I knew a young woman once who had been adopted as an infant and was starting to seek out her biological parents. Up until that point, she had known nothing of them and always wondered why they had given her away. She explained to me that a lot of adopted kids live with this question. It stokes feelings of deep insecurity and self-doubt, she said. She hired a private investigator to find the people whose names had been given to her by her adoptive mother.
Her biological father was the first to respond to her inquiries. She learned that her mother and father had been teenage sweethearts and when they found themselves pregnant, decided to give her to a family who could raise her in a stable home. They had loved each other, although they didn’t stay together. He had a family of his own now and they lived in Los Angeles. Perhaps most disturbing to her was finding out he was an actor who appeared often in TV commercials. She had wondered about him so much and probably seen him many times, but had not known who he was.
I thought of her this weekend while I was reading a fascinating article in the Washington Post about open adoptions. The idea is instead of keeping the identities of biological parents a secret, they and sometimes even the biological grandparents remain part of the child’s life. For some families that means an annual phone call. For others, like the Goldfarbs who were profiled in the article and have two adopted sons, it means a lot more.
The Goldfarbs and their birth families are in the vanguard of reshaping domestic American adoption, transforming it from a clandestine, stigma-laden arrangement into a more open and collaborative one. They believe it’s healthy, if possible, for an adoptive child to know where he or she came from; to have access to his or her medical background and genetic history; to know that he or she wasn’t abandoned or “given away.”
The Goldfarbs welcome visits a few times a year from their sons’ biological mothers, Hava and Melissa (the biological fathers are not involved) and keep pictures of them on display in their home.
“I want them to know how much Hava and Melissa really love them,” Ann Goldfarb says. She wants her sons to know just how hard it was for their birth mothers to let them go, how it “just took so much strength and love for the child.”
This kind of arrangement is still considered to be experimental; most adoptive arrangements keep the biological parents and offspring apart. Common wisdom is an ongoing relationship between the adoptee and the biological parents will cause confusion for the child, but according to the article studies do not bear this out. Perhaps more potent is the adoptive parents feelings of insecurity or discomfort by the presence of the biological parents. One father said the annual Christmas phone call from his child’s biological mother felt “like fingernails on a chalkboard.” Likewise, remaining in touch with a child who has been given away can be heartbreaking for the biological mother.
At the outset, every mother and birth mother must decide what level of contact they think they can live with. Then they must rethink and revise, weather conflicts anticipated and unexpected. Accomplishing this requires extraordinary grace on the part of a mother such as Ann Goldfarb, who says: “It’s your baby, but it’s also somebody else’s baby. You can’t just deny that.” And graciousness from a birth mother such as Hava Leichtman, who said, during her visit, to Ann: “It wasn’t until I met you that I realized what a good life he could have. I realized that it was in the baby’s best interest.”
I’m so impressed by these women and the relationship they’ve created. Does anyone have experience with adoption? What do you think of the concept of open adoptions?