Contemplating Open Adoption

Most 21-year-olds spend their time wondering what they’re going to do on Saturday night, if they’ll be able to find work in their field of study after college, when their significant other is going to say “I love you.” Most 21-year-olds also haven’t gone through an unexpected pregnancy and adoption. In that regard, I am not like most 21-year-olds. I spent my twenty-first birthday at home, fighting pregnancy-induced acid reflux and trying to get comfortable on the couch – a task that is definitely taken for granted by people who have never been pregnant. My son was born two months later, right on his due date, and I was lucky enough to have the family that the father and I had chosen for him there at the hospital with me. It was one of those things I had flip-flopped about for the entire third trimester, possibly longer: do I want them there with me? The one similar question that had never been a real nail-biter was: how much contact do I want after he’s born? As someone who has always had abandonment issues, I was sure that I would like to be able to at least see pictures afterwards, but when I found out that I could have visits as well, I started to get a little nervous at first. I knew that I would want that, too, but I also knew that my family might not think it was such a great idea. It had taken me a long time to even feel comfortable speaking to my family about the subject, considering the fact that they were having a hard time coping with the fact that I had gotten pregnant in the first place. To make a long story short, I asked Full Circle to write in three visits per year into the post-placement agreement, regardless of what I thought my family and friends might say. I had my fears, to be sure, but since then, I have learned how to deal with them and, in some cases, how to help others deal with them. These are fears that I know I am not alone in feeling, but everyone is different. I hate that age-old saying, “it’s a natural fear.” In my opinion, that’s a patronizing and cliché way of telling you not to worry. Honestly, if you do share any of these feelings, it’s okay. Some people do, and some people don’t, but either way, don’t let them scare you out of doing what you feel is right or in your comfort zone.

My biggest fear from the start was that after a visit, I would be miserable. The thought of getting to see my baby in person was an amazing thing, but then I imagined that having to leave would be really painful. I have met up with my son and his family four times since his birth, and only one of them was a “scheduled” visit as written in the agreement. In all honesty, I only cried once after leaving, and that was the day we went to sign the paperwork in court. One of my favorite adages of my mom’s is that of the “self-fulfilling prophecy”: if you tell yourself that something will happen, then it will. Why waste time convincing yourself that you’ll be bawling your eyes out when it’s time to say goodbye if you don’t know for sure that you will? If you plan on having in-person visits, try focusing more on how happy you’ll be to spend some time with the adoptive family. I like to plan ahead and get information on where we’re thinking of meeting up so that there’s more to the day than just chatting about how the baby is doing. Places like children’s museums and outdoor learning centers are great, because the time you spend together isn’t just about reminding you that your birth-child is now the son or daughter of someone else; you can enjoy the activities or environment that the location provides, and the little one can have some fun, too!

Another major worry of mine was that I would feel awkward during the visits. I tend to be more sensitive to the feelings – whether perceived or actual – of other people before myself, and therefore, I have a bad habit of creating scenarios before things happen. For a long time, I would tell myself that whether or not I wanted to hold the baby, I wouldn’t ask to because I didn’t want the adoptive family to think I was trying to take any ownership of him or act like his parent. When I spoke, my filter was always on high for fear that I might say something that they might misconstrue as being smothering or trying to reclaim him. Luckily, I’ve gotten over that fear, but it’s definitely something that took a lot of help understanding. If you have the same reaction, the adoptive family is going to be your greatest ally. Nowadays, if you plan on an open adoption, the family will be ready and willing to be as open as you feel comfortable with, and when you have found the right family, you will absolutely know. When you meet them for the very first time in interview and you feel as though you’re talking with best friends you haven’t seen in a long time, there’s nothing like it in the world. The good news is, once you have that connection, it doesn’t go away; you don’t have to suddenly interact with them like they are complete strangers as soon as the papers are signed. When it comes down to it, if you are really concerned about whether or not you’re sending mixed messages, ask them. Chances are, they’ll understand and be more than willing to ease that fear. Now when I see my adoptive family, I ask to hold the baby every time, and it never gets old.

The last apprehension, and possibly the scariest, is the wonder of how your family will react when you talk to them about in-person visits. In my experience, my family’s opinions have always been really important, and I put a lot of weight into what they think about certain things. To put it simply, family should understand and respect your decisions, but that’s not always the case. If for any reason you feel as though your family won’t react positively to your decision to have visits, my best advice would be to only explain the situation to relatives who will understand and treat you with the respect you deserve.

A. McKinnon,
Adoptimal Blog Contributing Writer