Missing Pieces
Missing Pieces by Lisa Ritter Starr

The "Secret" of Adoption

by Lisa Ritter Starr

There are thousands of adult adoptees today, most of whom have in some way voiced a desire sooner or later to find their birthfamilies. Whether it is the sixth grader trying to complete a "family tree" assignment for school, an eight-year-old being told who she most resembles (or doesn't resemble), or the forty-something patient filling out a family medical background, people who were adopted have emotional and physical needs to uncover the fact of their adoption and have access to their biological background.

It is no wonder adoptions have often been secret if you consider that most of them originate with a disappointing and emotionally difficult problem. At first, both sets of parents may think the fact of their choosing adoption is a sign of weakness or irresponsibility. On one hand, you may have a couple who tried first to have children (the "old-fashioned way") and found out later that this would not be possible. On the other, you have a birthmother or couple with an unplanned pregnancy, and to make it worse they are probably either young, poor, relatively uneducated, or a combination of the above.

And so, adoptions often begin with this "rock" and that "hard place," so to speak, and a considerable effort is made to keep the child from getting caught in the middle. Keeping it a secret is one way. Usually this is done by excluding the child from information about the adoption. Some parents and educators reason that children don't want to know they were adopted - they might feel sad, abandoned, disconnected, or afraid of being whisked away by the birthfamily.

The fact is, a few birthmothers have tried to whisk their children away later on, and at times have even succeeded. Children have also been abandoned by their birthmothers - in cars, alleyways, shopping malls, gas stations, you name it. And yes, children have felt disconnected from their adoptive families once they found out about their adoption. They have rebelled, run away, and otherwise tormented themselves and their families with troubled behavior.

Perhaps this has perpetuated closed adoptions, tainting them further with shame and fear. We decided that, when the child was born, it was best that the birthmother not even see or hold the baby, that she simply forget the whole ordeal as soon as possible. The birthmother and adoptive family did not meet. That would be too awkward, and the birthmother might "erroneously" conclude that she should keep the baby. The baby was then adopted, and this may have been kept secret until the child accidentally discovered the legal documents or was told about it much later in life.

There must have been a time when we really thought this would erase the negativity, shame, and pain with which some adoptions begin. Yet today we have more options - counseling, better parenting techniques - and more information in studies of past, closed adoptions in which the secret was much more harmful than beneficial for the adopted person. Most importantly, the overwhelming majority of birthmothers do not try to reverse the adoption.

Knowing what we know now, can we still conclude that closed adoptions are the way to go?

Children are watching their parents all the time. They are listening. They notice how their parents act and feel, and they try to emulate it. Therefore parents must be very careful to model behavior and control their emotions.

This is especially true with adoption. Adoptions often have negative emotions like shame and fear attached to them from their inception. This must be acknowledged and changed. If adoptive parents want healthy children, it helps to start by being healthy. If they want loving, kind children, it is good to show loving kindness to them and to others. This includes the birth family. Children are not known to distinguish between "good" and "bad" unless others teach them the difference. Therefore, we have got to get our own ideas of good and bad straight.

Closing off all access to the birthfamily at the child's birth is a divisive action that perpetuates the already negative origin of many adoptions. It is done out of fear that problems will occur, not a fact-based knowledge of the future. No one can predict the future. But we can give it shape by what we do, think, and believe in each moment.

Parenting is the process of guiding and helping a child that needs full-time loving kindness from healthy, whole adults. Adoption is no different, except for the fact that there are two sets of parents. What is truly good for the children is to have access to medical and personal information about themselves, through both sets of families. Open adoption serves that purpose. It is the only way to change adoption the problem into adoption the solution.

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