Thanks to Heather of Open Adoption Bloggers, I had the chance this month to interview a fellow adoption blogger, Emily (aka Mama2Roo) from Letters to a Birthmother. I read a fair number of adoption blogs, though few of them with any consistency. I'd read a few of M's posts in the past and found them very interesting and well-written. I'm glad that I had the opportunity to go through her blog front to back--I found it a fascinating read.
Emily and her husband adopted a newborn boy four years ago this month. Their adoption started as semi-closed--they met their birthmother "N." in the hospital, and were told they could keep in contact with her family. However, about a year after baby "Woob" was born, they started pushing those adoption doors more open. Now they have an open, ongoing relationship with N., her two daughters, as well as her father and his family. Emily has an incredible desire to have an open adoption, for Woob's sake more than anything. I have been most impressed by the deep respect, found in her writing, that she has for Woob's birthmother N. As a birthmom myself, it brings me great comfort to know people like Emily.
Here are the results of our interview:
You mentioned early on that your adoption was originally semi-open (ie pretty closed) with N. How did it become open? What made that transition?
Well, we spoke over the phone on our first contact and my hubby and I just really liked her. He had originally not been comfortable with open. After we talked, and even before we were chosen, we were left feeling like N. was someone we really liked and felt like we wanted to know. Later when Woob was born and we were at the hospital but before we met her, we were getting to know her parents in the lobby (they are divorced). We didn't yet know how N. felt about anything, but mentioned to her mom that we'd like to continue to know one another, and the feeling we got was that, NO, that wasn't going to happen,and that mom was kind of guiding her away from that. At the same time, we were getting a really strong vibe from her dad that YES he wanted to stay in touch. We really connected to him from the beginning. And later after sharing hospital time together for a few days, we learned from the social worker that N. really thought it best not to keep in touch, but gave her blessing for us to send pics and letters to her dad through the agency. We would send and send and send and once we got a letter from him back and it indicated that he gave all the stuff that we sent to her and she was making a scrapbook, etc. And he indicated that she wanted to reach out, but didn't really know how. So...we kind of started addressing things both to him and N. separately, knowing that she would likely be receiving them anyway. Still never heard anything back. I wrote letters indicating that we would welcome her contact, we left our phone number and email address in our letters as well. And eventually, a little before Woob's first birthday, we got a call from her dad, followed by a call from her and an invitation to meet at her house. From there we've had visits both places, email, facebook and phone calls. She lives about 2 hours away. So, all those words to say that we got pushy ;)
What has been the most challenging part of open adoption for you personally?
The ebb and flow of it is VERY challenging to me. There are times when we feel more connected and then it is as if she drops off the face of the earth, no response, no nothing. We're going through one of those phases right now and it makes me second guess things, did I do something wrong, is something bad happening on her end, etc... So the first few years as that happens, it really only affects me because Woob didn't know any better. But now? Woob knows her and his sisters and has some relationship with her. He knows, as much as he can understand, about what adoption means. Now, my fears turn to thinking about what if she backs all the way out, or thinking to times when her inconsistency will definitely be noticed.
And what has been the very best, most rewarding part?
That Woob has a face and a name and a story that is tangible and helps him to understand himself better and make sense of our explanations. Those people arent' just ideas, they are real to him. He knows who two of his bio grandparents are and he has pictures with everyone. He has the opportunity to have relationships with blood relatives into his adulthood, long after we're gone, if things work out well. And, you know, we really do like her and her family, so its a win that way too.
Personally I'm really curious about your work. Non-profit? I'm just interested to know what you do and what you enjoy most about your work.
I shy away from talking too much about my work on here because I don't want people related to adoption to pre-judge me because I'm a social worker. I work in middle management at a small NFP counseling agency--family preservation programs, at risk youth, family education, lifeskills, etc all fall under my bailiwick. Additionally, I prepare families for adoption and complete home studies. And "all other things as directed by my supervisor" which at times includes unclogging toilets and loading the soda machine. We ARE a notforprofit, you know.
Along the work lines, how did/does your own adoption experience affect you as a social worker?
Its had a huge effect. At the time we adopted, I was not doing so much of the home study work, just getting into it really. So my adoption affected my perspective at work as I learned more and saw more of what agencies did poorly (like the agency I went through), and made decisions about how I wanted to practice within my own agency. And I took every opportunity to get training, read, talk learn and learn some more to get the best, most balanced perspective I could so that "my" families would receive the best information they could to help their kids when they brought them home. My thoughts have changed incredibly over the past several years and probably will continue because for me this is a never ending process...
How did your social work training affect your adoption experience?
Ha! Well, of course, I thought I knew everything! And, of course, I didn't. But I think it helped me to be more open with my expectations of the process and will people. I am here to tell you though, that living it and working it are so different. We went through the same things every oter adoptive parents go through, and no amount of social work training really helps with that.
I read that you tried infertility treatments for a long time, but haven't read what made you choose adoption. What made you decide that adoption was the right way to expand your family? We didn't try as long as others out there. I was just so SICK of the obsessive nature of infertility at the time and just one day said, I'm not doing this any more and brought up adoption to the hubby. He wasn't really convinced and probably thought I'd lose interest at some point, but like so many other things, now that we are parents to the Woob, he can't imagine what he was so leery of to begin with!
With regards to some of the insensitive comments that others (like your mother) have said about N. Do you ever have questions yourself that you wish you could ask her but feel like you can't? (because they're insensitive or adoption-politically-incorrect?) How do you process your own questions?
That's a great question. You know, as far as CONTENT of information, like who is bdad, what is he like, thinkgs like that, we've been pretty successful/comfortable with asking and she's been great about giving us information. She's a very honest person and has always seemed "what you see is what you get." I admire that about her. The questions that become harder to ask for me are here-and-now type questions. I struggle with this every day (right now as a matter of fact). These are questions that would have been best asked in the beginning, but we didn't have the opportunity given the closed nature of the relationship that first year. Questions about boundaries in the relationship, what does this feel like for you, what parts of this are hard/easy, etc. For whatever reason, I really shy away from talking about the emotional aspects on her end. I'm not very assertive in that area, and don't want to rock the boat and scare her away or make her uncomfortable, so I don't ask. But then I don't know the answers which then makes me unsure of my actions. Bleh. A terrible cycle to be in. Also, our contact waxes and wanes and when its more consistent, my worries kind of fade, but when it wanes I get all unsure again, and don't trust that I have read her cues accurately.
What church do you go to? How has your faith been involved in your adoption?
I was raised and continue to be Roman Catholic. Quite honestly, I'm unsure how my faith has impacted the adoption directly, other than doing a lot of praying that something would happen with the infertility, or adoption matching. I know that my church does not condone artificial means of conception (IVF, IUI and beyond), so even when we were pursuing some of the earlier diagnosis and treatment, that was in the back of my mind. The ethical and moral considerations of all that really did make sense to me and became quite daunting, and led to us just stopping that route. I will say that my church community was so loving and welcoming of Woob when he came along, though.
Is N. religious? Has that played any part in Woob's story?
N. is not religious, and I don't believe she decided to place for that type of reason. I do believe that she is against abortion, at least for herself, as she's had opportunity to make that decision more than once. Quite honestly, though, in the case of her pregnancy with Woob, she was quite far along in the pregnancy before she even knew she WAS pregnant, so the choice for termination was out of her hands completely. What was left was the choice to parent or place. Funny, though, I think she likes the fact that I practice the faith that her mother was raised in, even though they don't practice themselves.
How do you think Woob's relationship with N. will develop as he grows older and becomes more independant? What do you see as your part as he keeps growing?
That's probably the least clear of all. I do hope it continues once he's old enough to make that decision, and even if he chooses not to actively pursue it, I hope that we'll all be able to continue to. What I do know is that if we don't set a certain foundation for this now, then it will become less likely, or harder, for him to have a relationship later.
As you can see, Emily is someone who puts a great deal of thought and heart into her adoption and all the relationships that come with it. It has been a great pleasure for me to get to know her better, and I hope that you will take the opportunity to jump over to her blog and do so yourself!