What Does It Mean To Have An Open Adoption? An Interview With Lori Holden

What Does It Mean To Have An Open Adoption? An Interview With Lori Holden

Portrait of an Adoption is very excited to present this fantastic interview about open adoption with critically-acclaimed adoption author Lori Holden: 

Q: Things seem to be opening up in adoption in many ways — ongoing contact with birth parents and opening birth records come to mind. Why do you think this is?

LH: Just as the Berlin Wall fell in favor of freedom over oppression, I believe that the human spirit strives for openness and light over closedness and fear. For about six decades, from the 1940s until recently, adoption was shrouded in shame and secrecy. We had to protect the baby and the *gasp!* unwed mother from societal shame, so (1) we sealed accurate birth records and replaced them with state-sanctioned falsifications, and (2) we counseled the parties involved in an adoption to act as if it had never happened — in essence, we suppressed and buried. We have been hearing for years from adult adoptees that this “as if” approach didn’t work so well for them, and as a result the open adoption movement swelled and has hit a tipping point.

In terms of contact between adoptive and birth families, there is a shift from the Either/Or mindset from the closed era — either SHE’s the mom or I am — to a Both/And paradigm. Shame and secrecy has given way to openness and inclusiveness because it is more effective in helping the child at the center grow up whole, able to integrate ALL her parts, those of biology AND those of biography. 

Q: You’re fond of saying that contact isn’t the same as openness when it comes to an “open adoption.” Can you explain more?

LH: Contact comes from decisions made among the adults in the triad, and the degree of contact depends on each of them choosing to participate — or not. It can mean things like letters, pictures, social media contact, phone calls, Skype, and even visits. There’s a wide range of type and amount of contact.

Openness, on the other hand, is what happens within each parent — a solo within – and between the parent and the child (a duet between you and your child, so to speak). At the low end is parenting from a place of fear, usually a deep fear of not being considered the “real” mom, and at the high end is being relatively triggerless so that the child doesn’t have to navigate the parent’s adoption triggers and can focus only on his own.

A traditional closed adoption had low contact and low openness. Even in the absence of contact, though, like in international or foster adoptions where contact isn’t wise or possible, parents can still parent with openness.

Q: You’re also an advocate of mindfulness in parenting, which you say is even more important in adoptive parenting. Why is that?

LH: If parenting makes us stretch bigger than we ever thought we could be, then parenting via adoption makes us TURBO stretch. Over the course of the parenting journey, we may face many adoption-charged situations in which we’re triggered. We don’t know HOW to deal with this or that from a birth parent. We have trouble figuring out what is and isn’t reasonable — from us and from them. We find it difficult to communicate clearly what we’re thinking and feeling because often it’s a muddled, jumbled mess.

Mindfulness is what helps us unjumble, find clarity, find empathy, find reasonable, find kindness in whatever message we decide to deliver — and mindfulness helps us attune to our child. To the degree that we can resolve our own issues about adoption, our children will benefit and be able to focus only on their own.

Which they will have.

Q: Why do you think your book, The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption, has been embraced so enthusiastically by people from all parts of the adoption triad — adopting and adoptive parents, birth parents, and even adult adoptees? Aren’t these groups sometimes at odds with each other?

LH: Yeah, it has been a little like finding the center common parts of a Venn diagram. Perhaps because, as one reviewer said, it’s the adoption book the Internet wrote. The book includes viewpoints from all “sides” of adoption — adoptees, birth parents (my daughter’s birth mom has significant contributions), adoptive parents who are walking the path, social workers and adoption professionals.

As I alluded to earlier, a desire for openness and connection and wholeness comes from our core. And something rooted in the core — the center of the Venn diagram — tends to resonate for many.

Lori Holden blogs from Denver at LavenderLuz.com and is a contributing writer to The Huffington Post. Her book, The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption: Helping Your Child Grow Up Whole, written with her daughter’s birth mom, is available in hardcover and e-book through Amazon or your favorite online bookseller. Lori is available to deliver her open adoption workshop to adoption agencies and support groups.

Like what you are reading? Check out Portrait of an Adoption’s new children’s chapter book JAZZY’S QUEST featuring adoptee Jazzy Armstrong, who has an open adoption with her birth family! This is a groundbreaking piece of literature for adoptive families.

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Check out Carrie Goldman’s award-winning book Bullied: What Every Parent, Teacher, and Kid Needs to Know About Ending the Cycle of Fear (Harper Collins, 2012). www.carriegoldmanauthor.com

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