What If It Had Been Open Part 5
Welcome back to Blogville where the tea is hot and so is the topic sometimes. I have been talking about openness in adoption.
This is the fifth in a happenstance mini-series that occurred when I started talking about how openness in my adoption may have helped my parents and me. Eventually that led to my thoughts on how openness might have helped my birth siblings and me. Today’s blog is focussed on my paternal birth siblings, and me.
Openness can range from an annual update letter and maybe a photo provided to the birth parent(s), to face-face visits that are sometimes supervised by adoption workers, other times just in the company of all the parents, or even just the birth parents and the child/children. Openness among siblings is more common, especially when siblings are not able to be adopted into the same family. Society has finally started to realize that the babies who are legally freed for adoption have a right to their sibling relationship. If they can’t be adopted together, siblings should at least know that each other exists and how they are doing. As I have already mentioned in previous blogs, during the late 50s and early 60s, openness was not a consideration in the adoption process.
In my experience, when siblings grow up not knowing that they have birth siblings from their birth parents, finding this out can be a bit of a shock. Speaking personally, I found the shock of the news was softened when it was delivered by the birth parent to the adult children as opposed to finding out other ways. I can only measure this in my own experience with the way my paternal birth siblings accepted, without much question, that I was their birth half-sister; while my maternal birth siblings needed some time to fact find before they were able to offer their wholehearted acceptance.
Folks might argue with me here, but it is also my experience that society empathizes with birth fathers when their infants are placed with adoptive families while at the same time mercilessly judging birth mothers. My birth father was never even contacted by the adoption agency so that he might exercise his parental rights! As was often the norm, all blame and decision making fell to the birth mothers. In my own case, following my birth, my birth mother and her family actually moved from their community due to the shame of her having given birth twice, ‘out of wedlock’.
Could this be why our birth parents’ subsequent children were never even told about us, let alone allowed contact with my older sister and I through openness? The children later born to our birth parents were not factored in to our adoption journeys until many years later, when my sister and I took the first steps to find them.
As I noted in a previous blog, I feel that at minimum there should have been some form of openness between the family who adopted my older birth sister and my family. To be frank, the family who adopted my sister should have been contacted to consider adopting me as well, to keep us together when we had each already lost so much.
In my case, my birth father was never notified of my birth mother’s pregnancy, nor my subsequent birth. His parental options/rights were also denied him by the adoption agency even though my birth mother had identified him. However, before you blame the birth mother alone, I must point out the notion that after having intimate relations with someone, a man might follow up with her, even after leaving her community. I’m just sayin’.
While my birth mother was spending time in a strange community in a home for unwed mothers, my birth father had met, and fallen in love with, a woman with a daughter just a few months older than me. This little girl grew up as his daughter while I, his birth daughter, was being raised by strangers. The irony should not escape you; as it did not escape me when I realized this is what had happened.
When my birth father was notified of my existence, he immediately agreed to speak with me. Initially, he was not sure that I was actually his biological child and was ready to ask for DNA testing, until he heard my voice, and he somehow knew I was his daughter. He proudly talked about his other children and asked me for time to be able to speak to them about me. Following our first telephone call my birth father made up and mailed a sweet ‘birth announcement’ card, and included a tiny little cigar. Giving out cigars was tradition among new fathers at that time. My birth father told me he had two daughters and two sons, but that sadly one of his sons had passed away. I felt inexplicably robbed of the opportunity to meet this brother.
So many emotions!
Joy at being immediately acknowledged and accepted by my birth father.
Jealousy at the fact he raised a daughter born to other biological parents while I was being raised by non-biological parents.
Sadness that I never knew and would never know one of my paternal birth brothers. Disappointment at how my birth father lived the cliché of having intimate relations with my birth mother and never looking back.
Fear that his other children may not accept me.
Happily, my fear was unfounded. In fact, I met my birth father’s other children before I even met him. Ironically, these birth siblings live in or near the same community as, I would later discover, most of my maternal half siblings do. Actually, my birth parents had even resided in that same community at one point, married to different people and raising their families there. I often wonder if they ever unknowingly passed each other in the local mall, or grocery store. I can only imagine what an unexpected meeting might have looked like! Somehow, I picture abandoned carts full of items, swinging store doors, and two people running to their cars.
Within months of first contact with my paternal birth siblings I had a business event in their neighbourhood in Southern Ontario so they invited me to meet and spend some time with them. When I met them I had never felt so insecure in my life!!! My outside was saying, ‘WOW, these are my actual birth siblings’!!! My inside was saying all kinds of stuff like, ’They are not going to like you.’ ‘Who do you think you are?’ ‘You probably don’t look anything like anyone.’ I cannot tell you how hard it was to be there in those moments, how out of place I felt, but then I realized that these are my genetic half siblings (well except for the one born in the same year as me, but at least we had the same hair colour lol). Eventually I realized that they, and their children, were genetically stuck with me! I felt better then.
I met so many people all at once, struggling to keep names straight, trying to enjoy being with biological family members when I wasn’t sure if I should be. Was I being disloyal to my parents and my brother? But, WOW, I got to meet my actual birth siblings!
I have this little photo album with pictures of my paternal siblings’ family events; weddings, camping events, Christmas gatherings, photos with pets, family dinners, photos with children and grandchildren, well, you know what I mean. These photos were sent to me by my birth father and my siblings when they learned of my existence. No words can describe how bittersweet this album is for me. I mentioned in a previous blog that a photo of three of my birth father’s children eating ice cream cones had inspired a rush of feelings themed, “Where is my ice cream?”
Finally, we were able to meet and I found them all to be incredible people; warm, welcoming, and accepting. They taught me about their dad and what it was like to be his kids. They taught me what it was like to have siblings that you are blood related to; not really any different from siblings related to you through adoption if I’m honest. They showed me how to look at resemblances in family pictures and in those dreaded school pictures. My school photos were always proudly displayed in our home but never discussed in terms of who I looked like. Trust me, I was scouring those pictures seeking, sometimes finding, resemblances to these siblings. When I got home from meeting my birth siblings I pulled out that little photo album, looking at it with new eyes.
But I digress. It was a whirlwind time of meeting people, each of us sneaking looks at the other to see if I looked at all like their dad (our dad?). Words cannot express how it felt to be accepted by these kind people as a sibling. They acknowledged me as one of them. They were my brother and sister, and my bonus ‘step-sister’. We shared a birth father, but not a history, we would have to get to work on creating our own history as siblings.
What If It Had Been Open Part 4
Welcome back to Blogville friend, so good to see you again. Today’s blog is accompanied again by a Sister Sister tea blend which I thought would be appropriate as I am going to be talking about meeting my maternal birth (half) sisters who were raised by our birth mother and her husband, and all that that brings with it. I’ve chatted in more detail with you about meeting my maternal birth (half) sister in Part 3 of this little blog mini-series and how adoption openness might have changed our lives. I’ll let you be the judge of how openness might have impacted on us when we maternal birth half-sisters finally met. I call the six of us the ‘womb-mates’.
As you know, my older birth sister and I had requested to meet our birth mother, which she sadly declined. At our request, she did provide an updated medical history and a photograph of herself when she was in her early 20s, taken between our two births. She had rationalized her decision not to meet by saying that her husband knew about us but her children did not. My sister and I would joke that maybe she had all boys and that we were her only daughters. We would talk about knocking on her door to sell chocolate bars or cookies if we could only find out where she lived. We wouldn’t interfere, we just wanted to meet her. I will always wonder if she had been given the option to have some form of openness, some type of communication with our adoptive families from the beginning, if things would have been different.
If some form of openness had been available, would things have turned out differently? Maybe we wouldn’t have had to wait to know her name until the government deemed it appropriate for adult adopted people (born in Ontario) to have access to their Statement of Live Birth. More importantly, maybe my birth sister would not have had to resort to combing through obituaries hoping to find our birth mother until, sadly, one day she did. Mitigating the pain of realizing we would now never actually meet our birth mother, was the chance we could meet our birth half-siblings, our four sisters!
Originally my birth sister wanted to reach out to one of our birth mother’s brothers who were listed in the obituary. I said, ‘hell no’! and reminded her that one of them had advised our birth mother not to meet us when she first had the chance. What if he is the one we happen to reach out to? I further pointed out to my sister that all our maternal birth half sisters were adults and entitled to make up their own minds about meeting us. All of us were innocent in the adoption process and I strongly felt we had the right to try to find and meet them.
It turns out that our birth mother’s husband had actually alluded to his daughters that their mother had two other baby girls that had been placed on adoption. The girls did not really believe him, especially when they did not find the evidence he had told them about. Evidence from our correspondence with our birth mother back in 1991 their father said she had kept was no where to be found. The actions of their father truly helped us by adding some credibility to our claim that we were their mother’s birth daughters. They were intrigued.
In March of 2018, one of our new sisters responded to my sister indicating they were coming to terms with the shocking news of our existence. She assured my sister that she would get back to her. Over the next few weeks correspondence between these two sisters began to build an acceptance of our existence, and piqued curiosities. Some pictures were exchanged and we all then knew the truth, we had been born to the same woman, no doubt about it.
The first gift we received from our new sisters was in an email, “On behalf of my sisters and I, we’d like to say how happy we are that you were able to find us.” The author then added the email addresses for each of her sisters so that we could start exchanging emails, and more pictures, to begin building a relationship. We learned that their father had exploded their world only a few days after their mother’s passing and how they had been shocked and frustrated that their father did not seem to know any details. Not to be deterred, the sisters formed a plan to find out more. That first gift they gave us was acceptance.
There followed a flurry of exchange of information as we six sisters began the journey of getting to know each other, our partners, and our children. We were comfortable with each other surprisingly quickly. A few weeks after finding each other we began planning to meet in a couple of months. This sparked a flurry of activity, determining dates and accommodations. We agreed to stay together in a college residence in their community. My sister would fly to Toronto and one of the sisters would get her from the airport to bring her to the college. I would drive down and meet them there.
On that amazing first day, I had just arrived and was standing in the college residence entrance when my sister and one of the new sisters arrived. Ironically, it was the new sister that recognized me while my older sister walked right past me. That was a great ice breaker!
All six of us eventually arrived at the college campus and awkward introductions were made. Everyone was looking at each other, searching for resemblances if I had to guess. We were surprisingly comfortable pretty early on in our meeting. Unbeknownst to each other, all of us had brought some small gift to offer. That was a wonderful ice breaker, giving and receiving these gifts. Every gift had a reason for being given to the sisters, making it a touching experience. The initial awkwardness soon gave way to early feelings of camaraderie and the beginnings of bonding together in our new roles as one of six daughters born to the same woman.
The days that followed included meeting the our new sisters’ partners, and a number of new nieces and nephews. One of the apexes of the weekend was meeting our birth mother’s husband, our new sisters’ father. He was very emotional at our introduction and expressed a lot of guilt in having kept us secret from his daughters. We understood that he was simply respecting his wife’s wishes, after all, we were her secret to share, or not share. Upon her death, he felt compelled to tell his daughters about us and for that my sister and I thanked him. The more we learned about our birth mother, the more my sister and I realized where our strong personalities came from. Who knew that was a genetic quality!
Being in our birth mother’s house was difficult, I’ll admit. Seeing those Knick Knacks on the shelves and walls and not knowing their history felt weird. Looking at the array of family photos hung with obvious pride tugged at my inner child as I looked for my face among her children’s pictures, even though I knew it would not be there. I ran my hand over chair surfaces where she had sat with her children and later, grandchildren, held lovingly on her lap. I listened to the stories of how she babysat so many children because she loved children so much and irrationally wondered why I had not been lovable enough for her to keep. Touching surfaces that she had touched, standing in the kitchen where she had cooked so many meals, and listening to the beautiful memories her daughters were sharing was bittersweet and very moving. I acknowledged the gift of being in her home, in the company of those she loved, and I was grateful.
I was offered one of my birth mother’s rings. Upon her loss, her girls had each chosen their favourite ring to keep as a memento of their cherished mother but there were rings left behind. The sisters generously offered those rings to my sister and I. At first I was simply overwhelmed, but then I slipped that ring on my finger just like her other daughters had done with their rings. When my mom recently passed, I had found her family ring in her jewelry box and guess what? Both rings from my mothers can be found on the same finger, proudly worn by their shared daughter.
As you may or may not be aware, my youngest birth sister and I wrote a book to help adoptive and kinships families talk about their journeys and normalize their feelings. The book is called, “What Is Your Story? Let’s talk about adoption and kinship” and we are very proud of creating this book together to help others. Collaborating on this book helped her and I get to know each other and gain a better understanding of how adoption impacted on each of us.
The six of us keep in touch, some more than others, as I believe is normal even with siblings raised together. We are looking forward to being in each others’ company again as soon as we can figure out the semantics.
Back in 1991, when our birth mother sent in the requested updated medical information for my older sister (through the Ministry) she included a greeting card. The irony does not escape me when I note that in the card she wrote, “Chances made you sisters, love will make you friends.” Turns out she was right, but for all six of her daughters (the womb-mates), not just the two of us.
Thanks for reading! Oh, as you can imagine, I also had a birth father. I feel like openness with him might have been life changing! You can read about that in Part V of this little blog series about openness. Spoiler alert, he had other children too . . .
As you know, your comments and questions are always welcome, here on this site, or by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org See you in two weeks.
What If It Had Been Open (Part 3)
Today’s blog is accompanied by a tea called Sister Sister which I thought would be appropriate as I am going to be talking about when I actually met my maternal birth (half) sister who was also raised in an adoptive family. I’ve chatted with you about meeting her in Part 2 of this little blog mini-series and how adoption openness might have changed our lives.
As you all know, I was raised with a brother who, for all intents and purposes, is my only sibling in the ‘growing up together with siblings’ world. So many times in my childhood I had fantasized about having a sister instead of a brother, or even in addition to. Unless I needed protecting or once he started bringing over his good looking friends that is. Then having a brother was ok. I guess I just wanted someone to giggle with and do sister stuff with even though many of my friends who had sisters pretty much hated them.
Also at play, I think, was the fact that I grew up believing that I already had a biological half-brother being raised by our birth maternal grandparents somewhere out there. Due to a lack of openness in my adoption my parents misunderstood the verbal information provided by the worker, and I was in my 20s before I understood that my birth mother and her mother had a baby in the same year. Her mother gave birth to a boy and my birth mother gave birth to a girl a few short months later. I’m sure you can imagine how this misinformation impacted on me growing up. I’m also sure you can recognize how openness in my adoption may have mitigated that impact.
It is true that I felt somehow better when I found out that the child our birth mother had placed for adoption before me was also a girl, and was also placed on adoption. Though that did not immediately change my skewed thinking that boys were somehow more valuable, more ‘worth keeping’ than girls, it helped in some strange way. It also took some time to absorb that the first child born to my birth mother was not any more ‘worth keeping’ than I was. I struggle when I think of how simple openness might have made a difference in my feelings of self worth.
It was another eight or ten years before things started to open up in post-adoption services and I dared to think I might be able to actually meet my birth sister. A birth sister with whom I could or should have been raised, but that a lack of openness in adoption prevented. Here we were, two grown women, still being blocked from each other due to society’s fear of openness among people who had been adopted. I cannot begin to describe how disloyal to my parents I felt when I submitted that application, but that is a story for another blog.
I’ll admit I was feeling overwhelmed at the idea of contact with my birth sister, admittedly dragging my feet at times. I experienced all the loyalty to my parents stuff and basically, my fear of the unknown. But I pursued based partly on the fact I had always wanted a sister, and feeling safe due to the knowledge that she lived a couple of provinces away. Meanwhile, as she told me later, my birth sister was relentless in wanting to speed up the process at her end. As the rules were in those days, we first exchanged letters and basic information through an adoption disclosure worker. We both had to sign a consent, protecting our government’s butt from some sort of lawsuit I suppose.
I was pregnant with my fourth child at this time, and driven by a search for medical history information as well as seeking to get to know my birth sister. I had tried to get information when my first child was born but timidly accepted the door that slammed in my face at that time, a door that would not have been there if there had been some form of openness in my adoption. It is amazing how being adopted and raised with a ‘mystery history’ that everyone around you was counselled to withhold, can make one feel like they are doing something wrong in seeking information. If I lost the right to be raised by my birth family, ‘how can I have the right to find out about them?’ swam around continually in my mind. That is, until I became a parent. Once my status as an adopted person interfered with my children’s right to medical history information I was suddenly on a mission. But at the same time, I felt like a new recruit approaching their first time on the battlefield.
I was extremely nervous as I attended my appointment to sign the consent that would begin the process to connect my birth sister and I. I signed the document with trepidation and suddenly, without warning, the worker put several photographs on the table. They were the first photographs of my sister and her family that I had ever seen. I feel like their should have been some warning, or fanfare, or well, something to introduce this momentous occasion. Then I saw that we had the same eyes.
Meanwhile, my birth sister, who also had no idea that I existed, was very motivated to meet me. That gave me the courage to move forward. Due to distance and the fact that I was expecting our fourth child, our meeting was delayed for about 6 months. During that time we exchanged letters and talked on the phone, getting to know each other, and hearing about each other’s lives with our families who adopted us.
Finally the time came for us to meet. She flew to Ontario and I was to pick her up at the airport. We have a tiny municipal airport but the planes still manage to land here. So, as a nursing mom, I made the executive decision to nurse the baby before going to the airport so that she and I could go out for some quiet time before meeting my husband and four children. I think I also wanted to assess if she might be weird or dangerous before bringing her home lol. It turns out I was late. She would want me to include how, here she was in a tiny municipal airport in the middle of nowhere (where they tend to put small airports) and no one to greet her. Oh, and may I note that these were the days before everyone and their dog had a cell phone. Provinces away from home with a bored janitor asking her to put her suitcase onto the chair beside her and pick up her feet so he could mop underneath her, who knows what she was thinking! Well, I actually know but I’m not able to share it here. All I can do is recommend that you not leave a adult adopted person in an airport far from their home and not expect them to feel abandoned, again.
When I did get to the airport, she was obviously greatly relieved. I was also happy there were few people to witness our awkward greeting. Do we hug? Neither of us big huggers. Do we shake hands? Oh, this was the early 90s, women did not easily or automatically shake hands yet. I always envied men of this accepted greeting ritual. But I digress. Off we went to have some quiet time to get to know each other a little more in person before I took her to my place, once I figured she seemed harmless to my family.
She had the unpleasant task of letting me know that her search for our birth mother had ended with a refusal to meet with us. So we united in requesting any updated medical information about her and any family medical information we should be aware of. We also asked for a photograph. Not a recent one, but one of her somewhere between the age she was when she gave birth to my sister and the age she was when she gave birth to me, three years later. Then, together, we went through the stages of grief. I am so glad we had each other because only we could understand what this felt like. For her to have given up the right to parent us over 30 years ago when she was very young was one thing, for her to give up the right to meet us now was very painful. I feel like, if there had been an openness agreement where she had agreed to give and receive non-identifying information about us, things may have been different. She would have known we were doing ok and we would have known that she had married and had four more children. She saw her children as a reason not to meet us. We saw her children as our half siblings and my sister and I made a pact. If we ever learned of our birth mother’s passing, we would reach out to our half-siblings. Stay tuned for part 4 of What If It Had Been Open, to see how that went!
Want to ask questions? I’m always open to your comments or your emails. Feel free to reach me at email@example.com
What if it had been open (part 2)
Welcome back to Blogville friend! Won’t you join me in a cup of hot chamomile tea as we talk more about openness in adoption and how I, and my siblings, might have benefitted? This is all speculation as I am not aware of even the concept of openness planning at the time of my adoption in 1959/1960.
On their website (www.adoption.on.ca), the Adoption Council of Ontario, speaks about openness as follows: “Openness refers to the information and contact that occurs between an adoptive family and the child or youth’s birth family and other important people in the child or youth’s life. Openness orders and agreements are a way for an adoptive child or youth to maintain contact between themselves and their birth family, including siblings, as well as other important people, such as friends and neighbours, when it is in the child’s best interest. It helps children and youth remain connected to important people and their communities and cultures while forming new relationships with their adoptive family. For First Nations, Inuit, and Métis children, openness helps to develop and maintain connections with their culture, heritage, traditions, and community.” What is missing in here, to me, is mention of openness specifically between the child or youth and their former caregivers such as foster or kinship families, though I suppose they technically fall under ‘other important people’.
At minimum, there should have been an openness order or agreement between my new family and the family who had adopted my maternal half-sister who was almost exactly three years older than me. Our birth mother was a client of the same child welfare agency for both pregnancies, so one can assume the workers knew I had a half-sister. During my pre-reunion counselling I had asked why, if my birth mother wanted an adoption plan, was I not adopted before nine months of age. The response was an unbelievable, “Oh, in those days there were drawers full of babies and not enough families.” I kid you not. In my view, that should have been even more reason for my sister and I to have been placed together once I was born. In our case, two adoptive families were matched with children instead of placing the two of us together in the same family. As a result, my birth sister and I grew up without our birth parents, and without each other, in separate adoptive families. Directly due to the lack of openness between our two families, we waited over 30 years to find each other. Who does that?
Like an episode of Bob Newhart (Best of Larry, Darryl, and Darryl), one of the other consequences of a lack of openness is that my sister and I have the same first name, though spelled differently. Our birth mother had originally given us different names but often infants and very young children’s names are changed in the adoption process. My birth sister’s name, given to her by her adoptive parents is Lynne. My name, as you know, is Lynn. The social worker involved in our finding each other when we were in our thirties actually thought that was neat. I don’t think I can ever forget the excitement and enthusiasm with which the worker asked me, “Guess what her name is?” Are you kidding me right now? Anyway, I’m pretty sure that if my parents had known that I had a half-sister out in the world named Lynne, they would have given me a different name. I sincerely doubt that they would have thought it was ‘neat’! Openness could have prevented us being given the same first names.
Imagine, introducing your birth sister to people and having to explain how we had been separated by the adoption process. Since that is not complicated enough, finish that introduction by saying, “This is my sister, Lynne” (or Lynn, depending on which one of us is doing the introducing). When people would make the ‘this is Daryl and my other brother Daryl reference’ I would sometimes nod, smile, and add, “Oh, her name is spelled with an e on the end, that’s how you can tell us apart.” Unlike the Bob Newhart comedy, Lynne and I have to live with being half-sisters and having the same name. I know it sometimes happens with step-siblings but I’m pretty sure when they say, ‘this is my step-sister, or step-brother’ with the same name, people do the ‘math’ and don’t think about the Bob Newhart Show. I mean, I could be wrong. Either way, our scenario would likely have been avoided if there was an openness plan between my parents and Lynne’s parents when I was being placed and given a new name.
Taking the same name issue to a different level, imagine when our poor maternal birth sisters found out that they had two maternal half-sisters, both with the same name. I believe they initially thought we had been named the same by our birth mother until we were able to clarify we had coincidentally both been named a version of ‘Lynn’ by our respective adoptive parents. In order for the sisters to know which of us the other person meant in conversations, they resorted to referring to us as North Lynn and West Lynne. I could sense their embarrassment when they explained that to us. I guess that turned out in my favour since the characters in the Wizard if Oz are the wicked witch of the West and the good witch of the North (though I’m not sure Lynne would agree with that observation lol.)
As we later learned through adoption disclosure documents, Lynne had originally been placed as a newborn in a prospective adoptive home in the same community where I would later be placed with my new family. Sadly, her adoption placement disrupted when Lynne was about five months old due to a concern with the mental health of the prospective adoptive mother. As a result of that disruption Lynne was returned back to the community where she had been born and was subsequently placed in the family who eventually adopted her. She and I have often talked about the possibility that we may have both been raised in that small town never knowing we were half sisters. How sad would that have been? Even worse, at one point Lynne and I realized that had her adoptive family remained in the community where our birth family resided, Lynne might even have dated her birth uncle who was only a few months younger than her.
Meanwhile, I learned that my birth father had met and married a woman who had a daughter, born about six months before me, that he raised as his own. Three more children were born to this relationship, three more birth half siblings to me, and a bonus ‘sister’ through step-parent claiming. So many times in my childhood I had fantasized about having more siblings, while in reality I had many birth half-siblings. A lack of openness kept that information from me for many years. Come back to Blogville in two weeks and I’ll tell you what it was like to meet them all. . .
Questions for me but not comfortable asking them in this forum? Please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll be happy to answer any questions or just listen to your comments or feedback.
What if it had been open (Part i)
Welcome back to Blogville, thanks for joining me. I am sipping on a ginger tea as I find it calming. This blog is really about a question I will never know the answer to, but I’m pretty sure other people have the same question. What if mine had been an open adoption?
Personally, I was not aware of any ‘open’ adoptions when I was growing up. I knew there was a difference between ‘public’ and ‘private’ adoptions but that was the extent of my knowledge of ‘different’ adoptions. Without getting all technical, open adoptions are exactly as the title sounds. There is some openness, or contact, between a child or youth’s new family and their family of origin, or sometimes even contact with a former kinship or foster family. Again, without getting all technical, this openness can range from update letters to phone contact to face to face visits with a million options in between. Ok, not a million, but openness planning has so many facets and possibilities. When I was placed on adoption back in 1960, the rules were quite different. Openness was not typically entertained as an option when adoption was the plan. My parents were essentially told, ‘here is your daughter, raise her as your own and forget about where she came from’. I kid you not.
So, what if there had been openness in my adoption? My thoughts today are not about the technicalities of openness, but rather, of how I think the lack of openness impacted on me when I was growing up. Generally speaking, I feel some openness may have helped me and my parents to manage some challenges that we faced as a new family. For example, I was placed with my parents on the condition that they book a surgery for me to repair an umbilical hernia. The surgery was scheduled to take place a mere 5 days after my arrival into my new family. Not a great step toward bonding/attachment. This plan was an emotional disaster for my new mom and me! In my opinion, the agency should have kept me with my foster family until after the surgery so that I could have been more easily consoled in what must have been a traumatic scenario for an infant. The trauma of my hospital experience followed closely on the heels of other traumatic events already having been experienced in my mere 9 months of life.
My foster parents had had seven months experience in parenting me. My new parents never even got to meet them. Consider the possibilities if my new mom had been able to reach out to my foster mom when I was frantic with pain and fear in the hospital. I believe my new mom and I would both have benefitted from this outreach. Just imagine for a minute, having to cope with a surgery and hospital stay when my new mom and I had only known each other for five days. Through openness, I believe my foster mom could have given my new mom tips on what normally consoled me; such as a favourite way of being held, a special toy, a special song, and so forth. My foster mother might have been able to share that since I had been in hospital for the first 29 days of my life the nursing staff may be better able to calm me as their care was familiar to me. A qualified surgeon was chosen to perform the surgery due to his expertise, yet the expertise of my foster parents was not even considered as it related to my best post-surgical interest.
As an aside, there was a possibility that the surgery could have left me without a ‘belly-button’ and my mother would tell me how the surgeon thought that a little girl should not have to grow up without a belly button. That was a brilliant decision on the surgeon’s part. As an adopted person I cannot imagine the impact of not having birth parents or a belly button might have had on me, perhaps giving credibility to the idea of being dropped off by a stork after all.
Though I don’t remember any of that surgical experience I do recall other times where openness may have benefitted me and my family. When I was young I remember feeling, often in tandem, great fear and great hope at the very idea that my birth mother might find me. I was both afraid she would find me and afraid she wouldn’t bother to look. I think I might have been spared those feelings had I been able to have had some contact with her, or other biological family members through openness.
I may even have been spared thinking that boys were better than girls; thoughts generated by misinformation. My parents were told that my birth family had kept my birth brother who had been born before me. Openness with my birth family, or even my foster parents, would have shed light on the error made when that information was provided to my parents about my birth family. Instead, I was in my thirties, a parent myself, before I learned the truth that my birth mother and her mother had actually given birth to babies in the same year. My birth grandmother had given birth to a son only a few months before my birth mother was sent away to give birth to me. Disclosure file information informed me that the baby actually born to our birth mother three years prior to me was a girl, and she was also placed on adoption. Imagine if our adoptive families had been granted openness for my birth sister and I to get to know each other . . .
Make yourself a nice cup of tea and join me back in Blogville in two weeks for Part II of my thoughts on what openness may have meant to me, and to my sibling(s).
As ever, I would love to hear from you and welcome your comments. If you prefer a private method to reach out please feel free to email me at email@example.com.