Let’s Be Open About It
April 1 2011
Domestic Infant Adoption
Let’s Be Open About It
FDENG 201April 1 2011
Source: Adoption U.S.A. (2009). Washington, D.C.
After participating in a series of emails and phone conversations with my sister, I am a changed man. My sister Tamra, who gave up her son for adoption fifteen years ago, has recently been presented with an unexpected inner struggle. Five years after her son Justin was born, all correspondence (regulated by the adoption agency) with his family was dropped as the agency policies stated. Years later, Tamra discovered that she had been misinformed and the policy had been changed a year before the adoption took place. Though she had been grateful for the first few years that she could celebrate with the adoptive family, she became distraught. She felt as though an important relationship had been stolen from her.
So what is Tamra’s struggle? She didn’t know where to go from there. After years of searching and practically giving up she recently found the family’s information with the help of friends. All of the sudden she could see pictures of her son as well as the person he is becoming. I have to admit, I was kind of afraid for her and Justin.
Previous to the research I have done, I thought that open adoptions were dangerous. I thought of all the things that could go wrong with such a relationship. However, I was the one who was wrong. That is great and exciting news for her. However, because the adoption did not begin open, Tamra now faces fear, worry, and a difficult decision. She is still building the courage to contact the family. It could be exactly what Justin needs at this time. He can have questions answered and have love reassured. “But I don’t know,” Tamra said, “I’m a stranger to him and it might very well be disruptive.” Now, if he doesn’t respond positively, she has something to lose. “Now I am incredibly vulnerable and EVERYTHING is mystery.” She feels that if the adoption had been open from the start, there would be nothing to fear (Tamra Hyde, Personal Communication, March 30, 2011).
Adoption is a blessing no matter which way you go about it. Though closed adoptions have worked for many people and are not necessarily bad, the choice is merely one between good, better, and best. To my surprise, after these discussions with Tamra, I am confident that open adoption is generally the best choice for all people involved.Source: Adoption U.S.A. (2009). Washington, D.C.
To be clear and specific, only domestic infant adoption –the adoption of a child from within the United States at the time of their birth– will be addressed. Within this category there are essentially two types of adoption: open and closed. An open adoption involves “the sharing of information and/or contact between the adoptive and biological parents of an adopted child” (Adoption Media, What is). There can be many different ways to handle open adoptions. It can be strictly confidential or fully disclosed. In a closed adoption, “the adopting parents and the placing parents never meet and know nothing or very little about one another” (Adoption Media, Closed).
Historically, the birthmother did not choose to which family the child might go. The agency would select who they thought was best and they would set and regulate the terms by which they could connect. Unbelievably, Tamra’s adoption in 1996 (in which she did chose the family) was as open as it got. Today, open adoption has fully expanded and has blessed many more families and individuals.
Open adoption has become so popular in part because many birthmothers demand it. Whereas closed adoption is debatably thought of as a good solution for the child and adoptive family, it has proven to be a huge struggle for the birthparents. As adoptive families are educated and exposed to open adoptions, they begin to realize the blessings as well. At first, adoptive parents can tend to fear the idea of open adoption and sometimes even the birthmother. During what Tamra labels the “dark ages” of adoption, adoptive families were taught to fear birthmothers. The adoptive parents were made out to look like heroes that rescued the poor child from a “faceless villain who gets what they deserve” (Hyde, 2011).
Tamra has become a voice for adoption through her dedicated involvement with LDS Family Services and other organizations. Her countless interactions with other birthmothers, adoptive families and adoptees coupled with her dedicated and constant study of adoptive matters, she has become an expert on the subject. She feels that education and, most importantly, exposure will change the misconceptions of the adoptive family and change their hearts. Tamra admits that she too was nervous when she saw her first fully open adoption unfold back in 2002. However she has fully accepted it as she has seen it work time after time. As adoptive parents have opened themselves to interact with the birthmother, she becomes “humanized” to them. “They see that they are conscientious, brave, and selfless women . . . not drug addicted, selfish, psychologically unstable women who couldn't be bothered to raise a child.” Though some fear that a relationship with the birthmother would threaten their role as parents, there is no need to fear. She has already proven her unselfishness. She has already proven that she wants what is best for the child. Tamra proclaims, “Show me a birthmom and I want to be friends with her” (Hyde, 2011). Any adoptive family would be wise to do the same.
The negative view one may have of the birthmother does not affect just her, but it affects the child. No child wants to hear that they were unwanted, unloved, and abandoned or that their relationship to their family is second rate. Can a well-educated and prepared adoptive family overcome these struggles without an open adoption? Yes and no. Education can only go so far. Here, psychiatrists state struggles that closed adoption cannot fully compensate for:
Many adoptees have felt the "disquieting loneliness" that Roots author Haley described. Not knowing their heritage or why they were placed for adoption left many with devastating feelings of rejection . . . "Adoptees can feel frustrated at their inability to connect with their roots," says Marshall Schecter, a psychiatrist at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. "Some have trouble forming an identity when they reach adolescence. Others may develop fantasies—both positive and negative—about their birth family. Some adoptees spend a lifetime never finding answers to their questions…" According to adoption scholar David Brodzinsky of Rutgers University, "For adoptees, part of them is hurt at having once been relinquished… That part remains vulnerable for the rest of their lives as they grieve at various predictable points for the unknown parents who gave them away." (Hochman & Huston, 1994)
In an open situation, the child will not feel abandoned or lonely but will feel a sense of belonging. They will feel special and loved because the birthmother is available to show it and tell it to them personally. Karen Dunkley, an adoptive mom said, “We are extremely open with our adoption and it has made Natalie comfortable with the situation. If she has questions we answer them. Sometimes she has asked her birth mother questions” (Karen Dunkley, personal communication, March 30, 2011).
A new child should be something that is celebrated (if not more than usual) no matter how they entered that family. They should know they are special because they have a birthmother that loves them just as much as their adoptive mother. Karen continues, “I believe that a birth mother when giving up a child for adoption is showing great love and unselfishness. I believe she deserves to have a place in that child’s life… I want [my child] to know that she was loved not given away” (Dunkley, 2011).
Another reason why someone might want a closed adoption is because it would help the birthmother “get over” it. Again, this is only partly true. Tamra explains:
I have progressed. I've had healing. My priorities and focuses have evolved. Where, in the beginning, I thought of little else, my world is now full of other interests and pursuits. While this isn't my whole identity, it's still a big chunk. And that's ok. It’s awesome in fact. I will think about Justin and his family everyday of my life. And it brings me joy, not pain. For nine months we shared our food, water, blood, and oxygen! He is flesh of my own flesh! Bone of my bone! I will NEVER be "over it". And I don't wanna [sic] be. I will never put them away in a box in the closet. This story is my FAVORITE story! About my favorite people! It will bless me all my days! (Hyde, 2009)For Tamra and many birthmothers like her, there is no reason or desire to “get over it.” This experience is positively life-altering for them. People might not think about what birthmothers have gone through. When speaking of adoption, the most popular phrase seems to be, “Do what’s best for the child.” Open adoption shows that it is possible that the best can be done for the child, adoptive family, and the birthmother. Some forget that these birthmothers are just as human as the child. Even if open adoption was merely only as good as closed adoption, to choose closed would only be to deny the birthmother’s opportunity for a richer life.
One caution that is given often by people involved on any side of adoption is that each case must be individualized according to specific circumstances. There are so many options with open adoption that each person is bound to find something that will work best for everyone. Sure, there are few but very legitimate reasons to keep an adoption closed, but those should only be the exception.
The greatest source of peace, comfort, and direction for Tamra and many others she has worked with is God. Through His direction, she has found the right family to place her child with and she feels that her finding Justin again is a work of God. She also told a story of a seven-year-old boy praying to hear from his birthmother who refused to have any contact. Without her knowing why, she suddenly felt it was time to reconnect with her son. His prayer was answered. From a religious perspective Tamra stated, “Love is an unlimited, renewable resource. There is enough to go around and we are ALL family anyway. Justin wasn't mine, he isn't theirs, and I am not my own. If we esteem every man as a brother and we are our brother's keeper, we are ready for open adoption” (Hyde, 2011). Looking at it this way, a parent must always recognize that they are merely stewards over one of God’s children. All feelings of entitlement must be gone to have a functional adoption.Furthermore, each adoption must be considered on a case-by-case basis. This applies to anyone whether they are religious or not. Each child, by nature, is a different individual with different needs. The myth that adopted children will resent or reject their adoptive parents if they know their birthparents is a false and highly misrepresented argument. That argument really has more to do with personality and how one is raised than it has to do with the difference between open, closed, adopted, or biological.
There are still reasonable boundaries that must be set for an open adoption to work the best it can. Open adoptions will and do fail where there is pride, resentment, and lack of consideration and communication. Any relationships would struggle under those circumstances. Communication and humility flow freely through open adoptions done correctly. Birthmothers do not become some odd, strange, second-mom thing; they become another extended family member who loves the child as any family member does.
It always seemed normal to Danny Bueller, a 24-year-old student in Vancouver. "I have more people in my life who love me than most people do. I don’t see how that can be a bad thing," Danny said. His adoptive mom and birthmother are best friends. Though that isn’t the norm and “less than 10 percent of families in open adoption become friends, or even meet in person frequently . . . they don’t need to, to forge a connection that will bring lasting benefits to the child” (Meltz, 2011).When making the choice between open and closed adoption, the most important thing is love. Tamra wants Justin to know why she gave him up, that she “loved him literally more than her own life, that she wanted him but put her own heart on the alter for the life he could have” (Hyde, 2011). Jen, an adoptive parent of six, explains how hard it is to make sure your adopted child knows that he or she is loved. Things need to be sacrificed to do what is best for your child.
Why do I believe in open contact even when families are dysfunctional, addicted or even actively participating in criminal acts? Because I believe it's best for my kids. I took my son to meet his biological father in a Federal Prison. Was that easy? Of course not. It was scary and overwhelming and slightly nauseating, and that was just for ME, I cannot fathom what he was feeling, but it was still totally the right thing to do. Why? Because my son wanted to. Because it's his truth and his reality. Because he has a right to love his parent even if I would rather my kids never talked to anyone who has ever used drugs in their entire lives. Because he needed to know with his own ears that he was loved BY THEM. (Jen, 2010)The hard things have to be done so each individual involved –especially the child– (and even the birthparents) can be blessed, taught, and beautified.
The examples given here have only been a small taste of the benefits of open adoption. It has brought these people and many more just like them happy lives. It will continue to bless each child, birthparent and adoptive parent as they chose to communicate openly and responsibly, rid themselves of pride, and do everything they can to love their child. Open adoption isn’t just a good choice; it is the best choice.
Adoption Media (n.d.) Closed Adoption. Retrieved March 30, 2011, from
Adoption Media (n.d.) What is Open Adoption? Retrieved March 30, 2011, from
Hochman, G & Huston, A (1994) Open Adoption. Retrieved March 30, 2011, from
Hyde, Tamra (2009, November 3) Myths and Misconceptions about Adoption. Message posted to
Jen (2010, June 29) Why Openness? Message posted to
Meltz, B.F. (2011) Open Adoption Over the Years. Retrieved March 30, 2011, from
Vandivere, S., Malm, K., and Radel, L. (2009) Adoption USA: A Chartbook Based on the 2007
National Survey of Adoptive Parents. Washington, D.C.: The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation.