Openness As a State of Mind
It was all much clearer in the beginning. She had a child, we had a dream, and we took up our roles with duty and optimism – the giver and the receiver, the past and the future – each of us grateful and pliable, each believing that the big decisions were behind us.
But she is different now than when we first met. The then-girl, crazy for pink and shopping and “cute boots,” became a woman. She finished school, moved out of her parent’s home, grew up, fell in love, got married and chose a career. She moved on.
I am different now, too. I unfolded as a mother. I launched a business. I published a book, rediscovered canning, and adopted a second time. I moved on.
And you, you are most different, having slipped like quicksilver from one mother to another, through diapers and training wheels and summer camp. You are constantly moving on.
Is it any surprise that what we wanted then isn’t what we want now, and what we want now we couldn’t have imagined then? How could I have known that thoughts of her would inhabit me? How could I have anticipated what you would think and feel about adoption, or how the reality of you would change me? I couldn’t; not any more than she could have predicted a time when she would no-show for a visit with you or stop sending birthday cards.
I wanted an open adoption because I thought it was the right thing to do. I thought it would help balance the scales of circumstance, maybe lessen the weight of her loss. And I wanted you to know her and her love, to understand her decisions and (I hoped) grow up unscathed by adoption. I wanted openness because I envisioned growing comfortably over time into a unique closeness with your first mother. But that’s not what happened, and for a long time, I thought that meant I was doing it wrong. I thought I must not really “get” open adoption. It took me a long time to realize that there are many variations of open adoption, and before it’s anything else, openness is a state of mind.
True openness is inviting in the entirety of adoption and really meaning it. It is understanding that your first mother’s experience of adoption is (and always will be) different than mine, and so will yours.
Openness in adoption demands clarity and emotional stamina, because at some point you may self-identify as a bastard, or suddenly want to cut off contact with your first mother (or me), or sob through the night because of something you read about yourself on your first mother’s Facebook page.
There is nothing easy or tidy about open adoption. It requires me to get comfortable with whatever thoughts, feelings, wishes, fantasies, and experiences there are between you and your first family, and understanding that it’s all about you and not at all about me. It obligates me to seek out other voices – other adoptive parents, adoptees, first mothers, first fathers, birth family – and really listen to what they have to say, especially if it’s uncomfortable or painful. Especially then.
Open adoption means not just listening, but being genuinely interested in what the adopted child has to say about adoption. It means recognizing that everyone experiences life differently. Everyone experiences adoption differently. Everyone experiences parenthood differently. It means getting very comfortable with the fact that I don’t speak for anyone but myself. None of us do.
Open adoption is a lot like parenting. It is difficult, uncomfortable, humbling, exhausting, and all consuming. It is also breathtaking, surprising, deeply gratifying, natural, and worth whatever it takes.
It means wanting more than anything for your child to live fully and authentically and always with the certainty of being loved.