January 31, 2014

"We Didn't Want Reunion, So We Chose Openness Instead."
An Interview with Adoptive Parent, Lori Holden

Lori Holden

Today I’m interviewing the lovely Lori Holden, known in blog world as Lori Lavender Luz.  Lori is a contributing author of Adoption Reunion in the Social Media Age. She’s someone I’ve really come to appreciate in the adoption world and if you haven’t met her yet, you need to!  

 Lori is an adoptive parent who has actually written a book with her daughter’s birth mom. How cool is that?

Lori and I have the pleasure of interviewing one another on our blogs today as part of the Blog Tour for the book release. I was so excited when I found out we had been matched up together, for this writing project!  Lori is the writer of the chapter: “We Didn’t Want Reunion, So We Chose Openness Instead.” 

Deanna: Lori, why do you believe people would think a purposeful reunion, spearheaded by adoptive parents to be “crazy”?

Lori: I think most people start out steeped in an Either/Or mindset. Either she's the mom or you are. The child can love either this set of parents or that one. As I say in the premise of my book, adoption creates a split in a person between her biology and her biography. At the moment of placement the child is at risk of living an Either/Or life.

Unless the parents can come at parenting from an alternative view, from a Both/And heartset.

Clearly, from an Either/Or mindset, any intentional reunion would be considered crazy. If there is only room for One True Mom (or Dad) and the one on the throne seeks out a second One True Mom (or Dad), that crazy person must be ready to abdicate. What else could explain such a self-demoting choice?

But when parents can shift to a Both/And heartset -- not only allowing but encouraging the child to claim and be claimed by both her clan of biology and her clan of biography -- the act of seeking reunion is not considered crazy. In fact, it would be crazy not to help the child you love bring all her pieces into her world.

Deanna:   Regarding your seven year old daughter’s connection with her birth dad, you said: “Some people thought my husband and I were crazy to make this connection happen when we could have easily kept it unmanifested.” Is this a common reaction from adoptive parents you talk to and in your experience do they seem open to hear why you have made this connection happen? Have any of them, to your knowledge, changed their perspective as a result of hearing your story?

Lori: I  find that most people are curious and open to understanding why we have chosen openness in our adoptions. But there have been a few in the general population who dismissed us with a "Well, that's just weird."
In the more specific population of people who are hoping to adopt or who have recently adopted, I repeatedly see a  huge change, though. I give workshops around the country to adoptive/adopting parents, gathered by various agencies and support groups. There is an amazing metamorphosis that takes place as I share what I've learned from my own children and from listening to adult adoptees (like some in the Adoption Reunion anthology). Some participants begin in a stance of sheer terror and doubt. Terror about not being The Only in their hypothetical child's life. Doubt that they could ever see the situation as anything but terrorizing.

But over the course just a 90-minute workshop, these people astonishingly shift their perspective, see from their hypothetical child's point of view, feel in their bodies what an Either/Or mindset feels like, that inescapable sensation of being split in two. By the end of our time together participants have a completely different demeanor. They are open -- in mind, in body language, in outlook. They are confident that of course they can embrace a Both/And heartset. Of course any loving parent would. Of course they will resolve their own issues and insecurities and not heap them onto their hypothetical child because that's what effective and loving parents do.

So yes, big change is possible if people are willing to see things a new way. And they most often ARE willing to see a new way because they have loving hearts and a desire to be their best for their hypothetical child.

Deanna:  Even in the best of circumstances, reunions seem to be a rollercoaster. Of your daughter’s you say: “While the initial meetings were successful, exhilarating even, difficulties arose as time passed. Tessa felt an uncomfortable push-pull between her two parts, and at times it was just too much for her. At one point she threw down photos of her birth family members, adamant that she no longer wanted to have two families. That time period was excruciating for us all.” What was the most important lesson you learned during this excruciating period of time? 

Lori:  Great question. The most important thing I learned in those moments was that not every problem needs to be solved right away. What many problems need is, simply, space. A loving space to have feelings in, to have no judgments in, a space to simply allow for big feelings.

Feelings are often fleeting if we allow them the space to be. Abiding with my children during big emotions, and supporting them while they deal with these feelings has enabled the feelings to move through, to not get stuck.

We did not make any sweeping judgments during this time about contact, about openness, about The State of Our Family. I did a lot of breathing -- deep breathing -- to stay present with my daughter during her pain. In this way I neither minimized it nor maximized it. I relied on her own resilience to experience and release her emotions. I upheld for her (without words) that she was up to this task.

And she was.

Deanna:  One of my favorite parts of your story is when you share that you decided to make it work. You said,  “I should add that another key ingredient is that we decided to make things work. I would caution that you can't expect everything to happen on its own because without intention, you're taking the risk that it won't happen at all.” Where did your determination come from, to make it work? Why wasn’t giving up an option if things became excruciating?

Lori: Open adoption has been compared to a marriage. You are joined by law to someone you are not related to by blood.  That person also has a clan. What keeps people working on their marriage, on their in-law relationships, year after year after year, life change after life change after life change?

During difficult times (which inevitably come), the basis for connection can be just stubborn determination. When the going gets tough, we simply remember that we made a vow, and we keep our word (safety is assumed). I have observed the notion that these vows we must keep are promises made to our children's birth parents, and that's partly right. In addition, we must also keep our promises to provide whatever our children need that is in our power to give.

Further, we wish to model for our children alignment in word and deed. We don't cut an extended family member out just because it gets hard or they disappoint us (I wouldn't want my kids to fear that!). We find ways to have healthy boundaries and keep contact and our word.

Deanna:  I love what you share about your Both/And mindset. You say: “When adoptive parents know it's an option and consciously choose that option, the Both/And mindset is just as possible as—and less destructive than—the Either/Or mindset. People just need to know why and how to "adopt" this alternative way of thinking.” In your opinion, what needs to happen in the system so that adoptive parents know it’s an option and consciously choose it? What reforms need to take place for this to become reality for more adoptees?

Lori: First, it would be helpful if we promote openness in all forms around adoption, including opening original birth records to all citizens, regardless of circumstance of birth. There is no need to continue to perpetuate the shame and stigma that once haunted those caught in unplanned pregnancies, those born to unwed parents, those afflicted by infertility issues. Once we shed shame, there is no reason to maintain policies to hide shame (and nothing else unethical should be able to hide behind these policies, either).

Second, we need to stop conflating contact with openness. When you untwine these two ideas, parents can get a clearer idea of how they want to parent based on what contact is available to them. This grid could be a tool that adoption training programs use to help adopting parents plot their values and envision their path (hint: I submit that boxes 3 and 4 are more integrating for the child's identity than boxes 1 and 2).

And self-serving though it may sound, my dream would be that agencies, facilitators and attorneys have their clients read my book. Thanks to many the Internet adoption community, I am privileged to share a child-centered guide to parenting with an open heart that honors all involved, that addresses common fears and difficulties, that deals with what is rather than wishful thinking and, most importantly, is imminently doable by just about anyone.

Deanna: Thank you for your insights. You rock! That's all there is to it.

Lori Holden of Denver, CO writes regularly at LavenderLuz.com and can be found on The Huffington Post, Twitter and Facebook. Along with her daughter's birth mom, Crystal, Lori wrote The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption: Helping Your Child Grow Up Whole (Rowman & Littlefield, 2013). She  She is fond of practicing her Both/And philosophy with red wine and dark chocolate.
To read my interview on Lori's blog today, go here.

To read all of the blog posts/interviews for the blog tour, go here. 

To purchase Adoption Reunion in the Social Media age, go here.