Although I have been around adoption most of my life, I wasn’t aware until recently of the term “adoption triad.” My daughter, who was adopted, shared it with me about a year ago. It is a triangle with a heart intertwined into it. The three distinct points of the triangle represent the three parties involved in an adoption: the adoptee, the adoptive parents, and the birth parents. Virginia Frank, an adoption and surrogacy attorney, described the adoption triad when she said, “The adoptee occupies the topmost point of the triangle, while the birth parents and adoptive parents take up the bottom two points.” The triangle appears to have an equal distance or separation from each of the members. The heart represents the love that is shared among all of them, either individually or as a whole. Each one plays a different and unique role in the adoption process. No character is more or less important than the other. Their voices need to be heard at different times along the adoption journey.
The Expectant Mother
Let’s break it down. Why is the voice of the expectant mother important in the triad? Without her, there would not be a need for the adoption triad to exist. It is ultimately her decision as to what will happen to her unborn child. Once she has made the choice to place her baby for adoption, the rest of the triad becomes necessary. Her voice becomes the guide that gives direction to the others involved. The choices she makes affect the rest of the triad members. The desires of the birth mother are crucial to the outcome of the adoption. It is important for her to express her needs, desires, and expectations. She will need to make those decisions clear to those who will be making final arrangements. The expectant mother may have a support system to direct her and offer counsel. Often the agency she is using will appoint someone to help her with difficult decisions. Things to consider are whether this will be an open, closed, or semi-open adoption. How much will she be involved in the child’s life, if at all? Plans of what she wants the future to look like need to be determined now. One birth mother I spoke to expressed that she wished she had made that decision early on and set guidelines and boundaries with the adoptive parents prior to the finalization of the adoption of her baby. Another birth mother said her voice was necessary for asking questions regarding the adoptive parents’ circumstances and to help explain why she was placing her baby for adoption. It’s also important for expectant mothers to clarify how much they would like to be a part of their child’s life once they have reached adulthood and can make their own decisions. Clarification of things before will prevent problems later that may cause unnecessary contention.
If the adoptee is an infant, he or she doesn’t get much say in what is happening. However, he or she is still a pivotal point in the triad. In the case of an older child being the adoptee, he or she may be an active participant in the decisions being made. The adoptee will essentially carry on the traits of the biological parents through shared DNA and the adoptive parents through shared life experiences. Depending on the circumstances and the age of the child, the courts may assign a guardian ad litem to represent the best interests of the child. In accordance with state laws, the child may or may not be able to speak on his or her own behalf. Although the infant cannot express his or her desires, he or she is a very integral part of the triad. Both the expectant mother and potential adoptive parents see the baby as the most important of the three in the adoption triad. As the adoptee grows and matures, he or she will have a voice in how much contact is had with the birth mother or birth parent(s). As the adoptee goes through life he or she will have many questions. The conversations between an adopted child and his or her adoptive parents can vary from very simple to very complex. Those involved determine how much information is shared. There may be questions that can be answered and many that cannot. It is important to listen to the voice of the adoptee because he or she can experience many emotions. The feeling of abandonment might be consuming or bring about depression. If the child was older when he or she was adopted there may be underlying factors that contribute to their behaviors. The relationship between an adoptee and the adoptive parent(s) is crucial to the development of the child and his or her well-being. Nature over nurture can be a difficult concept to understand but it’s very important that adoptive parents do not crush the child’s inherent tendencies. If the child is from another culture, it is good for the child to become familiar with his or her heritage. One problem adoptive parents often have is that they try to make their child into who they want them to become instead of allowing the child to develop his or her own characteristics. Another reason it is hard to share the facts is that there is the fear of the adoptee choosing the birth mother over the adoptive parents.
Our Story as Adoptive Parents
This brings us to the voice of the adoptive parent(s). The decision to adopt a child is very personal. It often involves years of struggle and heartache. In other situations, it is a choice that has always been part of the life plan. The voice of the adoptive parents is important because it will affect not only their lives but the life of the child or children involved.
In our case, we had two beautiful, healthy, biological daughters. To others, we may have appeared to be the perfect ‘90s family. We had a nice car, a comfortable home, and a good job. However, we knew our family was missing something or someone. After years of trying to conceive I was diagnosed with secondary infertility. There is no known reason for it. After the second attempt at artificial insemination, I developed an infection and was unable to pursue that route. At this point, we decided to start the adoption process. We contacted a local adoption attorney and filled out the required paperwork. Several months went by with no prospects. We had a connection to another adoption attorney and chose to submit our profile to them. Within a couple of months we were contacted and told we had been chosen by an expectant mother who wanted to meet us. In the beginning we were afraid of an open adoption because it was something fairly new and we knew there were risks involved. However, we were on the road in a few days to meet the girl who was maybe carrying our future baby. This was a very scary experience. On the car ride we discussed things we would ask her. We had our two girls with us because they would be part of this experience. My husband was afraid of asking things that she may not want us to know.
When we met her and started to talk, I felt comfortable asking the questions I thought were necessary. “What are you looking for in an adoptive family for your baby?” “What kind of adoption are you wanting?” “How much contact are you wanting or expecting?” “Why are you placing your baby for adoption?” “Is the father of the baby involved?” “Has there been any smoking, drug, or alcohol use during the pregnancy?” Though these questions were very personal, I felt that I needed them answered as a prospective adoptive mother. We were fortunate that she was very open with us and we, in turn, were willing to answer any questions she had for us. The meeting ended on a positive note and she asked us to be the adoptive family for her baby. Five months later, we met in the hospital nursery and she handed me the newborn baby we both loved dearly. A few days later we met again at the attorney’s office to confirm that we were indeed the family with whom her baby would be going home.
Over the next 18 years, we shared pictures and letters of his life and she would send gifts on birthdays and Christmas. This was done privately through the attorney’s office as we had previously discussed. When our son was five years old we told him about his birth mother and about his adoption story. It was openly discussed and was not kept a secret from anyone. We were open with answers when others inquired. We agreed to keep the identity and location of the birth mother confidential. Whenever our son had questions we would address them to the best of our knowledge. His voice was heard and listened to when he wanted answers to the unknown. When he graduated from high school we connected with his birth mother on social media. A few months later they met again as two adults and started a cherished relationship.
If the voices of those involved had not been listened to along the way, this journey could have ended differently. It was very clear that all three voices of the adoption triad had been heard and listened to from the beginning of this adoption relationship. It was a sweet reunion and all three members of the triad were pleased with the outcome. The birth mother was able to state her feelings of reconnecting and set the boundaries of what she expected from it. At this point in the journey, she states that “she would like to stay in touch and hopefully be a part of the grown-up child’s life.” The adoptee was able to voice his opinions and decide for himself if he was ready to meet his biological mother and choose what kind of relationship they would have. As an adoptive mother, I had always planned on their meeting someday. I had come to the part of the journey where I felt confident in his love for me and I no longer felt threatened by her. The three points of the triad now share a combined friendship and something that no one else can understand or comprehend.
Our second experience was much different. Our daughter was adopted out of the foster care system when she was two and a half years old. The whereabouts of her birth mother were unknown as was most of her history up to the point of her adoption. There were many unanswered questions and some things we may never know. It has taken several years to find her and make contact. Her voice and the voice of the adoptee are being listened to as they have chosen to not pursue any kind of relationship. In this situation, as an adoptive mother, I have chosen to honor their requests and not question their decision. It is crucial to the adoption process that all members of the adoption triad are heard.
As the term “adoption triad” becomes more familiar to the population as a whole, there are many ways to show your connection to the adoption process. If you google the term you will find multiple websites sharing stories of adoption and what the symbol means. You can purchase many different kinds of jewelry, including necklaces, rings, or bracelets to wear to display your connection to adoption. There are even several ideas for tattoos representing the symbol. However you choose to recognize it, the adoption triad represents individuals who share a common bond that cannot be broken. When you understand the role of each point in the triangle, you will see that the adoption triad can bring about a positive experience for all concerned. I am honored to be a part of the triad in two unique and different adoption journeys and find joy in the adoption process and the privilege of being called “mom.”