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.
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