An Adult Adoptee's Perspective on Her Open Adoption
I was born and placed in an open adoption in 1991 through Catholic Charities. My brother — no biological relation — was born and was also placed in an open adoption two years prior.
Until I started working at American Adoptions, I had no idea that our adoption situations were so far ahead of their time. Today, open adoption is the norm. Because 9 out of 10 birth parents choose that option, American Adoptions actually requires adoptive parents to agree to a minimum amount of openness. But when my brother and I were born, it was largely unheard of.
Growing up, everyone who learned that I was adopted wanted to hear some sort of tragic backstory. “Who are your real parents? Why did they give you away? Have you met them? What was the orphanage like?”
Sorry to disappoint, but:
My birth parents were young and weren’t ready to raise a baby. They didn’t stay in a relationship, but they both visited when they could — since before I can remember, they’ve just been there and their presence was a normal thing.
My parents had struggled with infertility before adopting my brother and I, but were very much of the “any baby will be great, thanks,” mentality, and were only on board if maintaining a relationship with birth parents was an option. Everyone was just kinda, “Let’s do this — lets raise a baby together!”
My placement sounded like a pretty cute handoff of Baby Diana. There was cake. Nuns were involved. But definitely no orphanages or foster care.
My Birth Family
I love my birth family. Here’s what mine looks like:
- Two sets of incredibly sweet birth grandparents who never fail to remember me at Christmas or birthdays or comment on my Facebook posts.
- A birth mother who gave me my name, an independent streak and some awesome younger half siblings.
- A birth father who gave me my interest in the arts, horror movies and who is always up for getting margaritas.
They have always made it very clear that they love me, and they’ve always had a positive and present role in my life. I don’t see my birth mother much (she has young kids and a job that keeps her hands full), but my birth father and I get together pretty regularly.
My brother’s birth family is also very sweet and has always been equally present. I know this isn’t what all birth families look like.
There are a lot of adoptees who were placed for adoption because their birth parents didn’t have a great family dynamic, and they wanted something more for their child. I feel intensely lucky to have a birth family that is healthy, stable, a positive part of my life and whom I genuinely like as people. Not everyone is so lucky.
My birth parents, like a lot of birth parents, are off living cool lives — they completed their education and career goals, they’re both married and have families. Could they have done that with Baby Diana on their hip? It’d have been tough, but probably. Plenty of single parents do! But they wanted a different life for themselves and for me. They made an incredibly tough call, but it opened up a lot of opportunities for all of us, and that’s something I’ve always respected.
My Adoptive Family
I love my family. Here’s what mine looks like:
- An exceptionally adorable mom and dad. The best. They gave me everything and then some.
- A big brother with whom I share that specific sibling humor, who shows me the best music and who let me tag along since Day 1.
- Approximately one zillion aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, great-grandparents and more — and they’re all my best friends and favorite people.
I grew up in the American Dream of Kansas wheat, 2.5 kids and a golden retriever. We have normal family problems. But I recognize just how lucky I got — for the second time.
My parents told our adoption stories from the time my brother and I were infants, so it was a normalized and positive thing. They talked about our birth parents with love. All of our family members welcomed everything about adoption, and therefore us. Not only is my family full of awesome people — they’re also incredible examples of openness in adoption, and they inadvertently led a revolution when they were just trying to have a family.
I could’ve been born to any birth parents and then adopted by any family (or not). That’s just the luck of the draw for any child, even those who grow up with their biological family. That frustrates some people, but I find a strange comfort in it. These were the people that I ended up with in my life, and I wouldn’t change it.
Working at American Adoptions
I was working as a writer in Chicago when I saw a job listing for a writing position in Kansas City. I didn’t realize that the media company that had posted the listing was connected to an adoption agency until I was about halfway through the interview process.
That’s when I realized that this was the adoption agency that had placed a little cousin into my family. The job was closer to my family, plus I suddenly had a weird personal tie. It all just seemed too perfect to pass up. I flew out for an interview the next day, and then I moved to Kansas City and started work a few weeks later.
Since I started working with American Adoptions, adoption moved from the way-way back of my life to a daily thing. Before, adoption wasn’t something I thought or talked about too much, despite the openness in my situation.
Most of all, coming from my adoption bubble of sunshine and rainbows, I was surprised to encounter negativity. The birth and adoptive parents that come through our doors are wonderful. But I’ve seen some prospective adoptive parents who have had to be set straight when they threw tantrums about having to have contact with birth parents. I’ve seen birth parents who swear vengeance against anyone and everyone involved in adoption because they felt pushed into this decision by some iffy professional years ago, even though I would never work for an agency that used those tactics on women. And I’ve had adoptees call me names online because my equally valid story doesn’t reflect the pain they’re experiencing.
I can only speak for myself. I write a good deal of the articles you see on this website, and I mean what I write. I, and everyone here, will never stop reminding pregnant women that they always have choices and that they should always choose whatever is right for them. As an adoptee who is fiercely protective of those involved in the triad, I can tell you that this agency, including the people who work here, is on the level. I wouldn’t be here otherwise.
Placing a child or adopting a child is definitely not for everyone, nor is it the right choice for every situation. All adoption is hard — it’s created from loss. But with education and effort, it can be great, and everyone can gain something, alongside the losses.
In order for an adoption to be successful (and to have a happy and whole adoptee) everyone involved has to be ready for that education and effort. So, as a writer and as an adoptee, I try my best to educate people — they’ve got to bring the effort.
Why I Advocate So Strongly for Openness in Adoption
I credit the openheartedness of my birth and adoptive families as the reason why I have such positive feelings toward my adoption. Without an open adoption, I’m sure I would feel as if I were missing a part of myself and I’d likely have some resentment. Research consistently backs this up.
There are a lot of adoptees who struggle with a lack of information and history, and many are also struggling with racial or cultural identity. If you’re considering adoption, you must first consider the needs of every type of adoptee and make sure that you’re ready to meet those needs.
Welcoming strangers into your life and trusting them with something this monumental — whether you’re pregnant and considering adoption or you’re thinking about adopting a child — it’s a huge leap of faith. But the relationships involved in adoption aren’t something to approach halfheartedly. Anything that’s held back will only hurt your child.
My family — both birth and adoptive — didn’t hold back. There is a lot more to adoption than the loss of a birth parent’s child, or the adoptive parent’s gain of a child. Love and loss are mushed together, and so are the families. I’m somewhere mushed in the middle. Pretty content to be there.
Read her parents’ stories here.
Read the story of her brother’s birth grandmother here.
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