open adoption meaning

Open Adoption Meaning

2020 has been a year. We have probably all felt the toll of the heaviness it brought. We’ve experienced loss, uncertainty, and challenges globally, but while 2020 may have been full of negatives, it may have also caused us to pause and see things in a new light and how experiences are unique to each person. I have learned that working from home was wonderful in my eyes. It allowed me to spend the day with my favorite coworker, my sweet Smooth Collie Chloe, to feel more energized without the commute, and I was able to focus better on tasks. Where in comparison, some of my coworkers have found that it’s extremely difficult being a full-time mom, teacher, and employee and are very thankful we are back in the office. I heard earlier this year someone describe what we are experiencing worldwide as “we are all in the same storm, but different boats.” It can be a perfect way to describe our pandemic-ridden world and how it may impact us each differently, but that every feeling surrounding that is valid. But it also reminds me of something else: the open adoption meaning and the perspectives surrounding the complex two words. 

Open Adoption Means Connection

Another thing that 2020 has shown me is that connection is necessary. We as humans are built to do life with other humans. We usually need relationships and interactions with others to get things done, to feel a bond with another, to brighten our day, to support another, and to express what people mean to us. For birth mothers and adoptees, it is often no different. As a birth mother, I have seen how different my adoption plan could look or feel because this year has caused us to generally have extremely limited connections. Pre-COVID-19, we worked our way from email updates, to social media, to visiting whenever and wherever we like. We usually had two or three visits a year but had just recently moved up to whenever someone suggests a visit. My daughter, her mother, my son, my parents, and I have all been connected for a decade. We recently were able to share with my son, who my parents adopted, and my daughter, who was adopted through an agency, that they were siblings. It’s been about two years now that they have known they were connected to one another on a much deeper level than someone they just visit with twice a year. They have someone who is close to their age, who is biologically connected to them, and who is also adopted. It’s been really sweet to watch them navigate what that means for their bond as brother and sister. A connection is important to them because they have one another to identify with, to not feel alone in their journey, and to learn from each other’s perspectives. 

But not only is connection important between siblings, but it is also for me, their birth mother. I was adopted when I was two days old. I did not have a relationship or even any knowledge of my biological family until I was 22. I seriously struggled with my identity and worth for most of my life. When I decided to place children for adoption, I knew that I did not want that for my babies. I wanted them to know their identities and to have a solid foundation of the purpose of their story. I wanted my open adoption meaning to matter for them. So I chose to be as open as we could by letting time dictate our connection to one another. But throughout these past ten years, my connection with them has helped them understand that being adopted doesn’t mean forgotten or loved less. Adoption means I sacrificed my desire to be a mom and to live life with them for a different life than I felt would benefit them better than I could give at that time. They have hopefully been able to see that through our connection that they are still my priority. They are still the only people in this world that I would sacrifice everything for over and over again. My favorite thing about being connected to my kids is that they do not have to ever question my love for them. They get to see it in my actions. While not every open adoption has a connection through visits or even consistent updates, most open adoptions have some kind of connection between all parties of the triad. 

Open Adoption Means Stability

I work for a non-profit that specializes in affordable housing for low-income families. I have been working on a mission that gives people a hand-up in creating a safe and affordable home that they are able to work towards. About 80% of those families are single-mother homes. This year, I have seen how the stability of a home impacts a family, just as many others have. Home became more important than ever for us. When I was pregnant, I was trying to imagine how I could get to a place of stability for my kids to have the best launching pad for life, but I was hardly even living paycheck to paycheck. I knew that I did not have the opportunity of a hand-up to get me where I needed to be for the life, I dreamed for them. So, I chose adoption. Side note here, if we were finding a way, like my organization, to help women have the resources needed to create a stable and safe home and life for their family, we might have less adoption trauma, women feeling like they have no options, birth mother grief, and children going in to foster care. But that’s a soapbox to step on a different day. But the point I am trying to make is that because of my open adoption plan, I have been able to see the stability I was able to choose for my children’s lives. I have seen my plan in action and watched my children blossom because of it. So yet again we see open adoption meaning having another perspective. Open adoption is often said to have no meaning because of how fluid it is, so really it can take on whatever purpose or value you choose to give it, like hope.

Open Adoption Means Hope

Growing up in a closed adoption, struggling with my identity, I had a lot of hope to one day know where I came from. Who I looked like? What made me have creative passions like decorating, art, and music. Why did I have red hair when I was little, but now it is brown? I had hope for answers to many of my self-identifying questions. The beauty about my open adoption for my children is that I get to share life with them. They do not have to wonder about their biological family or who they share traits with. They get to ask me face-to-face anything they are curious about. But not only do they have that foundation of identity in knowing me, but they also are less likely to face as much trauma from their adoption, if any. We talk a lot about the positives of adoption, especially when we get into open adoption meaning, but the reality is that adoption is usually founded upon loss. While it can be beautiful in aspects, it can also be broken and hard in others. And there is often great trauma from loss. So part of the hope I have found in open adoption meaning is that I get to know my children. I get to see past my grief and watch them grow and make memories with them. It isn’t the same as getting to be there for all the firsts and getting to parent them, but even still it brings me joy and lets me hold on to the hope that I will always be in their lives in some fashion.

Open Adoption Means Healing

I mentioned before that adoption is often founded on loss. It reminds me a lot of a rose bush. A lot of people admire the idea of adoption because of the beauty they hear about it, like a rose, but the thorns and work put into tending that rose bush are still present regardless of how subtle they may be from afar. When a child is adopted, there may be a biological family feeling the loss of that child leaving their lives, the child may subconsciously/or consciously be aware of the separation from their mother, and then the “beauty” that most know about adoption is the completion of a family. Now this does not mean that I believe adoption is not beautiful or positive, it is indeed those things, but we cannot have the celebration without acknowledging the sacrifice that made it possible. 

One of the hardest things that birth parents have to walk through after placing a child for adoption may be the grief that flows through their life from then on out. Healing usually takes time and a lot of effort, but it can definitely be a part of the open adoption meaning. I have heard a lot of birth mothers hurting because they are not getting updates, visits, or whatever was promised during their adoption plan agreement. While this is often an “agreement of the heart” it can be important that all parties are being intentional to hold up their commitments to one another. Managing expectations can be a huge part of keeping the foundation of an adoption plan solid. When those expectations are not being met, communication probably needs to come in play so that you are able to adjust, add, or take away from the current plan so that it can be more realistic for the season of life your adoption triad is in. For me personally, I get a lot of healing from seeing my children. Thankfully it has been long enough that I have worked on my grief through therapy thoroughly enough that I am out of the being sad all of the time phase, but I miss my kids a lot even still. And there are moments when things around me impact how I am feeling in my adoption journey. For example, when someone is having a baby, it is hard for me to not dwell on the grief of my loss of motherhood. So it can be very beneficial that open adoption meaning can encapsulate progression towards healing. 

Open Adoption Means Flexibility

My favorite thing about open adoption is how customizable it is. We all have different stages of life with different needs during those times than others. It can be a great thing to be able to adjust our plans when we want so that we can get our needs met. It’s usually not uncommon for either the birth mother to feel unsure about being so open or the adoptive family to feel that way. It can be uncharted territory for everyone, so there may be a lot of anxiety of the unknown. The beauty of the open adoption meaning is that it can change over time. You can start out very simple with a visit a year, or a letter a year, and once years go by and you see how everyone does, you can adjust to more or less, or keep it the same for longer. The truth is, we often never know what it will look like until we are in it and even then, our open adoption meanings can change from year to year. Just like some of us have words of the year, open adoption meanings can highlight something new each year if we pay close enough attention. We can learn a lot from one another’s views and experiences. Just today I asked my 13-year-old son, “Why is it special or important to you that you have an open adoption?” He replied, “It’s important to me that I get to know someone who could have been my sister/mother, even though it didn’t work out that way, I get to know who they are and share memories with them.” At the end of the day for me, it’s about my kids and open adoption allows them to know one another and me, their birth mother, and they are thankful for that opportunity. 

Katie Reisor