How Your Post-Placement Contact Agreement Can Help You Heal

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image c/o Tom Hunter via www.saatchigallery.com

Is it possible to predict how you’ll feel after placement?

The short answer is no. Every person is different, and your emotions will vary based on your personal situation and on how you handle life’s hurdles in general.

The longer answer is …. sort of. The Donaldson Adoption Institute found in an early 2000s study that birth parents who chose their child’s adoptive family and who had ongoing contact – or in some cases just a little bit of information about their child’s well-being – had lower levels of grief after placement and felt more at peace with their decision than did birth parents with closed adoptions. 

Women with the highest levels of grief after adoption were those who thought they would have ongoing contact with their child but whose adoptions ended up being closed. This can happen for many different reasons; check out our blog post “When Adoption Is Less Open than You Thought” to learn more. When open adoptions close, it is often because they were arranged through a for-profit adoption facilitator; facilitators generally end their involvement after they’ve been paid by the adoptive family, which means there is no one around after placement to make sure the lines of communication stay open.

Ethical adoption organizations agree that birth parents who specify from the beginning that they want to have contact with their biological children have the right to do so, which is why organizations like Adoptions Together also believe that post-placement contact agreements – the plan that birth parents and adoptive parents sign that specifies how they will keep in touch with one another after placement – should be legally enforceable. Right now, contact agreements are only legally enforceable in thirteen states, two of which are Maryland and Virginia (woohoo!) It is rare that contact agreements actually wind up being used in court, but knowing that they are official legal documents sometimes helps birth parents and adoptive parents stay on track with openness even when their lives and relationships get complicated.

If you live in a state where post-placement contact agreements are not legally enforceable, that doesn’t mean you can’t take steps to minimize the risk of your open adoption closing unexpectedly. First, make sure that the agency handling your baby’s adoption is licensed, non-profit, and regularly provides support to birth parents and adoptive families after placement. Second, ask the agency whether they teach their waiting adoptive families about the importance of open adoption. Organizations like Adoptions Together work with adoptive families to help them understand why openness is beneficial for their child, for their child’s birth parents, and for them. Third, make sure you still have a written post-placement contact agreement, even if you know it’s not legally enforceable; it never hurts to have things written down so that everyone is 100% clear on what’s supposed to happen.

As we said in our March 30th post, we never know exactly how relationships will turn out, and that includes relationships between birth parents and adoptive families. But planning for openness with a post-placement contact agreement plants the seed for a positive experience. It’s a good start, both towards ensuring a positive relationship with your child and their family and towards healing and coming to peace with your adoption decision.


The Birth Parent Song You Have to Hear Today

If you’re like many of the other birth parents with whom we’ve worked, you sometimes worry that your child won’t understand why you chose adoption and will grow up feeling hurt, rejected, or hateful.

On the contrary, we have found that adopted children are just as well-adjusted as children raised by their birth parents. Plus, birth parents who have an open adoption can personally explain their adoption decision to their child when the time is right.

But don’t just take it from us! Mark Schultz is an adoptee who wrote the song “Everything to Me” for his birth mother. The video is above and the lyrics are below, and we think you’ll find Mark is anything but hateful when it comes to his biological mom. One birth mom with whom we worked told us she teared up when she first heard it – and then she listened to it five times in a row. So take a few minutes to listen, and let us know what you think!

“Everything to Me” by Mark Schultz

I must have felt your tears

When they took me from your arms

I’m sure I must have heard you say goodbye

Young and so afraid, had you made a big mistake

Could an ocean even hold the tears you cried?

 

But you had dreams for me

You wanted the best for me

And you made the only choice

You could that night

And you gave life to me, a brand new world to see

Like playing baseball in the yard with Dad at night

Mom reading Goodnight Moon and praying in my room

So if you worry if your choice was right

When you gave me up, oh, you gave everything to me

 

And if I saw you on the street

Would you know that it was me?

And would your eyes be blue or green like mine?

Would we share a warm embrace?

Would you know me in your heart?

Or would you smile and let me walk on by?

 

Knowing you had dreams for me

You wanted the best for me

Oh, I hope that you’d be proud

Of who I am

 

You gave life to me, a chance to find my dreams

And a chance to fall in love

You should have seen her shining face on our wedding day

Oh, is this the dream you had in mind?

When you gave me up, oh, you gave everything to me

 

And when I see you there

Watching from heaven’s gates

Into your arms, I’m gonna run

And when you look in my eyes

You can see my whole life

See who I was and who I’ve become

 

‘Cos you gave life to me, a brand new world to see

Like playing baseball with my son late at night

And reading Goodnight Moon and praying in his room

I’m so grateful that I have this life

When you gave me up, you gave everything to me

Everything to me


Should You Go See a Therapist?

Counselor with Young White Woman

 

Way more people are in therapy than you think.

Many of us resist the idea of going to see a professional counselor, therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist because we assume that “normal” people don’t need to talk to a professional about how they are feeling – but nothing could be further from the truth.

In fact, a recent poll showed that more than one in every four adults had gotten counseling in the past two years. To put that in context, consider this: only one in five Americans has a tattoo. You read that correctly: therapy is more common than getting a tattoo.

Susan Cahill once said, “Life isn’t easy for most people,” and she’s right. Millions of us have, at some time, gotten to the point where our emotions just feel like more than we can handle. And while grief and sadness are normal parts of the adoption process for birth parents, if months have passed and you’re still not feeling like yourself, it might be a good idea to seek professional help. Here is a list of signs that it may be that time.

  • You feel sad or worried most of the time.
  • You are angrier and more irritable than usual.
  • You can’t stop thinking about things that upset you, like the adoption.
  • You have negative feelings about yourself, like that you are worthless or a bad person.
  • You aren’t interested in doing any of the things you used to enjoy.
  • The steps you would normally take to make yourself feel better aren’t working.
  • Your performance at work or school has gotten worse.
  • Your behavior has led your friends and family members to start acting differently towards you.
  • You get unexplainable headaches or stomachaches or find that you’re getting sick all the time.
  • You are abusing drugs or alcohol to help you feel better.

Walking into a counselor’s office can feel scary; you might feel embarrassed about needing to be there, or worried that you’ll be judged harshly for decisions you’ve made. But remember that the person in the chair across from you chose this job because they want to help people who are having a tough time. They’ve talked to all sorts of individuals with all sorts of problems. They don’t believe there is anything crazy about needing to talk to someone– so why should you?

Making an adoption plan can knock you off kilter for a bit. But we’ve seen many folks in your position successfully work through their feelings, even when those feelings seemed completely overwhelming to at first. You deserve to be happy, and if you’re having a hard time getting there, then we hope you’ll reach out to get the support you need. If you’re not sure where to find a therapist, give us a call and we’ll help connect you. Because hey, if Halle Berry can do it, then so can you.


How to Live in the Moment


It’s easy to get distracted by the chatter in your head.

For Laura Gladden, “Feelings of guilt, sadness, anger, grieving, and incompetence flooded her mind” after she placed her daughter for adoption. “Did I make the best decision? Will I regret this later? Will [the birth father] ever understand why I placed her?” Sometimes, says Laura, those questions and fears still strike her. “A lot of times,” she says, “I felt the urge to sink back to my old ways…I think this is pretty common with birth moms. We are so full of so many emotions that we sometimes don’t feel capable of becoming bigger and better.”

We all spend time replaying moments of our lives, and we all have regrets or fears about the future. This is normal, but it can also be harmful, because when we spend all of our time listening to our anxieties, we miss out on what’s going on right now. We stop being aware of our lives as they are happening – and it’s difficult to be happy when we’re not even paying attention.

Here are a few ways to slow down and savor each moment when you’re feeling haunted by old feelings or anxieties.

  • Breathe deeply. When we feel stress, our breathing automatically becomes more shallow, which works us up into even more of a crisis state. In other words, science shows that “just breathing” really can help you calm down!
  • Concentrate on small moments. For example, when you’re eating, focus on each individual taste. Don’t let your mind wander and start thinking about other things.
  • Spend a few minutes just sitting and relaxing. Leave your phone in another room and turn off the TV. Close your eyes and concentrate on relaxing your body. When your mind starts to wander, bring it back to the present moment, even if you have to actually repeat the word “Now” over and over to yourself.
  • Keep a journal AND read through it regularly so that you’re really thinking about what’s happening in your life right now.
  • Notice something new about everyday routines. Our whole day is composed of very small moments and tasks – how long has it been since you really thought about them individually? What do you love about getting your kids ready in the morning? What is relaxing about your get-ready-for-bed routine? As you go through the motions of your day, take a second to pay attention to exactly what you are doing and appreciate the little things.

If you practice these techniques and learn to “live in the moment” in your daily life, you may find that when life does get difficult again (and whose life doesn’t?), you’ll already be in the habit of reacting in ways that help you stay happy and healthy.

How do you keep yourself in the present moment when old anxieties threaten to resurface?


Guest Post: Embracing Your Feelings

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image c/o www.clairetimberlake.com

To follow up on our post about allowing yourself to heal, we wanted to re-post a comment that guest blogger Shana wrote back in 2008. At the time she wrote this comment, it had been nine years since she placed her son.

In reference to the difficult times … for a long time I pushed them away, refused to feel. I was so overwhelmed with guilt for all the things I had done wrong, and finally I allowed myself to really look at my son’s photo sent to me in an update. He was smiling so big and laughing and happy, and that minute gave me insight into what I had done right. I started to focus on the rightness of the whole thing. I stopped pushing away my feelings and embraced them instead. Now I’m not saying it is easy because it isn’t, but I know that I made the right decision, and I am proud of it. I know my son is happy and loved. Knowing this makes it easier to focus on the positive of it all. I just had to let go of all that negative focus. I think sometimes we get so used to feeling bad about our decision that we think it is normal. It doesn’t have to be that way. It is a huge burden for a child to carry, to be the cause of such pain and sadness in our lives. I don’t want my son to feel that way, I want him to know I’m proud of him and I’m proud of his parents, me included. I want him to know it hasn’t been always easy, but that it was worth it … for him!


Are You Letting Yourself Heal?

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c/o healingenergy.com.au

Pain doesn’t just go away by itself.

Losing a loved one, whether through death, divorce, or something else – like adoption – isn’t an event whose consequences you can just “wait out.”

But grief can be so raw and feel so unbearable that our brains tell us we simply cannot deal with it. We let ourselves become numb, burying and ignoring the pain, and we simply wait for it to pass and for life to get easier. Some of us do this by sleeping in bed all day or by distracting ourselves with hours and hours of junk TV. Others fill up every moment of every day with activities so they won’t have time to think about how they feel. For example, Chelcie at BirthMom Buds describes how she “went back to school about two months after [having her daughter] and lost 50 pounds in five months through diet and exercise.”

Numbing yourself to pain is a normal part of the grieving process – but only for a few weeks. If months have passed and you are still not allowing yourself to feel the pain of your loss, that means you are not healing. For Chelcie, that meant that “one day it all hit me. I was just plain sad. I had never let myself truly grieve for what had taken place.”

We sometimes suggest to clients, especially those who have other children or particularly busy lives, that they actually schedule fifteen minutes a day just to “feel their feelings” by talking to someone, writing or drawing their emotions, or just sitting or walking alone. It is important to give yourself time to sit with your emotions and let them hit you without trying to push them away.

As writer Carol Crandall states, “You don’t heal from the loss of a loved one because time passes; you heal because of what you do with the time.” Healing doesn’t just happen on its own, which is why you can’t bury your pain and expect it to pass. Kelsey, who placed her son for adoption five years ago, explains, “I gave my heart when I chose another family for my son.”

Healing from such a loss can’t possibly be easy, but that’s not the end of the story for Kelsey – or for anyone who has grieved their parenthood for a child. “I feel it constantly and the pain has not gone away,” she says. “I know it never will. However, the pain is only one piece of the puzzle.” If you can sit with your suffering, endure it, and work through it, you can come out on the other side. That pain will still be a part of you, but it won’t define you. It won’t keep you from living, loving, or being happy in your life. If you run from your feelings, on the other hand, “they will catch up to you and hit you harder.”

Have you ever numbed yourself to the pain of adoption? How were you able to heal?


How Are You Making Your Child’s Adoption “Worth It” For Yourself?

Dream Bigimage c/o higherperspective.com

Dreams
by Langston Hughes

Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.
Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.

We posted in December about how tough it can be for birth parents to try to figure out whether adoption was the right choice for them, and how no one – not even their fabulous Adoptions Together counselors 🙂 — can figure out the answer except for them.

But we also reminded you that you have the power to control the meaning of your adoption experience. So today, we invite you to re-read the famous Langston Hughes poem above and ask yourself “What are my dreams, and what am I doing to try to reach them?”

We already know you are a strong and determined person; if you weren’t, you could never have made the difficult choice to place your child for adoption. So take that strength and move forward towards the life you want for yourself. Make your adoption decision the right one for you by taking the actions that will make the sacrifice worth the struggle. Adoption is painful and difficult, but it also gives you an opportunity to refocus on your dreams, “hold fast” to them, and make them a reality.

If you don’t want to take our word – or even Langston Hughes’ word – for it, then listen to Mae Jemison, an extraordinary person and the first African American woman to travel in space, who said: “It’s your place in the world; it’s your life. Go on and do all you can with it, and make it the life you want to live.”


The Most Dangerous Stereotype About Birth Fathers

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Not too long ago, I met someone who asked me what I did for a living. When I responded that I worked in adoption and reproductive health, he asked, “Is it true that none of the fathers stick around?”

Of course that’s not true! I told him that there are plenty of men who are supportive of the pregnancy choices of their sexual partners and who make thoughtful and difficult decisions about parenting or placing for adoption.

His assumption was based on a common stereotype about birth fathers and, really, about many fathers in general: that they don’t care what happens to their children and don’t want to be part of their lives. This stereotype is untrue – and harmful. Assuming that birth fathers don’t care to be a part of the adoption or parenting processes can lead adoption professionals to shut them out and deny them the important opportunity to play a role in their child’s life.

We have worked with birth fathers who either disappeared when told them about the pregnancy or tried to stop the adoption despite having no intention of taking custody of their child. In situations like these, or in situations where the pregnancy was the result of casual sex, it can be difficult for birth mothers to talk about their child’s birth father. If the two of them have had a tumultuous relationship, that doesn’t help.

But we have also worked with many caring and wonderful birth fathers who made important decisions about their child’s future and continue to remain involved, whether through parenting or open adoption. Many of those who chose adoption helped to pick the family and make an openness agreement, and some were also present at the hospital for their baby’s delivery. We’ve also worked with multiple birth fathers who decided to parent their child, either with or without the child’s birth mother.

The 1991 cases of “Baby Jessica” and “Baby Richard” highlighted the dangers of excluding birth fathers from the adoption process. In both cases, a birth mother placed her baby for adoption without notifying the birth father. Each birth father found out and went to court, and both of them eventually gained custody of their children. Adoption “disruptions” like these are painful for everyone but especially traumatic for children, even if they are still babies or toddlers. Notifying these birth fathers to begin with would have been not only more ethical but ultimately less traumatic for their children.

At Adoptions Together, we always search for birth fathers who do not contact us themselves, not only because we never want to have a Baby Jessica or Baby Richard situation but because we believe that birth fathers have the right to be part of the decision making process and to play a role in their child’s life if they want to. We realize that it can be easy to forget to include birth fathers because agencies are likely to be in more frequent contact with birth mothers, which makes sense considering that birth mothers go through physical changes that birth fathers do not, and cannot separate themselves from a pregnancy the way a birth father technically can. In our experience, birth mothers tend to be more open about their feelings as well – but then again, maybe that is because birth fathers might not expect anyone to care about how they feel. As a professional at Spence-Chapin, a New York adoption agency, said a few years ago,  “We have to become more birth father friendly…It can take a lot of courage for a birth father to walk through the doors of an adoption agency.” She pointed out that it would help for agencies to hire more male social workers and to offer more resources for birth fathers.

If you’re the birth father of a child being placed for adoption, we hope you’ll follow this blog, read about your rights, and get involved in whatever way works for you and your child’s birth mother. If you choose adoption, you have the same right to yearly meetings with your child and your child’s family, and to letter and picture updates, as your child’s birth mother does – no matter what your relationship is to her. The adoption community doesn’t portray birth fathers as part of the adoption process as frequently as they ought to, but you’re important. You’re important to us, you’re important to the adoption process, and most importantly, you are important to your child’s life.


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?


The Worst Thing to Say to a Birth Parent

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You’ve probably heard it a million times.

“I could never give my baby up for adoption!”

Not only is it a ridiculous thing to say (because how do they know that? Unless they’ve had to actually consider it at some point, they have no idea what they’d do in that situation) but it’s also flat-out mean! It implies that there is something wrong with birth parents, as though good people are simply incapable of making adoption plans.

That’s ridiculous! As Jill’s friend Tamra once said, “If I’d loved my baby just an ounce less, I would have kept her. I placed her because I love her.” When a birth parent chooses adoption, they put themselves through one of the most difficult emotional, spiritual, and physical ordeals a person can endure, usually because they feel it is what’s right for their child. How could a person’s willingness to experience a deep and profound loss in order to ensure their child’s well-being possibly be selfish?

Adoption isn’t for everyone, and there is nothing wrong with someone deciding they cannot place their child for adoption. But as a birth parent, you know that making an adoption plan is sometimes the most unselfish, loving choice a parent can make for their child. So the next time someone declares to you that they “could never give up” their baby, remind yourself what it means that you did choose adoption for your child. Remember the reasons why you made your decision. Because at the end of the day, no one really knows what they’d have done in your shoes, and no pregnancy decision is selfish if it feels right to the person making it.