My name is Michelle Downard and I am a birth mother working with American Adoptions. I chose adoption for my son Ryan who turned 18 this year (February 2016). I have been handling pictures and letters and providing support to women here at the agency for over a decade. I wanted to provide you with some guidance and things to think about when it comes to connecting and building a relationship with your birth mother over these next 18 years, but more importantly, this first year since that can be the most emotional time for all involved.
When a birth parent chooses adoption they are not only making the most difficult decision they will ever make in their life, but are also putting trust in another family to care for their precious child. As much as birth parents prepare for what this experience is going to look like and feel like, it is not possible to prepare them 100% for the real raw emotions that they can feel.
Everyone handles grief and loss differently, and this is a completely new type of grief and loss than most have ever experienced before. At one time or another birth parents will experience anger, sadness, jealousy, fear, happiness, try to bargain with themselves, and even struggle with forgiving themselves for getting in a situation where they even have to make an adoption plan.
For a lot of women their entire world has been turned upside down and, depending on their level of support at home, they may not have someone to reach out to. Your child’s birth mother may not experience or share with you any of these emotions and, thus, you may never see any of her feelings. However, your child’s birth mother may reach out to you during this time, whether that be via email, text, or mail through the agency, and say something that offends you. They may call the baby “my baby” or use the name they put on the birth certificate instead of the name that you are going to call him/her. They may even tell you they have feelings of doubt and extreme sadness. Please know this is not your burden to take on and this is normal. It will take time and healing before birth parents can move forward, it most certainly won’t happen overnight.
Sometimes, even when you have an ongoing relationship with the birth parents, one or both of them may take a step back and stop contact for a period of time. This is also normal and it is only expected that you continue with your promise to send updates, even if that means not hearing anything in return. When birth parents step back they are often doing so to allow themselves to grieve. This does not mean they are no longer interested in hearing updates about their child; they may simply need some space. There is no book out there for adoptive parents to know how to handle this situation, but sticking to your promises is key.
Often times adoptive parents want to continue contact with a birth parent, whether it be directly via email, texting, phone calls, etc., which is wonderful as that definitely builds a bond and relationship quickly. However, if not handled delicately in that first year it can also create resentment, distrust, and potentially negative feelings on either or both sides of the adoption. The good news is this can almost always be prevented if you, as the adoptive parents, stick to your contact agreement you make with the birth parents and allow them the time to grieve this loss without reacting negatively or reading too much into the words that are being used.
My position at the agency is to be a support person for the birth parent as well and connect with them from one birth parent to another, letting them know I do understand what they are experiencing. I also often times provide guidance and answer questions for adoptive parents when/if something comes up along the way that seems out of the ordinary or is hard to understand when it comes to a birth parents’ reaction to the adoption.
Over the years I have seen adoptions come full circle and birthparents, adoptive parents and the children connect at a really special level. They truly are a Triad and one that all parties treasure and feel is so important and valued. I have also seen birthparents and adoptive parents not get that opportunity to come full circle because that first year after placement emotions are running so high that it is hard to move forward and allow the relationship to grow. This has happened on both sides of the adoption.
I want to see your adoption remain positive and succeed at all levels. I want to see your adoption grow and blossom into nothing more than a wonderful experience for all involved. In order for this to happen communication is key and asking the agency questions when necessary, talking to your specialist and/or me when needed and always keeping an open mind that your birth parent is grieving a loss greater than she could have ever imagined. She has likely never experienced this level of grief before and does not know how to handle it which is why it often just takes some time.
I ask you to be patient, be understanding and most importantly be trustworthy with your words. I ask you to continue contact as promised so that your birthparent can rest assure that this child you all love dearly is taken care of and loved, as any parent would want for their child. I will always do my part to help and foster the best relationship possible. I want nothing more than to see you all grow together and share a positive, loving adoption experience.
Thank you and please do reach out to the agency anytime with questions, comments or concerns.
My husband and I adopted his niece last year. She moved in with us almost 2.5 years ago and is 9 years old. Her birth mom struggled with substance abuse and her parental rights were terminated when our daughter was 6 (birth father has spent most of the last five years in jail). Especially because our daughter’s birth mother is my husband’s sister, we have always hoped that they would have a relationship again. The birth mother has been doing well lately, keeping a job, keeping clean, etc. We’ve let the two of them text a bit (on my husband’s phone) and now we’re considering letting them meet (we live two states away, too). But, my absolute biggest fear is that birth mom will relapse and hurt our daughter all over again. Before the TPR, birth mom missed so many scheduled visits and broke so many promises. She just kept hurting her over and over and I so desperately want to protect our daughter from pain that I’m afraid of letting them build the relationship again if she’s just going to get hurt. I want to do the right thing for our daughter. But I just don’t know what that is. Do you have any advice?
We understand this is a difficult situation, and you want what’s best for your daughter. We recommend consulting an adoption-competent counselor. They’ll be best-equipped to support your daughter as you all navigate your open adoption. Here’s a good place to start: https://www.adoptmatch.com/choosing-an-adoption-counselor/
In the meantime, we recommend trusting your daughter’s feelings regarding her relationship with her birth mother. Wishing you the best of luck!