Friday, August 5, 2011

Open Adoption Roundtable #28

The Open Adoption Roundtable is a series of occasional writing prompts about open adoption. It's designed to showcase of the diversity of thought and experience in the open adoption community. You don't need to be listed at Open Adoption Bloggers to participate or even be in a traditional open adoption. If you're thinking about openness in adoption, you have a place at the table.

"Lori of Write Mind Open Heart, an adoptive parent in two open adoptions, has up at her blog a set of eleven questions about open adoption which were posed to her by JoAnne, an adult adoptee in a closed adoption. There are some questions there about the role adoption professionals played arranging contact in your adoptions and how you understand the legal weight of any open adoption agreements you may have."

My responses are listed below each question.

1. Can the adoptive parents really go back on their word after the adoption has been finalized and do whatever they please in regard to updates and pictures? 

Yes, they really really can. Baby Girl's parents did this to me. During my pregnancy we (myself, my big kids, and my mom) were all promised over and over that we could see Baby Girl "whenever" we wanted to and all we had to do was to call, text, or email to set up a visit. As time went on it became glaringly obvious that Baby Girl's adoptive parents were pushing our family further and further away. At her first birthday dinner when we expressed a desire to see her more, we were told that they thought that our contact had been sufficient. A week later I received an email from Baby Girl's adoptive father stating that we would no longer be in contact and I was free to mail pictures of our family for Baby Girl.

After looking further into the laws in my state I discovered that it doesn't matter that we signed an agreement about the frequency of visits and contact because in order to enforce it I would have to go to court. And even then there's not a whole lot that can be done to enforce the visitations. 

2. Who is the go-between for communication with most Open Adoptions: the case worker, the placing agency, or the lawyer handling the adoption? 

Baby Girl's adoption started out private because I knew her parents. I went to church with them and we were friends of sorts. During my pregnancy we decided to go with the agency that they had used for their previous adoption because it was just easier for everyone involved. My primary contact was my caseworker, but more often I spoke directly to Baby Girl's adoptive parents. I haven't spoken to my caseworker in probably a year or more because I feel like she lied to me and used me and I'm still so angry with her and the agency that I have no desire to speak to them at all. 

3. What are the advantages and disadvantages for each of the above contact persons? 

The only advantage to using a 3rd party for contact is that you don't have to tread quite as gently when you're communicating with the adoptive parents. With the caseworker I can say whatever it is that I'm feeling and how much I hate what's happening and tell her what I want, and she communicates all of my thoughts and feelings in a very non-confrontational way. 

4. How can case workers be involved in Open Adoption as well if DHS are already so understaffed and the budgets are maxed out for the thousands of forgotten children lost in the system? 

Since my daughter's adoption was not through DHS and our agency is a private adoption agency, I don't have an answer for this question. 

5. Is there an incentive such as money for the adoption agency to be still involved indirectly and indefinitely for an Open Adoption? Does it cost the prospective adoptive parents more money upfront for it to be an open adoption? 

As far as I know there is no ongoing cost or higher initial cost for an open adoption instead of a closed adoption. Even with a closed adoption the agency is required to maintain records for a certain number of years. And it seems to me that open adoptions tend to fall into 2 camps after a while: they either close at the request of the birthmother or the adoptive parents or the relationship becomes open enough that the agency isn't needed as a go-between any more. 

6. If the contract is legally binding, what happens to the adoptive parents if they don’t follow through? Is there really any legal recourse for both parties that are clearly spelled out? 

As with any legally binding contract, enforcement comes through the courts. If the adoptive parents aren't following through then the birthmother/birthparents will have to take the adoptive parents to court. That requires money for attorneys and time to go to court. And all kinds of hard feelings are caused and dredged up. Since the primary reason for birthmothers to place their babies for adoption is financial difficulties, most birthmothers don't have the required resources to pursue legal action against the adoptive parents. And if the birthmothers could take the adoptive parents to court, and win and have the agreement enforced, then the adoptive parents are all mad at the birthmother which makes everything more difficult. So, you're damned if you do and you're damned if you don't. Isn't adoption fun? 

7. What deters the birth parents from coming to your house unannounced? 

As a birthmother, this question is rather insulting. I know and understand that Baby Girl is part of two families now: her birth family and her adoptive family. I don't show up at people's houses unannounced anyway, but I wouldn't do that to Baby Girl's parents either. The main reason is because they hold all the power in their hands. If I make them angry enough they can take away what little contact I do have with my birthdaughter. I'm between a rock and a hard place and I have to behave myself. 

However, that didn't keep Baby Girl's adoptive parents from showing up, unannounced, at our house on Christmas morning. Don't even get me started on how hard that was for my family and me to handle! 

8. Do you know if there are any court cases where it’s obvious that there are loopholes in Open Adoption that need to be addressed? 

I'm not sure what kind of "loopholes" this question is asking about. Loopholes that allow the adoptive parents to take advantage of the birthparents, or loopholes that allow those evil birthparents to contact their children? Loopholes that let the adoptees find their birth families? I think that, overall, most states are pretty good at making sure that the birthparents have few enforceable rights, with no loopholes to speak of.

9. Just like there are issues with closed adoptions and we have the outspoken activists’, etc., are there any Open Adoption opponents or vice versa that are working to be the voice for the birth mothers as well as the adoptive children and their best interests? 

I don't know if there are official organizations for birthmothers or not. I know that as a birthmother who was burned by the process and by the system, I use my voice to educate people about the process and what really happens. I can't say that I oppose adoptions 100%, but I do think that there needs to be WAY more transparency in the process so that birthmothers truly understand what they are getting into. And I think that the laws need to be changed so that it's not so easy for adoptive parents to say what they will to get their babies and then walk away from the birthmothers.

10. When is the adoptee old enough to choose if they want contact or not? What if they are the ones who want to break off ties with the bio parents?

I think that age probably depends on the adoptee and how he/she is feeling about it. At age 18 when the adoptee is a legal adult, he/she can decide to seek the birthparents and there is nothing that the adoptive parents can do about it. If an adoptee is younger than 18, the adoptive parents can restrict contact if they want to. But with things like Facebook and email it's getting easier to find people and harder to control who is contacting whom.

I think that all birthparents understand that their child may not want to know them later on in life. It's a deep fear that we all have. With one hand we hope for a future with our children in it, and with the other we hold the fear that we will never really know them. If the adoptee breaks off contact then there's nothing the birthparent can do. Stalking your child won fix it. You have to pick up the pieces of your heart and move on. 

11. Are there any support groups/legal aids for birth mothers where they can get honest answers with their concerns for open adoptions?

I don't think there are. I researched open adoption like crazy when I was pregnant and I didn't come across anything like this. I got the most honest answers from other birthmothers that I knew. But wouldn't it be great if there was a place for potential birthmothers to go for a host of honest answers about open adoption and what it looks like and feels like?


  1. Your story makes me so sad. The people who adopted your daughter are the ones who give OA a bad name. It's shameful to get what you want and then reneg on your commitments.

    I'm so sorry this happened to you, Ginnie. I wish Baby Girl's parents would read more from open adoption bloggers to see that we don't do open adoption necessarily for ourselves or for our children's birth parents, but for our children. To help make them whole.


  2. As a mom thru open adoption, I am horrified that your daughter's adoptive parents cut off contact like they did. That is unacceptable and not the norm in open adoption based on the many couples I know who have chosen this path. We LOVE our son's birthfamily and consider them part of our family. They come to his birthday parties and we get together for Christmas, and we text and FB and email pictures. We'd love to see them more often (as we did during the first year--our son is now two), but his birthmom started college last year and so she's understandably really busy. But we are always open to more contact, and would be devastated if we ever had fewer visits than we do now! The agency we used, btw, provides counseling to expectant moms while they are considering making an adoption plan and throughout the placement and post-placement process if they choose to place. The agency then provides free counseling to the birthmom anytime she might need it until the child is 18. In addition, they offer monthly support groups for birthparents only (facilitated by a social worker) and a birthparents-only online message board to discuss issues. I don't think our son's birthmom has chosen to use these resources since placement, but I'm glad they are there if she needs them, and I'm so sorry this support wasn't offered to you in your situation! I just really hope your daughter's parents eventually realize how wrong they are to cut you out of Baby Girl's life--ending contact for no reason will only hurt the little girl you all love, and ultimately will damage their relationship with her when she learns that openness was an option but they chose to shut it down. I just wanted you to know how sorry I am about what you've experienced and that it is not the norm among adoptive parents or agencies, at least from my experience.