How is Adoption Associates different from other adoption agencies in Michigan? Adoption Associates promotes “Open Adoption.” What is open adoption? What does that look like? Can the birth parents take the children back? Read the transcript below or listen to the podcast by clicking on the media file above to hear first hand from an adoptive mother about her experience with open adoption.
Air Date: 5.30.17 Open Adoption – Why We Weren’t Scared
Host – Jennifer: Hi. Welcome to Adoption Focus. My name is Jennifer [Jorwarski 00:00:38] and I’m a social worker with Adoption Associates in Michigan. This is Adoption Associates Premier Talk Radio Blog Show. Adoption Associates was founded in 1990 and we specialize in both domestic and international adoption. We provide private adoption services through all of Michigan with offices located in Jenison, Lancing, Farmington Hills and Saginaw. Anywhere in Michigan you can find a connection to Adoption Associates. Adoption Associates brings knowledge, support and understanding in adoption.
Adoption is not only our specialty, but it is our passion. One of Adoption Associates’ commitments is to this radio show to help educate and support adoptive families or families in the adoption community, so we’re very grateful that you’re listening in today to our program. If you’d like to call in during the show, you could do so by dialing 347-850-1100. I am excited to welcome to the Adoption Focus Podcast today, Nikki. Nikki is a mother. Nikki, are you with us today?
Nikki: I am, Jennifer. How are you?
Host – Jennifer: Hey, good morning. Thank you so much for taking the time out of what I know is a busy schedule to be with us.
Nikki: It’s my pleasure.
Host – Jennifer: Today, we are talking about open adoption and you and your husband have completed more than one adoption that we’re going to be hearing about here in a second and particularly the concept that we’re talking about today is why we weren’t “scared,” and there is a great deal of conversation in the field of adoption regarding openness and when it comes to issues surrounding openness, adoption professionals are diligent in their education of birth families and adoptive families alike, so this is a topic that talks, speaks to a lot of people and Nikki, I was hoping you could start us off today by sharing a little bit about yourself and your family.
Nikki: Great. We have four children. My husband and I first got married in 2004 and soon after, got pregnant with our first, which is our daughter Krista and she is now 11 years old. Next up, we had a son two years later named Nate. After that, we knew that we wanted more children, but started struggling with infertility and as I’m sure a lot of listeners know, it can be a very difficult and trying time and so a lot of prayer and tears went into trying to decide what to do next and so after some time of really praying and feeling very called, we decided to pursue adoption and so we adopted our third child, Michael, another boy and he is now four years old. We adopted him when he was about three months old. Then, after that, right after we adopted Michael, we felt called right away to adopt again and so we got our name back in the back and figured it would take quite a while and we were linked actually really quickly with our son Shane, so our third boy, our fourth child and Shane is now two years old.
Host – Jennifer: You’re a busy family.
Nikki: Yeah. Any family is a busy family.
Host – Jennifer: For sure. Thanks for explaining that and laying the groundwork there. It sounds like you have an absolutely wonderful family and we’ll have a picture up later this afternoon on Facebook of your family. Thank you for sharing that.
In our discussion today about open adoption, I wanted to say, obviously, there are varying degrees of openness that exist between adoptive families and birth families and Nikki has, as I know you know, these relationships are based upon trust, so will you talk about what openness looks like in your birth family relationships?
Nikki: Yeah, so as you said, there’s a lot of different levels of openness. For our family, I think we’re almost unique that we’re on the side of the spectrum where we are completely open and so for our third child, our first adoption, Michael, it was a designated adoption, so we knew his birth father’s family from church. We went to church with them and so we had an existing relationship already. We weren’t close at the time, but we knew them. His birth mother actually, when she had Michael, she was planning on parenting him. At first, this is not traditional, but she actually moved in with us with the intention that we were just going to help her get on her feet so that she would be able to have the resources she needed to parent.
After she had lived with us for a bit, she decided that what would be best for Michael was to place him for adoption with our family. We had a pretty intense connection by that point in time. She had been living in our house for a bit and we had a totally open relationship and that has been able to continue. We see each other. We spend holidays together. We talk. We text. We Facebook. It’s a completely open relationship with both Michael’s birth father, his family and with Michael’s birth mom.
When went to adopt again, we were really hoping to have that open relationship, but we realized that you never know what type of relationship the birth family is going to want and obviously, it’s up to them as much as us, so we got linked this time with a family that we didn’t know previously and the birth mother, for Shane, our fourth child, she wanted an option adoption also, so Shane’s birth father was not interested in keeping a relationship, so unfortunately, we don’t have connection with him at this time, but Shane’s birth mom, we have the same very open, very connected, close relationship with her.
Host – Jennifer: You told me before today’s show that you and your husband came into the adoption process wanting open adoptions. I know for a lot of people, that may be difficult to understand. For some people, it’s not. A lot of families we see come into adoption process not fully understanding what open adoption is. It certainly is not co-parenting and then, over time, and with learning more about it, they come forward and they’re understanding and willingness to consider openness in adoption, but I think what makes you and your husband a little bit unique is that you entered into the process from the get go wanting open adoption and feeling like that was something that was important. Can you discuss why you felt that way and where you guys were coming from in that?
Nikki: Yeah. I’ve been giving this some thought after you and I talked originally and I hadn’t really thought before why were we okay with it? Obviously, it is something that can cause a lot of fear or anxiety or just, there’s so many unknowns, I think. There’s so many unknowns with adoption to begin with and then you add in an open relationship and it’s just adding a whole different level of things to figure out.
I was trying to think about what made us, just right off the bat, it’s something that we really desired was an open relationship with the birth families. Even when we were deciding between domestic and international adoption, for us, that was one of the cons of international adoption was that there’s less chance of having that open relationship.
I think part of it was that first of all, we had two children biologically at this point already, so I know for me as a mother, I understood that bond between a mother and her child and I know that obviously, we bond with our adopted children also and our bodies and our minds even form all the chemicals to bond over time, but I know that as a biological mother, that connection to your child is just so intense and something that you can’t really describe and you can’t put words on.
When my little one, when my older two were babies and I would sometimes in the night, I would wake up right before they did knowing they were about to. They had to feed. Even our bodies, when we’re nursing, our milk will let down by their cry. Our bodies are connected to them and our minds are connected and there’s such an intense bond there right from the start. I just couldn’t imagine a birth mother not being able to have access to her biological child after adoption.
I think that was part of it, was having that experience as a biological mother. I think the other part of it was just a personality. My husband and I are both just really open people. We openly talk about pretty much anything in our lives. We don’t really hide anything from anybody. We’re just very open, so it felt natural to be able to tell our child who their birth family is, to know them, to have that all out in the open, have nothing to hide, no secrets, no barriers for us. Also, we try as much as possible to be very, very truthful with our kids on an age appropriate level. There’s some things that they don’t need to know at this point, but we just felt that would help give us the full truth to be able to offer to them.
I think the other thing too is that my husband and I both, I speak for myself, I’m a very curious person. I just really like to know what’s going on. There’s guys that I’ve dated in the past that I still think about, “I wonder what’s going on with them?” I don’t have any desire to rekindle anything, but you wonder. Your mind wonders and naturally questions things but gosh, if it’s like that for me, how much more so would it be for my children and as a mother, you just want to be able to give your children all reassurance that they were brought into this world out of love and that their parents did care enough about them to choose adoption and for them to be able to have that relationship to where they know that. They know that they are so loved and cared for by their birth families and to be able to not have that curiosity wearing away at them or have to come up with your own scenarios in your mind, but instead, just be able to know the truth. I think all of those were things that really drew us to it.
To us, it was almost instinctual too. We were both on the same page with helps of course, and we just instinctually were drawn to openness, if at all possible.
Host – Jennifer: Right. Right. Obviously, you were drawn to this. This is something that you pursued and asked for, but did everyone in your family agree? Were there any concerns?
Nikki: No, not everybody did agree. Even still, everyone in my family now loves openness but even still when I talk to other people, there will be quite a bit of shock sometimes when I’ll just very openly talk about their birth families. Within our family, I think my mom was probably the one that was most opposed to open adoption at the start when we first started pursuing adoption. We talked about it and we were very clear that that was something that we were hoping for even before we knew who the parents of our children would be.
Yeah, so my mom had a bunch of different arguments for why she didn’t think it was such to have open adoption and I think her biggest concern was that it would be too confusing for the child, that they would not be able to understand who is the parent, what role does everybody play, just that it would muddle the waters. You had mentioned earlier a little bit about the thought of co-parenting or who is really in charge or what are you going to get things approved from the birth parents before you parent your child, those types of concerns. The child is wondering, who is my real mom? Who do I have to listen to? Who do I go to? Those were probably my mom’s top concerns.
The truth, how it’s turned out to be, that first of all, our children, our adopted children and our biological children, they’re with us all the time. The birth families come and visit, but it’s a very, very similar relationship we have to like, with our kids’ aunts and uncles or grandparents. They come and visit. They play. They talk. They hang out and then they go home to their houses and we still provide for our kids’ needs, set the rules. We’re the ones that discipline. There’s no question about who the parent is.
Host – Jennifer: Sure.
Nikki: Yeah, so that was one of my mom’s concerns. Also, something that we did right from the start, even with Michael’s mother was living with us, as soon as we took over as the parents, we made sure that Adam and I were always the ones to feed the babies, change their diapers, get them to sleep, be there when they woke up, so even as newborns, even as infants, it was very clear that we were the ones providing for them.
Host – Jennifer: Absolutely.
Nikki: That was one way that we handled that too. A second concern for my mom was that the birth parents would want to take the child back, which, I think, is a fear that many people have and just the simple reality is that it can’t happen. To us, that wasn’t a concern because it’s not legally possible, so that was an easy one.
Host – Jennifer: Right.
Nikki: I think she was also concerned that the birth families, the birth parents, would somehow be a bad influence on the kids, especially before you’re matched. You just don’t know who these people are going to be and I think there was concern in her mind that they wouldn’t be the right influence and again, the truth there is that, we’ve gotten blessed that we really do have great friendships with our children’s birth families, but if we didn’t, we are the ones that are in control. We are the parents. We can set boundaries and change the relationship as time goes on and just to make sure that our kids aren’t exposed to something that wouldn’t be healthy for them. I think that’s a fear that until, don’t worry about it until it happens.
Host – Jennifer: Be aware of it and know how you would handle it, which obviously, you guys do, but not to live in the fear of it.
Nikki: Exactly. It’s like the same thing. We all have family members that are living different lives than maybe we want our kids to live and we handle that. We have people in the family, uncles or whatever, that maybe do things that we don’t want our kids exposed to, but in the same way we handle that family member, we can handle the birth families.
Host – Jennifer: Absolutely.
Nikki: Yeah. The other thing, my mom felt like, “This isn’t fair. The birth parents here are going to get to come in and play and have all the fun and then you have to do all the work of raising the child and doing all the stuff that’s not fun and telling them no and all the things that come along with parenting that is not as joyful,” and the reality there is, to a point, that’s true. It’s like being a grandparent. It’s still fun to get to come and play and then go home. The pain of separation and the way that we see our birth families loving these children and then separating from them, that is more heartbreak than I can imagine and so I wouldn’t say that we’re getting … There’s good and bad to everything, but I certainly don’t feel like it just isn’t fair that we have to do all the hard work and the birth families get to have fun.
The other thing, this isn’t my mom’s concern, but someone else that we had talked to was concerned. They were looking at adopting and they were really concerned that their child that they adopted would, when they grow up, want to go and live with their birth family. My response to that is that I think that whether or not you have an open relationship, if your child knows that they’re adopted, at some point during some argument or some time that you tell them no, they’re probably going to say, “I wish I still lived with my birth family.”
For one, I think that’s them speaking out of anger. I think I shared with you that our biological children have said similar things to us. Instead of saying, “I want to go live with my birth family,” saying, “I wish you had placed me for adoption because I don’t want to live here anymore.” Kids are really good in arguments at saying whatever is going to really sting you and I remember that from my childhood, doing similar type things, so things can be said, I think, out of anger and the reality is, they’re probably going to be saying those words or thinking them whether or not there’s an open relationship [crosstalk 00:19:40]
Host – Jennifer: Right. Right. That’s certainly not an issue of open.
Nikki: Right. Exactly.
Host – Jennifer: Not an issue of openness, right?
Nikki: Right. Right. If anything, they might want even more so if there is not openness because they can just imagine this wonderful scenario that they get to go live with their birth family and it’s all perfection.
Host – Jennifer: Exactly. Exactly.
Host – Jennifer: Nikki, I’m just curious …
Nikki: There’s a lot of concern.
Host – Jennifer: No, I appreciate you sharing that. Those are things that are common sentiments and people who are wondering about openness or don’t have direct experience or knowledge in the way that you do, so given all of the concerns that you had heard or had been presented to you about openness, I’m wondering, have there actually been any issues or problems that you’ve had to address or needed to address that have resulted from the open relationships with birth parents?
Nikki: Yeah, so like I mentioned, our children that are adopted, Michael is four and Shane is two, so it hasn’t been, they’re not grown yet and who knows what life will bring, but at this point in time, we really haven’t had any issues with the openness. I would say that there have been a couple of things that we’ve set some boundaries on and really the purpose of that, for us, to this point, has been so that we can maintain the relationships and maintain openness and keep things running smoothly between the birth families and us, so one of those boundaries is we made the decision early on that we were not going to lend money to the birth families, birth parents on either side, and we made that decision before it was ever asked of us.
Our reasoning for that is when you lend money to somebody, sometimes, that relationship can end up getting strained, whether you mean for it to or not and we didn’t want that strain to be there, so that was one decision we made and we also pretty early on, after we adopted Michael, his birth mom, she had wanted to take him to a family party, her family was having a party and she wanted to pick up Michael and take him with her and at that point, we really decided that anywhere that Michael or Shane go, we go and so we let her know that “No, you can’t take him by yourself, but we’ll go with you,” and that’s what we did. I took Michael and we went to the party for her family and our main reason for that boundary is because we don’t want it to get confusing of who is in charge and who the parent is and put our kids in a position where they’re uncomfortable in any way and then it could affect the relationship.
Host – Jennifer: Was that hard for you? I’m sorry to interrupt.
Nikki: No, it wasn’t.
Host – Jennifer: I’m just curious about that. [crosstalk 00:22:51] difficult and how did the birth mother respond to you having to say, you said no, but, “No, we can’t do that, but we could do this alternative.” Did that go over okay?
Nikki: Yeah, you know, that’s a good question because at first, I was a little bit nervous about it because we were so close with her especially. I didn’t want to hurt her or make her think we didn’t trust her or anything like that, and I wasn’t afraid that she was going to run off and kidnap him or anything like that. We know her. We’re close with her. I was a little bit concerned about having that conversation, but it went so well. She completely understood and has never asked since to come and pick him up and take him anywhere without us.
We do now, her niece had a birthday party a few months back and I went with Michael and so she still has the relationship where Michael can be at some of her family events. It’s not like every week I’m hauling my kids to their birth families. I don’t want people to think, oh my gosh, I’m going to adopt a child and then all of a sudden, one a week, I’m going to have to be going to family parties when that’s not my family. It’s once or twice a year, something like that.
I think it was a good solution and she wasn’t offended and I think because we had a good relationship together, it was able to go over well.
Host – Jennifer: Are the open relationships with your sons’ birth parents what you expected they would be or how might they be different, if they are?
Nikki: Yeah, I think they’re a lot more natural than we expected them to be. I don’t know that we had thought about that much ahead of time. I think we were always wanting openness as far as seeing them, visiting with them and talking with them and all of that, but I don’t know that we expected to have such a close relationship, such a good friendship with them and it to go so naturally.
We really, when we’re together with the birth family, actually, just yesterday, we went to the zoo with Michael’s birth mom and we just had a great day together, just had a good time together and we’re just all hanging out. It really feels just like it does with any other extended family member. I know I brought that up already, but it does. It feels very similar to when I’m with my sister or with uncles, aunts, cousins.
It’s much more natural, I think, of a relationship than I expected it to be and it’s not like because we’re so close, I don’t have to remember, “Oh my gosh, every three months, I have to send them photos or I have to write a letter or I have to really keep up on this.” I’m not great at doing those kind of things, so it’s good that I don’t have to keep up in that way. We can just have a natural relationship where sometimes, we see each other more often. Sometimes, it’s a while between visits. Sometimes, I’m sending texts and videos and stuff more frequently and then sometimes, it’s like, “Oh man. I haven’t talked to them in a while.” I would say the difference is that it’s just more like a real natural relationship than what I would have expected.
Host – Jennifer: Nice. What have you seen as the benefit in having these relationships with the birth parents?
Nikki: Yeah, so I know that in every situation is so different, especially in adoption. When you talk to adopted families, everyone has their own scenario. I’m sure that there are cases and there might be cases, things down the road that come up for us that are disadvantages to the open relationship, but at this point in time, I’d say for us, there is a whole lot of benefit for everybody in the adoption triad, so speak first for the birth families, and not just speak for them, but from what we’ve seen. Having this openness really does, I think, ease some of their heartache and their wondering and worry for their child that they can not only know that their child is taken care of, but see them grow and see that they’re loved and see that they’re cared for and everything is stable and secure and reiterate that they made the best decisions for their child.
I really think that it helps with their grief and I would say that in particular, for Michael’s birth mom, since she had planned on parenting him at first, it was, I think, more of a grief process when she planned adoption, where Shane’s birth mom, she had planned adoption right from when she found out she was pregnant so the grief process was a bit easier, but even for her, I mean, she loves seeing Shane and is very involved in his life and she has a son, an older son, that she’s parenting and then she actually just had a little girl that she is also parenting and I think for her, to still have that connection with all of her children is really important to her.
Then, for the children, so for Michael and Shane, speaking for them and their part in the triad, I would say that one of the biggest advantages, and I think they’ll appreciate this more as they grow older, is that they know that they are loved by their birth families. There is no question. There is never, hopefully, never going to be a time when they really have to figure out, was I not good enough? Why wasn’t I wanted? Possibly, those thoughts might go through their head at some point in time. I think it’s a very natural thing for adopted children to wrestle with, but hopefully, by knowing the birth families and seeing that they are still coming to their birthday parties and we see them at Christmas and they’re sending …
Joe, Michael’s birth father, Joe, is a construction worker and lately, he’s been sending Michael videos of the cranes lifting up the tresses for the roofs and different things on the job site and it’s so sweet. Michael loves construction and tools and he loves doing that, so for him to have that connection with his birth father and to know he’s thinking about me when he’s working. Like I said, we went to the zoo yesterday with Michael’s birth mom and she cares enough to be there for him. She wants to be a part of his life and the same thing with Shane.
They won’t have to wonder, was I loved? They know that they are. I think the other thing too is, it’s so much less confusing. It’s so easy. At four and two years old, they completely understand that they had a birth mom that they grew in her belly and then we take care of them now and the other day, we were at my daughter’s soccer games and one of the other dads was playing with Shane, our youngest, our two year and, and he was pretending that Shane was a baby, rocking him and Shane said, “No, when I was a baby, I was in Katie’s belly.” I think it threw the dad a little bit, like, “Oh, you know all about that, huh,” but it’s true. He understands. He knows exactly who he came from and I think it’s just easy for him to understand that.
Yeah, so I just think that the fact that we have this continuous relationship with them is going to be helpful. Then also, hopefully, there won’t be that, when they get older, that hard decision of knowing whether to search out your birth family or not and the anxiety that can come with that and then also the fear or rejection or the fear of changing everything in your life once you search that out, once you take that step. I know a lot of times, there’s wonderful results from that. It will just have always been present for Michael and Shane. I think that [crosstalk 00:31:50] for them. Yeah, go on. Sorry.
Host – Jennifer: I was just going to say, you’ve touched on all the mini, mini benefits and we could really literally go on for another hour about them because from the birth parent perspective, as you said, reinforcing this decision and not just that their child is well or being cared for, but that their child is thriving in this environment and from the child’s perspective, the benefit from your perspective as an adoptive parent, there are certainly many, many benefits and when you speak with adoptive parents who have entered into open adoption type relationships, these are common themes that we hear. I am curious though, just for the sake of trying to be balanced here in our podcast, are there any disadvantages that you either have experienced or have wondered about that could exist in openness?
Nikki: Yeah, so I’m sure that, like I said, at four and two years old, we haven’t … We’re only four years into the adoption process and so we haven’t really had any yet, but I’m sure that there could be. Especially, as with any relationship, anyone when you’re close to, when you allow yourself to be close to someone, it also allows you to possibly be hurt and so I’m sure that over time, there will be different things that we have to deal with, but our thought is, we as parents have plenty of things that we’ll have to deal with over time with our kids, biological or adopted, and we don’t know yet what those are and when they happen, we’ll deal with them at that point.
We know the stability of our family and we know that that’s what we have for our children and beyond that, the openness with the birth family relationship, I really do just trust that whatever comes up, we’ll be able to deal with it in the way that’s best for our kids.
Host – Jennifer: We are approaching, or actually, at the end of today’s show, Nikki.
Host – Jennifer: I wanted to give you an opportunity for any final thoughts or something we didn’t touch on today that you feel is important to share. I wanted to take some time here to do that.
Nikki: One thing I would just say, I know I touched on the benefits in the adoption triad for the birth families and for the child, and I would just say for us as parents, for Adam and I, we have found so many benefits from just knowing where our children came from and to have that full knowledge of who they are. As parents, you want to know every little thing about your child and I think having that open relationship allows us to know that all the more so.
Even just in little ways. Like I said, Michael loves construction and is amazing with tools. At four years old, he can work a cordless screwdriver and he’s incredible. It’s just interesting that his dad happens to be a carpenter or that recently, to see Shane, Shane looks a lot like his biological brother, so to just see him as he grows up to start taking after some of the traits that his biological brother, it’s really neat to see that come out.
For us, that’s a huge benefit. Then also, I know the saying that “A joy shared is double, then a sorrow shared is halved,” and I would just say that it is so fun to have these relationships with people who love our children as much as we do, or in a similar way that we do. We can share this joy and it is doubled of when, two weeks ago, Michael learned to ride a two wheel and I’m taking videos and sending it to his birth parents and they’re all excited and we’re excited or Shane sings his A, B, C’s and I take a little video and send it to his birth mom and birth grandma and they think it’s just as cute as I do. Nobody else thinks it’s just that cute.
We as parents find everything they do to be so adorable and when we share that with their birth families, they have that same excitement and joy that we do and I think it just gives everybody just a greater appreciation for these kids and then I would just say too, to wrap it up, that I know there’s a lot of fear in the whole adoption process. There really is a lot of fear and I completely understand that, but I would just say as far as openness goes, to not create fearful scenarios before they happen or to not be afraid of what could take place because as the adoptive parents, we really do have all rights as parents. It is not a co-parenting scenario, and so we always have the right to do what we think is best for our kids and because of that, I don’t think you need to really fear what could happen.
I think that you should be afraid if our kids don’t know their birth parents too. I think we should have equal fear of what could happen if our children don’t know their birth family and what’s that going to do to them emotionally and psychologically and sometimes, we don’t have the ability to know. I mean, Shane doesn’t know his birth father. I don’t think that there will ever be a relationship there. To me, I have fear of what that’s going to do to him.
There’s always fear for kids. When you’re a parent, whether it’s biological or adopted, there is always some element of fear there, but I do think we do have to just handle things as they come and not be afraid of what could happen.
Host – Jennifer: Sure. Sometimes, the biggest fear is what we play out in our mind and often times, those things don’t come to fruition ever.
Nikki: Right. Yeah. I would just say for us, the open relationship has helped us, I think, to know more about our children. It’s provided more love for our kids because they have so much love from the birth families, from our family and that for us, it’s just become a really comfortable relationship, just more extended family to love on our kids.
I do want to say too. My mom is now the biggest supporter of open adoption. I know I said all of her different fears and concerns [crosstalk 00:38:33] listens to this, we need to let her know, she now talks to everybody about how wonderful openness is. She’s totally cool.
Host – Jennifer: Do not end the podcast without that for sure.
Host – Jennifer: Thank you for saying that. Oh, Nikki, I appreciate you very much for coming on and talking about your family and just giving us a little bit of insight about you and your husband and the decision to come forward with open adoption and it was such a pleasure having you today.
Nikki: Thank you so much. It was a pleasure being on.
Host – Jennifer: For those of you that are listening, interested in connecting with Adoption Associates, you can give us a call at 800-677-2367. You could also connect with us on the web at adoptionassociates.net and follow us on Facebook and Twitter to keep up with the latest happenings and events with Adoption Associates.
Also, remember, we are live and Tuesdays at 11 with ongoing adoption related topics, so we do hope you continue to listen in. For now, this is Jennifer on Adoption Focus. I hope everyone has a great day. Bye bye.