Figuring Out Open Adoption From Scratch: Lessons Learned by Two Pioneers, a Birth Mom and an Adoptive Mom Transcript


Episode 10 Podcast > Full Transcript


Lori Holden, Greeting:
Can you imagine fumbling around in the dark for one of the most important missions of your life, without having any training at all? Once the deep flaws in the closed adoption era started to become apparent, some adoption agencies decided to experiment with this newfangled thing called “open adoption.”

Adopting parents and birth parents were told to "go have contact” but not given much more info and support than that because at that time, 25-30 years ago, no one had it figured out.

We have 2 guests today, both pioneers, both figure-outers. They entered into the world of adoption around the time that social workers were coming to understand that the decades-long experiment called Closed Adoption hadn’t worked so well for adoptees, for birth parents, even for adoptive parents.

Lori Holden, Intro:
Adoption: The Long View is a podcast brought to you by Adopting.com. Our focus is more on the marriage than the wedding. Once you fill the crib and are legally joined to your beloved and child, your journey is not over; it's just beginning. We cover things you need to know now; perspectives you need to hear now.

I'm your host, Lori Holden, author of The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption and longtime blogger at lavanderluz.com. I'm a mom through infant adoption to a daughter and a son, now in their late teens. And it's been a ride.

Think of any road trip you've taken; there and there are downs and it's always an adventure. You're always glad for the trip, but afterward and during, you might end up thinking, “If only I knew then what I know now.”

So, here we go.

Lori:
Our first guest today is Kim Court. She's a birth mother who placed her son in a fully open adoption in 1988. For more than 30 years, she has maintained a close family relationship with her son, his family and even the birth father's family.

Kim is a professional writer currently in the process of writing a memoir about the personal and private struggles she faced as a birth mom and a parenting mother in the years that followed her son's placement.

Originally from Massachusetts, Kim now lives in Delaware with her husband and their two daughters.

Now, not connected to Kim by adoption history, but our second guest today is Linda Marie Mueller. She's an adoptive mom who found herself swimming upstream against societal norms.

In 1992, Linda was chosen to be mom to her son by his first mother. That very first word of that very first phone conversation, a simple “Hello”, led Linda to see Joanne as a real person facing a real-life heartbreaking challenge. And immediately, Linda's heart was opened. The power of the ensuing and enduring relationships is being documented in a book to inspire others.

Linda has been a speaker and writer about open adoption over the last 20 years. She's a graphic designer and public-school employee and babysitter and chief spoiler of her son's dog, Captain.

Welcome, Kim and Linda. I'm so glad to have you here.

Kim Court:
Thank you. I am glad to be here.

Linda Marie Mueller:
Thank you.

Lori:
So, Kim, I'm going to ask you to go first and then Linda, I'll ask you to tell us briefly how you came to be among the first involved in open adoption. What's your path to that?

Kim:
Well, your description at the beginning was spot on; I had never even heard of open adoption before. And I became pregnant as a senior in high school. And at the time, socially, conventionally, it wasn't necessarily acceptable, sort of within a Catholic church, but within society as a whole – I'm from New England originally – and it was sort of looked at as very, very negative and very traumatic and very sort of life stopping.

And through a series of events, I was on the other side of the country, actually, and connected to a social worker through Catholic Social Services at the time; she was representing this organization that has actually since, unfortunately, disbanded.

But she presented to me the option of adoption in a way that I'd never thought of it before. I think like many people, I at that time had an image of adoption, sort of an antiquated, you know, you never hear of the birth parents or the, you know, again, sort of the made for TV Lifetime movies. You know, you have all these stereotypes in your head.

And so, it was completely foreign, and I will say, a little bit scary and a little uncertain. There were no books out there. I've often said I wish your book had been written 30 years ago as a resource.

And so, when faced with this decision, open adoption was presented to me as very new, very positive and very child centered. And that's about it. There was no sort of step by step – And I realize you're dealing with human beings here – but still, there was no step by step know what to expect.

You know, you think about the book, What to Expect When You're Expecting; there was no What to Expect When You're A Birth Mom or When You're Considering Open Adoption. So, it was very muddy. It was very unclear and very uncertain.

So, at that point, it was sort of a kind of a leap of faith, if you will. No coercion or anything involved at all, but sort of a different way of presenting adoption that gave me things to think about.

Lori:
When you first heard of the shift from what you knew about adoption to what they were presenting to you, did you like that or was it a little bit scary or both?

Kim:
A little bit of both. The first word that came to my mind when you just said that was curious; I wanted to know more. And there was no more for me to know because it was still so new.

I am very much a researcher. If I have a topic or something that I'm really interested in today, I'll hit Google and do all the research that I can. Back then, I remember vividly going to the local library and there were zero books, of course, on open adoption and the books that were on the shelf about adoption – I could still smell them – they were sort of old and musty and very much almost like record keeping rather than storytelling.

So, there was no personal narrative; nobody saying, “Here's what it means”, “Here's what it could be like.” “Here's what your potential decision may look like down the road.”

So, that was a little unnerving, but it may be curious; it didn't turn me off completely. It just made me more curious.

Lori:
And bring your son's parents into it. What was that like at the very beginnings of that?

Kim:
And many people may be familiar with this kind of scenario, but as a birth mom at that point, I think I was maybe eight months along; very, very close to delivering. And this social worker, who I had been working with, whose name was Judy and was incredible; absolutely incredible. Very much a lifeline.

She arrived at my doorstep with a tote bag full of old school photo albums that somebody had put together with the plastic that you peel back and you put in your best posed pictures to put your best foot forward.

And she pulled these photo albums based on – It sounds so trite to say – but based on sort of a wish list that I had put together. Here's what I was looking for. And it was the very first photo album that I looked at that those are the people who are my son's parents.

And I consciously tell that story because I don't want it to make it look as though I was dismissive or I was kind of glib about things; I wasn't. I was very naive, mind you, and very young. But I think at the time, I could feel the seriousness of it enough so that when I realized this family is incredible, I realized it might look as though I wasn't taking it seriously.

And so, I looked at all the other photo albums as well, but this one photo album sort of stuck with me. And I think I had shared with you, I literally opened the first cover and the picture was of my son's mom and dad wearing California raisins T-shirts with Hawaiian leis around their neck, standing on the deck of a cruise ship. I mean, it was super casual, super fun. It just immediately showed their personality. It didn't look staged or posed; it just was very warm and very inviting.

And the rest of the album was like that. It was intermixed with sort of the portrait studio pictures of everybody's family, but then the candid snapshots that really painted a picture of the kind of life that they had that they wanted to expand and include a new person in their family.

So, that was my initial introduction to them. And there literally was nothing negative. It was all positive. And it was like a little a little switch had flipped. And I realized these people are special.

And 32 years later, I could still say the exact same thing. Truly, if I could have manufactured a family, I couldn't have done any better.

Lori:
And I'd like to ask you some more about what happened after that; we'll get into that. But, Linda, will you tell us how you ended up on the precipice of being in an open adoption?

Linda:
Thank you.

You know, like many with infertility, my then husband and I were looking to adopt a newborn baby. I was first introduced to openness through our agency with some required reading. It was 1991. I was completely naive to anything around openness and we were busy with a lot of other paperwork and things like that, but this openness thing was lingering out there.

I believe the first book that I read was The Children of Open Adoption by Kathleen Silber. And I still have it. And I remember I was really moved by the stories within the book. And this must have come out after your situation, Kim.

But even though I was moved by the stories, I was really burdened by fear about the idea of having this relationship with these unknown people. I just wasn't sure how to do that. It seemed daunting on all levels.

But then – As adoptive parents can talk about – we got the call. And that means that we got the call about a match; a situation. There was a two-week-old baby boy in a foster home. We were chosen by his mother, but with the caveat that she wanted to talk to us on the phone first.

So, pretty quickly, the short discussion. We decided, yes, we're willing to have this contact. We thought it would be the only contact and we even did the 1992 technology with an anonymous connection with that phone call. And we also chose to have it recorded. We spent $30 to have this little cassette tape that we would share with him as an adult. So, we kind of laugh about that today.

So, there we are; 1992 technology. My husband's in the other room on his landline. I'm literally sitting on the kitchen floor in front of the refrigerator, on the other landline. This call was connected. And then there's this dead space and then this word comes out and hangs there. And it was “Hello”.

And it was my son's mom. A teenage girl. She became real. Everything just suddenly lifted when she spoke. The fear went away. I can't quite describe it, but I guess when you're thinking esoterically or intellectually as you're going through paperwork and planning, it's just hard to imagine the real people behind the scenes.

And so, she suddenly became real. And then our conversation went great from the start and she said, “I have decided. You're the ones.”

And several minutes later after that, I think for her eagerness took over and she said, “Can I meet you when you come to get him?” And again, it was like I was unsure what to say, but my husband at the time, who probably had more angst about openness than I did, was the first to speak. And he said, “Sure, that would be great.”

And it was a really emotional time, it's like, “Wow, this is all happening and we're going to meet.”

Lori:
So, it kind of got blown open, just through the course of events.

Linda:
Yes. And we didn't know what the future held beyond that, but we knew we were meeting that day.

Lori:
So, you both kind of seemed maybe primed for openness, and by that I don't mean contact, I just mean being open to what happens and like a trusting thing, like, “Somehow this is going to be okay. I'm being led and I have choices and it's going to be okay.”

Is that a fair statement?

Kim:
Yeah, I think so. Yeah, I mean, I think, for me, just doing some research and meeting people over the years, I know that I come from a place of sort of privilege. I mean, this wasn't a traumatic situation in the sense of there wasn't any violence, there wasn't any anything tied to this story at all. And so there weren't all those other things that might weigh down or weigh heavy on a decision.

Which in some ways actually made it more difficult, because then you think to yourself, “Well, then why did you place him for adoption?” And so, those are things that I've worked out over the years.

But no, I think that because all of the other stuff that sometimes comes with birth parents or people in an unexpected pregnancy, I should say that. I know you're not a birth parent until afterward.

So, with anybody with an unexpected pregnancy, no matter what the circumstance, I think every situation is different. Mine did not have the extra burden of, like I just said, all the other things that can kind of weigh it down. And so, when presented with this option that, “Hey, this could turn into something good. This could be something good and meaningful and a good beneficial relationship for everybody involved”, that was appealing to my 18-year-old self.

Lori:
So, for both of you, despite a lack of guidance, you both ended up with very rich and very close connections with your son's other family. So, how did you figure it out? Did you have a guiding principle? Kim?

Kim:
No. And I'd love to say “Yes. Yes, I did.” No, I really didn't. But it's very easy to look back now and see all the things that were in place that maybe none of us realized at the time.

You mentioned in the intro that I've been still close with the birth father and his family. And that's entirely true. They are incredible people. My immediate family; my parents and my sister, as well as now my husband and our two daughters, everybody has been incredibly supportive and willing to sort of come together.

Again, it's awkward sometimes telling the story because it seems almost too good to be true, like I'm hiding something or there has to be some kind of conflict, and there truly never was.

And there's one story I think I shared with you, and I'll share it just briefly. But a year after my son was placed for adoption, his parents came out east, where I was back home living, and they came out just themselves for maybe a college reunion or some kind of event, and they would only be in town for a day. And this is in Massachusetts. And all of our communication was going through the adoption agency. So, they let us all know. And the birth father's family and I, we all decided, “Yeah, this would be great. We should all get together for the day.”

We ended up going into Boston and meeting them, going into the city and spending the day with them. And this was my father and my sister's first time meeting my son's parents. My mom had been with me in California. And this was the birth father's family's first time meeting them.

And I remember walking through the public gardens, Downtown Boston, and watching my son's mom and my son's dad perfectly navigate – Not next to one another, mind you – but perfectly navigate an opportunity to be with every single one of us individually and just have a little conversation.

And it was casual. It was as though we were catching up when we've never met before. It was friendly. It was fun. It might have been a little awkward at the beginning, but I don't really have any memory of that. And it was just wonderful.

And so, now looking back, they put us at the center of everything. And I think we were uncertain. Again, with no blueprint, no map. We sort of defaulted to that. And in doing so, we all just sort of kept my son as the focus; as the center of everything.

And that's the key. And nobody really ever said that, but I think that is no doubt the reason why their willingness to be completely open, completely transparent, stress free, welcoming. They didn't just welcome my son, they welcomed all of us with no conditions, no expectations or anything. I think it was that willingness that was sort of the key.

Lori:
It sounds like they had what Jim Gritter, one of the social work pioneers, would call in a later book, an ability to be hospitious. His book is called Hospitious Adoption. And that is really just, Jim Gritter overlayed the hospitality model of a hotel and making everybody feel welcome – A really customer service-oriented hotel – and overlaid that on adoption as just become really good at making people feel welcome. Part of the furniture connected. And it sounds like your son's parents were wired for that and made an effort to live that.

Kim:
And what makes it so authentic – And I can say this now with this sort of long view approach – is that there's still that way. It wasn't just, “Let's make a good first impression. Let's whatever”; they’re still that way. And that is what is so cool about this whole thing, is that they've always been that way. That's just who they are.

And I'd like to say that I maybe I intuited something, looking at the photo album, I have no idea. But I'm incredibly grateful for what we have now. And yeah, they've always been that way.

Lori:
And that first meeting sounds like it was an excellent launch. And it kind of set the tone for the next 30 years and going.

Kim:
Yeah.

Lori:
So, Linda, how about you? Did you have a guiding principle? You may not have started out with one, but if you look back, can you see that there was something that guided you?

Linda:
You know, I was struck by what Kim said, and I agree. I think it has to do with just having like a level of kindness in your personality. It was really all about kindness toward each other, treating each other with respect and empathy through life's journeys. Our relationship grew deeper and deeper as we faced, you know, we each faced joys and challenges throughout the years.

I'm glad you mentioned Jim Gritter’s book, Hospitious Adoption, because it's one of my all-time favorites. It really nails the whole spirit of what open adoption is and should be, at its at its best. It's about just pure respect and kindness towards each other through all the moments.

Going back to the agency for a minute. Our agency actually suggested when we started out to take a look-see approach, sort of, you can continue contact if it feels right for everybody.

And when they first said that to us, it was like, “Oh, okay, that would be easy. That seemed palatable.” However, the reality of that was incredible stress because then it was like, “Oh, is it…?” It added this burden, “Would this visit be the last if somebody says something wrong.”

And quickly, I don't know, within the first year, it was like, “Oh, no, we are all in each other's lives forever. There's just no other way to look at it.”

You know, we got so close so quickly. And his open adoption, there was a ripple effect on both sides; birth mother's side, birth father's side, extended family, and especially his paternal grandparents who were a part of it from the very beginning. And there's just some amazing stories about the surprise, I guess, of, you know, because when I was thinking about openness, of course, I was just thinking about his birth mom. I am ashamed to think I didn't even really think that much about the birth father's side. But then in the end, there was an incredible birth father's side as well and his extended family.

Lori:
And those connection turned out to be really important to your son.

Linda:
Yes, and they died young, they died in their 60s. And if we had maybe done the original, you know, the thought that was the going thought of the time, well, you can meet these other people when you're an adult; you can do what you want when you're an adult. Well, if we had gone that route, he would have never had the experience of his amazing, amazing grandparents. And his grandparents became important to us as well.

Lori:
And that kind of leads into another question I want to ask you. Your sons are now grown; they're adults. Can you share with us one of the most challenging times in your open adoptions? Kim, would you go first?

Kim:
You know, I had a hard time with this when you were thinking about it, because I haven't really had a challenging time at all because, I mean, we exchange cards and letters and gifts and then later on visits and he came to my wedding and we went to his graduation and we spent some holidays together. So, there's never really been a time where I look back and I think, “Ooh, that was a dark period.” There really hasn't been.

The stressful time for me is what I'm sort of processing now in writing, is becoming a parent so many years after placement. That's where my struggle has been. And honestly, thinking about writing a memoir and everything for years, I always thought, “Oh, I should share this story because it's so incredible and it's so wonderful.” And it is. And that is part of the story.

The part that only I can tell, though, I think is my experience as a birth mother. And there have been a lot of issues; a lot of it just stemming from secrets and shame and guilt and that kind of thing.

So, for as wonderful as all the openness was on the adoption side, there was still – And Linda we’re probably in the same timeline roughly. But this was 88 through all of the 90s, really up until 2004, if you can believe it, until my oldest daughter was born – this remained a secret from extended family and that was very, very painful. And that will probably always be my deepest sadness, is that that was a secret that I sort of carried and kept for so many years because that was sort of what was expected.

So, that's the only negative that I can think of. And that's personal and something that I'm writing about, but in no way reflects on the level of openness or the enjoyment, honestly, that I've had in watching my son grow and watching him now as a young man and just, you know, he's probably the best person I know. And his family is just incredible. So, that's kind of…

Lori:
So, it seems like when we say open adoption, we're actually talking about a bundle of things. And one of them is the contact, which you figure it out, but the living in the open with your whole story, that didn't come to you in time, and it may not to many women who have place.

And I do hear you that there's a lot of other factors besides just getting along with your child's family. There's other things about being a birth mom or a first mom in our culture.

Linda, how about you? Do you have any challenging time that you can teach us about?

Linda:
The thing that comes to mind first is that it was challenging, but also enlightening and heartwarming when I discovered that he had his own deep connection with them that was sincerely innate, that started really young. He really missed them.

And sometimes, some naysayers would say, “Well, he feels really torn” and I say, “Well, that's his family and I still think it's better for him to know them and miss them than not know them.” So, they lived about three hours away.

So, one particular poignant moment was he climbed into my bed in the middle of the night, whispering, “When can I see her again?” He was maybe five or six.

That was so heartbreaking to me that he obviously had been stirring in the night. And it was surprising. I had to get my head around it, but we hugged and hugged. And I empathized because my own parents lived several hours away; I miss them every day. So, I tried to use language like, “Honey, they're inside your heart. They are in there.”

And the neat thing about openness was I could tell him, “You know what? We will call her tomorrow.” I'm sure, adoptees that feel sad about the unknown and when a parent can't say, “I’ll call her tomorrow”, then it makes it all the harder. So, I look at it like as a blessing that we had that opportunity to be able to reach out to her when he needed her the most.

Another challenge was the fact that he was an only child and his birth mother had another child a few years later. That was also an only child in his family. So, there were these two boys, that were only children and their families, and they pined for each other. So, that was the impetus of a lot of visits.

And especially as they got older and they became teenagers, they really wanted to spend time together. So, we made it happen. And then Eric was able to be in his brother's wedding, which was really super cool.

Lori:
Wow.

One of the things that I noticed when you're telling the story of your son wanting to know when he can see her – And you may not have noticed this – but your feelings about that were his feelings. They weren't your own being, “Oh, gosh. He's thinking about her, not me.”

So, I think that you were focused on him. I just wanted to point it out that that's probably, one of your guiding principles, is, “What's this like for him?” Always considering what's this like for him?

Linda:
Thank you.

Lori:
So, for each of you, can you tell us a story that confirms that you took the right path with your son and for the others involved over the years? Kim?

Kim:
Oh, boy.

Every visit that we've had, I mean, truly, every in-person visit, every phone call, every text message is – I mean, sometimes I'll hang up and I'll just cry. But it's a good cry – It is just – Yeah, I mean, it's just – because he has sort of taken on that openness and that sort of hospitality you were talking about and everything. He is the exact same way.

And so, you talk about nature and nurture, I think he's got equal parts, both for sure, but I mean, he absolutely inherited those qualities from his parents who are very just open and willing to receive whatever comes and make the best of things. And that is just this constant reassurance.

There is one story that I've shared before, but there's one story, super early on, he was either one or two; very, very young, still in diapers, still in a stroller. And I made a trip to California, just myself. And I visited some family and asked if I could meet up. And they said, “Absolutely, that would be wonderful.” And so we made plans to meet at a park.

And his parents also had an older son who was just two years older, also through adoption. And so, I met my son's mom and then the two boys. And we're at this park and we're feeding ducks and we're watching these boats go by and playing on the playground a little bit, mostly because his older brother was playing on the playground a little bit and his mom said, “Oh, we’re going to need a bathroom break.” And so, she was going to take his older brother to the restroom. And we were sitting on this big blanket and she said, “Do you mind watching Matt?” That's my son. And I said, “No.” I thought, “Of course, I don't.”

And so, she left and she left her purse and she left her keys and she left her wallet and she left everything, including her son right there with me and walked a good distance away to this public restroom to help her older son.

And I just sat there in that moment and I do vividly remember this moment. And I thought, “Holy cow. She completely – I mean, where would I go and what would I do? – But she completely trusted me. There was no – and if there was any hesitation, I never sensed it – But there seemed to be no hesitation, no rush to judgment. It was like we were girlfriends, just kind of hanging out.

And obviously our relationship was a little bit different than just friends, but the trust and the ease with which she showed that trust just struck me completely.

And I don't know if that was reassuring necessarily about my decision, but I remember it had a huge impact on me and how I perceived what this relationship might be like going forward.

Lori:
Sounds like what Linda was saying earlier about just being all in. And you have no qualms; you're just so in.

Kim:
Yeah.

Lori:
Linda, how about you; a confirmation story that this was the right path for you?

Linda:
So, you're going to make me tell one story right now.

Lori:
You have many.

Linda:
Well, I just like to I have to piggyback on what Kim said with a similar story. And that is when we had our very first in-person visit after Eric was placed with us, he was five months old. It was a Saturday. And the social worker was driving his birth mom to a park. The social worker came out and said she was feeling sad. She wasn't ready to come out.

So, my maternal motherly instinct just took over. I swooped up the baby. I walked him over to the car, open the car door. And I said, “You just spend time with him.”

And I don't know, it was just instinct. I just wanted her to know she was important. She will always be important to him. I don't know.

Lori:
That's such a beautiful mirror image to Kim’s story.

Linda:
But I do want to share a story about his, again, paternal grandparents. So, when Eric was about three, my dad was dying and we had a lot of logistics and we were holding vigil, et cetera. And I needed somebody to watch Eric for a few days. And his birth grandparents just came to mind as, “Wow, this could be a win-win. They could have some time with him and I could have the time that I needed with my family and my dad.”

And so, I called them. There was so much excitement and tears on the other side, “We would love to. Are you sure?” And I was like, “Absolutely.”

And so, they drove three hours to pick him up, drove three hours home. But anyway, when I was thanking them, they said something that I'll always remember and they said, “This is what family does for family.” And it was really like an aha moment like, “This is family. It's not only family to him, but it's family to me.”

Lori:
I love those stories. So, I can maybe hear in the back of my mind, like, okay, so navigating open adoption is a lot easier if you're healthy and everybody's healthy. It can be as healthy as the least healthy person. And you ended up with lots of healthy people.

What would you say to others who want this, but they don't have those ingredients on all parts of this open adoption? They don't have that healthiness. Do you have any ideas for them?

Either one of you can take it. Linda, I want to pick on you first.

Linda:
Well, I think you do have to, you know, it always has to center around the best interest of the child. And so, if someone is unhealthy, then maybe some hard decisions have to be made, unfortunately. That doesn't mean that it's forever, but maybe there's a window of time when some more boundaries need to be made. That doesn't mean that maybe all contact needs to stop, but it's just really, parenting is about what is the best interest of the child at hand?

Lori:
Yeah, let me just interject that open adoption does not mean without boundaries. All relationships, to be healthy, need healthy boundaries.

Linda:
Yeah. So, does that answer it well enough for you?

Lori:
Yeah. Kim, do you have anything to add?

Kim:
You know what? Can you repeat?

Lori:
Yeah. I'm kind of thinking, you know, you just said you were dealing with people who were dealing with their own stuff. So, you didn't come across a lot of insecurity or jealousy or manipulativeness or anything like that.

So, if you are trying to form an open adoption relationship with somebody who maybe isn't dealing with their stuff, do you have any ideas for that?

Kim:
I think that's tough because there's so many – it's easy once again for me to offer this wonderful advice and a pretty perfect scenario, knowing that mine is not really the norm. I think it's maybe getting there, but I think there's a lot of fear.

And it's funny, social media, I think, can be a double-edged sword. I think on one aspect, it's so wonderful to be able to have sort of instantaneous contact or transparency or openness; whether it's pictures, videos, quick little status updates, whatever it might be, or even just a text message. But on the flip side, sometimes that's too much for people. Sometimes that's hard and difficult.

So, I don't know. I would I guess, guidance wise, I would just say, do what you're comfortable with. And I would echo what Linda said, as far as keeping the child, or even if they're a teen or a young adult, keeping them at the center of everything and being mindful of – You know, I don't mean walk on eggshells; that's not what I'm trying to say – but sort of being mindful on how everything is sort of interconnected. I think empathy is a huge, huge factor in all of this.

And, Linda, your story was incredible, meaning your thought was of the birth mother and what she must be feeling. And even your other story, when your son expressed that he was missing his birth mom, you empathized with him instead of maybe leaning to where we would normally think an adoptive parent might go is fear, “Oh, God.”

Lori:
I'm not enough.

Kim:
Right, “I'm not enough” or “They're choosing the birth parent over me” or that kind of thing.

I think there can be such a push and pull and a power struggle and everything. And I think it's really hard. But I think if empathy is first and foremost, openness can come sort of in whatever capacity you're able to handle it.

Lori:
So, when we talk about, and pulling together some threads here, we have empathy, we have family, and we have all in.

And so, even if we're dealing with people who are difficult to deal with, if we treat them like an extended family member, they're in, and we have good boundaries around them, and we love them.

Maybe that's a piece of advice we can take out of this is that; love them, don't exclude them, don't bar them, but have good boundaries and continue to love, from whatever distance you need to, to keep the child at the center.

Kim:
I agree. Yeah, because, I mean, in the same way you would have boundaries with – If you're growing up or whatever – with your family or a family that you might marry into or whatever. It's healthy. It's a way to sort of navigate the world with healthy relationships that are sort of mutually beneficial and not toxic and not fake. I think that lends itself to an authenticity and a realness that this is what open adoption sort of is all about.

And it's different levels for everybody. There's no, you know, here all this time, you think back, I think back 30 years and I think, “Oh, if anybody had this road map or these blueprints.”

There really aren't any. I mean, it's sort of like this nebulous thing and it's kind of like you sort of have to navigate it and figure it out, for yourself and for everybody involved, what works best for you.

Lori:
Yeah, there's no guidebook that can tell you everything that could happen. But you can come up with like an orientation or a North Star and some guiding principles.

Linda:
I'd like to just interject something; I thought of something. Prior to adopting, I went through a lot of years of infertility. But I just wanted to say that I really, really, really, unbeknownst to me how helpful it would be, I really worked on that grief for a long time, and I got past that before adopting.

And it's been sort of one of those sort of hindsight 2020. I think that was one of the keys is that I really tried to never burden Eric as being like second best or anything. I was like, “Oh, no, no, no. That was not something that…”

The infertility piece just needed to be healed, I think. And I think for me – And maybe not everybody can completely get through that – But for me, I think that really helped me to be open to the openness and open to the other people in his life.

Lori:
Yeah, because it made space for it when you were doing your own work. And I think this is another thread that we're following, is that work on your own stuff. Work on it before you adopt. And then if it comes up again, continue working on it.

So, our time has gone. So, quickly – And these are such rich topics. But I want to ask you something that I ask every guest to share. Boil things down to your best piece of advice for somebody entering into adoption about the long view of it. Kim?

Lori:
Okay, from a birth mother's perspective, the advice I would give is, “Don't keep any secrets.” And I say that from a lot of different perspectives. But I think thinking of the person at the center, the adopted person, I think secrets can be so toxic.

And Linda touched on this before, you know, sort of always wondering if you had waited until they were an adult, when they could meet their extended biological family. There's risk there, especially if, as you said, some members of the biological family have passed away. They never had those opportunities for connection. But secrets are so toxic and so ugly and so awful.

So, I think steering away from secrets from the adopted person, but also from a birth parent perspective.

And I know society has changed a little bit, people are way more open about things and everything and maybe secrets and shame aren't a huge part of this as they were back then. But it was super toxic for me and it infected the way that I parent my two daughters now – A teenager and a nine-year-old – And I'm kind of still, if you can believe that, working through things in that regard.

So, that would be my biggest piece of advice, is to be as open as you are comfortable with. And there's a difference between things that are private and things that are secret.

Lori:
Exactly. And the difference is shame. Right?

Kim:
Very much so. Very much is privacy. I mean, I will absolutely 100 percent respect somebody's privacy and not share a story or share something that could be hurtful or harmful, but I'm not going to keep a secret that is then going to be damaging, either for me or for anybody else involved. So, I think understanding that distinction is super important and would probably be my best piece of advice.

Lori:
Great advice. Thank you.

Linda:
I guess I'm really thinking about this podcast in the framework of the podcast; Adoption: The Long View. That's exactly the same as for parenting. It's for the long haul. So, no matter what kind of {indistinct 48:44}, it's our job to raise healthy human beings that will be well-adjusted adults.

And so, in the context of openness, you know, how better to give your child that, I guess, foundation and base all along to help raise them to be a well-adjusted adult.

Also, really listen to adoptee voices. There's a lot of adoptive voices out there that are so powerful. I have the privilege of belonging to a non-profit that gave me a lot of opportunities to listen and talk to adult adoptees all along the way. And there was a common mantra that they wanted to know their beginnings; had nothing to do with loving their parents.

But you know what? Those that had parents that understood and listened to them, they were closer to those parents.

So, if you want to be close to your child, validate and empathize and walk this with them, allow yourself to be a safe place for them to talk to.

You know, a story about my little guy in the middle of the night, I guess, my heart is still warm to it that he felt safe to climb into bed with me and tell me that.

And also, just be confident with who you are to your child. Allowing more love in his life will only enhance his life, your life. And honoring them will honor him and will bring you all closer.

So, I guess as the final nugget; life is short. Don't miss the chance to grab all the love you can.

Lori:
Hmm, beautiful. Excellent advice from both of you; two amazing pioneers. And it's been wonderful to spend this time with you, kind of deconstructing how you figured it out, how it unfolded and what it ultimately did for your sons.

So, thank you for joining us today.

Linda:
Thank you so much.

Kim:
Thank you.

Lori:
With each episode of Adoption: The Long View, we bring your guests that expand your knowledge of adoptive parenting. Please subscribe, give this episode a rating, and share with others who are on the journey of adoptive parenting.

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Special thanks to Clemencia DeLeon for her behind the scenes assistance and thoughtfulness throughout this season. And to Adopting.com for producing and sponsoring this podcast.