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.”
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.
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?
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.
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.
The craziness of the holiday season can make us feel like we just don’t have the time to really stop and plan to do the things we should to take care of ourselves. It’s easy enough to say we’ll treat ourselves to something nice while we’re doing our holiday shopping, but how likely are we to really do that when we’re fighting for parking at the mall on Christmas Eve?
In a perfect world, we’d always slow down and take all the time we needed to care for ourselves. We’d sleep when we were tired and stay in bed when we felt sick. We’d read this blog post on surviving the holidays and follow every piece of advice in it.
But life is chaotic and we can’t always do that, so sometimes we have to find ways to take care of ourselves that don’t involve too much planning.
Below is a list of self-care “quick fixes” that each take five minutes or less. They won’t slow you down or keep you from getting to everything on your to-do list. So if you find yourself getting overwhelmed this month, stop what you’re doing, pick one of these activities, and take a quick self-care break. Your sanity will thank you.
Call a friend to wish them a happy holiday
Treat yourself to a favorite snack
Close your eyes and breathe deeply
Take a walk around the neighborhood
Dance to your favorite song
Stand up and stretch
Drink a cup of tea
Write a list of things for which you’re grateful
Schedule a self-care appointment (whether that means an appointment for therapy – or for a pedicure!)
Light a scented candle
Eat something green (did you know green foods boost your mood?)
Write a journal entry
Look at a few of your favorite photos
Which of these activities will you do to help you stay relaxed this holiday season?
Birth mothers often ask us how they can know for sure whether their decision to make an adoption plan 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 and loss.
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 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 your choice has been made. 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.
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?
Today we share with you a letter written by Juliana Whitney, who was adopted as a newborn and has maintained a relationship with both of her biological parents and many of their family members. We asked Juliana to write about what she, as an adoptee, thought birth parents should know. For more by Juliana Whitney, visit www.ThatAdoptedGirl.com.
Dear Birth Parents,
How are you? I miss you. I can only hope that you miss me too. Do you wonder what I’m doing? I wonder what you are doing everyday. I wonder what your personalities are like and what traits of mine are similar to yours. I have this goofy laugh that I’m sure comes from one of you. There’s no way I just came up with it all on my own.
I wonder if you love me still, because I love you. Even though we haven’t been together to build a relationship, it’s like somewhere deep inside my heart knows you, and loves you truly. I like to think that your heart feels the same way.
I know you were probably sad when you gave me to my parents, but you knew you were doing the right thing. I know you probably worry that I will be mad at you, or that I will be sad and hurt. I’m not mad at you. I understand your decision. If you thought my life would be better off this way, I will trust that you were right. As for sad and hurt, of course I’m sad and hurt. It’s only natural to be sad. But my sadness doesn’t take away from the amazing family I have and it doesn’t take away from how grateful I am that you loved me so much that you gave me to parents who could give me the life you thought I deserved. The life you couldn’t provide. That takes a lot of courage and I will be forever grateful to you for having that courage.
Your courage got me to where I am now and I am actually doing really well in this family you chose for me. I am super loved and anytime I face a struggle, my family is here to support me. I hope that you have the same kind of love in your life. Whatever it is that you are doing, I hope that you are loved and that you are happy. You are allowed to be happy. You might know that, I just worry that you will feel guilty about giving me up and that could make it difficult for you to be happy. There’s no need to feel guilty. I’m ok. Don’t worry. Yes, my separation from you left a wound but everyone has some type of wound. You and I share our wound. Our separation is our wound. Luckily, over time wounds can heal. They leave scars so you’ll never forget them, but at least they heal.
I hope you never forget me because I will never forget you. Even though I have never met you, I will think about you for the rest of my life, probably everyday for the rest of my life. I hope that you think of me too. And when you think of me, do so with pride. Do so knowing that you did something positive for me and for my parents. Do so not with guilt, not with shame, but with joy. Just as much as you don’t want to be the cause of my sadness, I don’t want to be the cause of yours either. Ok?
The reality is that maybe I will see you again, but maybe I won’t. Whatever the case may be, just know that my heart will never forget you and at least a little part of me will always miss you.
“I hate the fact that I can only see him during Christmas at an agency party. I hate the fact that I can’t watch him open his presents on Christmas morning. I hate the fact that he’s not here. I just miss him so much.” – Annie at BirthMom Buds
Because the holiday season is all about celebrating love and family, it can be a very difficult time for birth parents. If you placed your child recently and your grief is still fresh, your adopted child’s absence at the Thanksgiving table or on Christmas Eve may feel practically unbearable. If you placed many years ago, the intensity of that pain has probably subsided, but that doesn’t mean you won’t think about your child or wonder what this season might have been like if you’d made a different choice.
Below are some suggestions for taking care of yourself if you’re having difficulty finding the joy in this holiday season.
Reach out for support.
It’s okay to feel like you can’t handle this time of year on your own – you don’t have to. No one can take the place of your child, but that doesn’t mean other people can’t support you. Reach out to the people who have listened and been kind to you in the past, whether they’re family members, friends, social workers, or counselors. Many organizations have support groups over the holidays for people experiencing grief, so e-mail us if you’d like a referral. We can also set you up to talk with another birth mother if you think that would be helpful.
Give to others …. but prioritize YOU.
Your family may have a specific tradition or idea about how the holidays should be spent, and that’s great if those plans make you feel comforted and loved. But if they don’t– if, for example, your family was not supportive of your adoption plan, and thinking about spending lots of extra time with them around the Christmas tree stresses you out – then you may need to decide beforehand just how much time you want to spend with other people and how to balance your needs with theirs. Setting boundaries with people takes a lot of reflection and strength, and it may mean starting some new traditions instead of sticking to old ones. Remember, your health and well-being are important and deserve to be your top priority.
Start a new tradition.
Find a way to incorporate your child into your personal celebrations. Light a candle for them, make a special ornament to hang on the tree, or do something as simple as decorating with their favorite color. If you have an open adoption, write your child a holiday card or make them a gift to send in the mail; if you’re parenting other children, they can draw pictures to include in the package, too. Even if you are not in touch with your adopted child, you may find it comforting to write to them anyway, even if the letter never actually gets mailed.
Be thankful – or don’t.
Expressing sadness doesn’t make you ungrateful. In the same way that it’s possible to miss your child while also believing adoption was the best decision, it’s also possible to feel upset over the holidays while also giving thanks for what you and your child both have. And if you’re feeling too depressed or angry to give thanks, that’s okay, too! Your emotions are valid; there is no “wrong way” to feel. If you’re yearning for a little cheering up, volunteering can be a great way to help others, feel good about yourself, and remember how much you have to be thankful for.
The holidays may always be a little bittersweet for you as a birth parent, but they will become easier over the years. What will you do to take care of yourself and to celebrate this holiday season?
It’s still a little early for New Year’s resolutions, but the Adoptions Together team is already thinking about how we can improve next year.
As you probably know, Adoptions Together believes strongly in supporting birth parents before, during, and after placement. You may recently have worked with Jessica Taylor, our birth parent counselor, and Beth Stahl, our post-placement case specialist. (If you haven’t, feel free to reach out! They’re at 301-422-5116 or firstname.lastname@example.org, and 301-422-5104 or email@example.com). We also have a counseling center in Washington, DC, and work with a number of birth parents who provide peer support to prospective, or new, birth moms.
We are proud to provide these services and thrilled that so many of our birth parents stay in touch with us after they place, but we want to do an even betterjob of offering the kind of support that you need!
If you placed your baby through Adoptions Together, will you take our birth parent survey to help us learn how best to support you after placement?
The first days and weeks you spend without your baby are likely to be the most difficult part of your adoption experience.
Many birth mothers feel devastated, strangely numb, or both. Several have described waking up in the middle of the first night and panicking when they remember having placed their baby the day before. These emotions are powerful, and they are often intensified by the fact that, depending on the state where you live, you may still have the option of changing your mind about the adoption.
Whereas in some states an adoption is legally completed as soon as the birth parents sign the paperwork, other states have a period of time called a “revocation period” during which the birth parents can still regain custody of their child if they decide to do so. In Maryland, birth parents have thirty days to change their mind; in DC it’s fourteen days, and in Virginia it’s seven days.
But is it really the worst thing to do? The revocation period is extraordinarily difficult, yes, and we believe our clients when they tell us they’re glad once it’s over – but we feel that it is important for birth parents to have that time to fully make up their mind about what’s best for them and their baby. This is especially true for our many clients who haven’t been planning for adoption since the beginning of their pregnancies. We have worked with a number of women who were originally planning to parent but changed their minds hastily when their support networks didn’t come through for them. It is crucial for these clients to have a period of time during which they can process their decision and change their minds if they need to.
When we meet birth mothers who want to waive their rights to proceed under their state’s law specifically so that they will not have a revocation period, it’s actually a sign to us that we may need to slow the adoption down and give them more time to process and reflect on what’s happening. If a birth mother knows for sure that she is going to regret her decision afterwards, then we need to talk to her about why she is forcing herself to make this choice, and whether there is another way.
After all, it’s one thing to grieve and to wonder, “What if?” in the days after your baby’s placement; it’s another to feel certain that you made the wrong choice and want to regain custody of your child. If you don’t want to have the option to change your mind because you are afraid that’s what you will do, your brain is telling you something important. Placing your baby for adoption will be an incredibly hard decision no matter what, but if you don’t trust yourself to stick with the plan you’ve made, it might be because a part of you still doesn’t believe it’s the right choice for you.
Did you have a revocation period when you made an adoption plan for your baby? What was that time like for you?