Supporting Birth Families in Open Adoptions

In open adoptions, the relationship with birth parents is a source of anxiety for many adoptive families. Here are some practical ways you can support the birth families and foster healthy relationships between them and your adoptive family. 

Right After Placement

If you have the opportunity, form a relationship with the expectant parents before placement. Plan out the first few visits, so they know you will follow through.

Outline how frequently they can expect photos, updates, and visits throughout the child’s life. The plan will change as the child grows, but doing your best to be flexible and honor your word will provide peace of mind to both parties. Always remember to under-promise and over-deliver when it comes to planning contact post-placement.

The postpartum stage is very difficult for birth mothers. They have hurting bodies, changes in hormones, and empty arms. They are trying to find a new normal while you bask in the glow of your new baby. It is not wrong to be happy with your baby. There is no need to feel guilty, or like you have ‘stolen’ their child. But it is important that you keep in mind their grief, and respect and remember them when announcing your adoption. Be sensitive to their needs, and keep asking. It is not your job to heal them, but it is your job to remember the sacrifice they made.

When They Are Pulling Away

Please, please, please, don’t take this personally. Most of the time, when a birth parent seems to be pulling away, they are taking time to deal with their grief. This can happen at any time, even years down the road. A birth parent’s grief lasts a lifetime. Sometimes visits and updates help, and sometimes they are a painful reminder of their loss.This does not mean you have done anything wrong, or that you or your child are any less loved by the birth mom (or dad).

A solution that works well when a birth parent is back and forth about his or her desire to have contact is to set up a separate email. Sometimes, sending a text or email to a primary phone can catch a grieving birth parent off guard, and bring up those hard feelings again. By sending an email only the two of you use, your photos, updates, and warm thoughts will be opened when they are ready.

Be patient. Make sure the birth parents know that when they come back, they will be welcomed with open arms. If you keep that door open, most of the time they will come around.

Stay Friends

If you are chosen by an expectant mother, chances are she has a great deal of trust and respect for you. Reciprocate that trust and respect. Understand that they are a person, not just a birth parent. They likely have other things going on with their lives – education, relationships, hobbies, and families. Do your best to show that you care and are interested in their lives. 

When Safety is a Concern

Sometimes visitation is simply not healthy for the child. If a birth parent is a threat to physical or emotional safety, it’s okay to set strict rules for visitation.

Some examples are:

  • Being under the influence during a visit is not allowed.
  • The birth parent may not leave the premises alone with the child.
  • Making statements to deliberately confuse the child (she’s not your mommy, I’m your mommy) are not allowed.

If these rules are not respected, it is appropriate to cut off in-person contact. The safety of your child comes before anything else. Go about it as lovingly as you can. Reassure them that you still care about them, but that for now it’s in the best interest of the child to keep a little distance. Except in extreme cases, discontinuing in-person visits does not mean the adoption needs to close. Even if you don’t feel comfortable with photos, written updates are an option. Having both parties communicate only through separate email accounts can protect identifying information such as an address and phone numbers.

Even after doing all you can to keep it open, some situations require closing the adoption.

Please only do this as a last resort. But it is your duty to protect your child, and you have the right to change the level of openness to do so.

When Things Are Going Well

The relationship between birth and adoptive parents does not have to be stressful. No relationship is without hiccups, and that is okay. A disagreement here and there is not disastrous for the relationship. Allow things to happen naturally, be your best self, and love them. Enjoy the highs, push through the lows, and remember that you both want what is best for the child.