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OPENNESS IN ADOPTION

by Patricia Irwin Johnston, MS


AT ISSUE

Because more and more birthparents are requesting openness as a condition of making an adoption plan, some prospective adopting couples are finding themselves feeling that they are being pushed into what feels like an uncomfortable corner, forced to agree to openness or be denied the opportunity to parent. Perhaps nothing about open adoption frightens me more than this. I am meeting more and more parties to adoptions who have in some way failed to live up to the bargains they made in negotiating with the other family in open adoptions, both agency arranged and privately parent-initiated. The great majority of these situations have involved adopting couples who agreed to some form of openness before placement and then decided at some point after the finalization of the adoption that they didn't want to continue with the communication. Some of these situations have involved semi-openness, where families maintain anonymity and communicate only through an intermediary. Others have involved fully open adoptions, where birthparents and adoptive parents have been in frequent direct contact with one another. In either case, the pain of betrayal felt by birthmothers in such situations is intense.

Max and Cathy adopted through an agency in the Southwest which arranged only open adoptions and would not work with couples who wished confidentiality. They met Marcy during her sixth month of pregnancy, and were thrilled when she decided that the match was perfect. They communicated closely, and were able to be in the delivery room when Jillian (a name the three had chosen together) was born.

After the birth, Cathy and Max were less eager to have Marcy remain a part of their day-to-day lives, but, as the social worker explained to Marcy, this was typical. They were very much involved in claiming this child as their own and building attachments within their newly expanded family. Marcy tried to be patient.

Shortly after the adoption was finalized, both Marcy and the agency were shocked to find that Max and Cathy had moved. There was no forwarding address for their mail, no forwarding phone number. Max's employer refused to give out information about where they had gone. In fact they had moved to Chicago-a plan they had had in mind, and which the large national corporation for which Max worked had agreed to, since just before Jillian's birth. Marcy and the agency had both been betrayed. Max and Cathy had played a game with them and changed the rules after they had possession of the most valuable piece.

 

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