By Melissa Giarrosso // Guest Writer
An open adoption relationship is one of the most intimate relationships anyone can have in their lifetime. Unfortunately, most start so quickly that there is often very little foundation to build upon, which can create some awkward years riddled with growing pains for everyone in the triad.
There are no other relationships in life that can so closely be compared to marriage, yet start out with 1) people who barely know one another and 2) heartbreaking loss. It’s a recipe for disaster, yet so many people conquer it out of sheer love and determination. I strongly believe it takes two committed adult parties to make open adoption really flourish, but I also believe it can stay afloat if even one party is dedicated to making the best of whatever the situation may be.
Adoptive parents: After weather through the storms with your child’s birth parents, you may find that you’ve become incredibly close friends. You may not have everything in common, and you may come from two different worlds (making it hard to see eye-to-eye all the time), but you may find the bond you share through your child is so incredible, and so indelible, that it supersedes every bump or bruise you may sustain.
Closeness often comes through shared experience, and that takes time, but there are ways to set the stage for respect in your open adoption relationships, allowing you to bond faster with your child and each other.
1 – Your first conversation should be rooted in respect.
I remember being a hopeful adoptive mom. I remember feeling that desperate current running through my veins. Desperation can cause us to do things we would never otherwise do. So prepare yourself: If you hear an expectant mom saying she isn’t sure adoption is the right for her and she’s just exploring her options, don’t talk about how she’s the only person who can make your dreams come true. It’s not true, and it’s manipulative. Instead, tell her you fully support her decision either way and offer to simply talk about what open adoption means and what it might look like should she opt to place her child with you.
This is not your only chance at becoming a parent, and you are first in line for your child. Always remember that in your most desperate moments.
2 – Never take ownership of a child who isn’t yours yet.
A woman has the right to choose if adoption is right for her child right up until she signs the Termination of Parental Rights (TPR). Talking to her about what “will” be instead of what “might” be has an underlying air of coerciveness that can make a woman feel pressured into placing her child. Some women may express that they want to hear your excitement or need you to believe that they will place their child. I honestly believe it’s important, should you decide to follow her wishes, that you touch base every so often and let her know that you still support her decision one way or another, and there will be no hard feelings if she can’t place her baby after all. Show her respect by erasing all pressures she may feel to make your dreams come true. You will never regret reminding her that you support her either way.
3 – Post-placement, don’t do the bare minimum.
In a world where loss wasn’t part of the equation, all new adoptive parents would just live in a sleepless haze, feeling euphoric over finally becoming parents, and there would be nothing to dampen their spirits. But loss is part of the equation, and new adoptive parents can’t ignore that their dream came true through the sacrifice of another.
Adoptive parents don’t need to be consumed by guilt, but they need to be empathetic. That’s where you want to hover, because it will drive you to go above the bare minimum. If you promised five photos a month for the first six months, send 10 and a few videos, too. If you can send an extra text that week, do it. If you realize you’re relying too heavily on texts out of convenience, pick up the phone. If you only have 10 minutes, tell her that when you start out the phone call, but let her know you wanted to hear her voice and let her know she’s present in your heart and home.
Be human about this, even when you feel like a walking zombie from lack of sleep and major adjustments. Your extra ounce of kindness will fill up the heart of your child’s birth mother in a way only you can do.
4 – Never work through issues or argue over text.
I’m constantly reminding myself that the standards I set for myself aren’t standards I can expect everyone to meet. I’ve set those based on my own personal life experiences, and expecting others who have lived a far different life from my own to rise to those is not only unrealistic, it’s unfair.
In relationships rooted in grief and loss, and with such a lack of familiarity, there will be misunderstandings, miscommunication, unmet expectations, hurt feelings, and anger. Issues will inevitably pop up, but if you try to hash out things in writing, you’re leaving a huge gap for misinterpretation and hurt feelings.
Have enough respect for the relationship to stop texting when things start going down that road and say, “Out of respect for how important this relationship is, texting is going to lead to a lot of misunderstanding and hurt feelings, so I would love to talk to you more about this over the phone or in person. Can we set that up and talk then?”
5 – Let empathy lead you.
It’s so cliché, but check yourself often by closing your eyes and thinking about what it’s like to walk a mile in your child’s birth mom’s shoes. Think for a second about how it would feel to never hear your child call you “mommy.” Some birth moms dislike it when people say they’ve lost their child, especially if they’re part of an open adoption triad, and it may not be their child they’ve lost, but the joys of motherhood now belong to someone else. Those sweet, tender moments that make your heart hurt with exquisite joy would belong to someone else, and that is the unthinkable reality your child’s birth mom is experiencing. It takes tremendous grace to allow another woman to own those moments. Be aware and be sensitive to that. Remember that they should never be expected to “just get over it” and “move on.” If you don’t know if you’re doing enough or don’t know if you’re doing something right, put yourself in her shoes for a minute.
6 – Respect the adoptee.
I would be remiss not to mention one last way you should set the stage for respect in your open adoption relationships, and this point focuses on the adoptee. Your child has more than one mom, and that’s just a fact. Never ask your child to dismiss that fact, and never ask your child to pledge allegiance to you. There are no sides, and this isn’t an either/or situation. This is a community for your child, full of love on all sides, where he belongs fully in all places.
He is allowed to relate to his birth family on some things and his adoptive family on others. He should see that you love all parts of him, and that includes loving where he came from. Respect for our children should be our first priority, and the hope is that our children grow into adults who feel empowered to belong among us all. The only way that can truly be achieved is though adults who work diligently to set the stage for respect in this messy, beautiful, heartbreaking, awe-inspiring world.
Melissa Giarrosso is a Staff Storyteller at Adoption.com and a mom to two quirky kids through open adoption, all thanks to infertility and the belief that adoption is never second best. She and her family reside in a suburb of Memphis, TN where they remain faithful members of numerous open adoption communities, gently advocating the opportunities that open adoption affords all members of the adoption triad.