If I close my eyes, I can take myself back into the hospital after both of our children were born. I can feel the weight of the situation, the sadness and joy all swirled together and how heavy my heart was for our children’s birth mothers. We were all celebrating this life that was created, so worthy of joy, and yet we all knew there was an impending loss that was impossible to deny. I think back to those moments often because they keep me centered. Early in our adoption journeys, I skirted gingerly around those moments, knowing they would make me feel a strange sense of guilt–not that I’d done something wrong, but that I had been a part of something that had caused pain for my child’s birth mom and would someday cause pain for my child. Now, those moments remind me that I have a responsibility: to be grateful, to be considerate, to be compassionate, to be human. I am reminded that empathy wins in open adoption relationships.
It’s our responsibility as our children’s parents to lead by example. It’s our job as humans to treat others with kindness. The five suggestions I have for extending empathy and helping your child’s birth mom heal are really no different than the rule I give my children when we talk about what kind of adults they should grow up to be. It’s simple: Teat others the way you wish to be treated.
It’s so simple. Sit down. Close your eyes. Imagine what your child’s birth mom might be feeling as it pertains to your adoption relationship. Just take a temperature check on what you’ve done recently. Fill in the gaps.
1. Treat her as a person, not just a birth mother.
The pain a birth mother is feeling after placement is real and doesn’t disappear. It deserves to be acknowledged. Simply putting a hand on her shoulder, making a phone call, or sending a text that has nothing to do with the baby may give her a renewed sense of hope. This doesn’t mean adoptive parents should become counselors or therapists in any way, but it does mean that the compassionate thing to do is to treat her as a friend, not just a birth mother. Appreciate her as a person.
2. Give an update, just because.
Many states have laws, or even enforceable adoption contracts, that set in stone how often an adoptive couple needs to maintain communication with the birth parent. Regardless of any laws or contracts, keeping your child’s birth parents up to speed sometimes on the highlights of your child’s life is the compassionate thing to do.
3. Continue sending photos.
Have you maybe slacked on sending photos? If so, it’s okay. Don’t worry about whether your child’s birth mom will be angry or upset that you’ve slacked off and haven’t sent anything in a while. Wipe your slate clean, send a photo, and extend an apology that it’s been so long. Anything is better than continuing down the road of doing nothing. I have friends who are birth moms who have not seen photos of the children they placed in 5+ years. I can promise you that if their child’s adoptive parents reached out tomorrow with a photo, it would turn their world around. Their first thought wouldn’t be anger–it would be gratitude.
4. Let your child’s birth mom see her child living the life she chose for her.
Whether it’s visits, videos, or even video chatting, seeing their child in motion, living the life chosen for them, can be especially healing for birth parents. Birth parents made placement plans because they had dreams for their children. Pictures provide great insight, but videos animate the life they imagine their child to be living. Video chatting provides a way for families who live miles away to remain connected on a more personal level.
5. Do the unexpected.
Randomly send a letter in the mail that has an art project your child made, send her a little care package of her favorite things, text a photo of your child holding a sign with a special sentiment like, “Good luck on your first day of work!” or, “You’re awesome and I know it.” Make a phone call and leave a message of your child’s voice saying “I love you.” Remind her that she is special and worthy of your creativity.
Being thoughtful might be a stretch for some people, but adoptive parents are used to working for the good things in life. Putting forth effort to be compassionate in open adoption relationships has payouts that are worth more than their weight in gold. First, it’s a bonus healing moment for your child’s birth mom. She realizes she has entrusted her child to compassionate, caring, thoughtful people who will raise her child to be the same way.
Secondly, you benefit. You go to sleep at night knowing you have treated another person in the way they deserve to be treated. You haven’t done anything expensive or overly time-consuming. You’ve simply treated someone with respect so they, too, can sleep better at night.
Thirdly, and most importantly, you instill a sense of self-worth in your child. I remember an occasion when I had randomly done something nice for my daughter’s birth mom, and she sent me a text saying that she couldn’t wait to tell our daughter someday about the things we do for her simply because we care. I haven’t ever done anything for her thinking my daughter would ever find out about it, but after she said that, I began thinking. We’ll treat her birth mother like this for the rest of our lives. I don’t care what it says to our daughter about us as much as I care about what it might make her feel about herself. By us treating her birth parents with empathy, we’re saying, “The people you came from are worth it. YOU are worth it.” There is no greater reward for hard work than a child who feels a genuine sense of self-worth.
Take a minute to sit back and close your eyes. Make a quick assessment of where you stand in your open adoption relationship. Is there anything you can do, today, to help your child’s birth mother heal, simply by being compassionate?