The Research, Data & Stories Behind Open Adoption: An Interview with Dr. Abbie Goldberg Transcript


Episode 9 Podcast > Full Transcript


Lori Holden, Greeting:
Some people like stories, others like numbers. In her book, Open Adoption and Diverse Families, Dr. Abbie Goldberg has satisfied both camps, as well as those who equally love stories and data.

Today's guest has brought me a huge gift in the form of her research. There are things that I know about effective parenting that I just know in my gut. And that would be the basic premise that truth and transparency and attunement are really solid guiding principles for raising emotionally healthy sons and daughters. So, is that only anecdotally true, or can that be backed up by data?

Dr. Abbie Goldberg has spent the last 15 years gathering evidence that what I know to be true is in fact borne out by data.

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 joins 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 Holden:
Dr. Abbie Goldberg is a Professor of Psychology and Director of Women's and Gender Studies at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts. She received her BA in Psychology from Wesleyan University and MA in Psychology and a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

For 15 years and counting, Dr. Goldberg has been conducting a longitudinal study of adoptive families headed by females, males and heterosexual couples.

Welcome, Dr. Goldberg.

Dr. Abbie Goldberg:
Thank you. Really excited to be here.

Lori:
It's great to see you. And your book was just so revelatory to me and I'm excited to dig into that with you.

Can you tell us briefly what led you to doing this vast amount of research on open adoption in diverse families?

Abbie:
Yes. So, my research actually started in the late 90s and early 2000s, focusing on the transition to parenthood in heterosexual biological parent couples. And so, through kind of doing that work, as just part of my graduate work, I became really kind of enamored and intrigued by the fact that there were so little research on other types of families and couples.

So, I did my dissertation on the transition to parenthood for lesbian couples who use donor insemination to become parents. So, I was really interested in the idea of people becoming parents in collaboration with other people. So, people who have to use or meet or come into contact with others in order to become a family or in order to become parents.

So, that work kind of led me to think about adoption. And so, I sort of started digging into the literature and found out that there really was no research on the transition to parenthood for adoptive couples, which struck me as kind of shocking, given that the transition to parenthood is kind of a huge life transition. And adoption, of course, is uniquely complicated and nuanced. And there are sort of really unique things like what happens before people get to adoption that might have implications for their actual transition to parenthood. So, how they approach it? What are their concerns? What are their fears? What are the unknowns? And then all of kind of how things unfold.

So, that was what just shocked me. You know, there was one study out of Israel from the early 90s and it was quantitative and really didn't go into any exploration.

So, in 2005, I launched this study. This is back in the days before a lot of social media or technology. So, I literally called adoption agencies on the telephone and sent them emails and asked them to give brochures about the study to their clients who had not yet adopted. And so, I had wonderful adoption agencies all over the country who helped me do this work and gave my brochure to folks.

And it was very important to me that I get couples before they actually adopt it because I wanted to look at that transition. It would have been much easier if I had found people who had already adopted, but then I wouldn't get any of the kind of the juicy data on what happens in terms of what people think is going to happen versus what actually happens. And it felt so important to me to understand what was going on for families and couples beforehand. Understand more about what that transition looks like for different folks.

Lori:
So, you can kind of track their beliefs and what happens along the way.

Abbie:
Exactly. And in some ways, very unexpected things happen. And one very concrete example is sometimes people say in the pre-adoptive period, you know, “I really want a girl” or “I'm only open to this race” or “I really am not open to open adoption.”

And often people don't get exactly what they think they're going to get or the longer that they wait, as some people might know, sometimes your attitudes can change or your openness to various things can change, sometimes just by necessity.

So, somebody might gently say to you, “You know, it's probably going to hurt your chances of adopting in the next couple of years if you are not open to, at least, some level of, say, drug or alcohol exposure or if you really are so restrictive about the gender of your or the sex, rather, of your child. That's potentially going to hurt you, in terms of being placed with a child quickly or somewhat expediently.”

So, yeah. So, that was important to me. So, I started that work and I just happened to be – And this was, again, mid-2000s – that a lot of these agencies were predominantly doing open adoptions. And I became very interested in open adoption. I had read some books at that point by the great kind of pioneers of open adoption, and I was really intrigued.

And so, a lot of the agencies that were interested in working with me and distributing this information happened to be adoptions, predominantly doing open adoptions.

And I also worked with child welfare agencies and agencies that facilitated international adoptions. So, the sample that I have is a mixture; the overall sample is a mixture of domestic private and domestic public and international adoptive families.

Lori:
And you talked with various combinations of adoptive parents as well as a few young adoptees, is that correct?

Abbie:
Yes. So, my study consists of lesbian couples, gay male couples and heterosexual couples. So, I did not include single parents for this, predominantly because the primary grant that was funded this work really emphasized that it was important to kind of not have every source of variability in there and kind of cut it at some point.

And a lot of the questions I was asking about were things like division of housework, relationship quality, they wouldn't have been as relevant to single parents. But that, of course, that is a very important topic, and a doctoral student of mine did her dissertation on the transition to adoptive parenthood for single parents.

So, yeah, lots of variability. And then in the most recent follow up, when kids were about eight to nine years old, we did interview some of the kids of these families, which I think is what you're talking to.

Lori:
Yeah, I was surprised and pleased to find that the voice of the children were in there too.

Abbie:
Yes, they are.

Lori:
And are you planning to talk to them more?

Abbie:
I think so, eventually. To be honest, it was awe. This is kind of interesting. So, I have to give some background. I've been interviewing these families since 2005 and I've conducted eight different assessments points, some of which have just been questionnaires, but many of which have also been interviews.

And the kids, in the follow up when kids were about eight to nine years old on average, we had money to ask the kids some questions.

Some parents didn't really want their kids to be interviewed. And that's really interesting in and of itself. So, related to open adoption, some of these families said things like, “I'm worried that asking them questions about adoption will highlight an aspect of their family that is different when I really would rather not draw attention to it” or “They don't think they're different. So, I'm concerned that talking about it will make them think they're different.”

And then in other cases, it was really things around, like, “My child's really shy” or “My child hates talking on the phone” or a lot of very kind of age or kind of developmental-related reasons.

But I find that really fascinating. I think about two-thirds of parents agreed to have their kids be interviewed. And then of the one third that didn't, again, some were, kids just were like not interested. And then some were parents kind of being concerned about what that might bring up for their kids.

Lori:
Hmm. Okay. And we'll talk about that in a minute. But I want to get something really basic down. How do you define open adoption?

Abbie:
Yeah, that's a good question. So, I'm a really big fan of David {indistinct 9:57} distinction between Structural Openness and Communicative Openness. So, when I think of open adoption, depending on the context, I could be talking about one versus the other.

I think most people think of it in terms of the structural component; like sort of do you have contact with the birth family? Does the adoptive family have contact with or information about? Is there some kind of exchange of information between the adoptive family and the birth family before or after the adoption? That's typically what people think of in terms of structural openness.

But communicative openness is a very important element of open adoption. You can have structural communication without communicative openness and you can have communicative openness without structural openness.

So, communicative, communicative openness is really like how do you talk about adoption and what is what is the kind of overall attitude about talking about adoption and birth family? I think you call it the ‘spirit of openness’.

So, is adoption often discussed openly within the adoptive family? Does the adoptive family approach the topic of birth family and adoption with a sense of openness, curiosity, engagement, warmth? Is there a sense of transparency and dialogue around it versus kind of it's kind of an off topic; sort of off-limits topic or kind of something that's not discussed?

Lori:
And that's a fascinating distinction, and it kind of fits in with this construct I came up with called the Open Adoption Grid, where you can have both types of openness, you can have neither, and then you can have one without the other.

And it's interesting, with families living in what we call open adoption, not knowing which of the four quadrants, that may be because when you're inviting the structural openness, when you're inviting contact, because you're inviting in people and relationships with people and emotions of people, you're inviting in a lot of complexity. And if you don't also have a tool to deal with that complexity, like the communicative openness, it's going to be really hard.

And so, I see stories a lot online and in blogs and people talking on social media about a visit gone wrong, a visit with birth family gone wrong because of that complexity, or the child is sad after the meeting or mad or having whatever big emotion.

So, what are parents to do with this? I mean, the temptation might be to just close off contact to avoid those big feelings. But what does your research show about throwing out the baby with the bathwater?

Abbie:
Yeah. I mean, I think if you think of that, again, that spirit of openness and approaching both, again, communication and visits and things don't go right or things go in a different way than expected. I mean, it's really about communication, right? So, communicating with the child, “What happened? How are you feeling?” Communicating with the birth family, “Gosh, that was that was a tough visit. Like, let's talk about that, if we can” And then there can be some communication and some transparency around, “You know, let's hold off maybe on the next visit.”

But always being in communication about what is happening, “This is how we're feeling. We are committed to our relationship with you on an ongoing basis” or, if you're talking to your child, “We are committed to being the best parents we can and listening to you and being here and talking about whatever you want to talk about.”

So, it's really a sustained attention and commitment, even when crap hits the van. So, it's like not just saying, “I give up. This is this is too hard. This isn't what I thought it was going to be.”

I mean, the name of the game and openness is change. It's change. It's change. And that's just life. But it's really amplified in the context of open adoption where you can meet this great birth family and they're perfect and everything is so wonderful. And then you guys have visit and then maybe they fail to have a contact. And as the adoptive family or parent, you're so confused and you're hurt and you're wondering what happened and how are you supposed to move through with that and move on with that?

I think some awareness that change happens and that that can very well change again is really helpful to keep in mind.

And I think right now we're getting so skilled at being prepared for the unexpected right now and kind of being ready to roll with whatever, not because we are so great at it, but because we have no choice.

And so, I think we're kind of developing that muscle of just kind of falling in with uncertainty. And I think that's a lot of what parenting is in general, and especially parenting in an open adoption. It’s sort of like, “Oh, okay, so this is happening” and not making any hard and fast rules or decisions about, “Okay, that's it. We're done. We're done with them. We're not going to do this anymore.”

But just sort of maybe staying open and sort of thinking about what needs to happen for everyone to be okay. So, that's really also where boundaries come in. And what needs to happen to make sure everyone here is okay.

Lori:
I find in my own experience that anything that I'm avoiding or resisting is probably something that needs attention. And not just with adoption stuff, but definitely with adoption stuff, if I'm trying to avoid a visit, because the last one was hard, then like you say, there's something I need to dig into, maybe in myself, maybe with the people involved. And that willingness to go there can actually increase intimacy and closeness and make things better for the next time, rather than if I just avoided it.

Abbie:
Absolutely. And then I think also, just what goes along with that is really looking at your expectations and your wishes and taking a look at them and acknowledging where, like sometimes, you've been hurt, your expectations have not been borne out. You feel disappointed or you feel frustrated or there are things you want to say that you don't feel like you can say.

I think a lot of that's just normative. And I think it requires everybody to do some of their own work separate from other people to understand, “Why do I find myself so reactive when the birth family asks for an extra visit?” or whatever it happens to be really, or “doesn't seem appreciative of something that I did” or “doesn't return phone calls, but then calls and wants to see the child this weekend” or something like that.

Lori:
Exactly. And parent parenting is filled with tough things to talk about; adoption isn't the only one. So, I was really fascinated to find in your research, you've made a connection between being able to talk about adoption issues and being able to talk about other tough issues.

So, let me read a passage out of your book, if anybody's got your book, Open Adoption and Diverse Families. I'm reading off a page 218.

“So, when parents are open, flexible and responsive in their general and adoption-related communication, this promotes positive adoptee identity development. It encourages more open and honest family communication about other important family topics.”

Somebody who was in your survey was quoted as saying;

“The openness makes it easier for us to talk about other situations like drugs, alcohol, boys. It's made our relationship more open.”

And then you go on to say the opposite as well, that;

“The lack of flexible adoption related communication within the family can undermine adoptee development because you're not able to talk about those hard topics.”

Can you talk a little bit about that, that connection between all of those issues?

Abbie:
Yeah. So, I think I’ll go into some detail about it that, you know, to kind of elaborate on that idea; parents who kind of decide to be or who kind of practice being open and flexible and responsive and kind of adaptive in their treatment of adoption-related stuff can really often expand that attitude or that practice to other domains. Again, they've built that kind of openness muscle or that flexibility muscle. And they've become practice that listening, and hopefully maybe not immediately responding to, topics and issues that might be really kind of fraught with potential conflict or that are tough to heart about, that are talked about, that are very scary, you know, like talking to kids about drug use or sexuality or concerning behaviors or really anything.

And I think adopting a child often means that parents are challenged to kind of throw out their assumptions about what parenthood is going to be like and kind of have to see the child in front of you in a way, and the situations that are in front of you.

And bio parents experience that, too. But maybe in some ways they are even less prepared for that. They kind of have even more expectations; this child is going to be kind of my mini me. But after you kind of accept your child isn’t you or that parenthood may not be exactly what you expected it to be or hoped it to be – Honestly, in some cases, in some situations – When you kind of accept that you do become more attuned to and open to what your kid is bringing to the table and kind of what you need to do to be present at that moment.

And some of that does mean, you know, again, practicing that flexibility muscle and kind of that responsiveness.

Lori:
It seems super important to get facile – I don't know how to say that word –facile with turning a reaction into a response. And some of these heated things.

So, a question that comes up with adoptees sometimes; talk to us about what did you discover around the idea that if the child isn’t asking about their adoption, it means they aren't thinking about their adoption.

Abbie:
So, I mean, kids don't necessarily talk about a lot of things that may be on their minds. And I think that's something that we as parents know intuitively. Sometimes we can see that our kids have something on their minds; they come home from school or they come home from home school and they seem very distraught. And you say, “What's wrong?” And they say, “I'm all right.”

So, it's not enough inevitable. It's not sort of like a truth that children always say exactly what is on their mind. So, kids might, or in asking, might not be asking for a variety of reasons.

So, they might not be asking or talking because they really don't fully engage or understand with what adoption is. So, that's certainly true of kids who are younger. Many parents talk about how there is a transition from like, “Adoption. Adoption. I'm adopted” to “I'm adopted. Adoption. Oh, I get it now”, right?

And so, that transition can sometimes, you know, before that transition happens, maybe kids don't really get it. Or maybe they get it and then it's really a profound reckoning that they're really not really ready to talk about.

As kids get older, though, they usually do have more curiosity about their identity and about family origins and differences, especially, again, as they're sort of exploring their racial identity, their sexual identity, their gender identity.

And they kind of come to some understanding as they get older of like how they're different from a similar to their parents and their other family members and their birth family. And so, kids often have questions about that or they have thoughts about it.

And so, kids not talking about that as they get older, that that may have something to do with messages, implicit or explicit, that these are not okay things to talk about, that this is an upsetting topic that people in their family don't want to talk about it. That they would rather focus on all the ways that we are, for example, the same, or all the ways we are a family and how great our family is versus the tough questions or things that maybe they notice that one of their parents gets really kind of quiet when the topic comes up or leaves the room or seems to get short with them.

Well, kids get that on some level. They internalize that and that may make them less likely to ask or inquire.

So, I do talk to parents who say, “My child never asks about it and doesn't talk about it.” So, then it's sort of like, “Okay, well, do you ever bring it up?” “Well, no, because they're not bringing it up.” “Well, the conversation has to start from somewhere.”

And parents, even if they feel like they're talking about it, I would say there is definitely an upper limit; parents can talk about it too much. I think we would all say there is something a little disturbing to think about, like somebody who's constantly bringing it up. That goes back to kind of Kirk, 1964’s adoption. A scholar who talked about kind of acknowledgement of difference and emphasis on difference and minimization of difference.

There is some kind of balance in there. You don't want to be constantly talking about it, but you also don't want to totally minimize it.

But I think parents need to look at what they might be doing implicitly to kind of maybe discourage those conversations or are there ways in which you can talk about it that feel very kind of normative? So, I'm thinking like, choosing a certain movie to watch; like a movie that deals with adoption-related subjects and that might kind of prompt some discussion or a book recommendation, even just saying, “Oh, I thought you might like this book.” You don't have to read it together necessarily or pulling out certain photographs or materials and having a conversation.

So, looking for ways to do it in a way that it feels natural. And again, practicing that muscle of openness.

Lori:
And I think being willing to look inwards about your implicit or explicit expressions about things that takes a lot to be able to find that fine line between denying the effects of adoption and the things that come up, because you're a blended family and dwelling on it. Those are the two extremes. You want to be somewhere in the middle and not miss what's going on.

Abbie:
Yeah, I think it's helpful if parents just remember, like, I find it helpful for myself just to sort of say, “Oh, that's me stuff. Like that stuff, that's my stuff. Like, I need to deal with that separately.”

But being aware of those things, I think, makes me hopefully a better parent. And just to say, like, “If I'm not watching that, I could bring this into my parenting in a way that wouldn't be productive because I am, for example, so concerned or worried about X, Y or Z or this is a really tough topic for me personally.”

Lori:
Hmm. Hmm. That's so good. I was so pleased in your book that you would devote a whole chapter to kind of an understudied and under talked about population and that's the birth fathers.

Abbie:
Mm hmm. I know. Well, it was a shorter chapter, but I had to put it in.

Lori:
It might have been harder to find data on it, perhaps.

Abbie:
Yeah, a lot. Yeah.

Lori:
But one of the pieces of information you said is that boys reportedly ask more about their birth fathers than the girls do and that parents are more likely to think of birth fathers in this way; “You already have a father. Why would you wonder about him?”

And I see that as kind of that either/or; “You have one father; you don't need the other.”

Talk to us about why birth fathers are seen in those ways.

Abbie:
Yeah. I mean, I think this has so much to do with how we view mothers and fathers in our culture. And some of it, of course, is obvious; mothers carry children and birth them. And there's a lot of assumptions about a birth mother's connection to a child is more long lasting and more connected, maybe, than a birth fathers who is just “providing” (I'm using them in quotes) material.

But that is how some people think of it as birth mothers are connected to this child. And the birth father is often positioned as really kind of outside of that scenario.

And I think a lot of times, agencies, birth mothers themselves, can kind of minimize the birth fathers and sort of their level of importance in this whole openness framework. So, “I didn't know him. He's not important.”

And in some cases, it's more concerning stuff; like, “He was abusive” or “I was raped.” So, there are kind of more objective reasons for why birth mothers, adoption agencies, and then by default, adoptive families sort of say the birth father is not somebody that we're giving a lot of attention to or particularly want to engage with as an idea or as a relationship.

So, there's both a kind of broad ideas about, “Mothers are so important and every child needs their mother. Father, er, you know, it's great if you have one, but you certainly don't need more than one.”

And we actually see that in my research with two-dad families, too, where they're sort of much more interested in getting to know the birth mom than the birth dad, because they're like, “Well, the kid has two dads. I mean, like, come on. And what they need maybe is a contact with a birth mom, but why would we engage with a birth father?”

I mean, I'm breaking that down more simplistically, but the idea is that, like, “I mean, that would be nice, maybe, but it's not essential.”

So, there's a displacement, kind of at a theoretical level and then at a kind of more relational level, of the birth father, where they are positioned outside. And they actually do really need to fight to be part of this, in many cases. So, they need to say, “No, I want to be part of this adoption plan”, if they even know about the birth or “I want to have contact with this family or with this child.”

And there are cases where birth fathers are involved in these families lives, but it is usually when they are in a relationship with the birth mom, which is consistent with other research.

Lori:
Yeah, it's interesting because through modern technology, we can break out the biological connection and the genetic connection.

Abbie:
Yes.

Lori:
And the in a typical adoption, the birth mom has both; the biology of carrying the child and the genetic connection and the and the father has only the genetic connection.

But as the child grows, that genetic connection does become a really essential piece in identity development.

Abbie:
Yes.

Lori:
And I always do want to kind of prep people who are going into conversations about birth father with the child that you should be ready to have – it tends to morph into the birds and bees discussion because explaining who the birth father is requires a different level of detail than explaining who the birth mother is.

So, anybody listening, I want to make sure that you know that it could go there and be ready.

Abbie:
Absolutely.

Lori:
But if you're open, you've got –

Abbie:
Yeah, this opportunity.

Lori:
Yeah, yeah.

Let's talk a little bit about agencies – because you mentioned them earlier – and the role that they play in how prepared are all parties are in dealing with these complexities that come up; whether there's contact or not.

You mentioned the case in your book where the adoptive parents were going through an agency that had really updated in modern practices based on openness and truth. But the expectant mom, who was in another state, was going through an agency that was more old school, kind of secretive. And they were hinting to her that maybe she shouldn't be so forthcoming with the birth father's identity and, “Maybe hide this.” “Don't worry about that.” “Let's just keep this tidy and closed and move on.”

What happens with such a clash of expectations and preparation for this openness?

Abbie:
Yeah, I think when adoptive parents and birth parents are working with, for example, agencies that do have these very different practices and kind of philosophies, that that can lead to a real unproductive mismatch in expectations. And it can be a really terrible setup for disappointment on someone's end. So, it can lead to a lot of miscommunication.

Because if the adoptive family is approaching this with, “We are 100 percent committed.” “We really want to have an open adoption.” “We believe that this is the best thing.” “We've read all the research.” “We completely have drank the Kool-Aid.” “It's best for everyone involved” and the birth expectant mother or parents are sort of hearing messages of, “Clean break is best.” “They may say this, but they're probably not going to follow through” or “It's really best for the child if you just write a letter every year and that's it”, then there there's a potential for a match to happen and for communication to be kind of stilted or kind of unproductive.

But there's also the possibility that that will disrupt and that that match will not happen and that the adoptive parents, for example, in that situation might conclude that that is actually not a great match or the expectant parents might become very suspicious of the adoptive parents and “all of their promises”.

So, I think in an ideal situation, both parties are working with people who are uniformly engaged with kind of a similar philosophy around openness, because that will promote more trust and that will lead to some shared understanding of what all of these terms even mean. So, what does it mean to have contact and what does it mean to be open versus kind of…?

I just picture two cars kind of missing each other. You know, they're just kind of not connected. You're just not connecting.

So, yeah, I think there are fewer and fewer of those particular types of agencies that are still promoting the benefits of a clean break and the child really needs to move on and you need to move on and everyone should go their separate ways. And it's not good for anyone to kind of have that kind of contact.

But they are still out there. And I know that because I continually hear from folks that say, “Well, my agency says we have to have an open adoption. But what that really just means is that we have to kind of exchange this basic information. And then after the baby is born, like, then we don't really have to do that anymore.”

So, even the agency is kind of on board with the idea that, like, “This is pro forma and we're calling it open, but it's not really open.”

Lori:
And I think you've mentioned before that the level of structural openness, by default, ends up being whatever the least willing person in it is. Is that correct?

Abbie:
Yes. Yeah, I think of it as sort of like the kind of lowest level of comfort. You know, the lowest level of comfort with contact. That is really usually what it ends up being; kind of you go to the lowest common denominator.

And that may change. That person with less comfort initially may shift their orientation, but usually, that's the party that determines what contact will actually look like.

Lori:
In your research, did you find anything counterintuitive, something you didn't expect to find?

Abbie:
Yeah, I mean, I really was surprised at how much positive shift there was in some families’ kind of approach and beliefs about open adoption. And that gave me a lot of hope that adoptive parents, people in general, can change. They can adapt to the reality of the situation that they're in. They can come to see the birth family as human beings.

And they've really developed empathy for people who they may have been fearful of or been kind of cautious around. You know, they might have initially kind of approached theoretical birth parents with kind of suspicion or fear. But in their particular situation, they came to be very honestly very empathic, I would say, and very kind of human and could see all of the challenges, for example, that this birth family or set of birth parents experienced that led them to maybe place a child and that were also interfering with them being maybe always available for their family, for visits and so on.

So, they made a connection between, “Oh, the challenges that this family is facing or that this birth mother is facing in her life. There are the same challenges that make it really hard for her to show up for a promised visit. And I get that and I have empathy for that. And I don't blame her for that. I can see it and I can feel a real deep compassion.”

Lori:
Mm. Mm. I'm soaking that in that there's kind of this evolution towards openness that people tend to go through. And that's borne out by data in your study.

As we're interviewing today, we're in the eight month of the pandemic. Have you kept up with your families and how are they faring with openness and contact during these quarantine times?

Abbie:
Yeah, I have. I actually did a quick survey of them, when early in the pandemic, like May, and just sort of to see how they were doing and coping and most of them were in full-on quarantine at that point.

And I did ask specifically about birth family and contact, and it was very consistent that any planned visits were canceled. A lot of them talked about visits that had been planned, that they were now cancelled. They were leaning on technology more to kind of maintain those relationships. So, many of them said, “You know, instead of that, we have moved to having semi-regular FaceTime’s, which I thought was really promising. So, that was like kind of an adjustment the way many of us kind of made an adjustment to kind of keep up with family. And I thought that was really positive.

I did see that some families were very concerned about the birth families, that they were worried about them, economically. They were worried about their housing situation, in some cases, because they were concerned about the effects of the pandemic on more vulnerable folks, which included the birth families.

Lori:
So, based on all this research, truly a long view, 15 years and counting, and especially considering what the children in the study have told you, can you boil things down to your best piece of advice for adoptive parents about the long view? And this is a question I ask of all of our guests.

Abbie:
Yeah, I mean, I think I referred earlier to that idea that change is the norm. Change is the name of the game. It's part of any relationship, but it's especially relevant to openness. So, being open to change and kind of almost expecting that it's inevitable, I think, is actually – there is something comforting about that. That if we can just stay open to the possibility of change, then we are less shocked when it happens.

And I think, sort of related to that, is really understanding the different stages in the lifecycle or developmental period of the kid or kids. It's important to realize that there are adoption-competent people out there to draw on for support. There may not be an adoption-competent therapist in your geographical area, but we're so lucky now to have so many resources online.

And now, in the world of telehealth, people can see people in other states and can be seen or can find adoption-competent therapist or consultant somewhere else and get some input.

So, I think realizing that this is a journey; this is a marathon, not a sprint. And so, it's sort of like picking up your sustenance when you need it along the way, as a lifelong long-distance runner. This is how I like my analogies.

So, it's like when you find that you need something, like looking around and maybe you're like, “Oh yeah, I can see something. I needed that.” It's just more being open to the possibility that.

At some point, you might you might need some support, you might need some help. And then there might be years that go by that you're doing fine; you're chugging along and you don't need anything.

So, I think just that openness and staying open and realizing the resources that we do have available to us, that they can be very powerful when we do find ourselves stuck.

Lori:
So, I hear you saying that openness means flexibility and an ability to weather change, which is inevitable.

Abbie:
Right.

Lori:
And if a pandemic has taught us anything, it's that change happens all the time and we adapt.

Abbie:
We do.

Lori:
We find ways.

Abbie:
I mean, it is really shocking, if you look around, to see what people are doing to adapt and what we have adapted to. And not to say that that's great, but we should pat ourselves on the back for just adapting.

And we all are learning a little bit about our own resiliency and that when faced with a very challenging situation, we do find ways to adapt. We are more creative and more resilient than we might believe.

Lori:
Mm hmm. That might be the capstone of this interview. That's a beautiful note to end on.

So, thank you, Abbie, so much for talking with us today.

Abbie:
Thank you so much.

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