Friday, November 23, 2012

Open Adoption, Open Heart

This week, instead of a typical post, I will be reviewing "Open Adoption, Open Heart: An Adoptive Father's Inspiring Journey" by Russell Elkins. Coley actually received an email about the blog book tour and forwarded it to me. Without reading much about the book, I signed up to do a review of the book here and an interview with the author on my personal blog. I will be posting my interview with Russell on my blog on December 2nd (this link will not be live until December 2nd).

Here is the book summary:
"The world of adoption has changed dramatically over the past twenty years. No longer do biological parents have to say goodbye to their child forever. They now have more options when deciding the type of adoption to pursue, such as open adoption. Open adoption creates the opportunity for a special relationship between biological parents, the adoptive parents, and the child.

Open Adoption, Open Heart is an inspiring and true story, which takes the reader deeper into the feelings and emotions experienced by adoptive parents. As you read this incredible story, you will experience the joys, difficulties, and amazing victories facing adoptive couples. Russell and his wife, Jammie, invite you to share in their inspiring and heartwarming journey."

 In reading the title of the book as well as the summary, I was excited to hear about the process this adoptive father went through with his wife in making the decision to not only adopt, but have an open adoption. I was hoping this book would talk more in depth about why he and his wife chose open adoption and the practicalities of the open adoption decision. I'm certain that my desire to want to read more in general from the adoptive parent "side" on the start of the adoption journey instead of the actual process of adopting caused me to enter reading this book with quite a bias. My bias was skewed as well by the fact that I'm a birth mom and am very opinionated about adoption in general. Of course everyone interacts with others and with situations based upon their own experiences and opinions due to those experiences. Adoption seems to bring out more passionate opinions and bigger divides in those opinions because of the high emotions inherent in both the decision to relinquish and the decision to adopt.

Frankly after reading the book, I was disappointed. I do value hearing others' experiences and think that the adoptive father's voice is a very important one. However, the language he uses throughout the book doesn't bring to mind "open heart" as the title of the book implies. "Another reason why pictures and updates proved to be harder than we anticipated was because we didn't like to feel like we were babysitters anymore. Even though we understood and respected Brianna's role in the situation, Ira was our little boy." That quote was taken from near the end of the book. To me, that is not having an open heart. Quotes like that cause me to think of selfishness and possessiveness. Granted, feeling possessive toward your child is a good thing. I will never argue that. But possession of a child acts like that child is a thing to be bought, sold, or traded, much like any other item you'd buy at a store.

Also, the means by which they adopted their son caused me to cringe in many ways. The book details the fact that they connected with their son's birth mom via a long distance relationship (meaning several states away). Their son's birth father did not want to relinquish his rights so their son's birth mom discontinued the relationship briefly. The book does state that she was telling them things during and slightly after this period that caused them to believe she still wanted to relinquish. In order for them to assist her in relinquishment, they relocated her to their house, away from all the support systems she might've had, so that a judge in their state could rule that the father had no say in the matter of relinquishment at all. If you've read any of my personal blog, you would know that I'm very much in favor of making certain the biological father has just as much say in what happens to his child as the biological mother, with the exception of abusive or threatening situations. I'm also very strongly against relocating an expectant mother considering adoption away from her friends and family because I think it's extremely coercive.

The book does go on to explain that they proved to the judge in their state that their son's biological mother gave the biological father multiple opportunities to lay claim to his child and that the only thing he seemed interested in doing was using his son as an excuse to harass his son's mother. Apparently there were other issues with his son's biological father that he describes briefly in an answer to one of my interview questions.

I did feel slightly better about the book after reading Russell's responses to my interview questions though I still wouldn't personally recommend this book to any hopeful adoptive parent. Their particular situation, though they love their son's birth mother and have a continuing relationship with her, is not typical of what I personally believe an adoption should be. I also know a fair amount of birth moms and adoptive parents in working open adoption relationships that do not fit the story as depicted in the book. I know that humans make messes out of the perfection we or others have in our heads, but from all the other stories I've heard about adoption, this particular story seems to be an anomaly instead of the norm. I'm concerned that people considering open adoption might read this story, expect that they'll have to endure the emotional ups and downs that Russell and his wife endured, and decide to adopt in a closed situation so they won't have to "deal with the birth mom at all."

I appreciated a look into adoption from another point of view even if some of the terminology and expressions as well as some of the actions from the Elkins' side caused me to cringe quite a bit during my reading of this book.

For other reviews and interactions with the author, please go to "I Am A Reader, Not A Writer" for the list and links. Enjoy!


  1. I finished this book a couple weeks ago! I loved it so much and decided to follow the blog tour. As I read your review I was thinking... "Did we read the same book!" I feel the author did a wonderful job at describing the ups and downs that ALL adoptive couples experience and that MOST adoptive couples don't feel they can talk about. The ups and downs are the thing that link us together in our adoption triads. I am also now a follower on their facebook page: Open Adoption, Open Heart and have witnessed the tender relationship they have with their child's birthmom... something all adoptive parent should try to aspire to in all open adoption relationships. Their love shines through very clearly. Not all adoption stories start out the same way. It is how we decide to handle the beginning, middle, and the on going details {UPS and DOWNS)in the relationships we share in an open adoption relationship that defines our character. This is the first review on the book tour that runs hot in my blood, and I felt their was a lack of empathy for adoptive couples. Then again maybe that is because I am also an adoptive parent and felt very similar in many ways they expressed in their book. Then again like you said... you came into the book reading/ review with a strong "bias" and that you are opinionated. I guess I am too. Ha. I just think you missed the beauty of what they have created together as a forever family, that including their child's birth families. As an adoptive mother I think the authors words express the emotions that adoptive parents go through extremely well. I debated about writing this response to your review. Though because of the passion I have for adoption I wanted to say... I disagree strongly to the above review and will re-read this wonderful book again in the future as it brought much peace to my heart knowing that I wasn't alone. Stefanie

    1. Oh also, Stefanie, I was simply addressing what was in the book....which was talking about the relationship as it happened in the past. I didn't address the great fact that their relationship is still strong. I was simply talking about how I viewed the book. And if you read my response both to Russell's comment, below, and my interview of him that will post on my own blog on the 2nd of December you will see that I talk about the past as well as the present.

    2. And just to clarify... I was also speaking of their description of the past and present. ;) I guess every birthmom has a different experience... but the authors birthmom is an admin on their Open Adoption, Open Heart facebook page and she also has found much joy and peace in her adoption process that she shares openly.
      I think we are all passionate about adoption... though we need to remember that not all adoptions are going to be like ours. ;) Some have open adoptions and some have closed. I think it is best to talk about the things we know and not the things we have assumptions about, I also know someone who has had their birthmom live with them before placement took place and trust me when I say their was no "coercive" actions or mentality present. The assumption that she (authors birthmom) only made this beautiful decision because she was coerced into it... is insulting. That is down playing her decision. I personally think that the majority of birthmom's give this decision much prayerful thought and the comment stated implies that she is not strong in mind. Just my opinion of course. This author did a great job at describing their experience... stating several times that he was in no way trying to tell others that this is how every open adoption takes place but sharing his joy in the journey. In this case I believe that we will just agree to disagree. :) One last thing... I don't know what your adoption experience is... but not all adoptive couples are just out to get a child. Some actually care about the beautiful people that bring this beautiful child into their world and also call these people family. I think that is what the author was expressing. ;) On both sides of an open adoption relationship, it's not always roses and flattering words. That's all... no need to continue on. I can see that you love adoption and promote it. I can appreciate that. I just didn't understand/ agree with the review is all. :) Stefanie

    3. My implication or assumption with that comment was NOT that they were coercive or intending to be coercive with Brianna. My thought with that is that potential adoptive parents will read that and think it's generally okay, which it's not. Every situation is unique and of that I'm well aware. I do support fully open, ethical adoption and I appreciate that you see that even though my review is less than glowing. I can appreciate what Russell is trying to accomplish and like I said before, I do love that they have a continuing and wonderful relationship with Ira's birthmom as well as the birth mom and birth dad in their newer adoption.

    4. I find it sad that you have so many negative assumptions about what US adoptive parents think when we are just starting to look into an Open Adoption. This book was obviously written to share a loving adoption story... it was not a how to adopt book. I think that is clear and I hope that people also read these follow up statements that you have posted here in response to my concerns... because I think it will be clear to many that your "bias's" are keeping you from seeing his message clearly. Just saying.

      I think that the views to be concerned about are the stereotypes you are placing on adoptive couples. For being such a huge advocate I cringe at the lack of compassion you share for adoptive couples. I can clearly see that you love birthmoms and have many assumptions of adoptive couples. That is very clear. I hope that someday you will find a way to see into an adoptive parents journey. Maybe some day someone close to you will not be able to carry a child and will choose open adoption, maybe only then you will be able to rid yourself of all the bias you have. God bless in your journey. I pray that instead of promoting such a division between adoptive couples and birthparents that someday you can see that through an open adoption... ALL can heal. We are not out to get one another... we are out to support one another. Props to the author of Open Adoption, Open Heart... for allowing adoptive couples to see ONE open adoption story. I hope it put a bit of fear in people before they choose an open adoption, because it should be taken EXTREMELY serious. Then maybe we will have less birthmoms who hold such sad stereotypes against the adoptive couples that really are making a difference and who care about the words you promote... Just sayin. And by stating what you did about being coercive... you did insult the author. He took it well as I can see below... but I find it ignorant and rude. I think most adoptive couples who read his story are more likely to say man... I don't want to do that... that would be to hard. I highly doubt that any of them will say... o look a way to trick a birthmom! I think I will be done here... as I have started to find offense in your words. I will move on to others who promote a healthy open adoption relationship were all parties in the triad matter. Makes my heart sad, because I think minus your bias's you have much to off the adoption community.


  2. Russell's response actually got posted on the previous blog post instead of this one, so I copy/pasted his comment here:

    "Just wanted to comment on something you said in your review...

    The part about the pictures and being possessive- The paragraph you were citing was written with the intent of showing the jealousies we needed to overcome. It's common for adoptive parents to feel jealousies for one reason or another toward the biological family (each couple is different). Sharing pictures, for us, was one of those things. The jealousy there was short lived, though. Following paragraphs are meant to show how we overcame those jealousies because we knew we weren't justified in feeling that way, and the process made us grow stronger together.
    I know it's not a glowing review, but I still thank you very much for your time in reading it and talking about your thoughts. I appreciate what you do for the adoptive world. -Russell"

  3. And my response to him, also posted under his original comment on the previous post:

    I know you meant to comment on my review of your book, and not on this particular post. :)

    I also know that you followed up the picture comments with the fact that you did overcome those jealousies, which I do appreciate. I realize that I read any and all adoption-related books (non-fiction or fiction, biographical or not) with an extremely critical eye. As a birth mom who is so involved with the "world" of adoption, it's hard for me to not look at a book like yours and see all of the things people who don't really want to participate in open adoption would use to excuse their discomfort. It's also hard for me to think "coercion" when I read about your relocation of Brianna and the subsequent removal of Ira's birth father's rights and realize that not everyone who reads the book will think that they should relocate an expectant mother considering adoption so they can get the baby they want. I do spend an insane amount of time reading about the awful (from BOTH the birth parent and adoptive parent sides) in adoption and I'm certain that skewed my view in reading your book.

    Like I said in my review on the blog here, I did feel better about the book after I read your responses to my interview questions, and your responses are scheduled to post live on my blog on the 2nd of December. I hope that you'll read my comments on your interview (though I kept my questions and your responses exactly as written, I did interject one thought in the middle and put some final thoughts at the end) and not just write me off as a disgruntled reader expecting perfection from a human. :)

  4. You've hit right on the head of the wall I found myself up against while writing this book. My first draft actually had a lot more of Brianna's story in it as well as her family members and the birth father. After writing that draft, though, I realized that I just couldn't be telling other people's story, even if theirs was so linked to mine- especially not the birth father since everything I know of his story was second or third hand.
    Brianna coming to our home is highly unusual. We realize that. It's not really in the story (for the reasons I just said), but her living situation was very delicate at the time. Her mom was working a job as a live in elderly care, so she generally worked a few days straight, then was home for a few days, then was gone. Brianna wouldn't even see her mom most days, and since all her siblings had moved out already (Bri was the youngest), she was a 15 year old pregnant Sophomore who was almost living alone. Things were obviously complicated, but that's not really my story to tell. She is going to tell it, though, and has started writing it. I have a lot of contacts and means of getting her story out there, so you can bet it will be easy to find when it's done. There are a lot of things from everyone's stories I just don't feel it my place to tell, even if it does make me look insensitive by not explaining the whole picture. I wouldn't want someone telling my story for me either.
    And I actually found your words refreshing about the difficulties adoptive parents go through- that our story is not typical. While there are obviously things that aren't typical (Brianna coming to our state). Perhaps it would help to understand that, in my opinion, the WORST thing that can happen with an open adoption is for the adoptive parents to close an adoption that was promised to be open. It hurts every time I hear of that happening, even if I don't know the people involved. So, one of my goals with this book is not to scare people away from adoption, but to show that adoptive parents do go through hard times. A lot of people don't realize they're going to go through those tough times and if they're struggling with something they weren't anticipating, their own pain can make it hard to think about someone else hurting on the other side of the picture. Both sides hurting, but not connecting makes for a disaster waiting to happen. My goal also isn't to say, "this is what I felt, and you ARE going to feel these things too." No, my goal was to create a picture where they could ask themselves if they would feel the same way or not. Lots of people don't feel the same way, just like lots of birth mothers don't feel the same way as you do with all the aspects of adoption. That's just the nature of it. With something so intense as adoption is, a lot of people are going to disagree.
    Anyway, I'm rambling. Thanks for all you do. -Russell

  5. Oh yeah. And by the way- even though your review isn't glowing of my book... I'd love for you to read part 2 if you're interested. It's going through editing right now, so I expect it to be released about March. It tells the story of our second adoption, which is actually a local one with both birth parents involved. It also continues the story from our first adoption.
    And feel free to include any of these comment posts on Dec 2 with the interview questions if you think it a good idea.

  6. Hey Monika... my review is supposed to post today and it's not glowing, either :-/ If ever there was a critic when it comes to adoption-related books, I'm 'that' girl. I've been browsing through everyone's reviews, thus far and I'm glad i ran across your's today! I'm not a birth mom... but I AM an adoptive mom in 2 open adoptions. Thanks for your perspective... honesty is refreshing!

  7. Brand new Birthmom here.New to my own open adoption.New to this blog.Just all-around NEW.I will,however,say this in response to the negative replies.
    It's my understanding that this is a place for Birthmoms to come and feel safe to talk and find others going thru similar journeys. Tho people from all sides of the adoption process may recognize each others sides,I believe new Birthmoms in particular would understand why hearing ANYONE lay claim to their baby in such a way not only hurts,but angers me.Would any adoptive parent want to hear that the baby they've loved,nurtured,and fought for will NEVER be theirs?That no one could ever replace the bond that is made during those 41 weeks (in my case) of pregnancy.I think not.Please don't assume to know my pain just because I shared with you what I felt I could,or needed to,for My Son's sake.<<<Kinda' sucks,doesn't it?!?