Our Word Is Our Bond
The Open Adoption Compromise
by Leah Outten
I’ll be honest, when I was pregnant with my daughter at sixteen years old I threw out the idea of adoption right along with the idea of abortion. It wasn’t going to be for me. I wanted to be a mom and I would be a good mom, darn it! It didn’t matter what it would cost me in time, money, or relationships. But as the months went by and my belly bloomed, I never felt peace about parenting. I felt a war within me.
I lived in a state of anxiousness and my counselor encouraged me to explore adoption simply to make an informed decision. I figured I could do that at the least so that I could know without a doubt that I was making the right choice for us. When I began my research I was filled with misinformation of what adoption is. I thought it was giving up my daughter to a family I had no choice in and never seeing her again. Heck no. Thankfully, the time of my teen pregnancy was at the beginning of the open adoption revolution and times were-a-changing.
Upon digging deeper, I met with birth mothers and adoptive mothers online with a different heart and a different sort of story. They had stories of functioning as one big extended family with visits and traveling together, celebrating milestones of their child with one another. The realization that I could choose her parents and have a say in our lives moving forward was a game changer. I thought I could handle that.
Open adoption was my compromise. It was my chance at having the best of both worlds in a sense — I could finish growing up while she was loved in a stable two-parent home, yet still be a part of her life. The compromise is the meet in the middle for us. It was shown in the honor of her parents saving her first solid food experience for one of our visits and allowing me to attend every birthday party for the last eleven years. It has been the privilege of sleepovers and FaceTime chats after school, tours of her latest artwork, and knowing that she misses me as much as I miss her.
Over the years of living in an open adoption arrangement I’ve learned many things:
- It takes work. As with any good relationship, it is work. It takes honest communication with how you are feeling and when issues arrive. It takes nurturing a friendship and reaching out to one another. It takes a balance of some give and take. It takes respect and putting boundaries in place.
- It takes commitment. When I was pregnant, I feared the horror stories of adoptive parents promising an open adoption and then closing it later. Like I said, open adoption was my compromise. No open adoption, no adoption. Period. I decided to draw up a contract for each of us to sign and have notarized. It may not hold up in court if we ever needed it, but to us our word is our bond. We are committed to each other in this relationship as much as we are to our little girl at the center.
- It is as much for her as it is for me. It isn’t just for my healing as a birth mother to know who she is — it is for her too. I have known all too many adoptees with unanswered questions. Who do I look like? Why did they give me up? Do I have siblings? I wanted my birth daughter to never question my love for her, because she could see it clearly with her own two eyes. I never wanted her to feel questions that couldn’t be answered because I’m right here to answer them. Now years down the road, our open adoption benefits my parented children as well so that they can form their own relationship.
- It is a compromise for both sides. As a birthmother it is seeing your child call another person mom or run to them with a boo-boo instead of you at a visit. And on the flip side, it is watching your child desire a relationship and grieve the loss of their role in their biological family. It can be a bittersweet journey all around.
- Open adoption is not a fix-all solution. Even with an open adoption, there still is a sense of loss for a birthmother. Regardless of visits and photos, it doesn’t change the fact that her child is not with her at home. Visits help to numb the ache, absolutely, but the hole in her heart still remains when the goodbye comes again. Regardless of more children that may come later in life, there is still one missing. Regardless of a child having their birth family to ask questions to when they arise, he or she still has to grieve a loss as well.
- It is so worth the work. The best things in life don’t always come easily, and open adoption can fall in that line. But, the result is worth the effort! The joy my kids feel when we are together is tangible. The friendship I have with my daughter’s mother is unexplainable. The common bond and love we have over our daughter — both her mother in two different ways — is priceless. Knowing that she has that security of both sides of her family is why we keep moving forward together.
In situations where all parties are emotionally healthy, open adoption can be a beautiful thing to make the best of what we have to give and to process the emotions that follows.
Open adoption isn’t the scary list of fears of “what if’s” that people imagine it to be. What if the birth mother comes to take the child? What if the adoptive parents close the adoption after promising it to me? Won’t having both families confuse the child? When open adoption works well with mutual respect and love for all involved, these issues are void.
Adoption is a compromise of love and fears, of give and takes, but the normalcy that blooms from the core surpasses those fears. It isn’t confusing, it isn’t anything but what should be — more family to love the child at the center of it all. Our lives meld together with the bond of that love.
Learn more about if open adoption is right for you.
Leah is a birth mother buddy at Binti. Leah placed her daughter in 2004 when she was just 16 years old. With an extremely open adoption that blossomed from a mutual trusting and loving relationship with the adoptive family, she hopes her story to be a positive example of what adoption can be.