An Adoptee’s Experiences as a Birth Parent Specialist

Jenna is a social worker at American Adoptions and an adoptee who grew up in a closed adoption. She works with pregnant women who are considering adoption. She’s also recently reunited with her birth parents. Her interview below has been edited for clarity.

Read her story here.

Read about how she recently found and connected with her birth parents here.

Do You Ever Talk about Being Adopted with the Pregnant Women You Work With?

I don’t share that I’m adopted with most of the pregnant women and birth moms that I work with. I only share it if I feel like it’ll be beneficial to that prospective birth mom. I usually just tell them if I can tell that they really don’t have any adoption experience or you know, maybe they’ve talked to Michelle (an American Adoptions staff member who is a birth mom) and they’re looking for other people to talk to.

If I do mention it, all I’ll say is, “Hey, I just want to let you know that I’m adopted. I’m an open book, and if you want to ask me questions about my experience or what that’s been like, go ahead. Keep in mind, adoption is very different now than it used to be, but I’m happy to answer any questions.” And a lot of times I think they’re just like, “Oh, you seem pretty normal, I like working with you and you don’t seem like you are damaged or scarred in any way.”

Do You Feel Like You’re Supposed to ‘Sell’ Women on Adoption More Because You’re an Adoptee?

When women are talking to me on the phone, sometimes they’ll tell me, “I feel terrible even telling you this, but I’m thinking about getting an abortion,” and I’m like, “Well, you need to do what’s best for you.” I know I work at an adoption agency and I might be adopted, but I’m not here to tell you what to do with your life choices. All of us here are going to support whatever choice a woman makes.

I don’t want them to feel shame or anything if they decide to change their mind about adoption, or if they decide to get an abortion. All I’ll do are present facts. I can tell you this is not going to be easy. None of your options are going to be easy. All of the options from this point kind of suck. One is going to suck the least for you, and only you can determine which one that is.

And I love that our agency isn’t religious, because I can talk to women about their options more freely and we work with all types of adoptive couples. I was very worried about a potential religiosity thing when I first applied here, or that I might be asked to push women into adoption. I was very clear in my interview that was not something I was going to do, and American Adoptions was very clear that it wasn’t something this agency does.

I can tell you the great things about each unplanned pregnancy option. But as a social worker, I’m never going to try and fix you. Tell you what to do. Pretend I know more about you than you do. Assume what is best for you. Have all the answers, or make the hard stuff go away. That’s the one I hit. I can’t make the hard stuff go away. I’ll sit there with you through it, but it’ll still be there. I always try to remember that this is their decision and they need to do what’s best for them.

What are Some of the Common Fears that Pregnant Women Have About Adoption?

I always ask a particular question when I start working with a new expectant mom who is considering adoption: What is your biggest fear about this whole thing? Young women will usually say hospital time, because they don’t want to deliver a baby. Other women will say they worry that the adoptive family won’t stay in contact: “What if they just decide one day to never talk to me again or never send any pictures?” That’s a huge one. And that’s when they need to be connected with an adoptive family to build trust. Because if they just meet somebody random at the hospital, of course they’re not going to trust that person. They need to have a relationship first.

The other big fear that women have is that their kid’s going to hate them or resent them for placing them for adoption. And a lot of the women that we work with already have kids, so they’re like, “How are they going to feel if I kept Jimmy, Susie and Johnny, but Sarah, I decided to give away to this family?” That might be a situation where I tell them I’m adopted, and that I certainly don’t hate my birth parents. I’m so grateful to them.

Do You Have Your Own Worries as a Social Worker/Adoptee in the Process?

I know I’m so lucky in having a stereotypical adoption story: Two kids in college who weren’t ready to handle it. It was an easy story for my parents to tell me. But, for some of the more complex and emotionally difficult adoption situations that I work with, I worry about how those adoptive parents will tell that story while maintaining honesty, because I think that’s important. Even in really upsetting adoption stories, it’s like: how do you share that birth story with the child in a way that’s empowering and non-stigmatizing, while also being honest?

I think a lot about what kind of story the adoptive parents are going to tell. I worry about it sometimes.

My parents told my adoption story honestly, but with such positivity, and it made me feel positively about myself and my birth parents. I worry about the story that other adoptive parents tell.

It’s not always easy, but American Adoptions has really great adoptive family specialists who work with the parents through that stuff, and they can help parents answer questions honestly in a way that’s still respectful of their birth story and birth parents. That’s so important for the kid.

Do You See Parallels Between the Pregnant Women You Work with at American Adoptions and Your Own Birth Mom?

My birth mom knew exactly what she wanted for me, and some of the women I work with are like that — very specific with what they want in a prospective adoptive family and what they want for their baby. But a lot of them don’t care so much as long as the baby is in a good place. 

For all women, it’s usually that gut feeling. I’ll say to some of the women I work with, “I sent you like 50 profiles. You never gave me anything specific about what you were looking for in a prospective adoptive family, but you picked these people and you said they’re your only option. What do you like about them? Why them?” And they’re like, “I just did. These are the people.”

How Do People React to Your Double-Duty as an Adoptee Who Works at an Adoption Agency?

When I tell people that I work for an adoption agency, the first thing I get from them is usually “the pity face.” I get that at any social work job I’ve had, but even more so with adoption. It’s like, “You’re doing just such an amazing thing for these kiddos — saving them,” or whatever. And then I say, “Yeah, actually I’m adopted.” And people are like, “Oh.” I think it’s helpful to share your story because it opens up people’s minds to what adoption actually is.

How and Why Did You Start Working at American Adoptions?

I actually saw this job before I had graduated, years ago. I was doing an internship at a mental health hospital, but I sent in my resume, and Jen (also an adoptee) immediately got back to me and said, “Yeah, we’re super interested. Get your degree and your license and come talk to us.” And then I never responded because I was like, well I need a job in the meantime until I graduate.  So I just kind of forgot about it for a while.

I worked at a state psychiatric mental health hospital for criminals for three years before I came here. I really enjoyed my time there, but I was still like, “Man, I wonder what’s going on with that adoption agency.” I was just looking for a new job and wanted to do something different.  There was no job posting, but I just emailed Jen again and I was like, “Hey, I emailed you like three years ago. Here’s my updated resume and cover letter. I don’t know if you’re looking for anyone, but I’d love to chat with you.” She responded, “Yeah, we’re super interested. No positions. We’ll keep your resume on file.” I thought that was code for a no. But she called me two weeks later — American Adoptions had just opened up a position but hadn’t posted it online or anything.

Do Any Difficult Feelings as an Adoptee Ever Come Up in Your Work?

Jen was kind of intense during my interview, because as an adopted kid herself, she asked about my adoption story, and she asked how I thought it was going to affect my work. And I gave her my fluffy version of my adoption story. She said, “That’s not what I’m talking about. You don’t have only positive feelings towards your adoption. You’re lying. And at this job, you don’t get to choose to not talk about adoption or to not be around adoption. In your normal life, if you don’t want to talk to somebody about it, you can just move on. Here, if you’re having a bad day, things can come up that trigger you from your own experiences.”

And at that time, I hadn’t reached out to either one of my birth parents yet, so I was like, “I don’t know them,” and I kind of told her that was going on. And my parents are amazing, but being adopted didn’t shelter me from anything — everything wasn’t perfect all the time.

What’s Your Favorite Part of Your Job?

I love getting to know the birth moms that I’ve worked with here, and each of their personalities. There are so many situations and personalities that it truly dispels the myth that there is a “type of woman” who chooses adoption. I also love opportunity calls when you tell a waiting adoptive family they’ve been chosen by one of the women I’ve been working with. Those are the best.