In honor of November being National Adoption Awareness Month, Portrait of an Adoption is hosting the fifth annual acclaimed series, 30 Adoption Portraits in 30 Days. Designed to give a voice to the many different perspectives of adoption, this series will feature guest posts by people with widely varying experiences.
We hoped for an open adoption, which is why we chose to adopt domestically. We had completed our training and our home study and took our agency’s advice about how to “market” ourselves in order to find an expectant mother who was opting to place her child for adoption. It is a difficult process – adoption — one not without many, many failings.
Within a few months of putting ourselves out there, an expectant mother reached out to us. I will call her Chloe. Chloe was in a difficult situation, already mothering a young child, homeless, and over five months pregnant with a new baby. She was opting for adoption for her youngest because, as she told us openly, she was not prepared emotionally or financially to raise another child. She was speaking with a few other couples hoping to adopt, trying to find a good fit for her and her child.
Chloe, too, was very much committed to an open adoption. We talked about what that would look like and all three adults (me, my spouse, and Chloe) agreed that the relationship between us was one that would evolve and require trust and openness, with a central focus on the baby we all hoped to support.
Within a few days, Chloe had determined we were the family she would choose to raise her baby. It was a happy time, but not without tremendous stress and pressure. Chloe lived many states away from us and was separated from any family or friends. We worked hard to ensure she connected with an adoption agency local to her that could help her find housing and establish a budget.
The agency Chloe was working with had many reservations about her, and raised red flags that suggested to them she might not follow through with her adoption plan. I felt protective towards Chloe, wanting to defend her, when I felt those charged to do so were not. I spent hours and hours on the phone in those months, trying to convince social workers and agency staff that Chloe was sincere and vulnerable, needing their help and support, not judgment. It was exhausting.
In the end, Chloe did follow through with her adoption plan. Our two families spent two weeks together, seeing each other every day after the baby’s birth, trying hard to lay the foundation for that open adoption we had all committed to. It was tough, those days, and, yes, sometimes confusing. I found myself deferring to Chloe always. She changed the diapers and offered the bottles. I cooked and cleaned and folded laundry, much like a grandmother might do. I wanted Chloe to feel comfortable and cared for, supported.
When we drove away, our home state finally having given us permission to return, I felt a release of tension and pressure with each passing mile that I did not realize had been building. Finally, I no longer deferred. I simply loved and cared for and embraced our new baby.
The first weeks were exhausting, but lovely. We traded calls and Skypes and texts and photos almost daily with Chloe. We had no guidance from anyone about how to create an open adoption, just our sincere wishes, the models of a few close friends and family who had successful open adoptions, and articles and blog posts we had found online.
It was wrenching that this amazingly happy and joyful time in our lives was a time of great loss and sorrow for Chloe. She was experiencing tremendous grief, and was at times suicidal. She was struggling about how and where to get help, both therapeutic and pharmacological. We Googled and supported from a distance. During a post placement home visit, we talked about the situation with our adoption counselor who crassly told us, “Well, your wedding is her funeral.”
There was no place for us to turn to for help as we tried to help Chloe, who in these weeks had moved even further away, returning to her home state across the country from where she had given birth. Chloe’s grief morphed into hostility seemingly overnight. She was angry at us, angry at our happiness, angry to feel so isolated. She expressed resentment that none of our friends or family were “giving her credit” for having birthed our baby.
A new relationship paradigm evolved where my husband became the good cop and I became the bad cop. It makes sense, honestly, as from Chloe’s point of view there were two mothers, but only one father. Feeling the stress of being in the middle between Chloe’s hostility and my increasing sense of feeling villainized by her, my husband fumbled with his perceived role as mediator.
That paradigm led to Chloe developing romantic feelings for my husband. She shared her fantasies of what their lives together would look like, certain that he returned her feelings. She would often message him late at night, after having a few too many drinks.
There was a terrible sense of feeling helpless in these months. How to help Chloe? How to draw lines between what was appropriate and what was, absolutely, inappropriate. I felt overwhelmed, feeling certain our relationship was not healthy for any of us, but not knowing how to change it. My husband embraced the mantra that Birth Mothers always experience less power in the adoptive relationship after placement, so we must not abuse our power, but instead practice compassion.
Our open adoption went on like this for over a year. We tried so hard to gently establish boundaries and assure Chloe of our intentions to keep the adoption open when she would repeatedly share her fears that we would just up and close it one day. Every day ran hot or cold, sometimes both. We worked hard to stick to our adoption agreement, making ourselves available for Skype conversations, sending photos and updates of our growing baby several times a week, traveling across the country to visit just before the baby turned one.
Nothing was enough for Chloe.
No matter what we did, she hurled accusations at us regularly. We were trying to keep the baby from her. We were breaking our agreement. We should be ashamed of ourselves. She should never have trusted us. She was stupid that she did not get things in writing. What things?, we would ask. We’re here, right here, we would say. We have no intention of closing the adoption. We were going nowhere, was our constant reassurance.
Things reached a boiling point when Chloe became almost exclusively hostile. The hot and cold relationship was now only cold. I dreaded each message, wondering what new crimes we had committed against Chloe. She referred to us as the “adoption horror story” she had been warned about. She hurled insults at me. I was a bitch, a cold fish, defensive, prissy, uptight. She started a blog that included posts about how terrible we were and how she had been hoodwinked by us.
In the end, when we both became worried about the impact the constant stress was having on our marriage and our family, my husband and I sought counseling. We were referred to a therapist who specialized in adoption. It was the best decision we had ever made for our adoption.
The therapist helped us understand that we had been emotionally abused by Chloe, our guilt and the silence surrounding adoption, enabling the abuse to continue for far too long. It had become clear to us that our earnest wish to support Chloe may, in fact, have contributed to some of the difficulties in the adoption. Having been the victim of abuse herself for most of her life, Chloe had herself become the abuser.
We communicated with Chloe our need for the relationship to become less contentious and hostile. We established four guidelines that would be important for us to continue in the open adoption – no name calling, no accusations, no singling me out as the villain, and moving our relationship off social media. These requests seemed basic enough to us, as initially we simply hoped to restore civility to our exchanges.
In the end, it was Chloe who closed the adoption. The thing she had feared the most was happening at her own hand. While our lives since have been tremendously calmer and more peaceful, there is a sense of loss that is potent. We are recovering, but often wonder how Chloe is. Is she, too, recovering? Does she just need some time and space to heal herself? Will she reappear one day in the near or distant future, at a better place and able to be in a relationship with us and her child?
It has been difficult to find support for ourselves, outside of our time with the therapist. We are reluctant to share the details of our adoption even with close friends or family, as we don’t wish for anyone to think less of Chloe. The details of her behavior towards us, most of which I have not shared here even anonymously, are harsh and unkind.
When I go online searching for understanding within the adoption community, there appear to be two camps, neither of which we fit into neatly. One where adoptive parents say they would feel like a failure if their adoption was ever closed, and feel responsibility for that closure. I am not a failure. My husband is not a failure. We tried hard. We are still trying. We are still here hoping for more. The other camp tends to berate and demonize Birth Mothers after difficult experiences, calling them things like “uterine donor” or “broken.” No. Just no.
Mothers choose to place their child because they are living in situations they hope their child will never know. The things that make adoption a necessity for many women – poverty, homelessness, substance abuse, mental illness – are the same conditions that make their relationships challenging. There are indeed situations, even with people you love and care for, that prevent relationships from succeeding. This is common in adoption. Why don’t we talk about it more?
Why, too often, are adoptive parents shamed for not having the resources to solve the problems society itself has not solved? Most especially, when no support exists to foster ongoing, positive relationships between adults forever connected by their love of an innocent child.
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