Tuesday, February 21, 2012

How We Got Here: The Gradual Opening of an Adoption

These days, my relationship with Erica (my daughter Ashley's first mom) is very open. I love her as a friend and family member, I respect her as a colleague in the work we do through Ashley's Moms, and I'm comfortable with her being the adult-in-charge for either of my children. She's been to my house; I've been to hers. She has attended school events. She has my cell phone number, my work number, and our home number.

(Photo copyright 123RF Stock Photos)

But it's important to note that we did not start out this way, and when I talk about open adoption in foster-adopt situations, this is not at all what I am recommending for others at the outset.

Each situation is different and every family will need to figure out for themselves what level of privacy protection is needed. In some cases, protecting the safety of the child will be a bigger concern than in others. Open adoption does not mean you have to bring the biological parent physically into your home or open up all areas of your life to them. Rather, it is more typically a limited relationship that takes place in a structured, controlled environment, with the adoptive parents setting the boundaries.

In our case, we started with a legal agreement stipulating that my husband and I would maintain a P.O. Box where Erica could write to us and/or Ashley. That was fine, but e-mail is easier so early on I set up an anonymous e-mail address. (Initially, we didn't reveal our last names.) Our early visits occurred in public places. At first, Erica was the only biological relative involved in the visits; later, we brought in Ashley's little brother Tyler, followed by other relatives (grandmothers, aunts, uncles, cousins). 

The agreement that my husband and I signed prior to the adoption gives Erica the right to at least one visit per year. (Obviously, we have decided to do visitation on a much more frequent basis.) We have the choice of supervising the visits ourselves or of having them supervised by a third party (our area has centers where supervised visits can take place). We chose to supervise the visits ourselves and this worked out great for us. The first visit following Ashley’s adoption finalization took place at a roller rink and involved Erica, Ashley, and myself. At a later visit, Ashley and Erica got pedicures at a local salon while I waited in the lobby. Currently, "supervision" is no longer an issue for us -- we are comfortable with Ashley having time alone with Erica -- but we got to that comfort level by getting to know Erica over time. 

We started with a bunch of protections in place and dropped them one by one as we became aware that they were not necessary for our particular situation. Erica's recovery and current level of stability has made it possible for us to move into a level of openness that would not have been possible otherwise. If her situation had been different, we still would have wanted to maintain some level of connection with her, but we wouldn't have the same level of openness.


  1. I'm glad you wrote that. We are in the early stages... same agreement as yours, except the letters were to go to the DSHS to be fielded out to us... We recently gave her our po box. We gave her an email address which she is using multiple times a week. I send her pictures all the time now. She asked for the phone number so she could call on their birthday, but as mean as that sounds, I am not ready for that. Boundaries are an issue with her. I can't have her calling as often as she emails. She is in a much better place than she was a couple of years ago, but she has some work to do yet.

  2. Makes sense that you'd need to set boundaries in such a situation. I didn't have to deal w/ that. If anything, Erica and I were overly cautious about respecting boundaries in the beginning. But I think it's better to start off cautiously. At each stage of opening the door a little wider, my husband and I would discuss it and make sure we each felt comfortable with taking that next step. I didn't want to move into openness and then have to take a step back, so we just kept inching forward one little bit at a time.

  3. I appreciate this post so much. Sometimes I feel that our adoption situation is not the norm in some ways because of how structured it is at the moment. Trying to be too open before we were all ready for it didnt help us at all. So I really do feel that it is important for people to start slowly, especially in the beginning when you all are getting to know each other. The beauty about adoption is that there is no one way to make it work and there is a whole spectrum of openness that can be had by families.

  4. Thanks, Venessa! I agree -- there isn't one right way!

  5. Great post, Rebecca. The guidelines are a helpful reminder that trust is built gradually and not all at once. My husband used to teach school and he said that it was always easier to be stricter in the beginning of the year and loosen up than to do it in the reverse.

  6. I love how you and your husband handled the adoption of your daughter. Thank you so much for sharing your powerful story!!

  7. Thanks, Kathy. Your comment on my other piece was the inspiration for this one. It helped me recognize some parts of our story that I wanted to flesh out. Much appreciated! :-)


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