Reuniting Children and Birthparents

Sixteen states, including Maryland, have now opened or partially opened their sealed adoption records. This means that adults who were adopted in these states can see either their original birth certificates or their adoption records (depending upon the state) and search for their birth families if they want to.

Not all birth parents want to stay in touch with their child and their child’s adoptive family, and the unsealing of records does not mean that they have any obligation to communicate. It is possible, however, that a birth parent who has not been in contact with their child for many years could receive notice from an adoption agency that their child is searching for them.

The age at which a child is legally permitted to search for their birth family depends upon where they were adopted. In Maryland, the age is 21. A young adoptee might dream of going to their adoption agency on their 21st birthday, getting their birth parents’ names and phone numbers, and calling them up to arrange a joyful reunion with hugs and tears all around – but it’s not quite that simple. Adoption agencies themselves cannot release information about birth parents; the unsealing of the records has to happen through the state, which involves an application process and at least one counseling session. Once that’s been accomplished, the agency must reach out to the birth parent – which can be very difficult or even impossible – and send a social worker to meet with them to find out how they feel about the possibility of a reunion.

It is then up to the birth parent to decide if they are comfortable with opening up the lines of communication. If they are interested in doing so, the agency social worker will assist both parties in beginning to communicate with one another via letters and photos. Eventually the birth parent and adoptee may get to the point where it makes sense to meet in person, but it can take years to get there. Think about it: Getting in touch with a long-lost relative means inviting a new person into your life who you know nothing about. It is certainly very exciting, but there is also a good chance that each of you will have different expectations, which will need to be worked through so that no one gets hurt.

What would you do if you find out that your child wanted to communicate with you? Would you jump at the chance, or would it be too difficult? Tell us what you think in the comments section below!

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“Mommy, Where is the Baby?” What To Say to Your Other Children

mommy, what

image c/o mom.me

There is no hiding your child’s adoption from your other children.

Somehow, while you try to take care of yourself, process your emotions, and return to your daily life, you’ll also need to find a way to talk to your other children about their sibling’s adoption.

This may not be easy, but the good news is that you have more control than you realize over how your children respond. Kids process information based upon how it is presented to them; if you present the adoption as a good thing, then that’s how they’ll process it. Here are four important tips to keep in mind when you talk to your children about their sibling’s adoption.

1. Be honest.

Children always pick up on our emotions, even when we don’t state them out loud. No matter how hard you try to act normal, your kids will realize that something is going on, and if you don’t talk about it they will become confused and even frightened. Don’t try to cover up your feelings – instead, be honest about them. Let your child know that you are going through a difficult time and are feeling down. Most importantly, don’t try to keep the adoption a secret and pretend that nothing has happened or that the baby died. No matter how careful you are about keeping the secret, your child will almost definitely find out about it one day, and consider this: Would you rather your child hear the news from you, or from your aunt when she’s mad at you or your niece when they’re playing together outside?

2. Use words they understand.

Honesty is important, but that doesn’t mean you have to explain everything you’ve been through with this pregnancy and adoption to your toddler or very young child. It’s okay to simply say, “It would be too hard for mommy to take care of the baby right now, so the baby is going to live with another family. Sometimes mommy misses the baby and feels sad about that, but she also feels happy that the baby has a family who loves them very much.”

3. Reassure them.

It is natural for your child to feel upset or uneasy when they learn about the adoption. They will likely be afraid that if the baby went away, you might go away, or that they, too, will have to go live with another family. They’ll need to hear you say frequently that you are not going anywhere, that they are going to continue to live with you, and that you will always take care of them. Children often believe that they are responsible for unhappy events, so you’ll also want to reassure them that it is not their fault that the baby went to live somewhere else or that you are feeling sad.

4. Help them express their feelings.

Encourage your child to express his/her feelings by drawing a picture or writing a story or poem. Research has shown that drawing and writing reduce children’s anxiety and can also help parents to understand how their child is feeling. While you’re at it, why not sit down and write or draw with them? You’ll both have an outlet for your feelings, and your presence will reinforce the fact that they don’t have to worry about losing you.

Still worried or uncertain about how to address adoption with your other children? Talk to your adoption counselor! They can help you figure out what to say and can even meet with you and your child together.

How did you talk to your other children about their sibling’s adoption? Share your story in the comments section below.

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This Birth Mom Wrote a Play About Her Pregnancy

Mariah MacCarthy is a playwright, rapper, storyteller, burlesque artist, and birth mom.

In a society that is quick to judge women who choose adoption, it’s pretty rare to meet a birth mother who shares her experience with more than a few close family members or friends, let alone performs a play about it. But that’s exactly what Mariah did; last night she premiered her solo show, Baby Mama: One Woman’s Quest to Give Her Child to Gay People. Below is a clip of the show before it premiered.

In the clip and in the interviews she’s done to publicize the show, Mariah doesn’t share much information about why she chose adoption. She has spoken a great deal about what she calls the “invisibility” of birth mothers and how few people have actually met a birth parent or heard their story. We think it’s great that she wants to educate people about being a birth parent, especially because she does such a beautiful job of exploring both her certainty about her decision and how painful it was to make.

One thing we find confusing about Mariah’s sharing of her story is that even though she talks in her interviews about adoption language and the important difference between saying “place for adoption” and “give up for adoption,” she doesn’t follow her own advice! She regularly uses the phrase “give up” in her interviews, and goodness knows other birth parents are tired of hearing that.

Also sure to be controversial among birth parents is Mariah’s use of humor to tell her story. She’s pretty in-your-face about it, and although it’s clear from watching the clip that she thought very carefully about her adoption decision, we have a feeling that quite a few people will not appreciate how light-heartedly she seems to approach the topic in her retelling.

What do you think? Is it appropriate for Mariah to use humor to tell her story, or does it make light of too serious a subject? And how do you feel about the language she uses?

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How to Write the Perfect Letter to Your Child

how to write the perfect

Obviously, we’re on a bit of a writing kick. We can’t stop writing about writing (ha ha). And today we want to talk about a different kind of writing: writing letters to your child.

Really, the title of this post is a little dishonest, because nothing anyone writes is ever perfect, and that’s a good thing. Marc Jacobs once said, “Perfection is just… boring. Perfect is what’s natural or real; that is beauty” (who knew fashion designers were so wise? Now if only his purses were affordable). The point is that when you sit down to write a letter to your child, there’s no use in agonizing over trying to make it absolutely perfect. Whether you have been writing to them their whole life or are hoping to reunite after a long period of absence, the important thing as that you’re writing, not whether the letter is “just right.”

To help ease the stress that comes from trying too hard to be perfect, here are some tips to keep in mind once you sit down to write.

Don’t overthink it. If you put too much thought into this letter, you run the risk of becoming so overwhelmed that you never even get started. Remember, even if you only write three sentences, those three sentences will still be more than what your child has right now. They don’t need you to give them the answers to life’s biggest questions; they just want to be able to hold up a piece of paper and know that it’s a letter their birth parent wrote especially for them.

Keep it simple. You and your child are certainly connected in a deep and meaningful way, but they do not know very much about who you are as a person, so just start with the basics: your hobbies, your family, your job if you have one. What do you do every day? Who do you see? What is your neighborhood like? What do you enjoy doing in your free time? Think about when you were a kid and you met someone new. You weren’t interested in their deep-seated beliefs or their underlying motivations; you just wanted to know what kinds of foods they liked to eat and whether they enjoyed the same kinds of movies you did.

You don’t have to say it all. Many of our birth moms worry about telling their child about the difficult things that have happened in their lives. Some of them are particularly afraid to talk about their child’s birth father, especially if he was not officially a “partner” or if he was violent or abusive. There’s no reason to share things that you aren’t comfortable discussing. When you meet a new friend, you don’t tell them everything about your entire life in one fell swoop! First, you chat about the basics. Someday, when you know your child a little bit better and they are old enough to understand, maybe you’ll be able to talk about some of the hard times in your life and how they may have impacted your adoption decision. But right now is just the beginning.

Have you ever written a letter to your child? What did you write about? What advice do you have for other birth parents?

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How Writing Poetry Helped One Birth Mom to Heal

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image c/o teenlinkseattle.blogspot.com

How timely! After publishing a post on healing through writing, we ran across this article on adoption.com by a birth mom who began writing poetry after placing her son for adoption. She says that writing poetry helped her to heal: “Anytime I would feel the grief beginning to surface, I would break out a pen and try to get my feelings on paper.”

In addition to the heartfelt poem she shares, what particularly sticks out to us about this article is the author’s differentiation between grief and regret. Folks outside of the adoption world tend to have a hard time understanding that grieving is a natural part of the process; they often think that when birth mothers are sad after placement, it must be because they feel they made a mistake. But as this birth mom explains, “I missed my little baby with every fiber of my being but I still did not regret the decision that I made for him. Expressing sadness is a part of the grieving process…Sadness does not equal regret, and it is perfectly acceptable to feel sad and cry.”

She is absolutely right. Feelings of loss do not prove that you made the wrong decision; they prove that you made a difficult decision. There’s a big difference.

The author of the post also explained that after writing “quite a few” poems, she found new ways to express her feelings outside of writing. We loved her point that even if writing isn’t the way you choose to express your feelings, the important thing is to find something that works for you, whether it is “something you think you are not good at” or “a talent you already have.” Our birth parent counselor always talks to the birth moms with whom we work about finding their own methods of self-expression, whether that means writing, drawing, singing, dancing, painting, or anything else.

Head over to adoption.com to check out the article and poem, and let us know in the comments section below how you took care of yourself during your healing process! 

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Healing through Writing

anne frank quote

image c/o pinterest.com

Writing is a way of moving energy.

As you write, your emotions move through you and out onto the page. The emotions aren’t gone – but their pressure, their weight, has been transferred.

The beautiful thing about writing is that it is totally about you. You can share your story if you want to, or it can be yours and yours alone. You can even write to yourself. For example, some birth mothers write a letter to themselves while they are pregnant, explaining how they feel and why they are choosing adoption, so that they can go back and reread that letter later on when they are grieving or feeling especially emotional. Shannon at BirthMom Buds wrote a letter to herself before she went into labor, and later wrote a letter directly to her son. She has reread both many times. “I can tell you,” she says, “that if I didn’t find peace through these words I could have lost the war to pain.”

Jenna, one of Adoptions Together’s birth moms, also wrote letters to her daughter. In a previous post, Jenna explained that writing in a journal was the best piece of advice she could give to other birth parents. After she placed her daughter, she wrote her letters every day in a journal she’d bought: “I explained to her why I chose adoption, and even wrote to her in the times when I yearned for her the most.”

The longer you sit alone with your feelings, the more painful they can become, because they don’t have anywhere to go. Writing them down is a way to keep them from festering; it moves that negative energy out and onto the page. You might be surprised by how much lighter you feel after the first time you sit down and really write from deep inside yourself.

Has writing or journaling been a part of your healing process? In what other ways do you take care of yourself when you’re feeling down? Share with us in the comments section below.

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What All Birth Moms Should Know About the Hospital Stay

hospital

image c/o www.ucsfhealth.org

Some women spend eight months planning for adoption for their baby. Others don’t tell a soul they are pregnant. No matter what your pregnancy has been like or how long you’ve known about it, your labor and delivery experience will always be an integral part of your child’s adoption story – and you have the power to control what it will be like. Below are some decisions you may want to make before your hospital stay.

Who is going to be there with you? Some birth mothers want to be alone before, during, and after labor and delivery, especially if very few (or no) people know about their pregnancy. On the other hand, some birth moms with whom we’ve worked have had ten people in the room at all times! No matter how many people want to be there, you are the person who decides who can and can’t be. If your family or friends are against your adoption decision, then it will be up to you to either put your foot down about keeping them out or to be prepared to manage their emotions in addition to your own. Think about what you know about your family and friends and how you can best take care of yourself if they are around and have strong feelings about the outcome of this pregnancy. If you are the kind of person who needs to have a little bit of separation from others when you are emotional or who gets stressed out about having a lot of people tell you what to do, then you may need to put up a boundary and decide not to have any visitors. Our birth parent counselors have been in a lot of hospital rooms where family members were crying and telling the birth mother what they thought she should do, and in many of these cases, the birth mother ended up changing her mind about adoption and deciding to parent, because multiple family members had become attached to the baby. Changing your mind is absolutely okay; our point is that you should think carefully about how you will be feeling and who you will want to have supporting you during this difficult and emotional time.

How much contact will you have with your baby afterward? Again, it’s up to you. A lot of birth mothers decide not to see their baby after delivery because they are trying to protect their hearts; they know themselves and feel certain that if they do see their baby, it will be much more difficult to go through with the adoption plan. These birth mothers sometimes feel ashamed about not having any contact with their baby, and we urge them to remember that they know their own needs better than anyone else does and that they know best how to take care of themselves. We will say that the birth mothers who make the difficult choice to see and hold their baby after delivery tend to be better able to process the adoption later on, whereas those who do not get that time with their baby often find themselves with unanswered questions. Many times, the birth mothers who revoke their consent to adoption are the same ones who made the decision not to spend much or any time with their baby while in the hospital. In our experience, because these birth moms did not have the bittersweet experience of seeing, holding, feeding, and taking photos of their baby, they never had the opportunity to truly and completely face the reality of what was happening. In these cases, a birth mother’s unanswered questions and feelings can then become so overwhelming that she ends up changing her mind about the entire plan. That said, we have also worked with plenty of women who did not see their baby after delivery and did not revoke. Only you can figure out what will work best for you.

How will you name your baby? The baby will have to be named in the hospital, even if the adoptive family is going to legally change that name later on.  You will be asked about the name soon after delivery. If you do not want to name your baby, your adoption counselor can choose a name for you; if you do want to name him or her, you can pick a name you like, or a name that is meaningful to you, or the name of a family member. Pick whatever you want, but remember that the adoptive family may change this name later on. If you are thinking of using a name to which you are very much attached and you think you will feel hurt if it is changed, discuss this with your adoption counselor so that she can find out how the adoptive family is planning to go about naming the baby.

Find a middle ground. This hospital stay should be tailored to your needs. You don’t have to choose between ten visitors or no visitors – you can choose exactly who you want to have with you and when. You don’t have to choose between having no contact at all with your baby or having a huge amount of contact – you can choose to spend one or two hours with your baby or to simply look at your baby through the nursery window. And most importantly, you can always change your mind. If you decided beforehand to allow visitors but end up feeling overwhelmed, you can ask them to leave.If you decided not to see your baby but then realize you want to do so after all, you have every right to ask a nurse to bring your baby in to you or to go to the nursery to visit your baby. Keep your adoption counselor in the loop about how you are feeling and what you need, and she will work with hospital staff to make sure you are as comfortable as possible throughout the experience.

If you are planning for adoption and nearing your due date, let us know in the comments section what you think of these suggestions and what your own plans are! And if you made an adoption plan in the past, we’d love to learn more about what it was like for you. Did you have visitors and/or contact with your baby after delivery? How do you feel about those decisions now? 

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What Was Your Hospital Stay Like?

 

hospital

image c/o benin2009.com

Right now the Domestic Infant Program team here at Adoptions Together is getting ready to do several trainings for hospital staff in the DC/MD/VA area. We address a number of topics in our trainings, from basic information about open adoption to the different types of adoption professionals to how to handle adoption cases in a compassionate and caring way.

The purpose of these trainings is to help the staff at the hospitals where our birth moms deliver to be knowledgeable and sensitive about adoption so that birth parents can have the most comfortable experience possible. In order to train them, we’d love to hear from youwhat was your hospital stay like? Did the nurses, doctors, or social workers do anything that made the process especially smooth or difficult? What do you wish would have happened differently? Tell us in the comments section below! 

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When You’re Pregnant Again After Placing

when you're pregnant

image c/o www.yahoo.com

“How could I let this happen again?” If you became pregnant again soon after making your adoption plan, you might feel embarrassed about finding yourself in a similar situation or face judgment from family members or friends. Below are some things I hope you’ll remember as you navigate this pregnancy and think about your options.

Unplanned pregnancies happen.

I’ve worked for several years in the family planning field, and you can trust me when I tell you that you are not the first person to have more than one unplanned pregnancy. Many women feel intensely disappointed in themselves, especially if, after terminating the pregnancy or giving birth, they continued to have sex with the same partner without making any changes as far as using birth control or what kind to use.

Certainly, practicing safer sex can significantly decrease your chances of an unplanned pregnancy, and you can use this experience to guide you in making changes in the future. But instead of feeling ashamed or angry at yourself, consider this: in each woman’s lifetime, there are about thirty-five years during which she can become pregnant. Thirty-five years is an awfully long time to expect yourself to be completely perfect! You’re human. Unplanned pregnancy is common. Anyone who looks down their nose at you is being unfair and unrealistic.

Every pregnancy decision is different.

If you made an adoption plan because you were not in a place where you felt like you could provide the life you wanted for your child, then there is a good chance that your circumstances have not completely turned around since then (after all, change takes time). For this reason, some birth moms feel like they have to choose adoption again. First of all, there is no “have to.” This is your choice, just as it was the first time. If you don’t want to make another adoption plan, then forcing yourself to do so is a bad idea.

Second of all, every pregnancy is different, even if the circumstances aren’t. One big difference is that now you know what adoption is like. When you make your choice this time around, you can consider the feelings you had during your placement as you think about what to do. Remembering the intensity and emotional difficulty of the adoption process, you may feel like you simply can’t go through that again, and that’s okay. If you do choose adoption, you have the power to make any changes that you think would have made things easier the first time around. Talk to your adoption counselor about what you want and about any issues that need to be addressed. No two adoptions are the same.

Did you become pregnant again soon after making an adoption plan? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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3 Tips for Great Annual Meetings with Your Child

3 tips for great

image c/o www.youtube.com

First dates are pretty awkward. You’re not sure what to talk about, you worry about how you look and sound, and it’s impossible to tell what the other person is thinking.

Birth parents and adoptive parents tend to feel the same way about their first meeting after an adoption. Everyone wants to make a good impression, but no one knows how to do that because they barely know one another!

It’s completely normal to feel anxious about your first post-adoption meeting with your child’s family, but we’re confident that you can not only get through it but really enjoy it. Here are a few tips to guide you.

1) Call your agency.

In the first couple of years after you make your adoption plan, you can expect to get a call from Adoptions Together a month or a couple of weeks before your meeting is supposed to take place; after that, it’s up to you to reach out to us when it’s time for your next meeting so we know you’re on board. We have a counselor who is dedicated to working with birth parents and adoptive families “post-adoption” (after the adoption has taken place), and she will talk to you about what to expect if you’ve never had a meeting before. She’ll also reach out to your child’s adoptive family to schedule a date and time that works for everyone.

2) Know what to expect.

Meetings usually take place in one of the Adoptions Together offices or at a park, depending on the time of the year and how old your child is. A social worker from Adoptions Together will be there to support you and to make sure that you feel comfortable; if at any time during the meeting you feel overwhelmed, just pull her aside and the two of you can talk privately. Meetings usually last about two hours, during which time you’ll chat with your child’s family (don’t worry, your social worker will help come up with things to talk about!) and play with your child.

3) Think about who to bring.

If you’re comfortable bringing your children to the meeting with you, that’s great! It’s never too early for them to establish a relationship with their sibling. Aside from your kids, it might be tempting to invite your partner, your parents, your grandparents, or other family members or friends so that they can get to know your child. Bringing a support person is also a great idea, although we don’t recommend bringing more than one. The purpose of these meetings is for you to get to know your child and their family and begin building a relationship with them, which is difficult to do if there are too many people in the mix. So, definitely invite your partner, your mom, or your friend – but don’t invite all three.

Your first meeting might feel a little awkward, and that’s okay! The relationship is still new and everyone is a bit jittery. We promise that as time goes on, everyone will become more comfortable — we know this because after the first couple of meetings, most birth parents and adoptive families tell us that they feel comfortable setting up future visits on their own and just leaving our agency out of the whole thing. Of course, we’re always available if you want us there, but you’ll probably be surprised to find you don’t need us.

Do you have a meeting with your child and their family coming up? How do you feel about it? If you’ve already had a meeting (or two, or more), tell us how it went in the comments section below!

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