What You Should Know About the First Year of Open Adoption

Now is the time to build a healthy foundation in your relationship with your child's birth family.

Stacey Stark October 06, 2017
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The first year of a baby’s life is a crazy ride. Babies require a lot of work, and things change fast – it seems like as soon as you adjust to one stage, a new one begins!

If your adoption is an open one (which most are to some degree), the first year of your child’s life is also a big one for the development of your relationship with their birth mother or family. You could have had months getting to know each other, or perhaps the first time you met was in the hospital at the baby’s birth! Your relationship with your child’s birth family is a lifetime commitment, and it is worth taking some time to prepare yourselves for what this first year might entail.

All relationships take work, and adoption is an especially bittersweet and emotional process. Here are just a few things to know about the first year of open adoption.

“Firsts” are important.

Year one of your baby’s life will contain many “firsts.” First time rolling over, first laugh, and first holidays. As a parent, every new thing your baby does is exciting – no matter how small! Your child’s birth parents probably feel the same way. What are some ways you can include them in these significant milestones?

My husband and I are always taking photos and videos with our phones, and Facebook and Instagram have been great ways to share these moments with our kids’ birth moms. Make an extra effort to document those ordinary yet special moments. If you are sending regular updates, think to include special details like a first word or food. Being included in these things might mean the world to your child’s birth mother.

Wait before reacting.

During the first year or so after our oldest was born, we struggled with establishing some needed healthy boundaries. There was a time or two when an issue would come up and my first response was to react. We need to address this right now, I thought. Thankfully I don’t believe I did any damage, but I certainly do regret what my initial response was at times.

I’ll use an example I often see in Facebook groups of adoptive parents – an adoptive parent sees that their child’s birth mother posted a photo of the baby on social media. More often than not, it seems, the adoptive parents feel threatened and bothered. The question comes up, What should we do? Do they fire off an emotional email asking that the photo be taken down?

Every family’s situation is unique, but this is simply an example of how reacting quickly from emotion has potential to inflict hurt or harm to a new open adoption relationship. Take the time to consider what healthy boundaries really entail, and be willing to check your own fear and insecurity beforehand.

Everyone is figuring out their roles.

After baby is born and placement happens, roles adjust and change. Hopeful adoptive parents are now mom and dad, and your child’s birth mom is learning to navigate her new life post-placement – a mother, but not parenting her child. Emotions and grief can run high.

During this time, everyone is adjusting to and learning their new roles in this relationship. Be gentle with yourself and with others, and give plenty of grace.

Silence doesn’t necessarily mean disinterest.

I often hear from adoptive parents who feel discouraged about a lack of contact from their child’s birth parents. They faithfully send photos and updates with no response. The relationship feels one-sided, and I’ve heard them ask, “How much longer should I try?”

Keep it up! We all react to grief differently, and what you perceive as silent disinterest might instead be an act of emotional preservation. Open adoption is about the good of the child, so don’t give up (especially so early on!) Keep the door open.

Are there any other lessons you learned, or advice to offer? Please share them with us.

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Stacey Stark

Stacey lives in Kansas City, Missouri, and is mom to two young kiddos via local, open, domestic infant adoption (did you catch all that?). She works part-time as a nonprofit bookkeeper, and spends the rest of her time going on adventures with her family, reading, and drinking lots of coffee. She is passionate about openness in adoption, and you can connect with her further on Facebook or Instagram.


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