The Importance of Ongoing Contact
The most profound assurance to a child about their adoption is the presence of their birthparents in their life. In open adoption, the children not only have full information about their birthparents, but also have the opportunity to see and speak with them in person.
How important is this type of contact in an adoption? It is a well-known fact that children, as well as adults, understand and internalize concrete and tangible things rather than abstract words or concepts. Nothing is more concrete and tangible than a birthparent who can answer questions and share information firsthand. A child who can sit and talk with their birthparent about their placement has powerful grasp of their identity and adoption story. The involvement of a child's birthparent in their life, even if infrequent, is an incredibly positive affirmation of the child's identify and family.
The importance of this personal connection becomes apparent in cases where previously closed adoptions have been opened. The IAC has worked with several families whose first child were adopted via a closed adoption. After experiencing an open adoption with their second child, these families became concerned that the lack of contact between their first child and his or her birthmother might unhealthy. They decided to open their closed adoptions and results have been uniformly positive for everyone involved.
Jeff was a good kid but still he had some behavioral problems that were upsetting to us and they were starting to be a problem for his day care teachers as well. Jeff's adoption had been a closed adoption through an agency in the Midwest. Our second child, Jamie, was adopted through an open adoption, so we decided to open Jeff's closed adoption. After months and months of negotiation to use a polite word, with the agency that had arranged Jeff's adoption, we finally got permission for Jeff to meet his birthmother. The agency insisted that the meeting happen in the agency's office and under their supervision. We agreed, since this was a step in the right direction at least. When Jeff met his birthmother, he was shy at first. Soon, though, he was talking a mile a minute about his toys, games, school, and his life. We just sat back and watched. It was wonderful. At the end, we promised to say in touch and we have.
After that meeting, and others that followed, the change in Jeff was remarkable. He seemed more relaxed and self-confident. The change in his behavior baffled his daycare teachers. Jeff was never a bad kid but suddenly he seemed like one of their mellowest boys.
Because hers was a semi open adoption, neither we, nor our daughter had ever met her birthparents. We did know her birthmother's name and address. As Simone got older, she insisted on sending her birthmother a Mother's Day card each year. She always insisted on getting the most gigantic, fanciest card she could find. This made me a little uncomfortable, but I kept asking myself, "What's the big deal? Simone is a loving child and totally connected to us." Still it felt a little funny.
When Simone was nine years old, we decided, no matter what the agency said, that we were going to arrange for her to meet her birthmother in person. We met Candy, Simone's birthmother, and we all sat and talked. After a few awkward moments, the relationship was amazingly easygoing for both Simone and for us.
When Mother's Day came around again, Simone still wanted to send Candy a card. I wanted to as well. But this time, Simone chose a nice but normal size card. And it was a Mother's Day card for a special friend, not for a "mother." Contrary to what the agency had told us, the increase in contact with her birthmother had only made Simone more certain that we were her 'real' parents.
Obviously some form of ongoing contact between birthparents and adopted children is important. Sometimes that contact is on a regular basis (perhaps once or twice a year) and in person. For some families, it is merely a birthday card sent every year. Other times, it is a matter of the birthparents sending a postcard from an interesting place, an occasional phone call, or contact on special occasions such as the child starting a new school or graduating from high school. An actual visit may be special moments in the birthmother's or birthfather's life such as a new job or family changes such as a marraige.
I can't tell you how much it meant to our daughter Lisa be a flower girl at her birthmother, Shane's wedding. Both Lisa and Shane knew how important each was to the other.