Interviewing Potential Birth Mothers

For prospective adoptive parents hoping to meet a birth mother, few situations are more anxiety-inducing than their first encounter. Here are some questions to ask — and some to avoid — along with insight as to what she's thinking.

A lady thinking of questions to ask birth mothers during her first meeting with one

The first meeting or phone call with an expectant mother considering adoption will be one of the more nerve-wracking interactions of your life. Whether you plan to meet in person or over the phone, knowing ahead of time what questions to ask — and not ask — can reduce your anxiety and help you make the most of this opportunity to obtain information. Considering the thoughts a pregnant woman might have before meeting you is also helpful. Many birth mothers share common fears about meeting or talking with prospective adoptive parents. These include:

  • They (the adopters) will be smarter than I am, and I might say something stupid.
  • They’ll think I’m too fat.
  • They’ll think I’m a slut.
  • They’ll think I’m a drug addict.
  • I’ll probably hate them and they’ll hate me, too.
  • What if they’re abusive?
  • I’m scared.

The stress is certainly not one-sided. Of course, when you want a child so intensely, it may be very hard for you to understand how someone else could not want a child. It can be far too easy to assume that anyone who doesn’t want to parent a child must be unkind or cold. Give her a chance. She might be the mother of your child.

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Questions to Ask Birth Mothers

Here are some questions that your adoption attorney or adoption agency staff should be sure to ask the birth mother. You may wish to ask some of these questions yourself. You should also add your own questions to this list as well.

  • When is your baby due?
  • When did you start thinking about adoption?
  • Are you working with an agency or attorney? (If you’ve met her through your own advertising.)
  • Are you feeling all right?
  • How does the birth father feel about the pregnancy? How does he feel about adoption?
  • How do your parents feel about the pregnancy?
  • How did you choose this agency/attorney/facilitator?
  • Do you have a plan for your life, after the baby is born, either job-wise or educationally?
  • What do you like to do in your spare time?
  • Do you know anybody who placed a baby for adoption? Do you know any adopted people?

Questions to Avoid Asking Birth Mothers

There are some questions you should not ask the birth mother, because they might make her very uncomfortable. This doesn’t mean you never ask these questions, either directly or through an intermediary. Just don’t ask them in your first encounter. Here are some of the “don’t ask” questions in your first talk with the birth mother:

  • Are you sure you really want your baby adopted and you won’t change your mind?
  • Have you taken any drugs during your pregnancy?
  • Did the father refuse to marry you?
  • Were you raped?
  • How many times have you been pregnant?
  • How many men might be the father?

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 More Interviewing Tips

If you decide to interview and screen birth mothers yourself, whether in person or by phone, you need some basic interviewing tips. Here are a few:

  • Try to avoid preconceived notions about the birth mother as poverty-stricken, unintelligent, or anything else. Research indicates the opposites are generally true and she is more likely to be middle class and of normal intelligence. Listen with an open mind.
  • If you have any questions that might be sensitive in nature, don’t ask them first. You need to build up a little trust. (Don’t ask them last, either. You might never get to them.) Some sensitive questions can be deferred to the birth mother’s attorney or social worker. The best idea is to start with simple small talk. The weather is nearly always a safe topic. “It’s not the heat, it’s the humidity!”
  • The way you word questions is important. For example, don’t phrase questions in a way that implies the answer (for example, “You’re not working now, are you?” implies the answer will be “no.”) Don’t ask the question in a way that implies the “right” answer.
  • After you ask a question, wait for a response. Don’t answer for the birth mother or try to rush her.
  • If the birth mother backs off from answering a particular question, ask other questions. Then reword and revisit the original question, and you may get your answer. For example, if you asked, “Do you think prenatal care is important?” the birth mother may have shied away from the question because she hasn’t been to a doctor yet. You could later ask, “Have you decided what doctor you plan to see?” By rephrasing the question and also asking it later, you are more likely to receive an answer. However, if the second try doesn’t work, back off.
  • At the end of the talk, ask the birth mother if there’s anything important that you haven’t discussed. This simple question often gets extremely valuable information.
  • Understand that some birth mothers are not emotional or “sharing” kind of people, and they don’t want to be your close friend. This doesn’t mean they’re not serious about adoption. Their primary concern is if you would be good parents to the child; and if you seem to be good candidates, then they’re satisfied.

[Letters to Birth Mothers, from Wondering Hearts]

Adapted and reprinted with permission from The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Adoption by Christine Adamec.

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