During adoption, there are many paths that lie in front of you. As a birth mother, you were in charge of picking the right adoption agency, finding the perfect adoptive family and deciding what you want your hospital stay to look like.
But one of the most important decisions is how much contact to have with your child and the adoptive family after placement. Time and time again, research has shown that openness in adoption improves the mental health of everyone involved.
But, what if open adoption contact becomes too much for you?
There’s a fine line between feeling like you’re doing something because you “owe” it to your birth child and doing it because it’s what you truly want. You are the only one who gets to decide when spending time with your child is doing more harm than good for your mental health. No one else.
If you’re having trouble balancing contact with your child and managing your mental health, here are a few things you should know.
Do I Have to Maintain a Fully Open Adoption?
You don’t have to do anything that you’re not comfortable with. Every adoption relationship is different; you don’t have to go along with what everyone else is doing just to “fit in.”
For some birth parents, too much contact after placement can be stressful, painful and emotionally taxing. The truth is that open adoptions aren’t always easy, and they don’t always lead to better relationships between the adoptive family and the adoptee.
In an ideal world, you would be able to have as much contact as you’re comfortable with without facing any challenges, but that isn’t always the case. A birth child may ask hard questions and contact with them may bring up painful emotions you long since forgot. And as they get older, it might be harder to keep up with their needs.
While there are plenty of resources to help birth mothers as they move forward, sometimes it’s not enough. Sometimes, the only way to get through the pain is to take a step back — to get your life under control before you can help anyone else, including your birth child.
Please remember, you are not selfish or a bad mother if you take this path. You are most certainly not “giving up,” even when you need to take a step back from your open adoption contact. You deserve as much peace and space as anyone else during this difficult time. No one would fault you for doing what you need to for your own well-being.
If you’re not ready or don’t want to share information, you shouldn’t feel guilty for that. If it is detrimental to your health, then those things can always wait. Just be honest with your birth child and the adoptive parents about what you’re going through; treat them with the respect you would want them to show you.
You are always able to open up contact at a later point, which is something that your specialist would be happy to help you with.
How Do You Know When Contact is too Much?
You are the expert on your feelings. When you start to feel exhausted, overwhelmed, angry, or drained, that’s when you know for sure that it’s time to take a step back. Giving your birth child your full effort and attention is commendable, but it’s not always ideal. In fact, it’s the easiest way to burn yourself out.
If you need to, don’t be afraid to take a break. Every birth parent grieves in their own time. The emotions of adoption and being a birth parent can come and go in waves. Some birth parents might be able to move forward quickly after a few months, while others won’t feel the full impact of their emotions until years later. Remember to take things one day at a time.
If talking with your birth child and their family is causing more stress than joy, that’s a good sign it’s time to take a step back for your mental health.
What Kind of Information Should I Share?
There’s nothing wrong with keeping it simple. How much you want to share with your child is completely up to you. Some birth parents love sharing information with the adoptive family and a child; it makes them feel like they’re contributing positively to their child’s life, and it provides a sense of comfort. As long as it is beneficial to your mental health and it’s not hurtful, that’s perfectly fine.
Some birth parents want to send something small, even if it’s just a letter, to let their child know that they’re always thinking of them. Something like that is perfectly fine, too. If you are thinking of sending a letter, you might include information about your interests, hobbies, favorite subject in school, favorite color, food, movie, etc. You can even share pictures of your family or of yourself. And, as time goes on, you can use your letters to update them on events in your life that you don’t feel comfortable sharing in person.
Sometimes one birth parent will want more contact with their biological child than the other, and that’s okay, too. Every relationship is different, and open adoption relationships are no different. Some birth parents’ bond easier with their birth children, while others struggle to truly “click” like they believe they will. Whatever you’re feeling is completely normal.
It’s also important to keep communicating with the child’s adoptive parents. They want to support you as much as they can, so don’t be afraid to reach out to them. They might even be willing to talk to their child about why you’re stepping back from contact or help set boundaries, if you are uncomfortable having that conversation yourself.
This way, everyone can be supportive of one another, wherever they are at with their emotions and well-being.
Reach Out for Help
When in doubt, don’t be afraid to talk to your adoption specialist or a counselor. They can help you work through any difficult emotions that you’re trying to process. They’ve seen it all, and they’re happy to support you through your post-placement contact — whatever it may look like.