Open Adoption & Family Services
Volume 21, Number 4                                                                                            Summer 2013

Open adoptees share birth family

relationship experiences.


Open adoptee Rose, (right), with her birth sisters  
Amy, Hollie and Emily (l-r).


By Heather Goldy, Counselor, MSW


The idea that adoptees will be confused by close relationships with adoptive families and birth families can ignite conversation and fears. However, in gathering stories from OA&FS open adoptees, we've learned that a strong relationship with their birth family is everything, but confusing.


Julia is a bright, articulate high-schooler. She is 14 years old and is involved in extracurricular activities, spends time with friends, and has a close relationship with her parents and her birth family. "No, I've never felt confused", she said. "My mom and dad raised me since I was born. My birthmother is kind of like a second mother. I call her by her first name. Our relationship has never been formal. We just walk right in." Julia considers herself fortunate to have relationships with her birthmother, maternal birth grandmother, birth aunt, and birth sister. Ideal in open adoption, Julia's parents shared her story with her from the beginning. "I know my birthmother was a young teenager, only 15. She wanted to keep me, but couldn't raise me so her mom suggested she place me for adoption. She liked what my parents said about morals, good education, and good opportunities in life. She thought my parents would be nice, caring, and raise me like she wanted to."


Julia has a close relationship with her birthmother's sister and her huge family who live within 10 miles of her. She said, "My birthmother and I spend time together whenever we can. We ride horses at my birth grandma's stables and try out new recipes - we set the fire alarm off a lot, but we have fun!" Julia enjoys camping and has fun watching the "Walking Dead" TV series with her younger birth sister. She said, "I don't know what life would be like without my younger sister. We like to hang out a lot. She is a bundle of joy!"


Julia is glad to have an open adoption. "I love knowing I can ask my birthmother anything about my family, my birth dad or why she gave me up. If it was closed it would be difficult, but she answers all of my questions. My boyfriend doesn't know his birth family. It's a big mystery to him. I see how he watches me with my birthmother at school. He's fascinated."


Julia's parents and birth family naturally reach out to include one another and make each other feel welcome. Julia shared, "My parents always invite my birthmother to big events, we all spend Mother's Day together, and my mom and my birthmother are planning my Quinceanera together. They both feel it's important to hold onto my Mexican heritage and are coordinating a lot with that. I've learned the importance of family and how people can work together for a big goal - to raise me well. They are all there for me and work together. They put aside any thoughts and focus on the goal."


Similar to Julia, Rose is thankful to have an open adoption. "I like knowing my family history, my birthmother, older sisters, brother and nephew. I can ask questions and get answers. I get to find out I have a lot in common with my sisters and get to know my birthmother, more about myself, and my family." Rose is a busy 13 year-old, middle-schooler with a packed after-school schedule full of extracurricular activities. She has a close relationship with her parents and younger sister as well as her birth family. Rose's birthparents were married at the time of her placement and sadly, her birthfather passed away suddenly when Rose was a small child. Rose has memories of him captured in pictures and video. She continues to be in contact with her birthmother, birth sisters, nephew and maternal grandparents.  


Although Rose and her parents live 300 miles away from her birth family, they stay in close communication. "My parents call my birthmother, we try to go up to Portland and whenever we are in Portland we stop by and see them. We stay in contact a lot and send photos and emails. Sometimes I talk on the phone with my birthmother." When it comes to spending time with her maternal birth family, Rose said, "We hang out, go to theme parks, roller rinks, out to dinner, watch movies, go to my birthmother's house and just talk." Rose emails and texts with her sisters frequently. She said, "I do the same things with my birthmother that I do at home. We do crafts together, take my birth sisters places, talk, walk the dogs, or go to the park. I sleep over at my birthmother's house, my birth sister spends a week at my house, and my parents take my birth sister and I camping in the summer."

Rose shared that she has always loved having two families. She said, "I have a normal life and see my sisters, have a bunch of fun and see what it's like to have a big sister too. I have a little sister at home so I get to feel the difference."


A Tale of Two Weddings:  Celebrating 

Marriage Equality in Washington

Andy and Brian with their son Dominic.


By Katie R. Stallman, LICSW, CGE


Wedding bells are ringing loudly throughout Washington, and we are delighted to celebrate this momentous occasion with our clients. The Washington voter approved directive to recognize same-sex marriage was passed in November of 2012, making Washington the 7th state to make this historic legal move, following in the footsteps of several others including: Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, New York, and the District of Columbia. Delaware and Minnesota most recently followed suit.


To capture a bit of the spirit of what this legislation has meant personally we spoke with a few of our families. For Andy and Brian, they did things in a slightly different order. They had a baby, got married, and then moved into their brand new house. Andy and Brian were legally married on December 9, 2012, the first day that marriage was legal for same-sex couples in Washington. Although Andy and Brian had already held a symbolic ceremony marking their commitment in July of 2010, many of their family and friends traveled to join them.  And this time, they had their new baby boy, Dominic, in tow, joined by his birthmother. They and their wedding party joined dozens of other couples at City Hall in Seattle to get married on that first day. "Rather than having a wedding day solely focused on one couple, we were surrounded by countless other couples. The level of excitement, energy, and love was palpable as one couple after another was married. Each wedding party carried their own level of anticipation and enthusiasm. Seeing these parties before, during, and after their ceremonies provided a unique reflection on what it was like to be part of such a momentous occasion where family, friends, politicians, and complete strangers joined together to celebrate marriage and family," they said. Andy and Brian added that being married is a huge part of being a family. To celebrate the adoption of Dominic simultaneously with their marriage only added to their joy. 


Prospective adoptive parents Todd and Dennis.


Waiting family Dennis and Todd expressed similar sentiments. They married on March 29, 2013, just days after their eight-year anniversary as a couple and also on Todd's grandmother's 89th birthday. What a party! They celebrated their wedding in downtown Seattle, on a rare sunny March day, with 60 of their friends and family members. "We had traditional wedding elements - wedding attendants, exchange of vows and rings, first dance, cake cutting, and plenty of excitement leading up to it all. We also had a few twists that were more representative of who we are as a couple - welcoming our guests with a glass of sparkling wine, having our dog Bella be part of the ceremony, and setting up a reception space with sofas instead of tables which gave us a more intimate feeling like one of the parties we throw. It was so wonderful for us to have our loved ones together on a day that meant so much to us - to be able to legally marry after being together so long," they said.  Although getting married hasn't changed or deepened their already strong desire to be parents, they do feel a sense of "a more secure legal standing for defining our family unit," they noted. "While our child's family may look a little different on the outside, the love and commitment that we have for each other is the same. We look forward to sharing pictures and stories of our wedding with our child and hopefully it helps them build a stronger sense of stability of their family," they said.


OA&FS warmly congratulates Andy, Brian, Dennis, Todd, and the many other families in our community who have legally married. We look forward to the day when ALL of our families and their children enjoy the same hearty recognition in the eyes of the law.


Learn facts about same sex parenting on our website.

Ground-breaking adoption transparency law goes into effect January, 2014.

Oregon's new open adoption records law 
is the first of its kind in the country.

By Shari Levine, Executive Director


Did you know that adoption records have been sealed in Oregon since the 1950s? This has created decades of silence and secrecy. Can you imagine what it might mean to those birthmoms and adoptees if the records were finally opened, allowing them access to each other?


The bill to expand openness and transparency in adoption -- Oregon's SB 623 - was recently passed and is awaiting the governor's signature. In January, 2014, when it becomes law, adoption files will be made available to adoptees at the age of 18 upon request without a court order. Birthparents will also be able to access these files, through a court order.  The law will be retroactive, enabling adoptees and birthparents from closed adoptions that took place decades ago to finally reunite. This is groundbreaking legislation and will be the first of its kind in the country.


Oregon's Ballot Measure 58 took effect in 2000, allowing adoptees access to their original birth certificate at the age of 21.  SB 623, however, will give birthparents, adoptive parents and adoptees access to the entire adoption file. This and other influential topics are being discussed by the Adoption Workgroup at the Oregon Law Commission. I have been extended the extreme honor of weighing in as these important decisions are made. Accompanying me are OA&FS Board members, Michele Greco (adoptive mom), David Tilchin (open adoptee) and OA&FS Administrative Assistant, Sunny Moore (birthmom). At the table are also adoption attorneys, birthparents, adoptees and representatives from the Oregon Department of Human Services, the Oregon Judicial Dept., the Oregon Supreme Court, Youth, Rights and Justice, and other adoption agencies.


Over the next two years we'll be reassessing the adoption statutes and creating thoughtful reform, which will raise the standard of adoption practices throughout OR, perhaps even nationwide. At OA&FS, we hope to provide our unique and successful open adoption process as a model for this reform. What a privilege to join this vibrant conversation. It's been a fascinating process in which everyone's voice has been heard.


Washington state has also been exploring the issue of access to adoption records in HB 1525 (LINK), which recently passed.  This entitles adoptees access to a copy of their original birth certificate at the age of 21, unless their birthparent has filed an affidavit of non-disclosure.


Adoption is shifting dramatically. It's time for adoption practices to be transparent, high-integrity, and respectful of each of the party's needs. That's what we're all about!


Help OA&FS connect families!
Carly and family: Dad Mike, Birthmother Joanna and Mom Michele (l-r).  

Open Adoption and Family Services is dedicated to
building healthy families. Your donation helps.

Your contribution is appreciated, and tax-deductible. OA&FS is a 
charitable organization under section 501(c)(3) 
of the Internal Revenue code.
In This Issue

How to talk to family and friends 

about your open adoption.

By Lindsey Martin, Counselor, LCSW


All relationships create opportunities to enhance our communication skills, but perhaps none more so than open adoption. Despite the trend in adoption towards openness, we have all encountered concerns about and arguments against open adoption. These arguments tend to be based on common myths and misconceptions and fueled by people's fears. It can be difficult to know how to respond, especially with friends and family, who you want to have on your support team as you experience the adoption process.


The Kryman kids at play.

OA&FS adoptive parents have shared that open and honest dialogue with their friends and families has been the most helpful approach to responding to concerns:   

"We had one person who had some concerns, but it was mostly due to preconceived notions and once we were able to explain the process, the love the birthmothers have when going this route, and the work that OAFS does to mitigate as many problems as possible, they seemed to come around."

-Stacey Kryman, OA&FS adoptive parent


Prospective adoptive parents Deb and Corey.

Deb & Corey Omey were open with their families about the agency, their profile, and the adoption process, but were clear that only a few people would be notified when they entered adoption planning, so that they could put all of their focus on building the relationship with birthparents at that time, without the obligation to keep everyone updated. 


Most adoptive parents found that fears dissipated when friends and family were able to develop relationships with birthfamily and better understand the birthparents' support of the adoptive parents and their commitment to the best interest of their children.  

When education and support are not enough to help people embrace open adoption, it can be helpful to express your hopes for how they will approach the situation:


"Primarily, we asked that people keep an open mind and respect that choosing an open adoption was a parenting decision we were making. We asked that they welcome our child's birth family into our own extended family as we were doing. We did set some boundaries for those family members asking them to not say negative things about open adoption or our child's birth family around us."

 -OA&FS adoptive parent


The Lucas family.

There are a lot of resources to help friends and family understand open adoption, including our website, which has a comprehensive resource center. Many adoptive families have found the videos on our site to be a helpful tool, as well as articles in magazines such as Adoptive Families, books like Hospitious Adoption by James Gritter and Making Room in Our Hearts by Micky Duxbury and the Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption by Lori Holden with Crystal Hass, which were particularly useful to adoptive mother Jennifer Lucas. In on It by Elisabeth O'Toole was written to educate friends & family of adoptive parents about adoption. As we have seen for years, education about open adoption tends to shine a light into the darkness of misunderstandings. Many adoptive families have even found that with education and experience, the family members who were once most opposed to open adoption are now some of its strongest advocates.


Approaching friends and family with patience and empathy when helping them understand open adoption will help them to be receptive to new ideas. Think back to how you felt about open adoption when you first learned about it. Did you have concerns or fears that have since been resolved? Did you initially buy into some of the myths about open adoption? What did you learn that helped you to dispel those myths? Which resources were most helpful to you? How did you move to embracing the idea of open adoption? How can you share those messages that helped you with your families?


We know that educating your friends and family can be one more layer of complication to the open adoption process, but it can be especially worthwhile to teach people close to you how to support you through this journey. If you are struggling with this issue, your counselor is available to help you. The efforts that adoptive parents make to educate others will not only help you along your path, but will expand the ever-growing body of knowledge about open adoption.  

Marketing and more!
Mobile devices are our biggest "like" source for Facebook.

By Sally Shuey, Marketing and Development Director


Expectant parents are finding us in increasingly larger numbers. We're reaching out to this audience via our newly retooled website, Facebook, Google Adwords, YouTube and referrals from service providers. The good news? They're resonating with the OA&FS message and mission. Our Facebook page is now a hub of activity. Our 7,400+ likers regularly comment and engage with the open adoption news and information we post 3-5 times per week. All of this buzz not only creates an energetic community, it also helps Google "see" us so our Facebook page is delivered up higher and in more search results. This is a great companion piece to our organization website. Because of our careful search engine optimization and high profile in the field of open adoption, we already rank high in Google search results. Combined with our recent outreach mailing to over 2,400 service providers, our connections to expectant parents are stronger than ever. The evidence? Our five-year average of 21 expectant parent intake calls per month has been surpassed this fiscal year. We're now averaging 27.7 per month. And in May we topped out at 37 -- the highest since 2001!


Personality shines in family books.

Family books are rolling in and, wow, are they amazing! These books are created by OA&FS waiting families using online publishing tools such as Shutterfly and Mixbook. They are a technological upgrade to photo collages, and are well received by expectant parents who can view them online or ask to see hard copies. We know OA&FS families are special, but these books really showcase their personalities in a unique way. One of the questions we've been asked is why books instead of a template web page such as other large national agencies use? The proof is in the viewing -- see the genuine connection made by Taya and Porter's book , (click "view personalized book"). The liveliness, warmth, and traditions of families spring off the page. Plus each book is different, like a snowflake. Check out the fun and variety in these other books by Stacy and John, Jen and Mike, Troy and Tee, Betsy and Leslie, Tricia and Brian, Lysa and Simon and Shannon and Andy. We very much appreciate the time and thought families are putting into their books, and hope they're as proud of the results as we are. 


Our updated web design makes it easy to find the content you want.

The new OA&FS website is gaining visits. Compared to the same time in 2012, visits are up 33%, page views are up 6%, (despite the site being more efficient to navigate) and percent of new visits is up 4%. All great numbers in this very competitive environment. Many of these visits are via mobile device. We're not going to rest on our laurels though. Upcoming website enhancements include adding a "favorites" function to the waiting families section, expectant parent contact forms with fill-in fields to capture basic information and an online form for service providers to order materials.


Birthmothers celebrated at 

annual retreat.

Activities are a welcome companion to sharing stories.

By Maria Villegas, Counselor, MSW


The Birthmothers' retreat is very special day for OA&FS staff, as we are able to truly celebrate all of our wonderful birthmothers. This was hosted by OA&FS on Saturday, May 18 at the SMILE station in Portland, Oregon. About 25 birthmothers of varying ages and experiences attended this amazing and intimate event.  There were women who had placed their children within the past month, and women who placed their children 20 years ago.  Birthmothers received massages, participated in yoga, and made jewelry, but most importantly, they shared their stories with each other of courage, generosity, and hospitality.  Many of these women have attended the retreat regularly for years, and the retreat allows them to connect with each other about how their relationships have evolved since the last year. It is moving to see these women act as mentors and a community of support to each other, in particular to the other women just beginning their journey.  While this event's intention is to honor the birthmother's in our community, it is always rejuvenating and inspiring for us to hear about the many acts of open-heartedness and love.  It is yet another reminder of selfless love and devotion that our birth and adoptive families have for each other, and most importantly their child.   


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