As a birth parent in a semi-open adoption, the 18th birthday can be a really big milestone and mean many different things. You have all of the joy and excitement of your child becoming a young adult and possibly graduating from high school, but this could also be a really difficult time and mean that the formal post-adoption agreement that you set up with your child’s adoptive parents could be coming to an end. Most formal post-adoption agreements end at the age of 18. I recently found myself in this exact situation in the summer of 2020. I am a birth mom who placed my son with his family back in August of 2002 and, when I first placed and looked at my post-adoption agreement, 18 years of pictures and updates seemed like a long time. It seemed like plenty of time to prepare for this formal agreement to end and the sorrow that might bring. But before I knew it, the time had run around me, snuck up behind me, and whacked me in the back of the head! That is how fast 18 years flew by; as I know many parents say, it happens in the blink of an eye. As I began to prepare for my son’s upcoming 18th birthday, I reached out to my adoption agency, the Gladney Center for Adoption. I knew I was going to need help and I had so many questions as this was uncharted territory for me. I was put in touch with a post-adoption caseworker by the name of Shelly and we exchanged phone calls and emails. I cannot even begin to appropriately tell you how much she helped me firmly plant my feet on the ground and learn what I needed to do. I was completely clueless and struggling emotionally. There were three things that Shelly suggested I do in preparation for this milestone:
- Write a letter to my son to be sent to the Gladney Center for Adoption after my son turns 18 so that this can be put into his file in case he ever contacts the Gladney Center looking for information about me. They will have a letter from me written directly to him. Shelly sent me a sample letter to help me with writing one if I needed suggestions. This was a tough letter to write because I was trying to sum up 18 years in a letter and also make it not turn out like word vomit.
- The second thing Ms. Shelly suggested was being honest and upfront with my son and his family in my final update. She suggested that I share what my wishes were going forward as far as keeping in contact with them. A way to communicate with anonymity for all parties is to create an email address with no identifying marks, no last names, or where you live and then put that in your final update.
- The third thing Ms. Shelly recommended was registering with the Texas State Registry.
I did all three of those things; some took longer than others to accomplish but all three felt like major milestones in my healing and grieving process.
I had the privilege of interviewing two birth moms about what it was like to approach the 18-year mark with their children, and this is what they had to say in their interviews.
Nikki is a birth mom of 20 years who also had a semi-open adoption and experienced the stress of her daughter turning 18. Nikki wondered if she would ever reach out to her now that she was an adult. I was able to have a Zoom call with Nikki and ask her how she felt about that time in her life and this is what she had to say:
Q: When did you first start thinking about your daughter turning 18?
A: Since day one! I always knew I wanted to be a part of her high school graduation; that was really important to me. Maybe it was because I hadn’t graduated high school yet while I was pregnant with her.
Q: What did you do to prepare for your daughter to turn 18?
A: I tried to mentally prepare that at any moment she could contact me now that she was 18.
Q: Did you go to any counseling or therapy before she turned 18?
A: No, but I wish I had. At 18 things really change and I wish I had been more prepared. That is one thing I would do differently.
Q: Did you ever cope and prepare for the thought that you might not hear from your daughter?
A: It’s a hard thought but I always had that hope and positivity that we would reconnect one day.
Q: Deep down did you always feel that you would hear from your daughter one day?
A: Yes, I did.
Q: If there is one piece of advice that you could give to another birth mom approaching her child’s 18th birthday, what would that be?
A: There would be a couple of things I would suggest. The first would be to seek professional support via counseling or therapy to help you cope with the good, the bad, the ugly, and the what-ifs. Secondly, seek support from your friends and family because there will be some hard days ahead and you need that support system. Thirdly, have a plan for if your child does contact you. As someone who has been through a reunification, when your child reaches out your mind goes blank and you are overwhelmed with joy and excitement and every possible emotion you can think of. It’s hard to think clearly at that moment. Having a plan can help you remember if you have any questions you may want to ask your child or even just help you remain calm and steady in that incredible moment.
Teresa placed her son for adoption in August of 1990 and this is what she had to say:
Q: When did you first start thinking about your child turning 18 and the ending of the formal post-adoption agreement?
A: To be honest, I don’t remember there being a formal agreement. I knew the parents would send updates once a year through the lawyer. I thought it was just being nice.
Q: What did you do to prepare for your child to turn 18?
I knew his birthday was coming up and hoped he would reach out, but I heard nothing. It wasn’t until a few years later that he was ready to meet.
Q: Did you go to any counseling or therapy before your child turned 18?
Q: How did you prepare for and cope with the thought of potentially not hearing from your child after they turned 18?
A: I thought of this and was really sad, but if that was what he wanted then that was that. I would always have my scrapbook from all the updates and yearly pictures and just hope one day he would want to meet.
Q: Is there one piece of advice you would give another birth mom that is approaching her child’s 18th birthday?
A: Don’t rush the meet. It will happen when the child is ready.
Q: Have you reunited with your child since they have turned 18?
A: We first met in July 2014. He was just shy of turning 24. I connected with the adoptive mom on Facebook before the meeting. My adoptive parents are the greatest. I felt a connection with them right away and knew he would be okay. They first told him he was adopted at an early age. They never tried to hide anything.
Many states offer their state registries for adoptees, birth parents, and biological siblings of adult adoptees if you wish to register and try this other avenue. This is often a great way to go for those who do not know very much about their family member that they are trying to find, perhaps because it was a closed adoption or if they didn’t go through an adoption agency where good records are kept. But these services are open to anyone. It can just add another layer of protection if you are wanting to connect with a loved one. You are going to want to register with the state that the adoption occurred in. I had not even heard about state registries until I was just a few months away from my son turning 18 and I reached out to my adoption agency, the Gladney Center for Adoption, to ask what I should do in preparation for this life-changing event. It was also in the last update that I received from my birth son’s adoptive parents that they mentioned that he was also tracking the state registry and knew this was an option for him. As soon as they mentioned it, I knew it was something that I needed to do to cover all of my bases in the hopes of one day reconnecting with my son.
Texas State Registry
According to the Texas State Registry website, in order to register with the Texas State Registry, you must be over the age of 18, and you must fill out the application and send in a non-refundable $30.00 application fee along with some documents. You can find out the eligibility and exactly what is needed by checking out their website. Only those who were born and/or adopted in Texas can register. The registry will contact you if you are ever matched and there is a process each applicant must go through. One of those steps is a one-hour counseling session to help prepare you for the reunion.
Bravelove.org is a great resource from which birth moms can seek support. This was another great suggestion from Shelly, my post-adoption casework at the Gladney Center. As stated on their website they are a pro-adoption movement seeking to change the perception of adoption through stories and support groups. They have stories from adoptees, birth moms, and adoptive parents, and you can find many videos and articles under their stories sections.
Another great support system for birth moms and really anyone in the adoption triad is Birth Mother’s Amplified. All members of the adoption triad can benefit from their videos. It is a podcast started by two birth moms; every two weeks they post a new podcast with guests from all walks of life. You can watch them on YouTube or many of the podcast broadcasts. This is a great way to find support.
A brand spanking new support group called The Table was just started by two fellow birth moms who saw the need for support groups for moms post-adoption. They hoped to have in-person support groups but COVID-19 has changed that for now and they have recently held their very first virtual support group. It’s so cool! You can find them on Instagram at The Table and you can register for their virtual support group at linktr.ee/TheTableDFW. They have an amazing calling to support birth moms and I highly encourage anyone to check them out.
I have yet to reunite with my son but I will always hold out hope that one day we will reconnect. As I wait for that day, I continue to connect with other birth moms for support because that’s all I can do. I continue to remind myself to look on the bright side; my son has great parents, and I am thankful for that. I am thankful that I did have 18 great years of pictures and updates. It’s important to focus on the positive but embracing the suck, so to speak, is also okay. There will be highs and lows when you reach that unknown territory of the 18-year mark and your formal agreement ends. I cry when I need to and I have also sought counseling when I have known that I needed extra help to talk it through. If you are reaching the 18-year mark or have already passed it and have some great advice on how to help cope, I’d love to hear your advice and tips.Are you considering placing a child for adoption? Not sure what to do next? First, know that you are not alone. Visit Adoption.org or call 1-800-ADOPT-98 to speak to one of our Options Counselors to get compassionate, nonjudgmental support. We are here to assist you in any way we can.