Celebrating Birth Families

Where’s the joy? Where’s the excitement?

When a new baby comes home, the baby is welcomed with banners, balloons, visitors, and gifts. In adoption, the adoptive family is swamped with people wanting to visit, hold the new baby and offer congratulations. But when a woman who has placed her baby for adoption returns home from the hospital, there is no celebration. She may have family near-by who want to support her and love her, but celebrating is not a part of the vocabulary.

Not to be insensitive to the grief (which is oh-so real), think about what holds us back from celebrating the birth family. Balloons and banners are not appropriate as a welcome, but the sentiment behind them might be. Is it not knowing what to say? Yes, the grief is real. No, the baby is not with her. But the woman who just placed her baby is WORTH CELEBRATING! And if the birth father was a part of the adoption, he is worth celebrating also.

The dictionary defines the word “celebrate” as to make known publicly or to praise widely. The history of adoption in the 1900s did not involve celebration, especially for birth families. Rather, adoption was the secret no one wanted to talk about. It was too shameful. It reflected “mistakes” and “sinful behavior.

Fortunately, we’ve moved beyond the secrecy and shame. But are we ready to “praise widely”?

It’s time. It is time to praise widely. Please don’t misunderstand. It’s not the time to draw attention to someone who does not want that attention. It’s not the time to start a gossip session. But it is time to remember and acknowledge the birth mother and her choice.

So celebrate that she created life.

Celebrate the strength that it took to place the baby’s needs before her own. Celebrate her intelligence in sorting through her options and making her choice. Celebrate the hope for the birth mother’s future. Praise widely!

And if balloons and banners are not appropriate, there are ways to give that recognition and praise. Visit the woman who is now home from the hospital after giving birth, even though the baby is not with her. Talk with her. Ask if she wants to talk about the baby, her experiences, and her grief. If she says she doesn’t want to talk about those things, that’s ok! Follow her lead! At least she will know you care.

Provide a home cooked meal. Go out for coffee together. If she has other children, offer to babysit for an afternoon or evening. Offer a ride to the doctor or counselor’s office. Think about what you would do for the new adoptive family, and then offer the same to the birth mother.

The days of secrecy in adoption are gone. How will you celebrate the birth families in your life?


Rights and Responsibilities for Adoptive Parents

Adoption is an emotionally charged experience.

No matter if you come to adoption from infertility or because of a faith calling, it involves the lives of not just the child, but the lives of the child’s birth family and extended family. Adoption has an impact on the siblings the child may have in either the biological family or the adoptive family, the community in which the child lives, and the schools the child attends. Entering into an adoption relationship should be done only after much soul searching and with an open and committed heart.   

Keeping that in mind, as you find yourself in the adoption process, you should remember that as adopting parents you have both rights and responsibilities. Regardless of how you come to adoption – after experiencing infertility, having biological children, or through a sense of calling – these rights and responsibilities are an important part of the journey  

The rights include of adoptive parents include:   

  • The right to be treated with respect and honesty. 
  • The right to have emotional support before, during, and after the adoption placement. 
  • The right to ask questions and receive answers about all steps of the process. 
  • The right to review and understand all legal paperwork before you sign it. 
  • The right to receive counseling services before, during and after the adoption placement. 
  • The right to health information about the child you are adopting, including any prenatal drug exposure or communicable disease. 
  • The right to refuse the placement of a child whose needs exceed your ability to care for that child 

Rights always come along with responsibilities. These responsibilities include: 

  • Treating others involved in your adoption with respect and honesty. 
  • Create a “go-to” person or team who is familiar with adoption issues who can help you answer your questions, and support you with your thoughts and feelings before, during, and after the adoption placement. 
  • Ask questions!  
  • Request a copy of the legal paperwork before you file a petition for adoption with the court. 
  • Process your infertility losses. Understand that having a child through adoption is not a “cure” or fix for infertility. Use the services of a counselor, pastor, or trusted friend who understands what you have been through and will help keep you moving forward. 
  • Be honest if your plans change. If you become pregnant during your adoption journey before the placement of a child into your home, place your adoption plans on hold. Focus on one birth at a time! 
  • Ask for medical records and review them with your child’s medical professional. 
  • Be realistic about your abilities as a parent. 

While these are general rights and responsibilities for adoptive parents, adoptive parents also have more responsibilities to their child that are unique to adoption and are key to developing a healthy sense of identity in the child.

These responsibilities include: 

  • Being honest with your child about the adoption piece of their identity. 
  • Speaking respectfully and lovingly of your child’s birth family. 
  • Using positive adoption language. 
  • Remembering your child’s story is their own and share it only with those with a true need to know. 

No single list is all inclusive. Remember the Golden Rule as you meet expectant parents and develop a relationship with them as your child is growing.  Above all else, you have the responsibility to understand the adopted child carries a piece of their biological family with them forever, and this should be celebrated!    


Rights and Responsibilities for Expectant Mothers

So many times in adoption, all the focus is on the adopting parents.

People share their infertility stories or their faith commitment on social media and with friends and families. Women experiencing an unexpected pregnancy are seen as simply the way for the adopting parents to get their baby. It’s hard to get in the way of their excitement and joy, but no one need ever feel put down or be ignored for choosing to place their child for adoption. No matter how young or old you are, as an expectant mom, you have rights.

These rights include:

  • Be treated with respect and honesty.
  • Have an advocate for support before, during, and after the adoption placement.
  • Ask questions and receive answers about all steps of the process.
  • Review and understand all legal paperwork before you sign it.
  • Receive emergency living expenses totaling up to $4,000.
  • Receive counseling services before, during and after the adoption placement.
  • Change your mind about placing your child at any point before you sign consents for the adoption.
  • Choose the family who adopts your child.
  • Know how the adoptive family has been screened and evaluated.
  • See, hold, and care for your baby in the hospital.

Rights always come along with responsibilities. These responsibilities include:

  • Treating others involved in your adoption with respect and honesty.
  • Let your advocate know your questions, thoughts and feelings before, during, and after the adoption placement.
  • Ask questions!
  • Request a copy of the legal paperwork before you make a firm commitment to adoption.
  • Use the emergency living expenses as intended.
  • Use counseling services to help process your grief and provide a way to move forward.
  • Be honest if you are not planning on moving forward with an adoption plan.
  • Think about what type of family would be best for your child.
  • Ask what screening measures were done by the adoptive family to insure not just a safe home but one where adoption is celebrated.
  • Being available for your child when they have questions about their identity.

No single list is all inclusive. Maybe the best way to think about rights and responsibilities is to remember the Golden Rule—that is to treat others as you want to be treated. 


Safe Haven Law/ Baby Boxes

Indiana and the Safe Haven Law

Since 2001, Indiana has had a “safe haven” law on record. In simple terms, this means that a baby can be handed over to a designated safe place where people will take care of that baby. The person who places the baby at a Safe Haven site will not get into trouble or face criminal charges of any kind. The Indiana Department of Child Services puts it like this:

“The Indiana Safe Haven Law enables a person to give up an unwanted infant anonymously without fear of arrest or prosecution.

As long as there are no signs of intentional abuse on the baby, no information is required of the person leaving the baby. Any knowledge of the date of birth, race, parent medical history, child’s health or anything that would be useful to the child’s caregiver would be greatly appreciated.

Once the baby is examined and given medical treatment (if needed), the Indiana Department of  Child Services will take the baby into custody through Child Protective Services where it will be placed with a caregiver.” (https://www.in.gov/dcs/2915.htm)

In practical terms, a safe haven space is a police station, fire station, or hospital emergency room. The law is also meant only for infants from birth through 30 days of age.

Safe Haven Baby Boxes

This law was expanded in 2018 authorizing the use of “baby boxes.” A baby box is a safety incubator where a baby can be placed and then receive immediate care without any interaction between the person placing the baby and the person who begins caring for the baby.

That is Safe Haven in a nutshell. In more practical terms, the Adoption Support Center recognizes that leaving a baby with medical personnel anonymously means the mother of the baby is struggling with the reality and practicality of caring for a newborn. Her circumstances are such that she is afraid to do anything else. The baby may not be “unwanted” as DCS suggests, but is the victim of circumstances the mother cannot face.

The short explanation does not explain what happens after the baby is placed in the custody of DCS. The caregiver is most likely a licensed foster parent or approved pre-adoptive parent. Without further contact from the baby’s mother, DCS makes all the decisions for the baby. DCS chooses the family and allows that baby to be adopted by them. The birth mother may never know where her child is or have any other communication.

But what if the mother changes her mind? What if she regrets dropping her baby off at a Safe Haven site? It is important to know that the mother’s rights are not immediately terminated when she takes the baby to a Safe Haven. She can come forward at a later time, identify herself, and begin to make choices for herself and her baby again without getting into trouble. Since the State of Indiana has legal custody of the baby at this point, the birth mother will need to work with the caseworker in making future plans for her baby. However, the birth mother’s voice can be heard. She will not be in trouble for leaving her baby with a Safe Haven provider.

If you have more questions,  visit the Safe Haven Baby Box website.


Social Media and Open Adoption

Social media is both a blessing and a curse.

Social media can bring bring people together or tear them apart. The ways in which people have communicated over the years has changed, and continues to change. What does this have to do with an open adoption? What does it NOT have to do with open adoption?

From sharing plans to adopt or seeking support from others in a similar situation, the connections made on FaceBook, Instagram, Twitter or even Pinterest demonstrate the best of social media. Looking for other women who have placed a child for adoption? Search for groups related to birth parents. Looking for adoptive parents who adopted across racial lines? It’s there on the internet to be found. Private groups really do serve a purpose.

So what’s the down side? Where’s the curse?

One very real danger in using social media as the primary means of communication is that we talk around and about things and issues rather than talking to one another. Conversation between people becomes limited to the photo we decide to share. It’s a matter of how we tell the story. It’s easy to hide feelings behind the presentation of our best selves.

Overcoming this can be a challenge but it can be done. If your open adoption relationship began on line, you may already have a jump on the process. If your open adoption relationship came after placement, consider how you will use social media as a tool to keep the lines of communication open.

Sure—it’s ok to share those baby photos if both sets of parents agree. Your child has started walking? Saying first words? Share away! Social media is all about the bragging!

What about the things that aren’t so great?

Birth moms—are you willing to let the people who follow you know that you are having a rough time with post-partum depression? Adoptive parents—are you willing to post that your new baby cries all night and you would give anything to be able to take a shower? We always want to put our best image forward, and sometimes these things don’t translate as well in a quick post.

Yet if relationships are going to grow, thrive, and meet the test of time, the people involved in the relationships have to be able to communicate directly with one another. This is where private messaging can help. Share a little of the struggle, parent to parent. Saying you are having a rough day is not the same as saying you don’t want to continue the open part of the relationship.  Be willing to take a step back if the hard emotional stuff of the adoption is clouding your thoughts. But before you do, let the other side know that’s what’s going on. Going dark only feeds the other’s fears.

Open adoption is all about relationships.

Healthy relationships thrive with honest communication. No matter if you communicate through phone calls, texts, or even social media, take the risk of honesty. The payoff is worth the risk.

 

 


Building the Relationship & Learning to Listen

Since it can’t be said often enough, we will say it again. Open adoption is a relationship.

A key to making any relationship go the distance is communication. The typically overlooked part of communication that sometimes needs tweaking is listening. When conversations get tense, the go to mental response is usually defense. While the other person is talking, we are busy preparing our answer response…from our point of view…to get our point across.

And that’s just the words.  What we say is based on so much more than words. We are not machines or robots. The words we use are used in a context. Body language, tone of voice, and cadence all play a part in getting the point across. Think about this sentence: “Junior, get out of the street.” Without context, you don’t have any idea what the situation is. If this sentence is being said calmly and slowly, chances are Junior is on a quiet cul-de-sac where there is no traffic. His mom would just prefer he not get in the habit of playing in the street. On the other hand, if this same sentence is said in a rapid, loud, and fast way while the speaker is running into the street at warp speed, it’s a good bet that a two-ton truck is bearing down on Junior with death being imminent.

What makes the open adoption relationship tricky sometimes, particularly in the early stages, is that much of the communication comes in the form of texts. Unless the text comes in all caps, it’s hard to gauge the feeling behind the message.

While you are building that relationship after placement, (especially IMMEDIATELY after placement) it’s important to realize that emotions are raw. For the birth parent (mother or father) who has just said good-bye to baby, shock, anger or sadness, may be the emotions nearest the surface. For the adoptive parents who may have previously given up hope of ever welcoming a baby into their home, fatigue, joy, or relief may be the emotions nearest the surface. And let’s be honest. For BOTH the birth and adoptive families, fear may be lurking near the emotional surface as well. Fear of having made the wrong decision. Fear of never seeing the baby again. Fear of not being a good parent. Fear of the child someday resenting either set of parents.

So when the first communications begin to go back and forth between birth and adoptive families, recognize and honor those emotional back stories.

When birth mama asks for a visit and adoptive mama’s first thought is “I haven’t taken a shower in two weeks and can barely keep my eyes open”, an immediate response of “no, this is not a good time” does not do anything to build the relationship. It’s better to take a step back, recognize your own emotions, and then respond by trying to understand the birth family’s emotions behind the request. A reply text that acknowledges the feelings is the way to keep laying the foundation for a long term relationship. A text that says “I bet you are missing baby so much. It’s been crazy busy but let me look at the calendar so we can figure something out” followed by a picture of baby is a caring, genuine response to the emotion behind the request.

Likewise, when adoptive an family texts a birth family with an update, it’s a good opportunity for the birth family to recognize the positive emotions the adoptive family may be feeling. Recognizing that in the reply by saying something like “You seem so proud of her! I am so excited to see how big she is getting” reaffirms the decisions made by both the birth and adoptive family. In turn, this contributes to that strong foundation that will carry the open relationship throughout the child’s life.

A final thought for today…texts, letters, and electronic messages do help keep people connected.

But it’s hard to really listen for the more subtle messages that the human voice conveys. When it comes to long term relationships—like open adoption—don’t rely on texts. Call. Skype.  Meet in person. The listening part of communication will only get stronger. Ultimately, your child deserves this…this healthy, honest, and mutual relationship between the most important people in his or her life…their family.


Summer Visits for Open Adoptions

Summer time. It’s that season in which we all want to kick back, take in the long hours of sunlight, and relax. It’s also a great season to connect with old friends and keep relationships fresh. This is especially true for families in which adoption is a part of the mix. Schedules tend to be more flexible, there are no worries about road conditions for travel (other than knowing where the cone zones are!), and community events and activities abound. It’s a wonderful time to keep the relationship on track with visits, make memories and start traditions.

What do you do during these visits?

If you have the kind of easy going relationship where conversation flows, this may not be an issue at all. On the other hand, if you have a more casual relationship and you are still in the “getting to know you” phase, visits may induce some level of anxiety. Sitting in a restaurant or office room somewhere can be tense and awkward. What happens if there are children of different ages—both older and younger?

Planning is the key. Keeping busy and staying active can help keep the visit moving and if conversation lags, the activity can help fill in the blanks.

With that in mind, here are a few summer time activities to get your imagination stimulated.

1. Splash Pads! These are popping up all over the place. Running through water and having water fights are fabulous ways to cool down on hot, sticky days.  Many communities now sponsor these pads as part of their park systems.  They are typically free, although if they are attached to a swimming pool such as those at YMCAs this may not be the case.  
2. Picnic in the park! Parks often have substantial playgrounds as well as picnic areas. Take along some simple toys like bubbles and hula hoops, and there is always something fresh to keep short attention spans on the alert. (Bubbles are fascinating for children of all ages. If you’ve forgotten the joys of blowing bubbles, try some today. You won’t be sorry.)
3. Paint rocks! This is part of a recent trend. Search for some flat stones, paint designs or words of inspiration on them, and then plant them for others to find. Older kids can help younger kids, adults can help all the kids, and the designs and inspirational words can prompt more in-depth conversations.
4. Have a ball! It doesn’t really matter what kind of ball your family is into, that spherical object offers something for everyone. Baseball, soccer, basketball and even playing catch—all offer opportunities for hand(foot)/eye coordination and conversation. And if those bigger balls are too much—pick up a putter and find a miniature golf course.
5. Visit the zoo! While this can be a little more pricey than some of the other options, it’s still a fun way to get out and make a special and memorable day.  

In the end, it doesn’t really matter what you do as long as you are all together.

Pack the sunscreen, snacks, and water so that you all stay healthy. Most importantly—don’t forget the camera (or make certain you have plenty of space on your phone) and make those memories together.

 


The Math of Relationships

Relationships. Are good relationships a math equation?

When both sides give 50 percent effort to making the relationship work, it must be a good relationship because 50 + 50 = 100Oh, just meet me halfway! That’s all I’m asking of you, right?  

Realistically…good relationships are not math equations. Why not? There are simply too many variables. Time, energy, control, desire, needs, values, goals, personality, chemistry, effort…each of these variables can come into play in a relationship at any given time on any given side. Whether it’s a friendship, a romance, a working relationship, or an adoption relationship, what makes the relationship work  depends on any or all of those attributes. And the mixture of these elements can change from day to day, hour to hour. 

What does this have to do with open adoption?

It can’t be said enough. Open adoption is all about relationships. It IS relationships. It is the relationship between adoptive parents and birth parents. It is the relationship between adoptive parents and their children. It is the relationship between birth parents and the children they have placed for adoption. It is not only about keeping in contact, although keeping in contact is certainly an element of open adoption.  

The thing is, if contact is the only variable in these open adoption relationships, they start to look like those math equations. Isn’t that what keeping score becomes? Adoptive parent first texts birth parent, and if birth parent does not respond, adoptive parent does not believe any further effort needs to go into reaching out to birth parent. So what is wrong with that? Potentially many things. Birth parent may not have the time to respond when the text first comes in. Or she may be having a rough day and can’t emotionally bring herself to respond. Or is afraid to respond at that time.  

So many variables.  

In the interest of healthy open adoptions that foster confidence and love between the children placed for adoption and their birth families, the adoptive parents should get out of the score keeping, math equation type of relationship. Send those texts, even if there is no response! Stop only if the birth family specifically asks for that to stop. Have letters and hard copies of photos ready to send, even if the birth mother’s address is not current. Someday your child will be happy to see that you loved his birth family enough to share his life. Offer a specific date for a visit and be willing to be flexible. Don’t wait for your child’s birth family to ask! Not even if it is the birth family’s “turn” to make arrangements. Not even if it is tiring for you to be the one to always be the contact initiator.  

Not even if. 

Score keeping math equations? Or healthy relationships?  

It’s all in your hands.   


Priorities: Getting Out What You Put In

What are the key ingredients to making an open adoption actually be an open adoption?

Aren’t open adoptions just open because birth parents and adoptive parents agree that the relationship is an open one, share phone numbers and have an occasional visit?

Let’s return to the basics. It’s often been said that open adoption is a relationship. In all actuality, open adoption is not a relationship, it’s several relationships. It’s the relationship between adoptive and birth parents. It’s the relationship between adoptive parents and adopted children. It’s the relationship between birth parents and the child they placed for adoption. On top of this, let’s throw in the relationship the child has with grandparents, both through adoption and birth. And what’s the relationship between siblings…those in the family who lives together day-to-day and those who are seen during visits?

So back to the ingredients. If we are going to have this thing called open adoption, and it involves all these relationships, how will it look and how does it work? There are many cliches that come to mind, including “you get out of it what you put into it.” The crux of most relationships comes down to this  simple saying.

Think about a great relationship that you once had, but no longer do.

Maybe it was a relationship between your best friend in high school. Maybe it was your first love. Maybe it was with a co-worker from your last job. Why is this relationship no longer great? In all likelihood, it’s not because of some huge argument. Relationships tend to drift away because they are not made a priority. Things happen. Phone calls or texts don’t get returned immediately and then become forgotten. The in-box of the email keeps getting more and more new emails on top of the original from that friend. The talk of “we should get together someday” never actually makes it to an actual date.

Now think of a relationship you are still in and all is going well. It’s a safe bet that phone calls and texts are returned. Conversations happen regularly. Time is spent together. Plans are made—and kept. The vague “someday” becomes “next Friday”.

Not all relationships are meant to last forever. There are good reasons why certain relationships are not a priority. A former co-worker with whom you shared an occasional drink after work is not the same as the person connected to you through a child you both adore. Adoption, on the other hand, is a lifelong set of relationships.

In an open adoption that works well, the relationship with the child is the priority. Because it’s a priority, you plan ahead. You put dates on the calendar. You answer texts. Not only do you answer texts, you initiate texts or calls. You don’t worry about whose turn it is to do what.

And you do this open adoption relationship thing because you know the child benefits.

The child knows they are loved. They learn their identity, both from the birth parents and from their adoptive parents. The child can deal with reality, not fantasy. And in the end, this set of adoption relationships helps create an adult who can create healthy, loving relationships of their own.

Healthy, loving relationships. Isn’t that what we all are hoping for?


40 Weeks and a Circle of Support

Everyone knows that pregnancy lasts for nine months. 

It’s divided into three trimesters, each with three months in it. Everyone knows that pregnancy lasts for nine months. Unless you’re pregnant and waiting to deliver. Then you remember it’s forty weeks from conception to delivery. And if the due date for the blessed event is set for July or August in humid Indiana, it seems as if those forty weeks turns into an eternity. It certainly doesn’t help when people start asking the expectant mom “so you haven’t had that baby yet, have you?” (Feel free to insert your own sarcastic response here…)

The emotional waiting time is different for those involved adoption.

For the potential adoptive family there are no visible signs of pregnancy. There is the uncertainty of not only the baby’s birth, but what will happen after the birth. Will there be a baby coming home with them or not? For the expectant parents, the emotional waiting time is complicated. Preparing to give birth and preparing to say good-bye all at the same time is not for the weak-hearted. No one can predict with 100% accuracy how they will handle any given situation until they have been in that situation.

For everyone involved in the waiting game, there are just as many people on the sidelines who also want to know what is going on. They want to know the timelines too!

Is the baby here yet? Do you think the expectant mom is going to follow the adoption plan? Will she be ok if she does? Are the adoptive parents ready? Have you all met each other?

All this brings up another question, and that is—do you answer these questions?

And if you do, how many times do you have to answer them? Does everyone you know deserve to be in on the action?  Do you record your answer to the most frequently asked questions then just hit “play” when one of these comes up?

While those pre-recorded answers might be nice, another way handle them is to create your circle of support. The people in this circle are those who care about you and have your back. Face it, not everyone deserves to know all about your business. Once you have determined who is in your circle, create a group text or email chain. Let these people know they will have answers as you are ready to share them. Send out the information on your time table. And for those who don’t make the circle, be ready with your “mind your own business” answer. A simple “I’m not ready to talk about that” or some variation of this should be enough.

The forty weeks of pregnancy is a long time to wait.

The unknown amount of time for adoptive families is a long time to wait. Make the wait more bearable by sharing what needs to be shared with the people you know, trust, and love because you know they trust, respect, and love you right back.