Heather Kirk is an adoptive mom of five children. Each of these five 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 Adoption Training Weekend for Family Life Services. Be sure to read Part 1 & Part 2!
Part 3 - The Challenges
When we made the choice to open our first adoption, we never imagined that God would bless us with four additional children and therefore four additional birth families to build relationships with. It can be a bit overwhelming at times. We have definitely faced our share of difficulties and fears throughout the years. Although it is always easier and more pleasant to share the triumphs, it is important to be honest about the difficulties we face because we have chosen open adoptions.
When we opened our first adoption, we had an indescribable God-given confidence that we had made the right choice, but even with that confidence, there have been times of fears and doubts.
We had no one to speak with who had already gone through the open adoption process, no one to ask advice from. We were near the beginning of this trend to open up adoptions. We often found ourselves second-guessing our decisions. Everything has been a process, reminding us how important it is to bathe our lives and our children’s lives in prayers.
The first difficulty I remember facing about open adoption was just making the simple decisions, such as how often I should contact the birth family, how much should I tell them, and how should I refer to the birth family, like should we call our son’s birthmom “mom,” too.
I remember that, at first, I felt guilty to not refer to our eldest son’s birthmom as “mom.” She was his mother, too. As time went on, though, we found the wisdom in always calling the birth parents by their first names with our children. We came to discover that it kept confusion from entering the minds of our children. Although our children know their birth parents are connected to them as parents, they also understand there is a difference in the relationship they have with them compared to the relationship they have with us.
Another difficulty is that our relationships with each of the birth families do differ greatly. This is simply because each situation our children have been born into, as well as the personalities of each of the birth families, are very different. Each individual in the birth families has their own way of dealing with their emotions over the situation of having to place their child or seeing their grandchild, cousin, nephew or niece placed for adoption.
Think about your own blood relations. Some of your family members might be really open and honest about their feelings. Some are quiet and keep all emotions to themselves. Some can face difficulties head on, while others try to avoid them. It is the same in each of the birth families.
About half of our birth family members feel grateful for every moment they get to spend with their birth child. They relish every photo, every phone call and every visit we have. They are able to say goodbye knowing that it is only goodbye for now, and they have confidence that they can see or speak with their child again in the near future. They find that a comfort.
However, the other half of our birth family members have a harder time dealing with the open adoptions, even though all of them did request open adoptions in the beginning. Some have even chosen to drop all contact with us because they feel guilty about having had to place their child for adoption and have trouble with seeing that child face-to-face as a result. I can’t begin to understand what they must have to go through, and I value their feelings. However, I admit that it has made it challenging for us as the parents to help our children understand.
It is so difficult when a child comes to you crying because they are not able to see a member of their birth family. This has only happened a few times to us. In those moments, I have cried with my children.
After having such a successful open adoption with our first child’s birth family, we originally felt that it would be important for our other children to have the exact same thing. But we came to understand that it is never the exact same from one family to the next.
Think about when you got married. You not only inherited a relationship with your spouse, but also with their extended family. The relationships with some of your in-laws might be better and easier than others. Dealing with the emotions and peculiarities of each member of your family requires patience, understanding and love, which is not always easy.
The first time we faced the issue of a birth family starting to back away from contact was so hard because they would schedule meetings with us and not show. They would say they were going to call or send letters, and then would not do so. It was such a frustration for us as the parents of these children, and at first, we didn’t understand how much the birth families were struggling. We just felt their avoidance. This made our hearts ache for our children.
In time, we have learned to understand them better and have also learned how to help our children cope better when they hurt. I am so grateful to God that the birth families with whom we do have a lot of contact are sure to show love and care to all five of our children, not just to the one who is their blood relation. Therefore, our children feel the love from all of these birth families and view them as family… not merely as their sibling’s birth family.
There are more difficulties, such as dealing with the quarks of each different family. In my experience, our birth families who are African-American have a different sense of time than the family I grew up in. For instance, most of our birth families feel it is no big deal to be an hour or two late to a meeting time we have set. In the beginning, this was a real frustration, especially when our children anxiously waited for them to show. But with each birth family we added, this has continued to be the trend. So we have chosen to accept this as part of who they are.
There is also the difficulty for myself of trying to maintain contact with the different birth family members. Then, there is the fact of trying to remember all of the different family members we meet at different gatherings. I must admit that I fail at this one frequently.
Something else you might face, as I have, is a birth family member boldly telling you how much they object to their relation having been placed for adoption. I have been pulled aside twice, once by a grandfather in one birth family and once by a grandmother in another birth family, to be told their extreme objections. The first time this happened struck me with shock, but in those moments when we are dumbfounded and don’t know how to respond, praise God He gives us the wisdom and words to deal with the situation.
As Christian parents, we have also faced another difficulty. Some of the birth family members are not Christians or not strong Christians, and some allow a very different set of morals to govern their lives than we want to instill in our children. Therefore, we have had to make different choices on how we spend our time with each family, as well as how much time we spend on a visit. We do have to limit contact with certain members of the birth families, and I believe that God has obligated us as the parents and moral guardians of these children to do so.
In this three-part series, I have only scratched the surface of the benefits and difficulties that we face in choosing open adoption. Still, throughout this process, our family has come to believe that the benefits outweigh the difficulties. Our children don’t ask whether or not they were loved. They do not ask who they look like. They simply know that they have so much family who loves them, and they know they have a God who cares about them enough to have orchestrated all of this in their lives.
Are the benefits of open adoption going to outweigh the difficulties in your situation? Only God knows for you. Take the time to pray and to seek counsel, and God will make it clear to you what is best for your child.