My family still worries that the birth mother will one day ask for my son back. They don’t talk about it much but that dark secret tends to sneak out of their mouths at gatherings after a few glasses of alcohol is consumed. I keep a website for the birth mother of photos of my son so that she can watch him grow up. My family members suggest that I post less attractive photos so that she will not change her mind.
Prepare yourself. Television has tainted the people around you. After a few televised mini-series, they now consider themselves experts in the possibilities of adoption. Birth mothers on television always seem to reappear out of nowhere demanding the cute baby back. Birth fathers are portrayed as men who drink and party too much without much respect for women. Adoption is considered risky business and you, the adoptive parent, are fulfilling this noble public service taking a baby that was not wanted.
Why has the public dialogue around adoption become so negative and further from the truth? Many birth mothers may have moments of regret about their decision, but I don’t worry about the birth mother knocking on my door asking for the return of my son. There are laws in place to protect both my son and myself and I have abided by all of them.
When I held in my hands that decree of adoption for my son, I understood what that piece of paper meant. We were a family. We adopted each other. My decision was not an act of charity, but a fantastic moment of clarity. I was put on this planet to be his mother. Attention public, please stop thanking me for my good deed when you learn that I adopted him. You are ticking me off.
Before you sign papers with any adoption agency, it will behoove you to research the different kinds of adoption that exist and the pros and cons of each kind. Adam Pertman’s book, Adoption Nation is a good read that gives you a glimpse into the kinds of adoptions and the laws that define them. Find what works best for you. I did that. My choice for open adoption was right for me, but it’s not the right choice for everyone.
As I was nearing the end of my grieving process from fertility, I researched adoption agencies reading their websites and their information in the Better Business Bureau. Early in my adoption journey, I thought that I should adopt someone in foster care. I made an appointment with the local agency that provided this service and they had to submit a 20-page document about why I was adopting, my family, how I plan to parent and other assorted questions that caught me off guard. It’s not really possible to answer a question about how I will discipline my teenage child when he will not clean his room at this stage. My child is not here and I don’t know what he values and what techniques work best since every child is different.
The interview session with this agency was intense but survivable. I submitted my documentation and they scheduled a home visit. During the home visit, my contact informed me that their agency decided that I was not going to get a baby. They don’t give babies to single parents. If I really wanted a baby, I would have to be willing to take all of their siblings which could mean three or four children of various ages. I was floored. It was time to step back and decide what I was willing to fight for and what I was willing to give up.
After some soul searching, I backed away from his option. From the beginning, it felt negative and wrong. They are a great agency, but not a great fit for me. After four long years of trying to become a mother, I did not want to jump immediately into motherhood with a teenager. I work at a college surrounded by teenagers. In a way, I was already experiencing some form of motherhood like that with some of my needy students. I was willing to fight for my desire to adopt an infant and bring that child home from the hospital.
During my lunch hours, I scheduled phone interviews with more agencies around the country. Some of them ended our conversations quickly once they realized that I was a single female. Some of them were willing to work with me but with conditions like only taking certain kinds of babies or waiting for a few single parents who were ahead of me to get a child before they listed me. Working with single parents seemed more like a burden with these agencies. Nothing seemed to be a good fit for me.
I don’t remember the key words that I used in my search that allowed me to find my chosen adoption agency, Independent Adoption Center, but I am so happy that I found them. They seemed to drop right out of the sky. After my negative first encounter with the first agency, they were like a breath of fresh air. Working with them required attendance in an information session, so I signed up immediately.
The session was crowded. I could tell by just looking at some of the couples in the room that they had gone down the road I recently traveled. Some of them carried the bags and binders given out by my in vitro doctor’s office. These were people who were worn out just like me. Then the presenter talked about how they were an open adoption agency explaining how that works. The room changed temperature immediately. Some people literally got up and walked out. They could not handle the realities of open adoption.
Open adoption is when a birth mother selects the adoptive parents from a brochure or online profile. If she chooses you, you meet together with the agency to decide how you will proceed. Legally she has complete control through the hospital experience meaning she can back out at any time. Depending on the state, you have a specific period of time after you leave the hospital where she can change her mind and take the baby back. That’s called a reclaim. In North Carolina where I live, she has seven days to reclaim. If I lived in New York state, she has 45 days to reclaim. Reclaim is a scary stuff and the laws around this vary from state to state.
When you meet with the birth mother and draw up an agreement, you decide medical things like should a boy be circumcised and what immunizations you want administered in the hospital. You make decisions about what role the birth mother will play in the life of the child. Sometimes birth mothers ask for just photos and a card once a year. Sometimes birth mothers want visits including birthday parties and holidays. If you are entering adoption and scared of any dealings with the birth parents, first educate yourself then if you are still scared, don’t go down this road. Nervous and overly aware is one thing, but scared is another.
Open adoption was a new concept to me, but I was never afraid of it. I loved the idea that my child would have contact with the birth mother. Children will have questions about adoption, who they are and why this happened. I didn’t want my child to have to speculate about these concepts. Instead, I wanted my child to be able to ask the birth mother directly. It seemed honest and realistic. Questions will need to be answered one day so having contact from the beginning made sense.
What scared me about this process was marketing myself to a birth mother. I am a single female who lives in a small house with a teacher’s salary. Who was going to chose me as the adoptive parent of their child? There were heaps of couples out there marketing right along side me vying for the honor. What could I bring to the mix to get her attention?
Creating my adoption brochure was the most difficult task in the adoption journey. It took the longest period of time since the agency had to approve it before it was sent to the printer. They knew best how young birth mothers were going to read the brochures. They have sat in the room with these girls and listened to them make this decision.
Luckily one of my best friends is a great photographer and graphic designer. She spent heaps of time helping me take and retake my photos. The text for my brochure was rejected numerous times. How do you put into words - Hey, let me be your child’s mother please? The images were equally tough. Does this shirt say “I will always have bandaids” to you? I ended up asking friends with kids to let me borrow their kids for an afternoon for photos.
Birth mothers make the final decisions for various reasons. My son’s birth mother chose me because I was a teacher. She was in college at one time to become a first-grade teacher but she had to drop out of college. Finishing her degree one day was very important to her. I represented someone who was doing something that she wanted to do. She also wanted to help someone who could not have a child become a mother. I was honest about that in my brochure.
Open adoption worked for me because of the level of honesty and connection to the birth mother. I am sad to say that my son’s birth mother has not made contact with me in a long time. Typically before the baby is born, the parents get together and make decisions knowing that the birth parents are in full control during that time. Our situation was different. She made her intentions known to put her son up for adoption at the hospital on the day he was born. We held our session together after her parental rights had lapsed. The “control” per se was on my side though I wanted to try to honor what she wanted.
His birth mother asked for four visits a year, but I would not agree to more than two. We could work up to more in the future, but during the first year with us having to work so closely with the adoption lawyer, I could not give her more than two. We agreed but so far she has not communicated with me after that session one month after he was born. I sent her a mother’s day card. It’s the birth mother’s Mothers Day the Sunday before Mother’s Day. The card contained a photo of my son. I send her a text every other month after I update the website with images. Still, there is nothing. It’s not uncommon for birth mothers to break all ties after the adoption is complete so I am not taking this personally. I just hope that she is taking care of herself and is proud of how fantastic he is when she does glance at our website.