Open adoption has moved beyond the experimental stage and become the norm for most contemporary domestic adoptions. It has also created awareness that even with international adoptions, every effort should be made to gather as much birth family information, to preserve and respect these ties and to foster ongoing communication. We now recognize that connection to and respect for an adopted child’s biological roots is integral to successfully unify their dual heritage. Still, the concept remains shrouded in apprehension, confusion and curiosity. How is it possible for a child to have two sets of parents involved in their lives?
Questions abound in the minds of prospective adopters as well as expectant parents contemplating adoption for their unborn child. (Do we need a contract? Is it enforceable? Desirable? Isn’t open adoption confusing for the child?) These and many more issues are addressed in The Open-hearted Way to Open Adoption by Lori Holden and Crystal Hass. They are the adoptive mother and birth mother who have an open adoption relationship.
There are many reasons to recommend this excellent book. It overflows with practical suggestions for how to navigate the constantly changing seas that permeate open adoption. Not just for adoptive parents, it offers ideas for all members of the triad because the three are inextricably connected. Each will be a permanent part of the child. Only the degree and level of involvement will vary. The influences of DNA are forever, just as the influence of the adoptive family’s nurturing will permanently shape the child. (Lori refers to these factors as biology and biography.)
Lori and Crystal Hass (the birth mother of one of Lori’s children,) share strategies, ideas and personal anecdotes that are valuable, sensible and practical. They offer options not a specific blueprint for every adoptive family to follow. This makes sense since each adoption is unique. Their honesty and shared experience provide a window into living an open adoption journey. They reveal that open adoption is not without challenges and suggest “Talking about it and bringing your emotions up to a conscious level allows a healing release to occur … and prevents misunderstandings from cropping up.”
But the greatest value of The Open-hearted Way to Open Adoption is the philosophical assumption that underpins the book: open adoption is fundamentally an attitude that must infuse the relationship and all of the parenting decisions. The child’s best interest is the foundational premise. This may sound like an obvious fact, but all too often—especially in the past--adoption considers the comfort level, fears and needs of the adults over the needs of the child. Yes, each of these is an important factor, but the foremost criteria must to be child-focused. Many fear that children will be confused or distressed by having an ongoing relationship with a birth parent/s. Lori responds, “Openness is not the cause of any eruptions but instead can actually be part of the solution to them. If you’ve established an open relationship with your child, he is more likely to allow you into his innermost thoughts and fears. He then doesn’t have to face them without you. But if you are closed, he is more alone.” [emphasis added]
The Open-hearted Way to Open Adoption is a positive and inspiring book that will touch your heart as well as provide you with persuasive, practical and useful ideas. I am an adoption coach and a mom of now-adult children who came to us in the 1980s through closed adoptions. My children have reconnected with their birth mothers and I have seen first-hand the beneficial impact this reunion has brought all of us but most especially my children and their birth mothers. Lori points out that she takes her children to various professionals who can provide services that she cannot: physician, dentist, therapist, etc. She writes, “I can’t fill a certain emotional need that Tessa has, but I can take her to the well.” (Tessa’s birth mother, Crystal) That is love and that is parenting with a child’s best interest at heart. I would assert that no adoptive parent want to leave their children unsupported as they process difficult parts of the adoption experience.
Open adoption is not easy nor is it perfect, but it is far better than the old secrecy-based closed adoptions. The greatest ingredient to success is a heart-connected attitude. This book offers a welcome, worthwhile resource for parents who are embarking on the adventure of open adoption parenting. As Lori writes, “Open adoption is a journey rather than a destination.”
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