Having strange conversations with perfect strangers is strange, however, perfectly normal and necessary when it comes to the domestic adoption process. I remember Kim (my daughter’s first mother) and I speaking so matter-of-factly about oh so many personal, intimate details in those four short months leading up to the birth of our daughter (now four).
We traded womb stories about why Kim was making an adoption plan and why my husband and I couldn’t have a baby. Kim shared her sonograms and birth plans with me. I shared baby names and my tentative excitement of becoming a mother with her. And when a question or concern came up Kim and I were a team, working together to figure it out.
So how was it that she and I never once spoke to each other about what our relationship would look like once the baby was born? Now that is strange.
As dopey as it sounds, at the time, I thought “having an open adoption” only meant sending pictures and updates. (There I said it.) I had no idea it could be so much more.
If I had the chance to yell DO-OVER! I gladly would. Not because I think having a post-adoption contact conversation would have lessened Kim’s pain any. But it might have provided an inkling of comfort knowing she would be in her daughter’s life. What’s more, it might have shifted my pre-adoption perception about how fundamentally important it is to embrace my daughter’s biological family as my family too.
I now believe, whether it’s legally enforceable or not, a conversation about post-adoption contact is an important one to have. And the time to begin having it is pre-birth.
After some research and conversations with other adoptive moms, here are five points that have resonated with me when it comes to post-adoption contact:
1. Speak up and keep the conversation going.
Christina Tutt, mother of 10, six by adoption and four by birth, suggests a straightforward approach. Get the dialogue started by simply stating, “I think we need to talk about our relationship going forward and what that’s going to look like.” Next, listen and acknowledge the expectant mom’s feelings. “Then I tell her what we are capable of. We always manage to find an agreeable middle ground.” Christina tells her children’s birth mothers that there is always room to talk. “I mention that relationships are fluid and if a change needs to be made, we can definitely talk about it.”
2. Be child-centric.
Current research tells us that what is best for our children is having some level of contact with their birth parents and/or birth family members. “I think it’s important for both bio and perspective adoptive parents to understand that the whole thing is not about them, but about the child,” says Christina. “Each should make a list of things they want and things that they need. They need to decide which things are non-negotiable and if they are placement deal breakers.”
Adoptive mom, Tori Fees has a fully open adoption with her son’s birth family. “We talked more about how the first year would go and then left the rest up to whatever worked,” explains Tori.
3. Have an open heart.
The reality is that open adoption relationships require effort and flexibility. Tori points out that all families, not just adoptive families, have challenging situations and difficult relatives to deal with. “It’s a matter of having an open heart,” she advises. “If you have loving adults who respect each other and want each other to be happy then you make it work. My son’s birth mother only comes around when she’s doing well. I trust her. She was the first person who kept my son overnight when he was three.”
Tori also offers up this nugget of parenting wisdom: “As adoptive moms, we are the mommas to our children. We are also the mommas of the open adoption relationship with our children’s birth mothers and birth families. Because serving them serves our children.”
4. One size doesn’t fit all.
Every adoption is different,” shares adoptive mom of two, Sandra Schaefer Davis. “There is no ‘one size fits all’ open adoption plan.” Sandra has a very open verbal agreement with her sons’ birth grandmother. “We want her at every birthday, holiday, graduation, and ball game. But there will be times when space is needed. We’re still figuring out the boundaries.”
“Honesty is huge in this process as is being realistic about declining a placement if it really doesn’t appear that the parents are all on the same page,” says Christina Tutt. “I know that’s hard. But it’s easier on the front end than a year or two in.”
5. Don’t melt your brain.
There’s a lot of information out there. In addition to speaking to your adoption professional about openness in adoption and post-adoption contact, I suggest these easily digestible, non mind-melting adoption resources:
• Adoptive Families magazine - Hands down, the all-time best baby gift I received (Thank you Aunt Joanie). This was the start of my formal open-adoption education.
• The Open-Hearted Way To Open Adoption - A great read with real-life lessons from birth and adoptive parents, written by adoptive mom, Lori Holden and birth mother, Crystal Hass.
For online support, try:
• Dawn Friedman’s openadoptionsupport.com
• Dawn Davenport’s creatingafamily.org
• Adoptive Families online community adoptivefamiliescircle.com
My post-adoption contact story is a work in progress. I’m always looking for opportunities to create a deeper connection with my daughter’s birth mom, siblings, and other family members. We keep in touch on a weekly basis through Facebook. I also call Kim every couple of months, and every year we fly out for a family visit. I find that I crave even more contact than we have right now. And maybe one day that will happen, as this important conversation continues…