Although women who place a child through American Adoptions have the option of contact with their child for life, not everyone has had this opportunity. If your adoption was semi-open or closed (or if you simply fell out of touch), then you may not have had contact with your birth child or their adoptive family for years — until now.
So, how can you prepare for the first in-person meeting with your birth child, whatever age they may be?
Below, we’ll explore potential scenarios based on the age of your birth child. But first, we want to offer a few general pieces of advice for meeting your birth child for the first time:
Be Ready for Anything
Every situation is unique, as are the people involved in your adoption triad. Some adoptees are excited to meet their birth parents, while others have no interest (or may even feel resentment). Be ready to respect your birth child’s right to their own feelings about their adoption, even if they don’t match your own feelings.
These are all generally true for the first meeting, no matter what stage of life your child is in, so it may help you prepare knowing that:
- There may be some awkward moments.
- You may not feel a lot (or everything at once).
- You may or may not have a lot in common.
- They may or may not be interested in getting to know you.
We hate to say to prepare yourself for disappointment, but do try to keep in mind that not all meetings are fairy-tale perfect. Try to put yourself in your child’s shoes and understand the complex emotions they might have surrounding their adoption.
Hopefully, your first time meeting your birth child is a positive experience for all of you, and it’s something you’ll all want to continue building on!
A Few General Tips
Again, these tips are usually true for most situations:
- Don’t force it.
- Keep things light until you’re both more comfortable.
- Speak positively — your child may interpret negativity as negativity toward them.
- Pay attention to your child’s comfort level, and put their needs first.
It can be hard to rein in your own thoughts, feelings and needs as you prepare for this meeting, but try to center things around your birth child, in order to be mindful of their feelings, too.
Tips for Birth Children Meetings By Age
Meeting a Toddler-Aged Child
As you know, some toddlers are extremely friendly and open, while others can be very shy and reserved at first. If your toddler-aged child is nervous of you at first, don’t be discouraged! They’ll likely warm up with a little time.
At this stage, your child may be very clingy around his or her parents. For some birth parents, this can bring up different feelings — happiness, guilt, sadness or even jealousy.
Take this opportunity to get to know your birth child better. The best way to do that at this age is to talk to their parents! Ask your child’s parents about his or her likes and dislikes, favorite foods, daily routine, new games he or she likes to play, etc. They may be interested to hear what you were like as a toddler, too!
You might like to bring a little gift for your birth child for your visit. A small toy like a ball, a stuffed animal or a picture book is a good way to engage your child in play, and it’ll keep them happy and busy so you can catch up with their parents.
You could also bring along some photos of your child’s birth family members that the adoptive parents can show your child as he or she grows up.
Meeting an Older Child or Teenager
If your child is school-aged or a teenager, that first meeting can seem a little more scary. They’re old enough to have opinions and make decisions, and you understandably want them to view you positively.
As your child ages, he or she has started to explore their own feelings about their adoption. From between the time your birth child was very young until now, their level of interest in their adoption has probably either increased or decreased.
They may have a million questions for you, or they may not seem interested at all. Be ready for either scenario!
Answer any questions they may have honestly, but be mindful of their age when talking about complex or difficult aspects of your adoption story.
Again, don’t be discouraged if they don’t seem interested in talking with you much. Just let your child (and their parents) know that you’re available if they have questions or if they just want to talk. Keeping the door of communication open will likely mean more to them than you know. Then, it’ll be your child’s choice whether or not they want to walk through it, now or in the future.
Meeting an Adult Child
This is often the most nerve-wracking scenario for a birth parent. Your child has never really met you, and it’s been years since placement. You probably don’t know very much about one another.
Take things at their pace, and just focus on getting to know one another at that first meeting. You won’t be able to make up for lost time, but you can work on establishing a relationship now.
Make space for your birth child to talk about their thoughts and feelings, and try to listen without jumping in. Like you, they may have been wanting to say something important for a long time. Let them know that you embrace whatever they want to express.
Before your meeting, it can be helpful to talk to other birth parents who reunited with a biological child later in life, or talk to an adoption professional or counselor. That way, you’ll be able to prepare yourself emotionally and have a better idea of what to expect based on your individual situation.
Be sure to talk about the type of relationship you’d both like to have moving forward. Express your needs (as gently as possible) if you find that you’d like to have more or less frequent communication as your relationship continues.
Open Adoptions Allow You to Avoid that Big Meeting, Because You Never Say “Goodbye”
Today, 9 out of 10 birth parents choose to have an open adoption. If you’ve already placed your child for adoption and an open adoption wasn’t an option for you then, this information may feel like too little too late.
But if you’re pregnant and considering adoption, or if you’re a hopeful adoptive parent, American Adoptions encourages you to embrace greater openness in your adoption situation whenever possible. An open adoption allows birth and adoptive families to stay in contact for life. Your child will never have unanswered questions, they’ll never have to search, and there will never be a big, dramatic first meeting.
Even if you’ve already placed your child for adoption and you haven’t had much contact in the past, now is just as good a time as any to reach out and let them know you’re around if they ever want or need to talk. Maintaining connections between adoptees and their birth families isn’t always easy, but it’s important, and we commend you for making the effort!