You know what I think is awesome? More and more, when I use the phrase "open adoption," people don't stare at me, uncomprehending. Openness is becoming less foreign, and that's great. But you know what familiarity breeds?
No, not contempt, but good guess. Familiarity breeds questions. I love questions. People don't learn if they don't ask. So, here's a question. Why is openness in adoption important?
It's probably pretty obvious on my end of things. I love Roo, and I can't begin to imagine the hurt if placement had been goodbye. Openness is good because I love her and I still get to see her - to watch her learn and grow and see how happy she is.
But I think that the biggest benefit of openness is the one that affects Roo and her parents as much as me - knowledge. We all know each other, know about each other. If questions arise, they can be answered. I love stories as much as I love questions. So, to illustrate the importance of openness, here's a story about a truck.
My dad used to drive a little white '92 Isuzu pickup truck. It wasn't the smoothest ride around, it had a manual transmission, and I don't think it got great gas mileage. But it was his truck, and he drove it every day.
Eight, maybe nine years ago (I've lost track), the Isuzu was stolen from where it was parked right next to a neighborhood watch sign (I guess "watch" doesn't mean they'll actually act). I read somewhere that most car theft takes place between 1 and 5 am. I believe it. The truck was still there when I went to bed at 1:30. When my dad woke up at 4:45 for work, it was gone.
He called the police to report it, and the dispatcher said, and I quote, “Oh, that's too bad.” I don't know if it's still this way but at that time car theft was a huge problem in Maricopa County, and I guess the police just didn't care that much anymore. They just sort of shrugged.
Anyway. The truck was never found. I kind of thought maybe it would turn up eventually near the border or something, especially once my parents replaced it, but it never did. I know rationally that the truck is long gone. I will never, ever see it again.
But even though I know this, I find myself looking for it. Not all the time, mind you. But any time I see a white pickup truck, I do a double take, and I check the make and model. I check for a back bumper (ours didn't have one), for the Isuzu logo in the front grill (my dad removed it). I know I won't see it, but I think I see it all the time. Because I don't know what happened to it, and I don't know where it is, and what if it's out there somewhere and I miss if because I'm not vigilant enough? What if I stopped looking, and the next day it passed me in the street on my way to work?
There is a gap in my knowledge of the Isuzu. That gap keeps me wondering.
My mother was adopted. There was a gap in her knowledge of her biological family. It kept her wondering. While my mom never felt a gaping void in her life where her birth mother would be, her attention was always piqued if someone said she resembled someone they knew. She had questions. Who was this person she looked like? How much did she look like them? She knew it was a long shot, but the gap in her knowledge - Who do I look like?* kept her wondering. There was no void, but there was a gray area. Because my mother didn't have concrete answers, a part of her was always looking for someone out there who might resemble her.
This is the benefit of openness. Roo will never have to be vigilant, on the lookout. She knows what I look like and who I am. If she wants to see people she resembles … well, I think she resembles her parents, oddly enough, but she'll know where to look for a biological resemblance if it ever becomes important to her. She won't have to wonder. She will know.
It goes both ways. I think that if I didn't have an open adoption, my attention would be drawn to every little toddler girl I saw. I'd be searching faces for something familiar – an eye shape, a little chin, H's nose. I would know that it was unlikely I'd run into the child I placed, but I would be unable to keep myself from looking just the same, the way that I look for my dad's stolen truck.
I've often wondered if my birth grandmother, Roberta, ever looked for my mother in a shopping mall or on a crowded street. If she ever stared a little too long at a woman the same age as the daughter she placed, wondering if that familiar eye shape was just a coincidence. Part of me hopes she didn't. I want to believe that placement benefited Roberta as much as it did my mom. I want to believe that she was able to move forward. But as a birth mother myself, I can easily picture her looking for the child she placed in the faces around her, even if unconsciously.
I think of my grandparents, too. They met Roberta once, when she handed them their new baby girl. Did they ever look for her in a crowd? Did they ever think they saw her selling perfume at Macy's or counting their money at the bank? Did they, too, look for my mother's nose on women they met the way that my mother did?
This is the blessing of openness. There is no searching, no wondering, no gaps. Roo will know her story from start to ... well, not finish, because it's not over, but from start to present. She knows me, her parents know me, and I know all of them. We are friends. If questions arise, they can be answered. None of us will have to search for each other. There are no gray areas. There is knowledge, and there is peace.
*My mother didn't feel "different" for being adopted, but her thing was always, "Who do I look like?" For this reason I find it deliciously ironic that not one of her four children resembles her (my brothers and I look like my dad, and my sister looks like my dad's paternal grandmother). This is also the reason that I think it's funny when couples who are hoping to adopt tailor their search to increase the odds that the child they adopt will look like them. Biology is a crapshoot! I look nothing like my mother and she gave birth to me.
Also, for the record, not looking like my mother hasn't damaged me, and until I was a teenager I didn't even look like my dad very much. So if you're operating under the theory that adopted children suffer because they don't look like their families, disabuse yourself of that notion. Plenty of biological children don't look like their families, either.