Missing Pieces
Missing Pieces by Lisa Ritter Starr

Opening Adoption

by Lisa Ritter Starr

According to the media, you'd think adoptions these days aren't any different than they ever were. The adoption stories seen on television, in books and magazines, and on film usually display three perspectives: that of the adopting parents, the adoptee, and the "long-lost" birthmother.

The details of these stories are certainly as varied as real people's lives, but they often stress the same popular convention: Adoptee and birthmother have an emotional reunion after the fragile but well-meaning adoptive parents reveal the "secret." Isn't there more to it than that? Or is this just all we want to hear?

I, for one, would like to see another side. The side I'm talking about is generally less dramatic, but it is the story of many real people. It is actually a growing trend, and may just have a lot more social impact than closed adoptions - and possibly even change the way society thinks about adoptions in general.

So how would I know? Being a birthmother gives me some special knowledge. But for me, there was no secret adoption, no tearful reunion, and I was never lost. In fact, I have spent lots of time with my daughter and her family. She is in her first years of school now, so we have been through a lot together: birthdays, graduations, Christmas, Mother's Day, vacations, and plenty of regular old days that any other mother would spend with her child.

Sometimes my daughter has called me, "Mama Lisa," and sometimes just "Lisa." She tells all her friends at school about me as if I were a prized show-and-tell exhibit. I think she thinks it's cool to have two moms. She's the only one at school with an open adoption, but she has a friend who also has two moms - for another reason. But that's their story.

My story seems complex at times, but at the heart it's relatively simple: I had an unplanned pregnancy and knew about the "third choice" of open adoption because of a newspaper article I read. When I saw the article about a birthmother in an open adoption of 11 years, I said to myself, "That's me. That's what I'm going to do." And I did it.

I met my daughter's parents through an open adoption agency. They introduced me to a couple whom I chose from a pool of about 40 applicants. We liked each other right away - most stories I hear about open adoptions start like that - and so they chose me, too, and we wrote up a contract. The open adoption contract is basically a birthparent-child contact agreement. Both parties must agree upon a level of openness or regular contact. It is signed before or along with the legal adoption papers. In some states, the birthfather must also sign.

As for us, we forgot our contract almost as soon as it was made. It was just a formality to us, because we wanted however much contact felt comfortable. Afterward, I included my daughter's adoptive parents in as much of the pregnancy as possible, and they have made sure to include me in their lives all along the way, too.

Sound strange? It's not, really. After all, my daughter would be the first to mention that lots of people have more than one mother. There are step-mothers, mothers-in-law, foster mothers, godmothers, grandmothers, friends, and others who have stepped into a child's life to offer maternal guidance. Heck, I even know of some single fathers who receive Mother's Day cards.

Families these days are shifting and changing - that includes the family of adoption. My dream is to see people turning away from the exclusivity of closed adoptions and the "big secret" of adoption in general, and looking toward the future in which mixed families, openness, and the great big village it really takes to raise our children are acknowledged and put in the spotlight for a change.

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