Thursday, February 25, 2010

OA Roundtable #14 - What is "success" in an Open Adoption?

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 part of the Open Adoption Bloggers list 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.

Here's the question for OA Roundtable #14:
If there's one thing we all might agree on, it's that we'd like our open adoptions to be successful. But what does "success" mean to you, when speaking about open adoption? Do you think it may mean something else to the others in your triad?

Click here to see other bloggers answers to this question.

This past Monday I took a very important package to the post office. On the outside of this bundle I had written the address of the agency in Georgia who still has legal guardianship of baby J, pending the finalization of our adoption sometime in coming weeks. Inside was a bound photo book with pages of pictures from baby J's first three months of life with us, the "sharing sheet" that the agency requires each month for the first six months of placement, and a letter for J's first mom, Z. It is the first personal letter I've written to her, the most direct communication from my hand to hers since we took placement of her daughter. We were just recently told that, contrary to the impression we had been given, Z has been in touch with the agency, and has been getting the pictures we have sent. It seems like she has expressed a desire to be in touch, although this is less clear. I will admit to some serious nerves around sending the pictures and letter now that I know for sure that Z will have them in her hands soon.

As nervous as it makes me, this feels like success.

Our adoption is very new, not yet finalized, and it isn't a situation where there was discussion beforehand with J's first mom about what she envisioned for our relationship, or what we hoped for from it. We didn't know about J until after she was relinquished, and we didn't know much of anything about Z until less than a month ago. We still know very little. So it's difficult to quantify or imagine what success should look like for us. It is impossible to comment on what success might be for Z - and I'm not going to. One of the commitments I have made to myself regarding Z is that I am going to respect her by avoiding speculation about her wishes, choices, etc. Especially in this forum. I just don't know her well enough to take that sort of liberty.

So - success for us? I think there are big and little answers to that question. The big answer for A+A is this - our (semi)open adoption, like our parenting, will be a success if we make choices and choose paths that center on what is best for J's development as a whole person. We believe that connection to first family and biological heritage is vital to that development. So we must have openness to respectful contact and relationship with her first mom and other biological family. When faced with choices that relate to J's contact and relationship with her first family, unless there is a definite risk to J (or as she grows she chooses differently for herself) we will succeed by doing everything in our power to make choices that maximize that potential for contact and ultimately for relationship.

This week, the little answer for me was mailing that letter to Z. It was a difficult letter to write - I didn't want to overwhelm her with my eagerness to be in touch. I did want very much to communicate respect and care for her. I wanted her to know that when I wrote "our daughter" she was included in the "our." It seems like it would be easy to interpret words like "us" and "our" to be referring exclusively to A+A. I had to remember that this is a first letter, and should be written as an opener, the first of many. I didn't have to have everything I have ever wanted to share with her encapsulated in this, the first letter.

So I think a successful open adoption strategy includes both the big and little picture. Without the big picture goal - facilitating and nurturing the development of a human being into the most balanced and whole person she can be - it would be easy to get sidetracked, lazy, or forget why I'm working on this. Without the little picture stuff that is unique to the people in this adoption and our life circumstances it would be difficult to know where to start, when to feel successful, what to rethink and work harder at.

As for my daughter, I don't want to speak for her either. What I do want, in terms of her perspectives on our open adoption, is to do what I can to help her acquire the tools to evaluate, articulate, and process for herself her experience of life in the world. She is a person whose familial identity and heritage is a product of both first and adoptive families. This means that identity forming may be quite a challenge for J - as her parent my success will be measured by how well my choices empower her to meet that challenge.


  1. "One of the commitments I have made to myself regarding Z is that I am going to respect her by avoiding speculation about her wishes, choices, etc. Especially in this forum. I just don't know her well enough to take that sort of liberty."

    THIS. Is so wonderful to read. I know that in the beginning when we don't know each other well, there's that opportunity to violate this. I remember Dee holding off a visit until ten months because she was worried it would be "too hard" on me. Or aparents that don't want to send too many pictures to "protect" the first parents. As a first parent I have the choice to look at the pictures now or to hold them until I'm ready. To accept the visit now, or to uphold MY responsibility to voice my concerns if I'm not ready.

    I just loved this part of your post. (The rest was pretty great too though!)

  2. "a successful open adoption strategy includes both the big and little picture."

    This is what strikes me. You are right -- both are necessary for success.