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Talking to Potential Birthmothers

by Kathleen Silber

Q:"We just completed our profile for potential birthmothers, and our agency told us to start expecting calls. How do we handle those first conversations?"

A:It's both exciting and scary to await your first call from a potential birthmother! Think about the call before it comes, and list the things about yourselves that you most want to tell her. Put yourselves in her shoes--if you were an expectant mom making an adoption plan, what would you want to know about the prospective parents? To prepare for "the call," role-play a discussion. Keep a notebook by the phone, with a list of questions and topics you want to address, as well as blank pages for taking notes.

I recommend getting a toll-free phone number to use only for potential birthmother calls. This will allow them to place a free call, which will be more convenient than placing a collect call to your home. And when the line for your 800 number rings, you'll know it's a mom-to-be calling, and you will be ready when you answer the phone.

Dos and don'ts
What to do when you get the call? Take a deep breath and relax! Tell her you're thrilled to hear from her. If you're anxious, say so; you'll seem down-to-earth (and, odds are, she will be nervous, too). Equally important: Let her know you are excited about being parents. Be positive and upbeat. She wants to hear that someone is excited about her pregnancy, especially if others in her life are "down" on her for being pregnant.

Refrain from talking only about yourself or your partner. Ask the potential birthmother how she feels, when the baby is due, and so on. The most important task during a first call is to establish a connection. Try to find a common interest (maybe both of you are sports fans). Ask one or two general questions, but let her volunteer any details she wants to share. Focus on listening. Be genuine, and use humor when appropriate.

Do not ask probing questions (even though you might want to!). Don't ask about the child's father, drug or alcohol use, prenatal care, finances, or race--unless she brings up these subjects herself. Your agency counselor will brief you on such things later. If you ask about them now, you will risk being perceived as too picky or nosy.

If applicable, both prospective parents should take turns talking on the phone. Refrain from answering the phone and then quickly handing it to your wife, saying, "Hello, here's my wife" (or husband or partner). In fact, if you are a couple hoping to adopt, the expectant mom is probably just as interested in talking with the prospective adoptive father. She'll want to know that the dad-to-be is on board.

If your partner isn't home when you get the call, ask when he or she could call and speak with her. You might say, "I know my husband is going to be disappointed that he missed your call. He is very excited about being a dad, and I know he will be a terrific father. Can he call you back?"

Leave room for a second talk
Welcome any questions the potential birthmother may have about you, and ask about the type and frequency of contact she would like after the adoption. What relationship does she envision having with you and your child over the years--e-mails, phone calls on special occasions, or an annual visit?

At the end of the call, if the potential birthmother hasn't indicated that she wants to meet, you can wrap it up with "I/we have really enjoyed talking with you. I hope we can get to know one another, but whatever you decide, we wish you the best of luck." Putting the choice in her hands empowers her--and will reassure her that you're ready to move forward.

After the call, you will probably think of things you wish you had remembered to bring up. And you'll hope for an opportunity to have another talk with her. If she doesn't contact you again, at least you will be better prepared for the next caller!

Kathleen Silber is the associate executive director of the Independent Adoption Center in Pleasant Hill, California, and coauthor of Dear Birthmother and Children of Open Adoption (Corona).

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