When Openness Doesn’t Happen in Adoption

Here at Thompson Dove, we’ve been fortunate to witness many, many adoption situations advance beautifully and smoothly. One complicated aspect of adoption is that it brings together a handful of complete strangers – often in painful or vulnerable seasons of life – and asks them to commit to moving forward in a forever kind of way. Sometimes this pans out easily, but often each party’s expectations and hopes will be unmet throughout each season.

Today we’ve asked an adoptive mom we’ve worked with in the past to share their experience of hoping for openness in their daughter’s adoption and finding that her birth mother was not in the same place. We loved their creativity in finding a way to create connection on their side while still respecting each party’s needs process.

*names have been changed to honor each person’s story

“When we adopted Ayanna*, we assumed we would have a relationship with her birth mother.  We attended lots of trainings on adoption that emphasized the importance of open adoption.  When Ayanna was born, her birth mother held her and told her she loved her.  But Marie* was not ready to meet or have any contact with us, and shortly thereafter she stopped communicating with the law firm that handled our adoption.  I felt like I had been blessed with this little miracle baby and I was somehow failing her by not making and preserving a connection with her birth mother.  I was also worried about her birth mother.  Ayanna is our third child, our first through adoption.  My heart broke at the thought of her birth mother bringing a child into this world and then not knowing where she was, who was taking care of her, or how she was doing. 

It was important to me to do something to try to foster a connection with Marie.  I’m not entirely sure where I came up with the idea (and it may have been suggested to me by our TD Law Group social worker), but about every six months since Ayanna was born, I put together a photo album and send it to the law firm that handled our adoption.  It’s usually about six photos with some updates about Ayanna.  The first album was admittedly a few pages longer–pictures showing her smiling, sleeping, snuggling with brothers, looking pumped at baby music class.  Then later, updates on solid foods, crawling, and now, running, swimming, spraying older brothers with a garden hose.  I wrote a letter in the beginning of the first one letting her know how grateful we are to have Ayanna in our lives, how much we love Ayanna, and that we would love to have a relationship with her whenever she is ready.  Sometimes I include a brief note at the beginning, sometimes I just do pictures with comments.  For now, the albums sit in a folder at the law firm and will stay there until Marie responds to outreach from the law firm or initiates contact. I also order a copy of each one for Ayanna when she’s older. 

I realize that having a more open adoption will not be a cure-all for the feelings of grief and loss that come with adoption.  But my hope is that having contact with her birth mother will help Ayanna better understand her own story.  I hope the day comes when Ayanna’s birth mother is ready to connect, and we will be ready with years of books chronicling Ayanna’s life until that point.  Hopefully these books will help show Marie that we’ve always been thinking about her and will help make her feel more welcome in our lives.”  

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