One of the Biggest Fears Faced By Birth Parents: Adoptive Parents Not Keeping Their Promises

One of the biggest fears faced by birth parents in adoption is that adoptive parents will not keep their promises about future contact. Many birth parents have heard horror stories about adoptive parents who promised the world, only to cut off all contact after the placement. In adoption, we are asking birth parents to place their trust in an agency and social worker, perhaps based on reputation or recommendation. From there, we are asking them to place their trust in adoptive parents the agency has approved, who they may have only met once or twice. It is not a surprise that birth parents fear a lack of follow through. The only way to ease that fear is to build trust, and trust takes time and relationship to build.

So what can an adoptive family do to ease that fear and begin building trust?

Discuss your commitment to open adoption in your profile. Don’t make adoption or openness the “elephant in the room” of your profile.

Reiterate your commitment to openness in person when meeting the expectant parents. Don’t be afraid to bring up openness first in this meeting! You can ask the expectant parents what they are hoping for, and share your excitement and commitment again.

Solidify your commitment to openness with a symbol or gift. Prospective adoptive parents often want to give a gift to expectant parents when they meet before the birth or at the hospital, and this is a perfect time to continue showing your commitment to openness. A gift like a memory box, photo album, or scrapbook, with an explanation that you plan to send photos or scrapbook pages to fill it up, is a great start to this conversation.

Offer to sign a legally enforceable future contact agreement. If your state allows for legally enforceable future contact agreements, bring this up with the birth parents. Letting them know that you are willing to put your name to a legal agreement for openness may ease some of their fears.

Don’t make promises you may not be able to keep. It often happens that families get overwhelmed at the hospital and begin offering more openness than they are comfortable with. If you’re asked for something you’re not sure about, let the birth parents know that you want to think about it or talk about it with your partner or social worker before making a commitment. It is always better to say, “I’m not sure” than to say “yes” and then not follow through.

Don’t offer more contact during pregnancy if you don’t intend to continue that level of contact after placement. We understand the appeal – if the expectant mom has your cell phone number, she can just text you updates about doctor appointments instead of having to go through two social workers to get this information. We support you in having this level of openness, but only if you are comfortable continuing to text directly after the baby is born. If you would rather have some separation after the placement, you should keep the agency involved in your contact during pregnancy as well.

Set appropriate expectations. Along the same lines as above, if you intend to have direct contact with the birth parents, set expectations to ensure that everyone is on the same page and no one is disappointed. For example, if you share an email address, you may want to mention how often you’ll check it and how quickly you’ll be able to respond.

Send pictures and letters on time, and whenever possible, share more than the minimum. Think of your yearly updates as a chance to review your year for your child as well as the birth parents. Share all of those tiny moments that no one else will think are quite as exciting as you do – your child’s birth parents will likely revel in them right along with you.

Be creative in sending updates. Keep a running list of fun “firsts” and milestones to include in your yearly letter. Consider including your child’s artwork or schoolwork as well.

Involve your child in sending the update. Ask them to write a note or draw a picture for their birth parents to include.

Offer visits. Often birth parents are ready for a visit, but may be hesitant to ask to set one up. Include an offer of a visit, whenever the birth parents are ready, in each of your yearly letters. This lets birth parents know that the door remains open, but also that you haven’t forgotten.

Accept letters and gifts from the birth parents. Some birth parents love to respond to letters, or to send their own letters to the adoptive parents or the child. Others rarely send letters, but never miss a birthday. Always accept these letters and gifts, and either share them with your child now, or save them for a time when it will be more appropriate to share.

If you make a mistake, admit it and commit to do better. Open adoption is a different type of relationship and it will take time to adjust and get comfortable. It is likely that you and the birth parents will make mistakes and step on each other’s toes as you figure out how to do this delicate dance. Be okay with making mistakes, and quick to apologize and commit to doing better.

How to Cope With the Adoption Process During the Holidays

The adoption process is a stressful and emotional one, especially during the holiday season. It is on the mind of prospective adoptive parents and birth parents alike every day. There is a lot of planning surrounding the holidays, including spending time with loved ones; the adoption process is similar in the fashion of scheduling and setting expectations.

However, there are ways through which families can cope with the struggles of the adoption process during the busiest time of the year.

  1. Spend time with friends and loved ones: The adoption process is one which not all families go through and therefore understand. It is important to share your frustrations and thoughts of the process to your friends and family. It is often said that a common reaction to stress is to spend time alone, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Speaking to a loved one can alleviate daily stress and can help provide some outside perception on personal issues.
  2. Involve yourself with charity and the community: The holidays are a time during which many families spend the most money on gifts for loved ones. However, not all families are able to spend a great deal of money due to income and living situations, particularly in urban areas. Giving back to your local community provides a healthy distraction from the stresses of the season while helping those in need. Whether it be monetary donations or spending time at a local food pantry, helping the less fortunate will allow you to connect with others and can help boost mental health.
  3. Maintain traditions: The holiday season is a time during which families gather to celebrate their traditions, from decorating their houses to cooking dinners and lunches. Keeping traditions provides stability and consistency for family members, particularly during a stressful time such as the adoption process. Doing so allows families to bond through various activities and make memories.
  4. Keep communication open at home: The adoption process is an emotional rollercoaster for all those involved. There is much money and time spent throughout the journey in addition to the frustration while waiting for a placement. Ensure that communication is crucial to all in your household so no one family member can express themselves in a healthy and productive manner.

For all those going through the adoption process, have a safe and happy holiday season!

Broadening Our Perspective About Addiction

Guest post from Eryka Waller, an AFTH social worker who formally worked as Neonatal social worker.

Each day working in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), I would hear codes called whenever a baby was born and would be transferred into our unit. Codes ranged from babies in respiratory distress, a premature baby or a micro preemie (born starting at 24/25 weeks gestational age), and many times I would hear “Baby Girl, Room 2, mom admitted to Percocet use,” “Baby Boy, OR 1, mom in a methadone program,” “Baby Girl, Room 5, mom admitted to Percocet, Xanax, and heroin.” While every code you hear working in the NICU is emergent and truly devastating, hearing the calls about babies being born exposed and addicted broke my heart each time.

Babies born exposed and addicted to drug are sent to the NICU to be monitored for Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS). NAS is a diagnosis given to babies if their mother used opioids, barbiturates, amphetamines, or benzodiazepines during pregnancy. Babies experiencing NAS can have a large range of symptoms including, tremors, loud screeching cries, rashes, fevers, inconsolability, extreme irritability, loose stools, seizures, and many other things that impede their ability to go home right after birth with their families. While the medical aspects of NAS are very severe, NAS raises the red flag that there are severe social concerns going on in the home as well.

As a social worker in the NICU, my job was to complete a biopsychosocial assessment on each of the parents of the babies in my NICU. I needed to assess the mental stability of the parents, the environment (per parent report), and resources that the baby would have in their life. Whenever NAS came into play, this assessment was even more important. Hearing about a mother who used during pregnancy can cause a lot of feelings which can lead to judgement. Many people judge the character, integrity, and love inside of drug exposed and addicted parents. While those are real thoughts and feelings that many people have, I would like to take a moment and challenge you to shift your thinking in hopes that you would open your mind to a new understanding of these women.

Addiction is a disease. Disease? Yes, it is a disease that people can be predisposed to that sometimes, circumstances in life cause them to succumb to it.  David Sheff, Author of “Clean: Overcoming Addiction and Ending America’s Greatest Tragedy” said “addiction is a disease and must be treated like we treat other diseases.” According to the Center for Addiction, “Like diabetes, cancer and heart disease, addiction is caused by a combination of behavioral, environmental and biological factors.” People do no choose to become an addict in the same way that people do not choose to become a diabetic or to have heart disease or cancer. While life choices may exacerbate the predisposition, we do not judge someone with these diseases even if their life choices caused them.

People who have diabetes get pregnant and have babies just like people with addiction. While yes, the major difference here is a mother’s addiction has an impact on the baby, they do not purposefully use to harm the child. Similarly, a mother and father who both have the sickle cell trait, have a 50% chance of having a child with the disease. Sickle cell disease is a chronic sickness. Do we judge them for getting pregnant with knowledge that the child could be born with the disease as a direct result of the parents both have the trait? No. Out of all the women I have worked with who had babies exposed, never once have I heard a woman say, “I love using drugs” or “I do it because I like it” or “I don’t care about the baby I just care about using drugs.”  Most times, there are things going on in life causes them to try to find a relief, a break from the struggles in life, a break from depression or anxiety.  If that predisposition for addiction is there, and there are no healthy resources or supports, sometimes, these women fall to drug or alcohol use to give them this sense of relief.

Instead of judging, we need to be reminded, that sicknesses take many forms. Instead of judging, remember, addiction is a sickness and must be treatment as one. When we see someone who is sick, we help them not judge them. In adoption, we should always have an open mind. Never judge a birth or expectant parent if their child is born exposed. This is especially important to remember in open adoption. The person suffering from the effects of addiction is not only your child but also your child’s birth mother or father. Compassion and understanding go a long way as does a clearer picture of addiction as a disease and not solely a life choice.

Adopting a child with an Autism Spectrum Disorder

autism-3612854_960_720Approximately 1 in every 59 children are born with an autism spectrum disorder every year. In addition, boys are four times more likely to get diagnosed then girls. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, “autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disorder that affects common action and behavior.” As the rates of autism continue to rise, a parent needs to become prepared especially if expecting parents are considering adopting a child with ASD.

When considering adopting a child with ASD, you must make sure you are knowledgeable about every aspect of autism. ASD impacts brain development in either a minor or major way. The disorder can be categorized in several ways ranging from difficulties with social interaction, reading and/or writing difficulties, repetitive behaviors and more. One of the most commonly names used to describe ASD is Asperger’s syndrome.

When filling out your preferred checklist, make sure to ask your partner if you are both comfortable and capable of supporting a child with special needs. Make sure you both consider all the factors of having a child with ASD such as the frequent doctor visits, additional help with school and the ability to advocate for the child. Once you’ve made the decision, make sure to be honest with yourself and not to feel guilty if you decide not to.

The sad truth is that many children with any disability of some sort end up in foster care because of the limited resources that their biological family has to care for them. When considering adopting a child on the spectrum, you would need attributes that are necessary to raise any child such as love, nurture and patience. Once you have a child picked, it is important to identify the specific needs of the child. To ensure this, the complete medical history of the child must be present. Further along the process, you will need to find the appropriate schooling and medical assistance for your child which may entitle some extra work. Ultimately, it’s a hard job but a very rewarding one that any family is capable of handling.

I’m Pregnant and Considering Adoption as an Option

If you are pregnant and considering adoption here are important steps when exploring adoption as an option:

1 – DO Your Research

There is a lot of different information you can find on the internet about adoption including different agencies or facilitators you can work with. Do your research on each professional or agency you are considering using. It is important that you work with someone who advocates for YOUR needs. Ask them to speak with women who have worked with them so you can hear first-hand experience. Also be sure to explore ALL your options. Adoption and parenting aren’t the only choices and it’s important to gather facts so you can make the decision that is right for you.

2 – TALK with People Who Have Parented and Those Who Have Placed

Talk with people on both sides and listen to their experiences. You situation and feelings about adoption may vary from them but talking with women who have decided to place as well as parent can help give you a better idea of the bigger picture. Make sure to also talk with women who placed several years ago and see how their experience has changed.

3 – FIND a Great Support System

Whether you stick to your plan of choosing adoption or if you are feeling more unsure, this is a difficult time emotionally and physically and you will need support. If you don’t have family members or friends who are able to support you, online support groups can be another great way to find others who you can confide in and lean on when you need to. Your support system needs to be able to put their own opinions aside and focus on your needs and desires during your pregnancy.

4 – THINK About the Type of Adoption You Want Now and Hope for in the Future

Right now you are considering adoption based on your currently situation. When considering adoption, make sure you also think about how you hope your adoption looks in the future. Does it include visits and updates? Open adoptions in particular have the ability to change over time. Setting a common foundation for how you want that to look now and in the future is an important part of selecting the right family for your child.

You are facing one of the toughest decisions you will make. You are the only one who can make the best decision for yourself and for your child. Family and friends will be quick to share their opinions however your decision will have life-long affects and so you need to listen to the voice within you as to whether or not you parent or place. No one else can make that decision for you.

Single Parent Adoption: “Not An Opportunity to Be Othered”

Brooke* is a single woman with everything she had ever wanted: a steady-paying job, her own condo, and the luxury to travel as she pleased. She spent several years establishing her career and built a life around her profession as a high-ranking executive.

Along the way, she felt as though something was missing: the love of a child. She always imagined getting married and settling down to raise a family. Much of her family and friends married and had children of their own, much to her delight. After welcoming her two nephews, she realized that her capacity for love was so great that she wanted to fulfill her life-long dream of becoming a mother on her own terms.

While at home on a snowy day, she made the phone call to her local social services department that changed her life forever. The stars were aligned; the office returned her call almost immediately and she attended an informational meeting with her sister later that week.

Her parents were supportive and had no questions regarding her parenting capabilities. She filled out the proper paperwork with great detail and passed home inspection with flying colors. Her own self-doubts about people judging her with “shaking heads and furrowed brows” did not occur. In fact, she stated that she experienced nothing but love and generosity from her peers upon adopting through the foster care system.

This new chapter in Brooke’s life did not come without some challenges. All of the parental responsibilities were solely hers, from playing with her children to emotional support. Her children faced comments about “not having a dad”, which she believes makes them feel “othered.” She reassures her children that just because they have one parent does not make them any less loved than other children. A common challenge for single parents, Brooke recognizes this as an opportunity to establish a strong familial unit.

Brooke not only pursued her dreams of motherhood, but she also built a fulfilling, happy life with her two children. Adoption brought her the two “greatest joys of [her] life” and does not doubt that her decision was exactly the right choice for her.




What to Do If My Partner & I Don’t Agree During the Adoption Process

The adoption process is often compared to riding a roller coaster with many ups and downs along the way. As you work through the adoption process, you and your partner might uncover some areas of disagreement. Do not panic. Just as disagreements are common in many aspects of relationships, the adoption process is not immune. It’s important to work through these differences while you go through each step along your adoption journey.

Talk with Others

“At first when I brought up the idea of adoption my husband was unsure that he would be able to love a child that came into our family through adoption the same way he would a biological child. Over time, by speaking to other men who became fathers through adoption his fears and worries subsided.” Karen S. an adoptive mother.

By speaking to others who have gone through or are going through the adoption process, it can help bridge the gap in some of the more common differences you and your partner might initially start out with in regards to the adoption process.

Talk with Your Social Worker

Anytime you have questions or concerns, it’s important to be open with your social worker. Talking to your social worker about the differences you and your partner are feeling is important and your social worker may be able to help bridge the gap.

 Times to Compromise and Times NOT To

Compromising is a key ingredient to any strong relationship and it will be important when you undergo the adoption journey together. However, there are times to compromise and times it’s best not to.

When disagreeing on which photos to include or what to write in the profile, working together and making comprises can go a long way. If adopting as a couple, it’s important that the profile reflects BOTH parents so that expecting parents can get to know each of you.

There are time when it’s best NOT to split the difference and meet in the middle. For example, while completing your profile key detailing the placement situations you are open to, you may uncover some differences. Maybe it’s about the level or type of prenatal drug or alcohol exposure, it could be about the level of openness, or possible the racial background of the child. Whatever you disagree about, it’s important to first make sure you are open to truly listening to the other person’s concerns. Now is not a time to dig in and shut down. Figuring out where your partner is coming from is important. This is a huge lifelong decision that should not be taken lightly. Doing research about the things you disagree about can be helpful and will give you factual information to then base your decisions from.

A general rule of thumb for couples when completing their profile key is to select the option in each section that matches the highest common denominator which both people agree on. For example, you may be open to 3 visits with birth parents a year and your partner is only comfortable promising 2 or your partner is open to alcohol use throughout the entire pregnancy, but you are only open up to the first trimester. The recommended selections for your profile key would be 2 visits and alcohol use in the first trimester that way it falls in each of your comfort zones.

You may miss out on some placement opportunities but the focus of the agency is to place a child in the home best suited for them and so being really honest with yourselves about the situation you are ready for is vital. Social workers would not want to place a child in a home where a family quickly says yes to the situation presented without truly thinking it through thoroughly and later find they are both not fully comfortable with the placement.

Different Responses to the Wait Time

The waiting can be one of the hardest part of the adoption process and each prospective adoptive parent handles it differently. Some people want to nest and get ready for baby by buying a few items each month during the wait while others do not want to have that buildup for something there is no set time frame for. Some waiting families want to know about every situation they did and didn’t match for each month while others find having that information makes the wait harder.

Keep in mind, you and your partner may experience the wait differently. You may find that you need to soak up as much time as possible with other waiting families so attending the support groups, education classes, and online communities are a great way to do that. Your partner, on the other hand, may prefer to let the waiting just be while they throw themselves into work until the time comes when you are matched. Your partner may be triggered by things like family celebrations or birth announcements while you become excited thinking that one day that will be you too. Whatever way you manage the wait, keep your lines of communication open with your partner as well as your social worker. Empathy and understanding go a long way.

Just the Beginning….    

The adoption journey is just the beginning of a whole new type of disagreements and compromises that come with being a parent. You will find what works best for you as a couple and for your child and how you navigate those differences as a parent.

A blog by Adoptions From The Heart to help families interested in Adoption and to support those who have adopted