The pressure he applied was firm; his hand rounded to accommodate the curve of my abdomen. Her hand was small and delicate, gently poised and expectant. I slouched on their sofa, waiting for the little twitch or turn. Discouraged, she said, “I don’t feel anything.”

Moments later, the baby lazily adjusted his legs far beneath my skin. The feeling was always unusual to me, but the expectant adoptive parents on either side of me reacted with glee. Her whole face ignited with surprise, and her jaw dropped; a chuckle bubbled through his smile as blush spread from his ears to nose. I erupted into laughter, joyous that I could share these small moments with them.

The relationship I was able to develop with my child’s adoptive parents was extraordinarily strong. I’d chosen to attend the college in the town next to them and knew very few people when I’d moved. They became my family. We made every outing into an excuse to spend time together: We ran errands, ate meals, went to festivals and farmers markets, and held hands at the doctor’s office.

I planned to return to my hometown when the semester was over and the baby was born. I remember one day, after getting ice cream, the adoptive mother burst into tears and held me. She explained that she was excited for the baby to be born, but also dreaded having me move away. Although the voices of self-doubt had sometimes suggested that her kindness was obligatory, this statement manifested the truth: She loved me. They loved me. Of course they were grateful for my intention to place this baby with them, but there was a potent love that transcended our roles within the adoption–we loved each other as family.

Open adoption is all about relationships. The terminology itself is housed in a relational context and defines connections through the language. Navigating these relationships can be rather tricky and sensitive. It may take many years before aspects of the relationship come naturally. Fortunately, expectant mothers, birth mothers, and adoptive parents can take measures to establish, nurture, and strengthen this unique bond:

1. Relate to each other

As we got to know each other on closer terms, we were able to discuss our struggles and appreciate one another’s trials. Accept that although you can never know exactly what another’s experience is, you can still consider and appreciate feelings that differ from your own. Making efforts to relate to one another not only demonstrates care, but also can help you to understand another’s behaviors and choices.

2. Be honest if something is bothering you

Being able to voice concerns to one another from early on in our relationship has led to solutions and relief. Take care to speak respectfully, and don’t accuse one another of failing. Discussing your fears openly allows you to resist them as a team and will put you at ease.

3. Include each other

I involved the adoptive couple in most aspects of pregnancy, and they continue to notify me of the baby’s milestones. Include one another as much as is appropriate for your situation, and share what feels comfortable. Keeping one another updated and active in your lives sustains the significance they hold.

4. Respect commitments and boundaries

We have been able to gain trust for one another as promises are kept, boundaries are respected, and expectations are met. As hard as it may be to take a step back or follow through on a promise made long ago, recognize how important it is to obey one another’s wishes. Establishing habitual honor for commitments and boundaries communicates respect toward one another and allows for a much more comfortable environment.

5. Offer support

Because of the circumstances of my pregnancy, I leaned on the adoptive couple for emotional support and partnership. While there are some limitations to supporting one another through your trials, having each other can bond you in a special way. Your offer of support speaks to your love and concern for the individual themselves in a way that transcends your roles in the adoption.

6. Do something special for each other

Whether through little gifts, birthday cards, or even a well-timed picture, the adoptive couple and I often remind each other of our affection. If the arrangements of your adoption allow for it, take a moment to recognize one another. Having these special acknowledgements will help one another to feel remembered; the little things can go a long way.

7. Say thank you

One beautiful aspect of my open adoption is the symmetrical gratitude we have for one another–and we frequently express it. Expressing thanks for the deep stuff doesn’t need to happen in every correspondence, but communicating appreciation from time to time will solidify the glue between you.

 

Regardless of your role in adoption, your progress through it, or the current state of your relationship, consider applying these suggestions. The relationships between all members of the adoption should be of high priority. Take care to nurture this special connection with good will and love.