Open Adoption Family Narrivative
I hate disclaimers, but I think today’s post requires one. Once again, I’m trying to work through some thoughts, and I know there are some people who may not appreciate/approve of the terminology I am using, so please know upfront that I am not saying anything to be disrespectful. And, as per normal, I adore comments from readers, but I will only approve those that are constructive and encourage a positive dialogue.
We use the term birthmother/ birthmom to refer to Baby MPB’s birth mother. I often say Baby MPB’s birth mother and sometimes I say our birth mom. This weekend on another blog (which I will not link to as I’m not referencing it to be negative or to start a heated debated, rather I’m referencing it as it got me thinking), someone commented on how using the term “our birthmom” implied slavery and ownership over her and her reproductive rights. First, I must unequivocally state that last thing I’d ever, even for a second, intend is to claim is ownership over our son’s birth mom (and/or her reproductive capabilities). When I use the term “our”, I use it just as I do when I say “our” family, or “our” friends, or “our” parents, or “my” dad, or “my” husband – not to claim any sort of ownership over these people but rather to claim her as part of our family. Someone we love and someone we care for. Second, this isn’t the first time someone in the blogging world has said to me they don’t like the term birth mom, some people in the adoption world prefer first mom or first family. Others, I’m sure, have their own terminology preference. For us, we simply see us all as one family, neither first or second. So, that just didn’t feel right for our family. And, so birthmom just seems to be what we use. And, as I blogging anonymously I have the technical challenge of needing a word to describe her (and others in my life like friends, parents, etc.) that does not use a first name and is also a word that long time readers know and first time readers can understand. This makes it hard to just use a fake first name or some sort of acronym for anyone I discuss on my blog, not just my son’s birth mother.
To add to this, but in real life, we use Baby MPB’s birthmother’s real name at home as a family of 3. We talk about her just like we talk about all of our family members and friends. And with our extended family and friends we’ve chosen not to share her first name. Everyone in our family knows part of Baby MPB’s name is part of her name, that’s no secrete because it’s something we choose to honour. But we initially chose to keep his birth mom’s first name confidential because sharing it would allow our extended family to search her out in our modern technological world. We really wanted to protect her right to privacy and Baby MPB’s right to share his own story when and if he ever wants to. Upon further reflection now we are both wondering if this decision was made because on some level this also has to do with a subconscious desire to control our family narrative? And, now we are wondering if this even the right decision?
And, as for Baby MPB’s genetic sibling, we simply refer to him as Baby MPB’s sibling on my blog. We don’t add terms like “half”, “adopted”, “birth” or “genetic”. (Just like I don’t call my step-sister my “step”-sister, she’s just my sister. The same with my step-grand-parents, they are just my grandparents. In the MPB house we simply believe that family is family, genetic or not and we have never made a habit of distinguishing genetics, even prior to Baby MPB). At home, we use his sibling’s real name when we discuss him and Baby MPB will always know about his sibling. But, our extended family and friends have no idea about his existence. Yup, you read that right, we told no-one. We made this decision because we know some of our family members will very likely place very harsh criticism on Baby MPB’s birthmom for having another child. We didn’t want to expose her to that. But mostly we didn’t want to constantly have to explain to everyone that it’s her life, her choices, her rights and she can do whatever she wants. I know I get defensive over her, and I do suspect that sharing this news would have resulted in some pretty heated discussions with some of our family members who don’t have the same respect for open adoption that we do. I honestly just didn’t feel like getting into it with them, so it seemed easier to avoid it. Yet, long term, I don’t think this is a secrete we can keep, nor a secrete we should keep because the fact is Baby MPB’s birthfamily is part of who he is and therefore are part of our extended family. And furthermore, we want to encourage him to be comfortable with his big giant family.
And, as for his birthfather, we simply don’t discuss him. We have not and will not share details with anyone in our real lives and I really haven’t even discussed him on my blog. In our opinion this just isn’t something anyone needs to know about, not now and maybe not ever. But again, we have intended to let Baby MPB make that decision when and if he wanted to.
So, while we’ve chosen to use certain terms, we’ve also made choices to conceal identities and even hide the fact that a sibling exists. These decisions are creating a narrative for our son’s life. And how we handle the questions and the conversations today will likely impact how he handles them in the future. Mr. MPB and I are both pretty private people (says the women who shares intimate details of her life in a public blog), so we’ve always placed privacy for Baby MPB at the top of our priority list. Yet, we are realizing that these decisions are creating our son’s version of the world, and I am wondering if what we are doing is right? Will hiding his birth mother’s name from our extended family one day make him feel shame or embarrassment? And hiding his siblings’ existence, will that do the same?
I know Mr. MPB and I are trying our best to get things right, to honour Baby MPB’s whole identity, but sometimes I wonder, are we getting it right? One thing I know for sure is that we are not making these decisions to create shame/embarrassment, rather right now a large part of our decisions have been about protecting his right to privacy and mostly protecting our son’s story for him to share when and if he wants to. But, is that fair to our son in the long run? Are our choices now impacting his ability to share his story one day? How do we balance what we should share with what we shouldn’t share? Really, what is it the right approach? We’ve always placed Baby MPB’s right to share above basically anything else, but should we consider sharing a few more things now (i.e. his birth mother’s real name and the existence of a sibling) to help him be more secure in his identity in the long run?
While Baby MPB is so young, the decisions about what to share and what terminology to use, are solely our decisions to make, but soon enough it won’t be. In all likelihood he will ask questions about his adoption, about his birth family – his birth mom, his birth father, his birth siblings. Right now we can control the narrative, but I know one day we won’t be able to. So, are the decisions we making right now the best decisions for him long term? I honestly have no idea. Navigating these waters isn’t always easy, and knowing the long term implications for decisions we make today seems slightly impossible.
No matter how we look at it, adoption is complicated. And open-adoption, while fully embraced by Mr. MPB and I, just isn’t understood by everyone in today’s world. We’ve tried to educate our family and friends. Heck at one point we sent all our immediate family members a basic book on open adoption and half them only acknowledged reading it when we directly asked them if they got it and we don’t think anyone even bothered to read it. And, part of what makes educating people about open adoption so hard is that every single open-adoption is different. Just like every single family is different. In so many ways our little family is so different then every other family and yet, in so many other ways we are the exact same.
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