Saturday, July 5, 2008

Open adoption agreements

Okay, while I'm on the topic of adoption (see previous post) I might as well put this out there and be done with it.

I wish that open adoption agreements were done differently. I don't think they are right (as in just or fair) the way they tend to be written now, or at least the way they were written back when we made ours with the kiddo's birthparents. And this is why: When we made our open adoption agreement, it was all about what we, the adoptive parents, would do for them, the birthparents. It spelled out how many times a year we would send updates and what those updates would include. It was done, intentionally or not, as a promise to the birthparents of what we would do if they placed their child with us, even if not in so many words.
And that is wrong, I've come to realize in the five years since we made that agreement. You see, I don't think open adoption agreements should be about what the adoptive parents are promising the birthparents or vice versa. I think they should solely be about what will be in the best interests of the child being adopted.

It has bothered me at times over the years that in our situation, we are the only ones upholding our end of the agreement. Looking back at that agreement, though, it was written very one-sidedly. It doesn't really spell out anything explicitly in terms of the birthfamily staying in contact with us or the kiddo, and they haven't. Why is it fair to the adoptee that one side of the family - birth or adoptive - is allowed to just disappear or end contact? Well, it isn't, that's obvious. You hear all the time about how adoptive parents promise birthparents the moon and stars and then, once things are finalized, they close the adoption, end all contact. I wholeheartedly agree that this is wrong and unjust and shouldn't be done. But what about when it is the other side who ends contact, as in our case? When a birthparent just vanishes, stops writing, stops calling?

I think that it is equally unacceptable for either side to vanish, to effectively close an adoption by stopping contact, if an open adoption had been agreed upon. You may think I say this because I, as the adoptive parent, feel put out or wronged, and I'm not saying I don't get frustrated when weeks or months or years tick by without hearing a word from the kiddo's birthfamily, or when a package gets returned to us for an address that is no longer valid.

The thing is, it is not me feeling anger or frustration on my own behalf, but on the kiddo's. My heart breaks to think of the hurt that this might cause her when she's older. She's the one who will someday look through the things we've received from her birthfamily and she's the one who will notice the gaps, the scarcity of the contents of that box. It makes me sad to know that she will know that her birthparents didn't maintain contact with us, that this might hurt her.

And this is why I think open adoption agreements need to be done differently. They shouldn't be done as a reassurance to the birthfamily (as ours was), and they definitely shouldn't be a bunch of promises made that the adoptive parents have no intention of keeping once everything is said, done and finalized. I think that they need to be made in the best interest of the child, the adoptee, who is the one human being in this situation who generally has little or no say in what is happening. In open adoption situations, I think both the adoptive parents and the birthparents need to, to put it bluntly, suck it up and do things that make them uncomfortable if that's what it takes. The adoptee should be put first, and it is the adoptee's future that should be considered when writing the agreement up, and that alone. I cannot tell you the number of times I've been browsing an adoption-related message board and have read posts from adoptive parents who think it would be best for them if they stopped contact with the birthfamily, as well as posts from birthparents about how they want to stop contact because they "need a break" or something. They all have their reasons, their justifications for why this is really the best thing to do. In all but the most extreme cases, I think this is a load of crap. If you read between the lines - and sometimes, you don't even have to - what comes through is the adult in the situation, the parent - be they birth or adoptive - wanting to do this because it would be easier for them. Less stressful for them. Less difficult for them. This is what I think is wrong. When these adults made the decision to go ahead with this open adoption, it wasn't done because it was supposed to be what was best or easiest for them, it was supposed to be - should always be, in my opinion - about what was best for the child. The adoptee.
(Please note: I am speaking specifically to open adoptions, not foster care situations where there are often extenuating circumstances regarding post-finalization contact. I understand that there are most definitely situations in which, despite an adoptee's desires, contact isn't in the child's best interest.) So it is inconvenient to have to explain to your friends about who this birth relative is at your daughter's dance recital, or it would make you, the adoptive parent, feel uncomfortable to have her there? Tough noogies. If your child, the adoptee, wants her birthmother there, is your discomfort at having to explain really so important, your personal angst the priority? So many times I've read where adoptive parents have complained that they don't feel like the "real" parent if the birthparents are in the loop, are present in their child's life. That they need to feel like a family. I've also read where birthparents feel that it is too difficult to stay in touch because it just hurts too much - I'm not saying that the adoptive parents are the only ones who are capable of wrongdoing here, just that it seems more prevalent from what I've read for an adoption to close from the adoptive parents' end of things.

I think if we had written our agreement up keeping the kiddo in mind first and foremost, it would've been worded differently. Not that we would have agreed to less contact or updates or anything, but I would have wanted it to be less a list of "this is what we will give you/send you/do for you" and more of "this is what we, as the birthfamily and adoptive family, will do to ensure a good life for this child." I know, maybe this wouldn't have prevented the disappearances, the returned letters, the sporadic contacts. I realize that. Our open adoption agreement isn't even legally binding, but as I said, I consider it to be morally binding. It would've been nice to have all the parties involved make a morally binding promise to the kiddo, for the kiddo, that we as the people who loved her would act in her best interests at least until she reaches adulthood. As it is, Hubby and I have done our best to uphold our end of the agreement, because we feel it is in her best interest to do so. I guess I can't really expect more than that, agreement or not.


Alex said...

As someone who is trying as hard as I can to keep/start an adoption open, you are right on... for the child, for the child, for the child...

AdoptAuthor said...

It all sounds very good, BUT...

The truth is that open adoption agreements are written with the intent of giving mothers considering relinquishing, or who already have, a little "give back" - an enticement to sign the deal with YOU as opposed to someone else. that is why it is so one sided. Look at all WE will GIVE YOU! It's a sales gimmick.

If adoption were truly about "the best interest of the child" what you would give the child's parents is the support they need to keep their child, not take their child and give them crumbs back in return.

Losing a child to adoption is PAINFUL. Your proposition would be all well and good if the adult involved were starting out on a level plain. But if they were, one would not be losing and the other gaining. Can't you understand why a mother might back off? Can't you try to walk an INCH in her shoes and imagine the pain involved in seeing her child calling another Mommy and having nothing to say about the way her child is raised? This runs salt in open wound. Sometimes she needs to back off to try to "get on with hr life" - often one of the purposes of her losing her finish school or whatever.

First of all - if adoption were practiced the way it was intended, it would be finding homes for ORPHANS and children whose parents are incapable of caring for them. If someone is reliable and responsible enough to uphold an open adoption agreement - why should they be letting their go in the first place???

Do you see? Orphans don't have parents. That's who is supposed to be getting adopted. We are not supposed to be tempting mothers out of their chidlren with promises of openness.

If a child needs alternative care - and he has parents - there should be a guardianship relationship. Falsifying a birth certificate to say that a stranger gave birth to a child is in no way in any child's best interest!

Open adoption is a farce because it is unenforceable. If you want what is in children's best interest you would support family preservation and adoption only as a last resort (as per the UN) and even then the child would always know his original name and can then do what is best for HIM when he is able.

My name is Andy. said...

Well said Heather,

As an adoptive mom who is faced with an "open" adoption where Liam's Mom has never even seen him, it's hard.

While I understand the pain that adoptauthor talks about in terms of what a first mother must go through, it's just another case of no one walking in the adoptee's shoes.

Of holding a sobbing 6 year old while you try to explain that he can't call his brother to tell him about his new toy because his brother doesn't know he exists. That even though he sends his mother cards and presents and letters every chance he gets, she has never sent him anything.

Losing a parent to adoption is PAINFUL. That's why it all needs to be about what is best for the child, adults feelings be damned.