Receiving the news that you have “matched” with an expectant mother is an exciting time for prospective adoptive parents! Finally, the child that you have hoped for that once seemed like an abstract concept feels much more real. Now, you can begin in earnest to prepare yourself for your new arrival, but there are some things you should keep in mind as you move forward in this new relationship with this expectant mother. Not only are there ethical and legal considerations to your interactions, but there is also the importance of laying a strong foundation for a relationship that might last for the rest of your life. Here are a few things to keep in mind to make sure you are behaving ethically and appropriately once you are matched.
1) Remember that this is not your baby. Not yet, at least. At the very least, you should be careful in your choice of language. She is an expectant mother, not a birth mother. She is also not, and never will be, “your” birth mother. She is your child’s birth mother if and when she decides to place. Until TPR (termination of parental rights) is signed after she gives birth, this woman you are matched with is the mother of her unborn child, and therefore is entitled to all the decisions an expectant mother would need to make regardless of whether they are what you “might” do. Let your adoption agency do the heavy lifting when it comes to talking to her about doctor’s appointments, her birth plan, or any other details concerning her health and the health of the baby. Understand that this woman may be living in very different circumstances than you and might not have access to the kind of healthcare you would have, or the resources you would have.
2) Along those same lines, respect the expectant mother’s privacy. You do not need to share any of her personal details with anyone, not even close family, unless she gives you the okay to do so. Some expectant mothers want to be very involved with the adoptive family prior to the birth, and some would rather have limited contact. Again, follow the lead of your agency or attorney in terms of what you should share with friends and family, particularly on social media. If this woman does give birth to and places her child with you, would you want her to find out you told the intimate details of her life and reasons for placing to everyone in a ten-mile radius? Allow her story to be her story. Again: it’s not your baby yet, so it isn’t part of your story yet.
3) Make sure you have clear guidelines from your attorney or agency in terms of what you are and aren’t allowed to “gift” the expectant mother. Some states have very strict rules about the monetary value of what can be exchanged before the birth. Ask your attorney or agency for assistance with ideas of small gifts you could send her, if allowed, to let her know you are thinking of her. Also, in the event she approaches you personally in need of financial assistance, you MUST refer her back to your adoption professional. If you were to give her any financial assistance directly and not through your adoption professional, it could jeopardize the legality of your adoption.
4) Make sure all your focus isn’t on the baby. Don’t just ask her how the baby is or talk about your plans for the baby. Ask her about how she’s doing. Pregnancy is difficult in and of itself; pregnancy, where you are considering placing, is incredibly difficult. Get to know her as a person and build a relationship with her based on your interactions with each other rather than just your potential future interactions with this child. Along the same line, understand that she may decide to parent this child and that it is not your job to convince her to place. Anything that could be construed as coercive would jeopardize the legality of your adoption. Let her work through her emotions regarding placing on her own terms and ideally with the support of a social worker or counselor at the agency. Focus on connecting as people. There have to be reasons why she chose your profile—find out what they are! You may have more in common than you think, and any information you can gather will be so valuable to your child if she places with you.
5) Now is the time to set expectations and boundaries. Do not promise anything during this match period that you know you can’t follow through on. It can be tempting to say yes to any of an expectant mother’s wishes in order to try to make the placement happen, but if you know, for example, that four visits a year isn’t possible or that you don’t have the time to send weekly picture updates for the next 18 years, you need to be honest about that. It might mean she reevaluates her idea of what an open adoption looks like, and it might mean she elects to choose another family instead or not to place. In that event, know that this simply wasn’t your child and that your child is out there. If a match doesn’t feel right or there are any details about it that are outside of what you are comfortable with and are nonnegotiable, please do the right thing and let all parties involved know that sooner rather than later.
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