How Open?

It’s now been over a year since we’ve adopted Yeoman Farm Baby, and I’ve been wanting to share a few thoughts about the experience. Above all, we remain deeply grateful to the birthmother who entrusted him to us. It takes an enormous amount of love for a mother to recognize that her baby needs to be raised in a home and family that she is unable to provide…and then to actually go through with releasing her child into that more appropriate situation. We’ve had three biological children of our own, and understand the depth of attachment a mother establishes with her baby during a pregnancy. We cannot imagine how difficult it would be to have to sever that tie.

By way of quick recap: about a year and a half ago, we were contacted by a friend of a friend of the birthmother. She was still relatively early in the pregnancy, and deciding whether to put the baby up for adoption or raise him herself. Her friends and family were helping assemble potential adoptive parents, to give her a sense of the kind of life that other families may be able to offer her child. The go-between approached us because, for various reasons, she (the go-between) thought our family might be a good fit. We thought so, too, and after prayerful discernment decided to offer ourselves as candidates. To our great joy, the birthmother agreed that our family was just the kind of home she wanted her child to be adopted into.

One of the early questions that we and the birthmother needed to agree about was the degree of openness we would have in the adoption. Options can range from completely closed (no identifying information is exchanged, and there is zero contact after the adoptive parents assume custody), to completely open — to the point of the birthmother actually visiting and playing some ancillary role in the child’s life.

In my own personal experience as an infant adoptee, I was grateful that my own adoptive arrangement was completely closed. I could imagine the confusion and divided loyalties that would’ve been introduced had my birthmother been lurking just off stage and making regular contact with me. I know it would’ve undermined our family’s sense of unity, and caused me to question where I really belonged. When I grew old enough to understand, my parents explained very matter-of-factly that some children join families biologically (like my younger brother), while others join families through adoption (like my sister and I did). But once we’re together, we’re together. Everyone is a full and equal member of the same family. Had I been getting visits from my birthmother, I know that mixed signal would’ve confused me.

To this day, I have not had a desire to meet my birth family. I have one mother and one father, and they are really my parents. I neither need nor want any different ones. That said, however, I have a natural curiosity about the birth family, and the circumstances surrounding my origins. The agency through which I was adopted provided a basic two-page overview of the family’s social and health circumstances, but nothing about the reasons why my birthmother thought it best I be raised by another family. I’d like to know more about that, and I’d like to be able to tell her in a letter how grateful I am that I was raised by the family that did raise me. It’s truly the best thing that ever happened to me. I want to thank her for that, and to let her know that my life has been happy and successful as a result of that self-sacrificing choice she made for me.

These are some of the personal considerations I brought with me, in trying to decide with Mrs Yeoman Farmer what kind of arrangement we wanted for our own adopted son. We wanted to be able to tell him, as he grew older and asked questions, the sort of person his birthmother was. That we’d met her, and gotten to know her. How much she loved him, but why her situation wasn’t right for him. If he wanted to know what she looked like, we wanted to be able to show him. If, as an adult, he wanted to meet her or even just send her a letter, we wanted to know how to reach her. But we wanted to ensure our privacy and that he wouldn’t get confused by ongoing contact from her in his youth.

We decided, with the birthmother, on a “semi-open” arrangement. We would not exchange last names, and she would never know exactly where in Michigan we live (not even the town or metro area). We did provide her with a very long family profile letter, and many photos, to help her be as comfortable as possible about where her baby would be growing up. We visited with her before the baby’s birth, and met her family, in her city. We agreed to take custody of the baby upon his release from the hospital, and invited her to visit us/him while we remained in her metro area. In conjunction with her, we agreed to email update letters and photographs every three months for the baby’s first year and every six months for his second year; we will decide together what to do after that.

This has proven to be a good arrangement for all of us. The birthmother has been able to know how well her baby is thriving, and to see how happy he his — and to see how much happiness he has brought to our whole family. She’s been able to hear about his growth, his doctor’s visits, and all his milestones. We’ve been able to tell her how much we appreciate having him here with us, and how much we love him. She’s also sent us some notes of her own, which we have been able to keep and tell YFB about when he gets older.

But the most surprising benefit is that the process has forced us to sit down and think about and document all of YFB’s milestones. Yes, to be honest, I sometimes feel some resentment when the “due date” for an update is approaching and we have to take time away from normal family activities to write it up and organize the photos we’ll be sending. “He’s ours. This is our family. This is our time. This is our life,” the voice in my head complains. But now that we’ve been doing this for 12+ months, I’ve come to realize something: we have a more complete written record of YFB’s first year, all in one place, than we do for any of our biological kids. And we have more photographs of him than most families ever have of their youngest child. (MYF is the youngest in her family, and has almost no pictures from her youth.) Because we’ve wanted to show how much YFB is part of our whole family, we’ve also ended up taking a lot more pictures of our other kids — especially #3 — than we would have otherwise, or than we did before YFB’s arrival.

I realize that these kinds of “semi-open” arrangements don’t always work out the way people would like. There may be less detailed contact than the birthmother would’ve wanted. There may be more contact — or more intrusive contact — than the adoptive family would’ve wanted or expected. Some adoptive families opt for an international adoption, in part to avoid all of these issues.

In our case, cooperation and understanding on both sides have helped us come to a solution that’s worked well for everyone. In reflecting on YFB’s first year, I wanted to share this with you; I know some of you may be considering adopting, or be in a position to advise a birthmother who is putting her baby up for adoption. I offer our family’s experience as an example of what can be done to help make a difficult situation as optimal as possible for all.

2 thoughts on “How Open?

  1. Thank you for this. We intend to adopt in the near future. It would be such a blessing if a mom chose us the way YFB's mom chose you. It seems more likely that we will need to go through the foster care system and allow the government into our home for several years just to give a needy child a better life. Its a hard decision- to risk our biological children's privacy to reach out for another or keep our lives within the safety of our own walls. Thanks for posting this.

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  2. What a great post! We adopted a son nine years ago and we had a closed adoption due to the wishes of the birthmother and family. One thing we left open to the agency was that if she ever wanted pictures or an update we were very open to that…as of now, we have heard nothing and don't know if we will. It's weird now that our son is getting older and he knows about being adopted he will occasionally say something about his birthmother, even though he doesn't know anything about her. We will see what the future holds.

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