Friday, April 2, 2010

questions and answers about open adoption

I get alot of questions about Isabelle's open adoption and recently a friend sent someone to my blog that was doing an open adoption and had questions so I thought maybe a nice organized post with all the information would be helpful for others who might stop by as well.  I am also inserting pictures from our recent trip to the zoo while they were home from Texas.

The basics:  We met Sam and Lauren 5 weeks before Isabelle was born.  At the time Lauren was still in high school and they were not ready to be parents.  Today 5 years later they are married and living in El Paso where Sam is stationed with the US Army.  We adore them and they have very much become part of our extended family.

Why did we choose open adoption?

To be honest when we decided to adopt I was not thinking open adoption.  I was thinking that I have one biological child I don't share and I wanted our adoption to be as much like that as possible.  As a result we chose the agency we worked with based on 3 criteria; one it was a christian organization, two it was close to our home and three, most important, they did foster care to adoption which meant we would be able to bring the baby home from the hospital as foster parents before the adoption was finalized rather than having to wait the typical 3 months most agencies had before placement because the birthmother can change her mind during that period.  I wanted this baby right away, like if I had given birth.  It is a riskier place to be knowing we could loose the child during those first few months but the agency we worked with, New Life Family Services, only does fos adopt with birthmothers they feel very confident will not change their minds.

So there we are looking to adopt a child that we will pretend is just like our biological child and carry on with our lives.  As part of our home study the agency had us reading books about raising adopted children and about open adoption which were both eye opening and exciting books.  They helped me realize I would need to be aware of the unique emotional needs my adopted child would have.  It then became so clear that I would want the support of the birthparents in this journey.  They are the only ones who can really explain the decision to her and reassure her of the love she will need from them.  Having emersed myself in raising my son the best way I could for his unique personality I knew I would give nothing less to our next child.

Is your adoption totally open?

Totally.  We share pictures, notes, visits, met each others family, facebook.  They are like members of our family.  Sort of like an Aunt or Uncle.  Or like godparents.

What was it like when you met them?

It was scary and exciting.  We met with our social workers, we each had our own, at the agency.  We just shared about ourselves.  They knew a little more about us than we knew about them because of the profile they had read in choosing us.  We hit it off right away.  They were so much like John and me.  We talked, shared stories, asked questions.  They were honest with us and we were honest with them.  At first I wasn't sure how much to share.  I remember Sam telling us where he worked and it was only a couple miles from our house.  I started to say something but stopped myself because I wasn't sure I was supposed to tell them where we lived.  We still didn't know exactly where this was all going.  However, the third time we met them, a few days before Isabelle was born, we had them over to the house for pizza and to show them the beautiful pink room which we had spent practically every spare moment working on since meeting them.

Were you there when Isabelle was born?

No, although I know that sometimes happens.  Lauren had lots of support between her family, Sam, her social worker and friends.  We got several phone calls throughout the day letting us know how the labor was progressing.  When she was finally born we got permission to call Sam directly so he could tell us all about her.  I wrote about my feelings the day Isabelle was born here.

What if they changed their mind? Aren't you afraid they will take her?

No. While the news loves to cover those kind of stories the odds of that actually happening are minimal. And with a legal adoption they cannot have her back even if they want to. Adoptions that are over turned happen because the adoption was not legal. All the paperwork was not filed properly. That is a big part of the security of using an agency that has done lots of adoptions. All the I's were dotted and the T's were crossed. She is ours forever.

Does Isabelle go stay with them? What are the rules?

No. Open adoption isn't like shared custody where they get her every other weekend. Before she was born we got together with our social workers and agreed on various details such as regular visits, pictures, notes, etc. This helped to put parameters around what we would be doing in those early years when we were getting to know each other. Today as Sam and Lauren have gotten older and their lives have led them to new things and to a move outside the state it would be impossible to keep up the regular visit schedule that we originally created, however, our relationship has developed in a way that allows us to continue to be part of each others lives even long distance. 

What does Isabelle know about her adoption?
At 5 Isabelle has surprised us all with her understanding of what has transpired in her life.  I blogged here about her expressing a desire to go live with Lauren after realizing what it meant to be born from someone.  She had known for several years, because of pictures, that she grew in Lauren's tummy but had never asked questions or given any sign of really understanding what that meant until recently.  I encourage her to talk to me about it and try to answer her questions as best I can looking for what she needs at this young age.  She is currenly into referring to them as "birth parents" and I can tell is rolling all that is meant by that around in her mind. 
John and I attended a panel discussion on raising adopted children a couple years ago before Isabelle started putting this all together.  My biggest take away was that the most obvious question will not be your child's first question and the things you think are so obvious they don't need to be explained aren't necessarily so.

And just like the obvious questions for Isabelle aren't going to be the ones I think of, I bet there are lots more questions I didn't think to answer in this post about open adoption.  Feel free to comment your question about open adoption and I will try to answer.


  1. Melanie, What a wonderful post, it will be so helpful to so many people. Thanks you for sharing your story. :)

  2. love this post, it is adoption is such a mystery to people, it is great that you have a forum to write out your experience. Isabelle is a much loved, much blessed, lucky little girl to have so much love around her.

  3. Great post! I like your last paragraph about the obvious questions not necessarily being so. When Sofie was questioning me her questions were not what I thought that they would be. I was thinking about bringing it up with all the kids since it's been awhile since we even mentioned it around here. I don't want to shock the others the way I shocked Sofie! :)

  4. I don't even think of her as adopted and I feel like Lauren and Sam are just an extension of who all the Hardackers are.