What Makes An Open Adoption Expert?

Kat column topper

20130505-224156.jpgThis month there have been and will continue to be introductions by some new Open Adoption Bloggers contributors and it got me thinking.

I’ve been living in an open adoption for over twelve years. Adoption has been a research focus of mine for almost as long.  I’ve written about adoption and been part of the online adoption community for almost a decade.  I’ve lobbied and testified for open adoption records. I’ve attended and presented at adoption conferences and worked as a social worker at an adoption agency where I co-facilitated the pre-adoptive training on openness. And yet, I don’t consider myself an open adoption expert.

How could I be? I am living one very specific open adoption. One very specific adoption that changes so much, so often.  One very specific adoption that is unrecognizable from what it was ten  or even five years ago. I’ve worked with and witnessed such a small number of adoptions. Whenever I have a question I turn to those I know who are also living it, researching it, and or working with it, but I never search for a specific “expert”.  How can anyone ever consider themselves an expert on open adoption (or adoption in general)? How can anyone ever trust the knowledge base of someone who deems themselves an expert in adoption?

Maybe there are some true experts out there, but perhaps it’s best to dismiss the title of expert all together.  We are all just living our own open adoptions, witnessing each other’s adoptions, and sharing the knowledge we’re acquiring with each other as we go. And maybe that’s better than having one or two experts.  Getting so many perspectives and then using your own expertise on your own life to decide how or if something can apply to you. Not getting hung up on “doing it right,” but focusing on doing it right for your own situation.

The many varying experiences is one reason I love the open adoption community, the open adoption bloggers blogroll, and of course all the bloggers who will be posting here on OAB!

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe there is a set of characteristics that make up a definitive open adoption expert. What say you?

About the author:
Kat Cooley, MSW writes here at Open Adoption Bloggers twice a month. She previously worked as a social worker providing comprehensive all options counseling to those experiencing unplanned pregnancy and is now pursuing a PhD in Social Work with a focus on adoption related research. She is also a birth mom over a decade into an open adoption. She is always open to suggestions for topics; you can leave them in the comments, at the OAB Facebook page, or tweet her @KMCooleyMSW.

Image credit: digitalart @ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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11 thoughts on “What Makes An Open Adoption Expert?

  1. I totally agree with you! I don’t think there are open adoption experts, at all. I love the quote, “If you know one adoption, you know one adoption.” I think Joyce Maguire Pavao said that.

  2. As a pre-adoptive parent who has just waded through a stack of books by “experts,” some of whom are “founders” in open adoption in the U.S., I agree with you. When I’ve disagreed with the experts on aspects of certain big issues, many of which they backed up by the stories of adopted people raised in the 1970s, I’ve wondered what the experts are up to these days – why is all the required reading so dated?

    Reading aside, I’ve learned much more from talking to people online or face to face, hardly any of whom have any adoption-related credentials, other than that they are some part of the adoption triad. Glad to hear someone else echo my thoughts about the experts!

    • Dated is sometimes putting it nicely. As i progress through semester one of the doctoral program I often have to stop reading and look at the date something was published as I explore the adoption literature…most of what I’m finding is older than I am! A couple things: even the “founders” can’t possibly know every adoption and don’t know you so some of their recommendations will work for you some won’t. For more up to date information try articles instead of books especially from The Donaldson Adoption Institute and anything that references the MTARP (Minnesota Texas Adoption Research Project) Data some of which is “dated” since it’s a longitudinal study that started in the 80s, but it’s still going on today so some of the data is super recent.

  3. Great post Kat. Love that quote Robyn! So true HOWEVER … there are people such as yourself Kat who delve a little deeper into adoption as a whole and quite possibly even your own adoption.

    People are ALWAYS asking me adoption questions, and I suddenly don’t want to answer – I don’t feel like telling anyone something that isn’t fact. Here’s a fact: You are not biologically related to your child and never will be. Fact: You didn’t give birth to your child… The rest of the FACTS – level of openess, relations, connections, feelings will differ widely based on a myriad od factors. Oh my God, I sound like I think I’m an expert. Stop me!

    • I dont want to be responsible for you no longer answering questions! I can’t take that kind of guilt! I myself have taken to preface my answers with “every situation is different, but I (or we) …” Even if you and I or anyone else aren’t experts we can still share our story/experiences and perhaps other will find something useful in it

  4. Nicely put, Kate. But hey, what do I know? I’m no expert. To say that you’re an expert in adoption is like saying you’re an expert in life. It’s a flattering way to think of yourself, but something that eludes (and deludes) us all.

  5. To me an ‘expert’ is just someone who knows more than I do about something that I may just be beginning to learn. I consider myself somewhat of and expert at advocating for other birthmoms like myself, but I’m still at a loss as to how to relate to adult adopted persons, and especially social workers.This lack of understanding what it’s like to be ‘not me’ is usually where my greatest lack in knowledge is.
    I feel like everything is an expert at their own experience and should share what they have learned through trail and error to lend wisdom to the whole open adoption community. I too try very hard to learn all I can but often what I learn has either a negative impact on my own situation (learning that other open adoptions are more open and longing for that kind of relationship) or only a vaguely positive effect(being overwhelmingly grateful for the open adoption I have experienced but feeling like I shouldn’t have to be so ‘grateful’). I often love to learn about a new things that become a part of my life for a little while(often just the first couple years or so) and then my interest wanes and it rarely seems important to learn more but I still try because I feel guilty. I *should* be an expert by now is what I tel myself

    • Everyone is absolutely an expert on themselves and their own experiences and others can definitely learn from hearing about those experiences. The problems start when people view that personal expertise as universal expertise and either feel they should replicate exactly what the “expert” is saying/doing/living or the reverse the “expert” tries to get others to do exactly what they say/do/live.

      The social worker in me also needs to say “Stop should-ing all over yourself” 🙂

  6. I second that, Kat! It’s definitely tough to believe that one person could be a complete expert on open adoption. Experiences vary and each person can speak for themselves.

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