Birth parents’ role in life moments are special, just like those moments are for everyone. When birthdays, milestones, and holidays happen, it is as if those moments take root in our hearts, and we want time to stand still so we can bask in the joy of the moment. When you are part of an adoption triad–the adoptive parents, adoptee and birth parents–those moments take on an even deeper meaning. There is often a constant need to balance being in the moment with your child, while simultaneously feeling a loss for the birth parents. There can even be a feeling of guilt for the adoptive parents during significant life moments. It is common for the adoptive parents to have joy when celebrating life moments, but also feel a heaviness for the birth parents, because in those moments of joy, the sheer weight of the choice the birth parents made becomes even more evident. It’s a choice that doesn’t end when an adoption is finalized.
The Collision of Guilt and Gratitude
I am an adoptive parent of a toddler son. We met our son through a domestic infant adoption after six failed adoptions. Though our journey to him was tumultuous, it’s safe to say he was absolutely worth it. He is gregarious, energetic, and extremely cute. Yes, I have a parental bias, as all parents do, but shouldn’t we all gloat over our children? On a daily basis, I experience a collision of guilt and gratitude. There are both mundane and significant life moments when guilt and gratitude collide into a moment that stops me in my tracks. It’s at that point when the balance takes shape and I begin to maneuver around various feelings. Oftentimes, I have to process and compartmentalize the complex feelings I have. I feel guilty that I am the one with the privilege to experience the mundane and daily activities that come with parenting, while my son’s birth parents do not. His birth parents do not get to experience all the regular moments when he does something funny, cute, or memorable. The birth mother and father’s loss is my daily joy and with that thought comes a unique blend of guilt and gratitude. Gratitude is something I thought I maintained in my life, but it was not until after adoption that I truly began to understand how deep gratitude can go. The word “gratitude” does a poor job of describing how humbled we are to our son’s birth parents. While the birth parents’ story is one I strive to protect, I can say that both have continually made loving choices for this child, and we have all worked together to provide an environment where our son can know his story, have the freedom to question his story, while also having zero doubt that he is loved by everyone in the adoption triad.
Open Adoption: A Quick Glance
While this article does not specifically discuss open adoption, there must be some understanding of open adoption in order to accurately discuss what it means to understand the role of birth parents in life moments. At an early point in your adoption journey, and regardless of what part of the adoption triad you are, you will have to determine what level of openness you want in your adoption. There are adoption professionals that can guide you through that decision-making process, but as someone who started the adoption journey thinking that a closed adoption would be better, I can attest to the fact that your perspective changes once you begin to understand adoption. Open adoption can be a beautiful way to maximize an adoptee’s understanding of a personal story. For example, I will never be able to fully explain to my son, without the details from his birth parents, why his birth parents chose adoption for him. I will never be able to take credit for his mechanical mind, but because of open adoption, my son has space and freedom to bridge knowledge gaps, ask questions, receive validation and so much more. He will, hopefully, have no box unchecked when he begins to question, “Why?” As my husband and I have navigated adoption through the years, and as we have walked alongside multiple birth parents, we have come to learn that adoption is just plain hard. Because it is hard, the more information, understanding, and validation the adoptee has, the better. Needless to say, this is just our personal opinion, but it is an opinion that has proven to be successful throughout our six failed adoptions and now with our son. If you find yourself questioning open adoption, I would suggest you continue to educate yourself and make a decision that does not just make you comfortable but makes you maximize your ability to parent.
The Adoption Triad: Relationship, Respect, and Relevance
To determine what role birth parents have in life moments, you have to consider the relationship that is unique between all members of the adoption triad. No adoption is the same, and each one is extremely unique. If you are an adoptive parent with birth parents who are available and willing to interact with you, it is important to maintain a sense of “the door is always open” approach. In most cases, it is best practice to approach the birth parents with gentle hands to let a birth mother or father know that he or she sets the pace. To put this in perspective, I will share how our birth mother came to be more involved in her son’s life. We met our son just hours after his birth. At that point, our son’s mother did not want to meet us, but our son’s birth father did. As our adoption progressed, we began sending her letters, pictures, and updates as a way to simply say, “we are here if and when you are ever ready.” The open-door policy proved to be beneficial for us because, in time, our son’s birth mother came around and led the way in the amount of openness she desired. So, you must evaluate what type of relationship exists within your triad before you determine what role a birth parent plays in life moments. However, I encourage you to remember that birth parents are family, and without those individuals, you would not have an adoption.
As mentioned previously, the pace and amount of openness that exists within your triad should be led by the birth parents. Respect should be your best practice as you navigate your desires. While this all does sound difficult, do not let it scare you away from the beauty and reconciliation that can occur within adoption. All relationships in life require respect, and the adoption triad is no different.
There is no “one size fits all” when it comes to adoption. Unfortunately, there is no instruction manual that is universal to all adoptions. As a result, you have to remain relevant to your specific adoption triad. Without a sense of relevance, you cannot do what is best for your triad. To determine what role birth parents play in life moments, make every attempt to keep it relevant to the life you all share.
My Door Is Open. Now What?
As you might assume, not everyone will understand adoption openness. Although the adoption landscape is changing rapidly in amazingly positive ways, there still remains remnants of antiquated mindsets that are not always healthy. If this is the case for your adoption journey, make every effort to invite people to understand. If people do, that is wonderful. If others do not, it is unfortunate but should never be a barrier to what you do that is best for the adoptee.
You may also experience a birth parent who is not on board with openness, such as pictures, letters, or being part of life moments. If that is the case, it is best practice to remember relationships, respect, and relevance, and adapt your response to fit your situation. In this case, and as I shared in my own journey, this is when you simply keep the door open in the event a birth parent should change his or her mind.
When it comes to the adoption triad, it is the responsibility of the adoptive parent to be a good steward of the adoptee’s heart and story, and keep the door open to life moments for the overall benefit of the adoptee. To put it frankly, the journey is just not about you, it is about the child and as a parent should, you do what is best for the child. It is also important to remember that like all adoptions are not the same, all birth parents are not the same. Each birth parent approaches the decision to place a child differently, so one cannot expect all birth parents to enter into openness in the same way, or at the same time.
Practically speaking, the role of birth parents in life moments simply varies from family to family. It is the responsibility of the adoptive parent to share life moments with birth parents whether that be with in-person visits, social media exchanges, letters with pictures, or other venues. The method of delivery is not as important as the method of communicating that the door is open for birth parents for life moments. The adoption triad must make it a top priority to navigate the journey together. For the adoption triad that I am personally a part of, my husband and I make special attempts to include our son’s birth parents in life moments like birthdays and holidays, but also occasions like Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. The attempts that we make are not always perfect, but those efforts are always appreciated by our son’s birth parents. I feel as though the birth mother and father recognize our intentionality to incorporate both as much as possible. It’s the effort that spurs connection, and the connection spurs mutual love and respect.
The Bottom Line
Instead of worrying about which life moment should include your child’s birth parents, simply accept the fact that the moment a birth mother or father chose adoption for a child, the birth parents also entrusted you with life moments. It is impossible to say which life moment is most important to the birth parents because any moment to either is sacred. Of course, there are birth parents who want more of a closed adoption placement. Birth mothers and fathers should have that choice be completely respected. In my experience, however, it is more common for birth parents to want to stay updated and included in the child’s life. To reiterate, if you are an adoptive parent, you have been the recipient of a wonderful gift that is hard to describe. It is overwhelming how much trust has been placed upon you to raise an adopted child. As a result, remember that to be a good steward of that child, you need to own and nurture the whole child, which includes the child’s story. His or her story matters to them and will shape identity. If you are a birth parent, your sacrifice is unmatched. Your story matters, so it is critical that you also communicate well with your child’s adoptive parent so that each of you can forge the best path for your child. No one ever said adoption would be easy, and everyone can likely agree that it is so incredibly complex. Life moments matter to all members of the adoption triad. All members of the adoption triad matter. As an adoptive mother, I had to reach my own conclusions through life experiences and trial and error. At this point in my adoption journey, I am able to understand that having my son’s birth parents in our lives does not take away anything from me, my husband, or our family. We lose nothing. We gain everything–we gain the joy that comes from our son having validation, understanding, compassion, and love. There are things I can give to my son that his birth parents cannot give him. There are things that my son’s birth parents can give him that I cannot give him. Together, we are able to better care for him. Maintaining the space to do so, in a special life moment or a mundane one, is both sacred and rewarding.
Sarah Beth is an adoptive mother through infant domestic adoption. She and her husband experienced six disrupted adoptions before meeting their son. Sarah Beth has experience walking alongside numerous expectant mothers and birth families. As an adoption advocate, she enjoys sharing her experiences in hopes of advocating for both birth and adoptive families and impacting the adoption community. When she is not with her family, she is busy as a middle school Assistant Principal. Sarah Beth enjoys reading, coffee, documentaries, and all things adoption related.