Air date: 5.3.16

You can read the transcript below or listen to it by clicking here.

Speaker 5:                              Blog Talk Radio.

Jennifer J.:                             Hi, and welcome to Adoption Focus, my name is Jennifer Jaworski and I’m a social worker with Adoption Associates of Michigan. This is Adoption Associates’ premier talk radio blog show. Adoption Associates was founded in 1990 and we specialize in both domestic and international adoption. We provide pregnancy and adoption services throughout all of Michigan with offices located in Jenison, Lansing, Farmington Hills, and Saginaw. Adoption Associates brings knowledge, support, and understanding an adoption. Adoption is not only our specialty, but it’s truly our passion.

One of Adoption Associates’ commitment is to this radio show is to help educate and support adoptive families, birth families and the adoption community. So, we are very glad that you’re listening in to today. If you’d like to call in during the show with questions or comments, please feel free to dial 347-850-1100, again, that call-in number is 347-850-1100. I’d like to welcome our guest today, Nancy Cannon, are you with us Nancy?

Nancy Cannon:                   I am. Good morning, thank you for inviting me.

Jennifer J.:                             You’re welcome, thank you for being with us and good morning to you. Nancy brings a wealth of experience and we’re excited to be talking to her today about openness in adoption and the topic is helpful or harmful and there’s such discussion has taken place around this topic so Nancy, we’re excited to hear your knowledge and information to share with us, and if we could I think let’s get started a little bit about what is openness?

Nancy Cannon:                   Right, well, it really starts, it’s a relationship that an adoptive couple and a birth mom build together and I have found through the years that it is very relationship driven, openness is, and it also evolves. So where you start out in openness when baby is first born and where you end up many many years later is a completely different spot. But the basis of openness, which is exchanging identifying information, having personal visits with the child through the years, it’s built on trust. And really, a trust is the measure of the honesty and fairness that each party has for one another. And, for birth moms and for adoptive families, it starts out based on trust.

The adoptive family – for birth mom, she’s looking at the adoptive family, are they who they say they are? For the family – is the birth mom accurate and truthful regarding the birth father and her background information. All of these are like an onion, you peel back each layer and you build this relationship until you get to the really, to the core, and that’s where your openness agreement, where the trust lives, in the core of it.

Birth moms, in turn, is always trusting that the adoptive family is gonna provide their baby with the life that she wanted them to have, but in addition to that, there’s a trust that the birth mom has for the family that they’re going to honor her in their home, and honor her place as a birth parent. And those are all the things that are interchanged as they build that relationship.

Jennifer J.:                             Right, and so, definitely you’ve honed in there on the factor of trust and how important that is in that relationship. Can we just take a step back, real quick, and talk about the historical perspectives of openness? How did we get where we are now in the adoption community in our understanding of the benefits of openness?

Nancy Cannon:                   Right, for so many years, closed adoption was the only way that adoption happened. And more, as single parenting became more socially accepted, the closed adoption piece, women were not interested in any longer. They wanted to know where their babies went, they wanted to have a sense of involvement, and I think when adoption agencies got smart about it and said “Look, we need to look for ways to empower women in this process,” that women started looking at this as an option again.

Certainly, for many years we transitioned into this semi-open, where the birth mother selected the family and got pictures and letters of the baby for 18 years. But, there wasn’t any personal contact and now it’s evolving even into more fully open, where there are relationships throughout this child’s life with the birth family.

Jennifer J.:                             Right, and that is best described in much of the information that we have at our disposal now is moving more from secrecy and stigma to knowledge and connection. And openness being about that connected relationship.

What are the reasons why that’s important?

Nancy Cannon:                   Well, when you, I saw this analogy and I really liked it. When you get married, you may not love your in-laws, but you build a relationship because you love your spouse. And, when you’re an adoptive family it may be that same feeling that they’re not quite a member of the family, but you include them and make them part of that because your child self-esteem and identity are built on knowing both families. And that takes the secrecy away and when you do that you give your child an opportunity for connections and information about their life. They get a chance to feel valued by their birth parents and that is, I think, the most important thing of openness. But I think for open adoption to be successful, you have to believe, and families have to believe, that it’s important. They have to put a value on that.

Jennifer J.:                             Right, and that value is based upon what’s in the best interest of this child, right?

Nancy Cannon:                   Mm-hmm (affirmative). Correct. Correct.

You know, study after study has shown that children, they’re not confused about who their real parent is, they know who their real parent is. Their adoptive families are their real parent. I don’t think that ever is a concern in an open adoption, that they don’t know, but if they’ve been told their story, they also get a sense of who their birth parents are, as they grow up.

Jennifer J.:                             And that’s an important factor for birth parents, as well, knowing the open and honest relationship that is developing. What has your experience been with the impact or implications that openness has, let’s shift a little bit here, from a birth mother’s perspective?

Nancy Cannon:                   Well, I think for a birth mother, especially for our young birth moms who cognitively, when they deliver they cognitively cannot think of long-term consequences, they’re long-term. And it’s not their fault that’s where they are on the age spectrum. And so for them to try to visualize that they will never ever see their baby again is too great for them, they need those visits. And sometimes, birth parents will lie. And that’s why I say openness is always evolving.

I did read something, just recently, from a child that says “closed adoption leaves space to make up stories or reasons why you were put up for adoption, because you wouldn’t have the answers. You could think you were just left there because no one cared about you, but what I learned from asking my birth mom is that she cared for me and she wanted me to have a good life and if I hadn’t known that I probably would have thought the worst.” And that’s out of the mouth of a child.

And I think that’s really, birth parents can really enrich the life of our kids.

Jennifer J.:                             Absolutely.

Nancy Cannon:                   I think one of the things that evolves from this is that sometimes these relationships do change and sometimes, for instance, some people ask “Why would a family not follow through with what kind of commitment they had already set up with this birth mom?” And sometimes circumstances change that leave them feeling guilty, such as a divorce. That may leave that adoptive family feeling very guilty and not wanting to reach out to mom again, birth mom, because they don’t want her to know that, or they feel that they would have disappointed her in some way.

Or, even a loss of a job. Sometimes, personal crisis come in and they’re without the emotional energy to maintain a relationship at that time. So sometimes, these things come in to play and I think all of us as case workers know there are times when we are frustrated when families aren’t following through with what they have originally agreed on.

Jennifer J.:                             But, there’s always the opportunity to then turn that back around and regain that openness in the adoption. Have you experienced that or do you agree with that fact that we could do that?

Nancy Cannon:                   Oh, absolutely. See, anytime there’s a change, I think it needs to be renegotiated. It always needs to be renegotiated. There are going to be times where it might not work perfectly, but it doesn’t mean it can’t go back to that. And I think that you have to verbalize what is happening, and change can come again, and then openness can resume.

I think that if the trust is the foundation of a relationship, you can get there. And that’s why follow through is absolutely so important, it just nurtures and respects the relationship.

It’s not only important to birth mom, but it’s important to the child, to know that the family has been consistent with what they promised they would do.

Jennifer J.:                             Right, my parents provided this information to my birth mother over the years and that is very significant. So, when we talk about nuts and bolts a minute, if you would, a birth mother or an adoptive family who’s listening and wondering like “Okay, this openness all sounds quite interesting, but what does this mean, exactly? What does this look like, if I want, as a birth mother, to create this plan, or as an adoptive family to engage in this open adoption, when it comes down to it what does that mean? Am I meeting her over the weekend? Where are we meeting? What are we doing? What is it?”

Nancy Cannon:                   Well, it really is, even in a fully open adoption, there is a great plane of availability for the birth mom. She can meet them at a restaurant, she can meet them at a park, sometimes our offices, we have meeting rooms for families and birth moms to meet. Some families, adoptive families, want the birth mom to come to their home. That’s why I say it’s very relationship driven, and it really depends on the relationship that the family and the birth mom have and maintain.

Jennifer J.:                             Absolutely. We always say, no two adoptions look alike, no two open adoptions look alike.

Nancy Cannon:                   That’s right, exactly.

Jennifer J.:                             So, when we talk about the impact of openness on all three parts of the adoption triad, what would you say is the most important piece that you kind of wish that all of us in the adoption community would focus a little bit more on?

Nancy Cannon:                   Well, I think that each person can enrich each other and their relationship. The birth mom can be loved and supported by the adoptive couple, the adoptive couple gets the information and the sense of – we all wanna raise healthy kids, that’s our goal as parents, raising healthy children- and having this helps to raise healthy children, who have a strong sense of self and identity. And then, for the birth child to know that they were loved by their birth parents. What a sense of security that takes for a child throughout their life.

Jennifer J.:                             Absolutely, absolutely. So I’m wondering, as well, for those who may be considering this, what’s the message from you, or from the adoption community, about the do’s and the don’t’s? What are the most significant things that we should remember if we’re moving toward either a semi or a fully open adoption?

Nancy Cannon:                   I think, to be open-minded and not judgemental is probably the first thing. You wanna keep in mind that you’re connecting with people from all walks of life. Let it grow. We always tell our families, the first day you meet your birth mom for the first time it’s like a blind date, and then you have a second date, and a third date and that’s how relationships grow. I think you go in being respectful of everyone and the differences and even the varying experiences that an adoptive family may have as opposed to a birth mom.

And to be aware, that even their own feelings about adoption may change over time. I think that that’s really important, and then after the adoption, the openness has started, I think honoring commitments is so very very very important. And it’s back to that trust base again, if you promise to send pictures every other month or promise texts, make certain you follow through on these promise because birth parents no longer have legal rights to their children. All they have is the word of the adoptive couple that they’re gonna follow through with what they promise.

So, if an adoptive family breaks a promise that they made about contact or updates, it causes a birth mom to really question other promises that they had made to them, even about how they would raise and care for their child. It puts it in doubt, and so I would say that honoring a commitment once the open adoption has started, that is so very very important.

Jennifer J.:                             I was just going to ask you, while these relationships are built on trust, and it changes over time, I’m wondering your opinion about the contract, so to speak, if you will, and the establishment of that at the on-set. Is that something you feel the adoptive parents and birth mother should have a third party involved in? Such as an agency, or what are your thoughts on that?

Nancy Cannon:                   I think that, originally, that’s how we all started. But I’m finding with more smart phones and more things going on outside of the agency. That’s another reason why making a commitment and honoring your birth mother is so very very important. Because sometimes this contact is outside, and most likely the contact and continued communication is going to be outside of the agency.

Jennifer J.:                             Right, right.

Nancy Cannon:                   But we can certainly navigate, we can certainly help couples navigate that with their birth mother, initially. What does it look like for the birth mom? What is she thinking of? And what is the adoptive family, what are they looking for? And hopefully we can find a good fit for that.

Jennifer J.:                             And if there are issues or situations that come up over the years, long-term, because we’re talking about relationships for the lifetime of a child, what is an adoptive family to do, or a birth mother to do, if something’s not going well?

Nancy Cannon:                   Well, we have lots of skilled people here at our agency that can help navigate them through whatever difficulty they may be having at the time, and certainly that’s when your adoption agency and the professionals that are there can help with that, and help represent both the family and the birth mom, through this process.

Jennifer J.:                             So, it’s not necessarily a situation that you would recommend that they sort out on their own? Or possibly?

Nancy Cannon:                   Well, if they can’t sort it out, I would say definitely then there’s a place for that in an agency to help them through that.

Jennifer J.:                             Okay. And I think you had some other important points that you were going to speak to about a moment ago.

Nancy Cannon:                   Yeah, I was. I just wanted to make sure that everyone out there was aware that, as Mother’s Day is coming up, the Saturday before Mother’s Day was designated as Birth Mother’s Day back in 1990. And I want to remind everyone that that is coming up, and many adoptive parents I know send flowers or a card with photos of their child or call the birth mom on Birth Mother’s Day, and even if the child is old enough to participate in honoring her birth mom or his birth mom she can sign a card or maybe color a picture, or include a drawing in it. That would be very meaningful and I think it’s also very easy then to have a nice discussion with your child about adoption and the love that went to that birth mother’s decision.

Jennifer J.:                             What a wonderful tribute to birth mothers everywhere. Thank you for that reminder. Birth Mother’s Day on Saturday. So, you know, helpful or harmful I think we’ve pretty much kind of covered that today. I see lots of helpfulness in openness and the questions and information we get from both birth parents and adoptive families, and from the general community suggest that there is continuing interest and growth in openness in adoption.

So, we’re thrilled that you could take time out of your very busy schedule to be with us today. A great big thank you, Nancy. Thank you so much.

Nancy Cannon:                   Thank you, and thanks for the opportunity. Love the radio show every week.

Jennifer J.:                             Thank you.

For our listeners looking to connect with Adoption Associates, feel free to contact us 800-677-2367 or on the web

Tune in next week when we speak with an adult adoptee who will share her story. For now, this is Jennifer, with Adoption Associates. This is Adoption Focus.

Have a great day everyone!