There is very little out there to guide and educate birthparents in open adoptions. Here are some articles and resources you may find helpful.
A Birthparent’s Manifesto
* We recognize that the unique biological connection we have with our child creates a responsibility to them. We realize that we are important in the life of our child. That even though we are not parenting, our role as birthparents is significant. We understand that as our children’s birthparents there are going to be questions only we can answer and that our love and concern can never be replaced by another.
* We recognize the importance of nurturing the relationships we have with both our child and his whole adoptive family. In doing this, we honor his connections and realize that the relationships we have with his family members ultimately will effect him.
* We recognize adoption as a life long process, and that each age and stage our child goes through brings with it it’s own unique set of needs, desires and questions. We are open to what that may mean to us.
* We recognize our ongoing involvement with our child is a commitment.
* We accept our child as an individual. We delight in who he is and who he will become.
You will notice that I specifically left out the words arrangement and situation, comfort and privilege. Instead I used words like commitment and responsibility, honor and relationships. These are the major distinctions between child-centered open adoption and open adoption that is based on the needs and desires of birthparents and adoptive parents. All of us need to be aware that words we use affect our principles, and ultimately, our actions. If birthparents believe that open adoption is in the best interest of the child, if we are aware of our responsibilities, if we see the contact we have with our child and their parents as a relationship, then we will be honest with the adoptive parents if our grief is too much, we will be there for our child, even if the answers do not come easily.
If we are told that we should do what ever we are comfortable with, that our involvement matters little to the child, that visits and contact our for our benefit alone, we are more likely to silently retreat when the pain overwhelms us, when we fear the next question, to agree when our family and friends say we are only hurting ourselves.
A Birthparent’s Role
I can still remember Mother’s Day the year my son was born. It was a holiday I was dreading, a cruel reminder of all that I had given up. One of my first stops was at a friend’s house. When her mother greeted me with a big hug and a heartfelt Happy Mother’s Day, I told her that I had no right to be called a mother to a son I wasn’t raising. She responded by angrily telling me that giving birth to a child gave me plenty of right, whether I was raising the child or not, and denying myself that right was like denying he was ever born. In the years since I have come to realize that she was right. In anticipation of that first Mother’s Day I had spent all my time focusing on what I was not to my son, completely ignoring all that I am to him.
Given the messages that most birthparents receive during the planning process, is not surprising that they struggle with their role. Open adoption is rarely presented to birthparents as a child-centered option. Instead of focusing on why birthparent involvement is important in the life of the child, prospective birthparents are told by agencies that they can “choose as little or as much contact as they are comfortable with having.” Unfortunately, doing “whatever you are comfortable with” does not take the needs of the child into consideration. Open adoption needs to be about adoptive parents and birthparents both making a commitment to be a positive, committed presence in the life of the child.
The darkness of grief often makes it difficult for birthparents to see what they have to offer. By relinquishing their right to parent, many may feel as if their work is done. Society tends to reinforce this by portraying good birthparents as silent participants. In addition, birthparents may be struggling with the inner demons of shame and guilt and may not feel worthy of a relationship with their children. They may also have family and friends who are not very supportive of their decision and make it difficult for them to feel good about continued contact.
Visits may be difficult as well. I can remember my first visit to see Matthew when he was seven months old. It was painful to have him view me as a stranger, to not be able to comfort him when he cried, to even be the source of his tears. It was not until after we had established our own relationship that visits became easier, and it wasn’t until he was three years old that I stopped crying every time I left him. It is no wonder that many new birthparents greet each visit with nervous anticipation.
As much as birthparents want to see their children, many feel uncertain about their place in their children’s lives. It is important in the beginning that birthparents are told that they are valuable for a number of reasons.
One way they are valuable is as a source of family information. Birthparents are the keepers of an adopted child’s genetic heritage. Most experts in child development agree that a child’s development depends on both genetic (nature) and environmental (nurture) factors. Besides physical characteristics, children can inherit talents and temperaments. Is your child good in science like the birth grandmother? Are they creative like the birth sister? Birthparents can help their children discover their genetic origins.
A birthparent’s history is also part of the child’s history. A birthmother feels their first kick, remembers the unusual food cravings and remembers their activity level. Birthfathers who are involved in the pregnancy may recall hearing the baby’s heart beat for the first time, and may have had the first fuzzy glimpse of them swimming around during an ultrasound. The pregnancy and birth stories that birthparents hold so dear to their hearts, as well as their reasons for choosing adoption, also have meaning to our children.
Ongoing contact can also be reassuring to a child of adoption. Their questions can be answered as they come up and they never need doubt that their birthparents love them. They will always have tangible proof of how they are cared for. No child–or adult for that matter– can have too much love in their life.
Birthparents need to view the choice of open adoption as a commitment to their children to be involved, despite the fact that they are not raising them. It is not a privilege, extended to them to take lightly or to discard when the going gets “uncomfortable.” Just as parents do things that they are uncomfortable with to benefit their children, birthparents are often called on to experience some uncomfortable moments to benefit the children they placed.