Adoption is not so simply described. I thought if we went through the ABCs of different adoption terms that we could unpack adoption and its complexities through some popular adoption terms. Adoption is a beautifully complex joining of a family that is founded upon loss.
A birth parent is a man or woman who has placed a child for adoption. They are the loss behind the completion of a family in adoption. Birth parents often are the overlooked part of the triad, but oftentimes they need more communication, respect, and honor than others. If it were not for their selfless act of love, their child would not be an adoptee, and I believe that needs to be honored.
Closed adoptions are rare these days, but they do still happen. A closed adoption is an adoption where no identifying information is shared between the parties and there is no connection between them either. Communication happens directly through the agency—if one was used—and adoptees cannot get their records unsealed to explore their biological roots until they are at least 18. Many lobbyists and advocates are working hard to make it easier for adoptees to gain rights to their records, but it is still a battle most states are fighting. As an adoptee, I was in a closed adoption, and it was very hard for me to not know about my identity. I struggled and rebelled due to that, so I caution anyone who isn’t ready for open adoption to read as many adoptee and birth mother stories as you can.
Domestic adoption is the type of adoption most people are familiar with. It is the adoption of a child in your country.
The term expectant mother has two meanings in the adoption world. The most important is the woman who might be considering placing her child for adoption. It is important to call her an expectant mother rather than a birth mother because until she finalizes her choice of adoption by signing relinquishment papers, she is still her child’s mother. Addressing a woman in this circumstance properly empowers her right to choose what is best for her and her child. The other meaning is a woman hoping to become a mother through adopting a child.
Family is a wide capture of people when you are touched by adoption. From birth family, adoptive family, to honorary family, many people can be impacted by your story. Adoption is a way that families are created, however, it is also how families are separated. It is always important to explore what family can look like for you as a member of the adoption triad.
Grace for Everyone Involved
When I was 18 and faced with an unexpected pregnancy, I was overwhelmed. Not only was I a child trying to figure out how to raise a child, but I was really wild still. I am thankfully not the woman I once was. We all have seasons of life when we grow and mature to a new season, but I think we as humans often forget how we all go through different phases of life. We are so quick to be hard on one another when we should consider that things may not always be this way. I like to bring this up for adoptive parents specifically because oftentimes open adoption scares them. They worry, “What if the birth parents are inappropriate or don’t respect boundaries?” or “What if they are in a crisis that isn’t particularly healthy for my child to be around like addiction?” Both of these questions are very valid, but I want to press in and challenge adoptive parents to find a way to compromise and give grace in these moments. Likely, your child’s birth parent will not always be in this season of life. Try and find a good stepping stone to start with instead of just writing off the idea of connection altogether. Take it one step at a time and see where everyone is at in a few years. Grace is so important!
According to the U.S. Department of State–Bureau of Consular Affairs, The Hague Convention on the Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption is an international agreement to safeguard intercountry adoptions. Concluded on May 29, 1993, in The Hague, the Netherlands, the Convention established international standards of practices for intercountry adoptions. The United States signed the Convention in 1994, and the Convention entered into force for the United States on April 1, 2008.
International adoption is adopting a child from a country outside of your own. Since we mentioned The Hague Convention above, it’s helpful to know that when adopting internationally, you do not have to adopt from a country within The Hague Convention. If you are interested in the differences, take a look at what the National Council for Adoption has compiled for the comparison.
Adoption is a lifelong journey and not just a moment in time that is quickly forgotten. Your adoptee’s life is forever changed, you will be forever changed, and the birth family will be forever changed. Because of this, it’s important to educate yourself on what that impact will bring to your family as you adventure on this journey. There are many resources available to talk about open adoption, semi-open adoption, birth parents, and adoption trauma; there are also many stories that could be helpful to you.
This type of adoption happens when a family member adopts another family member. For instance, the most common would be if a woman’s parents adopt her child when she is faced with an unexpected pregnancy; the biological grandparents raise their biological grandchild. I have done a kinship adoption just like that and it has its pros and cons as any story does. It’s very beneficial to my healing and my heart that I get to have such a close relationship with my son and see him daily; however, it was hard for me at the beginning to cope with my parents all the sudden being his parents and me not being his mom anymore. Sometimes it’s difficult to be so close but, overall, it’s been a blessing for me.
Laws in Adoption
A huge benefit to going through an agency when I was faced with making an adoption plan for my child was that there are so many laws surrounding adoptions. It was important to me that I could trust the lawyers advocating for me and my child. Thankfully this was an added service of the agency I placed with as they had legal counsel on staff.
Mother has always been a tricky word for me after placing children for adoption. Motherhood comes in many forms. We have adoptive moms, birth moms, foster moms, godmothers, step-mothers, bonus mothers, etc. None of those titles negate motherhood. All of them are mamas outright and they deserve the honor of being respected as a mama. Our stories don’t matter; the only thing that matters is that we are mothers in every sense of the word.
Newborn adoption happens when the baby is adopted soon after it is born. In some cases, birth mothers choose to spend a little time with their baby before placing him or her for adoption. Because the birth mother has the right to choose the length of time she spends with her baby, the baby could be anywhere between 24 hours or three days old. Oftentimes, the baby is discharged directly from the hospital into the care of the adoptive parents.
Open adoption is a very customizable term. Open adoptions range from super open to semi-open and everywhere in between. I mentioned earlier that this can be scary for adoptive parents, but it is also scary for birth parents. The agreements made pre-birth aren’t always upheld by the parties involved, so it’s important to say what you mean and do what you say.
This is the day usually decided upon by the birth mother when her child will be placed into the arms of the adoptive parents. It is an extremely overwhelming day that is bittersweet or maybe just sad. This is the moment that finalizes the birth mother placing her child for adoption, and the weight of that is felt in the moment by everyone involved.
Profiles are digital or printed profiles that share all about adoptive parents and their families. Profiles usually list family members, dynamics, traditions, details about their home, travels, passions and hobbies, their love stories, pets, and their friends. Profiles are usually how an expectant mother considering adoption is matched with prospective adoptive parents.
Knowing all of your options as a woman faced with an unexpected pregnancy is important. Know that you have the choice to take whichever option—adoption, parenting, or abortion—that you believe is best for you and your child. Equip yourself with as many resources and as much education as you can on your options before making a decision. On the other side of things, those of you who are adoptive parents and hopeful adoptive parents should be sure to do your research and educate yourself on adoptee stories, other adoptive parent stories, and birth mother stories. Not only that, but also get training, read books and other materials, connect with other adoptive parents, and utilize your agency. You can never know too much when beginning an adoption journey.
The hardest day of a birth mother’s life is the day she relinquishes her rights to her child. I remember vividly the pain every word of the papers brought me and the finality of the moment and how heavy it felt. I felt alone, broken, and numb. Relinquishment is difficult and it can feel isolating. It can take time for a birth mother to begin healing and be able to talk about that pivotal moment in her adoption journey.
Support is one of the most vital resources for healing. Birth mothers, I urge you to find post-placement support. This can look like many different things. There are support groups that can either be therapeutic and more of a counseling session, or networking and casual. Support can also simply be connecting with other birth mothers. I have made so many lifelong friendships with birth mothers I have had the opportunity to connect with over the years. They are always around to listen, to give advice, to go on a hike, to have a beer, or whatever it is that we each need in a moment. Lastly, you can support yourself by forming healthy coping skills. Some of my favorite ones are listening to music or a podcast, watching some TV, taking my dog on a walk, going on a hike with friends, doing some kind of craft, or shopping. Finding ways to pour into yourself can help you to support a healthy wellbeing and a strong foundation towards healing.
During the week after birth and before placement, my child went into transitional care. A wonderful couple took care of her while I grieved and thought about what I wanted to do next until the decision was final. During that time, I had visitations with my daughter daily for hours. Transitional care is just a temporary transition between birth and placement.
A transracial adoptee is an adoptee of one race or ethnicity being adopted by a person or people of another race or ethnicity.
Updates can be just as unique as an adoption. Updates can be once a month, once a year, twice a year, spontaneous, and everything in between. Updates can be shared through texting, emails, social media, or mail. However it may look, make sure to commit and be intentional to your agreements. Also, be open to adding more over time.
Just like updates, visits are extremely fluid as well. I went from a few a year to spontaneous planning. So after over a decade of balancing boundaries, respect, and expectations, we now meet whenever someone prompts a visit or thinks of a fun adventure for our little blended family to do together. Through visits we are growing closer to one another, I am gaining progress on healing, and I get to watch my kiddos grow up—even if it’s just in spurts.
Waiting for Adoption
Waiting is a huge part of the difficult journey hopeful adoptive parents face. While waiting is hard, I hope you find what you dream of.
eXpectations of Adoption
Expectations are ever-changing and reminding me that reality is not captured so easily by hypotheses and assumptions. It’s helpful sometimes in the adoption journey to not put so much stock into expectations and to be transparent about your expectations with everyone involved so they are more manageable.
Y and Z
Well, let’s just call these letters the journey still ahead. Adoption is a lifelong journey, healing is not linear, grief ebbs and flows, and we are still unpacking our stories. The beauty in all of this is that there is plenty of time for trial and error, grace, and processing as we go for all sides of the adoption triad.