The After-Adoption Life
by Lisa Ritter Starr
For anyone who might wonder, like I used to when I started the process, I
thought I would give an example of what life is like several years down the
road of open adoption. I can't speak for all birthmothers, but I can try to
shed some light on a side of the adoption triad not often seen by adoptive
parents and adopted adults. Most importantly, it is a perspective that could
be helpful to a new or contemplating birth mother.
Life goes on after an adoption - literally, figuratively, and not always
smoothly. I did open the door to my daughter's life, and I have continued to
live and act and go forward each day with my own. But I admit that it wasn't
always easy. After I placed my daughter with her adoptive family, I
experienced moments in which I believed I made a mistake. For a short time I
even felt the only goal I had in life was to have a child, and I had just
given up the perfect and perhaps only chance I'd ever get.
However, I always knew that the adoption was permanent. Most birthmothers
understand this from the beginning. Even during that rough period, I still
knew it was what I wanted. In addition, I was able eventually to recognize
other goals I wanted to achieve - goals that I'd had in mind when I decided
to pursue open adoption, so that I could in turn pursue them. Finally, I
remembered the goals I had for my daughter - a home with two parents who were
emotionally ready and financially prepared. That never changed.
Since that difficult time, I have completely accepted my decision and the
permanence of the adoption. Also, I can now see the results of other efforts
and goals I have made. I spent a year abroad, got my college degree, pursued
writing as a career, and otherwise enjoyed the independence and time alone
that I often crave, when I craved it. I also know that I have a certain level
of freedom to pursue other goals in the future.
At this point in my life I have come to believe that - in addition to
love, of course - goals and plans are at the core of open adoption. Adoption
starts on one side with an unplanned pregnancy, and on the other side, a
family planning to have a child. However complicated the situation becomes at
times, these plans remain central to the adoption and help give it meaning
and purpose. The plans that birthmothers probably had for their lives besides
or before children - a certain career path, marriage, extensive travel,
independence - also contribute to this core.
The idea of planning can help in explaining adoption to the child when
she starts asking why she was adopted, or why she was "given up" - another
thing that comes along with the passage of time. I would even recommend that
you plan how to tell your child the answers to these questions as soon as
possible. I told my daughter that I always wanted to have her in my life, but
I hadn't planned for her birth and so I needed to find another set of parents
who had. Planning is a universal concept that people deal with their whole
lives, and something school-age children can understand, since they see it
every day: teachers planning lessons and parents planning meals, their week,
But this may not be enough. As I've learned from experience, it's vitally
important to clarify the permanence of the adoption to children. Otherwise,
they may make other "plans" for themselves for the future. They may be afraid
that they'll be taken away from Mom and Dad, or possibly plan to go back to
the birth parents later on, when all the initial problems that caused the
adoption (like money or emotional security) have been fixed.
At age six, my daughter revealed to an adult outside of the family that
she would soon be going back to live with me and her birth father. We were
both older, more responsible, mature and, I assume, seemed to her so much
more like parental figures. I was shocked that she had come up with this
notion, but I also knew I had never really explained the permanence of
adoption to her. It became something she planned on whenever things got
boring, confusing, or difficult for her at home.
Finally, and especially for new birthmothers, I'd like to mention that
many of "the firsts" - the first tooth, first word, first step, first
birthday - have become fifths, sixths, and sevenths, and don't have the
impact they used to. In hindsight I clearly see that the firsts are poignant,
but they encompass a tiny fraction of a life, of which there are all kinds of
special moments to share and create. Besides, you can choose to create and
celebrate your own firsts: the first time you see your child walk, the first
word your child says to you, and the first birthday you spend together.
Life has gone on after adoption, plans made, goals accomplished, and new
plans and goals created for the future. Because I chose an open adoption, I
have been a regular presence in my daughter's life from month to month and
year to year. That's part of the benefit, and the difference, that openness
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