How Our Adoption Opened Up
Yesterday over on Offbeat Mama, there was a great post on adoption demystifying a few misconceptions about adoption. Aside from the content of the post, I really appreciated that it was written from a mama who adopted both domestically and transracially. This is an unusual combination and a voice that you don’t often hear from in adoption circles.
When we were in the process of adopting Bella and Bubaloo nearly five years ago, I scoured the internet searching for blogs written by Canadian parents pursuing public domestic adoption. I was even more interested in the experiences of parents adopting older children. I found a total of one blog, which has since ceased publishing.
In the five years since I last looked for blogs by adoptive parents, the interwebs have grown, and yesterday the Offbeat Mama post led me to the author’s blog where I noticed a button on the sidebar which connected me to a huge blogroll of individuals writing about open adoption from all perspectives.
I had to pause for a moment.
When you adopt from the Children’s Aid (CAS) your adoption is technically a closed adoption. Children are removed from, or surrendered by, their birth parents and placed in foster care. To be available for adoption they must first be made crown wards, thus severing all rights of the birth parents to the children. The children are eventually matched with an adoptive family, move in with that family, and six months to a year later the adoption is finalized.
When any information on the children is passed on to prospective adoptive or adoptive parents, all references that could reveal the identities of the birth parents are blacked out. It will only be released when the child turns 18. The birth parents are given no information on the adopting parents. If information is exchanged at all, CAS functions as an intermediary where you drop off pictures and letters to be forward on.
This process of a closed adoption is somewhat moot for the adoptive family when you adopt older children.
Bella and Bubaloo were 11 and 9 when we became a forever family. Our kids had spent the better part of their lives living with their extended family, and upon occasion, their birth mother. They clearly knew her name, possessed knowledge about who she was as a person, and knew what she looked like. Heck, she even lived in the same city as us and when driving around they could point out the last apartment they shared together. In this sense we had a one-sided open adoption.
We knew a lot about their birth mother. She knew nothing about us. That is, until she found us.
At the time of adoption, in our newly formed household of four people, we had four different last names. We discussed the different naming options as a family, and our kids chose to add my last name to theirs. Their new last names became “birth family name” + “adoptive family name.” Keeping their birth family names was incredibly important to both them and to us.
We always honoured their histories and identities, and when we registered for a community fundraising event a year after they moved in with us, we used their new last names. This event had an online component, which we didn’t know at the time would get crawled by that giant search engine that starts with a ‘g’, and it was here that their birth mother found and reached out to us.
I would liken hearing from our kids’ birth mother to having an anvil dropped on your head. It was so unexpected, startling and jarring. It completely unsettled us. We didn’t know what she wanted or how having her be found would impact the kids and our fragile family that was forming.
After much discussion amongst ourselves, Wifey and I decided to speak with their birth mom, but not yet tell the kids. Their birth mom was their mom and there was nothing we could ever do to change that and the place she held in their hearts (one of Bubaloo’s conditions of our adopting him is that when he was 18 we’d help him find her). The kids had real concerns and questions for her. Bubaloo got sad and moody with every rainfall because he was concerned that his mom didn’t have housing and that she was freezing in a cardboard box somewhere. He wanted to know who his birth father was. Bella wanted to know which parts of herself came from her mom. We had so many questions about their history, both medical and social, and it would be a relief to get some clear answers.
And with that, our adoption transitioned from being closed to open.
Our initial agreement was that she could call whenever she wanted, but only to Wifey’s work number. She was not to call our house or show up at our home. We eventually told the kids when we thought they were ready that we had been in contact with her and emails were exchanged back and forth.
One mother’s day the kids wanted to speak with her and so we arranged a call. Eventually we connected on face.book, and when our kids joined face.book, they connected with her and other relatives. Bella connected with her birth father for the first time in her life, and for a period of time, she spoke with him bi-monthly on the phone.
Until yesterday, I never really thought of our adoption as being open. But upon reflection I realized that it is way more open than I ever thought possible. This has been good for our kids. Even though they have chosen not to maintain active relationships with their birth parents at this moment in time, to know that they’re out there, that they’re okay, and that they can be reached at any time has provided a comforting reassurance that has let them settle more comfortably into the life they’re currently leading.