By Sonia Nazario, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
EXPERTS who advocate open adoption as well as those who oppose it say that adoptees grapple with a sense of loss. Virtually all adoptees understand that they have been given up by their birth parents and fear deep down that they might be given up again. Open-adoption advocates say that most adopted babies grow into well-adjusted children. At any given time, however, these advocates say, adoptees might react to the loss of their birth families in more pronounced ways.
Some of them express loyalty and gratitude constantly, trying to win favor with their adoptive parents. In the extreme, these children become overly adaptive — compliant to a fault. They often show little or no interest in the "other mother."
Others act out. These children test their adoptive parents repeatedly, seeking reassurance that their second set of parents won't give them up. In the extreme, they act out violently to test their adoptive parents to the limit.
They love their adoptive parents, but they also long for their birth families and feel sadness, even anger, about being adopted.
Kendall McArthur's adoptive mother, Dorothea McArthur, a therapist who works with adoptees, places
Some of the pitfalls that
Many birth and adoptive families describe wonderful relationships in open adoptions, where the birth mother becomes like a loving aunt. Indeed, the most comprehensive longitudinal study of open adoption has found that openness is beneficial in significant ways.
The study, conducted by the
intermediaries, to adoptions in which adoptees have direct contact with their birth families.
Though the study has found that the degree of openness does not affect self-esteem or emotional adjustment, it also has found that by adolescence, children in open adoptions:
• Were not confused about who their parents were.
• Clearly understood the roles of their adoptive and birth parents.
• Felt their relationships with their birth mothers gave them a strong
source of additional
• Helped them understand who they were.
By adolescence, 62% of the study subjects had stayed in contact with their birth mothers. Of those, 98% wanted the contact to continue or to increase.
Among the adoptees in closed adoptions, the study found, half wanted their adoptions to stay closed, mostly because they felt that being adopted was not important and that contact with birth families might be negative. The other half wanted contact and felt hurt that their birth mothers had not sought them out.
Thomas Atwood, the president and chief executive of the nonprofit National Council for Adoption, which has lobbied against open adoptions, rejects the notion that adoptees are somehow incomplete if they do not know their birth family. "We will defend the option of confidentiality," Atwood said.
Sharon Roszia, coauthor of "The Open Adoption Experience," and who proposed open adoption to Dorrie and David McArthur, said children in closed adoptions wrestle with many of the psychological issues that
[ I know children need good homes, of course. But if it is possible to have an open adoption, it is much better for the child adoptee... And again, if it is a Native child, they need to remain in their tribal nation.... Trace]