by Shari Levine:
Josh and Matt are natural stewards of open adoption; the core tenets of compassion and respect are reflected in their relationships. It’s a worldview that is deeply meaningful to them. When asked what inspired this philosophy, Josh said, “My own struggles with my
family – we had a pretty significant falling out over the whole gay thing. I know what it feels like to be abandoned and lost and not able to get your head above water. Coming from my own trauma I am able to find more compassion for people who have experienced or are experiencing a trauma.”
First stop, foster adoption.
Initially Josh and Matt planned to adopt through DHS in a state adoption. As foster parents they quickly fell in love with the sibling group of three who were placed in their care, and hoped to adopt them. However, they were troubled by the DHS process and that thebirthmom, Misty, felt vilified.Josh and Matt saw Misty in a sympathetic light and wanted toconnect with her and understand her. As they reached out and created a bridge into her world, they listened to her story and empathized with the challenges she’d faced in her life. “It was our choice to sit and get to know her. Everybody deserves a chance, and because we loved the kids we were fostering so much, we wanted to get to know her and find out where she was coming from. It’s basic compassion.”
Respect + listening = trust.
Misty hadn’t experienced many people in her life who sincerely wanted know her and she slowly let her guard down. Said Josh, “in these talks we learned of the tragedies in her life. We listened and she began to trust us. She saw our compassion, and knew that we really cared. She saw that we treated her the same way we treated her children – with love, kindness and respect.”
That enabled Misty to have a true appreciation for the stability they provided her and her children. This trust redefined what adoption could look like for her. It was no longer an adversarial DHS process rooted in failure. She knew that through this bond with Josh and
Matt, she and her children would all have an ongoing relationship. She wasn’t being marginalized or demonized. She was being accepted, understood and welcomed into their lives.
A real bond develops.
Ultimately, of the three children Josh and Matt were fostering, the two older children were returned to Misty’s care. The youngest, who was a baby at the time, lives with his father and aunt. But the bond Matt and Josh had with Misty and her children was very real and they continued to visit and provide a network of support. They genuinely cared about her and her children. “She had gratitude for us for everything we did for her kids. We wanted to be a support for her as well and provide some of that normality she’d never experienced.”
Exploring open adoption.
Josh and Matt decided to move forward in creating their family through open adoption and attended the OA&FS seminar. Having an ongoing relationship with the birth family was a priority for them. “Our foster care situation showed us how important it is to stay in contact with the birth family. We were hoping for a situation with a birthmother and family that wanted to be involved in the child’s life – that extended family feel where we can support each other.”
After her children were returned to her care and the youngest went to live with his aunt and father, Misty became pregnant again. She decided to put her newfound trust into action, bravely crossed the divide and pro-actively planned an open adoption with Josh and Matt. They openly embraced Misty, birthfather Bryan and their child. Together, they planned an identified adoption through OA&FS and Preston was born two weeks later.
Over the past two years, Josh and Matt have created an extended family relationship with Bryan, Misty, Preston’s siblings and his entire birth family. They’ve reached out and cultivated a network of love and support for Preston. They also continue to be a safety net for Misty as she parents her other children.
“It’s fantastic. We make a point of seeing each other pretty much every holiday and most birthdays. We just saw them on Sunday, they’re coming over for dinner next weekend. We talk, and come to pick up the kids on occasion to see them too.” Josh said.
Bryan and Misty live together now and recently had baby Randy, who they’re also parenting. “And the new kicker, Preston now has a full-blooded brother, Randy! She and Preston’s father came back together and now have a new baby son. We were among the first people in the hospital to meet him! He just turned two months old.”
Josh and Matt’s natural hospitious nature has created a model for Preston as he develops relationships with his birth family. When asked what they hope that looks like Josh shared, “I hope it deepens over time, that Preston will have special activities with them. I guess a similar role would be a close knit family friend, or aunt, or uncle. A role model and someone that they do stuff with – have special times.”
Josh and Matt feel very comfortable in their open adoption relationships. I asked what’s contributed to this feeling, and Josh said, “every time we visit with Misty and Bryan we can see that they still care about Preston very much, and light up when they see him. They really did this from a place of love themselves, and that makes me feel good that they made the best choice for them. Birthdays, Christmas, any time we see them we feel this. It’s ongoing.”
I asked him to describe a defining moment in their relationship. “When we invited Bryan and Misty over as friends. It wasn’t to see the kid or because of our open adoption agreement. We invited them to this Christmas party we host and they came! We felt that that was a really big deal. They didn’t know anybody but us!”
These birth and adoptive parents have formed a genuine friendship. They love and care about each other for who they are. Josh and Matt expressed that this kind of bond was only made possible by the fact that Misty openly choose to entrust Preston to them. It wasn’t being forced on her in a disempowering and adversarial battle. Instead, she was able to pro-actively and intentionally place Preston with a trusted family, one who would always honor her.
Many prospective adoptive families are fearful of welcoming birthparents who are struggling and are at risk of DHS intervention into their lives. I asked Josh how they overcame that fear.
“Learning empathy. We now look at birthparents as someone who’s made a sacrifice, not someone doing something because they don’t love their kid. That no matter how horrible someone’s situation is, they are people too. Learning how bad Misty had it growing up has given us insight into how and why she is the way she is, and why she’s made the choices she has. We’ve been able to look at her with compassion and see her humanity.”
When asked what they’d want other adoptive parents to know about developing an open adoption relationship with birthparents who are struggling, Josh said, “Learn the birthparents’ history. Find out where they’re coming from. When you know their background and history and what’s happened in their life, you’ll have compassion for them. You have to be open to that and want a compassionate relationship. Opening up your heart to those people, even if they might not want to let you in. Respect that person for the choice that they’re making, and learn to look with the eyes of compassion.”