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Birth and adoptive families in Oregon come together to raise children

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - Barbara and Dave Haide adopted their daughter, Marissa, in 1995 and live with their dog, Rosie, in Gresham.On Mother’s Day, 18-year-old Marissa Haide writes two cards: one for her adoptive mother, Barbara, and another for her birth mother, Shannon.

Marissa was adopted by Gresham residents Barbara and Dave Haide on June 17, 1995, from Shannon Koester in San Louis Obispo, Calif. But rather than cut ties with Marissa and her new family, Shannon agreed to an open adoption in which both she and the Haides keep in regular contact through cards, phone calls and visits.

The result is 18 years of friendship, with regular trips between California and Oregon, and even a visit from Shannon and her family for Marissa’s graduation from Gresham High School this past June.

“I was a little skeptical about an open adoption at first because I think for me I wasn’t sure how I was going to handle it emotionally,” Shannon said. “But then I realized that’s the way it’s going to be. I’m going to miss her taking her first step, but I’m still going to be a part of her life.”

Throughout history, adoptions have swayed between informal and open to secretive and closed. Prior to the 19th century, most adoptions were conducted with little to no paperwork or government intervention, but during the Victorian era, sexual promiscuity, single-parent households and childbearing out of wedlock was seen as unsuitable, and children often were forcibly taken from their parents by relatives or government agencies.

The closed-adoption trend continued well into the early 20th century and formalized through confidentiality and sealed records laws passed in most U.S. states, including Oregon in 1957.

In 1969 Oregon legalized abortion and the nation followed suit in 1973 with the Roe v. Wade ruling. Women harnessed more rights as birth mothers and began asking adoption and government agencies for transparency. Oregon passed Ballot Measure 58 in 1998, entitling any adopted child 21 years and older to access a copy of his or her original birth certificate. Meanwhile, more adoptive families began incorporating birth mothers into their children’s lives.

Now, 55 percent of adoptions in the United States are fully open, according to a survey of 100 adoption agencies in 2012 by the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute.

“It’s transformative for people,” said Shari Levine, executive director at Open Adoptions and Family Services. “It’s an experience that profoundly changes them and one that they value.”

Open adoptions allow adoptive families to access health information that they may not have otherwise. Public and private adoption agencies use a health survey form prior to birth that requests details about the birth family’s medical conditions from allergies to cardiovascular defects to drug and alcohol consumption, but open adoptions allow for the exchange of information between birth and adoptive families post-birth.

For example, after Marissa was born, Shannon provided the Haides with information about her family’s history with depression, alcoholism and cancer that was not documented during the agency’s initial screening.

“That’s just the tip of the iceberg,” Levine said. “You receive so much more than (medical information) ... you get to understand your child’s tendencies and things about them that are unique.”

by: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO - Shannon Koester, right, attended Marissa Haide's, 18, graduation from Gresham High School in June.Barbara agrees and adds that open adoptions eliminate uncertainties and questions a child may have during their youth and adolescence about their birth families.

“It was always there. It was never hidden, never a secret,” Barbara said. “And it gives Shannon the comfort of knowing where her child is and that she’s being taken care of.”

Open adoption has enabled Shannon to come to terms with relinquishing parental rights so many years ago.

“Even though there are miles between us, I’ve always known what’s going on and that’s made it easier for me,” Shannon said. “And I had the ability to get back on my feet that I wouldn’t have had if I had kept her.”

Shannon was a drug-addict and alcoholic when she got pregnant at age 23 and admitted to both the Haides and adoption agency that she used methamphetamine six months into her pregnancy. But Shannon said giving Marissa up for adoption saved her life and led to her now 18 years of sobriety.

“Giving Marissa up for adoption was the only and best option for both of us because I was in no position to raise a child,” Shannon said. “It was still hard, but I didn’t feel that I could give her the life that she deserved.”

Having two mothers has always seemed normal to Marissa, and she says she wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I was able to have an amazing amount of opportunities and a fantastic life because my mother was strong enough to give me a better life,” Marissa said.

With the Haides, Marissa has participated in cheerleading, student leadership, theater and concert choir at Gresham High School. She will attend Mt. Hood Community College in the fall to study psychology and hopes to work with at-risk teens in the Out of the Darkness suicide prevention program in Portland in the future.

“I have to say that she has become an amazing woman,” Shannon said. “I know a lot of that has to do with her parents and giving her the guidance that she needs to get where she’s at.”

Despite the Haides solid relationship with Shannon, they say open adoptions are not always smooth. The Haides adopted their daughter Erica in 1993 prior to bringing Marissa into the family. At the hospital, Erica’s birth mother, Maria, agreed to maintain contact with the Haides, but it wasn’t until Erica was nine years old that Maria initiated a relationship. For a while, birth mother and daughter spent time getting to know each other through shopping and Christmas celebrations.

But soon, Maria began having personal and legal troubles.

“At first we only found out health information,” Barbara said. “But soon I found out she was in and out of trouble with the law.”

After five months, Maria was gone.

by: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO - From day one, Shannon Koester (third from left), son Bobby (second from left) and mother Sue (far right) have been involved in Marissa (center), Erica (far left) and Barbara's (second from right) life.Despite the shaky five months, Barbara said Erica was happy she had the opportunity to meet Maria and ask her questions. She said they are no longer in contact, and that’s okay.

“Looking back, we probably wouldn’t have done anything differently,” Barbara said. “Things are the way they are meant to be. We are so blessed to have two beautiful daughters and an extended family.”

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