So you’ve matched with an expectant mother—congratulations! You two are about to go on one interesting journey together. Regardless of the openness of your adoption, from here on out you will forever be linked with this amazing woman. It’s so important for everyone that you form a relationship with her. The best time to do that is before the baby is even born. It’s such an awkward situation, and it’s likely that neither of you have done this before. But I’ve been through it from her perspective, so let me walk you through it.
Create Realistic Expectations for Post-Placement Contact
This is by far the best thing you can do to create a good relationship with an expectant mother. Before placement, you should have a schedule in place. How often can she expect updates, phone calls or visits? You MUST be completely realistic. Be honest with yourself—it’s so easy to get caught up in trying to make an expectant mother feel comfortable with the situation that you might say whatever you feel will make her happy, but that’s not okay.
So many adoptive parents promise more than they can truly deliver. This is honestly one of the worst things you can do to a birth mom. My visits are my lifeline. It helps so much to know when the next time I get to see my birth daughter will be and to be updated regularly. R’s adoptive parents and I had this schedule in place before I gave birth. Everything is always subject to change, and that’s okay. People move, kids need different things, etc. But you have to stick to your promises as much as you possibly can. If you back out on the promises you made to the expectant mother when she becomes a birth mother for no good reason, you are going to ruin that relationship and break her heart.
If for whatever reason you need to change the schedule, especially if you feel the need to cut down on visits, this should be explained to her very clearly. I can’t tell you the number of birth mothers I know who just gradually stopped getting updates until they stopped coming altogether, leaving them heartbroken and wondering why. She placed with you, and if you’re going to change things, she deserves to know why.
Most adoptive parents don’t mean to do this. Life gets busy, or maybe you aren’t as comfortable with an open adoption as you thought you would be. Sometimes birth parents aren’t being good examples, or kids are having a rough time with their story and need some space. These things happen. But please understand that the promises you are making to the woman carrying this child should be honored and protected whenever possible.
My rule of thumb is to under promise and over deliver. Only commit to the absolute minimum you can do five, 10, even 15 years down the road. At different times you may be able to do more, and if you can you should! For me, it would feel so much better to get an extra update I hadn’t planned on than to be disappointed when the update I was promised didn’t come.
You also should set your own expectations. You can’t uphold your end of the deal if it is unhealthy for your child. It’s okay to make a rule that the birth parents need to be good role models in order for you to be able to have visits. Open adoption should always be in the best interest of the child, and that means that both parties have to be working together to form a relationship that is stable and healthy.
Creating realistic expectations with an expectant mother will set the stage for a healthy, stable open adoption. It will help her feel comfortable with you now and throughout your lives. Knowing what to expect can give everyone peace of mind.
Have the Awkward Conversations
Now is the time to have those uncomfortable talks. There are questions that come up in every adoption. What should the birth mother be called? What are you going to do if one of you moves closer or farther away from the other? Under what circumstances would contact need to be limited? How are we going to talk to the adoptee about their story? How are we going to answer the hard questions? It’s awkward to talk about things like this, but it’s better to have a plan in place than try to deal with them in the moment. This makes everyone feel confident about what is going to happen. An expectant mother will feel safer choosing you if you are willing to talk with her and listen to her opinion. Knowing that you are thinking through these things shows that you are well-prepared to be a parent to an adopted child.
Don’t Take Over Her Pregnancy
Adoptive parents are real moms and dads, no doubt about that. But it’s the birth moms who carry and give birth to the child. It does the birth mother and the adoptee a disservice to erase her from the story. Adoption is what it is, and if you’re not prepared to honor that this is a very different situation than it would be if you were having a biological child, it’s important that you take some time to gain more education for the sake of your future child.
If you have the honor of being invited to a doctor’s appointment, by all means, go. But that is a privilege, not a right. If she wants to go to the doctor alone or with someone else, she can do that. If she doesn’t want to go into the doctor at all she doesn’t have to. This is not uncommon, and you can’t pressure her. It’s normal to worry and want to be sure that she and the baby are healthy, but, in the end, it’s her choice.
Don’t push to be there for the birth—that is an extremely personal, vulnerable time for her. It’s natural for you to want to be there for the birth of your child, to be the first to hold them and do skin to skin, but that is not your call.
You should be excited during this time! You’re allowed to be happy and to celebrate. But remember that this is her pregnancy, her delivery, and her baby until she signs papers saying otherwise. Respecting her rights and wishes is the right thing to do. Show an expectant mother that you care by honoring the fact that this is HER pregnancy.
Watch What You Post
So many times I have seen a hopeful adoptive parent announce that they have been matched on social media, along with updating their profile picture to an ultrasound of the baby. This can go wrong for two different reasons.
When an expectant parent shares a photo or ultrasound with you, she is sharing it with you—not all your Instagram followers. Her pregnancy is a very vulnerable time, and having your Facebook friends weighing in on the situation can create a lot of pressure. Unless you have express permission from her to post about the match, don’t do it. If she’s okay with it—have at it. Every relationship is different, and for many people that works out just fine. The same goes for any ultrasound photos or pregnancy updates. Remember, this is her pregnancy and an ultrasound of her baby, and it’s up to her who that information is shared with.
Another reason that this can go wrong is that not all matches lead to an adoption. It is within an expectant mother’s right to change her mind at any time before she signs the adoption papers, and in many states, she can change her mind for a period of time even after that. It can be heartbreaking to have posted all these photos and announcements and then have to answer acquaintances who wonder where the baby is.
I think it’s okay to tell close friends and family. You deserve a support system—people who can be excited for you, and grieve with you if it doesn’t work out. I think the easiest thing to do is not tell anyone you wouldn’t want to explain everything to if the expectant mother chooses to parent or picks a different couple. This way you can save yourself from heartache, as well as respect the privacy of the expectant mom.
Care for Her
One of the main things that drew me to R’s adoptive family was that they cared about me. To them, I wasn’t just some incubator that was holding their child. I was a living, breathing human being with rights and a story that mattered. They cared about how I was feeling, physically and emotionally. They took the time to get to know me. To this day, we are good friends because they took the time before placement to show me that they weren’t just interested in me because I was pregnant. They treated me as an equal and that meant the world to me.
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Because they showed me so much love, I wasn’t worried that they might change their minds and close the adoption on me. Because they spent time with me, I knew what they were like in various situations, and I was more comfortable with my decision to place with them—I knew she would be safe and loved and that she would have lots of fun.
Whenever possible, build a friendship with an expectant mom before delivery. It makes it so much more comfortable and natural to have visits and phone calls after the baby is born if you already know each other well. It’s okay if this isn’t possible though. Sometimes there’s not a lot of time between a match and a placement. As long as you show your love and care, things will work out just fine. You have the rest of your lives to become friends.
This is a hot topic in the adoption conversation. Several of the things I have mentioned above— posting photos without permission, insisting on going to doctor’s appointments, etc.—can put a lot of pressure on an expectant mother, making her feel obligated to place with you. Most people aren’t trying to do this, but it is so, so important to be mindful of the expectant mother’s needs. This is her choice.
Use extreme caution when talking about the baby. A baby is not a toy to be passed around. This child is her child until she says so. The best way you can form a relationship with an expectant mom is to respect that. If you put pressure on her, even if she ends up placing with you, it will damage not only your relationship but her heart. Always keep at the front of your mind, “Is what I’m about to say respectful of this woman and her freedom to choose?
You are allowed to be excited to adopt and to talk about that with an expectant mom. Be happy, have dreams. Set up a nursery, get ready, feel joy. Just understand that what might be the happiest day of your life might be the worst day of hers.
The day I placed baby R with her parents was so, so painful. I knew that it was the best thing I could do for her in my situation, but it was still an enormous loss for me. I knew I made the right decision when R’s family came into the room, and I could feel that they hurt for me. They understood that their joy was my grief. They honored that. They honor me. And I know that they always will.
As you navigate this time, know that it will be all right. You will make mistakes and say something embarrassing, and that’s okay. It’s going to feel awkward. You won’t always know what to do. Just be yourself—she deserves that. We are all only human after all. It’s going to keep being like this for the rest of your lives, working together and trying to get it right. It’s going to be beautiful and broken, awkward and amazing, wonderful and painful and exciting—welcome to adoption.
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