Over the last several months I’ve surveyed thirty-five birth mothers and asked them to share their post-adoption reflections on how they currently feel about the choice of parents and adoption agreements they’d made for their birth children and themselves.
The task of choosing a couple for your birth child and sorting through an open agreement process is difficult, and all of these birth mothers have been there.
Here they share their thoughts, post-placement, in order to help you examine your choosing process.
After relinquishment, the majority of the birth mothers wish that they had focused more on exploring their placing families’ adoption beliefs.
The majority of the 35 birth mothers agree that as they went through their choosing process, every couple they spoke with had basically the same thing to say in regards to how they felt about adoption. These birth mothers, who knew they wanted openness or semi-openness, only looked at and considered adopting couples that claimed they wanted openness as well.
Sarah, 22, a birth mother for five years says, “It never crossed my mind to ask more details about how they felt about openness. They had said to me, ‘We defiantly want openness if that’s what you want,’ and so I didn’t think twice. Two years into our relationship post-placement I was faced with a major let-down. When I wasn’t getting the visits, pictures, and letters we agreed to and tried to talk to them, the caseworker came back and told me that the adoptive parents hadn’t realized I’d wanted so much and weren’t sure they could continue at the level of openness I wanted. It’s been devastating.”
Sarah’s Advice: “Just because they say they’ll do whatever you want, and even if they tell you that they think open adoption is great … ASK a ton of questions. I think the couple I chose really believed that they could do an open adoption and even wanted to– but when they became parents they realized what was required and just couldn’t follow through. My advice is to talk to your caseworker about how much the adoptive parents really know about openness and if they’re aware of how hard it will be for them. Just like being a birth mother is harder than I ever expected, so is I am sure, being an adoptive parent in an open adoption.”
The most common advice given by the surveyed birth mothers:
Make sure the adoptive couple you’ve chosen is willing to remain in or be open to future counseling through the agency. Open relationships are hard work and not always easy, but if all parties are willing to accept help and support and guidance as they sort through the ups and downs, it will be much easier long-term.
Attend post-relinquishment support groups before the finalization or birth of your child WITH the adoptive couple. This will give all of you a clear idea of the issues you may face in the future as well as give all of you the opportunity to ask questions and prepare yourselves. The more you know beforehand, the better prepared you’ll be when things come up.
Know what FULLY OPEN and SEMI-OPEN is. There is a difference.
Carrie, 20, birth mother for one year writes, “Of all the things that were important, the most important now to me is the way my adoption is going. Being involved is what’s important– it’s how I survive. Knowing my daughter is happy and loved and that I get to be involved outweighs the money and everything else that was important. Without openness … I wouldn’t even be aware of the other things to care about them or not. I wish we would have spent more time learning and talking about openness … in the end it’s what matters most.”
When asked, “Do you believe your child’s adoptive parents are good parents?” the 30 birth mothers who originally requested open adoptions responded:
Don’t Know 4
When asked, “Do you believe your child’s adoptive parents are good parents?” the five birth mothers who originally had semi-open adoptions responded:
Don’t Know 2
When asked, “Do you feel that your relationship with the adoptive family and your birth child is a healthy one?” all 35 birth mothers responded:
When asked, “How close to your original agreements/expectations is your adoption now?” the same 35 birth mothers responded:
Very Close 5
Somewhat Close 10
Not Close At All 15
Of the 30 birth mothers who originally had fully open agreements the following is true:
Adoption continues fully open: 5
Adoption is now semi-open: 20
Adoption has been closed: 5
Of the five birth mothers whose adoptions have been closed, the following is true:
Closed by the birth mother: 2
Closed by the adoptive parents: 3
When asked, “How accurate do you believe your judgment/perception of the adoptive parents was?” all 35 birth mothers responded:
Very Accurate: 8
Somewhat Accurate: 17
Not Accurate at all: 10
When asked, “How many potential adoptive couples did you physically meet before making your final decision over-all?” 35 birth mothers responded:
One Couple From Agency/Attorney: 26
One Couple From Internet: 4
One Couple From Acquaintance: 2
More than One Couple (any source): 3
When the 32 birth mothers who only met one couple were asked, “Do you wish you would have physically met with more than one couple before choosing?” they responded:
Not Sure 8
When asked, “What influences how you feel about the way your adoption is going and how you feel about the adoptive parents the most?” 35 birth mothers responded that the following influences are the most common:
1. The level of openness at any given time.
“When the pictures and letters are on time, when I get a surprise e-mail filled with updates, or when I talk to them and I feel like they’re glad I called … I feel great! But when they don’t send the pics and letters on time, when they’re never home when I call, or when I do talk to them and they say they’re busy … I’m depressed for days.”
2. The time of year.
“It’s been four years and my daughter’s birthday still hits me like a train wreck. She was born just a few days after Christmas, so it’s a double-whammy. I’m usually a mess during the whole month of December and often all the way into January. It’s weird, one year I’ll need to be around my daughter a lot and know everything … the next year I’ll want to hide away and not see her at all because it’s so hard.”
3. Communication w/adoptive parents.
“A couple of months ago, I was in my daughter’s bedroom and I saw a picture frame that said ‘Mommy and Me,’ and it had a picture of my daughter and her adoptive mom. I started crying– I guess it just hit me hard. The adoptive mom walked in and got upset with me and asked me, ‘What exactly did you think I would be?’ I stormed out and a couple of months later I tried calling them, but the adoptive dad told me that she (the adoptive mom) thought a break would be good because she felt like I still thought I was the ‘mother.’ I was only crying because I KNOW I’m not my daughter’s ‘mother’ and it’s just part of my grieving process. I never meant to make her feel that I regretted my choice. But since then things have been strained and I didn’t get to see my daughter for our semi-year visit. I’ve talked to our caseworker, but she said the best thing to do is to give them time. It’s just not fair.”
What I Feel Now:
Kori, 24, birth mother for six years writes, “Over the last six years, pretty much every reason I chose the adoptive parents I chose has changed. They moved, the adoptive mom had to go back to work full-time, and they adopted another child. All my reasons and expectations either no longer existed (and so I couldn’t validate my choice based on them anymore) or my expectations were dashed. When they moved, I was devastated, to say the least. (How could I have an open adoption across three states?) When the adoptive mom went back to work, I was angry (I couldn’t have stayed at home with my daughter– that’s one of the big reasons I wanted a stay-at-home mom). When they adopted another child, I was furious! (They told me they weren’t going to adopt more and then when they did the adoptive mom had to go back to work to support both kids, so I felt my daughter got a raw deal.)
“I was angry and told them that every chance I got. But as the months went by, they did everything to make me feel okay about all the changes. They bought me and my mom a round-trip ticket within months of their move and even put us up in a classy hotel. They sent me a huge package of goodies (I’d just started college) and enclosed twenty envelopes that were already stamped and addressed to them with their new address. They went even further and sent double the pictures and letters and even several videos within months of each other. Pretty soon I realized that change was inevitable and that it was up to me to adapt to it and accept it so that we could move forward. I do know, though– had I not chosen the parents I did– things could have turned out terribly. But because the ONE thing that MATTERED MOST, our relationship, was important to all of us– we’re doing great. I feel good that even though everything I originally based my decision on no longer exists– the adoptive parents still respect and care about me enough to keep our adoption working. I guess I got lucky … because I couldn’t have known they’d turn out this great from the one time I met them.”
Alexis, 27, birth mother for eight years writes, “Remembering why I chose the adoptive parents I did is blurry. It wasn’t like there was a whole lot of differences between them all. When I met the adoptive parents I chose for the first time, I guess I remember just feeling that it was right. I couldn’t explain it, really. A lot has happened over the last eight years– some good, some bad. It’s been tough keeping up a relationship. Sometimes I just can’t write a letter, and sometimes I can write pages and pages. Often times I’ve needed to see my son more than anything … other times I call and cancel a visit. The best thing I can tell anyone about to become a birth mother is that regardless of who you choose and why … ultimately it comes down to one thing that you can never, ever, forget and that is: You are relinquishing your child. For good. Don’t make this kind of decision based on certain “benefits” you expect to receive, and don’t do it based on temporary circumstances. Ultimately, regardless of openness or not … you’ll have to deal with loosing your baby sooner or later. For me, that’s been the toughest part of it all. I feel now that I still made a good decision, but after eight years I also know that the decision I made cannot be based on how good the adoptive parents are to ME. It’s something that only I am accountable for.”
Collectively I asked these 35 birth mothers if, in conclusion, they would agree with the following statement: Would you agree, although unmet expectations are inevitable, that over-all the adoptive parents you chose for your child were and continue to be the right choice?
Of the 14 Birth Mothers in Adoptions Less than Two Years :
Not Sure 2
Of the Remaining 16 Birth Mothers w/adoptions older than Two Years:
Not Sure 5
I asked Renee’, a birth mother for four years, to write the closing of this piece. She wrote:
“If you ask me if I did the right thing, I would tell you I don’t know. See, I couldn’t know that unless I knew what kind of parent I would have been. If you ask me if I regret choosing the couple I did to parent my child, I would tell you I don’t know. See, I won’t know that until my child becomes an adult and his life gives the result of the parenting he had. The only answer I’m sure of is that I made a decision based on what I believed to be true at the time I made it. As far as the ‘right’ thing goes … only God knows that. Everything else is a matter of trial and error … you do what you think is best– and pray for the strength to survive it when it turns out differently than you’d hoped.”