Deciding to Adopt: What About Birth Families?

Many prospective adoptive parents have questions about the role that birth families play. Here are answers to the three most common.

Heart representing the love of birth families

Will they want to find their birth parents?

These days, more and more adoptive families meet and communicate with their child’s birth family (this is called “open” adoption), so the search question doesn’t arise. Our experience is that about half the children from old-fashioned “closed” adoptions eventually choose to search, often when they are old enough to begin thinking about having children of their own. The vast majority of those who succeed in finding their birth parents report that it made no difference to their relationship with their adoptive parents.

Meeting my birth mother and the family of my birth father, who had passed away, made me realize that, if life had been different, I would not be who I am, and I would not be connected to the people, including my parents, whom I love so much. I felt grateful for all of my history.” —Brenda

Can the birth parents take the child away?

All states give birth mothers time (days to months) to reconsider their plans before adoptions are finalized, and a significant number of birth parents do end up choosing to keep their babies. Adoption attorneys tell parents pursuing the private adoption of an infant to expect one “miss” before a successful adoption. Our families say you can reduce the chances of a missed adoption by making sure that all members of the birth family support the adoption, and that the birth mother has had professional counseling.

Finalized adoptions are very rarely contested. Fewer than one percent end up in court.

Do I have to tell the child he or she is adopted?

Fifty years ago, adoptive parents often pretended that their children had been born to them. (Some adoptive mothers even wore padded maternity clothes for months before the baby came.) Adult adoptees who grew up with secrecy talk about feeling that something wasn’t “right” about them, about feeling both betrayed and relieved when they learned the truth.

Nowadays, the growth in open adoption (in which the birth parents keep in touch with the adoptive family) and transracial adoption (let’s face it, it’s hard to pretend that two Caucasian parents gave birth to a Chinese baby) means that it’s almost impossible to keep an adoption secret. Our adoptive families rarely report having to tell a child about their adoption — because their children have always known, the adoption story has always been part of their personal story, and an integrated part of their identity.

WISE WORDS: Lois Melina, an adoptive parent who has been writing and lecturing about adoption for 30 years and has seen it go from a taboo topic to a source of pride, says: “We cannot build healthy relationships with our children on secrecy and lies — and this includes lies of omission. Rather, we must help them discover who they are in an atmosphere of unconditional love.”

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