Things have changed a lot in the world of adoption over the past 20 years. Once shrouded in secrecy and shame, the majority of adoptions are now open and involve some degree of contact with the birthmother, both before and after the adoption is finalized. Having knowledge about things like genetic medical conditions is obviously good for adopted children. And because the biggest source of pain for adopted children in the past was the unknown–not knowing who their birth family was or why they were put up for adoption–having an open adoption helps ease that pain.
But, if you ask people about open adoption, the first reaction of many is something along the lines of, “I don’t think I would want that. Won’t you be worried the birthmother will want her baby back?”
That was actually my first reaction, too. I was intimidated and fearful of open adoption when we first started thinking about it and even as we went through the home study. There was even a point when I had serious second thoughts about whether or not I could handle an open adoption. I felt threatened. With the birthmother still somewhat in the picture, would I ever feel like the “real” mother to my child? Would I just be a substitute mom or a glorified nanny? Could I handle “sharing” my baby with the woman who had actually given birth to him? Would I be jealous of their innate connection and constantly reminded that our child was, in fact, someone else’s? Was I setting myself up for heartache and pain?
These feelings, I think, are probably pretty common among prospective adoptive parents, at least at the beginning of the process. My feelings on open adoption evolved quickly, though, as soon as I realized I was thinking about it in entirely the wrong way.
Adoption is not about making couples parents. It’s about creating families for children. The feelings that are most important in adoption are that of the children and what is best for them is best, plain and simple. Even more than that, though, I came to realize that having the birthmother in our lives to some extent could be an incredible gift. From stories I’ve read of other very open adoptions, there is zero confusion over who is mom, and birthmothers often take on a role similar to that of a favorite aunt. What child could have too many favorite aunts? It’s simply more love in the child’s life. In less open adoptions, parents send annual letters and photos to the birthmother and if the adopted child ever expresses an interest in meeting his/her birthmother, that can easily be arranged. Much healthier than the scenes we’ve seen on TV of the forlorn adopted child who, after discovering he’s been lied to his whole life, boards a bus by himself to search for his birthmother. It’s an unfortunate fact that all adoptees grieve the loss of their birth families to some extent, even if adopted as infants. An open, honest adoption helps them to understand, accept, and heal.
More than coming to the logical conclusion that open adoption is best for the adopted child, something else happened to me: my heart opened up. My heart opened up to include not only our future adopted baby, but his birth family as well. It opened so wide, in fact, that it forced all of my selfish insecurities about whether I would feel like a real mom or not aside. Of course I will. I will be the one raising our child. I will be the one who is there for him day in and day out, with unconditional love and laughter and hugs. I’m already so in love with this child. Surely there is plenty of room in my heart for his birthmother, too.
Adoption is unique. It’s more complicated than having a biological child. But, for me, that also makes it more special. It feels like my heart has grown three sizes already. I will never be the only mother to my son or daughter, but I will be the only mom. My child will hopefully always have a bond of some sort with the woman who gave birth to him–and that’s not only OK, it’s exactly how it should be. After all, there’s no such thing as too much love from too many people.