Hooray! Here's the new Open Adoption Roundtable prompt:What were your reasons for choosing open adoption? (Or, for adoptees, what are your reasons for continuing to invest in your relationships with your first family?)
And here's my reply:
I love the two parts of this question. As someone who is both an adoptee in reunion and an adoptive parent in an open adoption, not only do both parts speak to me but the two are intertwined. I maintain a relationship with my first family for one simple reason: they are my family. The threads that bind me to them remain unbroken in spite of the many years that we were separated. When I found them, I recognized them as my people, and they acknowledged me in return. I know this isn't the experience of all adoptees, but it was my experience. Given that I was raised to believe that my adoptive family was my "real" family and that nuture would prevail over nature, it was surprising (and yet somehow not) to discover not only how similar I am to my biological family, but also how bonded and connected I am to them. I ended up with four parents, and they are all "real." My relationship with my biological family doesn't detract from my relationship with my adoptive one, but it does add something significant to my life.
On the day that I first met Erica, I embraced her (literally) as what she was and is: my daughter's other mother. "You have an amazing daughter," I told her of Ashley, the 8-year-old girl that my husband and I were in the process of adopting from foster care. "We are so happy to have her in our lives," I said before going on to tell her briefly about my own adoption story. I assured her that I understood the strength of the biological bond. I told her that I loved her daughter very much, but also I understood that she herself would always be her mother, too.
So that was our starting point, and we moved forward from there, entering into an open adoption agreement that gives Erica the right to one visit a year with Ashley. There was never really any question in my mind about having at least this much openness. Erica had previously gone through a difficult period in her life, including the battle with drug addiction that resulted in the termination of her parental rights. But I knew that she still loved Ashley with all of her heart, and I knew that Ashley was still bonded to her as well. I could not see any advantage for Ashley that would come from severing that bond. I understood, from my own experience, that it was possible to love, and be loved, by two mothers.
It may be an over-simplification, but I tend to see adoptive parents as falling into two camps: those who believe that you must sever the attachment to the original family in order for the child to attach to the new family and those, such as my husband and myself, who believe that the child is more likely to securely attach to the new family if the original bond is left intact. I believe that attachment begets attachment, and that, conversely, a child who has had one bond broken will find it more difficult to trust and attach again. I began on my open adoption journey believing that facilitating a relationship with my child's original family would strengthen rather than weaken her connection to her adoptive one, and that did in fact turn out to be the case. (For more on my views about attachment, please read my post "Are You an Attuned Adoptive Parent?")
I never could have predicted how far I would end up going in the direction of openness. I would not have guessed that my daughter's other mother would become one of my closest friends and one of the primary inspirations in my life. But life is funny that way. By the time of our first open adoption visit, Erica was in a very different place in her life. She was not only in recovery herself but was working as a Support Specialist and Medication Assisted Treatment Advocate with FRESH Start -- a home-visiting program that serves pregnant women, new parents, and substance-exposed and affected children. As my husband and I got to know her, we very quickly realized that one visit a year wasn't going to be enough for our family. We gradually increased the frequency of our visitation and continued to get to know Erica and eventually other members of her family as well. Over time, something surprising happened -- we created a new definition of family, one that includes all of us.
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