I get emails a good bit from other families who are waiting to adopt. Lots of people just want to ask about our experience, and get advice, or that type of thing. But lots of people ask how we plan on dealing with Kate's birth family in the future, and how we plan on sharing that with Kate. Kevin wrote a post on his blog last week that answers those questions perfectly. I decided to share it on here.
Kelley has a blog about our adoption and our life with Kate - www.thebiglongwait.blogspot.com .
She receives emails weekly from adoptive parents and prospective adoptive parents, and they ask all kinds of questions - good questions, the kind we also ask or used to ask.
I read an email today from a married couple that's going through the beginning stages of adopting a newborn. The lady asked how things are NOW with Kate's birth parents, and how/when we plan to tell Kate. Kelley will reply to her directly, but these questions are good to discuss since open adoption is the general rule for domestic adoptions today.
First, open adoption is a very broad term. All it means is that there is some form of open communication between the birth parents and the adoptive parents. How open the adoption is and continues to be must be determined by those involved. Some adoptive parents want little contact with the birth parents, some birth parents want little contact with the adoptive parents (and the child), and those are some of the big things that help with finding a match.
But this is important - the old way of adoption is going the way of landlines. I should probably say, going the way of rotary dial phones. Some people still have them, but don't go looking for them on store shelves. When I was in elementary school in the 80's, I had a few friends who were adopted, but we (classmates, church friends) weren't supposed to talk to them about it in case they didn't know. They had been led to believe they were their parents' biological children - even though their dad was 5"7, their mom was 5"2, and they (the adopted children) were already 5' in 4th grade and looked nothing like their parents. (I made all that up, but it helped make my point.)
Here's how our adoption has gone - SO FAR. By telling our experience, in no way am I acting like an authority or a predictor of the future for every adoption. In some cases, I'm SURE it's best not to have any contact with the birth parents - at least while the child is young. Not only do we HAVE a very open adoption, we WANTED it. We heard stories from both sides and the children who grew up with some kind of contact with their birth parents seemed more peaceful about life. We didn't want Kate to wonder. We didn't want her to feel bad for wondering, like she was doing Kelley and me wrong by imagining how life would be with her birth parents. We didn't want her to wonder about her heritage. We didn't want her to wonder about any siblings, or what she might look like when she grows up, or, or, or . . .
So we wanted an open adoption. Kate's birth parents were 18 (birth father) and 16 (birth mother) when we met them. We've seen them at least every few months since - with Kate. Kate has a room full of toys and books, many from her birth parents. We've made sure to keep some of these things they gave her at her birth - a blanket, a stuffed animal, a book, etc. She's presently sleeping with a glow-worm type toy that lights up and plays music. Her birth father gave it to her on her first birthday.
When will we tell Kate her story? We don't really plan to. She's living her story openly. As she grows, learns, and understands, her story and all the information is openly available to her. First, Kelley just printed the first year of her blog in a book. Kate has a BOOK about the first year of her life, how all of this came to be. Everything that's in Kelley's blog is in this book. And second, on Kate's dresser, we keep a picture of 1-day old Kate at the hospital in her birth parents' arms. She can now say both of their names, and she knows the little baby they're holding is her. She'll figure things out in time, and we'll continue to discuss her story with her until she completely understands.
Again, I know our situation isn't representative of all adoptions. God blessed us with a wonderful daughter and wonderful birth parents who wanted to give her what they couldn't. We'll never stop thanking them for allowing us to be Kate's parents. I've asked them at a couple of our face to face meetings if they are still able to handle the visits, or if the visits are too painful. They tell me that although the visits can be emotional, and yes, difficult, they are GREAT, and they want them to continue. They know where we live and have been in our home - in Kate's bedroom. They have our phone numbers. We text them pictures of Kate occasionally. Kate's birth mother invited us to her high school graduation this May, which isn't going to be one of our official visits. We count it an honor.
If you're considering adoption, or if you're an adoptive parent and you're worried about any of these scenarios, or when to tell your child, or if your child will resent or reject you, I encourage you to trust God and be as honest as you can appropriately be. There are adoption horror stories, but there are far more stories like ours. So forget the old-school rotary dial phone. Life with an adoptive child is so much more peaceful for everyone involved when nobody is trying to keep lots of secrets. (And, I can also encourage Kate and our future adopted children with the fact that they never have to worry about growing up to look like me.)
I think to summarize all that Kevin wrote, we just plan to be open with Kate. She can already say the word "adopt" and "adopted", but of course has no idea what that means at this point. She's been around her birth parents 7-8 different times in her 18 months of life. We share her story with others all the time. She has a picture of her birth parents with her in her room and says their names daily. She doesn't know what being adopted means now, but gradually she will learn. As she looks back on her childhood, we hope that when people ask her how she felt when she learned she was adopted, that her response will be "well, it was just something that I always knew."
By no means are we saying that we are the experts when it comes to adoption. Far from it. We know our situation, and we know what is working for OUR family. I think the best plan is to be flexible and know that your plan can (and probably will) change. You can't really plan the exact situation that your adoptive child will come from, but regardless, that is part of their story. Be flexible when dealing with it. Know that if you want a very open adoption, that may not necessarily be the best option. Not every situation is as ideal as ours is with Kate's birth parents. On the other side, a very closed adoption may not be what is best either. Be flexible. Be open. Be gracious. Be loving.