Monday, March 22, 2010

Open Adoption Interview Project - March 2010

I kept meaning to post that I was participating in a match and interview project about open adoptions hosted by Production, not Reproduction but I kept thinking Ooh, I'll get to that and of course, didn't. BIG props to Heather for putting this together. It's exciting  that over 65 people participated!! I can't wait to read them all and hope you do too.

I was matched with a very special woman named Jodi. I was really nervous at first because I am not adopted... not adopting or anything. Maybe adoptive parents wouldn't want to hear my perspective, but I am a social worker and I love to learn.

Jodi did more than teach me. She allowed me into her life and her heart. She has already adopted two beautiful children and she also received another placement during the time we were getting to know each other!! I'm so happy for her and her family and their families too! Jodi is living a Simple Perfect Life.

Jodi went above and beyond with two sick children and a newborn to answer my interview questions (which were pretty personal). Thank you so much Jodi for showing us some of the most selfless love I've ever encountered. Jodi welcomes her children's families in with open arms. She completely enjoys every new experience her kids have and wants to share that with their "first family". Adoptions I've worked with are generally involuntary on the part of the birth parents. They aren't allowed to see their children. It made me so happy to see another side of adoptions.  You're simply amazing!

1.How does open adoption work? 

There are probably a gazillion different perspectives of what open adoption is.  We worked with an adoption agency and had a profile in a book where expectant parents working with the agency would select profiles/families that interested them.  Generally there would be a "match meeting" where everyone would get together and have kind of like an interview or get together to see if the families feel like they would make a good match.  If you become a match, then usually there is a "cooperative agreement" that is created  with what the families agree to with openness in the adoption and the adoption process sometimes even including the birth process, doctor appts., what you agree to help with financially (the laws vary by state).  Our adoptions are fully disclosed--meaning, the birth family knows our complete names, where we live, (haha--that's funny to me because they come to our house for visits), our phone numbers, we "facebook" each other, email and call (well, at least we have each other's phone numbers. . . it doesn't work very well for me to make phone calls cause the kids are always noisy when I'm on the phone!)  Some adoptions just have the birth parent pick the family and they never meet and they don't know what state their baby goes to or last names and such. . . Each adoption is so unique to itself that all the finer details are always completely different--so it depends on what kind of ongoing contact throughout the child's life will be decided upon. 

2.Are you allowed to change your mind or is it a legal agreement?

 Not all states have what is called a "contact agreement", which is a legally binding agreement on what is decided upon in the adoption.  (ie, visits, photos, how many, when, etc.)  Even though it is legally binding--if it is broken, the adoption would not be overturned--and mediation is required before you could take the other party to court.  I think it is kind of a crock if there really are no serious repercussions to not following a legally binding agreement.  We do have contact agreements here in MN, but we do not have one with Jakob or Jada.  I am not sure if we will have one with Jenay.  It is usually up to the birthparent.  We have a cooperative agreement with Jakob's birthmom which we don't really follow (for the good) because she is just part of our family now.  We don't even have a cooperative agreement from Jada's birthmom.  She originally wanted a closed adoption and it "opened" fairly quickly starting with emails, then some visits.  I think both our birthmoms are pretty comfortable asking if they feel they want to see us, or want some more photos, or whatever. 

I think the most important thing is to not intentionally promise something for the purpose of getting a child when you rightly know you are not going to fulfill those promises.  Open communication is so very important.  If somebody is uncomfortable with something or the situation changes then you need to at least communicate that rather than ignore the person or "close" the adoption.  

 3.What are some of the pros and cons of having an open adoption? 

I seriously can't think of any cons of having an open adoption.  I am not saying that things are always easy, or not exhausting, but we sacrifice because this is what we have accepted as our family.  Any parent would do anything for their child and this is what we choose for ours.  There were many ups and downs during the first year of our first adoption.  We were not really understanding what Kaiti was going through and we were all in uncharted territory.  Lots of uncomfortable situations--that seriously would not be uncomfortable now that we've been through it all! haha!  (Like her graduation open house and meeting all of her relatives--we were very very nervous!)  All that unsolicited advice, again, from people who have no business even thinking they have the first clue about adoption.  People telling us she shouldn't be coming over to our house or that we saw her too much.  Our kids are awesome and they wouldn't be our kids without their birthmoms choosing us to be their parents.  I think I put this in another answer, but you should see our kids when they are with their birthmoms.  It is amazing! 

Our kids get to know their stories.  They get to see who they look like.  They get to be loved by more people.  They get to ask their questions in the future and get first had answers.  We get to face all the difficult times together.  There are so many emotional layers to adoption--aspects on all sides--and by coming together and being open, honest and respectful, we can at least face the emotional hardships (and happy stuff too!) with love, support, honesty and respect.   

4. How open is open? Does that degree of openness vary from situation to situation or is it pretty much the same for all parties involved? 

Openness in adoption is what makes every "open" adoption unique.  Generally, the chosen "adoptive" parents and the people involved with the birth family side sit down and decide what kind of openness they all agree upon for their adoption plan.  That could mean photos, emails, letters, visits, whatever they agree upon.  Some families may not exchange full names, addresses or phone numbers.  Their communication may continue through the agency or attorney that facilitated the adoption.  All of our birthmothers know where we live and we usually have visits at our house.  The kids are comfortable and I know it is child proof and quite honestly--it is the easiest.  Anyone who thinks you can have a truly quality visit in a restaurant with young children is fooling themselves.  The birth family gets to see their child in their home, their room, their place of comfort where their true personality (and tantrums) come out.  They have our phone number, email and we are on facebook together too.  It is a great way to share photos and updates and quick notes.  We have a cooperative agreement with Jakob's birthmom (which we hardly follow).  Kaiti has been super helpful and been available to watch our kids when we needed help.  I think we try to get together around once a month, sometimes more or less, depending on our schedules.  We have nothing written up with Jada's birthmom.  She currently lives out of state and when she comes home to visit she just calls us and we get together.  We email on facebook too.  I wish she lived closer, but facebook helps it feel like she lives here.  We don't have any agreement written yet with Jenay's birthmom, but it will be open.  We will be meeting her mother in the near future and have plans for her to visit us at home too.  It is my dream to have them all over at the same time someday.  They haven't met in person yet. . . but Jakob and Jada's birthmothers are "facebook" friends.  They are all a part of our family.  They are a part of our hearts and souls, the reason we are who we are today.  So, I will do whatever it takes to keep them involved in our lives. 

 5. Do you or your husband ever get jealous?

I think there was a time when my husband worried about our son not wanting to spend Christmas with us when he was an adult and choosing to spend it with his birthfamily instead and felt a pang on his heart.  And then I said why wouldn't we be able to arrange something to spend it all together?  In all honesty, it makes me cry good happy tears to see my children love their birthmoms.  There comes a time when we need to let go of our children and let them make their own decisions and spend time with whom ever they choose.  They are not possessions.  I never want them to feel like they are letting us down for wanting to love their birth families--or anyone else for that matter.  I don't want to hold them back from anything. 

6. Is there an open arrangement with just the birth mother, or is the father and extended family involved too?

All of our adoptions are just open with the birthmoms.  We have a family relationship with Jakob's birthmom and her family.  We know her boyfriend, periodically meet some of her friends and have met some relatives too.  We know who his birthdad is but have no contact at this time.  We have a relationship with Jada's birthmom and have met her birth grandmother a couple of times.  We know her birthdad's first name and a bit of his story, but have no contact with him at this time.  We will have an open relationship with Jenay's birthmom and are meeting her mother sometime in the near future.  We may or may not ever know whom her birthdad is and most likely will never have contact with him.  Of course, things are ever evolving so relationships may change as we all change, grow and mature.  We may meet more family members in the future--who knows!

7 Do you worry that the birth family will try to tell you how to raise your children or undermine your parental role?

 No, we do not worry about this.  Our birth families have been very supportive in our roles as parents.  I know that I am very over protective and cautious as a parent.  It shows--in very obvious ways.  It was more obvious when we just had one child.  I'm sure they have all thought I am kind of weird with my ways at some point! haha!  No different than my own biological family--only my biological family has no reserves about voicing their opinions! haha!  If people really know me, for me, they know that I will listen respectfully--and then just do things my way anyway! :0)

It is really amazing how much unsolicited advice finds it's way into our lives--in anyone's lives--when it comes time to parenting.  I, personally, have felt a lot of internal pressures as an adoptive parent.  Hoping that I can live up to not only my own expectations as a parent, but the expectations of our birth families.  I want to make all their hopes and dreams come true too--for their child that they entrusted to us.  We are certainly not perfect, either, so if things are not going the way you envisioned, we are always carrying the extra pressure of letting our birthmoms and their families down.  We have learned along this journey, that we cannot worry about things we have no control over--it will eat you up.  We cannot worry about something that "may or may not" happen in the future.  We can only educate, communicate, and prepare ourselves for the unknowns.  We have to support each other.  We have to "walk by faith, even when I cannot see" (Jeremy Camp).  And that is why our faith is important and strong and necessary in our lives. 

8. Do you ever feel intruded on by having an open adoption? Any regrets?

 I definitely do not feel intruded upon with an open adoption.  There were a couple of times in the very beginning that we had some unexpected visits with Jakob's birthmom stopping over unannounced--completely innocent, but I guess it only was kind of pushing it because we were so tired but didn't want to hurt anyone's feelings by asking to end the visit at a reasonable time.  Now that I see things from a whole picture rather than from a cloudy over tired mind, I cherish the unplanned and unexpected.  You just don't know what life may bring!

I think most of the intrusions come when complete strangers walk up to us and ask us if our kids are adopted and where from--without any respect that maybe it is a sensitive subject for our children.  We do love to share our stories, but we know that at some point, it will be up to our children what is openly shared with strangers who ask silly questions out in public.  (Well, they are not silly, but sometimes I just want to say DUH!).  Once somebody asked if Jada was adopted and my hubby said, "no, we just forgot to put sunscreen on her." 

I think my only regret is not starting the process sooner.  I do believe that it is all in God's timing, but had we started sooner. . . we would have most likely adopted more!  The cost was so intimidating when we initially pursued adoption that we held off for awhile thinking we couldn't afford it.  Who knew what giving up a few "finer" things in life would bring us!

9. How do you think having and open adoption vs. a closed adoption affects your children?Do you think it will be confusing for them in the long run?

I think keeping things a secret and creating the opportunity for our children to create that "fantasy" is far more confusing  than having an honest open adoption.  There are some tricky things that we will have to face in the future as far as when to share age appropriate truths, but far better than a fantasy.  If only all of you could see our children with their birthmom's--you would get it.  The light in their eyes, the laughter, the happiness that comes when we get together.  I'm sure there will be more difficult days and questions, but we hope they know they can love their birth families as much as we love them.  I like to explain it to people like this~Jesus has enough love to go around for everyone that wants to accept his love--even enough for those who don't want to accept his love, so there is no reason we can't love like Jesus and have more people in our lives to love and be loved. 

I also feel like I know my children better because I know their birthmoms and some of their birth families.  I see their personalities, their looks, their mannerisms, all in my children.  If I look at how much I love this. . . then I can see how much more it will mean to my children.  How neat it will be to have somebody to share those things with on a personal level. 


jodilee0123 said...

Thanks Babs! I look forward to learning more about your life! I know it is difficult to write about--but I'm not going anywhere anytime soon--so take all the time you need! :0)

Babs said...

Thanks Jodi! I'm so glad we were matched. This has been an awesome experience for me :)