When a woman making an adoption plan matches with a couple hoping to adopt, there are many emotions involved–excitement, fear, anticipation, and dare I say a little awkwardness? Navigating the time between matching and placement day can be a little tricky. It’s difficult when there are so many conflicting feelings going on. Trying to build a relationship with the other set of parents on top of that can get overwhelming very quickly. The time between matching and placement can be compared to courtship before marriage–you are about to make a lifelong commitment, after all. Here are some common questions I run across while working with both hopeful adoptive and expectant parents, and some tips to help get you started.
Guide To Building Relationships Between Expectant And Hopeful Adoptive Parents
Any relationship needs compassion, communication, and love.
It’s hard to know how much communication is appropriate. Every situation is unique, but there are some common threads. Hopeful adoptives often don’t want to seem like they are hovering, but they also want to know what’s going on. Sometimes that gets overwhelming for expectant parents. On the other hand, it’s unfair for expectant parents to always be the ones initiating conversation. Finding a happy medium is essential for the mental health of everyone involved.
The solution? Communicate, communicate, communicate. It’s okay for a hopeful adoptive parent to say, whether over text, phone, or in person, “Hey, I just wanted to check in on you and see how you and baby were doing. Please let me know if I am overwhelming you and you need some space.” They may or they may not answer, but they will always be glad you asked.
The first few meetings feel a lot like an awkward first date--what kinds of questions are too personal? How much should I disclose about myself? Don’t forget the awkward small talk.
If you have the opportunity to meet in person, don’t always just meet at a restaurant and stare at each other across the table. Plan a fun bonding activity! Some ideas include making something for baby, going to a carnival or street fair, getting mani/pedis together, etc. This will help you get to know each other’s interests better, as well as avoid a lot of awkward pauses.
Both parties will likely have lots of questions for each other. Go ahead and ask, as long as it’s clear that no one has to answer a question they are uncomfortable with. Not all discussion has to be about the baby--oftentimes making an effort to know each other on a personal level will blossom into a friendship to last a lifetime.
Yours? Mine? Ours? Eventually, the answer will be yes to all three. It’s tricky to talk about the baby, especially if you don’t have a name yet. But right now, the expectant parents have not yet terminated their rights, so the baby is theirs. While I was pregnant, and up until the very moment I placed my child with her, baby R’s adoptive mama referred to me as mom. Because until that beautiful, heartbreaking moment, I was the mother. I will forever respect and be grateful for that. After placement, I have always referred to baby R’s adoptive mom as mom, because that’s what she is. I’m called her birth mom, because that’s what I am. The pronouns might seem insignificant, but they reflect a lot more than just words. In the end, however, it’s not about who the child belongs to--it’s about who belongs to the child.
Some of the conversations that need to happen pre-placement will make you nervous. But in order for a healthy, ethical adoption they have to happen. Some must have discussions include:
A birth plan: Will the hopeful adoptive parents be in the room during birth? Will they visit while mom and baby are in the hospital? After TPR, when will baby be physically placed into the adoptive parent’s arms? Remember, birth mom calls the shots here. Until she terminates her parental rights, this baby belongs to her. It’s all about what she needs and is comfortable with.
Religion/politics/medical decisions: Birth and adoptive parents are in no way required to have the same beliefs, but in my experience, sharing roughly the same core values can make the relationship a whole lot simpler. It’s important for the expectant mother to have a general picture of the ideals her child will be raised with. For example, it was important to me for my baby to be raised in a family who shared in my religious beliefs. If we had not discussed our values beforehand and they had been different, I might have felt a little mislead.
Naming the baby: Sometimes a name for baby has a lot of significance to one party or the other. Sometimes it’s just a matter of preference. It’s important for everyone to be polite and respectful in this regard, and hear each other out. Ultimately the adoptive parents are the ones who choose the name that goes on the birth certificate.
This is by far the most important conversation you will have before placement. Both sides need to have a very clear understanding of what the other party expects. It is fairly common for there to be a lot of communication before birth, and less afterwards. This is to be expected because adoptive parents are busy with a new baby, but birth mom deserves to know that. Create a rough visitation schedule. Adoptive parents--it is vital that you only promise the bare minimum of what you think you can do 1, 5, 10, and 15 years down the road. There will be some times you will be able to do more, and that’s great. But the most strain I see in adoption relationships is that birth parents feel mislead about the level of openness after adoption. It is so important to be honest with this.
Comments? Questions about anything not addressed in this article? Comment below and let me know!
Annaleece Merrill is a birth mother to the cutest little girl on earth. She loves being an advocate for open adoption by writing, mentoring, and speaking at adoption panels. She attends Utah State University in Logan, Utah.
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