The idea of an open adoption can be scary because the false security of anonymity disappears. But we can’t imagine doing it any other way.
Near midnight on Tuesday, September 9, our adopted son, Stryder, entered the world.
Many people have misconceptions about adoption. Because most parents can’t imagine giving their child to someone else, they assume that parents who choose adoption must not love or care for their babies. They believe birth parents must view their child as an inconvenience or nuisance, or that they don’t want the baby because they’re selfish.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
People who choose adoption commit themselves to a selfless sacrifice that demands tremendous strength. Birth parents love their children as intensely as any parent, but they possess enough maturity to recognize that they’re ill-equipped, for whatever reason, to provide for a child.
My wife, Jessica, and I had an open adoption, much to the alarm of some people. In “closed” adoptions, the child has no contact with his or her birth parents and doesn’t even know their identities. Adoptive parents can gain a sense of security from the anonymity, an assurance that the birth parents won’t try to reclaim the child and they won’t face competition for the parental role.
But it’s a false security. Birth parents can make heroic efforts to find their children, and children always imagine and wonder about their birth parents because we need to know something about our origin. Since adoptive parents know little about the birth parents in closed adoptions, the adopted children grow up with many unanswered questions.
And for that reason, open adoptions are becoming much more common.
The idea of openness can be scary because the false security of anonymity disappears. Openness can also be undesirable if the birth parents would be an unhealthy influence or stressor on the child, as in cases where the parents struggle with addiction or homelessness. Thankfully, Stryder has awesome birth parents, so we were happy to express our desire for an open adoption. We ultimately fell in love with our birth parents, as well as the unborn Stryder, and can’t imagine adopting any other way.
“Open” has a range of meanings. It can mean that the child knows the parents’ names and contact information, the child has a close relationship with them, or anything in between. In open adoptions, the children have answers to their questions and can seek more answers if they choose. They not only know their birth parents, but also have some kind of relationship with them, and they know they are loved by a wider circle of people.
Whether going through an adoption agency or adopting privately (as we did), the adoptive and birth parents often have a certain amount of distance in their relationship. They may meet only a few times during the pregnancy, or they may not meet at all if an agency acts as an intermediary. The adoptive parents may attend several doctor’s appointments, or they may only call to confirm the baby’s health and sex. Usually, the adoptive and birth parents “click” on some level and develop some type of rapport. Otherwise, it’s hard for the birth parents to trust these people to care for their child.
In our case, we attended every single doctor’s appointment with the birth parents, we invited the birth mother to our baby showers, we had both birth parents come to our home and spend the day in our community, and we spent hours just visiting and hanging out either before or after doctor’s appointments. Jessica bonded with the birth mother immediately, and they began texting several times a day shortly after our first meeting.
I was more guarded at first, cautioning Jessica not to get her hopes up since we’d heard so many stories of failed adoptions. As we spent more time together, however, both Jessica and I grew to genuinely like and care about both birth parents, and that friendship then blossomed into a loving bond cemented by our shared experience and love for Stryder. We also began letting ourselves become excited about Stryder, and we often shared that excitement with the birth parents. This helped them grow to trust us to be their adoptive parents and to take joy in our joy.
We were able to form a strong attachment to Stryder before he was born, we bonded with him the moment we saw him, and we love him every bit as fiercely as if he were our natural child. And we love our birth parents for the awesome people they are, not just for the gift they gave us. We’ve even begun to develop strong relationships with some members of the birth parents’ families. So now our family has grown by more than just one, and little Stryder has lots of people to love him.
Our relationship with the birth parents and their families will evolve over time, of course, as all of our lives progress and circumstances change. We expect to remain very close, but no matter what happens, Jessica and I will always have great affection for Stryder’s birth parents and our wonderful open adoption experience, and we will always be able to share with Stryder the beautiful story of how his parents chose each other for him.
Eric Sentell lives in the DC-metro area with his emotionally brilliant wife and new son. He teaches college composition and directs a writing center at Northern Virginia Community College. His short fiction has been published or is forthcoming in The Rivendell Gazette, Long Story Short, Red Ink Journal, Moon City Review, Unlikely Stories 2.0, Blink Ink Online, Short, Fast, and Deadly, and Six Minute Magazine. In September 2010, Long Story Short selected “Stolen Thunder” as its Story of the Month.