Open adoption used to mean a letter and a packet of snapshots exchanged through the adoption attorney or agency once or twice a year, and perhaps an annual mediated visit. No direct contact, no exchange of last names. In the past few decades, openness has proven healthy for all parties involved and has become the norm. Now that birth family connections are more D.I.Y., families are finding creative ways to keep each other up to date and cement their contact. Here are some of the great ideas AF readers shared.
Our Huggable Growth Chart
We take photos of our son with the same doll we gave to his birth parents at placement.
Danielle, mother of Traeson (3, U.S.)
My husband and I hoped our child would always have a relationship with his birth parents. Knowing that a close relationship may not always be possible, though, we made an effort to create ties between them prior to placement. Our adoption agency suggested giving the baby and his birth parents matching stuffed animals. We loved the idea and began taking pictures of our son next to his stuffed animal every month to share with them. We also gave them matching baby blankets.
We send pictures and a letter to our son’s birth parents at least once a month. During the first year, we were always sure to include at least one photo of Trae with his puppy, to show how much he’s grown. Now that he’s a preschooler and his growth has slowed, we have photos taken professionally on his birthdays. We typically share pictures digitally, but always give Trae’s birth parents prints of his birthday pictures, which include a few poses with his puppy.
We meet often with each of Trae’s birth parents, but are glad to have tangible items to allow Trae to feel close to them between visits. Trae calls his stuffed animal his “special puppy.” He knows that his birth parents each have a matching puppy, and he loves having this connection with them. Recently, I was helping him calm down from a nightmare and told him to try to think of things that make him happy. He snuggled his puppy and said, “I’m going to think of my birth mom because she makes me happy.” It’s these little moments, when we see how confident our son is of the love his birth parents have for him, that all the work we put into having an open adoption becomes worth it.
Alexa, birth mother of Traeson
Danielle and her husband gave me the puppy while we were in my hospital room the day after Traeson was born. Danielle told me she would be taking pictures of Traeson with the dog, so I can see how he grows in comparison, since I will have my own. Some of those first pictures remain my favorites. Even though I was able to see him very often, almost weekly, those first few months, when I look back at the photos now I can hold the puppy and remember how small and precious he was.
I love getting any and all pictures from Danielle—whether it is a professional one of Trae and his puppy, or a goofy one taken with her phone. There could never be too many pictures. Sometimes I send pictures, too. Trae has recently started writing me letters and sending them in the mail. I will take a picture of myself with the letter and text it to Danielle for Trae. I’ll also send a photo if I’m doing something extra fun, like going to the beach or when I went to Disneyland.
My responses to the photos are not formal, because Danielle and I are more friends than anything else now. We spent a lot of time together while I was pregnant; she came to every doctor’s visit. I spent many late nights at their house, they have been to mine many times. I also know their families, and their parents came to the hospital to visit me. Danielle’s mom even threw me a baby shower at her home a month before I delivered.
I keep the puppy on a shelf in my room, along with other items and photos that relate to the adoption. Sometimes I have him on my bed with an owl they gave me for my birthday a couple years ago. Nothing about my having a son I placed for adoption is something I keep secret, so I don’t keep the puppy secret either.
Linked by Our Ink
Matching tattoos are a permanent, daily reminder of our connection.
Karen, mother of Sarah (3, U.S.)
While hanging out in the NICU with newborn Sarah, conversation with her birth mother, Ann, strayed to our tattoos (we both have several) and what kinds we wanted to get in the future. We’d both considered getting footprints of our kids on our feet, so we decided that “someday” we’d go and get them done together.
When Ann came to visit us last May, she landed in New York and we drove straight to get the tattoos done together. I had scanned Sarah’s footprints from the commemorative birth certificate the hospital gave us. The experience was memorable—Ann laughed at me, because I don’t have much pain tolerance, and I was carrying on and whimpering. When she saw I was holding my breath, she told me to do breathing exercises, like a woman in labor. The music video for “Blurred Lines” was playing in the background. Regardless of what anyone feels about the song, I think the title is apropos. I still smile when I hear it.
Sarah is only three and I’m not sure she understands the permanence of my tattoo. The other day she told me my foot was dirty. She does know that it is her footprint and that Ann has one on her foot.
Since we live in New Jersey and Ann and her daughter live in California, we don’t see each other in person much, but we find ways to stay in touch and we talk about them often. We have pictures of Ann and her daughter, Sarah’s birth sister, displayed in our home. Ann and I talk over Facebook and text, and we do Facetime with Sarah once a month or so. For Sarah’s first birthday, Ann gave her a recordable storybook, and we read it often. We also send “care packages” a few times a year, and I always make sure to include some of Sarah’s latest art projects.
Our Own Corner of the Web
A private blog or Facebook page is a good way to share, and it creates a shared history.
Kim, mother of Charlee (5, U.S.)
We stay in touch with our daughter’s birth mother and birth father through blogging. We upload photos and share events on a private blog. They have the option to post replies and pictures for her, and sometimes they do. We also Skype about once a month, to keep the relationship more interactive.
Just this week, my five-year-old started to write on the blog herself. We also spent time going through old postings. E-mails are good, but blogging seems to create a history and connection.
Heather, mother of Reagan (3 months, U.S.)
We created a Facebook page under the name that our birth family gave our son (which we changed). We post pictures, videos, and written updates. The page is private and seen only by the birth family and their extended family, so there are no outside comments from our family and friends that might be misconstrued or unintentionally hurtful. They really enjoy the posts, especially the video clips!
Synchronizing Our Calendars
Families share two timely ways to document their children’s growth and interests.
Dave, father of Jamie, Cameron, and Lexi (5 years, 2 years, and 6 months; all U.S.)
We’ve been taking photos of Lexi once a month. We dress her in a cute outfit and place her on a 22 x 17 desk calendar, with her birth date circled. The calendar not only shows how quickly she is growing, but is a quick reference to when the picture was taken. We also did this for Cameron’s first year. (We stopped then because, once they are mobile, getting a good photo becomes really tough. I have a lot of pictures from months eight through 12 of Cam crawling or walking away.) At the end of the year, we put the photos on our family blog, in a slideshow that shows the progression from a tiny baby to a standing toddler.
Cameron and Lexi are biological siblings, and their birth mom has not wanted a very open relationship to this point, so we haven’t gotten any comments or response from her about the pictures. However, we do know that she views the blog, so I like that she can see how big they are getting. I’m hopeful that pictures and posts like these will grow our relationship, or, at least, brighten her day.
Yolanda, mother of Eddie and Evalina (20 and 18, U.S.)
We used to design a photo calendar that highlighted the events of each of our children’s lives over the previous year as Christmas gifts for their birth families. Eddie and Evalina got a thrill over sharing their talents and passions—soccer, school choir, ballet—with their birth families. At the end of the year, the families could frame the calendar pictures.
Now that my kids are older and share with their birth families via social media, I no longer create the calendars. We have always had good relationships and direct contact with many birth family members. The difference now is that I don’t have to coordinate it all anymore.
Our Close Cuts
Since birth Grandma is a hairstylist, it just made sense for her to give our son his haircuts.
Sarah, mother of Gabe (2, U.S.)
Our son’s biological grandma, Lori, is a hairstylist and we’ve chosen to have her give him his haircuts. I’m a sentimental person and we have a very open adoption, so it was just a natural thought that Lori might be honored to give him his first haircut—a pretty big milestone for any parent. We’d been to their home several times throughout that first year, and she has a salon chair in her basement, so it was convenient, too. Gabe’s birth mother, Alyssa, still lived at home at the time, and it was great to have this reason to get together at least every six to eight weeks or so. She’s off to college now, so we try to plan things for weekends when she’s home, but it’s not uncomfortable for any of us to visit without her, either.
Gabe is 27 months old now, so he doesn’t necessarily understand who they are to him yet. He’s just entering the “Why?” “What’s that?” phase. We refer to the members of his birth family by their first names, and we have agreed that that works for us all.
We met both of Gabe’s birth parents, and Alyssa’s family, before he was born. Did we anticipate such frequent contact at that point? Probably not, but after we got involved and our relationships developed, it just made sense. We’ve never felt threatened or that our parental roles were being challenged, and we see no need to limit or prevent contact. Some of this is a bit easier because our son is still so young. As he grows and learns more about his background, we’ll let him direct how much contact he’d like. I think the hope is that, the more he knows, the more “normal” he’ll feel about the situation and see it for what it is—an extension of our own family.