Thursday, September 19, 2013

Open Adoption: The Guide You've Been Waiting For

I get asked, quite often, about open adoption.  How does it work?  Am I not fearful the birth parents will want to take their children back?  What would I do if a birth parent showed up at my door?  Won't open adoption confuse the kids?

I have my own responses, but I admit, I'm not an open adoption expert.    We have three open adoptions.  I'm very thankful for them:  the relationships, the access to information, the possibilities, and yes, even the challenges.      I do enjoy being part of Open Adoption Bloggers, but when people come to me asking about open adoption, I usually point them to resources like The Open Adoption Experience.

And now, yay!, a hot-off-the-press book on open adoption written by an adoptive mom and featuring her daughter's birth mother.  What an impressive and important combination!   I devoured the book in a day and contacted the author to learn more.  

Enjoy reading, friends! 


Tell me about yourself: personally and professionally. What's your adoption connection?I'm a mom to my tweenagers Tessa and Reed, and with my husband we live in Denver, CO. I come from the world of academia and I've been freelance writing for several years. My book, The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption: Helping Your Child Grow Up Whole, written with my daughter's birth mom, was published in hardback by Rowman & Littlefield in the spring. I'm embarking on a 4-state speaking tour with a workshop called "Don't Split the Baby!" -- about embracing openness no matter what degree of contact you have (or don't have) with your child's birth family. We're excited that adoption agencies around the country are beginning to use our book in their training curriculum. By now everyone seems to know why it's important to "do" open adoption; our book guides parents how.

Your book's co-author is your daughter's birth mother. Tell me about including Crystal's perspectives in the book. What was it like writing a book with her?

Crystal and I talked for years about how we might help others develop the kind of relationship we stumbled into with each other. First we had to take a look at what we did and didn’t do and what has made our efforts a openness successful. For years we have taught classes in the Denver area. More than anything we say in these sessions, people seem to get a lot just out of seeing a template for how an open adoption can look.
The framework of the book is mine. Crystal and I had extensive interviews about her thoughts and emotions at various points of our journey, as well as her own deconstruction of how we got to where we are. For a book that is largely about how adoptive parents and birth parents can be on the same “side,” rather than the traditional concept of competition between the two sides, it seemed important for us to work together on this book.

People have asked us which came first, her words or a space for her words, and it was mostly the former. We had a few jam sessions in which we put as much on the table as we had in us. I took notes and the book began to take shape. Sometimes the book fit around her words and sometimes her words fit into the book.

I suppose in that sense, the way the book took its form is much the same way Crystal and I have taken our form.
Define open adoption.
I think the de facto definition, what everyone seems to agree on, is that "open adoption" means some sort of contact with a child's birth parents or birth family. We have a construct, an open adoption spectrum, in which people see zero contact on one end and full contact on the other.
But contact is only part of the picture. And the measure of contact can leave out families formed by international and foster adoption, and families in domestic infant adoptions who want contact with birth family members but are not able to have it.
So instead, I'd like to talk about openness in adoption. When we add a second dimension we turn the spectrum into a grid, and then we see 4 quadrants. While we have only partial control over the degree of contact we have with birth family, we have full control over the degree of openness we parent with. Whereas "open adoption" addresses the relationship between the adoptive family and birth parents, "openness in adoption" is more about how open-hearted we can be with our children as we parent them, as they process their adoptedness over the years.

On page 5, you talk about open adoption being a "heart-set." Explain what this means.

We encourage parents to move from an Either/Or mindset to a Both/And heartset. With the former, the child may be split between her two clans because one set of parents is legitimized and the other is negated, one is considered "real" and the other isn't.

In the latter, both families -- the one by biology and the one by biography -- are valued and integrated into the child's forming identity. To make this shift we must also call on our hearts. We can't always think our way through adoption moments as our child grows, but often we can feel our way through, love our way through. The brain divides; the heart unites.

On page 21, you quote Luna, an adoptive mother, who expresses her decision to open her heart up to an expectant mother she's matched with, even if it means the mom parents and Luna experiences pain and sadness. Personally, I know many adoptive parents who choose International Adoption over Domestic Adoption to avoid any sort of pain, relationship struggles, confusion, or involvement with the child's biological parents. Can you speak to those who are on the fence, thinking about choosing IA because of birth parent fears?

If someone is pulled toward international route with the conscious (or subconscious) reason to avoid those pesky/scary birth parents, then that’s a problem that needs to be addressed. As it’s been pointed out, the birth parents are there, in the child, whether one wants to acknowledge that or not. There is no avoiding the birth parents, for they are carried within every cell of the child. To deny that influence is to deny part of the child.

The more an adoption path can be planned mindfully, with hidden motivations exposed and examined, the better these one-day parents will be able to deal with What Is for the child they eventually parent. It’s OK to have thoughts and feelings that come from fear – we all do – but by shining light on those fears, we can choose how to act in a given situation. It’s the action that comes from subconscious motivation that is likely to lead to trouble.

It's my wish that anyone setting out on such a monumental adoption journey would educate themselves on what it’s like for the others in the adoption triad, specifically the child in an adoption as well as the first parents of that child (if living). Ways to do this include reading books and blogs by adult adoptees, being guided through exercises that put you in the shoes of another, and talking with people who have held a different position in an adoption triad than the one you hope to occupy.

On page 25, you share that it's unnecessary to put nature and nurture in any sort of hierarchy. Talk to me about this idea. Why do people feel the need to choose between nature and nurture when it comes to adoptees? What should adoptive parents do as they struggle to work through ideas surrounding nature and nurture?
This is such a great question. And it speaks directly to the Either/Or mindset I mentioned above and also why I preach so much about mindfulness.
Deep down, I think that parents on both sides have a fear of not being considered real by others -- and maybe even by themselves. Birth parents have historically been told to move on as if they hadn't had a child-ectomy. Just forget about your baby. He has another mother now. Her place as an integral part of her baby/child/tween/teen/adult is forgotten, buried, negated.

Adoptive parents also may carry a kernel of doubt about their legitimacy. An adoptive mother carries the knowledge that she isn't the Only, that there is another mother out there somewhere. And what adoptive mom hasn't had someone inquire about her child's "real mom"?
So when we are acting from this place inside in which we feel small and scared and resentful of sharing the role and not "real," we may have an unconscious desire to prove our legitimacy. A strategy that's often used to build oneself up is to tear the other person down. We do this without thinking. We are on automatic, just trying to get our need met, our need for everyone to know just how "real" and how legitimate we are. How WE have the prime position in our child's life, not that other woman.
I tell a story on page 89, one that took place on my son's 9th birthday. He told me that day, "You're one of my favorite mommies!" I could have taken that in one of two ways. (1) I am in competition with his birth mom and I'm not out-and-out winning (a hierarchy), or (2) my son has a heart so big and loving that he can fit us both in it. One way fills me with pain and jealousy; the other fills me with joy and pride Which would you choose if you stopped to make a conscious choice?
It's through mindfulness that we are able to choose the response that best serves, the response that doesn't split our baby. (Side benefit: we heal and find wholeness for ourselves, as well!)

What's next for you? What are you currently working on? How can readers get in touch with you?
Besides the workshops I'm delivering this fall, I'm practicing to improve my sirasana pose as I still have fear around trying it away from the wall. I write regularly at and currently I'm freelancing as I find opportunities.

On Twitter I'm @LavLuz and my book is available in hardback and Kindle on Amazon (as well as with other online booksellers, and many local libraries). I can be reached by email at lori at lavenderluz dot com. I enjoy hearing from people who are exploring openness in adoption.

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