I don’t remember the first time I was told I was adopted. There was never a Hollywood-esque moment sitting around the table with my parents when they explain that I was adopted. I am grateful for how my parents chose to handle my older sister and I’s adoption story.
You may be in a place in life when you are wondering “why should we have a semi-open adoption?” I hope to explain my own experience in a way that sheds a positive light on semi-open adoption. I, personally, can’t imagine a scenario or setup that would have an outcome and upbringing I love as much as the one I had.
First, it’s important to understand why my parents felt it was so vital to be so open and candid about our origins. My maternal grandmother married young and had my mom, whom she named Leanne. My grandmother had divorced and remarried before my mom turned three. For the sake of her daughter, my grandmother thought the best course of action would be to take legal action for her new husband to be the legal father since her first husband, my mom’s biological father, had moved across the country and remarried as well. They decided together to let my grandfather adopt my mom. My grandmother didn’t want my mom to know that she didn’t share the same genes as the rest of her younger siblings. So, my mom was not told that she was adopted by her dad.
Until my mom was 13 years old, she had never been permitted to look at her baby-book that was kept in a drawer in her parents’ bedroom. That never seemed right to her, even from a young age, since the baby books of her younger siblings were perused regularly and were put on display in their home. One day, my mom was left home to babysit her young siblings while her parents were out. On the search for scissors, she found herself looking through the drawer that housed her baby book. After a brief moment of contemplation, she decided to look through it.
It didn’t take long for my mom to find some interesting details that piqued her curiosity. On one of the first pages, there was a picture taped in of a man she didn’t recognize holding her. “Bill is such a great daddy,” the caption read.
“Bill?” My mom thought. “But my dad’s name is Rodney. Why would she call him Bill?” And the picture surely didn’t look like her dad. She turned the page and was greeted by a family tree. Reading up the branches of her mom’s line, she recognized the names of everybody listed. Her grandparents, great grandparents, etc. On her paternal line, there was that Bill character again. She didn’t recognize the grandparents listed either.
She closed the book, returned it to the drawer, and walked away. She let the found information to sit and stew for a while. Sometime later, her family traveled to a family reunion with her mom’s side of the family. When she was alone with an older cousin, Leanne asked if her mom had a husband before her dad. Her cousin said that she didn’t think so. Then, that cousin went to her mom and told her that Leanne knew something didn’t add up. My mom’s aunt went to my grandma, and said it was time to, “tell Leanne the truth”.
At the tender age of 13, my mom discovered that she was adopted by her dad. She distinctly remembers looking around at her siblings and thinking about how she wasn’t who she thought she was. She was only “half-related” to her siblings. She wasn’t really her dad’s daughter. She has talked about this time as being very difficult because in addition to the uncertainty of being middle-school-aged, she now also had to navigate the feelings of uncertainty of her own existence.
It took years for her to feel comfortable again, and to believe her dad when he told her he loved her just as much as he loved her siblings that shared his DNA.
About 15 years later, my mom and dad were infertile and decided to go through the process of adoption. When they were chosen by my sister’s birth mom, she decided to raise Katelyn with the knowledge that she was adopted. My mom would rock my sister to sleep and tell her how she had two mommies that loved her. My parents found children’s books, like “Tell Me Again About the Night I was Born” by Jamie Lee Curtis, that explained adoption stories in a positive light.
She would tell Katelyn her special story frequently. Katelyn was born on Christmas day, which had a lot of significance for my mom. After eight years of infertility, she would recount how it was always around Christmas when she would look around the family to see who had brought home a new baby during the year. She would hope and pray that next year it would be her turn. When Katelyn’s birth mom chose my parents, my mom told her how cool it was that she was due around Christmas for that intimate reason.
Just three years and nine months later, my parents had a second opportunity to bring home another baby through adoption (me). I was blessed to have a similar upbringing to my sister’s. My adoption story was told to me often, and it was a part of me that we were just as comfortable to talk about as anything else about me. In contrast to my sister’s story, my adoption was a little more open. Katelyn had a much stricter version of a semi-open adoption. Real names were not shared, and letters were only exchanged annually until she was five, and my parents could no longer send pictures when she was only a year old.
In my adoption, only first names were exchanged initially, and letters and pictures continued for the duration of my upbringing pretty consistently. My birth father was cut off by the agency when I was five for some unknown reason, but due to good fortune, we were blessed to regain contact with him when I was nearly fifteen. My birth mother and I had steady, annual communication until I was 16, at which point we decided to start having more regular contact through Facebook and Instagram. I was blessed to be reunited in person just a month before my 18th birthday.
I am incredibly grateful for my semi-open adoption and I believe this was the best-case scenario for me. I grew up very close to my parents and sister, as well as my extended family. I never felt inferior because I didn’t share genetic traits with my parents. I did, however, share a love for music and humor from my dad, and a love for pets and storytelling from my mom. As I got older, I started to notice things about myself that were genetic. I was grateful for the room my parents gave me to explore my identity in relation to my birth parents.
Again, you may be wondering, “why should we have a semi-open adoption?” Semi-open adoption allows the child to be raised, loved, disciplined, and taught by the people chosen to raise them. It also allows adoptees to become familiar with their adoption story over time, so there is no surprise that could lead to wondering if they are who they thought they really were. I have always known that Wayne and Leanne are my parents, and loved me every bit as much as if they had been able to create me themselves. I have always known that Brent and Megan loved me, but because they were young and weren’t able to take the parental reigns at that time, had decided to create an adoption plan for me. I have always known that I am loved by all involved in making me who I am today.
I loved being able to share updates with my close friends when I heard news from my birth parents in their annual letters, which came around my birthday each year. I loved when my birth mom would send me jewelry or other accessories, and it felt like I was carrying a piece of her with me.
It’s interesting to be able to observe the outcome of not only my own adoption but the outcome of my sister’s adoption as well. We have both expressed that our adoptions were set up exactly right, but perhaps it’s that we can’t imagine our stories any differently because it’s all we’ve ever known.
I will say, however, there are elements that anyone considering forming an open-adoption should consider for the sake of the child. There may be anxiety, eagerness, and reservations but it is absolutely vital that as the child grows into a teenager and again into adulthood, that there is a level of trust.
My sister was always told that when she was 18, she would have the option of reaching out to her birth mother if she so chose. She didn’t read the letters from her birth mom until she was 18 either because she didn’t feel ready to do so. My parents never pressured her to do anything, they just made sure she knew what options she had before her.
When she was ready to reach out to find information about her birth mom, she had total support from our mom. Months later, when Katelyn went to meet her birth mom and siblings in person, it was only natural for our whole family of four to accompany her and meet them all as well. She didn’t feel ready to reach out to her birth father for a couple more years but felt a strong desire to contact him last year. We never pressured her but instead made sure she knew we were supportive of whatever she chose to do.
Unlike my sister, I looked forward to my yearly updates with nothing but excitement and anticipation. As the special time of year got close, I was always eager to check the mail as soon as the mail-truck pulled away from the box. My parents and sister would sit together as we would take turns reading the pages written for me. I chose to reunite with my birth parents before my senior year of high school and visited them a number of times over the next couple of months.
I must admit there were bumps in the road as all members of my adoption triad have worked to find healthy boundaries. Truthfully, we are still working out kinks after being in a new level of connection for over three years. The most important thing we have all had to remember is that regardless of any bumps and miscommunication, there is still love and respect for one another.
I have been involved in the adoption community for around five years now and I have learned a lot. I have come to understand the highs and lows of a myriad of different scenarios. Through it all, I have felt a continued confirmation that for me and my life, having a semi-open adoption was the best option. I believe that semi-open adoption has the potential to allow an adoptee a healthy childhood with their adoptive family while having a keen knowledge of how they came to be a part of the family. It allows adoptees to hopefully avoid as much confusion and identity-crises as possible. Semi-open adoption also brings a little more room for negotiation and reconsiderations as communication may need to grow or recede in whatever way would best benefit the well-being of the child.
So, to conclude, why should we have a semi-open adoption? To allow the members of the adoption triad the opportunity to grow individually and to best benefit the adoptee and give them time and space to best develop communication, as those involved work together.
Hannah Jennings lives in Idaho with her husband, Nick, and her tabby cat, Charlie. Hannah is a singer/songwriter and loves to perform. She is also a photographer and enjoys taking family photos. She has been an adoption advocate for more than five years and loves sharing her story as an adoptee.