How Do I Tell My Child That His Birth Mom Doesn’t Want Contact Right Now?

It takes time and persistence to help a child understand the nuances of love and grief.

Kenna Shumway November 08, 2015
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Ever since my son, Harley, was placed at 14 months old, we’ve been lucky enough to have a very open adoption with his birth parents. For us, open adoption has included visits, Skype calls, phone calls, and texts with photos and videos. We’ve also been blessed to have relationships with his birth parents’ families. It’s been incredible to enjoy a close relationships with Harley’s birth parents and families.

In the first couple years after his placement, Harley’s birth father wasn’t super involved. We still kept him updated with Harley’s life, but he wasn’t one to initiate contact. We didn’t press him, knowing he didn’t have a phone or employment, and that he could be dealing with some of the emotions that come with being a birth parent. In the past year or two, however, he’s become more involved. This has been a welcome situation, and we are continuing to build this relationship.

Harley’s birth mom, Sadie, has been very involved in his life from day one. She was living in Texas during the time of placement, and we were in Utah. We kept Sadie in the loop with many photos, videos, and calls. About three or four months after placement, Sadie gained employment in Utah and moved close to our home. This allowed us to visit with her more often, and invite her along with us on outings with Harley. She is not only my son’s birth mom, but she’s my friend. I feel like I not only gained a son, but a sister and loyal friend in Sadie.

Contact with Sadie remained consistent. We let her be in control of how much contact she wanted. As with Harley’s birth father, we knew that there was adoption trauma and wanted to be sensitive to that. A year and a half after placement, my husband was accepted to pharmacy school at Northeast Ohio Medical University. This meant we would be moving almost 1,800 miles away to Rootstown, Ohio, for at least four years while Josh completed the pharmacy program. It was a hard move, but we made plans to be as open as we could, even though we wouldn’t be physically close to Sadie. As always, lots of photos and videos were shared, along with Skype calls, which happened more frequently.

However, over the past two years, contact with Sadie has decreased quite rapidly. Skype calls have been few and far between, and she doesn’t initiate contact like she used to. Aside from holidays, we don’t talk. I asked Sadie if photos and videos were too hard for her and if she needed us to back off a bit. She said she still loved seeing photos, and would still like to receive them. She also expressed that calls were very hard. That she experienced emotional crashes after seeing and talking to Harley. Sadie is trying to find balance with being a birth mom and other things in her life, which is completely understandable. We visited Utah this past summer and had a play date, but that was it for visits.

Harley recently turned 6 years old, and doesn’t understand why it would be hard for Sadie to see him and talk to him. That there are deep emotions involved with adoption and being a birth parent. This doesn’t mean Sadie doesn’t love Harley. We are lucky to have many photos and videos of Harley and Sadie, which we look through often. Harley also has photos of himself with Sadie in his room, and we always reinforce that Sadie loves him very much.

It was hard initially to explain why Sadie didn’t want as much or any contact. We found that he most important thing we can do—and we do it often to help explain the situation—is talk about how there are many ways to show our love for someone. Saying, “I love you” in person or via phone calls or Skype is only one way to show our love. We talk about Harley’s placement and how that showed how much love Sadie loves him. Since Harley was placed at 14 months, we have photos and videos that documented those months. They show how Sadie took care of him and that shows she loves him. Harley was a preemie, born at 26 weeks gestation. He was in the hospital for months and Sadie was by his side every moment. We are so glad that Sadie, along with Harley’s birth father and their birth families, not only documented his life, but shared that with us to have for Harley.

I think there will be times where Harley is confused about adoption and why Sadie does or doesn’t want contact. As his parents, we will continue to teach the many ways we can show our love for others. Sadie has been working on writing down the experiences she had as a mother to Harley for those 14 months, as well as her feelings about placement and open adoption. In my heart, I know this will be of great importance as Harley grows. We know regardless of the amount of contact, Sadie will be there to answer the hard questions Harley might have. That Harley can show his love for Sadie in many ways, just like Sadie can show love to Harley in many ways. It’s not always easy, but with patience, trial and error, and love, these relationships can be navigated regardless of the amount of contact we have.

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Kenna Shumway

Wife. Adoptive mom. Writer. Photographer. Endometriosis survivor, infertility warrior & adoption advocate. Rock star on weekends. Currently calls Ohio home with her pharmacist husband and their ginger son. Read more from her on her blog.


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