Capacity

Alissa column topper

There was a time when I thought that every first parent wanted an open adoption (or would, if fully informed) and that every adoptive parent should be able to maintain one. This opinion was based in the bias that, unless the health of the child was somehow at stake, an open adoption was best for the child and so as parents all the other members of the triad should be able to put the child first. I felt very passionately about this right up until our perfect match with the perfect expectant mom fell through.

My husband and I were chosen by Y in the final weeks of her pregnancy to be the adoptive parents in her adoption plan. We spoke on the phone frequently in the days before her child was born, and everything seemed to click. She wanted what I wanted–an open relationship with lots of contact, pictures, visits, the whole nine yards. Her situation was sort of dire: she was already parenting three young children without much support. Of course adoption was the best choice for her. After the heartrending (for all three of us!) experience of Y choosing instead to parent, I thought again about what I had written down on my list of ideal attributes for a first family of my future child. I supported Y’s choice to parent–both ethically/intellectually and on a more primal level. After meeting her and seeing her hold her baby I had a hard time imagining a different outcome.

As I processed our experience with Y I developed a nagging suspicion that all the elements that made Y seem so ideal in terms of future openness in the weeks before the baby’s birth were also indicative of her ultimate desire and capacity to parent. The things that would have supported her in an open adoption relationship–ability to connect, emotional maturity, sincere deep care for her children, an openness toward others that could have become a deep friendship–were part and parcel with what made her a great mother.

And so I came to revise what I was “looking for” in a match. Adoption happens in the midst of insane circumstances, every time. Not every first parent comes out of those insane circumstances with the capacity to maintain her or his side of an open adoption relationship, and that’s more than okay. And there are some adoption situations that need to be closed. But I came to the conclusion that in the adoption triad responsibility for openness or at least maintaining the capacity for openness regardless of personal stuff rests with the adoptive parent or parents.

I think our failed match with Y was in many ways my first step toward real openness as an adoptive parent. After her brave choice to parent despite our disappointment and a lack of economic resources I threw out the expectations I had been bringing to an adoptive relationship with a first family. I realized that openness began with respecting my child’s first family by not second guessing them, projecting resentment or disappointment onto them, or fantasizing about what could have been if they were different people than they are. It involved letting go of my desire to be approved of and reassured and instead work on personal honesty and an ethic of responsibility and care toward our child’s first mother. This included, eventually, supporting the choices Z made not to meet me, not to see J, and not to have more than a semi-open adoption. I am able to understand how she may just not have the capacity for it, and that is okay.

I still think that openness is the best thing for a child. My children were never going to get it, not the way I had once imagined, no matter who adopted them. So I work on creating space for openness in this way I now imagine instead–openness of conversation about who they are and where they come from, openness of knowledge about what I do and do not know about their first family, and openness of possibility–that if capacity for contact develops we’ll all be as ready as we can be.

About the author:
Alissa is a grad student, future episcopal priest, adoptive mama, working wife, and co-homemaker. She blogs about adoption, race, parenting, theology, urban life and whatever else crosses her mind at www.notavisitor.com.

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One thought on “Capacity

  1. This is very insightful, what openness really means: “It involved letting go of my desire to be approved of and reassured and instead work on personal honesty and an ethic of responsibility and care toward our child’s first mother. This included, eventually, supporting the choices Z made not to meet me, not to see J, and not to have more than a semi-open adoption.”

    I have made the distinction between contact and openness. As you demonstrate, you can still parent J with openness, even with a lack of contact. http://lavenderluz.com/2013/01/open-adoption-grid.html

    I like how you talk about making space for openness.

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