Monitor Board of Contributors: Open adoptions benefit everyone
The first commandment that God gives humanity in the Bible, just after the creation of the human being, is p’ru ur’vu, “be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:28). Being in my early 50s and childless (until very recently), I often thought about how it was for me – and others like me – to fulfill this obligation. I concluded that the obligation of having children could be understood both literally and figuratively. Whether we raise our own children or lovingly contribute to the upbringing of the children of our siblings, cousins, friends, neighbors or community, we are fulfilling God’s commandment.
Much to my own surprise, my partner and I decided a couple of years back that we wanted to bring a child into our family. About a year ago, we met with an attorney in order to pursue a private, open adoption. An open adoption is one in which the birth parent(s) and the adoptive parent(s) have contact before the birth and after – and in which the child grows up knowing her birth parent(s).
A birth mother selected us to be her baby’s adoptive parents in September, on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish year. As Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah, which comes 10 days earlier, commemorate the Jewish New Year, new beginnings, and new possibilities, we knew the birth mother had made a sacred decision and that this was the baby who was meant for us. Still, we had months of anxiety before us, as the baby was not due until early February and the birth mother could change her mind at any time.
Immediately, our lawyer and the birth mother’s lawyer made arrangements for us to speak on the phone. We were so relieved to learn that the birth mother, too, wanted these contacts and conversations.
Before we matched with the birth mother, we spoke to many adoptive parents and read as much as we could about adoption. We also attended an adoption class, as required by the state Division of Children, Youth and Families. Overwhelmingly, we heard that adopted children typically ask the following questions:
∎ Where was I born?
∎ Why did my parents give me up?
∎ Was I bad? Did I do something wrong?
∎ Did my birth mother see me or hold me?
∎ Are my birth parents still alive?
∎ Do I look like them?
∎ Do they love me?
∎ Do I have any other brothers and sisters whom I don’t know about?
∎ Will I ever see my birth parents again?
∎ Have my birth parents ever checked on me?
∎ Will you show me pictures of my birth parents?
The common wisdom we received was to be as open as possible with our child about her adoption and her birth mother. One friend suggested that one of the bedtime stories we tell our child is the story of her birth and how she came to be a part of our family.
When we began our conversations with our birth mother, we were initially tentative and awkward. But once we started talking, the tension melted away and the conversations became easy. We spoke every month before the baby was born. These conversations helped the birth mother get to know us and learn about the life into which we would be bringing her baby. She asked about the name we chose and why. She asked about our religion and our religious community. We encouraged her to ask as much as she wanted. She gave us the same encouragement about her. We know where she was born, her education, her family life and even her favorite food (sushi). Most important, we learned why she made the decision to place her baby for adoption. We actually can answer every one of the questions above.
When the birth mother went into labor, we got on the first plane we could. We arrived at the hospital when the baby was 21 hours old. The birth mother met us in the parking area in her hospital gown. Her first words were, “Come upstairs and meet your baby.” We hugged and went up the elevator.
Over the next few days, we spent time in the hospital with our baby and the birth mother. The baby was discharged to us, and 72 hours after birth, the birth mother lovingly gave up her parental rights. The following week, we took her out to dinner – sushi of course. We discussed just how we planned to maintain contact.
After we returned home, we learned that the open adoption agreement we made through our lawyers with our birth mother would not have been enforceable if it had been made in New Hampshire. Here, only in adoptions done through DCYF (generally adoptions of babies or children in foster care) may the birth parent(s) and adoptive parent(s) negotiate an open adoption agreement.
The state Senate is set to vote on Senate Bill 293 tomorrow, which would amend the law to allow courts to enforce an open adoption agreement negotiated in private adoptions. I urge our senators to vote “yes.” Children placed through private adoptions have the same questions and emotional needs as do children placed through DCYF adoptions.
(Rabbi Robin Nafshi is the spiritual leader of Temple Beth Jacob in Concord. She and her partner, Cantor Shira Nafshi, are the happy parents of Liba, 9 weeks old.)