3 Factors to Consider for a Successful Match
Mystery Date was a popular board game released in 1965. The object of the game was to find a desirable date and avoid the bum. Players had to put together an outfit with color-coded cards that needed to match the outfit of the date behind the mystery door on the game board. While finding a match with an expectant mother isn’t a game, the Mystery Date board game does provide some guidance. It teaches that truly matching is key for an adoptive pairing to be a success. Matching in the adoption context is not about coordinating outfits like the goal in the board game. At the outset, prospective adoptive parents have no idea which birth mother will be behind what door. However, they need to be in sync with her about certain key issues for a match to work in the long run.
Every adoption situation is different because each involves unique human beings who have their priorities, values, desires, and goals. If those priorities, values, desires, and goals conflict, then trouble lies ahead. While many factors bear on whether a match can—or more importantly—should be made, a handful of them are crucial to the success of the adoption journey. Three of these factors are particularly important.
Pregnancy and Birth Plan
A bad day proverbially starts with one getting up on the wrong side of the bed. When an infant is to be placed for adoption, expectations as to what will happen—or sometimes not happen—during the pregnancy and for the baby’s birth should be established. The adoptive placement itself may not occur until after a baby is born, but how the pregnancy and birth are handled set the tone for the adoption journey. If that journey gets off to a rough start, then a successful match is less likely.
The health of the expectant mother and the baby are of paramount concern to the prospective adoptive parent(s). The expectant mother is the one physically carrying the baby. It is her body and her child, so she is the one making the decisions regarding what she does or does not do during the pregnancy. While a prospective adoptive parent may prefer that the expectant mother not smoke, drink, or use illegal drugs while she is pregnant or desires that she see a doctor regularly for prenatal care, those choices are her call.
Having a clear understanding of what the expectant mother’s lifestyle is like and what adjustments she intends to make to it during the pregnancy is crucial for the success of a match. If the expectant mother and the child’s future family do not see eye to eye, tension may result in the relationship; the expectant mother may even rethink her choice of placement or adoptive home.
This dynamic extends to what occurs in the hospital when a baby is born. The expectant mother is the one physically experiencing the birth, and her physical and emotional needs and desires must be respected. Giving birth is a very personal experience, and the expectant mother might request her privacy. She may desire that a familiar support person such as a relative, friend, or even the expectant father be with her in the delivery room. An intended adoptive parent pushing or requesting the expectant mother to do something different is likely to result in resentment and her concluding that the adoptive parent only wants the baby and does not care about her well being. Whatever rapport has been built between them may sour and taint the possibility of a good relationship in the future. If an intended adoptive parent has his or her heart set on being in the delivery room but that desire is at odds with the expectant mother’s wishes, the match is not a good one.
Another area of possible disagreement is contact with the baby following birth. A prospective adoptive parent usually wants to zoom to the hospital at the earliest possible moment and be with the baby; however, the expectant mother may wish to have time alone with her child to achieve closure. If her hospital plan is too stressful for the intended adoptive parents, who are concerned that she might change her mind about the placement if she spends time with the baby, then perhaps they should rethink their decision to move forward with the match.
Post-placement Contact with the Birth Mother
Adoption is a permanent situation that extends years beyond the physical placement of a child in an adoptive home. Will the expectant mother and the adoptive parents have contact post-placement? If so, what will that contact look like and how often will it occur? To avoid future conflict, a match should not be pursued if the adoptive parents and the expectant mother are not on the same page about future interaction.
Some expectant mothers may express a preference for no contact whatsoever. This stance could mystify a prospective adoptive parent who feels continued communication would be beneficial. What is key to understand is that “beneficial” is in the eyes of the beholder and is a matter of perspective. For an expectant mother who conceived as the result of rape or who was involved in an abusive relationship with the expectant father, closing the door on the adoption and not looking back could be what she believes is best for her. The prospective adoptive parents must be willing to accept her stance from the outset. If they are not comfortable with this position or want something else, then the match should not go forward.
The available post-placement contact covers a wide spectrum. At one extreme is an expectant mother who wants no contact whatsoever. This situation is known as a closed adoption. The other extreme is an expectant mother who desires direct communication and interaction with the adoptive parents. This situation is called open adoption. An intermediate option is a semi-open adoption. In those cases, pictures, updates, and information are conveyed through a third party, usually the adoption agency or the adoption attorney.
Determining which of these scenarios the adoptive parents and the expectant mother can mutually agree upon is merely the first step. Additional issues must be addressed once the initial determination is made, whether it is a closed, semi-open, or open adoption that is chosen. Failing to address those issues is a slippery slope that could lead to discord between the parties later.
Although a closed adoption seems straightforward, other questions can arise. What if the birth mother has a change of heart at a future point and then desires contact which she did not initially request? Will that development be considered? Is there no chance for the birth mother to revise her position? If a request is made for contact or information not initially contemplated, how will it be handled and by whom? The birth mother may not wish to receive information or pictures, but what if she wants someone else to receive these things such as her mother? Are the adoptive parents agreeable to provide these items to that individual?
A semi-open adoption can raise questions beyond the fact that pictures and updates will be provided. How often should periodic pictures be provided? A set schedule upfront such as sending pictures and updates quarterly avoids issues and delays later. Who will provide those pictures and the information? Will it come through the adoption agency or attorney? Via some third party? How will the contact be handled? Does the birth mother prefer receipt of information via a phone call, e-mail, regular mail, or text? If regular mail is involved, is the communication confidential? Should the envelope addressed to her omit any reference to adoption? If privacy is a concern, the birth mother may wish to receive a letter with a plain envelope devoid of an attorney’s or agency’s name on it. According to a 2012 article in the Washington Times, “an estimated 95 percent of U.S. infant adoptions now have some level of openness between birth parents and adoptive parents.” But even open adoptions pose issues that must be addressed. It may be agreed that the birth mother can contact the adoptive parent(s) directly, but what boundaries will be in place? How often is this contact expected—daily, weekly, or monthly? What one person considers regular contact may not be someone else’s expectation. If in-person contact is allowed, where and how will that occur? Can the birth mother simply show up unannounced at the adoptive parents’ home? If advance notice is required, how much notice is needed? Will meetings be limited to a public place? Can individuals other than the birth mother, such as her mother or other children, participate in these meetings? Are holidays a permissible time for getting together?
Child-rearing Wishes of the Birth Mother
An expectant mother is placing her child for adoption because she is not in a position to parent for whatever financial, physical, relational, or other such reason. She desires to find the perfect nest where her child will thrive. In her mind, she may have specific expectations as to how that nest is constructed and how it will be run. These expectations need to be disclosed to and agreed upon by the adoptive parents.
Religion is always a delicate topic. Some individuals have strong feelings about it and, consequently, expectant mothers may set a requirement for what the adoptive parents will or will not do along these lines. Certainly, parents are free to raise their children with whatever religious training they deem appropriate. That freedom is, of course, constrained if the parents receive placement of their child with an understanding of what is required and have made an agreement that a specific course will be followed.
In one case, an expectant mother asked me to find a couple who was Catholic and who would send the child placed with them to a Catholic school. The couples I contacted to consider the match were all Catholic, but each couple was specifically advised that they would need to expressly agree to a religious school upbringing for their child. Those who could not commit to this education plan were not submitted to the expectant mother for consideration. Why? Because this constraint had been placed from the beginning. It is only right to keep one’s word; if a couple cannot make such a commitment, they need to pass on the match. An adoptive couple not keeping their word to the birth mother on this point compounds the pain and grief she experiences by the mere fact of the placement.
Honesty with the birth mother is the best policy. One couple with whom I worked passed on placement for this very reason. The expectant mother had requested the adoptive couple be members of a specified Christian denomination. When I contacted this couple on a potential pairing, they advised me that while they had attended a church of that denomination for some time, they had recently changed churches; they were now members of a church in another denomination and intended to continue attendance there. The wife tearfully explained that while they wanted nothing more than to receive a baby to raise, it was not worth them being dishonest to do so. Therefore, they passed on this match opportunity.
How discipline is to be handled is also a concern for some expectant mothers. Another expectant mother who worked with our office requested that each couple she considered be asked to write a paragraph outlining their thoughts and plans for disciplining the child. In particular, she wanted to know if spankings were a contemplated disciplinary method.
But how is the birth mother to know what occurs post-placement if the placement does not involve direct contact? She might not know immediately, but sooner or later the truth is bound to come out. With adoption reunion registries in existence and adoptees’ desires to locate a biological parent common, the likelihood is high that the adoptee may at some point be in touch with the birth mother. She may then learn if her wishes about child-rearing expressed pre-placement to the adoptive parents were respected. If they were not, there may be trouble and the adoptee may be caught up in it.
A Mystery Date board game player seeks to have an outfit for an activity that will match what the date behind the door is wearing. If they are both dressed for a picnic, then a harmonious match has been made; but if one is dressed for a picnic and the other is dressed for prom, an understanding cannot be reached. Similarly, prospective adoptive parents and the expectant mother with whom they are matched need to be on the same page as to which adoption activity they will engage in and how. Agreeing on what the pregnancy and birth plans will be, what post-placement contact will occur, and how the adoptee will be raised in his or her forever home are key to a successful match. An agreement may not necessarily lead to a dream match, but it will certainly improve the chances of avoiding a bad situation.