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Thursday, April 19, 2007

Adoption Issues

posted by on April 19 at 14:57 PM

Good column today—I enjoyed reading it as usual. I wanted to point out, though, that one comment you made to the effect that all adoptions should be open really struck me as naive. In a situation like the one of the young woman in last week’s column, yes it would be a nice option to have an open adoption.

In my case, my family of four (wife, me and two boys) adopted two kids from Ukraine in 2005. The littlest one was 18 months old at the time, and the elder was 3 1/2. The birth mom abandoned the little one at birth in the hospital, and the state came and took the elder one. She had—and has, as far as I know—severe alcohol problems, and is suspected of abuse (the elder has some pretty questionable scars). Do you think that she gives a shit? Do you think that if she ever wakes up and actually does give a shit that I ever want her showing up at my door saying “Mommy’s here!” or anything else, for that matter? Not a chance.

I know it is highly unlikely, as she is half a world away. I also know that in the US, four weeks in re-hab, finding Jesus, and deciding she is a good mom after all is all most judges need to remove a child from a loving adoptive home. Precisely why we went to Ukraine. In Ukraine, the adoptive are, in the eyes of the law, and on the birth certificate, recognized as the birth parents.

Yes, it would be nice if everyone was nice, but it ain’t so. Some people just should not be around children. Doesn’t stop them from having them, though, does it? As you well know, if everyone had to go through all the trouble (and expense!) of adoption to get pregnant, the world’s population would plummet.


I hear you, B.F. But not all “open” adoptions are alike—they don’t all involve high degrees of contact; some don’t involve any ongoing, real-time contact at all. Some bio parents are so unfit to parent that even phone calls, let alone visits, are a danger to kids they couldn’t take of in the first place. I still support “openness,” however, even for what, in practice, may be closed adoptions.

In your case, I hope that your kids know their birth stories, where they come from, how they came into your lives. I feel they have a right to that information—no secrets, no lies. That is open adoption too.

Also, B.F., in Oregon, where my boyfriend and I adopted our son, the state placed my name and his on the birth certificate, and our adoption could only have been reversed if fraud was proved—and then only in the first year. So not all open adoptions involve the kind of risks you’re concerned about.

Many parents that adopted in closed adoptions live in fear of their children’s birth parents precisely because they know so little about them and imagine the worst. (Maybe what you imagine to be true about your children’s birth mother is accurate, but maybe not.) In cases when it’s possible for an adoptive parent to know his or her child’s birth parents (and that’s most cases, I believe), having the birth parent’s blessing—to be chosen by the birth parent!—is tremendously empowering. It also honors the sacrifice that the birth parent is making. Knowing the birth parents can alleviate the anxiety—you don’t have to worry about the birth parents coming for the child if you’ve met them, they picked you, and they’re content with their choice.

In a closed adoption, the only way for the birth mom to ever see her child again is to sue for custody—to try and disrupt or reverse the adoption. In an open adoption—which, again, simply isn’t possible in cases like yours—the birth parent or parents can have some mutually agreeable degree of contact, and see or hear from the child, without having to disrupt or reverse the adoption. I don’t have stats but I would imagine that birth moms that have done open adoptions are, therefore, less likely to try and reverse the adoption—and, indeed, reversals of adoptions are pretty rare to begin with.

Thanks for writing.

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Another angle on the open adoption is what the kid faces. I have several friends that were adopted and a few where their mothers used sperm banks to get pregnant. In these cases the kids that have done the best have know their biological parents- some have relationships with them some realize how lucky they are to be adopted because their parents have serious drug and alcohol problems. And a lot that haven't known their parents have undergone the painful process of trying to find anything about their birth parents. I think it is a basic part of human nature to want to know who your biological parents are- and robbing your kids of knowing where they come from just doesn't seem right.

Posted by Rachel | April 19, 2007 4:54 PM

I volunteered briefly in an adult genetic counseling clinic... most of our patients were elderly individuals looking into Alzheimer's genetic testing and things like that. There was one older woman... in her 80's... who had been adopted as an infant by a rabbi and his wife. All that she knew about her biological family was that they were jews, because her adoptive parents would only adopt a jewish child.

In her 80's, she was desperate to find ANY other information about her birth parents, and was trying to use the clinic to search for old files to find any medical records. It made me a bit sad... there was really nothing we could do for her.

Knowing your biological/medical history is incredibly important, and another reason why open adoptions are so important. For the guy that wrote to Dan, it's important for them to know if their biological mom had severe alcohol issues, or depression, or any other things that can have very strong genetic components. "Open" doesn't just mean visitation rights... it means sharing information, too.

Posted by L | April 19, 2007 6:42 PM

I'm 40+, and was adopted as an infant under 60s style closed adoption rules, and I am wholeheartedly in favor of the boundary. Even today, I am so pissed off at my birth parents that I would only deal them pain. I'd prefer not to, as I really hope to avoid increasing suffering in the world to the extent that I can.

Posted by mike | April 19, 2007 8:43 PM

Dan is absolutely right when he said being chosen by the birthmother is a very empowering experience. Knowing her, and the reason for her decision is something that my husband and I can one day share with our son and hopefully help him to understand how he came to be with his family. A very important thing, since we'll unfortunately have next to nothing to tell him about his birthfather. We're very happy that everything in this process for us was so open and upfront. I really believe it will be a good thing for our son down the road.

Posted by Phil | April 19, 2007 11:11 PM

Oh, and Dan, this post seems a perfect time to let you know how fantastic your book, "The Kid" was. I can honestly say after reading it a few years ago, the feelings we felt and the actions we took, helped to lead us to the day that our son was born and we held him in our arms for the first time. Thank you.

Posted by Phil | April 19, 2007 11:18 PM

The Ukrainian adopter is right about some things, particularly that many people who would be stricken barren by God if he existed have the best reproductive organs evar. And that the state values the rights of a fucking three-days-out-of-rehab fresh-minted jesus freak with biological ties more than it values the happiness, sanity, and well-being of children. I just throw my hands up when faced with this stuff though, rather than offering opinion of what the law should be. It's a fairly safe bet that the government will always suck at adjudicating issues of the heart.

Posted by Christopher | April 20, 2007 12:02 PM

Hi all!
You are The Best!!!

Posted by Terabanitoss | May 3, 2007 7:45 AM

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