Tips for Pictures and Letters for Birth ParentsAs you read in this week’s Testimonial Tuesday, pictures and letters can have a huge impact on a birth mother and can help her heal and feel reassured of her decision long after her baby is born and placed for adoption.

Since we began coordinating pictures and letters agreements in the last decade or so, American Adoptions has seen a trend toward more openness in adoption and has completed a vast number semi-open adoptions (ones in which pictures and letters are exchanged) and many adoptions with even greater levels of openness.

We sat down with Michelle, who handles pictures and letters for our agency and who is also a birth mother herself (read her story here), to ask for tips and advice for pictures and letters packages.

Tips for Pictures:

  • The more, the merrier when it comes to pictures! It’s important for a birth mother to visualize her child doing a variety of activities. If you only send the five to ten photos that we require, please make sure they’re on time.
  • For your child’s birthday month, send some photos from the birthday celebration but also include some photos that are from other occasions as well. If you take a professional photo once a year for your child and predict that your package will be late, that’s ok, but just let us know so that we can tell your child’s birth mother that it’s coming soon.
  • Include pictures not just of the child by themselves, but also with grandparents, cousins or friends. You want to show what a full life your child has. Help illustrate that with photos of family, friends, school and community, not just the child alone.
  • If your child’s birth mother sends an outfit or toy, it can be a meaningful gesture to send a photo of the child wearing the outfit or playing with the toy.
  • Consider giving your child’s birth mother a scrapbook to fill with things each time you send a pictures and letters package. Many families even do this at the hospital or when they first meet the birth mother to demonstrate their commitment to the relationship and their promise to send pictures and letters.
  • Photo collages can be hit or miss. Some birth mothers really like them, but others like having hard copy photos to frame as they choose or to carry in their wallet and close to their hearts. Consider sending both so that she has options.
  • Even if your agreement only specifies sending photos once a year after your child’s first couple years, remember it’s ok to send packages more often! “If your birth mother wants pictures and letters, she wants them as often as possible,” Michelle says.

Tips for Letters:

  • Letters should be addressed to your birth mother’s name, not “birth mother.” This might sound obvious, but Michelle said that unfortunately she’s seen letters addressed “To Birth Mother.”
  • Paint a picture that your child is loved and happy. Imagine that you’re writing to an out-of-town relative. Be detailed, and describe your child’s milestones, interests and personality traits. It’s in a parent’s nature to want to brag about every little thing their child does, and your child’s birth mother is one of the few people who will love and cherish all those details the way you do!
  • Let your child’s birth mother know that she is being talked about and that adoption is being talked about. If your child is still quite young, share how you can’t wait till he or she is old enough that you can share their adoption story with them. Say how you’re preparing to talk about adoption, especially if you have something special like a book or quilt or other keepsake.

Tips for Older Children:

  • When your child gets older, focus your letters on school, interests and hobbies. Keep your child’s birth mother engaged by asking what she liked to do at that age or by asking her if her talents or interests are the reason your child is so musical, athletic, interested in science, etc.
  • Older children can take a bigger role in preparing pictures and letters. Let your child help pick photos or write a note. If your child is nervous, let him or her know how nervous you were when you met your child’s birth mother for the first time. Support your child at whatever interest level he or she has in their birth family. Michelle says that, in her experience, girls seem to become curious about adoption before boys.
  • Help your child to see that you, as adoptive parents, want to help them understand their identity as an adopted child and can support them if/when they develop a relationship with their birth family. Let him or her see that you have kept an open relationship with your child’s birth parents. Many families keep exact copies of the pictures and letters they send to their child’s birth mom in their own scrapbook to show that they kept the line of communication open and to remind themselves of the special milestones they have shared with his or her birth family.
  • Remember that any relationship is beneficial to your child, so foster what you can!

Extra Tips:

  • If your six-month time frame for sending a pictures and letters package doesn’t coincide with the holidays– say, it’s March and September– still try to send something during the holidays, especially if you know that your birth mother is getting her packages and enjoys them. The holidays are often the hardest part of the year, and extra efforts go a long way.
  • Kid’s artwork is great! Help him or her sign their name themselves or color a picture. Handprint art is fun because it helps to show how your child is growing. Look at these 59 fun ideas for foot and handprint art! This handprint hug craft is also neat and could show your child’s birth mother just how big your child’s hug is!
  • Ask your child’s birth mother to send you photos, letters or other items, if she’s comfortable doing so. Explain that you want to share those items with your child or put them in a special adoption keepsake book.
  • Social media can be a contentious subject. If becoming Facebook friends and sharing pictures through social media seems too invasive, consider setting up a flickr or shutterfy account. You can password protect your photos and only allow access for your family and your child’s birth family.
  • Michelle says it’s important to be wiling to accept anything a birth mother sends, even if it isn’t your taste or if it isn’t yet age-appropriate for your child. Accept the gift, thank her for it, and know that it’s ok if the child isn’t at the age to “get it” and appreciate it. You can always explain the significance of a gift to your child later.

Michelle points out that some families will never hear from their child’s birth mother and even says that the majority of birth mothers don’t respond when they receive pictures or letters. But she can also say that regardless of their communication back to you, birth mothers are grateful and excited to receive pictures and letters packages.

Michelle says that the biggest key is to show that you care and that you haven’t forgotten about your child’s birth mother and the gift she gave you. 

Be sure to include the picture/letter correspondence sheet in your package. Michelle can verify that your packages arrive and are sent via call or email. But due to the high volume of mail she receives– especially around the holidays!– you won’t get notification unless you request it. For any questions about Pictures and Letters Correspondence, please contact Michelle.