"The birthmother may invite the birth grandparents, other family members and friends to witness the baby being given to the adoptive parents. This ceremony can offer the birthmother a chance to say a special message or read a and support for the birthmother at this time." Birthmother.com
"After all, she has "given us a gift for a lifetime." IAC Adoptive parents
"I routinely continue to pray that every night when she lays her head down to sleep somewhere in the Guatemalan countryside, hundreds of miles from our home, and cultures apart, that she finds comfort in knowing that we are forever connected to her through her giving us, truly, our life's greatest gift, a son." from Betsy Buckley excerpted from her book "The Greatest Gift: Reflections on International and Domestic Adoption"
"Enter a loving and stable but childless couple looking for a child to call their own. Through some miracle, they connect with the young woman. She likes them; they like her. And the couple adopts the newborn baby. A gift unlike any other". - From What Is a Non-Agency Adoption? By Rebecca M. Thomas
On web sites, in books, from the mouths of adoption professionals, adoptive parents and birthparents, the adopted child is often referred to as the gift in adoption. For some it is merely semantics. When people talk about their children as gifts, they are most often talking about the gifts that children bring us merely by having them in our lives. It is a gift to give birth to a child. It is a gift to parent. It is a gift to have the love and trust of a child.
There are, however, many that really do see the child, him or herself as a gift to the adoptive parents. In her essay, Freely Given, Judith S Modell makes the argument that open adoption is supportable because it transforms the child from commodity to a gift that birthparents bestow on adoptive parents. I believe, however, that when the child becomes the gift in open adoption we are, in fact, turning the child into an object that can be bought or given. Can one person, even a parent, own another? While most child welfare laws in the western world, including adoption laws, are set up on the basis of ownership, I do not believe that we own our children. In fact, child welfare policy focuses more on what parents are to provide their children, than on the rights of ownership. Parents of all stripes are mandated to provide for the needs of their children, not the other way around.
The primary problem with designating the child as the gift in adoption is that it is not centered on the needs of the child. Genevieve Vaughan, in her essay Mothering, Co-muni-cation and the Gifts of Language, states that in selfless gift-giving, most often associated with motherhood, "the giver recognizes the existence and needs of the other, then fashions or provides something specific to satisfy those needs." If we are to apply this to "the child as the gift" in adoption, the child becomes the gift the birthmother creates to satisfy the needs of the adoptive parents. In this scenario, the adoptive parents have their desired child, the birthparents are not longer necessary and the adopted child's needs are limited to what the adoptive parents can, or decide, to provide for. In truth, this is what the closed system of adoption is based on, that the child should have no need for connection or contact with his family of origin.
Birthparents are also made to feel that contact with their child is a gift to them. They are told how wonderful it is that the adoptive parents are sending them letters and pictures, and how wonderful it is that they are allowed to visit. There is little mention of how contact between birthparents and the child benefits the child involved. Instead they are made to feel as the recipients. Here again the child becomes an object, or gift.
So how does the concept of selfless gift giving translate in open adoption? We need to begin, and keep bringing it back to, the true recipient in adoption, the child. The choice to explore adoption comes when expectant parents are concerned that they may not be able to give the child all they need. Their first thought is "How will I provide for my child?" not "I want to give my child to someone who needs one." They look, not only for adoptive parents who they feel will best parent their child, but also for someone they feel they can trust to honor their role as a birthparent and their connection to the child. In ultimately placing their child in an open adoption, they are making their final parental decision. The decision to provide for their child needs through open adoption. The true gift of open adoption, then, is not only the gift of the adoptive family, but the relationship that the adoptive parents and birthparents create to benefit the child. A relationship where all roles are honored and where the child's needs come first.
Too often comfort of the adults involved overshadows this gift of open adoption to the child. Adoption professionals and others tell adoptive parents and birthparents they only need to do "what they are comfortable with"? I believe that people find the philosophy of comfort for the adults involved so acceptable because they see the child as a gift to themselves. If "the purpose of the gift is the satisfaction of the need and well-being of the receiver" as Genevieve Vaughan states, than the adults involved are free to make decisions based on their needs. Consider for a moment the adoptive mom who is "not comfortable having her daughter's mother in her home". Or the birthparent who feels like she would rather not deal with the grief that can sometimes come after a visit. Both are making decisions based on their needs and not the needs of the child. The true gift of open adoption gets lost because the focus is not on the true recipient.
If adoption is truly about providing families for children and not about providing children for families, then the "child as a gift" is a concept that we in the adoption community need to rid ourselves of. If we are truly focused on the needs of the child, than we will work through our fear, discomfort and grief to get to the place where all of the child's family, both birth and adoptive, can be honored and respected. In return we will find ourselves deluged with unexpected gifts from our children. Gifts given not out of guilty gratitude or obligation, rather given freely, based on the knowledge that they are fully loved and accepted for who they are.