Monday, August 2, 2010

Open Adoption Roundtable #18

The Open Adoption Roundtable is a series of occasional writing prompts about open adoption. It's designed to showcase of the diversity of thought and experience in the open adoption community. You don't need to be part of the Open Adoption Bloggers list to participate, or even be in a traditional open adoption. If you're thinking about openness in adoption, you have a place at the table. The prompts are meant to be starting points--feel free to adapt or expand on them.
More of the Roundtable
We each interacted with at least one professional during the adoption process (agency, lawyer, facilitator, consultant, hospital social worker, etc.). What was one thing that they did that was most supportive of open adoption? What one thing was least supportive?
Strangely I thought this would be difficult to write about until I spoke with Athena about it. In our conversation we came to realize that we didn't encounter much direct opposition. In truth we didn't encounter any direct opposition from any of the professionals we encountered. Oddly the person who was most directly supportive of adoption was also the least professional person we encountered. That was the pregnancy counseling center woman (the full account is here). But it feels like a terrible cop out to simply put up a link to an old post and say "there it is." However I can't ignore the role that woman had in my experience of Athena's pregnancy and our decision to make an adoption plan. Instead I'll take a different tack and talk about two pairs of people. The two negative experiences we had with professionals and the two most positive experiences we had.
The woman at the pregnancy center was hugely supportive of adoption. She frequently referred to it as "the bravest," "most courageous," "most loving" choice. She was also, flat out, the least supportive of us as human beings. She did, after all, threaten that Athena would die of breast cancer if she had an abortion.
The close second in "least supportive professional" category goes to the obstetric gynecologist at the hospital. The full account of this can be found here. I honestly don't know how much of her terrible bedside manner was related to our adoption plan. It's possible she's just not very good with humans. Early in the visit she mentioned there was a note in Athena's file indicating we were considering adoption. She asked us if that was correct and we confirmed it was. The reason she hits number two on the list is how she ended the appointment. For the most part it could have been brushed off as a bad doctor's appointment and left at that. Until she left the room. Just before closing the door she uttered the one word we couldn't bear to hear. "Congratulation." Here I'll quote from my earlier post because I don't think I can do justice to how I felt hearing that word right now. 
" She had slipped out the door before I could react. I wanted to grab her by her highlights and pull her down to a chair. I wanted to lecture her about the gross insensitivity she'd displayed. I wanted to grab her by the head and shake it until she understood. We didn't plan this. We don't want this. We shouldn't be here! But we're dealing with it. We're being responsible. It's taking everything we have to put one foot in front of the other and survive but we're doing it! This is so hard that I lock myself in the hardware room at work to cry, but I'm still here! Every day takes everything we have but we got to this appointment. We even put up with being treated like cattle on a conveyor. We're trying so hard to do the right thing! "Congratulations." One word and it felt like every sacrifice we'd made had been spat upon. I wanted to breathe fire and melt the building down to glass. "Congratulations" meant this shouldn't be hard. It meant we shouldn't make the adoption plan. "Congratulations" meant we should choose to parent and give up everything we want for each other. "Congratulations" meant she was too busy to attempt understanding us or any situation she'd not found herself in personally. "Congratulations" meant we were too alien to matter."
Those were the bad parts.
Now that catharsis is out of the way let's move on to something sunnier. There were a lot of good experiences with professionals during the creation of our adoption plan. The single most supportive person I encountered was Julie, our adoption social worker at Catholic Social Services. Julie was incredible. She lent us every book she had to read about open adoption. Actually she was the one who introduced us to the idea of open adoption. Neither of us had heard of it before. We were still thinking of closed adoption days where we'd have to negotiate if we wanted to see our boy immediately after birth, let alone after placement! Julie consistently affirmed the difficulty of the work we were doing and reminded us over and over again that this was just a plan. We could change everything at any time. The most important thing was to be honest with ourselves and each other. There wasn't one thing she did. It was everything Julie did.
With an eye at symmetry it only seems right that I should mention another positive professional interaction. This one caught me by surprise. Athena and I went to the hospital for her ultrasound. I believe it was the six month check. We had been preparing myself for a terribly emotional experience. I wasn't sure if I could even be in the room. I promised Athena I would try. Imagine my surprise when the ultrasound tech had us both laughing within minutes of entering the room! We were there for about half an hour chatting away. That was a very important moment for me. Not only did the ultrasound give me the chance to see the Visitor in a new way, but the tech gave me the chance to see the pregnancy in a new way. In observing his approach to us I began to understand much more about the apparent dichotomy we were in. Pregnancy was funny and scary. It was lovely and terrible. It was joyous and horribly sad. It both connected us to life and isolated us. Most importantly all of this was okay. All of it was normal. The Visitor was rolling and tumbling and showing off for us for a solid twenty five minutes. The tech had taken over 100 images. He sifted through and selected the best 30, printed them for us, and headed for the door. Just before leaving he said something that surprised me. "Good luck."  


  1. I'm still floored by the "counseling" center's respone and the clueless doctor, but I'm so glad there were positive experiences as well. I feel like the birth family has to carry the brunt of interactions, both positive and negative, throughout the process. We remained fairly unscathed, and got to leave the hospital with our dream come true.

  2. Oh man, that "Congratulations" thing hits deep. People keep doing that to me, and I wanna do exactly what you described to them. I kinda feel like I'm having the exact same reactions to a lot of my pregnancy as you had to Athena's. I sort of wonder what Max Power thinks about - he got to feel the seabass kick for the first time the other day and I think that did a number on him, plus he's coming to the all-important gender-finding-out-about ultrasound this week and I'm pretty sure he's terrified of that. Sometimes I just pretend that you are a proxy for his feelings, cuz he's not a talky kind of a guy.

    Question (you don't have to answer, of course): are you and Athena still together?

  3. Sara - It seems to me that first-family members get very vocal responses and accusations thrown at them a lot. Adoptive families, I think, deal with the subtle and deeply seated bias similar to bi-racial families. It's generally not okay to talk about not being okay with it. First families tend to get it more cotton plantation style; separate drinking fountains and the like.

  4. Lia - Congratulations is such a double edged sword. It makes a lot of assumptions about how the parties involved feel. Yet that's also something that some people desperately want to hear. It strikes me as strange. Fortunately my coworker (the first non-family member I told about Athena's pregnancy) immediately responded "Congratulations. I'm sorry." Good chap. More about that here:
    To answer your question Athena and I are still together. We just celebrated our two year anniversary a couple weeks ago. We're not married, by choice, so the anniversary we celebrate is the day we met which by most standards was also our first date. In retrospect we both recognize it as the day we were ruined for dating other people as well. Insert "awww" here.

    As to speaking for Max Power, I'm glad I can provide some insight to the male perspective, but I also strongly encourage to you poke him and ask where his head is. I think it's really important that you two be on the same page; total honesty. You don't need to agree but you do need to know what's going on with each other. I can think of one other enterprise that requires as much honesty as adoption. Parenting.

    I'd also like to take this opportunity to issue a personal invitation to M.P. through you, if I may. I'd like to personally invite him, specifically, from a First Father to a prospective First Father, to come read as much or as little as he likes here and to consider me an open resource. I started this blog because I couldn't find anyone to help when I was struggling. I don't want to see that happen to any one else. He can e-mail me at any time, about anything, and all conversation will be held in the strictest confidence. This isn't just for him. It's for me too, and anyone else who finds himself in a position like us. I'm trying to speak up for birth fathers as best I can, but it's hard when you can't find any others to talk too.

  5. I will extend the invitation to Max Power, because not only am I not good at getting him to talk, I'm not good at getting myself to talk either. I mean the baby is ALL I TALK ABOUT with my friends (more in a jokey way, to sort of diminish importance) and ALL I THINK ABOUT when I'm alone, but for some reason Max Power and I just never talk about it. I do all the work - which is fine, I'd rather it that way - and then tell him, be at the social worker on this date at this time, fill out this paperwork, what do you think of this couple?

    The thing is, Max Power and I never really talk. Most of the time we just stare at each other with goofy smiles on our faces. Because we just met 7 months ago, and we are still in the courtship phase, and I wish that we had just been able to keep crushing on each other and letting our journey evolve. But now we are FAMILY, very suddenly and forever. Our inability or unwillingness to communicate with each other about serious topics (like hey, I just switched birth control, maybe we should use condoms again for awhile) just highlights how not ready we are to raise a child.

    So, if it helps you, and it helps him, it would be AWESOME if I could get him to read this. I drop hints about it sometimes. But I don't know if the idea will take. It just doesn't seem to be how he processes things.

    Also, could you give me a brief timeline? I comb your archives sporadically, and have gotten myself confused. How old are you guys? When did the pregnancy ==> relinquishment happen?

  6. Lia - Timeline is up. As for conversation with Max Power, I'd suggest you two find a way to talk about the serious stuff. I'm a big fan of flat honesty without assigning causation. "Speaking truth to power" is the current buzz phrase for it. I call it honesty. Example:
    "Hey Max, I don't know how you're dealing with the adoption plan. That bothers me. Can we talk about it?"

    As for dropping hints to get him here, I'd like to propose a different solution. Consider telling him there's a first-father you met through your blog that keeps poking you about getting Max Power to check his blog. *poke* Tell him so I don't have to poke you about it all the time. *poke* Seriously. *poke*

  7. I really like your POV. My sons first father and I did everything together while I was pregnant just like you. Only we did not stick together for very long after. We are still friends and all, involved in the open adoption as well, but our lives are completely separate now.

    When I think about your story I wonder how you managed to stay together with Athena when you could still go you own way if you wanted...

    I have to tell you that he(my sons birthfather) had a similar reaction to a 'counsellor' at a support centre that claims to be differental to womans 'choices' but not.


What do you think? I'm curious.