Between Adoptive Parents and Birthmothers
More Thoughts on "A Different Kind of Relationship"Responses to the Nancy Verrier interview on contemporary Open Adoption issues.
From adoption professionals and experts
"The key thing is to have a professional on hand to protect the birthparent's right to change course. Everybody knows this is a true possibility and that it is a normal thing to do. Professional 'protection' is indispensable. I worry much more about these things if there is no professional involved (or if the professional is in collusion with the adoptive parents.) Odd as it may seem to some people, we [in our program] were glad the first time a birthmother changed her intentions. It told us that she really did feel the freedom to change course. If we did not know that to be true, we couldn't operate this way.
All this should be talked about in advance and a process spelled out. This makes the idea of exiting the adoption quite vivid and it creates a reasonable, respectful, and healthy process for getting the job done. Prior discussion makes a change of heart less awkward.
The potential for a more relaxed, and perhaps more meaningful pregnancy
is increased [given a relationship with prospective adoptive parents]--no small item. For many [prospective birth]moms, the joy of the potential adoptive parents answers the persistent question, "Why is this happening to me?" I really have seen peace of mind come out of this.
I believe very strongly in the value of adoptive parents being there to see the anguish of the birthparents. This has to be witnessed to really sink in. The pain is love, and adoptive parents need to experience it. As I point out in The Spirit of Open Adoption, when the child some day speculates that his birthparents didn't give a rip, the adoptive parents who were there will flinch. The flinch says everything. Being there turns adoptive parents into ferocious defenders of birthparents, and I think that's a great thing for the children.
So, while I understand the concern and think it is often merited, I very much disagree [with Verrier's position]. Those prenatal connections have laid the foundation for lifelong relationships whose entire nature has been to celebrate children. I doubt I could ever be persuaded to the contrary."
---Jim Gritter, M.S.W., child welfare supervisor/open adoption practitioner with Catholic Human Services in Traverse City, Michigan; author of The Spirit of Open Adoption
"Nancy's responses have a frightening ring of the truth in them. I think that the factors she speaks of are real and definitely should be addressed by every adoption practitioner/counselor. Pre-birth meetings are probably the major manipulation technique used in the many semi-open, long distance adoptions that are happening every day in the U.S. There are adoption practitioners who train people how to counsel toward adoption--and the forming of an attachment with an adopting family is one of the approaches they train people in. This is what I had in mind two years ago when I wrote the 'Not Used to Manipulate: Beware!' section of the Recommendations for Parents Considering Placement of a Child pages at www.open adoption.org. Meeting an adopting family is used by many to help manipulate toward adoption.
However, in the fully open adoptions that do happen, these moments before birth in the meeting and getting to know each other are some of the most positive bonding experiences of a lifetime. They allow the birth and adoptive mothers to begin a long friendship. Yes, there are many tears at the placement ceremony; I have run many video cameras at them and shed my own as well. It is a powerful ceremony. I cannot but believe that when the families
involved are truly dedicated to the child, that these videos and memories of the ceremony shared with that child will be very valuable to that child twenty years later.
At the same time there are no easy answers to this issue. Nancy Verrier has very good reason to have her strong opinion against a parent-to-be meeting the adopting parents prior to birth. Hopefully, in the hands of an ethical, values-based open adoption agency, the adoption/parenting decisions can be made freely right up to the last legal moment if there is a change of mind. It is not easy. It is very good for Nancy and others to continue to raise this issue."
---Bill Betzen LMSW, ACSW, Domestic Infant Adoption Advice Page http://www.openadoption.org/bbetzen
"For every birthmother who feels coerced by meeting and developing a relationship with the people who might be adopting her baby, there is at least one birthmother who feels supported emotionally, and relieved to know that if she chooses adoption, her child will be raised by people whom she knows and trusts. I think rather than trying to say 'Birthmothers should always have contact with prospective adoptive parents' or 'Birthmothers should never have contact with prospective adoptive parents,' it's better to look at the variety of experiences and say, 'What are the risks here, and what are the benefits?'
Sometimes there is a very fine line between coercion/manipulation and support/guidance. As a parent, I struggle with this all the time, and I know that what I intend is not always what is felt, or how it seems later. For example, let's say my child is indicating an interest in music. I think his life would be enriched if he studied an instrument. So, I present the benefits to him, offer to pay for lessons and buy the instrument, let him know the expectations of his time and energy, but imply the pain will be worth it. He decides to do it. Some time later he says, 'You made me take piano lessons.'
I'm a firm believer that there needs to be a third party who can provide some kind of 'detached' observation and management of what is obviously a very delicate situation. This person needs to let the birthmother know what the risks and benefits are of having contact, and provide some guidance or act as a sounding board along the way. And, the same needs to be available for the prospective adoptive parents. Someone needs to be able to say to the prospective adoptive parents, 'This is how what you are doing could be interpreted,' or to say to the birthmother, 'You might want to consider that if you do this, later you might feel...'
As for entrustment ceremonies, I do believe they are for the birthparents and adoptee as well as the adoptive parents. All cultures have rituals surrounding significant changes, especially around significant changes in relationships or status. With adoption, we have a child leaving one family to join another. We have people who are losing their role as parents of this child and people who are taking on that role. The entrustment ceremony is a way that everyone takes note of this. And to some extent, the ceremony makes it happen. By receiving public recognition that their parenting role is ending, the birthparents get a jump-start on making that transition. The same is true for the adoptive parents. Yes, the birthparents are in agony. That's an appropriate emotional reaction to what is happening to them. And they won't feel any less agony if they don't have the ritual. But rituals are also supposed to provide community support for the people who are involved in life-altering situations so that the birthparents don't have to experience this agony alone. I think it's also highly beneficial for the adoptive parents to witness this agony. I think it will help them develop empathy for the birthparents and understand the depths of their sacrifice. This will permeate the interactions they have with their child as she seeks answers to the question, 'How could my own mother give me away?' Without witnessing the birthmother's agony, adoptive parents sometimes can't help the child with that question because it is their question, too. By witnessing it, adoptive parents come to understand how very painful it was. The adoptee benefits from entrustment ceremonies because they empower the adoptive parents to take on their role without ambivalence or guilt."
--- Lois Melina, adoptive mother
and co-author of The Open Adoption Experience, Adopted Child From birthmothers
"I do find [Verrier's replies] condescending, to me: 'You don't know how you're going to feel; you might say you feel this way, but I know how you feel better than you do.' But I think there does need to be some education around the whole obligation issue. I think that birthparents need to be told, 'If you do meet and develop this relationship, you need to be aware that this is a danger. You have to think about this obligation factor: are you going through with [the adoption] because you feel obligated, or because this is what you really believe is right?'
I think it's really important to have communication [with the adoptive parents] before the baby's born. I don't think you can gather that amount of information after a child is born, I just don't think that's possible. If you are going to make a fully informed decision, it's good to know what you're deciding. To say, after the baby's born, 'I really don't think I can parent, let me find some parents,' there's going to be this incredible rush to find people and to develop a relationship w/ them and to do that in a matter of days.
Most birthmothers I know do not want their babies in foster care, but it is something I encourage people to do if they're undecided. I tell people 'If you are not sure you want to parent or if you're not sure about the adoptive parents you've chosen, and if you don't feel like you can take the baby home, put the baby in foster care. You don't have to make that decision right away.' And better that you take your time and really assimilate that new information than to make a decision for both of you that would be wrong. What I really think is a good idea is for birthparents to take the baby home and care for it at home for two or three weeks. In Montana [at Catholic Human Services adoption program] they're doing that, as standard practice, and they're finding the birthparents who place are a lot more secure in their decision. And as far as I know, it has not changed the rate of birthmothers who end up keeping their babies.
As far as adoptive parents being in the delivery room, I absolutely agree with Nancy on that point. I have a problem with adoptive parents being in the delivery room, because I think that's the domain of the birthmother. I mean, she hasn't made a full decision yet, and that's her time. That's her time to be a mom. And all this cutting the cord and all--she hasn't made a complete decision yet. In my mind the most important thing is that everybody be really clear that no final decision is made until after the baby is born."
---Brenda Romanchik, editor, Open Adoption Birthparent
"I, as a birthmother, wanted time alone with my daughter in the hospital after she was born and nonverbally encouraged the adoptive parents to leave, which they did. My reason was I wanted the last moments alone as her mom for the last time. Good-byes are intimate and I needed to say good-bye privately. I do feel this is important for mother and child. Whether or not the adoptee remembers, they may ask later. I want to say to my daughter, 'I held you as much as I could in our last moments as mother and daughter together.' I don't want her thinking that I kicked her out the door and didn't want anything to do with her.
In regards to building a relationship during pregnancy, I wanted to know them because I was making a very important and lifelong decision. I wanted as much time as I could with them to know them and figure out if they were 'good' parents. Granted, two months wasn't much time; however, it was more undivided time than I would have had after my child was born. I can only speculate--however, if I chose parents after she was born, I might have been stressed caring for a newborn and hastily creating a relationship with a family.
I think most birthmothers aren't going to bond in any unexpected way that might make them keep their child once it's born. A birthmother who keeps her child after it's born did not fully decide on adoption to begin with. Let's give her the responsibility of her choice. No one chooses for another--they try, but ultimately, we all are responsible for our own choices. Life is all about choices."
---Susanna Oh, open adoption birthmother, and educator
"I didn't want to know the adoptive parents. I didn't want to know anything about them, I didn't even pick them. The agency did it all on their own. I had been opting for adoption because I wasn't sure if I could [parent] or not. Because I wasn't sure, I didn't feel it was fair for [the adoptive parents] to be all excited about maybe having a baby and then me letting them down. When my twins
were born and I still wasn't sure of what I was going to do, that's when we decided that the best thing for them would be to go to a foster home until I was 100% sure. It was probably about a week after they were born, about 4 days after they had been in the foster home, that I decided to bring them home. I felt incomplete, I guess I could say. I felt like there was a part of me that was missing. Megan and Michael are nine now, and I can't imagine a day without them.
There was a family that was picked out for them, and to this day I still think of that family and I still feel for them, because I don't know if they ever got the chance to love a child.
I firmly believe in foster homes in these cases. If a birthmother is not 100% sure that this is what they want, then don't put a family through it. Don't let them have a child and then rip it away from them, it's not right."
---Terri Blitz, mother who ultimately kept her twin babies rather than placing them for adoption.
"I do not like to see prospective adoptive parents involved with pregnant women. I think all that should happen after the birth, when the mother really knows what she is giving up, and has a chance to make a truly unpressured choice. Time enough after the birth to choose from books and resumes, and meet. As Eliot says, "time enough, there will be time/to prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet.' "
---Mary Anne Cohen, birthmother, founder of Origins (an organization for women who have lost children to adoption)
"I'm not sure I can be so categorically opposed to adoptive parents having contact with birthparents. I don't think they need to be in a relationship for months and months, but I think many women thinking of placing may want to pick the family ahead of time, to meet them and feel that they have a plan, especially if they can't care for the baby after birth and don't want their child in foster care.
As to whether they should be anywhere near the delivery room, probably not, although there are women who want it, and I think it has to be to some extent an individual choice. I believe the birthmother, Nancy, in the book The Story of David really wanted the family there at one point and thought they didn't care when they didn't appear, when in fact the hospital social workers had kept them away. I think it is important for pregnant women to be educated about the different possibilities and the psychological considerations and their absolute right to change their mind--and then make their own choice.
As for the rituals, as presented by Nancy and as carried out, I can see that (adult) adoptees might object. But I think when it is understood from the beginning that it is a ritual for the birthparents and the adoptive parents, an opportunity to state feelings and expectations, one acknowledging the other's role, I think that is actually important. It helps offset the legalistic language of relinquishment papers and puts the experience in a human context. It also need not occur with the baby physically being handled over. At Spence-Chapin it is essentially an exchange of vows. Precisely because the adoptee isn't consciously involved,it can be a good thing for the parents to pause and acknowledge what is happening, especially for the adoptive parents to keep the birthparents in their hearts. That can only be beneficial for the adoptee. Broadly stated, I think we have to be careful of extremes on either side."
---Lynn Franklin, birthmother, board member of Spence-Chapin's Adoption Institute, author of "May The Circle Be Unbroken"
"I was solid in knowing I wanted to place my baby, and I knew that it was going to have to be Kathy. She gave me so much support and loved me, and it wasn't just the baby, she really genuinely cared about me, I could feel that, and knew that. I mean, we got to know each other like family. I was comforted knowing who my baby was going to. And if I didn't get a chance to know that person, I would probably always be questioning, Is that person good enough, or Is that person really loving that baby like I want, like I would love him?
As far as Kathy being in the delivery room, we were so close when I gave birth that I didn't even think about it. There was no one else that really could've been there for me, because it was her baby--and my baby, it was going to be hers--and I wanted her to have that experience because I knew she never would be able to. She wasn't thinking about How am I going to get this baby? I just know her, that she wasn't thinking of deceiving me in any way, or going behind my back in any way. She was so genuine in every way, and that's why I picked her and that's why I liked her. We didn't have a lot of fear in our adoption, I don't think, from either side. We talked in advance about What happens if I have the baby and all of a sudden I decide I'm going to keep it? I always said, 'Who knows? I might change my mind, but I'm pretty positive, you know, 99%, that I'm going to give you the baby.' But we always talked about 'what if?' things, and Kathy said that if she went home with the baby, that she was going to still grieve for me, because I would've lost. And for her, if I went home with the baby, it would've been the same--she would've lost something. It had happened to her before--they almost adopted a baby, and right after the baby was born, the birthmother decided not to place. And I didn't want her to go through that again, so we talked about the what-ifs', so we would both be prepared for whoever was going to go home alone.
And even if I had kept the baby, I feel like we still could be friends today."
---Sandy Weatherley, open adoption birthmother From adoptive parents
" If the adoptive mother is going to be in the delivery room, she must be fully on board with the birthmother's agenda for that chunk of time. I was not there to 'catch the baby and run.' I was still in that mode of facilitating what Sandy wanted, and Sandy wanted to breastfeed. And so when they finished doing all the stuff in the nursery, I said 'I need to take him to his mother,' and the nurse said, 'Well wait a minute, I thought you were the adoptive mother,' and I said, 'Yes, I am, but I'm not going to be the adoptive mother until after he leaves the hospital, and Sandy wants to breastfeed him.' The nurse was dumbfounded, totally shocked, but we knew what we were doing.
Physiologically, no matter what I might have done with my breasts, or what any woman does to her breasts who is able to relactate, she would not have colostrum, she would never have the really good stuff, which is what Sandy had. Sandy was still doing her mothering part for David during that time. She was doing for him what I couldn't do, and later, I would do what she couldn't do. And we were respectful that this was her time.
I think that the conviction in adoption that says this child has a better chance at life's opportunities if there's a mother and father, the same motivation that's operating there should say, 'But for my child to be really whole and happy, I must maintain the connection with the birth family.' It's all part of the same phenomenon of 'What is in the child's best interests?' And when we ask ourselves those questions, then we do stick our neck out, we stick our hearts out. We put our hearts in our hands. We allow ourselves to be vulnerable. We open ourselves up and we say, 'Okay, there are all kinds of potential hurts involved here, but we're willing to risk the hurt for the good that can be had.' You invest yourself in the relationship knowing that there is this potential of changing one's mind. It's risky, but the whole thing is risky. I mean, raising children is risky. If you want to start backing out of things because they're risky, I guess we ought to back out of raising children too.
I think there's way too much over-emphasis on 'Gosh, how I feel right now'. We get so testy about those early stages of the relationship that we forget that this is a long-range process, and we're not talking about owning the kids--none of us. Ultimately these children have a destiny that's beyond any of us birthmothers and fathers and adoptive mothers and fathers. And instead of placing so much emphasis on how vulnerable and emotional we all are, the whole hospital scene and so forth, we need to have a long-range perspective, and in the early stages do the things that are going to be significant in the long run."
---Kathy Giles, open adoption adoptive parent
"I understand that Nancy doesn't think that adoptive parents 'belong anywhere around a pregnant woman' and she doesn't believe that adoptive parents should be at the birth, but I'd like to offer another view. The chance to spend some time with my son's birthmother helped me to better understand how traumatic the decision to relinquish would be. By the time she was full term, I had a first-hand appreciation for the 'rightness' of whatever decision she would make. By suggesting that adoptive parents should steer clear of a pregnant woman who could choose to become a birthmother is actually insulting to all parties involved. Enlightened adoptive parents are not rotten, manipulative fanatics: we want to be able to tell our children their stories with respect for all parties intact. And birthmothers I know are not flighty, gullible girls who would allow themselves to be cheated of making the most important decision they have ever had to make. I believe that direct communication between birth and adoptive parents can be healthy. Being present at the birth of my son assures that I would never kid myself into thinking it's 'as if he had been born to me.' I was there; I saw him emerge from another woman-his mother-and would never dishonor that memory. Having been present at my son's delivery gives me the opportunity to answer his questions about his birth. I am more attuned than I might have been to his losses and to the losses of his first mother. Adoption is not a happy plight, but it can be handled in a healthy way."
---Jana Wolff, author of Secret Thoughts of an Adoptive Mother Marcy Wineman Axness, email@example.com an adoptee, lives in California with her husband and two children. ADOPTION INSIGHT ~ Booklets, Audiotapes, Articles to illuminate heart and mind http://home.earthlink.net/~axness/
Credits: Marcy Wineman Axness