Tuesday, September 10, 2013

My Response to Lori Holden's Open Adoption Book: Part 1

I can’t believe it has taken me so long to start reading The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption: Helping Your Child Grow Up Whole by Lori Holden. I excitedly awaited, and even promoted, its publication. But then I was waiting for the Kindle version. And then life got in the way. So it is after much anticipation that I have finally begun to read this book.

When Lost Daughter founder Amanda asked if any of us would be willing to review this book for Lost Daughters I jumped at the chance but added some caveats. I explained that I was predisposed to like this book because I know and like its author (through online interactions). If you read the book, I think you’ll understand why I admire her -- she comes through on the page as a thoughtful, compassionate adoptive parent who truly seems to grasp the concept of child-centered adoption. I also reminded Amanda that I am not only an adoptee but also an an adoptive parent in an open adoption; I expected that the latter point of view would be more in play in respect to this particular book. We agreed that it would still be appropriate for me to write about the book so long as I was upfront about my biases.

But Lost Daughters is a website dedicated to the adoptee point of view, and as I’ve been reading the book so far, with the intent of writing about it here, I’ve actually found that it’s the adoptee part of my brain that is most “on line.” So I’ll begin with this warning: some adoptees may find some parts of this book triggering.

In fact, the very premise of the book is not without controversy from the adoptee point of view. Rather, the premise smacks right up against questions I have heard frequently debated in online adoptee circles recently: Is true healing ever really possible for adoptees? And furthermore, is the new trend toward openness helpful or harmful?

Lori Holden gives us her basic premise as follows:
Adoption creates a split between a person’s biology and biography. Openness in adoption is an effective way to heal that split and help the child become whole.
I know quite a few adoptees (not all, of course -- but many) who would agree with the first sentence of this statement. But the second sentence, though widely accepted among the community of open-adoption parents, is far from universally accepted among adult adoptees.

Can anything truly heal the split that adoption causes? Can reunion do it? Can open adoption do it?

These are not questions with absolute answers, but an adoptee’s individual answer may be influenced by how he or she perceives the original split. I’ve written previously on my own blog that “abandonment” is a word that does not resonate strongly for me as I think about my own adoptive situation. Rather, for me, “separation” is a more meaningful term. I don’t perceive adoption as something that my original parents did to me as much as I perceive it as something that happened to all of us. From the separation vantage point, both reunion and open adoption have healing potential because they bring separated family members back into active relationship.

I’ve noticed that adoptees who speak forcefully against open adoption often use the word “abandonment” in their arguments. From the abandonment vantage point, open adoption is understood as involving frequent re-enactments of the initial betrayal. Rather than losing the original parent once, it is argued, the adoptee must experience losing the parent, and tearing open the wound, again and again and again.

The adult adoptee community is also split into several camps in terms of how we view the institution of adoption as a whole. There are adoptees who hold a generally positive view of adoption, others who perceive it as a flawed institution in need of much reform, and still others who view it as irredeemable, in need of complete dismantling. From an abolitionist standpoint, there is little point of discussing best-practices in adoption; all adoption is bad. From a reform standpoint, however, we can look at look at what kinds of things adoptive parents can do to minimize the harmful effects of adoption.

Lori Holden and I are adoptive parents of children who have already experienced the split between biology and biography. Our job is to draw from the best information that is currently available, combining it with our own human compassion and motherly intuition, to do the best we can at supporting our children as they make sense of what it means to be a member of more than one family. Lori and I have chosen similar strategies in that we have attempted to create a broad definition of family that encompasses both biological and adoptive family members so that the child is embraced, always, by the larger, combined family rather than pulled between the two.

Can we heal the split entirely? Possibly not. Nor can we be absolutely certain that our choices will prove to be the right ones in the long run. We can only make the best-possible evaluation and hope for the best-possible outcome.

Coming back to adult adoptees, I know a number who would admit to ongoing struggles with post-adoption issues and yet have still managed to achieve a measure of peace regarding their adoptive situation. I count my adoptee friends among the most resilient, compassionate, and complexly interesting people I know. Whole? I don't know. I suppose that depends on your definition of "whole." 

You've no doubt noticed by now that I haven't really reviewed Lori Holden's book as Amanda asked me to do. Rather, I've taken you on a tour of the various places that my mind went as I began reading the book. I believe the best books are those that cause us to think, so I plan to continue in this way. Rather than writing a standard review of the entire book, I intend to write a series of posts exploring my reactions to the things I am reading.

I hope you have found something of interest in this first of the series. I'll be back with more soon.