Adoption is a miracle. Many wonderful things come because of adoption. However, there is also an element of heartbreak and sadness because it begins with a tragedy. Adoption has changed and evolved over the years. As it continues to change, there are things I would change about the adoption community. Some of these changes include more birth parent support, adoption language, making adoption a better alternative, and normalizing open adoptions.
Birth Parent Support
Birth parents might receive more insults from strangers than support. They made the difficult decision to place their children. This should be met with more love, more support, and more understanding. This was not a selfish choice, but a choice based on what they wanted for their child.
Birth parents choose to make an adoption plan for different reasons. They might want their child to be raised with a father and mother in the home, they might want their child to be provided for better than what they can give the child at the time, or they might be in a difficult situation. I want birth parents to be celebrated. A birth parent hears the phrase, “I could never have done that with my child.” What should be said is: “You loved your child so much to make that decision for them. I am proud of you. I love you. I support you.”
And then they should be allowed to talk about that child. My son’s birth mother loves talking about her son. She loves sharing about him and about her choice to place him for adoption. She receives some criticism from people, including from some family members. She wants to continue to share her story and the relationship she still has with him. It is important for her to normalize adoption and help others understand that even though it can be hard, she never regrets her decision. She knows she made the best choice for him.
She has been a support to other women who are pregnant and unsure of what to do. She shows them love and listens to them as they vent their concerns and struggles. This is also a therapeutic thing for her, and she talks about the struggles she had during pregnancy, birth, placement, and now navigating an open adoption. She explains that she has hard days and does not hide that. She wishes she could see her son more often because we live 1,200 miles apart. It is hard thinking that he will be 11 soon, and she hasn’t been able to see him in three years. But what she loves the most about it all is how open we have been and how open her son is. He loves to see and talk about her daughters, his sisters. She wants to share to help people consider the great blessings that can come through adoption.
Stop Insensitive Questions
As an adoptive parent, I have had several people say insensitive things about infertility, the adoption process, and even about my children. These people probably were not trying to be offensive. Each time I hear something insensitive, I try to take that opportunity to educate.
For example, when someone says, “Where is his real mom?” I usually end up saying, “I am guessing you are asking about his birth mother.” And then I will answer questions, or my son will pipe in and talk about her.
When I hear, “How much did your kids cost?” I will usually explain how adoption costs can vary, and it can depend on whether the adoption is private, through an adoption agency, international adoption, or adoption through foster care. The average adoption in the United States can be anywhere between about $20,000 to $45,000. The fees are for the home study, agency fee, birth mother medical and other expenses, and attorney fees. Not all adoptions are the same, so there will be some variables that change the rates.
I have been asked, “Can you really love a child who is not your own?” My answer is always, “Yes, of course, we waited and prayed for this child.”
Sometimes when people hear that we adopted two of our sons after being their foster parents, they make assumptions about why they were in foster care. I like to explain that I know why they were in foster care, but they do not need to know. Foster care does not define them, and they should not be judged for it.
There is a difference between my oldest son’s open adoption and my other two sons’ adoptions, but I like to share the quote from Kung Fu Panda with them: “Your story might not have such a happy beginning, but that doesn’t make you who you are. It is the rest of the story, who you choose to be.” They can choose what kind of person they choose to be. We are trying to raise them to be good young men.
Normalize Open Adoptions
Open adoptions have become more and more common in the past 15 years. When I first started my adoption journey and learned about open adoptions 12 years ago, I was a little fearful of exactly what that meant. I did not know that having the birth parents in my child’s life would be good for him or my husband and me. There was a fear that it would turn into a battle of boundaries. Birth parents might be initially fearful of open adoption, thinking that it might be easier to go on with their lives.
The more I learned about open adoptions and heard stories from adoptive parents with open adoption, the more I realized it was a healthy and beautiful approach to adoption. Adoption is a lifelong experience. My child will always have two sets of parents. When I accepted this important reality, I was able to accept adoption as it is. I could embrace open adoption because I could acknowledge the birth parents’ role in my child’s life rather than be threatened by it. I recognized that I wanted contact with the birth parents because of their importance to the child.
When my son’s birth mother first contacted us, we all knew that an open adoption was the best thing for everyone involved. We flew to meet her two months before the baby was born. We continued talking, texting, and emailing up until birth. After the baby was born, we met the birth father and helped him see the benefits of open adoption. He did not know much about open adoption but felt happy that he was not just saying goodbye to his son. He wanted to be a part of his life, and we wanted him to be a part of our son’s life. It has continually gotten better and better.
Our son’s birth mother told me she talked to a friend, and the friend was asking about the adoption. The friend thought the open relationship might go in a bad direction the older he gets, but she reassured her that the relationship is great and healthy. She said that the idea behind open adoption is that you are open about it all, about the good, the hard, and the tough. I wish more people could see the benefits of open adoption and how they can be the best thing for everyone involved.
Change the Language
The language of adoption has changed, especially with the onset of open adoptions. As a member of the adoption community, there are many times when I am watching a movie or TV show or hear a comment from someone with negative adoption language, and I cringe. I know the heartbreak and pain my son’s birth mother went through and still feels when people use terms like “give up” or “give away.” Those words diminish her and her incredibly tough decision to place her baby.
One birth mother, Terra Cooper, wrote, “In adoption, a child is not given up. A birth mother gives life, a child a family, unconditional love. She gives a part of her heart that will never feel whole. She gives another mother a part of her heart that was always missing. An adoptive mother gives a life and family to this child. She gives unconditional love. She gives her heart to another mother. You give a lot–just never give up.”
My son’s birth mother told me that she wishes she did not have to explain so much that she did not give up her child, but she placed him very gently into the arms of a loving family. If you are unsure of the language, you can ask the adoptive family, birth parent, or adoptee what words they prefer.
I was talking with a woman who had been adopted in the 1980s. She told me about the language she uses and why. In adoptions now, we say that birth parents placed their baby, but her birth mother chose the adoption agency in her adoption, and then the agency placed her with her parents. She likes to explain this as the reason why she uses the language she uses.
My two younger sons were placed with us through the state, so I also use different language when talking about them. I think it is important to ask those in the adoption what the best terms are to use. This can also open up conversations about adoption.
Showing Adoption as a Better Alternative
I have always wanted to be a mother since I was a little girl. My mom had seven daughters, and I watched her as she mothered us. Shortly after starting to date my husband, he shared with me that he most likely would not be able to have biological children and wanted to see how I felt about adoption. I had cousins and friends who were adopted, which gave me a positive perspective on adoption. I realized I could be a mother even through adoption, and it would be a great blessing for me.
I have adopted three sons and we tried to adopt more, but nothing else happened for us. There was a two-year period where we waited to be chosen, but nothing happened. There was a three-year period where our foster license was active, and we wanted to try to foster-adopt again, but we were not presented with the right situation for our family.
Being a nurturer and provider, I wanted to take in all the babies and kids that needed me because I needed them. It did not work out like I thought it would. I am not alone in this. I know many other adoptive parents who would love to adopt more, but It does not happen for them either.
Abortion has become more and more acceptable, but I often wonder if some of these women would consider adoption if they were given the resources and education about adoption. There are many people who cannot have children who would love to adopt. Adoption should be an option presented with personal examples. My son’s birth mother said that when she was pregnant, there was so much support for women to make their own choice, but little support for women who go through pregnancy and then place their babies for adoption.
Changes in the adoption community will come with more attention and education. Open adoption is a great change that has come around. It is better than I could have ever imagined before adopting. I want more people to know about it, so I love sharing about our adoption journey. Sharing our story helps normalize adoption and hopefully helps people think about it differently.Are you considering placing a child for adoption? Do you want more choices with your adoption plan? Do you want to regain more control in your life? Visit Adoption.org or call 1-800-ADOPT-98. We can help you put together an adoption plan that best meets your needs.
Alicia Nelson is a wife and a mother to three rambunctious boys. She is an online teacher and teaches English to Chinese children. Adoption has become her passion. She loves connecting with others on infertility, adoption, and foster care. She enjoys woodworking, being outdoors, listening to podcasts, and reading good books. She lives in Washington state with her family.