By Jennifer Adams
When I first saw the job listing for an On Your Feet Foundation (OYFF) Case Manager position, my first thought was, “Flexible hours, can work from home, and part-time! Exactly the type of job I’m looking for!!” As a stay-at-home mom of 3 young children, I was hoping to return to working in social services. However, I needed a job where I could work around my childrens’ schedules. I didn’t have much experience in the adoption sector aside from the foster care agency where I worked immediately post-undergrad, but thought, “I’ll give this a shot, what can it hurt?” It didn’t hurt. In fact, working with birthmothers and with OYFF has been one of the most rewarding and greatest learning experiences of my career.
I naively felt most adoptions were closed and open adoptions were too good to be true. However, the women I work with at OYFF have proven me wrong. Most of the birthmothers I work with have open-adoptions. Most, have fantastic relationships with their children AND their children’s parents. Was it easy from the start? From what I have learned so far, the answer is no, but the journey is well-worth it.
One issue I hear over and over again from birthmoms in an open adoption is communication. Either lines of communication are broken, or someone feels they are being contacted too much (boundaries aren’t respected or are lacking). Tracy is one of the first clients I connected with. She parents two young children and she and her husband (now, divorced) made the difficult decision to place their youngest son at 6 months of age. Tracy’s older children both live with special needs, her (ex)husband is on disability and Tracy herself, manages her own mental illness. Tracy has been very open discussing her decision to place – when I first met with her, she was on a panel of birthmoms speaking to prospective adoptive parents. Tracy reached out to me after the panel stating she was having difficulty relating to her son’s parents. At the time, she wanted to be contacted less frequently. The mom (Jane) was updating her so much, that Tracy didn’t feel like she had time to process the placement and work through her feelings. However, Tracy didn’t want to offend Jane, thus possibly causing her to stop all lines of communication. At one of OYFF’s retreats, Tracy discussed the issue she was having with the facilitators and other birthmoms. She was able to gain confidence on how to discuss with Jane the frequency of the updates. In turn, they developed a plan that worked for everyone – and, now Tracy and Jane are both happy and their line of communication is open.
Mia is a birthmother with the opposite issue. Directly after placing her daughter, she and the adoptive family had a very open and communicative relationship. However, as the year has passed, Mia said the communication has become less and less. At one point, the father said to Mia that his wife needs time to bond with her daughter. This hit Mia very hard and is something she is working on through therapy, by discussing with other birthmoms she has met at the retreat and through OYFF events, and talking it over with me. Mia is an inspiration to me on how she can be so positive through such a difficult time.
Sara placed her son with her ex-husband close to 20 years ago. A few years after placement, her ex got remarried. Sara continued to send cards and presents on birthdays and holidays. She occasionally spoke with her son on the phone (her ex moved across country). She never thought all communication would be cut. Two years later, his new wife legally adopted Sara’s son. It was then decided to close the adoption because his parents were afraid their son would be too close to Sara and not close with his adoptive mother. Years passed, Sara remarried and had more children. The pain, however, about not being able to keep in touch with her son, continued despite Sara living her life. This past year, after her son turned 21, Sara reached out to him. He was interested in reconnecting. Sara attended a retreat and discussed all of her fears and hesitations about reuniting (would he like her? her family? would he blame her?). The facilitators and other birthmothers at the retreat, were wonderful and a great deal of support to Sara, when she and her family traveled across the country to meet him. The reunion was wonderful and Sara continues to keep in touch with him regularly. Sara still struggles with all of the years she felt she missed with him, and being kept in the dark about what he was doing or how he was feeling. She is beyond grateful that they have been reunited.
Despite the ups-and-downs when it comes to communication, as the relationship evolves between the birthmom and the adoptive parents (for most of the women I work with), an open adoption works. It works for the birthmom, the child, and the parents. The child grows up in a loving, caring environment where questions can be answered, trust is built, and there is peace of mind. I am in awe of the ladies I work with, how strong they are, how much love they have to give, and how much they are there for other birthmoms. These birthmothers inspire me everyday to find ways to help them meet their goals, do my best at my job, and to learn, grow, and reflect on what adoption can mean to everyone.