Six in ten people are touched by adoption in some form. So they know an adoptee (someone who is adopted), a birth parent (someone who has placed a child for adoption), an adoptive parent (someone who has adopted a child), or that person has experienced adoption herself (Evan B. Donaldson Institute, 1997). When looking into adoption, it can be daunting on either side of the journey—as an expectant mother considering placing a child for adoption or as prospective adoptive parents. Knowing the basics and how to navigate them can help take a lot of stress off your plate as you embark on this new chapter of life.
Open Adoption or Closed Adoption
When I was 2 days old, I was adopted from a Texas adoption agency and was taken home to my parents’ house. In the 1980s, closed adoptions were very common. So growing up, my parents did a great job of always telling my sister and I that we were adopted. In fact, it was such a consistent part of our story that neither she nor I remember a specific moment where our parents sat us down to disclose our adoption stories. We just always knew and were proud to have that as a part of our identity. However, having a closed adoption meant that even though I knew I was adopted, I did not know anything else about my biological roots. So as I grew up, I just hoped that love had led my birth mother to make the decision to place me and that she knew I was truly blessed by the life she made available to me.
As I have gotten older, I have begun to realize that it can be very important, in my opinion, for an adoptee to have some kind of connection with the birth mother or biological family throughout life. I have since met my birth mother and family, and I know that my birth mother has truly struggled with her choice of placing me for adoption. She did not have any connection, support, or therapy after placing, so those things all added to her struggling since then. I do believe that closed adoption can be beneficial too though. I know that everyone heals differently, so for some birth mothers, it may be easier to not have visits or updates reminding them of the loss of motherhood.
As adoptive parents, it’s good to be open-minded and embrace what open adoption can offer. For expectant mothers considering placing through adoption, as a birth mother, I know that open adoption was a priority to me. Because I grew up in a closed adoption as an adoptee, I struggled with a lot of identity questions. I never wanted my children to question their identity, worth, or my love for them. So I wanted to stay connected in whatever way the adoptive parents were open to.
Open adoption is very ambiguous. It could start out as pictures and one visit a year to full-fledged communications and invites to many of the child’s activities. I have met many birth mothers over the years, and I have not heard of many of them going to birthday parties and soccer games. But I have heard of a lot of social media connections, texting, FaceTime calls, and visiting whenever someone sets something up. The beautiful thing about open adoption is that it allows for ebbs and flows. One of my biggest pieces of advice to prospective adoptive parents considering open adoption is to always communicate with your caseworker how you are feeling about the plans you have established with a birth mother. For example, if you said you’d meet every six months but are struggling with that in a particular season of your life, it’s okay. However, it’s vital that you tell your caseworker so she can communicate that to the birth mom in a gentle way. I also say this though: be open-minded. You have no idea how you will feel about things after birth, after six months, or after six years. We all grow, mature, and learn over time, and it’s important that open adoption can do the same. For expectant mothers considering making an open adoption plan for your child, I think it’s important to consider what you need and want moving forward. If you want to only get pictures and emails for a while, as you heal, that’s available. If you want to see your child every few months, I believe that’s something some adoptive parents are open to.
Adoption agencies can also offer a lot of help as you navigate adoption decisions. For expectant women who are considering the option of adoption, there are many resources that agencies may be able to offer in order to help you have less stress during this season of life. Agencies handle the legal part of adoption, might be able to help you get on insurance and get connected with medical care, offer financial and childcare assistance, and may even offer counseling services during pregnancy and after. I chose to go to Gladney Center for Adoption when I was facing an unplanned pregnancy, and I feel that they are one of the best adoption agencies to consider. While many agencies offer the same resources, Gladney truly listens to birth mothers who have been through their programs, and they constantly are adapting to be the best advocates for pregnant women looking at their options. They empower you to make the best choice for your situation, even if that means parenting. For prospective adoptive parents, there are a lot of resources as well. As a birth mom, I found peace of mind in knowing how agencies vet prospective adoptive parents very thoroughly. At Gladney specifically, I like that there are requirements you have to meet before even applying to their program. Some of these requirements include a thorough home study screening, orientation to learn a lot of basic parenting skills and financial skills to raise a child, and my favorite part is that they have hopeful adoptive parents go through some training to help them be better prepared for raising an adoptee. For both pregnant women looking into adoption and prospective adoptive parents, my best advice is to look at several agencies and talk to them thoroughly until you find the one that feels like a good fit for you. This is your journey, so it’s important that you feel supported and heard.
When you decide to start your adoption journey and you have found an agency, the next step is Parent Profiles. For prospective adoptive parents, this is where you get to put together a photo book, online profile page, social media account, or even a video for women to view who are considering adoption for their child. As a birth mom, I have spoken on several panels over the past decade to prospective adoptive parents. At almost every panel, I am asked in some form, “What do we need to put in our profile to stand out?” I have heard several other birth moms weigh in on this too, but every single one of us has always answered, “Just be you.” It is so important to be authentic about who you are. When a woman begins sorting through profiles that are put in front of her, it’s such a unique experience. No one looks at the same profile the same way.
For example, in one profile, I loved that they had a more country life than others because I have always felt drawn to the little towns in the middle of nowhere. In another profile, I loved that they fostered dogs because I almost love dogs more than people. But when I came across the profile of my child’s parents, I kept going back to it over and over again. Something in my heart just knew. I also advise that when parents do get picked, know that the expectant mom is likely just as nervous as the hopeful adoptive parents are. Relationships of any form are awkward at first, but with time and intention, they bloom into something wonderful.
For expectant mothers considering adoption, when you are looking through profiles, trust your heart. It may not make sense on paper why you keep going back to a certain couple, but in my experience, that’s usually a good sign that you are onto something great. When you are looking through profiles, it’s good to think about if you want them to be local to you, if they desire a more open adoption, if they have the values and traditions that are important to you, or even if they have that fluffy dog you dream of them having. This is your story, so you get to be as picky as you want when choosing your child’s parents. Once you choose, you usually get to meet up with them to make sure everything feels right moving forward. For me, when I met C & A, I was more worried about them not wanting to move forward with me than if I would like them still. But from the first “Hello” to ten years now down the road, I have never been more sure that I made the right choice. They are amazing parents, just like I knew they’d be.
Something I always like to advise during the stage between matching and birth is meeting up with the adoptive parents you have chosen a few more times until birth—if you are open to it. This is something I’d ask the adoptive parents if they are open to as well. It really helped me get to know them better and ask questions about their parenting style or how they grew up. It laid a great foundation for where our relationship is today.
Birth, Placement, and Future
It’s time to have a baby! This is probably the most emotional whirlwind of the journey. Mama is about to give birth, and it is hard. To mama during this time, having support from the agency, other women going through an adoption journey, family, or friends is important. Your hormones are going to be super heightened right now, and it’s already a delicate situation. Make sure to let your nurse know that you are considering adoption so that she can make sure to be considerate to your emotions and take the best care of you during this time. When I let them know about my adoption plan when I was in the hospital, a nurse who is a birth mother came into my room and sat with me for a bit, extending her love and support to me. She knew exactly how hard my journey was, and it was special to me that she dropped everything to come see me.
Additionally, when you are in the hospital, if you want the adoptive parents to come, that’s available to you. I chose to let my child’s adoptive parents know I was in labor and called them up after she had arrived. I honestly just didn’t know what was appropriate back then, and I knew I’d want to soak up alone time with my baby too. If I could do it again, I’d want them there, but it’s completely up to you.
Once you have given birth and it has been 48 hours (according to the state laws of Texas; this will be different in each state), you can sign the relinquishment papers. These papers are difficult to read because they say, in a very direct manner, that you are choosing to give up your rights as your child’s parent. But hear me clearly: you will always be a mother. Motherhood to me is defined by sacrificial love. It may hurt, but we make a choice to give our children a different life than we could at that time. I encourage you to think about therapy or support groups with other women who have placed children for adoption.
After placement, your agency can connect you to resources that could help you begin healing—whatever that may look like. Once you have signed the papers, you can decide when you’d like to do placement day. That is when you place your child with her or his parents. It’s a symbolic moment but also a hard one. My advice to adoptive parents here is to acknowledge the birth mother’s pain. Let her know that you will honor her grief and support her. Even if you don’t know how you will do that, it’s important that she knows she still matters to you. Hopefully after placement, you will continue to be intentional about updates, visits, phone calls, or whatever open adoption may look like for you moving forward. Make sure to check in. If she doesn’t want to do visits for a while, honor that decision by giving her space but check in and see if she needs anything in the meantime, like photos. Lean on your caseworker during the hard-to-navigate times as your caseworker will be a valuable resource to you moving forward.
Most importantly, on both sides, always communicate your feelings and needs to help manage everyone’s expectations. I believe that the more we are willing to be vulnerable and sit with one another’s feelings the more we will grow to be better. To both women considering placing a child for adoption and those considering adopting, I wish you the best journey full of love, sharing your truth, and hope.
Katie is an adoptee and birth mom who is passionate about adoption advocacy and breaking stigmas around birth parents. In her free time, she enjoys traveling and hanging out with her dog, Chloe.