Staying in Touch After the Adoption
One of the most important tasks in any open adoption is staying in touch after the adoption is done.
And this just might be– paradoxically– one of the simplest and hardest things you ever have to do.
Because whether you have placed a child for adoption or adopted a child, maintaining a healthy relationship with your child’s other family takes real work on your part.
Why do you do it, especially if you’re not certain the other parents really appreciate your efforts?
You do it for your child. And you keep doing it for your child, whether or not your child seems to need or want it, because you know it is the right thing to do, and it’s one of those acts of responsible parenting that really is all about paying it forward.
One of Abrazo adoptive parents stopped by our office for a visit, with her children in tow. She had traveled back to Texas from out of state in hopes of being able to visit with members of both her children’s birthfamilies. Why? Because it’s that important to her and her husband that their children grow up always knowing their people.
She talked about others in her life not always understanding why they go to the lengths they do, and what she wants for her children.
When contact is lost, or communication seems sporadic
Google “when open adoption doesn’t work” and you usually find plenty of complaints from heartbroken birthparents who trusted the promises of adoption professionals or adoptive parents that an adoption would stay open after the papers were signed, but found they didn’t. To use promises of open adoption as a false lure merely to persuade parents to place is unconscionable, and in some venues, may result in prosecution if it meets the legal standard of inducement or coercion. (All too often, however, the defrauded birthparents have insufficient evidence of the promises made, and far too few states provide the protection of laws that enforce open adoption agreements.)
At Abrazo, we practice full-disclosure open adoptions, in which the parties typically exchange identifying information (such as last names and home addresses) and commit to direct, ongoing contact in the years that follow each placement, until the adoptee is an adult. Because of this, we have much less of a problem with adoptive parents keeping their promises, and we spend a lot of time impressing upon our adoptive families the value of openness as it pertains to our adoptees, in particular.
Yet a number of our families find it a challenge to keep their children’s birthfamilies in touch with them, and so we asked former Abrazo birthparents for their insights as to why birthparents who undoubtedly love the child/ren they placed sometimes find post-adoption visits hard to show up for?
Birthmoms offer insight about keeping in touch (and what can make this difficult)
Jessica, who placed as a teenager, had this to say: “For me it’s really difficult to see and talk to him. I don’t know how to act or what to say. My biggest fear is confusing or hurting him. I’m afraid of crossing a boundary. I don’t know what’s an appropriate amount of contact. My son’s parents are wonderful and always tell me there are no expectations. They are always letting me know I am welcome anytime, but I’m nervous that he’ll get used to me contacting him and then what if I can’t handle it or something happens where I can’t talk to him? What if he feels rejected? I feel like I need to be the absolute best person I can be, and I’m not. I don’t know if I’ll ever be. And I don’t want know if I can face him knowing I have nothing to show for the decision I’ve made.”
Amanda placed a couple years ago, in her twenties, and she admits that contact can still be hard, no matter how excited she is to see how her son is doing. “It can be very hard at times to go through the photos and see everything that they have been able to do for him, knowing I wanted to do all that and more but could never be able to. It’s nothing against the family whatsoever, they are doing what I couldn’t do but sometimes the depression and sadness hits so bad that I close up. I have (an anxiety attack) every time it’s close to when we meet up, even while we are together, because what if they think bad things because I gave my child up or had a child just to give it away? So many things go through your mind when you are a birth mom. Sometimes it’s so overwhelming that you just want to run away, even if you don’t want to. I’m still truly happy that I made a family so happy and that my son is healthy and given everything he deserves, but not many will understand the pain we go through every day because we wanted the best for our little ones.”
This doesn’t mean that it would be better for these mothers to have done closed adoptions, of course. (They would be the first to tell you that openness is still a lifeline for them.) But as Riley points out, it is most beneficial if the adoptive parents and birthparents enjoy a friendship that extends beyond their shared adoption experience: “I (worry that) my daughter barely knows me and I have no real place in their lives. I know it’s silly, but I feel sad and almost jealous that I couldn’t provide for my daughter like they can. I love them so much, but when I get in this mindset, it takes some time to shake it. It might help if we talked about something other than just (our child) from time to time, just to reestablish a personal friendship outside of our adoption bond?”
Lisa has had sporadic contact since her son’s adoption, and while she appreciates updates, she doesn’t feel the connection is all she wants it to be. “My son just turned 18 & while he is everything I hoped he would be, I still struggle. The communication is either peaceful & polite or non-existent. I rarely get a call, text or email & over the last ten years or so, it has become difficult for me. Their time has come to be in short supply & the lack of effort makes me doubt my choice, my place & if I even deserve any part of him.” (No parent in an open adoption wants to feel the other parents’ commitment to keeping in touch is strictly obligatory, after all.)
For Karen, whose placed daughter is now a young adult herself, visits were not an opportunity her child’s adoptive parents ever offered. Yet she understands why other birthparents may sometimes lack the courage to enjoy such events. “I always felt like I had made such an ultimate sacrifice and that I owed her to better myself because of the experience…and yet there were many years that I was not a better person or in any better circumstances so I always felt like I had somehow betrayed her, and was embarrassed.”
Advice from those who truly know
So how can adoptive parents help bridge the gap, when their children’s birthparents seem ambivalent about post-adoption contacts?
Lauranda, who has a very open adoption relationship with her daughter’s family and sees them often, had this to say: “I think sometimes because the birthparents need time to heal, it may be easier to disengage both physically and emotionally, rather than (to revisit all) of the emotions that came with relinquishment. Personally, I don’t think adoptive parents can do much to change that? It comes with time for the birthmom. All the adoptive parents can do is give her that time and space, not pushing for contact but leaving that door open.”
And when asked what birthparents can do to help adoptive families feel more at ease with post-placement contact, ____ offered this advice:
We are grateful for the input and shared experiences of all Abrazo’s adoptive parents and birthparents (and especially to the many birthmoms who responded for this piece, with more wisdom than we have space to share here, but will in upcoming blog posts.)
Remember this: staying in touch after the adoption is definitely worth the effort it takes on the part of all the parents involved, for ultimately, it is the adoptee they love so who stands to benefit the most.