When an adoptive family begins their journey, one of the things they struggle with is what kind of openness relationship they want to share with a birth family. And very often, after researching open adoption and hearing from other adoptive families and adoptees, they surprise themselves and decide they want a more open relationship with the birth family than they had originally anticipated. They look forward to building a relationship with their child’s birth family, sharing updates, and know the value it will prove for their child down the road.
But what happens when an adoptive family desires openness and their adoption turns out to be much more closed than they anticipated?
This can happen a number of different ways. Since the beginning you envisioned meeting the expectant mother at match and she doesn’t want to meet until the birth of the baby. Maybe you anticipated giving her a heartfelt gift personally at the hospital and she decided she no longer wanted to meet. But most often this plays out with the birth family only sporadically answering your updates, struggling to find a time to meet, or even not hearing from them at all.
So what happens when you’ve agreed to an open relationship but you hear nothing from the birth family? Do you stop reaching out because you have no idea what’s happening on the other end?
It’s easy to make assumptions when you send updates but rarely or never hear back.
Don’t assume your updates are not being read (or never will be). It can be common for birth parents not to respond to every update or take a step back for a season and not access them.
Don’t assume your reaching out isn’t appreciated or valued. It would be ideal if you heard a response every time to sent an update. But just because you didn’t hear back, it doesn’t mean that the birth family isn’t cherishing the updates and pictures.
Don’t assume your updates are causing pain. Although receiving news about their child can be hard, it’s also an amazing opportunity to offer reassurance that they are incredibly loved and doing well.
Don’t assume your relationship will always look like this. Every person goes through seasons in their life, as well as every relationship. Relationships can grow over time, especially as people mature and are able to work through their grief and loss in their own time.
My advice: always always always continue at least the communication you offered at the beginning, even when you don’t hear back.
A few tips:
It’s always good to establish more than one way the birth family can reach you (and vice versa if possible). That way, if one is lost or unable to be accessed, there’s always a back up.
Try to establish one form of communication that a birth family can access on their own time frame (such as a private Instagram account set up just for your adoption). This allows them to see pictures and updates on their own terms. If they’re having a rough day, they can put it aside. But if they are eager to see how their little one is doing, they can pore over pictures as much as they want.
Be sure to include pictures of the whole family. Adoptive parents often wonder if they should only include pictures of the child. Adding pictures with parent and siblings gives a fuller picture of your family and how loved and cherished the child is. A good rule of thumb is about 70/30 (70% pictures of the child alone and 30% with family members or friends).
Occasionally ask if the openness relationship is still working.Feel free to ask if the mode of communication is still working and if they would like more or less communication. Be sensitive to their needs while also balancing healthy boundaries for everyone involved. Remember that healthy openness is a two-way street where mutuality is encouraged.
One of the most powerful examples of keeping up updates is a scene from the documentary, Closure.(Find it on Netflix, it’s so worth the watch.) It’s the story of Angela, an adoptee, and follows her search for her birth family. After finding her family, one scene shows Angela, her adoptive mother, and her birth mother going back to the adoption agency to look at the updates her mother sent to the agency faithfully every year. The treasures that had been kept for over two decades were wept over by all three. As they read letters and looked at school pictures through the years, it was powerful to see how meaningful those updates were to not just to Angela’s birth mother, but to Angela. Her mother worked diligently to honor her life and her birth mother’s brave decision for adoption in an ongoing, tangible way and never once heard back.
So those updates you faithfully send after you pray over what words and pictures to share? Keep sending them. It’s always hard for the adoptive family to see the value of those updates when you don’t know if they are being read. But hold onto hope that they are (or will be someday) and know that the love you pour into every single one will not be wasted. God can do something powerful in our own hearts as you pause to do the important work of remembering a birth family’s important role in your own.