What Every Birth Father Should Know

99222-Fathers-Day-Just-Ahead

photo c/o www.desireehartsock.com

The approach of Father’s Day has got us thinking about how little the adoption community talks about birth fathers and their rights.

Birth fathers’ underrepresentation in portrayals of adoption (except every once in a while as the “evil” man who takes a baby away from adoptive parents) means that many people don’t realize that birth fathers have a say in the adoption process. As a birth father, you have the right to be part of the decision making and to play a role in your child’s life if you want to.

If You Want to Parent

By law, any adoption agency working with a birth mother must make every effort to locate and notify the birth father about the adoption plan. Even if the birth mother has already given temporary custody of the child to an adoption agency or family, no legal adoption can happen until you, the birth father, have been notified. Each state has a different notification process; in Maryland, DC, and Virginia, you have 30-60 days after you find out to decide whether you would prefer to parent or to move forward with the adoption.

If You Choose Adoption

Like your child’s birth mother, you have the right to choose and meet your baby’s adoptive family and to remain involved in their life through open adoption. Many birth fathers with open adoptions find themselves feeling tentative about asking for their yearly meetings or updates, especially if they are no longer involved with their child’s birth mother. Remember, your relationship status does not change your right to be part of your child’s life. You can ask for updates and meetings whether or not your child’s birth mother is around or involved.

If You Are Incarcerated

A birth father who wants to parent but is incarcerated may be able to work with his local department of social services to determine how to make that possible once he is released. If your release date is not coming up soon, then it may be difficult for you to make a plan to take the place of adoption. Obviously, you cannot force your child’s birth mother to parent, but we have worked with birth fathers who had family members willing to be part of a parenting plan until their release. And even if you are not able to provide an alternative plan and the adoption goes forward despite your objection, you can still be a part of your child’s life after the fact through open adoption. (For information on asking for openness in a closed adoption, go here or here).

The bottom line as that whether you and your child’s birth mother choose parenting or adoption, you can remain involved.

Darrick Rizzo is a birth father who has written a lot about the adoption of his son; he currently has a post up at America Adopts about how difficult Father’s Day is for him. There aren’t very many birth father voices in the media, so consider taking look at his article, and let us know what you think. You can also add your voice to the birth father discussion by leaving a comment below.


“What If I See Them At the Grocery Store?”

grocery store

image c/o www.vectorart.com

We are often asked by birth parents and adoptive families alike, “What if we run into one another in public?” The prospect of running into your child’s adoptive family at a time and place where you weren’t expecting to see them can seem scary, but if you think in advance about what to do, you’ll be less likely to freeze up if it happens (you know, like you did that time you ran into your ex at the grocery store). You could even talk to your child’s adoptive family about what would be most comfortable for you both in that situation. This is an especially good idea if you live in the same community and know that there is a strong likelihood you’ll see each other around at some point.

So what do you do if you’re waiting in line at Starbucks for your expensive milkshake-like drink and your child and his mom walk through the door? Well, think about what you normally do when you run into an acquaintance or a friend. You probably smile, say hi, chat for a moment, and continue with your errands, right? You can do the same thing if you see your child’s family. Be your normal self, talk for a few minutes about how everyone’s doing, and, since chances are you’ll both have somewhere else to get to, pick up your yummy drink and say a friendly goodbye.

Birth parents and adoptive families do fine in these situations; the difficult part sometimes comes afterward, when the birth parent starts replaying their reaction over and over in their head. “Was the way I said ‘hi’ weird? What did they really mean when they asked me how things were going?” That sort of thinking can drive a person crazy, so don’t just let your brain keep rewinding itself – find someone to talk to and let it out. It’s normal to feel a little anxious or upset after something happens that you weren’t anticipating, and depending upon how long it’s been since you made your adoption plan and how you’re doing emotionally at the time, it could bring up some feelings of grief and loss, so it’s important to have someone you can talk to, whether it’s your adoption counselor (hi there!) or a friend or family member.

Have you run into your child’s adoptive family at the grocery store or somewhere else? What was it like? How did you feel afterward?


“A Case for the Misunderstood Birth Mom”

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image c/o etsy.com

Wynter Kaiser, a birth mother and the founder of the Made to Mother project, wrote an important article that was posted today over at America Adopts. In it, she discusses how the idealized adoption scenario where “a young girl gets pregnant and loves the baby so much that she decides to give it a better home and life than she can offer” romanticizes what is usually a much more complex situation. She fully acknowledges that many birth mothers do feel anguished about their decision and feel a connection with their child that makes them want to play a role in that child’s life, but she reminds her readers that “we are not cookie cutters;” she, personally, appreciates the communication she receives from her child’s adoptive family but does not feel the need to seek it out.

Wynter makes an important point that not all birth mothers want contact with their child or their child’s adoptive family, and that the reasons why are as varied and unique as their stories and lives are. Here at Birth Parent Place we post a lot about open adoption, so we were glad to be reminded by Wynter’s post that one of the most important things about any adoption plan is that the birth mother is empowered and in control.

We encourage women to leave the door open for updates or meetings for a couple of reasons. First, we have worked with a large number of women who initially rejected playing any role in their child’s life but then changed their minds. Second, research has shown that openness is very beneficial for adopted children in terms of their emotional development. For these reasons, we urge birth mothers not to dismiss openness right away based solely on how they feel at the time of delivery; however, we also believe that no birth mother should be pressured to engage in a relationship with her child or that child’s family. There is no right or wrong way to do adoption as long as everyone’s rights are respected.

Do you agree with Wynter that adoption scenarios tend to be idealized or romanticized? How do you feel about openness? Have your feelings changed at all over time?


#Placed

Hopefully you had the chance to see Birth Mother Baskets’ wonderful video kicking off last month’s #placed campaign; if not, click the link above to watch it! We enjoyed reading people’s responses on Twitter and Facebook throughout the month (go to Birthmothers 4 Adoption to see some great ones that people posted).

The terms “gave up,” “gave away,” and “put up,” are used too frequently and they misrepresent what birth mothers do when they thoughtfully and carefully #place their babies for adoption. Making an adoption plan is a difficult choice made out of tremendous love; the notion that it happens because a parent does not want their child would be laughable if it weren’t so hurtful. As birth mother Lindsey Mathis explained on the Birth Mom Baskets site, “We gave LOVE, gave LIFE, but we NEVER gave up!”

What do you do when people use phrases like “gave up” to describe adoption? Do you respond, or do you let it slide?


Asking for Openness in Your Child’s Adoption: Part II

three doors in a a row - red, yellow, green - all doors open

image c/o publishingguru.blogspot.com

Last Thursday we posted about the importance of reaching out to your adoption agency to ask for annual meetings or updates, and we stressed that the door is always open for contact, no matter how long it’s been. We let you know that even if you did not make a written contact agreement as part of your child’s adoption plan, you still have the right to ask for openness, and that any ethical agency will do its best to get you at least a letter or picture update from your child’s adoptive family.

So, let’s say you’ve contacted your adoption agency, or you’ve written a letter or e-mail to your child and their family. Now what? Waiting for a response after you’ve reached out can be difficult. Sometimes it takes an adoptive family a couple of weeks or a month to get back to a birth parent, and in some cases, it takes years. In the meantime, it is important that you take care of yourself so that you do not become consumed by feelings of helplessness or anxiety. Try to remember that there are many reasons why it might take a family some time to respond to a request for contact, and that many of those reasons have nothing at all to do with you; families can get very busy, and they all go through rough patches. We have worked with several families who, because of what was going on in their lives, were initially unresponsive to birth parents’ requests for contact, but who turned out to be very open minded about keeping in touch. It might also help to remember that after your child turns 18 or 21, you will be able to reach out to them directly (these ages correspond to the laws in DC and Maryland, respectively). This might seem like a long way away, but sometimes it helps just to know that this option will be available no matter what happens.

Also remember that this is uncharted territory for adoptive parents, too, and if you haven’t been in touch before now, then they, just like you, are new to this. They, too, are probably nervous; they, too, are likely to be concerned about making a good impression. And in the same way it might have taken you months or years to work up the courage to write them a note, they might need time to get their bearings and become comfortable with the idea of being in touch with you. That doesn’t mean it will never happen! A little bit of patience and understanding on your end might just go a long way for your future relationship. The fact is that adoption is a lifelong process for everyone, including adoptive parents, and in order for communication to happen, you will all need to be patient with one another.

Are you a birth parent currently waiting to hear back from your child’s adoptive family? Have you gone through this process in the past? Tell us about your experiences!


Asking for Openness in Your Child’s Adoption

open doorimage c/o vickicaruana.blogspot.com

Ever found yourself in an “After you!” “No, after you!” situation, where both people are trying to be polite, and the result is that no one gets to walk through the door? We see the same thing happen with birth parents and adoptive families when it comes to their annual updates or meetings! Many birth parents don’t ask about scheduling updates or meetings because they don’t want to be seen as pushy, and at the same time, a lot of adoptive parents aren’t sure if their child’s birth parents even want an update or meeting, so, not wanting to pressure anyone, they stay silent. As both parties waffle as to whether they should be the first to do something, time goes by and sometimes feelings get hurt.

The solution? Remember that it’s always okay to ask for your annual meeting or update! At Adoptions Together, we rely on birth parents to let us know when they are ready for an update or meeting, so don’t wait for us to contact you – give us a call! We’re always happy to hear from you. This applies not only to birth mothers but to birth fathers as well; a birth father can get updates and have meetings with his child and his child’s adoptive family whether or not he is in a relationship with his child’s birth mother and regardless of whether she has contact with their child. For all birth parents, even if we haven’t heard from you for a long time – even if you’ve never had a meeting or update – the door is always open. It takes some birth parents years to become emotionally ready to make contact with their child, and that’s okay.

If you placed your child through a different agency or through a lawyer or facilitator and you want to get in touch with your child and their adoptive family, call or e-mail the person who was your primary contact during the adoption process. Even if you do not have a written agreement, you have every right to ask for openness, and any ethical agency will do their best to get you, at the very least, a letter or picture update from your child’s adoptive family.

We know that asking for updates and scheduling meetings can be scary, especially the first time you do it. You may be worried that your child’s adoptive family will say no, or you might feel apprehensive about starting a relationship that will bring up a lot of different emotions for you. We can talk with you about those feelings, give you information about what your updates or meetings might be like, and walk you through the process. Opening this door can be a wonderful experience for you and for your child and their adoptive family – someone just has to be the first to walk through it.


“Adoption Saved My Life”

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image c/o www,shutterstock.com

When browsing birth parent blogs last week, we were touched to read Courtney’s April post at I’ll Love You For Always where she explained her conviction that “adoption saved my life.” She describes how seven months prior she had been so depressed that she “could scarcely get up to make my oldest something to eat” and how the path she was on was “dangerously close to costing me everything. Even my life.” The process of adoption, she explains, gave her hope. Through the love and compassion of her baby’s adoptive family and a few other people, she came to know herself to be a person “worthy of happiness and success,” whereas if she had not made the adoption plan, she doubts whether she would even be alive today.

Courtney’s story got us thinking about the many women we’ve worked with who were at a rough place in life when they became pregnant and for whom that pregnancy was an incentive for change. Whether they chose parenting or adoption, the desire to be the best parent or birth parent possible motivated them to work hard to make changes that improved their lives. For some of our clients who chose adoption, the desire to maintain a relationship with their child and their child’s adoptive family and to be a positive presence in their child’s life helped drive their efforts to overcome major struggles. Often, those struggles were financial; in her post, for example, Courtney describes how before she placed her baby, she was living in a hotel room with her two children with nothing but vouchers with which to clothe them. We have heard from many birth mothers that adoption played a large role in their ability to become (or remain) financially stable. It is wonderful to read on Courtney’s blog that she is now leasing an apartment and doing better both financially and emotionally.

Read Courtney’s story and let us know what you think! We’d also love to hear from you about how adoption affected your life.


Adoption “Facilitators”

Anyone who has done even just a little bit of research on adoption knows that the Internet abounds with advertisements aimed at birth parents and adoptive families. Almost all of these ads market the services of what we call “facilitators.” Facilitators are neither service providers nor attorneys; you can think of them as “match makers.” They work with families who want to find a baby to adopt. Because their priority is to secure a baby for their clients, if you choose to do an adoption plan with a facilitator, it is extremely important that you know your rights, since they will not provide you with counseling or legal assistance before, during, or after the adoption.

know your rights

image c/o www2.qut.edu.au

If you are considering adoption, you have the right to:

Learn about all of your options without feeling pressured to choose adoption. At Adoptions Together, we believe that birth parents should receive counseling about all of their options, such as keeping the child in the family, and should continue to receive emotional support after the adoption. If you do not know whether or not the organization with whom you are working is a facilitator, you can figure this out by asking whether they plan to have you meet with a licensed social worker. You have the right to meet with a counselor in person before making any decision.

Choose the adoptive family and how much contact you want to have with your baby after the adoption. You may not get everything you want – for example, it’s very rare for an adoptive family to agree to visit the birth parents every single month – but neither should the adoptive family’s wishes be the sole consideration in determining how open the adoption will be.

Make an adoption plan if you choose to do so regardless of your or your baby’s health, age, or ethnicity.  Some facilitators refuse to work with birth parents of certain ages or races or birth parents who have specific health issues or histories. Similarly, if your baby is born with any type of medical condition, some facilitators will no longer be willing to work with you.

Be provided with your own attorney to represent your rights. Although you may have the option to waive your right to an attorney, we advise you not to do so if you are working with a facilitator, since their legal obligation is to the adoptive family rather than to you. The facilitator or adoptive parents should pay the fees for you to have your own attorney.

Wait at least 24 hours after your delivery to sign the paperwork. Almost every state prohibits birth parents from signing an adoption consent before their baby is born. Some states require a certain number of hours to pass after delivery before paperwork can be signed (in DC, for example, no consent can be signed until 72 hours after delivery). Even in states where there is no minimum wait period (such as Maryland and Virginia), ethical practitioners will wait at least 24 hours to give you time to rest and recuperate.

Spend as much or as little time with the baby in the hospital as you wish. You are your baby’s legal parent until the revocation period ends, which means that you have the absolute right to spend as much or as little time with your baby as you wish. You also have the right to make any and all medical decisions regarding the baby, even if the adoptive family is involved or present at or after your delivery.

Revoke your consent to the adoption within a certain number of days if you change your mind. The “revocation period,” or amount of time you have to change your mind after you have signed the adoption paperwork, depends on the state. Birth parents in Maryland have thirty days to change their minds, and birth parents in DC and Virginia have ten days. Some facilitators may urge you to waive your rights in your state and follow a different state’s revocation law. Before you do so, make sure you know exactly what the difference will be; some states have very short revocation periods, and others have no revocation period at all, which means that if you are following those states’ laws you will not be able to change your mind after signing. If you are not comfortable with waiving your rights in your home state, you have every right to refuse to do so.

If you are working with an adoption facilitator and you feel pressured or uncomfortable about how things are going, we urge you to reach out to an adoption agency so that you can get some counseling as you decide how to proceed. Licensed non-profit adoption agencies are staffed by social workers, counselors, and attorneys who can offer you support both before and after you make an adoption plan. They are licensed by the state to make adoption placements, so another way to figure out whether you are working with a facilitator is to ask whether they are licensed or accredited in the state in which you live, and if they are not, to ask in what states they are licensed or accredited. Again, if you think you are working with a facilitator and something just doesn’t feel right about it, reach out to us here at Adoptions Together. We can provide counseling for you if you live in Maryland, DC, or Virginia, and if you live elsewhere, you can still give us a call and we will gladly help you find a licensed agency in your state.

For those of you who made an adoption plan in the past, did you work with a facilitator or with an agency or attorney? What was your experience like?


Hurtful Comments about Adoption

If Mother’s Day was a happy day for you, we hope you rejoiced; and if it was a sad and difficult day, know that you were not alone. We hope your Birthmother’s Day was peaceful and contemplative, and that if you were grieving, you found a safe place to do so and were able to find a little bit of solace in a friend, a family member, a place, or just in your thoughts.

 power of words
image c/o intelligentink.co.nz

Last Thursday’s post was our first post in almost a year, so we were eager to see if anyone would comment. Someone did, but their response wasn’t what we’d expected; instead, it was an unkind comment expressing the idea that birth mothers are selfish. Reading it and feeling shocked and disappointed that someone would post something so cruel on a birth mother blog the night before Mother’s Day got me thinking about the many hurtful things, both purposeful and inadvertent, that people say to birth parents.

Previous to my work here at Adoptions Together, I had a job in the reproductive health field. I learned that many people have no qualms about hurling extremely insulting words at women who choose to terminate pregnancies rather than carry them to term. When I joined the Adoptions Together team, I was surprised by how many people seemed to have similarly harsh reactions to women choosing to make an adoption plan. If so many people opposed abortion, why did many of those same people criticize adoption for women who decided not to end their pregnancies?

Puzzled, I did a Google search for “hurtful comments about adoption.” The search yielded a lot of results, but every single one linked to an article about the inappropriate things people say to adoptive families and their children. Nothing popped up about the awful things birth parents often hear, from offhand comments about “giving away” babies to ignorant declarations that adoption hurts children. You’ve probably heard some pretty awful things since becoming a birth parent. Who knew that so many people would feel they had the right to judge your adoption decision?!

Recently, Jill over at The Happiest Sad wrote about the emotions that birth parents often feel when people misunderstand their experiences or judge their decisions. She said that at first, when people mischaracterized her decision to choose adoption, it felt “personal and offensive…the catalyst for many a crying fit” but bothered her less as time passed. Whether or not that’s true for you, whether you’ve heard hurtful words about adoption in a conversation with a stranger or from your own family members, whether hearing those words made you angry or made you want to cry, or both – I hope you can remember that your feelings about your decision matter more than any other individual’s feelings about it.

And positive reflections and conversations can come out of other people’s judgments. Hey, after I saw that person’s comment, I wrote this blog post, didn’t I? It’s wonderful when birth parents feel empowered to educate others about adoption, and by sharing your experiences, you have the power to shift someone’s perspective. It’s also important, though, to pick and choose those moments carefully. Educating other people can be exhausting, and it is not your responsibility to shoulder that burden all of the time. If it makes you feel stronger to speak up and let someone else know that you are a birth parent and that their comments are wrong or offensive, do it! But if you just don’t feel like putting yourself out there at that particular time, that choice is okay, too. Wait until they’re gone and vent to someone you trust or to your journal or blog. (Eating a lot of your favorite junk food can also help…or so I’m told).

If you feel comfortable, we’d love to hear about how you’ve responded to people’s criticisms and misinformation about adoption. What do you do when someone who doesn’t know any better says something ignorant? What about someone who does know better? Have you learned from other birth parents or family members about ways to respond to negative comments? And, just as importantly, what positive experiences have you had talking with other people about adoption?


About the Blog

Adoptions Together social workers regularly offer unbiased counseling to parents who are considering or have chosen adoption. We know that it can be difficult for birth parents to find support in the days, weeks, and years after choosing adoption, so we created our birth parent blog in 2007 as a space for birth parents to learn from and support one another by connecting and sharing experiences.

We recently revamped the blog and would love your input as we move forward! Please e-mail Jessica at jlaigle@adoptionstogether.org if you would like to contribute or make a suggestion.