Dear expectant mother,
Hello from the future. You don’t know this yet but you’re very close to choosing adoption for your baby. You are a hero, but you may need counseling for years to come. I’m sorry those two things are not mutually exclusive. You may feel a sense of loss, betrayal, and perhaps like you were never told you’d feel any way besides relieved and grateful. Maybe you’re wondering, “can I choose not to stay in touch?” Many adoption websites will primarily describe open adoptions. They will show families hand in hand with birth families. That might seem scary to you. You might feel overwhelmed at the idea of adding several new people into your life instead of closing a door on a chapter you weren’t expecting in your life.
I don’t know your story. I know your story is yours and yours alone. However, I can guess. Maybe this isn’t the perfect moment to have kids. Maybe your childhood wasn’t the greatest and you were hoping to not parent because you saw what a failing job your parents did. Is your partner abusive? Are you having trouble with finances and struggling to feed the children you already have? Or do you just really, really, not want to be a mom? Maybe your reason is completely different. As I said, I don’t know you. However, I do know you’re thinking about adoption. I know you’re pretty nervous about the idea of an open adoption. Maybe the idea makes you sick to your stomach. The idea of co-parenting or worse, relinquishing all control makes you feel angry. It feels unfair that some unknown person who gets to have your baby is going to have all of the say in the relationship. It feels scary to know that someday in the future you might have to tell a miniature version of yourself that you were not ready for them. So you wonder if you can choose not to stay in touch. If I was in your position I think that is probably the choice I’d want to make. But the choice is yours to make.
You can choose not to stay in touch at all. You can also choose to have a semi-open adoption. This means that you’ll get photo updates once a year, and maybe a letter that you can collect at a PO box or your adoption agency. You can still choose an entirely closed adoption but know this has become increasingly more difficult in the age of the internet. As an adoptive mom, I am able to find out more through a few google searches than my caseworker was able to tell me about my kid’s biological family. So just be aware that the possibility of someone contacting you later is greater than it might have once been.
You can choose not to stay in touch. You can choose to ignore the letters and pictures. I want you to consider what you would be losing out on though. Yes, open adoption sounds like a daunting, scary, unappealing thing. When I was first looking to adopt the idea of keeping in touch with a birth mom, who might want to someday steal my baby back like a bad lifetime movie made me spiral into fits of anxiety. I know better now. I know that people don’t do that. I know that there are often regrets on all sides of the adoption triad if there is not some degree of connection. I’m not saying all this to scare you, or even change your mind. I just want you to have the whole picture.
Yes, you can absolutely choose not to stay in touch and you can move away and not give your forwarding address. You can move out of state and never look back, thinking it is the best choice for you, the baby, and the adoptive family. Maybe for your situation that seems like the best course of action. For some that might be. For many, however, there is something to be said for having a degree of staying in touch. Maybe you find out you have cancer and it is highly hereditary. You could keep that information to yourself but would you really want to? If you maintain some openness you can alert the adoptive family to give them the ability to prepare and have the child tested. Maybe five years ago you thought that you would never want to parent or ever see that baby again. However, the you of tomorrow might long and wonder to know if the baby you gave birth to and said goodbye to has the same features that you do. You imagine you see them in every child you pass at the grocery store. You worry that maybe they have questions about you that they’ll never be able to answer. You worry that someday you’ll have an angry 18-year-old on your doorstep wondering why you gave them away and you’ll have no idea what to say.
The media does the adoption world no favors. Adoptive families are rarely the evil villains and biological parents are rarely the people that they are each made out to be. There are far more shades of gray than black and white where human emotions are concerned. As an adoptive mom, I cringe hard when I see an adoptive mom portrayed as some kind of savior or some kind of evil witch. I’m neither. I am the lucky one in this equation. My kids are my greatest joy. Approaching this from the foster to adopt world is more daunting than from the infant adoption world. My kids were removed from their biological parents for vile, unspeakable reasons. Their bodies tell the tales that even the police reports do not. The idea of connecting with their biological families filled me with extreme dread. However, we have been able to maintain a healthy relationship with some of our kids’ extended family and it has been a blessing.
Knowing what I know now I wish I had pushed further for some degree of connection for my kids. Even at their worst, my kid’s biological parents were still my kid’s first parents and for that reason alone, my children need to know about them. I wish that I knew where they were so I could send them pictures and give them updates. I understand that it is easier for the birth parents to sneak pictures from the birth aunt than to ask us. I understand that it is probably easier for them to just live their lives than revisit the trauma they inflicted and the pain of the children being removed from their care. I just wish things could be different. I envy my friends who have a close relationship with their kid’s birth parents. Instead of the kids being in competition for the real mom they have the privilege of having two moms who love them tremendously.
So let’s assume you are still choosing to not stay in touch. That is absolutely your choice. While in many places a closed adoption isn’t an option, in certain circumstances it can be. There are also semi-open adoptions. The adoptive family can know who you are and how to get in contact with you through the agency. You can get updates if you want them. This works if you decide later that you’d like more openness. You do not have to contact the family. You do not have to respond if the adoptive family contacts you. You are under no obligation to meet with the family. You don’t have to see the child if you don’t want to. That is ok. You need to protect yourself and your feelings. It isn’t required that you develop a bond with the family that adopts your child.
There is always the option to step back if you are uncomfortable with the way the relationship has progressed. If you feel like the adoptive family is being too pushy you are well within your rights to tell them you need more space. You can choose to not stay in touch and continue to live your life in the way you intended before you were pregnant. In some places, it is still possible that you can remain mostly anonymous from the adoptive parents.
The bottom line is that you can do what you decide. The agency should be working for you to be mentally and physically well during and after this whole experience. The day you hand your child over to other people to parent is the beginning of your journey as a birth mother. You may feel numb, angry, disassociated, depressed. You may have no desire to talk to anyone about anything you’ve been through. Make sure you have people around you that can help. Your body will still be giving you signs that you gave birth. Your milk will come in, your body will ache, you will feel hormonal and probably overwhelmed. Advocate for yourself and make sure you get the care and help that you need. You may not think you ever want to be in touch with the family who is parenting your baby. Your mind might change five years down the line when your life has settled down and you have other children. I love and hate that adoption is a thing that is needed. It has made my greatest dreams come true but for that to happen someone else’s nightmare had to come true. I don’t take that lightly.
So, I am asking you to do your research. Ask questions on forums and read articles on Adoption.com. You can do this thing. Whatever you choose, you are choosing a difficult thing. You are capable of either. Make sure that you leave a foot in the door so if you change your mind in the future you have the option to at least see a picture and write a letter. You won’t regret giving yourself that opportunity but you almost assuredly will regret not taking it.
I want you to know that while I have never been in your shoes I think you are amazing. You are trying to make informed decisions and that takes time and energy. Life threw you a curveball and you’re trying to work it out. You can do it. You can get help and support. If no one has told you, I think you’re a good person. You’re worthy of love and you are worth advocating for. I’m sorry you are going through this time. I’m sorry if people are being unkind to you. I’m especially sorry if some of those people think it is their job to call you out on whatever they think they should. That’s not okay. Please don’t assume we are all like that. Also if you decide to parent know that there is tons of support for single moms that didn’t exist even ten years ago but exists now. If you decide to place your baby for adoption you don’t need to stay in touch if you don’t want to. You can make this thing work, whatever you choose.
A grateful adoptive mama
Christina Gochnauer is a foster and adoptive mom of 5. She has a bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Letourneau University. She currently resides in Texas with her husband of 16 years, her children ages 3, 3.5, 4.5, 11, and 12, and her three dogs. She is passionate about using her voice to speak out for children from “hard places” in her church and community.