When Birthparents Adopt
The first time she called us to ask what happens when birthparents adopt, we could hear on the phone how nervous she was. She wasn’t even sure that birthparents were permitted to adopt, she said. We assured her that there is absolutely no law that prevents this from occurring.
As a teenager, “Lin” had placed a baby for adoption at a large Fort Worth agency, and it had been a traumatic experience. It was a closed adoption, and afterwards, she was expected to just go on as though it had never happened. She went to college, fell in love, got married, and then was stunned to learn she and her husband had infertility problems.
There aren’t any “official” statistics on the numbers of birthparents who later adopt children, but at one New York City adoption conference, it was said that secondary infertility problems may impact as many as 40% of women who placed earlier-born children for adoption, so it stands to reason that they, too, might opt to adopt at some point in their lives.
Adopting After Placing
At Abrazo, we welcome the opportunity to “return the favor” by entrusting children to moms who lovingly and voluntarily placed their own years ago. We have been privileged to place with both birthmothers and birthfathers whose biological children were previously placed for adoption. It seems ironic that they sometimes approach adoption agencies worried whether they’d be found “fit” to parent someone else’s child; what more could one do to prove their selfless commitment to children’s best interests than to have been through an adoption themselves, once upon a time?!
However, some adopting parents who were themselves birthparents can be extremely close-minded about open adoption. It’s almost as if their attitude is “well, I didn’t get to keep in touch with my child, so why should someone else have it better than I did?” (Fortunately, the teen birthmom cited above was not one of these women. She could not fathom putting another mother through the agony of not knowing that she herself had endured.)
For some birthfathers who had been told they fathered a child who was later placed for adoption, not knowing for sure whether it was in fact their child was a comfort; for others, however, the unresolved question haunts them. A man’s individual response to this dilemma can often shapes his receptivity to open adoption, whether for good or for bad.
We once reviewed an application in which a couple who placed years ago in a private adoption had since been through infertility and now wanted to adopt. The were a charming couple, who openly acknowledged how very painful it was to relinquish their firstborn. However, as they noted in their paperwork, they hoped to match with a birthmom who will settle for only letters and photos sent through the agency after placement. Why? Because having waited so long to parent a child together, they didn’t want to have to ‘share’ that child with anyone else. (Even if she is someone who is permanently sharing her child with them.) Much as Abrazo had hoped to be able to help them, in the end, they sought to pursue a closed adoption elsewhere.
We know there are plenty of adoptive parents who secretly feel this way. We’re not sure how to tell them, though, that unless they plan to live in a cave in some remote region, from the day they adopt, they’ll have to share that child with plenty of people (grandparents, teachers, Scout leaders, clergy, neighbors, classmates, friends, to start the list) and in the big picture, that child’s birthparents would be the least likely of any of those folks to “interfere.”
And frankly, most agencies have yet to see any expectant mother come into the adoption process saying “Hey, I know just what I want! Help me find my child adoptive parents who are fearful, distrusting, and insular, and will cut me out of their lives as soon as they get what they want from me!” Even if they did, that’s not the sort of adoptive family that would be likely to be sensitive to the needs of the adoptee, over the life span.
Adopting Better For Having Been Through It Before
We’ll be the first to admit that Abrazo’s staff thinks the world of birthparents, so yes, we may be biased. But why shouldn’t birthparents who adopt be more understanding of the need for openness than your average, garden-variety adoptive couple? What’s wrong with this picture?
Lin, the birthmom who has now adopted through Abrazo twice, may have some insight to offer.
“I think a fear I had was that somehow, my role as a mother would be defined, in some way, by how I became a mother and that if I didn’t get to experience a pregnancy and childbirth and if I didn’t get an opportunity to look at my child and figure out if he/she got my toes or my husband’s toes…my nose or my husband’s nose…my hands or my husband’s hands…that the “ride” for lack of a better word wouldn’t be as rich and fulfilling as it would have been if we weren’t infertile. When the day came where I first laid eyes on our daughter – I have never felt more wrong about anything in my life. I didn’t need those things – I had it all right there. What made me a mother had nothing to do with stuff that most people go through, what made me a mother was that little girl who just wiggled herself right into my heart and who means more to me than the air I breathe.”
Birthparents who adopt have every right to wrestle with the same questions and fears as any other adopting parent. Being a birthparent is a very different journey than being a parent who adopts, and it stands to reason that both journeys will have different challenges. Birthparents who adopt may understandably find that parts of the adoption experience trigger unresolved grief issues; this is to be expected. (And if so, it’s important to be open with your adoption professional(s) and get the help that’s needed to work through those, so that the emotional residue does not unfairly impact the birthparent(s) nor the adoptee.)
If you have voluntarily placed a child or children for adoption in the past and have secondary infertility and an interest in becoming a parent through a private adoption agency, Abrazo would welcome the opportunity to explore working with you. Just call our family services coordinator, Martha Bronstein, at 210-342-5683 and ask her to tell you more about “when birthparents adopt” and how Abrazo can help make that happen for you?