Book Review: The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption: Helping Your Child Grow Up Whole

The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption, written by Lori Holden with Crystal Hass, is the book I wish I'd read six years ago. Every prospective adoptive parent should read this book. Co-authored by an adoptive mother and the birth mother of her child, this is by far the best adoption book I've read to date.

In all of the adoption education classes and seminars and workshops I've been to throughout the years I feel like I've learned a lot, grown a lot, and stretched a lot. This book encompasses so much of what took me years to learn and understand, and educates readers with love and straight-forward honesty. The premise of the book--a line repeated often throughout it, is:

"Adoption creates a split between a child’s biography and her biology. Openness is an effective way to heal that split and help your child grow up whole."  
The premise alone is a lot to talk about. I love (love love LOVE) that the focus throughout the book is how to best parent and help kids mend this "gap" of biography and biology.

What I loved most about this book was how child-centric it was. Adoption should be about the child who was adopted/ the adoptee. Adoptive parents sometimes go into adoption with emotional scar tissue that brought them to adopt (infertility being the most common). Birth parents go through immense pain and sacrifice as they place their children for adoption. There is so much pain and emotional baggage for the adults involved in adoption. I love that this book emphasizes not projecting your pain onto your child. One thought that particularly stood out to me was the admonition to be responsive rather than reactive.
"We adoptive parents continually walk a fine line. We don’t want to dwell on adoption and assign every growing-up difficulty to it, yet we also don’t want to deny its effects and not see/hear/know when something adoption-related is going on. To walk this line requires us to cultivate mindfulness, clarity and inner calm, to tune in to ourselves and our child, especially during moments of stress, and be responsive rather than reactive." (Chapter 7)
There are also many other gems. A section about how to speak to your child about their adoption (that I'll admit I didn't expect to learn much from) surprised me with this sage advice: Emphasize that your child's birth parents were unable to take care of any child when they were born. Rather than saying "She couldn't take care of you," depersonalize it--"She couldn't take care of any baby at that time in her life."
We do a disservice to the adopted person when we try to establish a hierarchy between nature and nurture. If our own insecurities require us to assert that nurture is more important than nature, then perhaps we should dissolve those insecurities rather than discount a person’s biology. (Chapter 5)
My only criticism of the book is that I felt like, in sharing their opinions, the authors became almost too preachy or pushy at a few points--again, about topics that were really subjective. While I respect the feelings each author expresses, and appreciated reading their thoughts, I wish it had been more clearly expressed in certain parts that these were opinions being shared. One persons opinion does not invalidate another's. No two adoptions are the same, and relationships in the adoption realm are complex, just like any other familial relationship. Some decisions in adoption are so personal and individual, proclaiming a right and wrong way to do things in a book is just not going to work, and ultimately may alienate some. Again, I definitely appreciated the opinions shared in the book and I'm not saying I felt the authors were wrong, but neither author has experienced every possible situation, and it didn't feel right for certain opinions to be pronounced as gospel.

The honesty and empathy expressed throughout "The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption" more than makes up for any generalizations, and the heart and soul of the book--the emphasis on child-centric parenting--is perfect.

"In the days of closed adoption, the birth family was to disappear, never to be seen, heard from or wondered about again. Both families were to proceed as if there were not an easily apparent seam in the fabric of their lives.
"In the open era, however, we know the seam is there — for both families. The birth parents have experienced a child-ectomy. But instead of a hidden, festering sore, the healing happens in the open. The adoptive parent(s) have grafted a family member onto their tree, one related by love rather than biology, much like a marriage. We are not ashamed that there is a seam. Why would we be?
"Others may still rather avert their eyes or speak from the days of secrecy and shame, and here is where we become teachers, ambassadors. Here is where we vanquish the shame and fear that used to go along with adoption." (Chapter 4)
This book is truly the most worthwhile read I've found yet about adoption. I recommend it highly to any member of the adoption community, particularly anyone involved in or hoping for an open adoption relationship. 

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