This fall, Denver Parent contributing writer Lori Holden, accepted her Angels in Adoption® award from the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute (CCAI) at a Washington, DC gala after having been nominated by Senator Michael Bennet for her efforts in making a difference in child welfare. Her work in post-adoption services offered through her workshops, her book, The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption, and her blog have brought her to the forefront in encouraging adoptive parents in their often challenging journey.
Since its inception in 1999, the Angels in Adoption® Program has upheld a tradition of celebrating the extraordinary efforts of individuals, couples, and organizations who work tirelessly to advocate for children in need of a family. Throughout the year, over 2,500 Angels have received this special honor from the CCAI.
As an adoptive mother of two children herself, Lori understands the challenges and rewards of parenting children who will question their background. She encourages openness in adoption which is quite different from open adoption.
Openness Facilitates Authentic Connection
Open adoption means the biological and adoptive families have varying degrees of access to each other’s personal information and have an option of contact. This may mean a monthly text updating each other, or even yearly contact.
Openness in adoption is more than just contact. It’s about turning within yourself and connecting with both the child and the birth parents in a deeper way.
“Openness requires that we use both our heads and hearts,” said Lori. “We need to know what is going on within us before we can figure out what might be going on between us and another person, whether that is our child or our child’s other parents. Our heart brings compassion into our relationships, and our head brings discernment to our decisions.”
Children who have been adopted naturally have questions about their background. Through openness, adopted children can gain access to their birth parents, including grandparents and siblings, which eliminates the need for complicated searches. Normalized contact with their birth families can create a sense of normalcy and familiarity. The result is a stronger sense of connection and belonging as well as a deeper understanding of their identity. With contact, kids can also maintain access to important genetic and medical information. They can maintain connections to their cultural and ethnic heritage.
“Openness gives the child a safe space to process feelings of abandonment and leads to a foundation for positive and authentic lifelong relationships,” added Lori.
It’s important to understand that you don’t need to have contact to maintain openness. According to Lori, openness is an inside job – within a parent and between the child. It’s a mindset, about dealing only in truth. Open-heartedness also means mindfulness, becoming your own observer and aware of inner dialogue, motivations and personal triggers.
“If parents and their children can learn to respond, versus react, they will have a healthier and more authentic relationship,” said Lori. “Being truthful and open helps us deal with all the in-between complexities that adoption brings. It lets us have an inner connection with ourselves so that we are more mindful and aware of what’s really going on around us.”
Collaboration and Connection
Lori has collaborated with Rebecca Vahle, an Angel in Adoption® in 2011, and Founder and Director of Training and Program Development for the Family to Family Support Network™, a nonprofit adoption support program that empowers women to make informed choices and to connect them to local community support networks, ultimately sending newborns home in the most secure arms possible.
“Lori brings to light a topic that’s been forever in the dark, shrouded in secrecy and shame,” said Rebecca. “She’s empowering families so that they know how to get the emotional support they need.”
Rebecca’s organization is supporting the unique needs of women facing unplanned pregnancy before, during, and after delivery. The Family to Family Support Network’s Unique Families Program™ empowers pregnant women and girls through neutral and compassionate care to make healthy decisions for themselves and their newborns. The program consists of training hospital staff, and providing resources that address patient needs. It also serves those involved in unplanned pregnancies, adoption placement, surrogacy arrangements, and socially complex situations.
In the United States today, one half of pregnancies are unplanned, and of those, less than one percent choose adoption. The program also serves families that are impacted by domestic violence, incarceration, sexual assault and substance abuse, so they can benefit from parenting support and access to mental health programs.
“Isn’t it ironic that we stop family planning support once a woman gets pregnant,” added Rebecca. “That’s when we must have a candid conversation about a parenting plan. We encourage women to be open and aware, and then give them the tools they need to best support their child on their lifelong journey.”
In her work, Rebecca speaks to health care professionals about ambiguous loss and the grief that mothers face when placing their child for adoption. Her goal is to give parents permission to feel their emotions in a non-judgmental environment. The placing parents are not the only ones with grief to address. Many adopting parents bury their infertility grief and it comes out later in inopportune parenting moments.
“We need all moms to be treated well regardless if they parent or place,” she added. “We are empowering women to voice their needs and wants so they will have peace with their decision.”
It’s important to remember that adoption is not just filling the crib. It’s only the start of a lifelong journey. Often it’s difficult to see past the early days of adoption and even so, adoptive parents need to know that there will be issues, and not to try and hide the fact that there’s another set of parents. As Lori says, “Just because you’re not the only mom doesn’t mean you aren’t a real mom.”
Parents want to do a good job but often just don’t know how. As any parent of a teenager knows, the only power parents ultimately have is in the strength of their authentic connections with their children. This means being vulnerable and open to listening.
Lori suggests that all adoptive parents find an adoption-competent therapist in their community before they need it. There will be issues, and once they emerge, those challenges can be overwhelming so it’s good to have resources in place in advance. In Denver, The PASS Center is a great place to start. It’s a collaboration of attachment-focused, trauma-informed therapists who are passionate about supporting clients in their quest for growth and secure relationships.
In addition, adoptive parents, like anyone else, need a healthy support structure of friends, family, and community.
Adoption Going Forward
In the future, Lori and Rebecca would like to see the adoption world shift from the focus on simple open adoption to openness in adoption. They want to see more mindfulness in parenting, focusing on the child and not merely on checking off lists.
In addition, they encourage other states to follow Colorado’s lead in opening birth records to all adult adoptees.
“Everyone should have equal rights when it comes to accessing their birth records,” Lori said. “Why can some citizens access their birth records but not others? Let’s stop being afraid of the truth.”
Lori is honored to be an Angel and continues to advocate for the welfare of children by getting legislators aware of the process, the challenges, and the rewards of adoption. For more information, visit her website at: Lavender Luz.