Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Open Adoption Examiner Book Tour

Lori who writes for Open Adoption Examiner has organized another book tour.  This time we read Life Givers by James Gritter.  Life Givers examines the seemingly simple question "Who are birthparents" and goes on to explore the birthparent experience in open adoption. It was an excellent book and one that I will be recommending as a must-read for anyone touched by adoption.

The book tour offers us the chance to ask other readers questions on the book and then to go to their blogs to engage in discussions with them on their answers. So read on to see the 3 questions that I have answered and then follow the link at the end to find all the other participants.

Did reading Life Givers give you any insight into what your own birthparents may have gone through? How will this affect your relationship with them?

I read this book with my 2 different adoptive views –adoptive parent and adoptee - clashing around for attention. I didn’t have an open adoption with my birthparents, in fact I didn’t meet my birthmother until I was 30 and have never met anyone on my father’s side. And since reunion my mother and I have not had a very close relationship. Reading through Life Givers, my adoptee side had several moments of jealousy. I felt robbed of what I could have had – no secrets, no mysteries, no awkward reunion. But the flip side was that I also realized a lot of what Iris, my birthmother may have felt. The chapter “Circumstances of Necessity” really helped me to have a bit of insight into what must have seemed like an impossible decision for Iris. Unmarried and already a single mother in the late 1960’s, Iris saw no option but to place me for adoption. I’ve always had the benefit of looking back, but also looking back with different social awareness. Single motherhood was not something that was shunned by the time I was growing up. So it’s always been difficult for me to fully understand why she didn’t at least try. But reading Gritter’s definitions of “Convergence of Circumstances – Untimely pregnancies, awkward pregnancies and unsupported pregnancies made me stop and think about what Iris was truly faced with. And I think that this will affect my relationship with her. I can see her more as a woman in distress who made the best choice that she could rather than seeing her as someone who took the easy way out.

What are you taking away from your reading of Life Givers and applying to your own open adoption experience?

At the start of 2010 I made a list of my adoption resolutions for the year. One of my resolutions was to not push Liam’s Mom “K” into having more openness. But since reading Life Givers, especially the section on Reluctant Birthparents, I have realized that I am doing both her and Liam a disservice by just sitting back and not helping them to form a relationship with each other. So many statements from that chapter jumped out at me:

  • Our first responsibility is to honor the children
  • We must be very careful that, in helping birthparents get beyond feelings of discomfort and unworthiness, our efforts do not inadvertently generate new waves of despair
  • …we must at minimum provide her the opportunity to fully explain her disengagement in writing or better yet, on video tape.

And the statement that had the most impact for me and that I am taking away and embracing:

  •  …we cannot lightly give up on the prospect of birthparent involvement.
And that is what I felt I have done. Lightly given up. Because I felt that it was not my place to push “K” but more importantly because I did not want to cause “K” any more pain. But I need to realize that no matter what I do, “K” has to own her own grief and manage it herself. I would love to help her and support her through that, but we are not there right now. I have to be there for Liam. I am his champion in this and his needs (for me) need to come first. So my plan is to write to her and let her know why it is important for Liam that she be a part of his life. And while I can’t force her to come forward or be involved, I will keep the door WIDE open and a hand extended to welcome her whenever she is able.

How do adoptive parents best accomplish the possibly counterintuitive goals of 1) respecting the birthparents' right to define their role in the lives of their birthchildren (how often, in what way, the relationship is maintained) and 2) nurture the expectation that birthparents will maintain lifelong involvement?

This is such a tough question. It ties in with the previous question I answered about what I am taking away from my reading of Life Givers. One of the reasons that I have backed off on trying get “K” to be a part of our lives was out of respect for her, since it seemed that she was choosing to close the adoption by no longer replying to us. I worried about the pain that I was causing her, that my reaching out to her was too hard for her or that I was causing her additional discomfort or despair. But then I realized all the assumptions I was making. I am applying what I think my reactions would be if I were in her situation. I am not giving her the chance to explain or define what she wants her role to be. So I’m not respecting her choice as I don't know what her choice is.

Liam, even at 7, has an expectation that "K" will be part of his life - forever.  He hasn't asked the hard questions yet about why we don't visit or why we don't hear from her, but I'm sure they aren't far off.  He does frequently talk about wanting to meet his siblings and it does cause him some distress that he doesn't know them.  So for Liam sake I will try to balance respecting "K"'s choice while nurturing Liam's expectation that she be a part of his family.  I don't have the magic answer of how to balance that, but keeping doors open, being respectful and listening to everyone's needs are the important first steps that I'm going to take.

To continue to the next leg of this book tour, please visit the main list at The Open Adoption Examiner.


Lori Lavender Luz said...

This is such an astute observation for so many interpersonal issues: "But then I realized all the assumptions I was making. I am applying what I think my reactions would be if I were in her situation."

I love getting your dual insight into the birth parent role. I hope, too, that K responds affirmatively to your wide open door, for Liam's sake and for her own.

Also, I'm glad that reading this book offered you something regarding Iris. :-)

Anonymous said...

Andy, this is really beautiful and gives me a lot to think about. Thanks.

Tonya said...

I also am doing a lot of thinking about the role of my children's birthmother and her reluctance at involvement. We send letters and pictures several times a year, and I've several times encouraged additional contact, but so far she has not taken us up on that. At the same time I am reading and thinking about this book, my daughter has begun to ask lots of questions about her birthfamily and expressing lots of desire for some contact. I think reading this book has made me more willing to push a little for some involvement from her birthmom -- like you've, I've held back trying to respect her decision and not wanting to "hurt" her birthmom -- I suspect I, too, have been making assumptions based on how I might react in her situation.

luna said...

like lori, I also really value your dual perspective.

that last question is a really hard one, as you said. how tough to find the balance between respecting liam's birth mom's wishes, when you don't even know what they are, and being a champion for liam's interests.

our OA counselor has a saying about "banging the door down" with reluctant birthparents (not necessarily applicable in cases of abuse, etc). it's not literal, of course, and it sounds so aggressive, but really it's just about being an advocate for your child, I think, and not giving up lightly.

I love how reading the book gave yo insight into iris's situation at the time.

Maru said...

Excellent, excellent post! I also love your dual insight.

"So my plan is to write to her and let her know why it is important for Liam that she be a part of his life. And while I can’t force her to come forward or be involved, I will keep the door WIDE open and a hand extended to welcome her whenever she is able."

That is also my plan. However, I must ask... How do you put that in a letter?? How do you convey how important it is for her to be involved, that the ball is in her court, that you'll welcome her whenever she is ready?? I just don't know where to start... We have only met our daughter's birthparents once. We write, but they never answer our letters. I don't really know them. I only have a single meeting as a frame of reference. I know I can't control their reaction, but I don't want to scare them away...

Jen Sanders said...

Andy, if you would like to know more about what makes Iris tick, please read "The Girls Who Went Away" by Ann Fessler.

I suspect you will also take away from that book an understanding of some feelings that "K" has; what mothers feel isn't relegated to one era or another. The pain of an open adoption truly may be more than she can bear.

Losing a child to adoption is life-long and gets harder with time, not easier.

Anonymous said...

Very, very insightful. As a birth mother, I have the opposite perspective. I am in an open adoption and I love my daughter to the sun and back. I try to be as involved as possible without becoming bothersome to the adoptive parents. It has only been a year, but I do think about her everyday. I'd say it is particularly hard when I see pregnant women or families. I'm not sure if it will get harder throughout the years, but I intend on staying in contact with her...even if it is painful for me.
Thanks to your post, I now know that adoptive families do think and consider birth parents. I see that your role is also not easy. I thank you for putting effort and consideration into your son's open adoption. He will greatly appreciate you for that when he is older.