Book Review: The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption

Book cover for The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption"It’s been out for over one year now. I got it for Christmas. I’m even in the book. And yet, it has taken me this long to actually read it.* I finally finished Lori Holden’s The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption: Helping Your Child Grow Up Whole.

The bottom line for people who are too impatient to read reviews: The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption should be required reading for every prospective adoptive parent and every adoptive parent, regardless of how their children will be or were adopted. I also believe expectant parents considering domestic adoption should read this book, and any birth parent in an open adoption should read this book. It is incredibly informative. It’s written in an engaging, friendly style that made the book difficult to put down. If you’re a part of the adoption community, put this book on your reading list.

I read Raising Adopted Children and The Open Adoption Experience back in 2005. Getting through them was a chore. This book blows those ones out of the water. I do have some criticisms, though. I’m going to start with the slightly negative and end with the overwhelmingly positive.

Disclosure: Lori Holden and I are Facebook friends, I know she reads my blog from time to time, and I read hers. I expect she’s going to read this, but I’m still going to write freely and honestly about her book. 

Yes, I am a Crazy Grammar Nazi

Let’s get the trivial out of the way first. Holden’s editor does not seem to have read, re-read, and re-re-read the Chicago Manual of Style‘s section on hyphens as often I have. Seriously, the inconsistent and incorrect use of hyphens, especially in the first few chapters, drove me batty. Less prevalent, but no less frustrating to me, was the misuse of commas. I realize that I am probably the only person in the world that this will bother, but it bothered me enough that I thought I’d mention it. If there’s a paperback edition in the works, I’d love to mark up a proof. (I also caught at least three typos, because that’s how I roll.)

There Were Some Parts I Didn’t Like

Holden’s main assertion is that “Adoption creates a split between a child’s biography and her biology.” It’s a cute, catchy saying. However, I’m not sure that I agree. A person’s biology is inherently part of her biography. I’d like to explore this more, because, by reasoning it out, I might come to agree with what Holden is saying. I can see where she’s coming from. However, as it is presented in the book, I feel like this is just a catchphrase and not an accurate representation of adoption. Holden even states that adoption comes with two sets of parents, “one of biology and one of biography,” but biological parents, whether present or not, are definitely a part of a person’s biography.

The appendix “Insight on Adoption Profiles” seems misplaced. I don’t think it adds anything to the book. I don’t believe it belongs in a book about open adoption as a concept and in practice. As far as I’m aware, there are only two books on the market about creating adoption profiles. I’d love to see Holden write another one, expanding on the tips she includes, instead of tacking this appendix on at the end.

Holden uses Wikipedia as a source. I’m all for Wikipedia as the blogger’s go-to “I don’t have time to find in depth, peer-reviewed, totally accurate information so I’m going to look here and hope it’s relatively correct” source. I’m not sure that Wikipedia is really accurate enough to use as a reference for a serious book.

I don’t agree with some of Holden’s opinions, although I generally understand her point of view and don’t necessarily think she is wrong. I just disagree. I’m going to use some of these points – as well as points I do agree with – as blog topics in the future. There are two places where what she writes is factually incorrect.

  • She states that an adoption using a facilitator is “a private adoption or independent adoption.” Any adoption that is not from foster care is private. If you use an agency, that’s a private agency adoption. If you don’t use an agency – you use a facilitator and/or an attorney – that’s a private independent adoption. This is a very common mistake, and one I made until we were in the process of adopting our daughter.
  • Holden also refers to an egg donor as a child’s “biological mother.” The egg donor is actually the “genetic mother;” that term is used in the book in an interview with a mother through egg donation. Presumably, she had the children herself, so she is both the biological and adoptive mother, while the egg donor is the genetic mother. I learned all of this thanks to a family law blog I read.

In the chapter “Especially for Birth Parents,” Holden seems to assume that any birthmother reading this will have unfettered Internet access. Jackson’s birthmother did not have any Internet access for several years. Cassie’s birthmother currently has access only through her phone, which is not always in service. I’d like to see more information on finding resources when you don’t have Internet access. I’d also like to see more about birthfathers, both in general, and in terms of what resources are available to them. (I know there are very, very few.)

Did I Mention That I’m In the Book? 

I think the person she interviews on page 42 is just an amazing writer! Seriously, though… I actually find my words to be far less polished than I thought they were when I wrote them. I made some decent points, but I could have made them better. Yes, I’m critiquing my own writing in someone else’s book. I’m pretty sure that’s about as narcissistic as you can get.

There Were So Many More Parts That I Did Like

I underlined scores of sentences because I found myself nodding my head and thinking, “Yep. That makes total sense.” or “Exactly!” I am going to use some of these as blog topics in the future, but to give you an idea of what I loved:

  • The description of the “myopia” and feelings of prospective adoptive parents. One section is titled, “Desperate People + Beaucoup Bucks = High Risk for an Ethical Lapse” – so true!
  • Her inclusion of birthfathers in the process. “Finding out about a father late in the adoption process is good for no one.” You can say that again!
  • “It’s important that all adoptive parents fully understand what kinds of methods their agencies employ to insure a legal, fair, and safe adoption for all parties involved, including the biological father.” Amen!
  • “If you ever begin to think that you just can’t do this, can’t share a dear one with others who have a claim on him, remember that you probably already do.” Yup!
  • “So many relationship difficulties come from not knowing the other person’s motives and filling that void with your own assumptions.” Guilty!
  • “[Parents must] give our children the space to feel all their feelings, without judgment and with open hearts, and to support them as they work through their emotions…” So beautifully written, and so true!

From time to time, Crystal Hass, the birthmother of Holden’s daughter, weighs in. Her insight is refreshing, honest, and valuable. I also think it’s incredible that Holden and Hass have the kind of relationship where one helps the other write a book!

Similarly, Holden includes her interviews with people from all parts of the adoption community throughout the book. Reading these stories within the book definitely helps with the pace, and also keeps the book fresh and interesting. If you get tired of Holden’s writing (I don’t, but someone might) an interview or excerpt from a blog or book is never more than a few pages away. It’s also lovely to get so many different perspectives in one book. For completists, Holden includes a fantastically detailed list of sources at the end of the book.

I think even adoptive parents who have been in open adoptions for awhile can learn a thing or two here. I’m fairly outspoken in my support for open adoption, I’ve been in open adoptions for 8+ years now. While I certainly am not an expert, I’m no ignoramus either. I still learned some new things and the book really made me stop and think about open adoption in general and our open adoptions specifically.

The book shines when Holden writes about why open adoption is important, what the goals of open adoption are, and how parents can ensure they’re creating healthy relationships with and for their children. Both sets of parents have significant value in the eyes of a child. A child’s curiosity about or actual relationship with his birthparents doesn’t diminish the importance of the adoptive parents. Holden states that “Openness is the spirit in which you approach your child’s biological roots as much as it is anything you do.” The main message that I took away from the book was “A successful open adoption begins with the simple openness to being open.” It’s such a simple concept, but so many people have huge problems with it. This very simple message, so well put, with practical implementation advice, is why I believe this is a must-read book for any adoptive parent.


* This has nothing to do with the book, its author, or the subject matter. When the book came out, we were in the throes of financial insecurity. Buying books was not an option. I tried to win a copy, but it just didn’t happen. This Christmas, we were less cash-strapped, and Max got me two wonderful books.


3 thoughts on “Book Review: The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption

  1. “Holden’s main assertion is that “Adoption creates a split between a child’s biography and her biology.” It’s a cute, catchy saying. However, I’m not sure that I agree. A person’s biology is inherently part of her biography” I’m amazed that someone who professes to know a bit about adoption does not understand that so often the split between biology and biography occurs in countries like America where so many adoptees do not have access to their BC’s and BR’s. Even in adoptions which begin as open, this split occurs when so many open adoptions close. Even in open adoptions adoptees may miss out on important information about his/her beginnings and ancestry. Just ask an adult adoptee!

    • So, you see a person’s beginnings (birth?) and ancestry as biology. I see them as another part of biography. I was thinking that adoption creates a split between two different biographies – the one a person would have had with his/her biological family vs. the one he/she has with his/her adoptive family. I think of biology as genetics, and genes are always with you, they are inherently you. But, if you see birth and ancestry as biology, then yes, I see what you mean.
      This is why I need to think through this concept more. Thank you for your perspective, truly!

  2. An adoptee’s birth and the connection to ancestry are biological -expressed through biology. For some adoptees our genes which as you say are always with us will be our only connection to our biology, ancestry etc and that connection may never be fully known. It’s complicated like all things in adoption.

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