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Open Adoption:
Double the Love

  • Linda R. Sexton

My National Adoption Month Articles Featured in the NewsLeader!

For over two decades, National Adoption Month has been celebrated every November in communities across the country. National Adoption Day, always the Saturday before Thanksgiving, is November 19.


My three-part series on open adoption was featured this month in The NewsLeader, Florida’s oldest weekly newspaper covering Nassau County. This series educates on the practice of open adoption – an arrangement in which the triad of biological parents, adoptive parents and adopted children know each other’s identities and remain in contact after the adoption is finalized. This contact could include anything from pictures and letters to visits throughout the child's life. Here is a consolidated version of the series:


Part 1 – A birth mother story

Jenna was a junior in high school when she became pregnant. Without much support at home, she ran away. She couch-surfed friends’ homes and still went to school, pretending like nothing was wrong.


Jenna felt she had only two choices – parent or abort. This was not much of a choice as she could barely take care of herself. How could she possibly raise a child? After making an appointment at the clinic, aborting this baby didn’t feel right, and Jenna could not sleep at night. What was she to do? Miraculously, her best friend saw a documentary about a new kind of adoption where Jenna could meet adoptive parents, choose parents to raise her child, and stay in contact after the birth. This was worth learning more about, she thought.


Jenna matched with a couple that she loved and respected, and when the baby was born, they came to the hospital and took turns holding her precious baby. It wasn’t easy as she loved this child more than she ever imagined. It was this same intense love that allowed her to go through with the adoption plan, to give her child a loving and stable home.


After Jenna left the hospital, grief came pouring in. She had not changed her mind, she just needed to see her baby. The adoptive parents brought the newborn to Jenna so she could hold and feed her baby. They were all nervous but happy for this meeting, as they had grown very fond of each other.


As the years went by the adoptive couple invited Jenna into their home. Each visit brought Jenna joy to see her child so loved and well adjusted. But it still hurt and she joined a birth mother support group for help.


When the child was four, Jenna got married and the child was her flower girl. The adoptive mother made two identical photo books to remember that day – one for Jenna and one for her child.


Now as a young adult, the adopted child visits Jenna a few times a year without fear or guilt. Sometimes, these visits include the adoptive mom too, because of the tremendous love and gratitude they have for each other.


Is this an adoption story you recognize? Likely not, because past adoptions were often secretive and closed. Due to the benefits of transparency, open adoption is commonplace today.


For Jenna, transparency provided her peace of mind. Seeing that her child was safe, loved and thriving brought her pride and joy. Importantly, her child knows first-hand that adoption was an act of her selfless love.

Part 2 -An Adoptive Mother’s Story

I am an open adoption pioneer. In 1993, longing to become parents, my husband and I were surprised to learn about this new kind of adoption.


We found ourselves in uncomfortable territory with little guidance for such a lifelong commitment. Would it be too complicated or awkward to raise a child with the birth parents in the picture? After adopting twice, four years apart, we learned just how much we wanted our children’s birth parents in our lives for everyone’s emotional health.


First, we had to learn about the adoption process that included: contacting an agency, applying and home study, creating a profile for expectant parents, matching, birth, placement and finalization. We were struck by the large number of couples looking to adopt infants. We had to consider all options including international and foster care adoptions.


We wondered what kind of people made adoption plans. Could we relate to them? At our agency, we met a mother of a fifteen-year-old daughter who had placed her baby in an open adoption. The birth grandmother was a stable, intelligent person. She explained that her teen could not raise a child, and the woman, too, was a single mother with other children. Neither one was in a position to take on the responsibility.


The birth mother was shy and didn’t speak much, but I thought, wouldn’t it be nice to match with someone like her? The mother and daughter were emotional but also relieved that they had found a loving family and would stay connected. That’s when we learned that open adoption is not only about the birth parents choosing who parents their child; it’s also about mutually deciding on how to stay connected.


As I thought about visits, I can easily recall over twenty times we visited with each of our children’s birth families during the growing up years. What I can say about these visits are three very important observations. The overarching emotions we experienced were love, gratitude, respect, and excitement to see each other. Our children were never confused about parent roles. Finally, they loved seeing their birth families.


Transparency provided many benefits. Knowing the birth parents allowed us to learn about them and we grew to love them. It was easy to invite them into our home and to make sure that our children grew up with full knowledge of their birth parents and their stories. It also provided knowledge about genetic and medical information. Importantly, it gave us insights into our children’s natural traits.


Part 3 -An Adopted Children’s Story

It is fitting to end the series with an excerpt from an interview with two adopted young adults.


What is your memory of learning that you were adopted?

Faith: “I don’t remember when I found out . . . I feel like I always knew.”


What were your feelings about being different and not living with birth parents?

Alex: “I was always excited to tell people that I was adopted because it made me feel different in a way that was cool. It was not a conscious source of unhappiness or shame or anything like that.”


Faith: “It always bothered me when friends asked, “What about your real parents?” I would say, excuse me, I have two sets of awesome parents—birth parents, and my real parents.”


What do you remember about visits from your birth families while growing up?

Alex: “I remember that as a kid, when my birth mom visited, I would get excited—I was so happy to see her—I really loved her. She always would bring a present, usually arts or crafts, and we would play. She was a good artist, and we always had a lot in common.”


Faith: “It was so fun and exciting when our birth families would visit. Everyone wanted to hear all about our accomplishments.”


What are your feelings about your birth parents and parents making the choice for you?

Alex: “I never was upset with my birth parents or parents for making this choice for me. It’s a little like none of us chose to be born, and adoption was ultimately a good thing.”


Faith: “I know that my birth parents were so young and it does bring me comfort knowing, even right now, there is no way I am mature enough to raise a child.”


What is your current view of Open Adoption?

Alex: “I was in group therapy with fifteen adoptees and I was the only person with an open adoption. I think that gave me a foundation for understanding who I am in relation to my family and my birth family. It changes adoption from being more about love, than feeling like someone gave you away or abandoned you. It is a lot easier to grasp that concept of being about love when you feel that love from both your adopted family and birth family.”

***

For adopted children, the transparency of open adoption means that their questions are answered. They understand that their birth parents placed the best interest of the child above their own. They are reassured with the knowledge that it was a brave, difficult, and heart-wrenching decision based on love. Most importantly, for the adult adoptee, they and their birth families can decide how often they wish to communicate and can do this without fear or guilt. It is a gift of choice.


I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge that any adoption involves traumas and challenges for all the members of the triad. It is not easy and certainly requires professional help. With knowledge, training, work and professional support, all members of the triad can be happy and thrive.


November is a good time to bring awareness to that fact that adoption has changed in many healthy ways over the decades. Whether adopting a baby, child, or teen, adopted children can benefit from any connection to members of their birth family, whenever possible and safe.

Learn more at www.adoptioncouncil.org. Visit www.AdoptUSKids to learn about the 115,000 adoptable children in the U.S. foster care system.





Linda R. Sexton is an adoptive mother, open adoption pioneer and member of Amelia Island Writers. Her upcoming book, The Branches We Cherish: An Open Open Adoption Memoir, has been awarded a gold medal in Florida Writers Association’s prestigious Royal Palm Literary Awards, unpublished educational category. To learn more or request Sexton as a speaker visit www.lindarsexton.com.


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