(This is my entire week-long interview with Lori Holden. Individual segments can be found to the left under "Recent Posts" / "Archives". And please consider doing that quick subscriber sign-up to the left to get monthly newsletters from me.)
I have here today with me Lori Holden--That's her in that picture down there. I'm the one to the left who looks like she's up to something. (And no, I didn’t decide to interview her just because her name is also Lori and she spells it right, although I am that shallow.)
Lori is a nationally recognized expert on open adoption, an ALI blogger (Adoption/Loss/Infertility), and the author of The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption: Helping Your Child Grow Up Whole.
I’ll admit I hesitated having her on my blog because her book has five stars on Amazon which is half a star more than mine. Although I, myself, was already hooked by her fab title. If I’d come up with that title, I would have been like: “Wow, I think I just earned me an extended ice cream break. I’ll write the rest of the book later.” Anyway...
LSF: Lori, thanks for being here. It’s a really nice change for this blog to give people some useful information. Before you and I started talking about doing this interview, I didn’t know a thing about open adoptions. I mean I was pretty sure it wasn’t like an open marriage where you leave the front door open and see what walks through it with tight clothes and a bottle of wine. Please enlighten those of us who know so little.
LH: Thanks for having me, Lori-spelled-correctly. Well, I guess open adoption IS a little like open marriage, now that you mention it, in the sense that “it’s OK to have more than one.” Except with adoption, “more than one” refers to sets of parents. Openness means not just contact [between the birth mother and the adoptive parents] , but also the way in which the grownups in the adoption constellation comport themselves. We are open to co-creating a relationship together. We are open to being clear and honest with ourselves so that we can be clear and honest with others in our adoption relationships. We are open to having tough conversations as our child grows and develops cognitively. We are open and vulnerable and authentic, for it is from this openness that we can best give our child the space to wonder, to develop, and to integrate his identity that come from all of his parts.
LSF: It sounds so logical when you say it. Everybody involved should obviously want what’s best for the child but when did this all happen? Years ago, who ever heard of open adoption? The typical scenario was: Parents struggled with how and when to tell their child that they were adopted and many kids felt disconnected, sometimes even tortured, for decades fantasizing about and trying to piece together the “life they’d left behind.” (Not to mention the other family’s medical history) How, when, and why did open adoption come about?
LH: The similarities are mounting! Again, this IS a little like “open marriage” in that people think it’s a new thing, but really, there were dudes in the Bible having tons of wives and concubines waaaay back when.
LSF: Hey wait… Are you making jokes? This woman’s trying to take my gig…
LH: Anyway... People are often surprised to find out that adoptions have historically been open. It wasn’t until after WWII that we decided that the shame of being “illegitimate” needed to be hidden. We began to act as if the child were born to the adopting parents, as if there were a biological connection, as if a secret birth had never happened. To cover all this up, we even had state-sanctioned lies on vital records, a practice that still goes on in many states today.
LSF: Wow. I didn’t know that and yet I can almost guarantee that the state I live in is one of them... You do discuss in the book that there are all levels of openness in open adoption... And I'd love to discuss it... but this is my bus stop. So if everybody (Wait! I'm getting off!) would please join us here the same time tomorrow... (Will you people let me through? I said I'm getting off!!)
Welcome back! (All except you over there... I told you never to come back.) So, if you were here yesterday, you know that all this week I have the privilege of interviewing open adoption expert, Lori Holden. Her Adoption/Loss/Infertility Blog: http://lavenderluz.com. Her Book: The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption: Helping Your Child Grow Up Whole.
And if you weren't here yesterday, why the hell not?
LSF: So yesterday Lori, we were just starting to discuss what really makes an open adoption open. I think people who are new to the whole idea will find comfort in knowing that there are a million options between: “Here’s the baby. Now go away.” and “So tomorrow we can all have lunch at my house and dinner at yours and then the next day we’ll switch.” Could you elaborate on various degrees of openness you’ve seen work?
LH: Some do see contact as a spectrum. But I encourage people to think of contact and openness as being two different measures. Contact may or not be possible, due to birth parent availability (they may live elsewhere) and willingness (some birth parents choose not to remain in contact). And don’t forget in some international and foster adoptions, contact may not be possible or wise.
But openness, the second measure, is about how willing and able you are over the years to deal with What Is, with What Actually Happened, with What Comes Up.
- Have you healed your own infertility wounds? Or might you get triggered the first time your daughter says, “You’re not my real mom!” to you?
- If your son asks for information on his birth parents, are you open to telling him?
- Does your teen feel as if he can come to you with anything identity-related? Or might he think that to wonder aloud about his birth parents might come across as disloyal to you?
These are all bits of openness, of dealing with adoption-related things that come up over time. Openness is about so much more than just contact. I prefer thinking of open adoption as a grid rather than as a spectrum. No matter what degree of contact you have, or which set of parents is hosting lunch, parents should build trust continually with their child by remaining truthful and open.
LSF: Have you ever seen jealousies arise? It’s wonderful to have all of this communal love and sharing and communication between the adoptive mother and the birth parents but what happens if the birth mother learns to love the child so much through this open adoption process, she totally regrets putting them up for adoption?
LH: Oh, yeah. In the early years of an adoption, especially. I have heard many tales from birth moms that it’s so difficult to hear their child call another woman “Mama.”
LSF: It's difficult for me to hear anyone say "Mama". I'm from the North. We're strictly "Mom" and "Mommy" people.
LH: Okay anyway.... Likewise, it’s common to hear from adoptive moms that it can be downright painful to see the resemblances between their child and her birth parents, knowing it’s a connection you don’t have. Cultivating such emotionally-charged relationships takes a lot of self-awareness, excellent communication skills, and the setting of healthy boundaries.
LSF: And that’s something I definitely want to talk about: This birth mother person... Well, this seems like as a good place as any to bring this interview to a screeching halt. Please join us tomorrow for Part 3 of our interview... All except you over there who I told not to come back. I'm warning you. I find the prospect of making a scene... intriguing.
Thanks for checking back with us today. I've been sitting here with open adoption expert Lori Holden for the past three days. I'm getting a little hungry and the upper outer quadrants of both sides of my butt fell asleep 18 hours ago but other than that...
LSF: Hi Lori... Thanks again for being here. I admit, two days ago I didn't really like that shirt but now it's growing on me. (It's probably growing on you too by now... literally.) I'm sure I'll adore it by Friday... So we left off talking about the birth mother. To be honest, when I first read that your daughter’s birth mother was not only consistently in her life but a major contributor to your book, my first thought was: “Yeah like some day maybe I’ll write a book about infidelity. Hey, maybe I can call my husband's girlfriend. Maybe if she’s not too busy, she’d like to write a few chapters about her side of the story.” (I’m just making the “girlfriend” thing up. I mean I’m pretty sure I am. Does anyone happen to know anything I should know about?)
But it really seems like your daughter's birth mother, Crystal, and you and your husband, Roger, have created an incredibly comfortable environment for your daughter. Is it all about a meeting of the minds between the birth mother and the adoptive parent(s) at the time of adoption? Have you had any moments along the way where you’ve said to her: “I think you’re over-stepping your role here” or in my own vernacular: “Yo back up Bitch. You’re like all up in my turf”?
LH: Too funny! But no. And your analogy helps me make this point. In the closed adoption era, we came from an Either/Or mindset. Either SHE’s the real mother, or she is (check out the recent Kohl’s commercial for more on this). For one to be legitimate, we have to deny or negate the other. Let me tell you, the child feels this, not just the negated grownup. Adoption creates a split in a person between his biology and his biography, and openness helps heal the split. Closedness allows the adoptee to embrace only half his identity (either that of biology or that of biography) and forces him to deny the other half.
Why would we split the baby? -- especially when we can do better?
The alternative is to embrace instead a Both/And heartset. “Your birth parents are obviously very important to you and to our family story. Therefore, treating them with love and respect is a way of treating YOU with love and respect. And it keeps you from splitting. It helps keep you whole.”
Besides, as adoptees have pointed out to me, we fully expect parents to love more than one child. Why can’t we also see that a child can love more than one set of parents? Love doesn’t divide, it multiplies.
Now in the case of your husband’s infidelity (hypothetical, of course)...
LSF: Do you know something? We’ll talk later...Is there any sort of written agreement of what each of you expects from the other over the years? (I watch a lot of Judge Judy. She reminds me of my mother. I almost had a date with her son once. But that’s for another blog post.)
LH: That would have been an interesting date!
I share in my book arguments both for and against codifying an open adoption agreement. Some states require PACAs -- Post Adoption Contact Agreements, which create legally bound commitments. Even in the absence of legal teeth, some adoptive/birth parents like to write things down to clarify expectations. Others prefer not to codify the relationship. Some feel this enables them to live more in the “spirit of the law” than by the letter of the law.
LSF: What happens if there is a change of heart along the way? What if the birth mother, for example, gets into a new relationship and starts a family with that person and decides to “move on” and not include the child?... Oh, look at the time! Gotta go... I think I did that more gracefully today, don't you? I must be finally getting the hang of this "interviewing" thing.
Join us tomorrow for Part 4 of my interview with Lori Holden. In the meantime, check out her blog: http://lavenderluz.com
So thanks for joining us again for Day 4 of our interview. (If you need to catch up, click on the link under "Recent Posts".) Once again I bring to you open adoption expert, author, adoption/loss/infertility blogger, Lori Holden.
LSF: Welcome Lori. You don't actually say all that when you introduce yourself to people do you? I screw people up just having my name hyphenated. Yeah you laugh. Try picking up a prescription. So yesterday when you abruptly got up and walked out (Okay, she didn't really. That was Cam Newton.) I was asking what happens if the birth mother agrees to an open adoption and everything's fine, then one day she's in a new relationship and starting a new family and she's having second thoughts about continuing this open relationship.
LH: Here’s where having a vibrant relationship comes in handy, for when you’re already in a relationship, you can call on the other when you need to. In this situation, I suppose the adoptive parents would make their case with the birth mother, reminding her that being around is a healthy thing for the child she loves. And assuring her that she will always be welcome in the family, and pitching “the more the merrier” arrangement -- “we’ll include your new family, as well!” She doesn’t need to stay in an Either/Or mindset. She can have both her old and her new lives (and my experience with birth mothers suggests that her love for her placed child would not be so flimsy).
LSF: One of the things I think you’ve done so masterfully in this book is demystify and truthfully-- de-stigmatize-- the birth mother. I think for years, she was just some nameless, faceless person whom people either judged and sentenced in their own minds or forgot about altogether: Someone who just dropped off this kid somewhere and went on with her life. Then here you come with Crystal and turn birth mothers into, of all things, people! She has thoughts and plans. And imagine that... she sounds intelligent and educated and worst of all... extremely nice! That can't be right! Tell us about her... Dish on the real Crystal.
LH: She is super nice! Yes, I got a daughter but I also got a friend.
I think a lot of people come to adoption with stereotypes about the kind of woman who would “give up a baby.” And then they actually get to know that kind of woman and end up thinking: “There but for the grace of God -- and effective birth control -- go I.!” Over the years I’ve gotten to know hundreds of women who placed, and I would say they are loving, conscientious people who want to make the best of a really difficult situation. That makes them not much different than anyone else... I’m sorry, Lori. I’m not going to talk further about Crystal out of respect to both her and my daughter.
LSF: I totally respect that...but just tell me: Have you ever all been together and your daughter introduced you as her two mothers and then you had to explain that you and Crystal never actually dated?... I'll take that piercing look as a "no". Okay then...And moving on...
Even writing this, I keep wanting to put Crystal’s name in quotation marks like I do when I'm mocking someone in my family in my blog and I tell them it's not them even though I was too lazy to even change their name. But Crystal Hass is really Crystal Hass. There’s the birth mother putting her name right on the cover of a book about adoption. Wow! It’s almost like a symbol of how open she really is about this open adoption. Your daughter’s a teenager now. How has the relationship between you and Crystal evolved over the years? Do you consider her family? Do you guys have cute matching T-shirts for when you go out together: “No, I’m the mother!”?
LH: What a fantastic Mother’s Day gift idea!
LSF: "Hello? Shark Tank?"
LH: You are right that this openness movement has done a lot to dissolve the shame in adoption, and she felt compelled to put her name and face on the book. We do consider her -- and the other three birth parents of our children -- as extended family members. An adoption professional I met uses the model of a kaleidoscope to show these ongoing relationships: Images coming in and out of view, moving around, receding and becoming more prominent and receding again. Over time, this is how our open adoption relationships feel with these four special people. There is a strong connection, but that doesn’t mean we talk every week, or even every month.
LSF: One thing you don’t hear much about during adoptions is the birth father... and you won't hear it here either. At least not today... Please stop by tomorrow as Lori Holden and I wind-up our interview with info about birth fathers as well as things I forgot to mention and more questions I had no business asking in the first place.
Thanks for coming back for this final chat this week with Open Adoption Expert Lori Holden. I really hope you've enjoyed hearing someone else's voice just above my own usual white noise for a change. (It's funny. I didn't become that annoying disruptive kid in the class until I was, like, forty.) After years of doing this buffoonery-filled blog, I decided I probably should occasionally provide useful information delivered to you by someone who knows what they're talking about. I'll be back to my buffoonery next week. Not like I was exactly Diane Sawyer this week.
LSF: So Lori, we left off yesterday talking about the birth father. Who ever hears anything about him? Is the birth father ever involved in the open adoption process? How often? Have you seen instances where only the birth father is involved? (Sorry... It's a New Yorker thing & a Jewish thing... It's not about them answering your questions. It's about hearing yourself ask them. I'll bet Barbara Walters has fought it every day of her life.)
LH: Sometimes the birth father's involved from the very beginning, helping to choose the adoptive family, and sometimes he comes in later. I have not seen a birth father-only placement, but surely they exist on rare occasion. For all the reasons having openness with a birth mother is important, so is having openness with the birth father. Access to him can be very important as the child builds his identity, which typically happens in the tween/teen years. In the absence of contact, being able to talk about his birth father with his parents can be helpful.
LSF: So let me back up out of the way now. Lori H. has some other things that she wants to tell you about open adoption that I wasn't swift enough to mention. (My words not hers. I know my limitations.) She will also explain why her book is far superior to others. (That's why I'm here. Have you bought mine yet?)
LH: 1) While it’s largely understood why open adoption serves well the people living in it, this book, The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption: Helping Your Child Grow Up Whole also tells how to create and sustain one over the years as a child grows. It covers common open-adoption situations and how real families have navigated typical issues successfully. Like all useful parenting books, it provides the tools for parents (both adoptive and birth) to come to answers on their own, and it addresses challenges that might arise one day.
2) Our book was written for people involved in infant adoption, in international adoption, in foster adoption and even in donor sperm/egg/embryo situations — in any circumstance in which the result is a person whose biology and biography come from different sets of parents. Adoption professionals may also be interested in having this book available as a resource for clients, as it covers not just the initial stages of an adoption, but also the parenting stages we face over the long haul.
3) If we acknowledge that adoption creates a split between a person’s biology and his biography, we can then consciously choose ways to help our child heal that split through our own open-heartedness.
Lori Holden will present a free webinar for the Snowflake Embryo Adoption Awareness Program in March, and a workshop at the American Adoption Congress annual conference in Denver in April. Find her regularly at LavenderLuz.com. Lori does yoga and drinks red wine in Denver while raising her two now-teens with her husband.