Interview with a Prospective Adoptive Mom
Karen and her husband, Paul, are seven months into the adoption process. They wish to have an ongoing contact with their child's birthparents. Karen offers her thoughts on various adoption issues, and valuable insight about her journey as an adoptive mother-to-be.
First off, please tell us briefly about your situation.
My husband and I have been married more than nine years. We've always known we wanted a family and tried unsuccessfully to conceive for seven years. We have lots of love to give, and our dog is tired of the constant snuggling, being fussed over, and posing for pictures wearing silly outfits (if you think I'm exaggerating, his web page will be up soon and you can see for yourself).
What brought you and your husband to the adoption choice?
Our overwhelming desire to parent a child and our unwillingness to delay the realization of that dream by undergoing further attempts to conceive our own biological child.
Have you and your husband decided on an open adoption? If so, what does "open adoption" mean to you?
We realize that "open adoption" offers a broad spectrum of possibilities. For us personally, it offers the experience of getting to know the extraordinary woman who chose to give life to a child and then makes the ultimate parental sacrifice: putting her child's needs before her own, and accepting the monumental grief that comes as a result because she loves her child. We want a connection with the birthmother, and hopefully with the birthfather, that will enable us to learn about each other and develop a relationship built on mutual trust and respect before the baby is born. We intend to do all in our power to maintain this relationship, not only because we feel very strongly that it is in the best interest of the child, but because in loving our child we will embrace the source of so many of the traits and attributes that make our child unique. We would of course want to exchange letters and photos, but we hope that we can have an ongoing relationship so that the baby we adopt can grow up knowing all those who love him or her--birthparents and adoptive parents.
In your opinion; what would make an open adoption work?
I believe that the measure of whether or not an open adoption 'works' is not determined at the signing of the formal adoption papers, that although the legal adoption may have been completed at that time, the success of an open adoption is contingent upon birthparents and adoptive parents remaining committed to the child throughout their lives. My husband and I feel that one way children develop an identity is by understanding their connection to others and exploring their own histories. We want our adopted child to be able to see his or her birth parent(s) and have the opportunity to know them so he or she is encouraged to develop a strong sense of self.
In order for this to happen, we feel that both birthparents and adopted parents have to enter into a plan with honesty, sincerity, and the refusal to betray one another's trust, and then adhere to that plan. Because the emotional investment required by the nature of adoption will most likely bring about feelings of vulnerability, which in turn can lead to fear, doubt, and a host of other emotions that could potentially undermine the adoption plan, we feel it's important to have a trusted intermediary with much knowledge and expertise in open adoption that can assist both birthparents and adoptive parents in clarifying their expectations and expressing their feelings. An intermediary should facilitate communication that will foster honesty and trust among the parties involved while protecting against any risks that could arise from unfavorable adoption practices.
The greatest measure, then, of the success of adoption is based upon how the birthparent(s), adoptive parents, and adopted children view their adoption experience and how they integrate that experience into their lives. Our hope is that the birthparents and us deal with each other fairly and honestly, that we're all able to express our fears, desires, and needs, and that these expressions are received and addressed with respect and compassion. One of our greatest fears is that a birth parent would feel taken advantage of or be plagued with regret. Another of our greatest fears is that we will feel taken advantage of or be plagued with regret. If both the birth parent(s) and us can maintain open communication and know that we're safe in doing so, and if we treat the adoption process
with the reverence it deserves and not the franchise it seems to have become, I believe all our lives will be enriched beyond belief and that the open adoption will be a success.
Have you ever met with any negativity from anyone about your choice to adopt a child? If so, what was your response?
No, I've never met with any negativity from anyone about our choice to adopt a child. In fact, when my husband and I shared with our family and friends that we had made this decision, there was sort of a universal sigh of relief and a "what took you so long?" response. Our mothers want to know when they can start shopping for baby paraphernalia. Three different sets of friends immediately asked if they could write letters of recommendation on our behalf to prospective birthparents!
Has your family been supportive of your choice to adopt? If so, what does their support mean to you?
My family has been incredibly supportive, and their support means the world to me. They've been networking on our behalf, talking with friends and acquaintances touched by adoption and gathering information and personal stories to share with us and help us along our way. They've put us in contact with professionals who have assisted others in trying to adopt as well as couples who have adopted. They are good listeners who don't want us to get hurt in the process, and they share our excitement at the thought of a new baby coming into the family. Their prayers and genuine concern help sustain us.
What advice would you give a couple who is just beginning the adoption process?
Only seven months into the process, I'm definitely not someone who should be giving advice; I've still got lots more mistakes to make myself!
Is there anything that helps you get through the period of waiting? For example: Journaling your feelings or joining a support group.
Writing always helps me to clarify my thoughts and achieve perspective, but the support I've had from others, as well as the support I've been able to lend to others, is what I find to be the most helpful in trying times. While listening and sharing with others experiencing similar challenges while facing the adoption process is invaluable, I also want to learn about the experience birthmothers
are having or have had. With the different informational meetings, reading material recommended by adoption agencies, and advice we've been given, there has been very little attention paid to the experience of the birthmother. Finding this web site has educated me about the similar feelings adoptive mothers-to-be have in common with birthmothers, and I think that working together to dismantle the walls built by fear and misunderstanding can serve to comfort us all during times of difficulty.
I agree completely. We are women before we are parents, whether birth or adoptive. We all bleed, we all hurt, and we can learn to be compassionate to one another's grief.
How do you feel about the adoption horror stories that are broadcasted in the media? Do you feel there is a stereotype placed upon anyone in the adoption triad?
I believe the media has a responsibility to report the truth, and unfortunately some of these horror stories are true. However, the stories making headlines do so because of their extraordinary nature, and being bombarded with these stories encourages a skewed view of reality. On the one hand, I believe it's important for people to be aware of the abuses that occur within the adoption arena so that these abuses can be addressed and rectified. On the other hand, I believe the media misleads the public by failing to emphasize the rarity with which these events occur, thereby contributing to unnecessary fear and anxiety that can generate and perpetuate false notions about adoption.
The first adoption-related story I remember seeing that had a profound impact on me was the story about the little boy known as Baby Richard. In this case, a birthfather was not notified of his paternity and therefore was never presented with the option of exercising his right to have custody of his son. When he finally was informed of his paternity, he contested the adoption and was awarded custody. The media footage showed the only home Baby Richard had ever known, the neighbors in peaceful protest of removing Baby Richard from his family, the adoptive parents in complete and utter despair, and Baby Richard sobbing uncontrollably as the authorities tore him from his mother's arms and escorted him to his new home.
This story filled me with sorrow and with rage--rage at the birth father for disrupting this child's life in a way that will scar him forever, rage at the birthmother for refusing to notify the birth father of his paternity, rage at whomever handled the adoption for not pursuing the birthfather, and rage at the judge for making a decision that was in the worst interests of the child.
While I don't feel that my rage was unjustified, I can't let my anger
cloud my common sense and cause me to make assumptions based on this one story about all birthmothers, birth fathers, adoption professionals, and judges. This story, as well as those featured in the media more recently involving facilitators
conning adoptive couples by making false promises and birthmothers placing their children with couples willing to pay lots of money, contribute to the "us and them" mentality and polarize the two sets of parents whose ability to communicate and work together toward a common goal is imperative to a successful adoption.
Some who earn their living filling a position in the adoption field can profit from this mentality, and by fueling this mentality ensure a future need for their "expertise." Some, however, are doing all they can to dispel the fear generated by stereotypes originated in stories like those described above. These are the adoption professionals we seek to help us on our path toward open adoption--those committed to the success of open adoption who won't allow us or the birthparents to barricade ourselves with our ill-founded fears, but will foster a level of trust and comfort that enables us to operate in the reality of the situation.
How do you feel about the infamous belief that open adoption is like co-parenting?
I don't believe that open adoption is like co-parenting. I believe it is imperative that the birthparent(s) and adoptive parents clearly define their goals concerning adoption and then decide if their goals are compatible. Our goal is not to share the parenting responsibilities with the birthparent(s), but to allow our child to know (and hopefully love and be loved) by his or her birthparents.
In your opinion, what is the biggest change needed in adoption agencies today?
I can only speak from my limited experience, and one area I'd like to see change is that couples wanting to adopt and birthmothers wanting to place a child be protected from dishonest practices. Adoption has become a money-making venture for many, and as a result some who work in the field are motivated by the prospect of immediate profit at the expense of their clients. One of my closest friends is adopted, and she is appalled by the "business" of adoption. With the amount of money that the agencies require from adoptive couples and the fact that the agencies share no risks (which they ensure through their contracts), the potential for abuse to those in a vulnerable position is great. I do not want to diminish the birthmother's experience by pretending to know how she feels, and therefore will not comment on her experience with adoption agencies, but I can speak to the experience of those wanting a child. Adoptive couples are incredibly vulnerable because they want so badly to be parents.
Agencies whose walls are plastered with photos of happy families
(that may or may not have been brought together by the efforts of those agencies) invite couples to informational meetings designed to encourage these people to become clients; these agencies are guilty of misleading these people by presenting them with the promise of a baby--but no guarantee. There are no refunds if, after spending ten thousand dollars and working for two years on the letters, photo displays, and web pages the agency encourages them to create, there is not a single birthmother contact. Moreover, agencies continue to recruit new couples, adding to their files (and bank accounts), instead of tending to their existing couples.
I'm curious about how the birthmothers feel in regards to this issue--whether they feel as though they're being heavily "recruited," and if so, through what means. In a vulnerable position themselves, I wonder how common it is that agencies may lead them to believe that the adoptive couple understands and has agreed to their terms (perhaps involving phone calls, photos, letters, visitations, etc.) so the agency can finalize the adoption and collect the remainder of its fee. It's ironic that agencies dedicated to helping create families would neglect the people who sustain them.
If I may give my thoughts, I have strong feelings on this issue. I believe there must be a third party involved, one that is as unbiased as possible to counsel a potential Birthmother and present her with her options. How can an adoption agency possibly remain completely unbiased in a situation where it stands to make a profit? Whether or not a woman chooses to parent her child or relinquish is such a momentous decision-it should be approached with great caution, compassion and also respect. In my opinion, it is an insult to shove profiles in an unsure expecting woman's face instead of informing her of all her options and how to obtain help with parenting.
I was told by the first adoption agency I went to that the couple I was meeting with was interested in an open adoption. When I found out from another worker at the agency this was going on, I ended contact with the couple and the agency. I feel betrayed and violated. It was nothing more than a Birthmother transparent dangling carrot.
Have you encountered any trouble with any adoption professionals?
I've encountered some dishonest people and others who fail to provide accurate information.
Do you feel open adoption agreements should be made legally binding--agreements that both the adoptive parents and the birthparents would be expected to uphold?
Yes. I believe that most people intend to keep the promises they make, but, for whatever reason, at times they fail to live up their promises. In these instances, legally binding agreements provide added incentive for people to maintain their integrity.
Though intentions and actions are two different things, I understand what you are saying.
You mentioned agencies whose walls are plastered with photos of happy families, and how that could make a couple wanting a child feel. I found this interesting because it also has an affect on a Birthmother. There she is, pregnant and unsure, scared out of her mind. She questions what kind of mother she will be (as almost any new mother would) and there she sees pictures of happy children and happy parents scattered about. I remember the pictures and I remember the affect they had on me. My point is, it is interesting to me how vulnerable both the adoptive parents and the birthparents are--there are similarities in the path a birth parent takes to adoption and the adoptive parent.
Definitely! I'm so happy to have the opportunity to learn about the Birthmother's experience. I'm ashamed to admit that I hadn't thought about the impact that environment could have on anyone other than the adoptive parents. I guess suffering can be a self-centered pastime! I have engaged in that pastime many times myself!
What were the most significant steps you and your husband took toward the path of adopting?
We learned as much as we possibly could by reading articles and books about issues surrounding adoption; we began networking with family and friends to get names and numbers of people they knew who had adopted and spoke to them about their experiences; we talked to friends who were adopted as babies to get their perspectives and opinions; we attended a few seminars about adoption and listened to attorneys, agency representatives, adoptive parents, Birthmothers, and facilitators; and we took a class that reviewed the steps involved in an agency adoption.
Was there a point of realization? Acceptance?
For us, the realization that we would adopt was a process instead of an instant light bulb moment. We know it's the right decision, yet it's not like other decisions in life that bring about instant fruition. Even though we want to adopt a child this moment, the process is incredibly time-consuming, and no one can pinpoint when or how our adoption may come about. While we're definitely ready to be parents and have worked hard to make that happen by completing the necessary requirements, such as a home study, fingerprint clearances, and letters to prospective birthparents, the process could take years. Furthermore, the infertility experience conditioned us to expect failure with regard to family building. Having a child seems like an intangible dream that teases us from time to time, but never materializes, and until we're actually holding a baby in our arms, we're apt to be in somewhat of a state of denial.
Do you believe it is important to deal with any infertility issues before choosing to adopt a child? If so, what? Why?
I know that my experience of living through the pain of infertility has enabled me to look inward and question, and that this questioning has enabled me to explore, and that I feel as though I have a much deeper sense of who I am as a result. This process has been painful, but it has been necessary in order to live and move forward with integrity, which I believe to be pivotal in achieving a truly successful adoption. I believe we all want to alleviate our pain and discomfort as quickly as possible, and unfortunately, we often do so to our detriment because we blind ourselves to the true issues at hand. I would not want to move forward with adoption until I knew I was proceeding for the right reasons, and I wouldn't be ready until I lived in and functioned through the pain. For me, this process was necessary because I want to be able to enjoy and endure every facet of motherhood and be ever-present for my child, my husband, and for myself.
How do you believe you will react ten years down the road when someone asks you if you still have contact with the child's "real mother"?
I hope I'll be secure enough in my role as an adoptive mother that it won't bother me, that I'll smile kindly and simply respond by asking, "Oh, you mean my child's Birthmother?" I just hope this person's obvious ignorance doesn't eclipse the modicum of common sense required to experience the appropriate degree of mortification from posing such a poorly worded question.
What are your thoughts on the 'Real Mother' issue?
The question, when generated by Birthmothers or adoptive mothers, would seem to come from a place of self-doubt and a desire for entitlement. The problem I see is that a mother seeking external confirmation in the form of a label is operating under the assumption that she can find the identity she wants somewhere other than within. I do believe there's value in questioning, and if engaging in such a debate enables some women to arrive at a deeper understanding of who they are, then it will have served its purpose. I hope I can convey to our child the love and gratitude I feel toward his or her Birthmother, and that our child will feel safe expressing his or her love for that person, too. Personally, I don't want to have to debate the significance of my role as an adoptive mother, nor would I wish to diminish that of a Birthmother by engaging her in such a debate.
How important do you believe 'entitlement' is? That is, a Birthmother's blessing on the adoptive couple's raising the child to the best of their abilities.
I've never heard "entitlement" used in this way, and I'm interpreting it to mean the right of the Birthmother to choose the adoptive parents. I hope our child's Birthmother will someday be able to tell our child that she chose us to take care of him or her because she knew it was the right decision. This is important to me as a hope-to-be adoptive parent because I want to know that a Birthmother feels good about her decision, that she went through whatever internal process was necessary to arrive at a resolution that gave her peace and enabled her to proceed with confidence. I believe it would be profound for a child to hear his or her Birthmother explain the process she went through because it will show him or her that great care was taken to make sure he or she was placed in the right home, and that the entire process was undertaken out of love. I would imagine that a Birthmother would require this ''entitlement'' for peace of mind, to know she made the right decision, and that doing so empowers her in that she takes responsibility for her own decisions and assumes an active role in her life and her child's life.
What are your thoughts on the popular belief that because a parent adopted a child, they are claiming to 'have it all together'?
I guess I'd have to snicker, as would my friends pursuing adoption, and those I know who have adopted. I think of all people as "works in progress," and if we had to wait until we "had it all together" before proceeding with something, we'd never do anything!
Do you hope to be in the delivery room as your child is being born or do you wish to be notified once the child is born?
I definitely would like to be in the hospital when our child is born, and if the Birthmother is comfortable having me in the delivery room, I'd love to be there.
If the birthmother changes her mind in the hospital and wishes to parent her child, would you support her choice?
I'd probably be too devastated to lend any support to the Birthmother at that moment, but I would never attempt to dissuade her from exercising her right.
Some say that a Birthmother grieves 'her' baby, but if a Birthmother changes her mind in the hospital (and I am only talking about in the hospital), the adoptive parents will grieve 'the idea of a baby' --do you agree or disagree with this? Why?
The subject bothers me because it places each mother in an adversarial position. Either case would be devastating, and both instances deserve the utmost compassion.
How do you feel about some adoptive families that agree to an open adoption and then break that agreement?
I guess I would be curious about the steps that they and the birthparents took prior to the adoption finalization. Did both parties clearly communicate their expectations? Did both parties have an accurate understanding of the other parties' expectations? If the answer to both these questions is "yes," and if it's in no way the fault of the agency, facilitator, or attorney that these expectations were not made clear or not carried through, and the adoptive couple was purely to blame for breaking that agreement, I would say that these adoptive parents are doing themselves, their children, other adoptive families, birthparents, and honest, dependable adoption professionals a devastating disservice.
My friends who are adopted have all searched for their birthparents. They talk about a sense of loss and of longing that was answered only when they were reunited with their birth parent(s). They all grew up in loving, supportive families, but they suffered needlessly because the adoption process at that time was uniformly closed. They did not love their adoptive parents any less when they met their birthmothers, but they felt a wholeness that they had not experienced before.
I suspect fear prompts adoptive families to sever ties or break contracts with birthparents; fear that the birth parent will change his or her mind and want to raise the child, fear that the child will love the birth parent more than the adoptive parent, and fear that when old enough to make the choice the child will choose to reject the adoptive parents in favor of the birth parent(s). It's sad that these adoptive families are unable to have the courage to do as the birthmother did: put the child's needs first out of love for the child.
That is such a profound statement you said, "It's sad that these adoptive families are unable to have the courage to do as the birthmother did: put the child's needs first out of love for the child." For three years I have been trying to put those feelings into words, you have done it in such an eloquent way.
I know adoptive couples are overwhelmingly fearful of losing what they've waited their whole lives to have; I'm sure when my husband and I are lucky enough to be matched and go through the adoption process we'll be fearful of this too. We need to remind ourselves that true courage is not the absence of fear but the willingness to acknowledge, accept, and allow fear to accompany us along our journey.
Thank you, Karen, for taking the time to share your heart with me and countless other triad members. I know I have learned so much from your story. Any closing thoughts?
We as women are incredibly fortunate to have the freedom to express ourselves, and we can use the internet to make our voices heard and hear the voices of others who share the desire to heal. We can help others on a similar path, and, perhaps most importantly, to realize that adoption doesn't have to isolate one woman from another, but can offer a powerful opportunity for women to dialogue and begin to bridge the gap perpetuated by fear.
Throughout history, women have mentored each other and have been able to form deep bonds with one another because of their ability to be compassionate caregivers. This website offers an incredibly powerful medium for women to help one another, and instead of remaining isolated or furthering the gap between birth and adoptive mothers, why not empower ourselves by learning from one another's experience while gaining perspective about our own?
In the short time since I've discovered this web site, my sensitivity to Birthmothers and their adoption experiences has intensified tremendously, and I want to continue to learn and grow and connect with others whose lives have been transformed through the adoption process.
© Skye Hardwick (c)2001
Credits: Skye Hardwick