Going Through Relinquishment
She hadn’t been sure what to expect, but she knew going through relinquishment wouldn’t be easy.
“Amaya” had listened to other birthparents in Abrazo’s birthparent support group talk about what it was like. Most said it was the hardest decision they ever had to make. A few said they really didn’t remember much of it, except that it was a lot of paperwork. One mom said she’d cried so hard, she’d burst all the blood vessels in her eyes and the white parts of her eyes were red for days. Amaya hoped that wouldn’t happen to her, because having hidden her pregnancy from family and friends, she didn’t want to have to explain anything afterwards, either.
She’d gone out with one of her boyfriend’s coworkers to get back at him for sleeping around, and what was just supposed to have been a few drinks ended up as an unanticipated overnight. By the time she missed her period, she and her boyfriend were back together, and they’d forgiven each other’s transgressions, so that positive pregnancy test she took at home had been anything but good news. Neither guy was in a position to parent, and a baby didn’t fit into Amaya’s plans for the future, either, so being opposed to another abortion, adoption seemed to be her better option.
As her pregnancy progressed, she began to realize that what seemed like it would be “just signing a bunch of papers” at the end was going to be a Really Big Deal. She’d been given a copy of the paperwork for reference the first day she came here. She knew that signing the relinquishment papers in Texas meant forever terminating her legal right to be her child’s mother, and enabling someone else to become her child’s parents. Open adoption could still afford her the privilege of staying in touch with her child’s new family, but it wouldn’t be “just the same” and she knew that. She chosen a prospective adoptive family and got to know them; they were the parents she wished she’d had, growing up.
But in the hospital, after the birth, a tidal wave of emotions hit her when it came to complete the relinquishment documents. “I knew it was right,” says Amaya. “I just didn’t know how to deal with anything that was that permanent. Every other thing I’ve done in my life, I knew I could probably undo if I had to, but this wasn’t like that. And that freaked me out, knowing I would have to live with it for the rest of my life. I know I did the right thing. But knowing how final it was, that was huge.”
What happens at relinquishment?
In Texas, a parent cannot surrender parental rights to their child until at least 48 hours after birth (Abrazo typically waits 72 hours after a birth by C-section.) The parent must be free of any mind-altering medication, and they can opt to delay signing more than 48 hours, too, of course, if there is any doubt in their mind(s) that they feel ready to make a final decision.
Relinquishment papers can be signed in a hospital room, or at Abrazo, at home or in a public place, wherever the parent(s) may feel most comfortable. At the time that the relinquishment documents are signed, there must be two reliable witnesses present and a notary public. (Texas law specifically permits adoption professionals to serve as notaries and/or witnesses, as long as the signor agrees to their presence as such.)
Whenever Abrazo handles relinquishments, the parent signing the documents does not do so in the presence of the people hoping to adopt, to ensure that the signer feels no pressure nor coercion. The signer is asked to read the documents carefully, or to have them read aloud, to ensure that they understand the meaning of the paperwork and to give them a chance to ask any questions they may have before signing. They are placed under oath by the notary public, and a copy of the relinquishment that is signed is provided to the parent(s). Abrazo birthparents do not have to appear before a judge in Texas, because the agency’s attorney takes the legal documents to court on the agency’s behalf. And those legal documents are later sealed by the courts, to ensure that the parent(s) signing them have their privacy protected from the general public and all aothers– even in an open adoption.
The legal impact of the relinquishment process is to free the biological parents of any and all future legal responsibility for the child being placed, who is free to be adopted by another family as a result of the irrevocable surrenders the birthparent(s) signed. In Texas, when a birthparent signs an irrevocable relinquishment of parental rights to a licensed Texas child placement agency in accordance with the law, that decision is permanent and final, and there is no “grace period” during which the surrender can be revoked or the child reclaimed by the biological parents.
What should parents signing relinquishment expect?
Expect to see the same legal relinquishment document Abrazo provided in the packet you received when you first came to our agency. While you couldn’t sign it before, you were given a copy to ensure that you could review it long in advance, and take it to any lawyer or legal advisor of your choice to make sure you understood its meaning. Signing it in front of two witnesses and a notary public can be very emotional for some parents, while for others, it is simply a long legal document that makes official the decision already made in their heart/s weeks or months beforehand. Afterwards, some birthparents report feeling relief that the choice is no longer hanging over their head, but it’s also not uncommon to be overcome with feelings or sadness or regret. (Remorse that doesn’t mean they’ve made the wrong choice for their child– it just means they are human.)
Parents who voluntarily place a child for adoption in Texas by relinquishing parental rights to a licensed adoption agency should be able to expect confidentiality, respect and post-adoption support from their adoption agency staff. They often experience a variety of emotions after relinquishment, from guilt to sorrow to anger to shame to numbness, so it is important that the adoption professionals involve continue to offer counseling and sustenance as promised, ongoing assurance of the child’s well-being, and healthy access to the adoptive family.
Birthparents typically do not receive legal updates as to when the termination order is being signed by the judge, as such notice is waived in the Texas relinquishment proceedings. At Abrazo, birthparents are encouraged to continue spending as much time with their child and his or her adopting family as they feel comfortable with. Such contacts are healthy not just for the birthparents and adoptive parents, but especially for the baby or child undergoing the transition of placement. Out-of-state adoptive families must typically remain in Texas for 7-10 days after placement while awaiting Interstate Compact (ICPC) approval, so they welcome visits with the birthfamily during this wait.
Going through relinquishment is an act of pure parental sacrifice. It should only be done after much careful forethought, and all who do it should be surrounded with love and understanding, for going through relinquishment means having had the courage and selflessness to forever put their child’s needs before their own.