This is a joyous time for you and your family, as you bond with and delight in this wonderful baby. The paperwork, the waiting, the wondering—it’s all behind you. Now the marathon known as parenting—hello, sleepless nights!—begins.
In open adoptions, this is also the time when you and your son’s birth parents begin building the relationship that you all chose for the good of your child. Ideally, before your son arrived, you discussed how the relationship would work (Who initiates contact once your baby is home? How often will you exchange photos and e-mails? Will there be visits? How often?) and committed the details to paper.This document, commonly called an open adoption agreement, will help avoid misunderstandings and hurt feelings. (Families whose adoptions were arranged at the last minute often schedule a meeting or conference call two or three weeks after their baby is home, with an agency representative or lawyer present, if possible.)
Once your baby is home, it’s important to understand that, even as you are enjoying him, the birth mother is grieving. She will go through the stages of grief that everyone experiences when they lose someone—anger, depression, and, eventually, acceptance. The grieving process is normal, and you shouldn’t feel you have to hide your happiness or worry that she wants the baby back.
If you’ve agreed to initiate contact, send her photos, so she can see how beautiful your son is. (Some parents create websites that birth mothers can check on a regular basis.) When you call or e-mail her, tell her that you think he’s the most wonderful baby in the world. Your enthusiasm helps her see that she’s getting what she wanted for him when she made her adoption plan: a loving home.
What’s Normal: Three Stages
While each open adoption is unique, there are three predictable stages in birth mother involvement. Most want frequent contact for the first six months, to help them through their grief. Some birth mothers seek more contact at this early stage than they anticipated during their pregnancy, so be sure to balance your needs with hers. Give yourself enough time to bond with your son and develop a sense of entitlement to him (the feeling that he really is your baby).
In the second six months, it’s common for contact to taper off as birth mothers come to terms with their loss. And after the first year, some want less contact as they move on with their lives.
The pattern is similar with birth mother visits. I’ve found that birth mothers typically want to visit once or twice a month for the first year, and once or twice a year thereafter. If you developed a close relationship with your son’s birth mother during her pregnancy, you may want to see each other more often. Still, it’s telling that nine out of 10 calls my agency gets from parents after the first year are about their concern over the loss of birth mother contact.
Although the immediate post-adoption period may be more challenging in open adoptions than in semi-open or closed adoptions, it can bring you closer to the birth mother as you all work through this emotional time. Ultimately, you can draw upon this closeness to help your son understand the circumstances that brought him to your family.