How to Manage and Complete Adoption Paperwork

 

When my wife and I meet new people, I love explaining what I do for work and the joy I get from helping guide families throughout their adoption process. I love sharing the adoption stories and testimonies of the families we work with, and how each have a personal and unique journey through adoption. For those looking to build their family through adoption, the process is indeed a journey; one that will be simultaneously life-giving and challenging. As with any journey, often times the hardest part is getting started.

 

I find this to be especially true with the families I work with as they begin to navigate the adoption paperwork stage of the process.  Adoption paperwork is a necessary and vital part of the adoption journey, but it can definitely feel overwhelming for families.  Even the most organized of couples tend to have a hard time keeping it all together! At Nightlight Christian Adoptions, we acknowledge the difficulty of this process, so we have compiled a few tips to help families manage, and ultimately complete, their adoption paperwork.

 

     1. Break Paperwork Down to Manageable Pieces

 

One of the biggest mistakes I see families make in the adoption paperwork phase is when they try to take on every form at once. This usually starts out with good intentions as the family is driven by their excitement to keep the ball rolling, but it is almost always met with them becoming overwhelmed. Instead, we recommend that families break their paperwork down into manageable pieces.

 

Breaking the paperwork down is a beneficial way to both organize forms and find peace of mind by putting your work into perspective. A helpful way to do this is to separate the paperwork into corresponding sections in a folder or binder. An example breakdown of this is as followed:

 

  • Agency Forms
  • Home Study Forms
  • Financial Forms
  • Dossier Forms
  • Education Forms, etc.

 

Another way to break down the paperwork requirements is to separate responsibilities between you and your spouse. You can designate who fills out each section of forms and come together on the forms that require both adoptive parents to complete. Regardless of one’s method, breaking down the paperwork into pieces helps families manage their work and prevents them from becoming overwhelmed with the process.

 

 

  1. Utilize Your Checklists

 

A helpful tool that every Nightlight office provides for families is a checklist for the supporting documents of each case stage.  Viewing the adoption paperwork broken down as a checklist allows a family to physically track their progress towards completing their required forms. We advise families to always keep these checklists handy, and to utilize their own created checklists if it helps them understand the process more tangibly. For families with children in the home, this is also a way to get them involved in the adoption process. One idea for families with little ones is to have a checklist of adoption paperwork on a whiteboard or poster board where they can help you place a sticker or draw a checkmark when and item is completed. This could be a fun way to have the whole family feel a part of the adoption process while giving you a visual of your progress.

 

  1. Make Copies of Everything You Complete

 

Often times I find that families become so focused on filling out and uploading/mailing their forms that they forget to make copies for their own records. This causes an issue later in the process when a document needs to be resent or referred to, only for the family to realize that they mailed or discarded their only copy. Several of the documents completed during the adoption paperwork phase will need to be referred to again in the process, and ensuring that your family has access to what you have already completed will save a lot of time and energy in the future.

 

Your family might choose to store everything online or through hard copies, but regardless of the method it is important to keep records of your paperwork throughout the entire adoption journey. For example, a family that is adopting internationally might think that they are finished with their paperwork once they have arrived back in the U.S. with their child. However, in reality they will need several of their documents in order to obtain the child’s social security number, U.S. Passport, and start the re-adoption process if applicable. So a good rule of thumb is to always back-up and keep record of every document you complete!

 

  1. Don’t Be Afraid to Ask For Help

 

This tip might seem like a no-brainer, but you would be surprised how frequently I hear from families who are hesitant to ask for help from their agency caseworker or adoption advisor. At Nightlight we are always willing to help walk our families through the process: from start to finish! This includes the paperwork phase, as we recognize the amount of work that is required and the confusion that comes with the process. From application, to home study, to dossier, to post adoption; whatever questions you might have regarding paperwork during your adoption journey, your Nightlight adoption advisor or caseworker is willing to help you find a solution.

So although paperwork is not the most exciting part of your adoption journey, it is something that is vital to the process. Instead of becoming overwhelmed with the amount of forms and documents, utilize the tools at your disposal to organize and manage what needs to be completed. As always, Nightlight Christian Adoptions is here to see that your journey end with you welcoming your child into a loving home.

 

written by John Hewitt, M.Div.| Home Study Coordinator

Lifting the Adoption Community in Prayer

 

 

Whether you are waiting for an adoption placement, or hoping to prayerfully support a family in the midst of their adoption journey, here are some practical ways to pray for the adoption community.

Pray for Rest- adoptive families spend countless hours gathering documents and preparing for a child. There are visits before placement and after placement where a caseworker assesses their home and any family members-these visits can get exhausting.

Pray for Wisdom- at times there are unforeseen circumstances that arise in an adoption application and match process. The family, caseworker, a birthmom, must work through unexpected events that require wisdom and discernment.

Pray for Finances- the financial commitment can weigh heavily on a family. Unexpected expenses with travel or medical expenses can pop up. Finances for when they are able to care for a new child can continue far beyond an adoption agency fees.

Pray for Attachment- Family bonding and attachment are important when adopting a child both before and after the adoption process. This is relevant for both infant and older child adoptions.

Pray for the birthmom- pray for her journey in this process. She may not be supported in her decision for placement or may not even know if she is certain about placement. The unknown can be scary for both sides- adoptive parents and birthparents. Pray for the relationship between birthmom and adoptive family.

Pray for the Adoption agency and state/international regulations- the caseworkers, supervisors, courts for finalizations, foreign officials, all work in different capacities within adoption. This can be an emotionally taxing and physically demanding job, filled with uncertainty and uncontrollable obstacles. Workers who make day to day decisions that affect the family long term can to be lifted in prayer.

In what ways do you pray for the adoption community?

Ways to Love a Birth Mom

All the chocolate has been consumed. All the flowers purchased and delivered. All the cards and kind messages relayed to loved ones. As February is drawing to an end, what better time to reflect on what it looks like to love others well in the coming year. As adoptive parents, you often have special people to love that would not have otherwise crossed your paths if it weren’t for adoption. Whether you are still waiting to meet your child’s birth mother or whether you’re walking through life with her already, here are some practical ways you can actively and genuinely love the women in your lives that made the sacrificial choice of adoption and, thus, have become a special part of your family.

  1. Pray. Pray daily for your child’s birth mother. Pray that she would grow in wisdom. Pray that she would know God’s presence and be comforted by His great love for her. Pray that she would be strengthened by His spirit and that any shame or guilt would be laid to rest through Christ’s love and fondness for her. Set aside a special time each day—maybe the hour your child was born or the hour you first met your child’s birth mother—to specifically and earnestly pray for her.
  2. Give. Give your time, especially. Give a listening ear. Give a photo when you promised to send one. Give a special gift on certain days throughout the year. Give validation where it is needed. Birth mothers experience a variety of different thoughts and emotions that are often hard for them to process and express. Validate her fears when they are expressed to you. Validate her sadness and grief. Validate her efforts to remain connected with your child. Validate her value and worth as an individual. Validate her gifts and talents as they become evident to you.
  3. Pay attention. Whether you already know your child’s birth mother or are just beginning to get to know her, take time to understand what makes her feel loved, valued, respected, and cherished. Does she respond well to words of affirmation or prefer receiving gifts? Does she enjoy spending quality time or appreciate acts of service? Be attentive to her needs as an individual and seek to meet them in notable ways. Write a note to her detailing what you love or value about her. Send a bouquet of flowers to her unexpectedly one day. Speak to her as a friend. Really pay attention to what she says and value the opportunity to learn from her.
  4. Do what you say you’re going to do. Birth mothers have often had people in their lives make promises that are left unfulfilled. You can imagine how wounding that can be over time. Overcommitting can often lead to even more heartbreak, grief, and rejection for birth mothers. That is why it is absolutely crucial to avoid overcommitting and only say what you’re actually willing to do. Let your yes be your yes, and your no be your no. If you say you’ll send pictures, send them as you promised. If you agreed to meet up before the birth, make time to meet her! If you told her you would write a letter a few times a year, make sure the letters make it to her.
  5. Empathize. Social researcher, Dr. Brené Brown, made an important distinction when saying that empathy fuels connection, whereas sympathy drives disconnection. Connection is always the goal—for adoptive parents, birth parents, and children. So, when listening to the stories, thoughts, or feelings of these courageous women, try focusing on empathizing—feeling with them rather feeling sorry for them. For more on the distinction Dr. Brown makes and why empathy holds so much more power when connecting with not just birth mothers, but also others with whom we interact each day, I would encourage you to watch this short video.

Feel Good Friday: Gunter Family

 

We are Joe and Kaley Gunter. We are coming up on 11 years of marriage. Adoption has always been something we wanted to pursue but just never knew when we would pursue it. After three years of trying unsuccessfully to get pregnant we knew the Lord was calling us to begin pursuing adoption.

We began our adoption journey with Love Basket, a smaller Christian adoption agency who later merged with Nightlight Christian Adoption Services in March 2015. This agency stood out to us at an adoption fair because of the high value and love they placed on the birthparents. We knew we would love to be able to have a relationship with the birthparents of our child if they were open to that, so the fact this agency counseled birthparents along the journey to make sure this was the right fit for them confirmed this was the agency the Lord was calling us to use. We started our paperwork and training in March 2015 and due to several reasons, some including the merge of agencies, knowing the Lord was calling us out of our ministry position in Louisville but not sure where He was leading, and then our move from Louisville KY to Magnolia MM (which required us finding an assisting agency to complete our home study in Mississippi) all of our paperwork was finally finished in February 2017 and we were ready to be matched.

On March 2nd we received a call from our caseworker stating that she wanted to show our profile to a birth mom but the expenses would be more than expected due to birth mom being privately insured. We told her to show our profile because if the Lord saw fit for this to be our child then He would work the financial aspect out. Then we prayed, trusted, and waited. The following day we headed to Hattiesburg for a date day and got a phone call from our caseworker. We knew she would let us know either way the decision the birth mom made regarding us parenting her child. So when we saw our caseworke’s name on our phone so many emotions were flooding us. She informed us we had been chosen to parent a two day old baby girl and of all the states she could have been born in she was born in Kentucky, Louisville Kentucky at that.

We will never forget the moment we first laid our eyes on our daughter. To experience a moment you have prayed so many years for was overwhelming. She was and is the most beautiful little girl we have ever seen. We immediately fell in love with her and felt a closeness to her.

For four months our journey was fairly smoothly waiting to finalize, but then in July 2017 our story took a turn. Keeping details private, we spent 13 months waiting to finalize our daughter. This by far is the hardest journey we have ever endured, but I can say wholeheartedly I would not change our situation. Through this we learned in a way we never have to truly rely on Christ and lean on Him, even in the times we were in despair and shattered. We clung to the truth that her birth mom chose us to raise her daughter and that before the Lord created her, we were chosen to parent her.

There are so many little details the Lord has orchestrated in our story. If I could sit down with you face-to-face, I would tell you all the ways God worked behind the scenes in the little details and how truly great His faithfulness and kindness is.

All of the waiting was ordained, and we may never know the reasons our daughter’s story started the way it did. But we know the truth of this quote “Waiting time is not wasted time” The wait was long at times and there was questioning on how the Lord would provide financially for our unexpected journey to finalization and how long it would be until she was legally ours. But God truly showed up in all the hard. We learned the meaning of “all we have is Christ” when life makes no sense. A vital truth that will carry us on through this earthly life. God being who He is, showed up financially and the month after we finalized our daughter our adoption process was paid in full!!! We are so grateful for the generosity of others on our journey and the village of people God has surrounded us with. Adoption can be messy and hard at times, but it is also beautiful and worth it all.

 

Creating a Life Book For Your Adoptive/Foster Child

 

 

 

Creating Lifebooks for our children is one of those things in life that some parents follow through better than others, like sending out Christmas cards. The desire is there, we’ve pictured the outcome, we understand the appreciation it will bring others, and some have gotten as far as making a Shutterfly account. But then, before we know it, it’s December 24th, December 25th, January 1st, January 30th and we’ve convinced ourselves that next year we will do better.

I get it, life is busy, especially now that we’re parenting. But unlike Christmas Cards, that are eventually thrown away or tossed into a drawer, Lifebooks serve as  lifelong tools for our children. It connects a child with their past. It helps them make sense of their experiences, the good and painful. It’s a vehicle that facilitates discussion about the often-messy circumstances leading to their adoption, helps navigate their grief of losses and past traumas, and aids to dispel magical thinking or false beliefs that somehow they caused the separation from their birth family.  All of which, if handled correctly, contributes to strengthening a child’s positive self-identify.

Through a quick internet search, you can find a lot of wonderful resources about creating a Lifebook for your adoptive/foster child. Most of the blogs and articles are better than I could ever recreate. Here are some of the highlights that I’ve learned from my thirteen years working in the adoptions and foster care field.

 

  1. Lifebooks are not reserved for the Pinterest parent. Lifebooks are not meant to be perfect or even pretty. They are filled photos, artwork, words, historic information and journal entries. No Shutterfly account needed. Use a book were pages can be added and rearranged, such as a three-ring binder.
  2. Don’t know where to begin? Start with important dates and places. Stuck again? Search the web for template pages and ideas. Iowa’s Foster and Adoptive Parent Association IFAPA has created over seventy free life book pages for foster and adoptive families and social workers to use. http://www.ifapa.org/publications/ifapa_lifebook_pages.asp
  3. Do a little legwork. I know of one fost/adopt family whose daughter attended twelve schools in only eight years. To help fill in her story, they retrieved the names of the schools from former case workers and spent one summer visiting each school, taking photographs of the schools and asking the school offices for their daughter’s yearbook picture.
  4. Involved the masses. Contact important individuals from your child’s past and ask them to contribute notes and memories. These people may include case workers, foster parents, teachers, mentors, coaches, etc. Even if you don’t have many contacts from your child’s past, you must have had contact with a social worker who facilitated your adoption.
  5. Involve your child. The life book is for your child and in order for it to be a useful therapeutic too., they must contribute. When they are young it may be a drawing they made of their birth family. As they get older they can contribute more. They also must be allowed to handle it, carry it around, land ook at it when they please.
  6. Remain honest. A Lifebook should provide a child the truth about their own life history. The story can become more sophisticated as the child grows older. As painful as it may be, recording the reasons for the child’s adoption is important because truth dispels false beliefs that a child may otherwise have that they caused the circumstances that led them to be separated from their birth family and false guilt that may affect their self-worth. Lifebooks also allow for feelings, complicated and real, such as how much a child loves their birth parents and positive memories living with their birth family even when those parents may have been neglectful, abusive or primarily absent
  7. Leave lots of blank pages to continue to document your child’s growth, development, school progress, hobbies, and relationships etc.

The simple fact is there is no right or wrong way to make a Lifebook, but by not doing a Lifebook you’re missing a powerful way to positively impact your child’s sense of self and the way they view their past, present and future. It’s also a great way to deepen the parent/child relationship. The Christmas cards can wait until next year, your child’s Lifebook should not.

What Is a Putative Birth Father Registry?

 

 

If you have researched domestic infant adoption, you may have heard the terms putative father, putative father registry or birth father registry.  A putative father is a man who is believed to be the biological father of a child when he is not married to the mother at the time of birth.  Unfortunately these men are only known to adoption agencies or attorneys if the birth mother names them.  If the birthmother is unwilling or unable to identify the father of her child, it is impossible to locate him.  As such, this gentleman may not be informed of the child’s birth or the potential adoption process.  In some cases, he may not even know that he has fathered a child.  States are faced with the question of how to protect the parental rights of these men.  A man has the right to know he has fathered a child and the right to choose to parent the child if he desires and is able, just as the birth mother has the right to do so.

 

Each state has its own law on how to proceed with an adoption involving a putative father.  Some states require a man to support the birthmother and be involved in her life during the pregnancy to establish his parental rights.  Generally a set period of time has to pass after the birth of the child without any supportive action from the putative father for a court to proceed with terminating his parental rights.  If a birthfather is unknown, there can be increased legal risk for the adoptive placement.  When a gentleman becomes aware of his child after being placed for adoption, a long legal battle can ensue with possible disruption after a child has attached to their adoptive parents.  The case of baby Jessica [1993], removed from her adoptive parents at the age of 2 years to be placed with her biological father, is an example of this.

 

Many states have responded to this ethical dilemma by using putative birth father registries, which require a man to register if he believes he has fathered a child and would like to assert his parental rights.  Currently over 30 states have such registries and each operates slightly differently.    There is generally a limited time period for him to register after the birth of his potential child.  Registration commonly includes providing his name, verifiable identifying information, location and contact information, as well as any information he has for the woman with whom he was intimate, including approximate date.  During an adoption process, an adoption agency or attorney checks the registry for matches to the birthmother making the adoption plan.  If a match is found, the man is then notified of the birth and the adoption proceedings.  If he does not respond, his parental rights can be terminated along with the birthmother’s so the adoption may proceed.

 

One of the limitations of the current system is that each state operates their putative father registry separately.  If a child is conceived in one state but born in another, a man may not know to register in both states.  It is entirely possible for a child to be born outside of the state where the man is registered and he is therefore never notified.  The Permanency for Children Act of 2017 (HR 3092) proposes a national putative father registry to prevent such issues, assisting states in locating putative fathers in other states.  This bi-partisan bill proposes expanding the use of the Federal Parent Locator Service to cooperate with state systems and cross-reference to exchange information.  The FPLS is currently used to establish paternity and locate parents specifically for child support obligations.  This framework and system is a logical starting point for national cooperation and oversight of a federal putative father system.

 

If you would like to learn more, I encourage you to do the following:

 

  1. Read Mary Beck’s scholarly article “Toward a National Putative Father Registry Database
  2. Review this fact sheet from the National Council for Adoption on the Permanency for Children Act of 2017
  3. Personally call your representative and ask them to support this bill

Why Do We Support Open Adoption?

 

 

I’ve been working in adoptions long enough to see the significant trend toward open adoptions over the past forty years. I recall sitting in meetings in the 70’ and 80’s with an Adoption Committee in the first agency where I worked doing the matching of birth parents and adoptive parents. Actually it was a matching of child and adoptive parents because the couple would never meet the birth parents; it was just important that the child had features or background matching that of the adoptive parents. The adopting couple received a piece of paper with information about the birth mother and birth father, and in turn, the birth parents would receive information about the couple. First names only, if that, and perhaps some additional non-identifying facts. Then, the baby, who had been in foster care from birth awaiting the legal work to be done, would be placed in the arms of the adoptive family. Happy endings? Yes, usually more so for the family than the birth parent. Could it be better? Yes.

Secrecy surrounding adoptions began in the 40’s and 50’s with good intentions. It was believed to protect all the parties involved.

• The birth parents were protected from the stigma of pregnancy without the benefits of marriage.
• The adoptee was protected from the stigma of illegitimacy and the concerns of “bad blood” which was loosely connected with what we know today about genetics and carried with it the overtones of the “sins of the father.”
• The adoptive parents, often an infertile couple, would be protected from the stigma of raising an illegitimate child.

 

They were protected from dealing with their infertility and from facing the differences between being a parent through adoption vs. being a parent by birth.

Closed records also precluded the possibility of birth relatives seeking out the child, or heaven forbid, set them up for a potential kidnapping. Fear was the driving force.

By the 70’s adoptees were beginning to speak out about the fact they did not know anything about their biological families and their heritage. They had been cut off from that part of their lives. As a result of their efforts over the past three or four decades, the practice of secrecy has taken a turn–for several reasons:

Adoptees have voiced their belief that they have the right to know more about their biological roots. Birth parents have said they want to know that their child has had a good life. If they haven’t said it out loud (which many could not in years gone by), they have thought it—every day.

Adoptive parents have come to desire that connection for themselves and their child. They understand that a relationship with the birth parent does not diminish their role in the child’s life – or heart. Single parenthood, being adopted and infertility no longer carry the stigma they once did.

Adoption professionals, lawmakers and counselors have listened to the voices and tried to make laws and policies that provide helpful answers for all. Underlying our effort at Nightlight is our confident belief that some level of openness is good and emotionally healthy for all parties. It can be in the form of meetings, visits, letters, pictures, texts, videos, Facebook page or any number of other ways to have contact. In order to be a good fit for individuals in the adoption triad, relationships must be customized, but all good open adoptions are characterized by open hearts, understanding and a good amount of trust.

When birth parents and adoptive parents meet, there is a “realness” that appears. These are no longer people in a book, or birthparents who don’t care about the baby. They are real caring families who want to be parents more than anything meeting with a woman who is trying to make the right decision for her child in spite of her own sadness. Fears on both sides melt away, and relationships begin.

As contact continues through the lifetime of the child, the relationship can change, as all relationships do. They may increase or decrease in frequency. Lives go in different directions, but the child will know that everyone in his life, whether contact is frequent or not, that he is loved by everyone in his world. We now have several years’ experience with openness in adoption and they have proven to have very positive outcomes.

It seems that society at large and those who have not had a recent connection with adoption continue to believe that closed adoptions are the best. Having a relationship with birth parents is a scary proposition… “we’d really feel better if we could just go on down the road and pretend there are no other connections out there.” But the truth is there is another dimension to the child’s life. Adoptive parents’ lives can be greatly enriched by opening their hearts and getting to know the person responsible for bringing life to their child. Meeting and establishing a relationship is the greatest honor that can be given to a birth mother–to the person that has entrusted her child, and all her hopes and dreams for him to the care of the adoptive parents. It is an act that binds them together.

Supporting BirthParents Through Adoption

 

 

Working with birthparents and seeing the emotions they go through in making the decision to place their child for adoption is not an easy task.  But it is necessary to support them through their adoption.  One way to prepare yourself to support a birth parent is by educating yourself.  There is a book for that! And this book has something for each member of the adoption triad.

 LifeGivers: Framing the Birthparent Experience in Open Adoption by James L. Gritter

It is a raw look at the decisions that birthparents make and what could and will occur in the often difficult journey of life lived without the child that she gives birth to.

If you are a Birthparent, I encourage you to read this book.  If you ever wanted to feel validated in the emotion you have felt as a birthparent, you will find it in this book! Guilt, regret, joy, pride, envy, grief, letting go, hanging on, worthiness, self-love, and so on.

In the chapter Why the Public Dislikes Birthparents:
“Pregnancy at an inopportune time in life raises complex moral questions. I believe we learn at least as much about the moral strength of these folks from the way they work through their situations as we do from the circumstances leading to their pregnancies. The adoption choice reveals a great deal about their character and basic values.”

In the chapter The Pursuit of Worthiness: 
“How sad that the extraordinary strength underlying the adoption decision is so often mistaken for failure – but that’s the way it is with adoption.” …and goes on to say… “Those who ignore the complicated nature of adoption will never understand its astounding depth and its mysterious capacity to enrich even those who endure loss.”

In the chapter Circumstances of Necessity:
“Women who are thinking about adoption should not base their ideas on propaganda: They deserve a reasonable description of its costs and benefits.” It is so important to educate yourself before entering into adoption. Keep learning to feel what your heart needs to feel in order to live life.

In the chapter Holding On and Letting Go, had this to offer when speaking of a birthparents ambivalence and the heart – head factor:
“…she faces a conflict between mind and heart, between thought and emotion – a potent clash between different internal systems of perception and appraisal.” …and goes on to say … “We find inventive ways to deny, avoid, delay, ignore, and minimize those factors that move us down a difficult trail.”

Adoptive Parents should read this book.  It will help you understand many different factors that birthparents must go through in order to help your family grow. Respect and communication are two factors that are imperative in adoption and the author reaffirms this. This book will help you understand that your child’s birth family will be very important to them.

In the chapter The Pursuit of Worthiness:
“The decision to entrust a beloved child to more promising arms requires great strength of character, for it is never easy to stand alone and counter conventional thought.”

In the chapter How Birthparents Fit In, when speaking of envy:
“If the hurt and frustration of infertility has not healed to some degree, it will be predictably difficult for adoptive parents to honor and appreciate the importance of the life giving role.” Learning to accept the things you cannot change, and living with what you have been given will play a huge role in your relationship with your birthparents.

In the chapter How Birthparents Fit In:
“…children are not confused by the involvement of birthparents (in their lives). To the contrary, open adoption kids are especially well-positioned to figure things out.” … and goes on to say … “And when children feel the unconditional love and affection of all the crucial contributors to their life stories, they are positioned to thrive.” It is crucial for adoptive families to understand this and believe it.

Adoptees should read this book.  It will help you understand the mind of a birthparent.

From the chapter The Pursuit of Worthiness, regarding answering those difficult questions from an adoptee:
“A question from his soul deserves an answer from hers, and she prays she can somehow find ways to explain her lonely experience, all the while knowing this is an experience for which there is no adequate language.”  There is hope that understanding will be there.

In the chapter Birthparent Regret:
“An expression of wistful regret that simultaneously wishes things could have been different yet accepts the reality that they cannot be is important and constructive information for an adopted child” … and goes on to say … “It reassures the child that she has always been loved and that she is where she belongs.”

In the chapter How Birthparents Fit In:
“Adopted children deserve a firsthand account of their birthparents’ rationale for adoption.” and goes on to say … “So many people are uncomfortable with the pain of adoption that adopted children often learn to deny their feelings of sadness.” I feel very strongly that every adoptee deserves the right to know where they came from. There should be no secrecy about who you are.

I think this book is a wealth of information and could be beneficial to anyone who wants to learn more about a birthparent’s choice.  In adoption, life keeps evolving, growing and shifting with each and every year.

Honoring Your Child’s Birth Mom on Mother’s Day

 

 

 

Mother’s Day can be an emotional time for women.  Some women have lost their mothers while some have lost children, others are struggling with infertility, and some women have blessed others by way of adoption.  I was a woman who, for many years, struggled on Mother’s Day due to the pain and loss experienced during my own infertility journey.  Once I became a mother through adoption it was not lost on me that I had not come to motherhood on my own.  I would forever share that day, willingly, with my children’s birthmothers.  My husband and I set a tone in our household early on of honoring our children’s birthparents.  They were not simply a means to an end for us.  Our children’s birthmothers had won a place in our hearts that is precious and absolutely unexplainable.

 

Children adopted through international adoption may never have the experience of knowing their birthmothers.  Children adopted through domestic adoption may or may not have regular contact with their birthmothers.  In either scenario, however, it is important for families to be able to honor their birthmothers, especially on Mother’s Day.

 

One way to honor your child’s birthmother can be through the telling (and re-telling) of their adoption story.  This narrative should be shared with our children more than once.  I like to take time before we go to church on Mother’s Day to sit on the couch with my son and daughter and remind them of the moment their birthmothers shared them with me.  I remind my daughter of the special moment that her birthmother was holding her in her arms, stroking her cheek, crying.  How, in that instant, she kissed her gently and placed her in my arms and how I loved her birthmother so much that my heart ached.  My son knows that, during our adoption hearing in court, his birthmother reached out for my hand and held it as my husband was on the stand.  We were united as mothers in that moment, for him. Our children were loved and considered important, above all else.

 

Some other ideas for honoring your child’s birthmother on Mother’s Day are:

  • Purchasing a flower or plant in honor of her and planting it together
  • Sending her a homemade card with artwork by the child, along with photos and a letter
  • Creating a photo book of the past year for her
  • Sending her the child’s handprint or artwork made from the handprint
  • Releasing a balloon that contains a special note to a birthmother in another part of the world with whom you do not have direct contact

 

Make your own tradition.  Follow your child’s lead.  Some children may not want to talk about their placement or birthmother from one year to the next.  That’s okay; however, revisit it the next year because as our children grow and develop, they do become more curious and open to discussion.

 

It is so important that we allow our children the opportunity to love their birthmothers openly.  I once told my kiddos “Just like I can love both of you at one time, you can love me and your birthmother at one time.”  Make it okay.  Make it intentional.

Searching : A Personal Journey of Searching For Birth Parents

 

I grew up knowing that my mom was placed for adoption when she was an infant in the late 1950s.  My grandparents were unable to have children and worked with a private attorney to adopt my mom.  We had little to no information about her birthmother, and what little we may have had, was probably speculation at best for the reasons surrounding her decision.  Growing up, Mom never had a strong inclination to search for her birthmother.  In my high school and college years, I remember asking questions about why she hadn’t looked for her because I had a strong desire to search and (let’s be honest) meet my biological grandmother one day.   But my questions were always met with the same response that she simply wasn’t interested and she knew who her family was.  She also wanted to respect my Grandmother and feared that searching for her birthmother would crush my Grandmother’s heart and cause her to feel like less of a mother in my Mom’s life.  I deeply wish that my Grandmother would have understood that completing a search, and potentially meeting a birth family member, would have never diminished or replaced her role in my Mom’s life (or mine).

After graduate school, I started working in the field of adoption.  I was so amazed to see some of the advances that had been made towards sharing information in adoption – sending pictures, having visits, collecting genetic health information, etc.  As levels of openness in adoption have increased in even the last decade, I have often pondered the circumstances surrounding my mom’s placement. Who was her birthmother and what circumstances did she find herself in that made adoption her best option?  What became of her life and did she ever have more children?  Do I have aunts and uncles out there? Equally as important, I desperately wanted her to know that she made a good choice for my Mom and that she has had a good life.   And then, of course, I had other practical questions like, any chance you’ve had cancer or some other major hereditary disease we should be on the lookout for?

Starting Our Search

The day eventually came that Mom felt comfortable starting the search process.  She began by signing up on the State of Texas’s Central Adoption Registry.  Many states have a website where birthmoms, adoptees and biological siblings can voluntarily register and if a match is found, the state facilitates contact (with a little bit of pre-meeting counseling for all parties).  A short time later, Mom received a letter in the mail in response.  This letter informed us that her records were matched with her birthmother’s and that her birthmother had passed away.  The end.  No name.  No date of death.  No identifying information that would tell us anything beyond the simple fact that she was no longer here (and my dreams of meeting her were crushed). I had always pictured two outcomes from signing up on the registry – either being matched (with a living person) OR knowing nothing (because her birthmother or siblings had not signed up on the registry).  It didn’t occur to me that we would be matched AND we would know nothing further.

Our next step was to have a judge sign a court order to unseal Mom’s adoption records, which are maintained at the Bureau of Vital Statistics (BVS) in our state’s capital.  I thought this process would be like climbing Mount Everest blind folded.  I shared our situation with a friend who is an adoption attorney and he had the right connections to make this happen quickly.  He was able to do a little bit of research for us and within days a judge had signed off on an order!  He mailed it to the BVS office and we waited for a response. And we waited a little longer.  And, sadly, we are still waiting now.

I know there are other methods we could use to continue the search.  A simple Google search yields 11.2 million results for “searching for birth mother” with promises from companies to find birthparents in 3 easy steps.  For our family, we are working through the channels and at the pace with which we are most comfortable.  In my longings to have my questions answered, I have to remember that while this is my history, this is my Mom’s story.  I don’t want to press and pursue beyond her comfort level.

Things to Consider when Searching for Your Biological Family

  1. If you are thinking about searching for your biological parent or child that you placed for adoption, start with signing up on an adoption registry in the state where the child was born. While there is a small fee in some states to do this, these sites are legitimate and a simple way to be available in the event someone is searching for you too.
  2. The options for searching are growing. Court orders to unseal records may be granted or denied.  And, if granted, they still may not yield the answers you’re looking for (as in our case).  There are companies for hire and support groups alike ready to help you search.  We have not engaged in this process so while I have no recommendations to make, I caution you to do your homework on these companies and understand any fee structures before engaging their services.
  3. Have some fun with your DNA. This past Christmas, we purchased a DNA kit from Ancestry.com and learned a little more about Mom’s ethnic heritage.  It didn’t produce direct answers, but I was surprised by the excitement I felt at knowing a little more about where this side of my family comes from.  Another company, MyHeritage is also involved with DNA testing, more specifically to assist in matching biological families.  Currently, they are offering free DNA kits to those who apply and qualify through April 30, 2018.  As stated above, I caution you to do some research here too.
  4. For those of you who may have an open adoption, I would implore you to do what you can to keep the lines of communication open with birth families. Relationships between birth and adoptive families can certainly be challenging to navigate and may change in their frequency over time. However, having direct access to a birth family member who can answer questions an adopted person may not have until decades later (or, ahem, perhaps even the adopted person’s child!) is an asset.  Please know that I’m not encouraging you to maintain close contact if it puts a child in danger, or if someone is not making healthy choices.  But, if the environment is healthy, do what you can to maintain this relationship.
  5. For those considering adoption, I encourage you to work with a licensed agency. If my grandparents had worked with an agency (which I realize were not as common then as they are now), I wonder if documents might have been on file with them.  In our state, agencies today are required to maintain adoption records.  In the event they close, there are policies and procedures in place for the transfer of these records. An adoption agency will be a much easier entity to contact if information is needed.  Plus, they are also required to gather genetic health information from birth families, which is a valuable tool for you and your adopted child to have.  Adoption agencies can also help you navigate through birthparent relationship challenges that may arise.

Searching for birth family is a unique and personal journey.  There is not a one-size-fits-all search process that works for everyone.  Our family has learned a lot about each other in this process and have grown closer as we have experienced both excitement and grief in searching for Mom’s birth mother.  We may never know this side of Heaven who she is, but we know that she made a loving decision for my Mom and we will always honor her for this.