“We should not be asking who this child belongs to, but who belongs to this child.” -James L. Gritter

I’ll lay it out for you. Nice and honest. I felt defensive and threatened when I first started learning about open adoption. But this will be MY child. I will change this baby’s diapers. I will kiss this child’s boo-boos. I will rub this kid’s back when the flu strikes and the vomit flows. I didn’t really want to share. Somewhere along the way, someone told me that open adoption is biblical adoption and somewhere along the way I began to research the effects of open adoption on children and somewhere along the way, my views began to change.

But what would it look like?

Pictures and letters.

It would look like pictures and letters because my child would need the comfort and stability of knowing that we are his family.

Right?

You see, I hadn’t met my child yet. And I hadn’t met his mother.

Every circumstance within adoption is unique. Some children are taken by the state for reasons. Some parents are absolutely incapable of raising their kids. Sometimes there is abuse and it is not in the best interest of the child to see his parents. I know this. I am so thankful that isn’t Matthew’s story but I know it’s the story of countless children.

Perhaps, in those situations, open adoption does look like pictures and letters only. And that’s okay. But what’s vital, for our children, is that we do not shame their first family. For in shaming the family, we inadvertently shame the child. In refusing to talk about the first family, we silence the child. In failing to discuss adoption openly and honestly, we express to our child that their past cannot be a part of their future–that it is to be forgotten. In waiting to tell our children about adoption at all, we suggest that it is something of a secret. We turn our trust into a bomb waiting to detonate.

From the moment I laid eyes on my newborn son, I wanted the very best for him. I wanted what was best for him at one, four, five, nine years of age but I wanted to make every decision based on what was best for him at eighteen, twenty, thirty years old as well. If I can make a decision now that will help him to create positive relationships with his family when he’s an adult then I’m going to do it. People have asked me if it’s hard. People have told me that they could never “share” their child. I’m sure it is nothing less than the Spirit in me–guiding me, convicting me, growing me, sanctifying me–but I can’t imagine not sharing my child. I believe, simply, that it is impossible to be loved too much. Why would I deny my child more love? From the woman who bore him, no less.

And so, when Matthew’s mom called me up and invited us to his older sister’s high school graduation, my heart screamed yes. He’s been longing to meet them and this presented the perfect opportunity. There were hurdles to leap, schedules to arrange, bosses to ask for time off work, but I would have lassoed the moon to get him there.

Matthew and birth mom

Our two days were filled with family fun. I had thought that I would be in full time therapist mode as I helped Matthew through whatever this experience meant for him. Instead, he sailed through, in some ways, as though he’d always known them all. As for myself, I had to unpack a little more psychologically but it was absolutely worth it. Because whatever we have to wrestle with–as adoptee, as adoptive parent, as birth mother, as birth siblings–the smiles and the laughter, the memories and the stories influence it all.

I can tell you that no question and no feeling and no expression of that feeling is off limits for Matthew. Over the course of his life, there have been nights of hysterical tears and questions I can’t answer and questions I try to answer. My friend, an adult adoptee, who was once the only seven-year-old I knew who’d been adopted, said, “No matter how young, adopted children experience a loss that every cell in their body experiences, even if mental cognition is too young to consciously grasp it yet.”

I have always wanted to acknowledge the primal wound and the adoption related grief–to never force my child to be quiet or to process it like an adult would. I’m sure I’m screwing up on a daily basis, but I want to be a part of the solution and never a part of the problem.

The school my children attend happens to be the school that employs me and happens to be a Leader in Me school. We use Dr. Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People to teach and inform our students. Habit #5 says, “Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood.”

The essence of this habit is a temperament that favors curiosity,
open-mindedness, empathy, and patience–all rolled into one.
In order to really seek to understand, you cannot have already
judged a person or situation. You need to develop a desire to
understand–meaning a desire to see things from others’ point
of view, to see their reasons, and feel what they feel. –Mike Strum

The children who have come to me through adoption need to know that my shoulders are broad enough to hold their pain. They need to understand that I am mature enough to put their insecurity before my own. They need to believe that I am confident enough to handle their emotion without making it about me. They need to know that I will seek to understand them before I insist on being understood.

I am an advocate for adoption and for adoption reform. That means that I will honor their first family’s place in their lives. I wish that more adoptive parents understood that sharing the title of mother and father with another–in whatever way that manifests itself within their unique situation–is not a threat. It is absolutely vital for our children.

I want to reiterate that this looks different in every situation. It will look different for my two-year-old than it does for my nine-year-old. Some birth parents will desire distance and some will long for closeness. Some adoptees will push for connectedness while others push against it. Some birth parents have made egregious mistakes from which there is no turning back. Some have made choices due to circumstance and situation and they will learn and grow and change. We must understand that adoption is like the ocean, ebbing and flowing, twisting and turning. It is new every morning. The adoptive parents must adjust and process and accept that the only way to navigate this is to be willing to listen, to understand, and to take each moment at a time.

Open adoption is not what I thought it was. Praise God. It is not the threat to my family that I once imagined. It is his shy smirk when she tells him he ferociously kicked her morning, noon, and night in the womb. It is his birth mother giving him the things that I cannot. It is me giving him what she cannot. In truth, it is the beautiful white flash of the identical smiles of my son and his mother. And it is the mess of the life we all live and the child we all love.

Bassham family

 

Lori Bassham
Lori is a pastor’s wife and elementary drama teacher. She has been married to her husband, Troy, for almost 15 years. Together they raise their three boys, Garrett (11), Matthew (9), and Will (2). Two of their children came to them through adoption. Lori loves talking about and advocating for adoption.

Read more about Lori’s family and adoption journey at her Blog.

You can also read more about Lori’s Facebook Community, Tribe.  She started Tribe as a safe place for all those touched by adoption.