.
#10 – You might want to quit.
The adoption process is long, emotional, and difficult to handle. There are multiple phases to the process and all are stressful. Your emotions will run high and you’ll lose patience from time to time. There will likely be moments you just want to give up and say “Screw it, my life is fine the way it is.” It’s understandable, don’t be too hard on yourself. Take a deep breath and hang in.
#9 – It isn’t always about your child.
Agencies want to make matches and finalize adoptions, so they may put the needs of the birth parents ahead of the needs of the child. It’s your job as the parent to put your child’s needs first.
#8 – Your family tree can explode with new growth.
It’s not only a birth mother you may be adding to your life, you could also fold in the birth father, and members of both of their families. Understanding the expectations of all these new people can be challenging. But remember, you have one thing in common, you love the child that’s becoming part of your family.
#7 – Not everyone is fit for a fully open adoption.
Open adoption means information is exchanged between birth parents and adoptive parents. Contact and information sharing may occur before and after the child is with their forever family. But not all birth parents are well-suited for open adoption. Those with cognitive, addictive, or personality disorders may have a difficult time understanding the boundaries of open adoption and may struggle greatly. And unfortunately, not all agencies screen out these birth parents. Openness and contact should be based on the individuals involved in each adoption.
#6 – Words will fail you.
We don’t have good words for the relationships created through open adoption and the adjectives can get lengthy. “Oh, she’s her birth mother’s uncle’s first wife.” And words will fail other people too, you’re bound to be asked about your child’s “real mom” more than once.
#5 – There‘s no such thing as typical.
Everybody’s different, and therefore every birth parent/adoptive parent/adoptee relationship is unique. There’s no one-size-fits-all open adoption arrangement so tread carefully if anyone tries to convince you there is.
#4 – Don’t assume! Ask about the birth parents’ expectations early and often.
You need to know what the birth parents are thinking, what access and information they expect, and what role they see themselves having in the child’s life. Don’t just rely on your agency to give you the answers, ask the birth parents, listen to what they say, and follow-up if something doesn’t feel right to you.
#3 – Be honest about your boundaries from the beginning.
Talk to your agency about your expectations for the relationship you’ll have with your child’s birth parents. Then do your best to communicate openly with your child’s birth parents about the information you are willing to share and how often you’re willing to share it.
#2 – Be direct about the help you need.
Many of the challenges of open adoption involve deeply emotional issues, be kind, but direct. Be explicit with your agency, family or friends about what you need from them. If you have a problem you’re trying to solve, be clear about what you’re trying to achieve.
#1 – It’s scary as hell.
You decided to pursue open adoption because you want the best for your child and have love to give. Giving away your heart is scary and I won’t lie, you might get it broken one time, or ten, in the process. But believe me it’s worth it and your heart will heal.
The scary, wild roller coaster ride of open adoption was long and left us a little sore, but it was worth every single moment. Throughout the process, I worried there would always be a metaphorical asterisk next to my child because I was unable to birth her, as if the fact we adopted would matter. My love for her is true, deep, and everlasting. And there is no asterisk.