As an adoption agency, Nightlight Christian Adoptions deeply believes in the value of open adoption and the positive impact it has on all members of the adoption triad. One of the main questions that Nightlight social workers typically receive from inquiring prospective adoptive parents is about openness and the relationship they will have with their future child’s birth family. It is a topic that we often explore in depth with families throughout the process, starting at inquiry and spanning through to post-adoption. If the idea of openness is not explored and researched properly, culture (including movies and TV shows) may lead to feelings of fear and anxiety, especially since society does not portray many parts of adoption accurately or in a healthy way. Many prospective adoptive parents have walked a painful and difficult journey prior to beginning the adoption process with an agency or attorney, and fear may be a comfortable place to settle (as it is for most of us in so many areas of our lives) as the new path to parenthood is begun. As I continue to explore the concept of openness that will be unique to each adoption with prospective or current adoptive parents, I have really begun to shift encouraging both “open adoption” and a “spirit of openness.” The purpose in this is because a “spirit of openness” can be demonstrated within the adoption triad in every adoption (embryo, domestic, foster care, international), where the practical logistics of an open adoption may not – for various reasons.
Now what can this look like? This may look like the creation of a life book (maybe even beginning with the birth mother’s pregnancy journey), open and honest conversations with the child (and almost always his/her birth family), sharing pieces of a child’s tough story as appropriate, explaining openly and kindly to the child as to why they may not have contact or any knowledge about the child’s birth family, and addressing intricate identity questions as the child begins to understand the complex, unique, beautiful, and sometimes painful journey to their adoptive parents. One of Nightlight’s domestic adoptive parents told their son a story about his birth mother every day when he went down for a nap. Before 15 months of age, he knew her name and that she is another person in his life who loves him. Of course at that age, he cannot grasp what that entails; however, he will grow up always having a memory of her being someone important in his and his family’s life – and as appropriate and healthy, he can begin to understand all that entails. Logistically, this family has not had a visit with their child’s birth mother since he was born (a few years ago) due to the birth mother not desiring visits at this point of her journey of adoption (it is so critical to remember the journey experienced by birth parents and navigating that with the child’s). However, he will always understand that his parents not only want to share his story with him, but also his parents’ desire to love his birth mother and honor her role in his life by sharing about her openly and regularly. Birth (or genetic) parents may not always desire visits or even direct contact, and there is no question that adoptive parents may have a difficult time navigating that part of the child’s story. However, the honest and open discussions will allow for the child to ask questions as he or she feels necessary and help in the journey of bridging that gap in their story.
Even in open adoptions, there may not necessarily be a “spirit of openness.” There may be certain circumstances in a birth family’s (or adoptive parents’) life or adoption journey that may lead to hard conversations and complicated contact between members of the adoption triad. But even in those moments, the adoptive parents play a key role in shaping a child’s view of his or her birth family (and, in turn, a reflection of the child’s own personal identity as a part of the biological family). In the end, many adoptees may internalize how adoptive parents reflect on their birth family – as he or she always will have a connection to them that cannot be broken or ignored or glossed over. This lack of a spirit of openness can be displayed in very simple things that adoptive parents may not even realize, such as tone/attitude when discussing the behaviors of the birth family or fear or anxiety when preparing for visits, phone calls, letters, etc. Children pick up on the smallest attitudes and fears, especially when related to their adoption story. There is no doubt that this is a difficult balance to explore, but humility, honesty, forgiveness, and grace play major roles in the journey for the entire adoption triad.
Many times, the struggle with a spirit of openness comes from a place of fear (before, during, or after the adoption). However, our Heavenly Father does not give us a spirit of fear, but of power and love and self-control (2 Timothy 1:7). Adoption is a complicated, messy, and beautiful journey for all members of the adoption triad, and a spirit of openness is going to further provide opportunities for exploration, development, and healing throughout the process for everyone. A spirit of openness about a child’s adoption and his or her birth family can always be attainable, even when an open adoption may not be (whether now or ever). In the end, the goal for all adoptive parents, birth parents, adoption professionals, etc. is whatever is in the best interest of the child.
written by Chelsea Tippins