The Early Examination Stage
Her whisper fills an empty silence as she stares at her growing belly and says, “I don’t know what to do. If only you could tell me what to do.” Her unborn baby’s voice is just as still as her own, a floating conscience that seems to be waiting or examining something.
Her eyes pan slowly across her bedroom on the second floor of her parents’ house, trying to imagine an infant living there. She creates a vision of mid-week mornings, awakening after a sleepless night in time to feed and dress both herself and her baby before school. How will she make it to school, and where will she take her child while she’s gone?
But the vision is interrupted as she realizes she doesn’t even have a crib. Should she ask her parents? Could she expect them to pay for a nursery? Panic sets in and as she sits quickly up, a small sharp cramp takes over her lower belly. She winces.
“I don’t know what to do. What am I going to do?”
And then the crying starts…again.
After Further Examination
She has explored all avenues of parenting. Finally biting the bullet, she talked to her parents about how much or how little they would be willing and able to help her. The local Crisis Pregnancy Center helped her equip herself with more information. She researched local grants and available financial aid for young single mothers. After a conversation with the birth father’s family she found out whether or not they would be willing to help. She’s looked into homeschooling and available schools for pregnant and young mothers. In addition to all these efforts, she has also used online information and support groups. She eventually finds herself feeling secure in knowing that she has examined all areas and issues of parenting.
Then she makes her first contact with a local adoption agency. This is when she begins examining the adoption option. But she has not yet decided to relinquish.
Facts about the Adoption Option
Counseling through the Adoption Agency
An expectant mother is assigned a counselor through the agency.
Agencies use their own counselors. Commonly, the counselors are themselves associated with adoption, as adoptive mothers or in less common cases, as birth mothers. These counseling sessions are used for two reasons:
- The counselor will have the ability to report back to the agency on whether or not you are likely to relinquish.
- To help you talk through your decision.
Keep in mind that these counselors are paid employees of the adoption agency and therefore have the agency’s best interest in mind. The best way to avoid this is to request a counselor not affiliated with the agency.
The costs incurred by doing this will be equal to or less than what the agency will charge the adoptive parents, so do not feel obligated to use anyone the agency refers you to. It is often in the adoptive parent’s contract that they will pay all adoption-related expenses and this is definitely a must.
Finding an Adoption Counselor
Several well-known adoption agencies have highly trained and qualified counselors who do an excellent job and do not counsel with bias. But you must find this out for yourself. Here are some questions you can ask when interviewing potential counselors:
- Are you associated with adoption personally?
- What is the overall goal of our sessions together?
- Are you required to report any part or all of what I might say in our sessions to my caseworker or anyone else at the agency?
- If, after several sessions, you would not recommend that I choose the adoption option, would you honestly talk to me about that? Would I get the same amount of support and help if I chose to look into parenting?
- After getting to know me, would you evaluate what type of couple and adoption plan would be best for me? And how would you come to that conclusion?
- If I do choose adoption, will our sessions continue, end, or will someone else counsel me?
- How long and how often do we meet?
An expectant mother may not think she needs counseling.
Often, in crisis, we tend to go into shock mode. This is a numbing travesty. We either want the pain to just simply be over, or we do not have the ability to associate ourselves with it at all.
Do not end up saying a year from now, “I never had any counseling…and maybe things would be different if I had.”
A clear-cut case of the truth can be displayed by this example: A young child experiences a traumatic event.
When asked about the event, the child will normally respond, “Nothing really happened, it’s no big deal.”Or, “I’m fine, really.” When you are in the middle of a crisis, you don’t always have the ability to evaluate the reality of what it may emotionally and physically cause you in the future.
Ten years later, the child could be grown and saying, “I wish I had told someone about that. Maybe I could have gotten help. I was scared I guess; I just had no idea the effects would be like this.”
So whether you think you need it or not, get counseling.
Examining Potential Adoptive Parent Portfolios
Expectant mothers choose from portfolios of wonderful waiting parents.
It will literally take you hours to sort through them all, and, in the end, they will all sound very much the same. You will find your head spinning with all the amazing couples who have so much to offer. You will experience a great deal of guilt and pressure. Guilt comes from not having what the prospective parents have to offer your child. Pressure comes from all the faces and stories of infertile couples.
You will have to separate these two emotions from the task at hand. First, many great parents do not make $100,000 a year or own boats and houses. Your child’s happiness is not guaranteed based on material goods.
Second, it is not your fault that the wonderful couples you’ve read about cannot have children.
Third, do not look at this as if you are “making a child-less couple very happy.” Your relinquishing into adoption is not about “righting” any “wrong” you may feel you’ve done. Do not do this to “save face” in the eyes of your family and friends. This isn’t about redemption. This is about what is best for you and your baby.
Meeting Potential Adoptive Parents
Expectant mothers will decide to meet with a couple.
However nervous you are, multiply that by about ten thousand and that’s how nervous potential adoptive parents will be. First impressions are critical. You have chosen to meet with a couple, but the final decision is still pending. Remember that, and be prepared. It is easy to get lost in how kind and sweet they are and forget that you really need to know them better before choosing.
No matter what they say, do not accept, “We want what you want, so whatever it is we will make it work.” Get specific. Don’t offer your needs and wants first. Rather, ask them about their hopes and ideas for how they want their adoption to be. This way their response is honest and not manipulated by what they think you want to hear. Set up several meetings before choosing.
The potential adoptive parents will be great.
Of course they will be! It’s tough getting as far as they have, but they’ve done it and met all the criteria for meeting you. They have spent hours and hours in meetings, had their home inspected, and been counseled as well.
You may feel as if you are becoming an extended part of their family! Perhaps you’ll go to dinner with them, talk endlessly on the phone, write emails back and forth, go shopping together, you name it! You will hopefully become very good friends during the remainder of pregnancy. But remember ,they will soon grow their family; they will become the parents of your child if you decide to go through with the adoption.
Then, their lives will separate from you, legally and emotionally. They will go through sleepless nights, baby showers, and the beginning of parenthood. You will go through grief, loss, and the pain of separation. What was once a common goal between you—pursuing the well-being of your child—will become separate journeys. Although you may maintain a relationship with them (whether it be an open, semi-open, or closed adoption), it will be dramatically different.
Many new birth mothers in open adoptions have said, “Before the adoption, we talked on the phone almost every day– now I’m lucky if I get to talk to them once a month.” You may feel betrayed, hurt, and forgotten unless you are prepared for the next stage of your relationship with the adoptive parents and your biological child.
Choosing the Type of Adoption
Expectant mothers can choose between closed, semi-open, and open adoption.
Since closed adoptions are quickly going out the door (thank goodness), the most common type of adoptions are semi-open and open. This is where it gets confusing. I can’t count the times I’ve heard, “I have an open adoption, but the agency prefers that we send all our correspondence through them.” And I can’t count how many times I’ve replied, “Oh, but you do know all identifying information right?” And the reply, “Well…no, I just go through the agency.”
No identifying information is released from either party to the other party under any terms (unless there is a “death or illness” clause). You will correspond using the agency as a mediator. Any letters, pictures, needs, and concerns will be directed to a caseworker.
If a letter it is agreed-upon material (meaning your letters are opened, read, and all names or inappropriate content will be blacked out), it will be copied so that the agency has a record of it. Then it will be placed into a separate envelope and mailed.
Should you become concerned because the agreed-upon pictures and/or letters have not arrived, you will speak with a caseworker who will check your files to ensure it has not been received. Then the caseworker will evaluate the amount of time you have waited and if action is necessary. Caseworkers decide to contact or not contact the adoptive parents.
Any concerns or needs that you might have will be addressed by your caseworker. In semi-open adoptions, it is recommended that you have total and complete trust in your agency (not necessarily just your caseworker). Consider whether or not they will be able to voice your needs and concerns as if you were speaking with the adoptive couple yourself.
Remember, in semi-open adoptions, you will not know where your child lives, nor will you have any means to get in contact with the child or his or her family. If the semi-open adoption closes by request of the adoptive couple, you will receive this news from your agency and you will not be able to challenge the adoptive parents’ decision.
You will exchange identifying information including, but not limited to, telephone numbers, email addresses, and physical addresses. Any plans or agreements made must be upheld mutually and only in the case of miscommunication or upset will the agency become involved.
You will be able to send pictures, letters, and other communication directly to one another. You may arrange meetings with each other and even extended family. However, this will be completely up to both of you.
You will not have a mediator and your adoption plan will be contingent upon only you and the adoptive parents. Should any unforeseen problem arise, and either you or the adoptive parents choose to discontinue the open relationship, the agency will be called in to then act as a mediator. All parties will be required to comply with semi-open adoption standards. Again, just as in semi-open adoptions, no verbal agreements are legally upheld in a court of law.
When the birth mother has signed the paperwork and the child has been relinquished, she still has up to eight weeks to change her mind (in most states).
Many mothers experience the worst battles of choice during this time. They have committed to signing the papers and the baby is physically with the adoptive family, but the window of opportunity is still open.
Mothers who don’t have time with their babies (i.e. in the hospital before the child is placed) will likely suffer the worst battle of all. They will feel as if they didn’t get the appropriate time to say “goodbye”, or they will wonder if they should have spent more time with the baby. They will question their decision and often regret that it went by so quickly.
Sometimes mothers panic in the last days before the adoption is made final by a court of law, and they change their minds. This is devastating, not only to the adoptive family who has already begun to bond with the baby but also to the baby itself and the extended family members of both sides.
In many cases, the baby is ultimately adopted into the adoptive family once the mother feels that she spent time with her child and was able to make a more secure choice. But this can be easily avoided by allowing the mother to spend enough time with her baby before signing adoption papers.
Time to Bond First
Before the paperwork is put into motion, remember that you have every right to bond with your baby. You can place the baby into what is now called “cradle care.” It is a home consisting of volunteer “foster” parents who care for your baby. Usually, the agency has several of these homes lined up for such a situation. Cradle care is not like a foster home in that your baby will be placed into an adoptive home as soon as one becomes available. The adoptive parents you’ve chosen continue to wait while you take the time you need with your baby. Only when you choose to relinquish will the baby then be given to the adoptive parents.
Or you can take your baby home for a while. Once you have your baby for a while, you may feel better about your decision to relinquish, or you may realize that parenting is really the choice for you. Doing this ensures that no one is hurt in your decision-making process. You will be able to surrender your child in full faith that it is the best decision and proceed in an adoption plan with peace of mind. Or you will be able to parent knowing that you considered all options.
Do not feel rushed. One of the top regrets that birth mothers experience is not walking out of the hospital with their babies. They have what is known as “empty arms syndrome”. Just because you have given birth does not mean that you must immediately make your choice before leaving the maternity ward.
The adoption is final and the expectant mother is satisfied that adoption was the best choice for her.
Even the best surgeons in the world cannot ensure painless recoveries. Just like any flesh wound may seem like it will never heal, you may be afraid, anxious, and extremely concerned that the emotional wounds you suffer may never heal. You will attempt to ignore the pain by repetitively telling yourself that you made the right choice, your baby is happy, and the adoptive parents you chose are the best.
While all three of these mantras are most likely true, knowing them and telling them to yourself will not defeat the heartache within you. You have a long road of recovery ahead of you. Where the agency was there waiting on you hand and foot, they are now busy with new caseloads and suggest you find a support group. Where you once lay in bed, caressing your stomach and talking things over with your unborn baby, you will find that you have extra time on your hands.
What You Don’t Want to Wish You’d Known:
Know these things before you go through with an adoption.
- You can meet with more than one prospective couple.
- Don’t feel like you have to make your decision immediately.
- You can spend time with your baby before you decided.
- Semi-open and open adoption is not legally upheld in a court of law.
- You have a right to non-agency affiliated counseling. Get off-site counseling and don’t stop going for at least two years.
- Your relationship with the adoptive parents can change dramatically once the adoption is final. Examine your relationship with the adoptive couple and communicate about what your expectations are after the adoption is final. Don’t leave room for guessing, and don’t say, “We’ll just play it by ear.”
- There are agencies, schools, and support centers specifically for teen mothers.
- Don’t be afraid to talk to your parents. They may surprises you by how much they want to help if you ask them to.
- People will say positive and negative things about your decision to place your child for adoption. Prepare yourself. Start communicating with birth moms. Get into support groups. Journal, write, and educate yourself.
- It will be hard. Don’t be naïve in thinking that this will be easy just because it’s the right thing or because the adoptive parents are so great.
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.