Friday, October 28, 2011

Open Adoption Roundtable Discussion #30: When Was The First Time You Heard About Open Adoption?

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 listed at Open Adoption Bloggers 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--please feel free to adapt or expand on them.

Athena and I were sitting in the drab grey office of the woman who would soon be our life-line. I had spent the last few minutes nodding as Athena explained our situation. She's pregnant. We know I'm the father. We're not going to parent. We need help.

The social worker we were talking with at Catholic Social Services was receptive, supportive, but surprisingly upbeat. It struck me as odd at the time, though it makes perfect sense now. She wasn't strident about it. Just positive. What I know now is that she had a positive attitude in general, but in that specific instance she knew there were people sitting in front of her who were dedicated to making the best choices they could for their child. She later shared that her immediate sense of confidence in our decision making process was rather rare.

"Have you thought about open adoption?" she asked.

Athena and I looked to one another for guidance, hoping one of us knew what she was talking about.

"To be honest, I have no idea what you're talking about".

Three books, half a dozen printed articles, and several more meetings later we had a good idea of what open adoption could be about. I read my way through Jim Gritter's books and avidly avoided reading the male-hostile works of other authors. A realization began to dawn in my mind. If my son knows me from the beginning of his life, along with his adoptive father, it won't be weird to him. That will be his baseline for "normal". With this realization came day dreams of teaching my son how to build bookshelves, giving gifts at Christmas, high school graduation, his first pocket knife, and a camping trip with him as a young adult. Then came two days of crying.

The guilt and shame of considering placing my son for adoption was assuaged primarily by remembering that it could be okay for him. Even if I felt awful about it, he might not. In the end I felt it was the best chance we had. Two years later we're still here. The world didn't end when Festus was placed with his parents. I can still be happy with surprising frequency. Athena and I are now, ostensibly, a bullet-proof couple. One quick question changed our lives. It let us proceed in good conscience to a choice that may have been too frightening to accept otherwise. But that question was much more than what it appeared to be on the surface.

"Have you thought about open adoption" means "have you thought about the industrialized west's social moores about familial bonds," and "have you considered restructuring the way you understand love?"

Have you deconstructed your priorities, super-imposed a new set of parameters regarding acceptable behavior, and tried to see if any of your goals and priorities can still fit?

Have you questioned the fundamental meaning of being a man or woman?

Have you considered confronting every person you know with a choice you're making that will result in loud, intense, and unpredictable judgements about your worth as a person?

Have you considered seeing your child grow up, really seeing it first hand, and knowing you're a part of that?

Have you considered giving you child a chance to have a genuine connection with his/her lineage?

Have you considered loving your child so much the scrutiny you'll be under doesn't matter?

Bundled up in that question are so many others implicit to the process that I can't list them all. But I answered them. Each and every one. I wish fewer people had to make the choice about whether or not to place their child in adoption. I wish more people in those situations actually had choice. I also wish more people, outside of adoption, answered these questions. The stigma of adoption falls apart when these questions are given the weight of reality. Giving our full consideration of these questions can't help but open our eyes to our prejudices and naivete. Once we see them we can begin work on ridding ourselves of them.

I wish more people would consider open adoption.