In the world of adoption, an update is when a child’s birth parent(s) are provided information about the child by an adoptive family. Typically, birth and adoptive parents agree on when and how to send updates to birth parents very early in the adoption process. Some families choose to send updates through their agency or attorney, and some choose to send them directly to their child’s birth parent(s). Some agencies provide portals where uploaded pictures, letters, etc. can not be traced to a specific location. Some families create an email specifically for this purpose, and others have a Facebook account where updates are posted and only viewed by their child’s birth parents. There are many options through which updates can be provided and many reasons for choosing specific ones.
After walking side by side with our daughter’s birth momma in what may be one of the most open adoptions ever, we got a first-hand view of some of the fears and worries of birth parents. Through some of the conversations we shared, I learned a lot about what a birth mother may feel if she didn’t have the open line of communication that we are so lucky to have.
What Should I Include?
Common fears birth parents feel typically fall into one of three categories: “I never want my child to feel abandoned;” “I never want them to think I didn’t love them;” and “I want to know they are safe, happy, and healthy.”
As a result, I think that the most important things to include in updates for birth parents are things that alleviate those fears. How am I showing our daughter that there was never a single moment that she was not loved, and never alone? Doing this is difficult because it goes well beyond “She’s 5 years old, learned to read this year, and loves Princess Anna.” It involves messy feelings and vulnerability on your part, but it can be such an important gift to birth parents who don’t get a front-row seat to see the happy, healthy, amazing kid that you, as the adoptive parent, get to see on a daily basis.
The easiest of these categories of concern to alleviate is: “I want to know they are safe, happy, and healthy.” Providing pictures is an amazing way to do this; they didn’t lie when they said, “a picture is worth 1000 words.” We try to provide a mix of pictures sharing both everyday things like bubble baths and playground visits, as well as those special days like the first day of school and holidays. Sending video clips is also a fun way to share sweet things you will not get in a regular picture like your child’s voice and little personality quirks. This can be done even if your relationship is not one that allows for synchronous conversation. Favorite activities, favorite movies, favorite foods, and favorite colors are fun updates that give your child’s birth parent(s) a glimpse into who your child is and how they change over time.
The other two categories reassure your child’s birth parents of your commitment to reinforce the narrative that your child never experiences abandonment or a lack of love. If you are able, sharing pictures with your child of their birth parents and letting the birth parents know that you have done this is a way to share this commitment. If your child says something sweet or funny about these pictures, include this in your update.
There are situations where sharing information can be unsafe; in these situations, I absolutely understand and agree that your child’s safety is the most important thing. Providing information that jeopardizes their safety is absolutely not a good plan. However, if this is not an overriding concern for your particular situation, I recommend providing pictures, stories, and updates necessary to reassure your child’s birth parents that your child is safe, healthy, and happy and that you are committed to always sharing with your child their true birth story–the one that likely started with a momma who did all she could at the time to make sure that your child was indeed safe, healthy, and happy.
How Often Should I Provide Updates?
As with most things in life, the type and frequency of updates may change as time goes on. Your child changes a tremendous amount as a baby both physically and developmentally. More frequent updates may be desired and appropriate. If you are able, asking your child’s birth parents how often they like to get updates would be a great way to gauge what they are hoping for. There’s a fine line between making someone feel forgotten and sending messages too frequently. The best way to find this balance is to ask.
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As your child gets older, I also think it’s fully appropriate to ask them what they want to share with their birth parents. (This can be as simple as, “Do you want to send that picture?” or “Do you want to tell them about your first job?”) Ultimately, it’s their story to tell, and as they get older, I think they have a right to be in control of that narrative.
If you find yourself in a situation where your child’s birth parent has opted not to have any updates, and your agency doesn’t require it, I love the idea of still creating these updates (quarterly for the first year, and then yearly) and saving them in a special box, book, or online drive. Your child may eventually reunite with their birth parents–maybe that isn’t until years down the road. I love the idea of being able to share the moments they may have missed over the years when updates weren’t able to be provided.
No perfect answer exists for exactly what you should include in updates to your child’s birth parents, but I hope that you will see it as an opportunity to share something beautiful instead of an arduous task you must complete because of an agreement you signed.