Thoughtful ThursdaySince this is the first and only TT of May (yeah, uh, sorry), we’ll combine May and June Intelligentsias.

A few weeks ago I had the tremendous pleasure of seeing Lori, radiant and eloquent, deliver a speech at the Listen to Your Mother show. As good at she is at writing, she is even better on stage. Some of the speakers, like Lori, talked about their experiences as mothers. Other speakers talked about experiences as children. Several of those started their speeches with a one- or two-sentence synopsis of their mother. Which, as I sat in the audience, got my own gears turning about how I’d describe my mother.

Once I met someone who described her mother in a single word: “My mother is… magical.” I’ve known several people who needed only a single sound: “My mother… (sigh).” I asked my husband to sum up his mother, and he flat out refused, which tells you all that you need to know.

My mother was tremendously generous, the most extroverted person I’ve ever known, bizarrely secretive, worldly yet preferred to stick to a few places she knew well, an easy person to like but sometimes a hard person to love. She was a product of three cultures but never fully belonged to any of them. No matter what you might need, she probably had it in her purse.

How would you sum up your mother?

I am delighted to be participating in the book tour for my dear friend Lori Holden’s book, The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption.

Her book is unique in addressing the needs of both adoptive and birth parents. Her insights are useful for those who are considering or navigating the adoption process, as well as those who have already adopted/placed a child. She also has a chapter targeting the unique needs of those who are building their families through donor gametes or embryos.

As a reader of Lori’s blog for 5 years, as well as a face-to-face friend for almost as long, many of her personal stories were familiar to me. I also have no personal stake in any aspect of adoption. Even so, I found the book fascinating. Lori uses many compelling illustrations from her own life as well as those of others (such as Luna) to show successful, and not-as-successful, ways that others have engaged in open adoption. Although I have heard many of her suggestions from years of reading blogs by adoptive parents, there were several insights that I have never heard before.

A few weeks ago I saw an old friend (that is, she has been my friend for many years, though she is also much older than I am). One of her daughters has been struggling for infertility for many years. I inquired about her daughter, and my friend told me that her daughter was now pursuing adoption. I excitedly asked, “Domestic or international?” The reason I asked is that if the answer had been domestic adoption, I wanted to recommend Lori’s book to her, knowing that it would truly make her journey easier as well as benefit the emotional development of her future child.

And now, a few answers to questions from other book tour participants.

Lori refers to the relationship between adoptive parents and birthparents as similar to an in-law relationship.  Does thinking about the relationship as an in-law relationship influence how you approach open adoption?

I found this insight really helpful. With my own in-laws and extended family, there are some with whom I want as much contact as possible, some with whom I enjoy occasional contact, some with whom I tolerate occasional contact, and some that I wish would go away. For the latter two, I still engage them not because I want to but because they are part of my children’s family.

You could replace in-laws with birthparents or adoptive parents in the above paragraph and probably have it apply to almost every family’s open adoption situation.

In most of the cases that Lori describes, including her own relationship with Crystal, most of the contact occurs between the birth mother and the adoptive mother. To what extent do you see the mothers as the gatekeepers of contact for their respective families?

I think that women are usually the gatekeepers of family relationships in general, but it seems to be even more pronounced in open adoption. I’ve heard a lot describing contact between adoptive mother and birth mother. I’ve heard somewhat about contact between adoptive mother and birth father. I’ve heard only a little about contact between adoptive father and birth mother. I’ve never once heard about direct contact between adoptive father and birth father, except when they both happened to participate in a group interaction with mothers and others. It’s not weird to me if my husband contacts either a mother or father of a preschool classmate to set up a playdate for my twins, but it does feel weird to me to think of an adoptive father in a heterosexual relationship taking the initiative for reaching out to his child’s birth family. I don’t know if that’s me being rigid and closed-minded or if it truly would be weird.

Personal anecdotes and quotes play an important role in this book, humanizing the data and giving it the force of lived experience. It was interesting to note the voices that were not as present: fathers, adult adoptees from open adoptions, open adoption participants with decades of experience rather than years. What impact, if any, do you think those absent voices have on the book?

Because closed adoption was the norm until less than two decades ago, it seem that there just aren’t yet very many adult adoptees from open adoptions nor people with decades of experience. If Lori revises her book in a decade, it would be great to add these perspectives.

Fathers, though, are plentiful. It seems that men in general don’t spend as much time as women talking about the nuances of family relationships. Judging by the representation of men in the ALI blogosphere, for every man who wants to talk at length about these issues, there are hundreds of women. I don’t know how many men Lori might have tried to interview for her book, but I would guess that there were men who declined: not having much to say, not wanting to get into it, or “you should ask my wife.” In my experience with many, many, many people who have used alternative family-building methods, a few men have had strong opinions against methods such as IVF, donor gametes, or surrogates, cutting off those options as possibilities. I have known a couple of men who expressed preferences such as wanting to adopt internationally from a country where the child would have an ethnic match with one parent. The vast majority of men I have encountered have expressed few strong opinions and deferred to their wives on pretty much everything. During our 7 years of infertility, my husband usually expressed no opinions, not because he didn’t want to express his feelings but because he truly had no opinion. I imagine that there are other men out there who do have opinions and reflections on open adoption, and even a couple who are willing to express them publicly, but I bet it is tough to find them. Maybe that will be Lori’s next book. 🙂

Please return to the main post to read more opinions on Lori Holden’s The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption.