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Adoption Blog: My Paperwork Pregnancies

Is This an Open Adoption Divorce?

Currently, my husband, Paul, and I don’t have much, if any, contact from our children’s birth parents.  This is not at all how we pictured our “open” adoptions.  We thought for sure we’d have tons of information for our children when they came of age to ask questions about their adoption.  We thought if there was any particular information they wanted to know about their birth family we could write a note or make a phone call and receive a prompt answer.  We thought our open adoptions would be like the ones we read about in adoption books years ago.

Over the years I have come to accept that this is the current status of my children’s adoptions, that the image I had associated with “openness” is not my reality, and, in fact, it feels like we are “divorced” from our children’s birth parents. It breaks my heart, but there is nothing I can do.  As with any relationship, you cannot force the other party to do what you want them to do.  You can only be responsible for your own actions.  I have been able to accept all of this for myself, but explaining it to my children has been harder. I never planned to have to talk to my children about why a birth parent is not around anymore, but that’s just what I’ve had to do.

Recently I had this conversation with my seven year-old son, Keith.

Keith (K):  Will I ever see my birth parents?
Me (D):  I hope so.  Why do you want to see them?
K:  I just want to know if I look like them.
D:  We have old pictures of them.  Do you want to hang them up in your room?
K:  I want to know what they look like now.  Why don’t they send us new ones?
D:  I don’t know, sweetie.  I have written them and asked, but haven’t heard back.  But I send them pictures of you, and I am sure they think you are so handsome.  They love you very much.
K (with tears in his eyes):  But if they love me, why won’t they write?
D:  I don’t know.  I hope that someday they have the chance to send you a letter or pictures.  But I can’t promise anything.  We’ll just keep sending them stuff from us.  Do you want to write to them and ask them anything?
K:  No.  I just want to see what they look like now.
D:  I know.  I do too.

Keith and I continued to talk about his birth family.  We guessed what they currently looked like, what subjects they had liked in school and what characteristics he got from them.  It was a positive adoption conversation between the two of us.  At the end, I told Keith how proud I was that he told me his feelings since it must be difficult to talk about. I was also proud of myself for not flipping out, crying, and hugging Keith as tight as humanly possible.  I could see his heart breaking.  I knew he had thought a lot about this topic and could not comprehend how anyone could be too busy to contact someone they love.  He’s too young and innocent to understand the complexities of relationships. 

Paul and I are happily married, as are all of our immediate family members, so my experience of divorce is limited, but following this conversation I felt as if I were in one of those Lifetime movies where the child is crying to their mother about how they long to hear from their father who abandoned them.  The mother has to say that she has no idea why their father is staying away.  I have also seen many Dr. Phil television shows about families going through divorce.  Thanks to these two “resources” I have, perhaps without realizing it at the time, learned some things which helped me in my conversation with Keith.

For example, I knew not to tell any lies because I could easily set my child’s expectations too high.  I didn’t say, “I know that they’ll write to you soon,” because I do not know when, if ever, they will write.  I also knew to sympathize with the emotions Keith was feeling about the situation.  By telling him afterward how proud I was of him for voicing his emotions, I was hopefully encouraging him to bring it up again if he feels like it.  I also learned that it’s okay, if difficult, to say, “I don’t know,” when responding to the questions Keith desperately wanted real answers to.

It’s surprising that movies and television shows about divorce are helping me talk to my children about adoption.  Then again, I’m also very surprised that I have to have these discussions with my children at all when we actively pursued “open” adoptions. 

I hope this divorce is not final.  I hope that in time the contact between us and the birth parents will become mutual.  Until then, I’ll look for any resources, from books on divorce and television psychologists to learning from your personal open adoption experiences, that will aid me in giving my children the best possible emotional support. 

Answering Tough Adoption Questions

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dear Danielle,
thank you for sharing your story. I have been openly against my sisters open adoption. Her adoptive family wants to have us involved and I have worried about so many things:
will the baby use her birth mother against her mother when they fight?
will she be confused as to who she belongs to?
will she worry her birth mother will take her away?
if her relationship struggles with the parents will she want to find more connection with her birth mother?
will more contact with her birth mom create confusion or insecurity?
and in my sister.‘s case:
wont seeing her daughter raised by someone else only prolong the pain?
won’t she be hurt to see what she’s missing rather than just imagine it?
won’t she secretly enjoy the bond they will have seperate from her daughters new family?
if she disagrees with the parents parenting style or what if the parents get divorced and the enviroment is less than ideal?
as she settles down, marries and has her own children, wont she now long for the child she could now care for? especially if the birth mom’s life is now more stable than the adoptive parents life.
wont it now create a problem with the little girl..“why did she keep her other children but not me?”

I am filled with these concerns and worry, but I wish to understand better the effects of open adoption - your story brought tears and changed my view a great deal, I hoped you could shed additional light on this difficult choice.

By natalie on Tuesday, April 26, 2011 at 10:14 pm.

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Danielle Pennel

Danielle Pennel


I have recently adopted or am adopting from...
U.S. Newborn, U.S. Newborn

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