When Adoption is Less Open than You Thought

broken promises


After going over multiple family albums with her counselor, Molli had found the family she felt would be perfect to adopt her daughter. The three of them developed a good relationship; they came to a couple of her doctor’s appointments, visited her in the hospital when she gave birth, and started sending her letters and pictures of her daughter every six months. They even gave her a heart locket to remember them.

But Molli wrote a guest post for us in 2008 in which she explained that as the years went by, it started to “seem as if they just don’t have the time to sit down and choose a few pictures and write a letter.” Trying to get her biannual updates started to feel “like pulling teeth.”

She was, of course, upset. “I just don’t understand,” she wrote in her post. “I mean we bless this family and give them the most wonderful gift ever, and they can’t even keep their long term commitment with me, the birth mom…A promise is a promise.”

Molli was right: A promise is a promise. Who knows why it had become so difficult for her to get her updates; one commenter suggested that it might be painful for Molli’s daughter’s adoptive family to write to her, because adoption can be a tough subject not just for birth parents but for adoptive parents as well. She suggested sending the family a Christmas card to “help get the ball in motion again.”

Adoptions Together and other ethical agencies work hard to help birth parents and adoptive families stay in touch if that’s what they’ve agreed to do, but unfortunately situations like Molli’s do occur. Adoptive families and birth parents are people, and sometimes people struggle in honoring promises they’ve made.

Trusting others can be difficult, especially when you’re going through a tough time. Many of the birth moms with whom we work have experienced a lot of broken trust in their lives, and being asked to take a leap of faith when it comes to adoption can feel scary. That said, there are precautions that birth parents can take during the adoption planning process.

For one thing, you can make sure you are working with a licensed, non-profit agency. Only licensed non-profit adoption agencies continue to provide support to birth parents and adoptive families after placement. If you are working with an unlicensed facilitator or an attorney, you won’t have a professional to whom to turn if your child’s adoptive family breaks your openness agreement.

Which brings us to our second precaution: Have an openness, or “contact,” agreement. A post-placement contact agreement is essentially a concrete plan, signed by the birth parents and the adoptive parents, for how they will keep in touch with one another, whether through letters and pictures, yearly meetings, or both. These contracts are legally enforceable in many states (including Maryland and Virginia), and although legal action is rare in practice, the document can be useful for birth parents, adoptive parents, and agencies to refer to when one party needs a little reminder.

You can also ask your agency whether they teach their waiting adoptive families about the importance of open adoption. At Adoptions Together, we work with our families to help them understand why openness is beneficial for them, for their child’s birth parents, and, most importantly, for their child. Through our trainings and one-on-one interactions with families, we have been very successful in encouraging families to maintain open relationships with their child’s birth parents.

Of course, we never know exactly how relationships will turn out – not our friendships, not our romantic relationships, and not the relationships between birth parents and adoptive families. But we hope that if you think adoption is the right choice for you, you will be able to take a leap of faith and trust that most adoptive families are entering into this relationship with the best of intentions. Ultimately, most of them just want what is best for their children – just like you.

Do you have an open adoption? How is your relationship with your child’s adoptive family?

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