Unexpected Openness

An excerpt from a 2015 adoption-themed book beautifully illustrates how an open adoption arrangement can organically evolve and change over time.

joy-of-adoptionChicken Soup for the Soul: The Joy of Adoption: 101 Stories About Forever Families and Meant-to-Be-Kids was published in 2015 and written by Amy Newmark and LeAnn Thieman. A copy of the book is available for borrowing via the Adoption STAR resource library. The book can also be purchased through Tapestry Books.

While all the stories contained within the book are poignant, one in particular, entitled, “Open-Door Policy,” is particularly striking. While a Post Adoption Contact Agreement (PACA) will spell out the particulars regarding an open adoption agreement between a birth family and an adoptive family, we find that sometimes openness can go beyond what was initially agreed upon. We find that when this happens, its not because anyone is being “forced” into more contact. Rather, increased openness is something that just seems to naturally happen, largely because it just feels “right” for all parties involved. “Open-Door Policy” is a real life example of this.

The adoptive mother (Laura) explains early in piece that for the first two years of her son Ben’s life, she and Ben’s birth mother (Jen) had extensive communication by writing letters back and forth. Here’s an excerpt that shares the rest of the story:

Laura says, “I mentioned this rapid-fire exchange of letters to someone in my extended family, who inquired, ‘Doesn’t keeping in such close contact with Jen prevent her from moving on with her life? Wouldn’t it be better for her if you decreased contact or cut it off all together?’

I hadn’t thought of that. I’d assumed the communication had been healthy for Jen. Horrified at my naiveté, I wrote Jen and asked whether our ongoing exchange of letters, photos, and videos was helping or hurting.

Jen replied, ‘I love the contact. Knowing my son is health and happy helps me move on with my life.’

Reassured by Jen’s response, Robert and I discussed the possibility of opening the adoption further, to include visits with Jen. ‘What are we afraid of?’ we asked each other. ‘Jen’s the nicest person in the world. In fact, it feels like she is one of our closest friends.’

The three of us agreed to meet for dinner at a restaurant near Jen’s office. During dinner, when Robert and I asked if she wanted to see her son, she stared thoughtfully at us for several seconds before replying softly, ‘I’m not sure.’

Jen shared her fantasy in which Ben, at age eighteen, would run toward her in slow motion through a field of daisies, arms outstretched, the orchestral version of ‘Born Free’ swelling in the background. He’d announce, ‘Hi, I’m your son,’ and they’d embrace.

Jen admitted she hadn’t begun to process the possibility of seeing Ben when he was only two years old.

A few weeks after our dinner with Jen, our family visited Robert’s parents, who live in the city where Jen worked. My goal was to can dill pickles with my mother-in-law and sisters-in-law. Robert and I planned to meet Jen at her office at five o’clock and dine with her at a local restaurant.

The pickling process took longer than expected, and suddenly it was time to meet Jen. My husband was nowhere to be found, so I enlisted my sister-in-law’s help. We buckled Ben into his car seat, jumped in the car, and drove to Jen’s workplace.

Leaving Ben in the car with my sister-in-law, I zipped into Jen’s office, where I explained the pickle dilemma. Then I casually added, ‘By the way, Ben’s out in the car. Would you like to see him?’

Jen’s olive skin turned grey. She heaved a few deep breaths and stammered, ‘Yes, I think I’m ready to see him.’

Forgetting we were supposed to be running in slow motion through a field of daisies, Jen and I hurried to the parking lot. With a flourish, I yanked open the back door. There were no orchestral crescendos, only the sound of the radio blaring the traffic report. Ben, still strapped in his car seat, looked up and chirped, ‘Hi!’ while Jen hyperventilated.

‘This is so weird,’ she gasped. ‘Here he is! He’s right here!’

Then I said something I’ve never regretted. ‘Would you like to come to my in-laws’ house and have dinner there instead of at a restaurant? I’ll warn you, there are a bunch of us. We’re canning pickles and the kitchen’s a wreck, but we’ll be having a picnic in the backyard.’

Jen took another deep breath and said, ‘Yes, I’ll come.’

Minutes later, we pulled into my in-laws’ driveway and climbed out of the car, observing the typical family drama of screaming cousins chasing each other all over the yard. As the adults became aware of Jen’s presence, they drifted over to meet her. That day, Jen was welcomed – not just as an acquaintance or as the birth mother of our son – but as a family member. She’s been with us ever since.”