Adoption plans, adoptive parent selections, expectant mothers, newborn children, relinquishment papers: These are all things that often come to mind when thinking about adoption. These are all pivotal moments, and without them, adoptions would not happen. However, there is so much more that happens after the dust settles in an adoption. Adopting a child or placing a child for adoption is a lifelong commitment, and that requires continual effort and work. When entered into with respect and healthy communication, open adoptions have proven to be most beneficial for adoptees. Maintaining that communication long after the newborn phase can be difficult as there is no handbook on how or what to expect, but taking the time to learn about the post-placement period before you enter into the adoption world will ensure you are prepared for how to manage it the right way.
Communication Involves the Entire Triad
As an expectant parent or prospective adoptive parent, you need to think about what type of relationship you are interested in having with the other parties before even considering adoption. Closed adoptions are pursued when no contact between any member of the triad (before the adoptee becomes of legal age) is desired. There are many circumstances where an expectant parent might want–or need–to have their identity concealed for safety or personal reasons. International adoption, unfortunately, many times, does not allow for maintaining contact with birth families. In cases of foster adoption, the court is typically making the decision about contact.
That is perfectly okay. However, while each situation is different, and sometimes it is in the best interest to keep the adoption closed, it has been shown that open adoptions are typically more beneficial for adoptees because it allows them to have access to their biology, an innate yearning we all have inside of us. Just because one is adopted, it doesn’t mean those feelings go away. The key is understanding what will work best for your specific situation but also understanding that things can change over time. A prospective adoptive parent needs to consider each situation and whether or not they are equipped to manage how that might look for their family for decades to come.
In the case of adoption at birth, expectant birth parents decide how much interaction they desire with their child pre-paperwork but post-placement. If using an adoption agency, prospective adoptive parents are oftentimes matched with expectant parents who want the same level of communication. Before the child is born, it is important to discuss these things as the relationship develops so that everyone can be on the same page. Things like how many visits per year, frequency of communication, and boundaries for social media are just a few examples of what to discuss. The reason why it is so important to discuss these things before an adoption is finalized is that many birth parents rely on this post-placement contact. They count the minutes until the next photo arrives, replay the memories they make with their child, and eagerly await the visits they get to have. A birth parent is not only trusting the adoptive parent to raise, love, and nurture their child, but also trusting them to stay true to their word: maintaining the contact that was discussed before placement.
To Adoptive Parents:
Making promises that you are unable to keep is harmful and unethical. It is okay if adoptive parents don’t desire frequent communication, but it needs to be discussed immediately upon being contacted by an expectant parent. An agency can facilitate post-placement communication if desired, but again, it’s important to be honest about the type of relationship you expect. It is particularly important for an expectant parent to speak up for what they want out of the relationship post-placement as well. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want and never settle for anything less. You are not only fighting for your child, but also for yourself. If the relationship between an expectant parent and the prospective adoptive parent begins with a foundation of respect, it will only make things easier to navigate when you face obstacles down the road.
Obviously, even the best-made plans go awry post-placement. People change and grow; who you are at the beginning of your adoption story will not be who you are throughout it. What you want can change as well. Sometimes, birth parents find that they want to adjust the amount of contact as they travel through their journey with grief. For some, that means wanting more contact. A birth parent might ask for more frequent photos or visits, and that might not always align with what an adoptive family is comfortable with. Being able to have open, respectful dialogue is important. Saying to a birth parent, “We are so busy with school and work right now, so we are not able to have a visit” is perfectly okay. On the other hand, saying, “I can’t believe you would ask; we just had a visit 6 months ago,” is not okay.
Depending on the laws of the state in which one lives, a birth parent has very limited control over the amount of contact they get after the paperwork is complete; they only have the promises made when the relationship began, and finding enough courage to ask for more is something they rarely feel safe enough to do. Make your relationship with the birth parents a safe one, and you might find things flow better for all of you.
To Birth Parents:
On the flip side, I know it can be a huge blow to a birth mother to be told “no” when you ask for something. It is easier said than done, but being able to understand that the “no” has nothing to do with you personally can save you a lot of unnecessary heartache. Please do not let it deter you from continuing to ask for things. Respect goes both ways, and relationships are a two-way street. The goal is to be in a place where each party feels comfortable enough to say, “Hey, I am feeling this way, and I’d like to discuss it.”
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Post-Placement Communication Requires Effort
As time goes on and this child grows from newborn to preschooler to pre-teen, things can get even more complicated thanks to the technology that is constantly at our fingertips. Don’t get me wrong, having FaceTime is wonderful, but it can also add challenges as well. Once your child gets to the age of cell phones and social media accounts, it’s important to discuss how online communication will change the relationship between the child and the birth family. Adoptive parents need to have conversations with their adopted child about what is and isn’t okay as far as direct communication with birth parents go. Birth parents need to respect what those boundaries are. Any relationship, whether between parent and child, husband and wife, mentor and mentee, requires work. It’s no different when it comes to adoption relationships.
Even once the adoptee reaches adulthood, it’s so important to bolster a healthy relationship between families. I personally have not encountered much beyond texting my 15-year-old birth daughter, but I am so excited at the prospect of her graduations, trips, wedding, and children (many, many years down the road!). I am sure there will be times of hardship between her, myself, and her parents, but I am thankful that through the years, her parents have shown respect for me and I for them. It makes things easier and more comfortable for our daughter, and at the end of the day, what is best for her is what should be best for all of us.
I can not say it enough: starting an adoption relationship with respect, healthy boundaries, and communication is the key to maintaining a positive relationship throughout the post-placement years. Yes, there will be times when emotions run high, conflict takes over, and it seems like there is no good resolution in sight. There will be times when nobody knows the right thing to do, but if you can push through those uncomfortable moments, you will see how beneficial open adoption can be to not only the adoptive family and birth family, but the adoptee –the reason that you started this journey in the first place.