How Will I Know If Adoption is Right for My Baby?

Birth mothers often ask us how they can know for sure whether their decision to place a baby for adoption was the right choice to make. We wish we could give them an answer so they wouldn’t have to wonder, but unfortunately we can’t.

No matter how well we’ve gotten to know a birth mother, we only see tidbits of her life. We don’t understand what it feels like to be in her shoes every day, what she is ready for, or what will be too difficult for her. No one but a birth parent can know whether adoption was the right choice for them.

The question is normal, though. When we make difficult decisions, we often look for signs that might tell us whether we’ve made the right one. Sometimes we find them, but other times we don’t. Trying to find meaning, to find lessons, is part of the cycle of grief, loss and healing.

But what if we stopped looking for signs, and just made them ourselves? What if, instead of waiting for them, we made meaning from our choices?

People choose adoption for all sorts of different reasons. The circumstances that led you to choose adoption for your baby might or might not have been in your control. What you definitely can control, right here and right now, is what you decide to do now that you’ve made the choice. Did you choose adoption so you could pursue your education? Use this experience to help you stay dedicated to that goal. Did you choose adoption in order to better provide for your other children? Spend extra time playing with them and nurturing them (they grow up fast!). Did you choose adoption so you could try to make some changes in your life? Remind yourself what those changes were, and reprioritize them if you need to.  Remember that we are here for you when you need us.

You won’t necessarily get a sign that adoption was the right choice for you to make. The only way to be sure is to create it yourself. There will be times when you doubt yourself, but you can use those painful moments to propel you forward. Your adoption story is a part of your life, and every step you take is a chance to write that story yourself.

Have you ever doubted your adoption decision? How have you determined whether you made the right choice?


Adoption vs. Safe Haven Laws: What You Should Know

pregnant woman wearing white shirt cradling her belly

Adoption vs. Safe Haven Laws: The Important Differences

In the 1990s, there was a surge in the number of babies being abandoned by their birth parents. Because they were left in unsafe places, many of them died. If you’ve ever felt overwhelmed by pregnancy or parenthood, it’s easy to imagine how these parents felt when they left their babies alone: frightened, uncertain, and desperate.

In response to these deaths, many states enacted what are known as Safe Haven Laws. Safe Haven Laws allow parents to leave an infant at a designated location – usually a hospital, police station, or fire station – and as long as the baby has not been harmed, the parent will not be punished for leaving them. Proponents of the laws hoped that they would encourage birth parents who felt they couldn’t care for their children to leave them in a place where the baby could be found and cared for, instead of abandoning them unsafely where they might not be found.

The well-being of children is our top priority at Adoptions Together. We believe that Safe Haven laws work well when they keep babies from being harmed. However, we feel that it is crucial for birth parents to know that Safe Haven is very different from choosing adoption for your baby through a non-profit agency.

If you are pregnant or a new parent and feel like you need someone else to take custody of your baby, take a moment to learn about the differences between using Safe Haven laws and choosing adoption.

Difference #1: Adoption gives you time to be certain about your decision.

Everyone feels overwhelmed at times. Some problems seem too hard to solve. But most of the time help is available, even if it seems difficult to find. An ethical adoption agency will help you access resources that can help you decide whether parenting is the right choice for you.  And adoption agency’s job is to help support you and help make a plan that’s right for your family. Safe Haven placements are designed to be anonymous- you don’t get that type of support, and you can’t just change your mind once you’re feeling better; you’ve already given up custody of your child. Plus, if you decide one day that you want to know how your child is doing, you won’t necessarily have the right to get in touch the way you would if you arranged for an open adoption through an agency.

Difference #2: With adoption, you are in control.

Ethical adoption agencies like Adoptions Together put you in control of your baby’s adoption process. This means that you can choose the adoptive family you want to raise your child and that you can determine what kind of adoption relationship you’d like to have with your child’s family, whether that means yearly letter-and-picture updates, in-person meetings, or other arrangements. If you give up custody of your baby under a Safe Haven law, the baby will go into the social services foster care system and their future will be determined from there. Not only can this take up to a year – which is a long time for a baby not to have a permanent family – but you don’t have any control over who eventually adopts your baby. Nor can you specify what type of contact you’d like to have with them and with your child in the future.

Ultimately, we all want children to be safe. If leaving your child at a Safe Haven location is the best way for you to keep them out of harm’s way, then we trust you to make that choice. But we also want you to stay safe, both physically and emotionally, and we don’t want you to give up your right to be a part of your child’s life if there might be another way. If you’re in crisis and worried about caring for your baby, we hope you’ll call us or another licensed agency so we can figure out a plan – together.


Will You Spend Time With Your Baby in the Hospital?

Making a hospital plan when you decide to place a baby for adoption can be stressful. If you’ve already talked to an adoption counselor, you’ve probably heard her say, “only you know what’s right for you”, so let’s build on that and talk about how things might work in the hospital when your baby is born.

Over the years, many birth parents who chose not to spend time with their baby in the hospital have told us that they regretted that decision. Some of them chose not to see their baby because they worried that doing so would make it even more difficult to go through with their adoption plan. Interestingly, we’ve found the opposite is true. In our experience, birth mothers who see and hold their baby after delivery tend to be better able to process the adoption later on because they don’t have unanswered questions about what their baby looked like or about what it would have felt like to hold, smell, and hear their baby.

If you are in the process of making an adoption plan, you may worry that spending time with your baby will create a bond between the two of you that will then make it impossible for you to place them with another family. When blogger Liz held her baby, her baby’s birth father warned her, “Be careful Liz, you’re creating that bond…” He assumed that their spending time together would make the adoption process more emotionally difficult for Liz. But Liz’ description of that moment says it all: “Little did he know, [my baby] and I already had the most powerful bond on earth.” In the end, adoption is bittersweet no matter what; deciding not to see your baby won’t change that.

Importantly, many of the birth mothers we’ve worked who have changed their mind about adoption were the same ones who made the decision not to spend much or any time with their baby while in the hospital. In some cases, their unanswered questions and feelings became too overwhelming and they ended up going back on the entire plan. As the folks over at Birthmom Buds explain, “Many birthmoms have regretted not spending time with their baby but we have never come across a birthmom who spent time with her baby and regretted it afterward.” We’ve found this to be quite true, and so have a number of birth parent bloggers, including Janel Indingaro, who spent time with her baby and the adoptive family in the hospital:

“I have photographs of all four of us spending time in my room. In the photos we are laughing and holding this sweet precious girl and I cherish those pictures. I am glad that I had this time with the three of them which helped me find a comfort zone with everything going on around me. During my hospital stay, I had no idea of the coming whirlwind of emotions I would soon cope with…”

In fact, far from wishing she hadn’t spent time with her baby before placement, Janel wishes that she had gone one step further and had fed her baby too: “If I could change anything about the delivery room and the recovery room, it would be getting the opportunity to feed [her]. I wish I would have said, ‘I want to hold her; I want to provide food for her.’ ”

Remember, seeing and spending time with your baby doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing scenario. You get to decide how much contact you want to have. Maybe you want to look at your baby through the nursery window but not hold them. Or perhaps you’d like to have just an hour or two with your baby. You’re in control; you get to make the plan, and you can always change your mind.

And we know we’ve said it before, but……only you can know what’s right for you!


Will I Have to Tell the Birth Father?

“Do you need the father’s consent to put a baby up for adoption?”

Birth fathers have the same rights as birth mothers in most states. In order to ensure that adoption placements are legally safe, we make every effort to contact the birth father to obtain his permission to move forward with the adoption process.  Your adoption counselor is trained to make this process as smooth as safe and stress free as it can be.

More About Birth Father Consents

One of the hardest topics for our birth parent counselors to bring up with birth mothers focus on father’s rights. Many birth moms have difficult relationships with birth fathers and would do just about anything to keep from talking about him or getting him involved in the adoption process.

If they don’t know very much about him, they might be embarrassed to tell us how casual the relationship was, no matter how many times we explain that we understand casual relationships and support women. If the relationship is tumultuous, they may be mad at themselves for having had sex with him – birth moms can be very hard on themselves! We have also worked with many survivors of sexual assault, who are worried that we won’t believe them or who feel ashamed about what happened, even though we firmly believe that sexual assault is never the victim’s fault. We’ve also worked on our fair share of cases where the birth father was mean, uncaring, or just generally difficult- cases in which the birth mom often assumed that the adoption process would go more smoothly if he just stayed out of it. (P.S. We’ve also worked with some wonderful birth fathers – that’s just not the subject of this post!)

If you are worried about talking to your adoption agency about your baby’s birth father, you’re not alone. Most of the birth mothers we work with are not in a committed relationship with their baby’s birth father. Every individual person and relationship is unique and complicated, and no good counselor or social worker will ever judge your situation.  Any ethical agency should be committed to ensuring your adoption is safe and legal, so contacting your baby’s birth father is in your best interest. They should also be committed to working with you to do that in whatever way is most comfortable and least upsetting.

If you are not comfortable or don’t feel safe contacting the birth father yourself, an ethical agency will work very closely and carefully with you to make sure you stay safe and out of danger. Birth fathers who are abusive usually don’t want to be found because they know their actions are wrong and they fear being charged with a crime. Typically, in these situations when an agency makes the “good faith effort” required by law, these birth fathers often find a way to stay out of sight. And even if your baby’s birth father is not abusive but you know he is going to make things difficult for you, we promise – and any other ethical agency will promise – to stand by you and do whatever we can to make the process bearable while also following the law.

If getting permission from your baby’s birth father is holding you back from making an adoption plan- contact us and we can help.

Were you worried about talking to your adoption agency about your child’s birth father? How did it turn out?


The Myth of the Careless Teenage Birth Parent

birth-mother-and-child

Let’s talk about teenage birth parents.

Who are they?

Getting pregnant, no matter how old you are, doesn’t mean you’re careless. And although there are thousands of teenage birth parents, there are even more birth parents who placed a baby for adoption as adults.

It’s time to dispel some of the birth parent myths which too many people still believe. With the help of the Donaldson Institute’s 2006 study “Safeguarding the Rights and Well-Being of Birth Parents in the Adoption Process,” we went ahead and took a look.

 

Myth: Most birth parents are teenagers.

Fact: Birth parents are an extremely diverse group.  But, statistics show that most birth moms today are high school graduates in their 20s, many of whom are already parenting other children. Only about 25 percent of birth parents are teenagers.

 

Myth: Most birth parents are drug users.

Fact: Many Americans struggle with substance abuse, and so do some birth parents, but that doesn’t mean that all birth parents abuse drugs. Every year about 13,000 to 14,000 women place an infant for adoption, and they each have their own unique situation and story.

 

Myth: Birth parents “give up” their babies for adoption because they don’t care about them.

Fact: Most birth parents choose adoption out of love for their babies and feel a deep loss after placement. Those who have open adoptions and are able to know how their child is doing as they grow up have been shown to experience lower levels of grief and greater peace of mind as time goes on. The term “give up my baby for adoption” is not positive adoption language, and we don’t use it!

 

Myth: Birth parents want to drop their babies off and never see them again.

Fact: Birth parents have the right to choose the level of openness they want in their adoption, and Adoptions Together respects the needs of those who do not wish to keep in touch. However, most birth parents say they do want to have contact with their child and their child’s family after placement, or at least receive information about how their child is doing. If you choose to place a child for adoption, we can help you decide what level of openness you’re comfortable with.

 

Myth: Sometimes biological parents don’t realize that adoption is the best choice for them and need a friend, family member, social worker, or medical professional to help them understand why it is.

Fact: No parent should be pressured into placing a child for adoption. Research shows that those who feel pressured into adoption have a much harder time healing after and adoption takes place. This is why Adoptions Together supports state laws that require thorough in-person counseling as well as waiting periods during which birth parents can change their minds.

If you’re a pregnant teenager and you’re interested in learning about your options, feel free to contact one of our pregnancy counselors at any time of day by calling 301-439-2900, or sending us a private email at pregnant@adoptionstogether.org.  Your calls and emails are 100% confidential, and we can’t reveal anything to your parents.

What other birth parent myths have you come across? Tell us in the comments!


Is Open Adoption the Cure for Adoption Loss?

image c/o missleaman.com

Sometimes it seems like all we ever talk about here at Adoptions Together is Open Adoption.

We talk about the research that shows that birth parents who have ongoing contact with their adopted children have lower levels of grief after placement and feel more at peace with their decision than do birth parents with closed adoptions.

We talk about how open adoption can provide reassurance for birth parents who might otherwise assume the worst about how their child is doing.

We talk about how openness mitigates any feelings of abandonment that children may have and helps them form a strong sense of self.

We talk about the importance of post-placement contact agreements and how much we wish they were legally enforceable everywhere.

All these things that we talk about are true – but they are not the whole story.

A few years ago, one of our birth parent counselors explained it this way: “openness is not the ‘solution’ to the pain of loss.” Yes, open adoption is the healthiest form of adoption when it’s possible – but it doesn’t “solve” the grief and loss that every birth parent experiences. It helps birth parents to process those painful emotions, but it doesn’t get rid of them.

In some ways, open adoption is more difficult for birth parents than is closed adoption. Some birth parents worry that they may be confusing their child about who their “real” parent is (although we have not seen this happen in the adoptions we’ve facilitated). More significantly, seeing and hearing from your child is wonderful, but it can also serve as a reminder of your loss.  It’s a tradeoff – you might experience negative feelings and memories, but you also get to see your child living and thriving in the world.

We hope you know that our strong feelings about open adoption don’t mean that we don’t understand how painful adoption can be, even in this form. People with closed adoptions and those with open adoptions both struggle with grief and loss; choosing which one is right for you means carefully considering both your emotional needs and the needs of your child.

What have your experiences with open or closed adoption been like? How do you feel about having one type of adoption versus another? Please tell us in the comments section below.

 


When Adoptee Rights Clash with Birth Parent Rights

image c/o www.washingtonblade.com

When a child is placed for adoption, their original birth certificate – the one that names their birth parents and that identifies them by the name their birth parents gave them – is “sealed,” or made private. In most states, the sealed certificate cannot easily be reopened.

Many people whose lives have been touched by adoption support the relatively recent movement to give adoptees access to their original birth certificates so that they can see their original name and the names of their birth parents. Sixteen states, including Maryland, now open or partially open adoption records to adoptees once they reach a certain age (in Maryland this age is 21). Many adoptees have used the information to search for their birth families.

“My Birth Certificate, My Rights”

People who support the unsealing of records believe that:

  • Everyone deserves to have access to their own information
  • Keeping original birth certificates sealed perpetuates shame about adoption
  • It is healthy for adoptees to know where they came from
  • Adoptees need to know who their birth parents are so they can access important medical information
  • Adoptees and birth parents should be able to communicate with one another if they want to

“My Adoption Plan, My Rights”

On the other hand, people who do not support the movement for unsealing records argue that not all birth parents want their children to have identifying information about them and that giving adoptees access to their original birth certificates violates these birth parents’ right to confidentiality. Historically, adoption professionals have promised birth parents that their identifying information would never be shared. Plus, it is important for birth parents to have some control over who knows about their decision given that adoption is often shrouded in secrecy. So the question becomes…

Whose Rights Come First?

We at Adoptions Together have generally supported the opening of adoption records because we have seen adoptees use the information to make connections with their birth parents that improve their well-being and the well-being of their birth parents. However, we are also very strong proponents of birth parents’ rights, so the idea of giving adoptees access to information that a birth parent may have specifically wanted to keep private doesn’t sit very well with us either, especially given that each birth parent has their own reasons for choosing whether or not to remain involved in their child’s life.

What do you think? Do adoptees have the right to their original birth certificates and to communicate with their birth parents based on that information? Do birth parents have a right to privacy from their biological children if they want it? What would you do if you find out that your child had seen their original birth certificate and now wanted to communicate with you? Tell us what you think in the comments section below!


Why We Love Post-Placement Contact Agreements

 

Open adoption is part of Adoptions Together’s mission. We think open adoption is part of healthy adoptive relationships. Let’s talk about one feature of open adoption that keeps birth parent and adoptive family relationships strong: the Post-Placement Contact Agreement!

birth-mother-and-child

We love post-placement contact agreements so much that we think they should be part of every state’s adoption laws – keep reading to find out why!

What Is A Post-Placement Contact Agreement?

A post-placement contact agreement is a plan for how birth parents and adoptive parents will keep in touch with one another until their child turns 18. The agreement might include exchanging letters and pictures, getting together every year, or some variation of the two – or both.  This is how open adoption relationships stay healthy.

Birth and adoptive families often talk about openness before placement happens, but having a physical contract makes the plan clear to everyone and gives each party concrete steps they can take to benefit from their adoptive relationship. It sets the stage for openness right from the get-go, which is great because a child’s connection to their birth family is an important part of their identity, and because birth parents who have ongoing contact with their children generally have a smoother healing process after placement than those with closed adoptions.

What’s the Law Got to Do With It?

We are glad that post-placement contact agreements are legally enforceable in Maryland and Virginia and believe that other states should include them in their adoption laws as well. Making the agreement a legal document underscores the importance of openness and also reminds birth parents, adoptive parents, and agencies how important it is to keep the promises they’ve made to one another. Making contact agreements part of every single adoption would also make cases where the reality of an adoption doesn’t match the birth parent’s expectations much rarer.

How do you feel about your post-placement contact agreement? Has your experience matched your expectations? Do you think these agreements should be legally required and enforceable?


Guest Post: Birth Parents Don’t Want a “You’re So Courageous and Giving” Parade

Birth Parents Don't Want

image c/o www.salem-news.com

In this edition of Birth Mother Stories, Ellen shares a response to a blog post about birth parents on TV. We wanted to share her words again in Birth Mother Stories since they relate to a post on the same topic.

I happened to see a commercial for this show [with an adoption plot] and as a birthparent my response was “Oh there we are – hiding in the bushes, ready to pounce and be crazy.” Besides knowing it is a stereotype (why would adoption searches be so popular if everyone was out there threatening each other?) I also think it is sad. The piece I think professionals and society in general miss is this: birthparents don’t want a “you’re so courageous and giving parade” when we place our children for adoption.

The circumstances that bring us to these decisions are often traumatic and paralyzing. The grief, depression and ongoing sadness is such an opposite of the world’s views: either you were so loving, courageous or there is some deeply crazy thing about you. Many adoptive parents, friends, acquaintances, professionals have some of these extreme views. Some don’t. The fact is: there are no societal rituals/acknowledgement of losing a child in this particular way. Birthparents aren’t the only ones. Other people have terrible circumstances in their lives for which people are afraid or ignore them. Many birthparents I know are expected to go back to work right away “because their child is now safe and secure in a family,” to take care of other children who may be in the family, go out with friends because “that’s all over with now” and continue with life as usual. Obviously, this post led me to report some of the “insider knowledge” that all birthparents know but often feel there’s no use in saying. I think it’s useful because a birthparent may read this and it may be one of the only places they see that it’s OK to be exactly who they are after placement – the good, the bad and the ugly. It’s not pretty or fun – it’s messy.


The Four Birth Parents You See on TV

image c/o threepeascreate.blogspot.com

Ah, television.

The Adoptions Together staff have done their fair share of binging on Netflix shows or staying up late at night to watch bad reality TV. But we’ve also done our fair share of cringing when we see adoption portrayed in the shows and movies we watch. Why, in a country where adoption has changed so much over the past fifty years, does the media have such a hard time wrapping its head around the idea of modern adoption? One blogger perfectly summed up media portrayals of birth parents by dividing them into four stereotypes: “the Juno,” the bad mother, the martyr, and the “baby stealer.”

1) “The Juno,” she explains, is based on “the blockbuster movie that shaped a generation’s opinion of birthmothers as people who make an adoption plan, walk away, don’t look back, and conclude ‘I think he was always hers.’” Sure, there are some birth mothers who do not feel a bond with their baby or grieve after placement, and that’s okay – but it’s rare. Very, very few birth moms can simply walk away after placing their baby and not need time to heal. Oversimplifying the emotions that usually come with birth parenthood is dangerous for women and men who are considering adoption and is unfair to those who have struggled with their adoption decision.

2) She also talks about the stereotype of birth parents as bad parents, “incapable of caring for and wholly unworthy of raising her children.” Movies like The Blind Side and Black or White show birth parents as substance abusers who don’t love or care about their children and don’t deserve to raise them. First of all, to say that all birth parents struggle with drug or alcohol abuse is blatantly incorrect. Second of all, the fact that a birth parent has struggled with substance abuse does not mean that they do not love their children. Even in cases where a child has to be removed from their birth parent’s care, it’s important to remember that each individual birth parent has their own complex set of struggles and emotions. Why judge someone whose life we know nothing about?

3) Then there is the martyr stereotype, where birth moms are portrayed as being “self-sacrificing heroes,” like on the MTV show 16 and Pregnant. The psychologist who hosts the show, Dr. Drew, praises women who choose adoption, calling them “so incredibly mature” and “selfless.” He’s not wrong – adoption can be a mature and selfless choice. However, parenting can also be mature and brave. Every person’s situation is different – in fact, every individual pregnancy is different – and there is no reason to advocate one decision over the other.

4) Finally comes the “baby stealer” stereotype. You might have seen the season of the show Glee where the cheerleader who placed her baby for adoption vowed to “get her back.” This stereotype is particularly harmful because most adoptions today are open, and promoting the idea that birth moms who have contact with their children will scheme to take their babies away from their adoptive families hurts the progress we’ve made in educating adoptive families and the general public about the benefits of open adoption. It also paints a picture of birth parents choosing adoption without thinking at all about their decision and then freaking out after they’ve made it. In reality, most birth parents think long and hard about their adoption decision; many agonize over it, and change their minds multiple times before choosing this option.

It’s easier, we suppose, for TV stations and movie producers to approach the topic of adoption when they can fit everything there is to know about birth parents into one of these neat little categories. Understanding birth parents as real people, with good and bad qualities just like everyone else, is more difficult than simply assuming their decisions to be easy, selfish, selfless, or just poorly thought out. By sensationalizing adoption stories and oversimplifying the lives of birth parents, the media doesn’t have to really consider the complexity or difficulty of adoption or try to understand the deep emotions that accompany it.

What do you think about how adoption is portrayed on TV and in the movies? Did these portrayals affect your decision or how you felt afterward? Tell us in the comments section below!