Navigating an open adoption relationship is, in many ways, like any other relationship with family or close friends. There will be times of more communication and times when life is busy and one or more parties communicate less frequently. Occasionally, birth parents will feel the need to withdraw from communication. Whether it’s for practical purposes, such as a demanding work schedule, or because they need some emotional distance from the situation, a period of “silence” here and there is somewhat common. Sometimes the silence lasts for weeks, sometimes months, sometimes years. Occasionally, birth parents will decide to close a previously open adoption as well. If you are finding yourself not getting communication returned from your child’s birth parent, there are some things you can do to help preserve the relationship while respecting their need for some distance.
Sometimes the lack of communication is simply a case of them not receiving yours. If you communicate solely through your adoption agency, call the person in charge of birth parent communications and make sure your child’s birth parents are, in fact, receiving your messages. Sometimes it’s something as simple as them changing their address and forgetting to send the new one to the agency. If you communicate via email, text or phone, it is possible they have lost their Internet or cell phone connection or changed numbers. Even something as simple as them forgetting their password for their email could cause a delay in communications. If you have multiple ways of contacting them, try a different medium.
Sometimes the silence is intentional. Birth parents, especially in the first few years after placement, go through a tremendous amount of emotional trauma that it might be hard for adoptive parents to understand. Don’t worry that you said something wrong, or that they will be silent forever. If you have concerns about their silence, talk to your agency or lawyer and see if they have had any recent communication. Most importantly, respect their need for space and time to process their grief. If you previously emailed monthly, perhaps switch to every other month until you receive a response, or even quarterly. Continue to uphold your end of the contact agreement you made but don’t overwhelm them. In the case that they do decide to close the adoption, you want to be able to tell your child you did everything possible on your end to maintain that relationship. If there has been a long period of silence, reach out to your agency if you have any concerns that your child’s birth parent might be experiencing some sort of crisis. Even if they don’t want to communicate with you directly, your agency can try to talk to them and make sure everything is okay in their world.
Building an open adoption relationship with birth family is like building a bridge. You have to do your part and keep laying down bricks in the hopes that they are on the other side and will someday start building again too. Unless you specifically hear that they do not want to be contacted, either from your adoption agency or from them directly, keep up with regular—but not overwhelmingly frequent—communication. If you are hurt by their silence, remember you aren’t building this bridge for yourself; you’re doing it for your child. If you are a religious person, pray for them. If you are not, simply thinking of them and speaking of them fondly to your child sends some positive energy out into the world. All you can do is hope that it reaches them, and that they will do what they need to do to take care of themselves—even if that means stepping away from your relationship.
Are you considering placing a child for adoption? Not sure what to do next? First, know that you are not alone. Visit Adoption.org or call 1-800-ADOPT-98 to speak to one of our Options Counselors to get compassionate, nonjudgmental support. We are here to assist you in any way we can.