Monday, March 28, 2011

Open Adoption: The Decision, The Benefits & The Challenges - Part 2

Heather Kirk is an adoptive mom of five children. Each of these children has a different set of birth parents, and Heather's family has open adoptions with each of them. Heather and her husband Christopher frequently share their adoption stories at the FLS Adoption Training Weekend for Family Life Services and she has agreed to write a 3-part series about open adoption for The Journey of Adoption. In case you missed it, here's Part 1.

In this post, I will share some of the benefits that our family has experienced because we have had the open adoptions. Keep in mind that there are surely many more benefits, but I want to share with you some of the big ones we have been blessed with as a result of our choice.

As I shared in Part 1, one of the reasons we were drawn to open our first adoption was because of the amazing love we saw that Nathanial’s birth family had for him. We couldn’t imagine Nathan or our future children never really knowing and experiencing that love. So we opened the adoption. There was a particular moment when we knew that our kids had truly begun to understand how amazing all this love is.

When Nathanial was in Kindergarten, the teacher asked each of the kids to share about their family. When Nathan got home from school, he said, “Mom, I am the most special kid in my class.”

I responded, “Well, I know that, but tell me why you say that.”

With great excitement in his voice, he said, “When the teacher asked us to tell her about our families, I realized that I have more family that loves me than any of those other kids in my class.”

Brandon, our second child, agreed when he heard Nathan. Nathan started talking about the fact that they had Mommy’s family, Daddy’s family, and all of their birth families who loved them, and they agreed that it made them extra special. That moment gave Christopher and I confidence that we had made the right decision.

The benefit of knowing they are loved goes further than that, though. You see, I have met and read about many adoptees who have questioned if they were ever loved by their birth parents. They feel abandoned and have questioned their self worth. They also wondered where they got many of their personality traits, looks and mannerisms from.

In our case, so far, we have only experienced that once with one of our children. For Nathan, we have never had contact with his birth father. For our next two children, we met both their birth mother and birth father. So Nathan wondered why his birth father didn’t want to meet him. He asked some of those hard questions about why his birth father didn’t love him. I don’t have the space to go into all the details, but I will say that he and I cried together as we discussed it. I hurt deeply for my son because he was hurting.

I am so glad that for the most part our children don’t have those questions ringing in their heads when they think about being adopted.

Another huge benefit that we have had is the chance to get really important questions answered. When our son Brandon started having huge difficulties at home and in school with both reading and writing, we first thought we were doing something wrong. I decided to talk to the birth family to see if anyone in their family had any similar struggles.

Brandon has two older birth siblings, one was being raised by the birth parents and the other had been placed for adoption with another family. After speaking with the birth family, I discovered that his birth mother, birth brother, and multiple uncles and aunts had experienced the exact same difficulties. Then, I spoke with the adoptive mother of Brandon’s older sister. Even though she was their only child and had received a lot of special help at school, she continued to struggle with the same issues. We realized that this was an inherited trait rather than something we were doing wrong. Not only did this give us peace of mind as parents, but it also gave us strong evidence of what we needed to do to help Brandon.

Also, when we have had different health concerns for our children, we have been able to go to their birth families to ask specific questions. This was especially important when Nathan was diagnosed with an autoimmune condition. Although it was not a condition that had run in his family, there were many things we were able to inform the doctors of when they needed a very detailed medical history, which we would not have known otherwise.

In addition, we have seen a huge benefit in bridging the cultural gap. For those of you who do not know, my husband Christopher and I are Caucasian, but all of our children have links to African-American heritage — some being multi-racial and others being fully African-American. Although both Christopher and I had some friends throughout our lives of different races, we had both been raised in predominantly Caucasian surroundings. We needed help with the education of raising children who had a different cultural background. What better help could we get than the help of their own birth families.

We have gotten advice on hair care, skin care, health care and more. Brandon’s birth family lives in the same town we live in, and his grandmother has braided our daughter Ashley’s hair multiple times. I learned from another birth family member how to put the beads into Ashley’s hair. I am able to braid her hair into what they call ‘plats’ all by myself. I even braid them into each other and place the beads on them because I watched different birth family members braid hair.

As I said before, there are so many benefits that I cannot possibly name them all. That doesn’t mean that it is always easy though. In the next post, I will share about the difficulties we have faced. Are the difficulties so great that they outweigh the benefits? You will get the chance to decide.

Coming Soon: Part 3 of Open Adoption — Facing the Difficulties.

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