Thursday, May 9, 2013

The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption: A Book Review

It's back!

When I first started blogging, one of the things I looked forward to the most was the next round of the Barren Bitches Book Brigade. Hosted by Mel at Stirrup Queens, the book brigade would read books relevant to the adoption/loss/infertility community, pose questions to each other related to the text and our own experiences....basically, function as a virtual book club, minus the cookies and wine and dysfunction that sometimes come with real life book clubs, at least mine.

And here it is again. The 23rd tour of the Book Brigade. Welcome.

It may have even been through one of those discussions that I got to know Lori Holden, the author of
The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption: Helping Your Child Grow Up Whole the book featured here today.  Lori blogs at Lavender Luz, and is a dedicated advocate for open adoption and adoptee rights. She's also, quite simply, a cool ass lady that I've had the pleasure of getting to know and the honor to meet. And she has done the very hard work of turning a concept into a hard-covered reality.

The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption is an easy read. It doesn't mean its easy to read, especially if you are struggling right now with the very questions that Lori puts front and center. How does an open adoption work? How might an open adoption work for me? Where is my place here? Where do I fit? How do I know if I'm doing it right?

Because there aren't any magic answers, no secrets that Lori reveals.

But she does present a comprehensive guide. Peppered by her own experiences and those of the birth mother of her daughter, with lists of pros and cons (a lady after my own heart), with points to consider and pitfalls to avoid. I've already heard several friends on the internet exclaim, "wow. I wish this was around when I started my own journey...."

While I'm not on a journey toward open adoption, not at the moment anyway, this book hits home for me in a number of ways. As:
  • An adult adoptee from a closed adoption, reunited with one of my birth parents,
  • A grieving mother to twin girls I carried and who we're born premature, and
  • A brand new Mother through an open gestational surrogacy using anonymous donor eggs
I tried to read Lori's book with all of those hats on. Some were easier to wear than others. Here are the questions I'll try to tackle:

Lori refers to the relationship between adoptive parents and birthparents as similar to an in-law relationship. Does thinking about the relationship as an in-law relationship influence how you approach open adoption?

Yes! In fact, it makes something abstract and perhaps a little daunting feel far more concrete for me. I had never made the connection between a relationship with in-laws and ones through adoption before.

This was just one of the many "ah ha!" moments that I had reading Open Hearted. Every one of Crystal's sections gave me a perspective I never realized before. And I also had never heard of the idea of an "as if" family (in closed adoption, attempting to match a child as closely as possible to his/her adopted family so that one could easily assume he/she had a biological connection) even though that clearly happened with me.

Lori often stresses the importance of exploring difficult emotions. Describe a time when you have been forced to explore difficult emotions related to adoption and the outcome of this exploration.

As I mention in a previous post,
Issues around identity, origin, connectedness – I think about this shit nonstop, as I am sure many, many people who have built families through nontraditional means do. I believe there is a balance between recognizing and honoring origins and finding a space of love and acceptance in a family that is not genetically yours. These things can co-exist. I believe this. I HAVE to believe this.
Now that little D is here, M and I constantly think about how to best share his origins with him (see the following question). Of course, my own adoption experiences shade my thinking. Difficult emotions for me relate to things I have discovered on my own, assumptions I made (sometimes wrongly), how I reacted towards my parents (both adopted AND first) based on those discoveries and assumptions, and coming to terms with all of that now that I am a parent myself. Gah! I was a dick. But I wasn't the only one.

I honestly think my dad never (ever) explored his own complicated emotions around adoption. If he had, he never would have said things like, "my father had 7 kids; I never had any...." in front of me and my (also adopted) brother.  I don't really know where to go with that thought other than, my gosh, it is so vital to reach into the deepest parts of your mind, pull out those thoughts and work them through before a child enters the picture. I really like how Lori emphases the option of counseling throughout the process, especially for the adopting parents to help them work through grief that may be lingering after years of infertility and possibly loss. I feel this was a step that got skipped back in the day.

Since the question asks about a specific time, I'll point to the drive home after meeting my birth father for the first time. Wow. What a range of emotions. My first thoughts weren't about him, they were on these two new amazing women in my life - my birth aunt and birth grandmother. Two women who now are among D's biggest fans. I had to stay focused on the positive because I was so utterly disappointed in the person who was the biological connector. Because he was so like my dad dad (see "as if" adoptions), so unlike the origin myth I had created with the little info I had. So, so, meh.

Worse than meh, this was a stranger acting pretty territorial about me. Me! Dear readers, I ask you, how do you think that went down?

Even before the meeting, I knew there was truth in my birth mother (now a counselor)'s words. Words she used to explain to the agency why she chose NOT to reunite with me: "these meetings are never what either person wants them to be." But I still needed to try. After the twins died, I needed to find this biological connection. I needed to grow one piece of my family to ease the pain of the other piece I had lost.

So, what was the outcome of my exploration? I had to remember that I asked for the reunion. I sought him out. Not the other way around. And he is not to blame for not being the person my imagination wanted him to be. He had to realize I was not going to jump into his arms and be the daughter he always wanted. Expectations needed to be managed for both of us. These are realizations that might have been a little easier to come to if there hadn't been a 30+ year gap between having me and getting to know me.

In the beginning of the book, Holden talks about who this books is for. She states that it includes people pursuing donor eggs, embryos, and sperm. If you know there is no way for you or your child to ever contact the donor in the future, how would you apply the concepts of open adoption to a closed situation such as this? 

This is a question I actually posed to Lori after her Huffington Post piece about donor sperm because I was wondering the same thing.

In our situation, we have an open and amazing relationship with our gestational surrogate. Connecting D with the woman who held him in her womb for us will be easy. Biological questions around the woman who anonymously gave her eggs to us to use won't be nearly as clear cut. I mean, we have the basics on paper, but sometimes, like the little girl says in the commercial, you want MORE; you want more, you just want it.

And we don't have more. 

So, I'll share with you what Lori said to me: "It is more about parenting with an open heart than about having actual info and contact." She repeats this concept  - honoring both the biography and the biology of a child - in Open Hearted a lot. It's important. It's something I've been thinking about since the beginning of our journey:
I think about beginning a process. Recently, my brother asked if I was at least going to go in search of my medical records in case we would need then for the seedlings, forgetting that their origins are also a bit unknown. To be honest, I did too for a moment.

What can I do to ease this longing? Will the seedlings have these same feelings? If they do, I will need to remember that this particular kind of curiosity and longing does not go hand in hand with rejecting the life, or family, or love that you have. It really does coexist.

And I have to remember that in the end, Gonzo doesn't run into the spaceship, into the open arms of people who share his nose, his personality, his love of cannons, people just like him. He opts to stay right where he is.
My life is here. This is my home.

Please return to the main post to read more opinions on Lori Holden's The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption. There are tons of great bloggers answering some very thoughtful questions. I'm looking forward to carving some time out today to see what everyone else has to say, and adding a bit more to my own answers here. 


Anne said...

I never made the connection either for using the term "in-law". As an adult adoptee in reunion with both of my birth-parents I've often felt like they were more like relatives to me rather than parents. My birth mother felt more like that dear old Aunt you love to visit with!

m said...

Anna, yes! I so get that! For me, my birth aunt is very much like an auntie I love to visit with, or one of my husband's - this new person that gets to be in my family constellation. My birth father...more like the uncle you kind of avoid at family functions? Seriously, lovely guy, but no one I relate to beyond holiday notes and occasional phone calls.

Kathy said...

Great post! I love what you shared about reading Lori's book from the various perspectives you bring from the many related hats you wear.

I also really appreciate this and how Lori reiterated it throughout her book,

"It is more about parenting with an open heart than about having actual info and contact." She repeats this concept - honoring both the biography and the biology of a child - in Open Hearted a lot. It's important. It's something I've been thinking about since the beginning of our journey."

My sister and brother-in-law have two adopted children. Both started out as open adoptions, but they have not been able to be in contact with their older child's first/birth mother in awhile, not for lack of trying. I wondered before reading this book how adoptive parents can approach what is supposed to be an open adoption, when the first/birth parents are not in place in their lives where they can handle such a relationship. As you say, The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption tackles this question and so many others in just that, an open -hearted way.

I appreciate realizing through Lori's book that openness isn't limited to having a face to face relationship with first/birth parents or donors. There are many other ways to be open with our children (including adopted, biological and/or by other means) and Lori does a wonderful job of outlining various approaches and more than anything attitudes that help the process.

Liz said...

I'm new to your blog (here via the book tour) and so glad to find you. First, congrats on your baby boy! Hooray hooray!

Re: the "as if" family: I actually just had a stranger in the grocery store say this to me the other day. She was taken, as many people are, with our gorgeous, charismatic baby girl. She cooed at my daughter and chatted me up while we waited in an interminable line. Then she asked me if our daughter was "planned" and I (why WHY do I do this?) told her we'd adopted. She looked SHOCKED. She looked at my daughter, looked at me, looked at my daughter, looked at me, then "reassured" me: "well, you'd NEVER know. But I guess they do that right? They try to match you."

I'd never thought of the word MATCH in that context before. I think of match in terms of emotional compatibility and shared values, not like socks or paint chips. I said nothing and after a pause she was back to oohing and ahhing. Then my "be a good adoption ambassador" kicked in and I talked HER ear off about open adoption and how we were chosen and have weekly contact, and right about then THANK GOD the line moved. So there you go.

Re: difficult emotions. I answered this question, too, but I like your answer better. ;) It is so helpful for me to read your story. My daughter's birth dad so far hasn't chosen to be in relationship with us, and I wonder how that will affect her.

Your thoughts about managing expectations are so right on. That's such a grown-up way of looking at it. I'm not sure how I'll help my daughter with this, but fortunately I'm not alone. My daughter's moms and I have talked a lot about how we'll help her connect with that part of her identity and history as she grows up.

Finally, just a note of writerly admiration. I adore "seedling." :)

Lollipop Goldstein said...

I do love that attitude to openness being in the mind of the person rather than the hands of someone else who can give or deny a relationship. I think it's empowering.

Lollipop Goldstein said...

I do love that attitude to openness being in the mind of the person rather than the hands of someone else who can give or deny a relationship. I think it's empowering.

tireegal68 said...

Thus post is amazing in a way many book reviews are usually not. It's personal. It comes from your heart and your experience. Thank you! I think I need to go read the book now! So glad you have two wonderful birth family matriarchs in your life now:)

luna said...

wow, there is so much here. where to begin? ok, first, you were not a dick. you had no choice in the matter. you were just a kid, a person who was adopted and left to deal with the ramifications on your own. I also love your discussion about expectations in reunion.

equally interesting is your approach now as a new mama to little D. and lori's advice is wise. I like mel's comment above about empowering yourself to develop that mindset, which may be all you can control.

wonderful contribution!

Lori Lavender Luz said...

Youch: ""my father had 7 kids; I never had any...."

I am so impressed that you did this with one hand and while sleep-deprived :-)And I agree with TireeGal's assessment of it. Your thoughts on the pitfalls of search and reunion highlight for me how much of a difference openness can make.

This cool ass lady is thankful to you cool ass lady. (Oh, and if you get a chance, would you take a moment to excerpt an Amazon review from this?).

Alicia said...

Wow, just wow. So much in this post, I don't even really know where to start.

Counselling - yes, totally a must. It's so fundamental that all parties in an open adoption come to the table clean of any lingering dirt. It's so not ok for these little people who are sponging up everything their role models (i.e. parents) are leeching out.

Your adoptive dad - I wish he hadn't said this to you. This makes my heart hurt for you and your brother. I don't know what your relationship turned out like with your dad, but I can imagine a part of you needs some resolution about how this would have made you feel.

Your birth father - I can relate. Although I knew my biological father, my parents had an inamicable divorce in the 80s, which meant court-ordered 2 weeks visits once a year. This resulted in a strained adult relationship, one that I really had to shape and mold so that it sat comfortably with me. And it was really a kick in the gut to realize that my "as if" relationship with him *may* not have been so different than my actual one.

Anyway, I love this post and love reading your blog!

I hope little D is growing like crazy and that you're finding time to snooze! :)

Em said...

What a cool thing to be involved in! I have seen this book popping up all over the place, but I didn't know that it was a book club thing. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

loribeth said...

Your review makes me want to read Lori's book even more (I've ordered it, but too late to participate). :p I read a book about ARTs, forget the title but it was by Liza Mundy, that also pointed out the parallels between adoption & donor gametes. I had never thought of it that way before, but it makes complete sense when you think about it.