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When a Birthparent Moves On

It’s not that she doesn’t care, it’s that life takes twists and turns.



One of the chief complaints of parents who have participated in an open adoption is that birthparents too often fade from the scene. Just as a child becomes old enough to develop an awareness of adoption, the birthparent(s) may be increasingly unavailable.

This is what happened to Billy, age eight, whose birthmother used to visit him every year. She had always sent him cards on his birthday and presents at Christmas. Over time, however, Billy heard from her less and less.

“Sandy was young when she had Billy,” says his mother, Brenda, “but she was totally committed to his well-being. She was very active in selecting a family that would welcome her continued involvement—which we did.”

In the early years, Sandy loved visiting annually. She didn’t mind the three-hour journey from her home, and Brenda would often arrange for them to meet halfway. But Sandy’s life moved on. When Billy was six, his birthmother married and had a child.

“Birthparents tend to be younger than adoptive parents,” writes Lois Melina in Making Sense of Adoption: A Parent’s Guide. “They are busy establishing careers, developing new relationships, and building their own families.”

Melina counsels parents to be honest. When a child insists his birthmother has forgotten him, don’t tell him that he’s mistaken. Instead, use the conversation to acknowledge feelings and explain the birthparent’s behavior without excusing or condemning it.

Brenda explained to Billy that Sandy didn’t have the time and freedom she’d had in the past. Rather than wait for a letter from Sandy, Brenda suggested that Billy write to her and send a drawing to the new baby.

Being Flexible
When life situations change, families should consider changes in their visiting arrangements. You may have to explain to your child that regular visits are no longer possible. Or, as your family becomes more mobile, you might do the traveling.

Billy’s birthmother was delighted with his letter, and in return, she sent photos of his little halfbrother for him to keep. The photos made Billy feel more included in her life, and he proudly put them on his bulletin board. Brenda felt better, too. By allowing their arrangement to evolve, they’d preserved a vital connection.

Julie Michaels is editor of Growing Up Adopted.

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