After An Open Adoption Match: The Key To Building A Relationship

ChainedI had a great time talking to Tim Elder at the Infant Adoption Guide the other day about online adoption profiles. We covered a lot of ground during our hour-long interview.

Among other things we discussed the benefits of using an online adoption profile service, the unique features of our service and the recent changes we’ve made to our website to help adopting families and prospective birthmothers find a match even faster and easier.

One topic we didn’t get to is the next stage in the open adoption process: What happens after you’ve found a match with a prospective birthmother? How do you keep things moving forward? What can you do to build a strong positive relationship in the period between connecting with an expectant mother and the birth or relinquishment of her baby?

Adopting families have a tendency to jump into the adoption networking part of the process head first. After moving on from the pain of infertility, they get so caught up with trying to connect with a prospective birthmother that they don’t think about what happens after they finally get “the Call” and find a match.

Generally speaking, adopting parents fall into one of two camps. Either they act as if the adoption is a sure thing or they drive themselves crazy worrying about the prospective birthmother changing her mind.

In the first scenario, they’ll do essentially nothing, convinced that all they need to do is wait for the baby to be born and pick him up at the hospital. While in the second scenario, they’ll work themselves into a tizzy, dissecting every word and action as they wait for the match to fall apart.

Both scenarios are dangerous for different reasons.

The problem with the first one is that it ignores the fact that the expectant mother, as is her right, could change her mind at any time. While the adopting parents may think of the adoption as a done deal, she could have serious doubts about her plan and whether to go through with it. And if she senses that the adoptive parents aren’t paying attention to her or showing her the respect and consideration she needs and deserves, she may have second thoughts about them too.

The second scenario, although more common, also has its share of pitfalls. Yes, every adopting parent should go into the matching process knowing there’s a chance the prospective birthmother will change her mind.  But just because it’s a possibility doesn’t mean it will happen.

So instead of detaching yourself from a situation and cutting yourself off emotionally — what’s the point of getting too close to a prospective birthmother if she’s just going to change her mind anyway? — you need to get involved with her and make her feel good about you and her decision.

No matter what a prospective birthmother says or how certain she may appear about going forward with her adoption plan, you never know what’s going to happen until the very last moment. Taking a sincere interest in her and showing her that you care about her well-being will not only lift her spirits. It will make her feel more comfortable with her decision and validate it for her.

The problem with feeling like you’re walking on eggshells in your relationship with a the prospective birthmother is that she’ll eventually pick up on your fears. And constantly seeking reassurances from her could feel like coercion and cause her additional stress, forcing her to re-evaluate her decision.

If you’re not careful, all of your fears about the prospective birthmother changing her mind will not only come to pass. They will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

So what to do?

For starters, think positively. Believe that things are going to work. There’s no point going into a match if you constantly feel like the expectant mother will have a change of heart and decide to parent.

Yes, she is legally entitled to change her mind, but until that day comes, you have to walk a fine line. You need to believe she’ll go through with her plan, all the while knowing that she could be exploring other alternatives and eventually decide to pursue one of them.

So what does that mean for you?

It’s not over until it’s over. Until a prospective birthmother signs the relinquishment papers or changes her mind, you have to treat her as the individual she is — not as a birthmother, but as a pregnant woman considering adoption.

As a pregnant woman, she has the right to

  • make decisions regarding the health and well-bring of her baby
  • decide whether she wants to place or parent
  • enjoy her pregnancy

So where does that leave you?

In a tricky situation. On the one hand, you want to become a parent, and to do that you’re counting on her going through with her adoption plan and placing her baby with you.

At the same time, you need to do what’s best for her baby and for her. And that means supporting her with her decision, whatever it may be. and knowing that you have limited control over the outcome.

So how can you support her?

1. Establish a genuine relationship with her

Not just any relationship, or a relationship based on “I’ll be nice to you now because I want you to place your baby with me later.” A real, genuine relationship.  Get to know the prospective birthmother as a person, not as someone whose primary task is to make you a parent. Find out how she’s feeling, how her pregnancy and doctor’s visits are going, and about  her hopes and dreams for the future.

If you live nearby, offer to take her to her doctor’s appointments. Hang out and spend time together. Go out for lunch. Do fun things together. See a movie. Get a manicure. Building an strong relationship will help you cement your connection now. But it will also have lots of benefits down the road.

2. Communicate with her honestly and openly

As with any relationship, especially one that is as complicated as the one between prospective adoptive parents and birthparents, you’ll experience your share of ups and downs. When you encounter a problem, talk it out. Don’t ignore it or hide behind it.

Let the expectant mother know that you’re thinking of her, that you’re there for her, and that you’re willing to work things out together. Keep your conversations light and upbeat, but don’t be afraid to talk about topics such as her hospital plan and your post-adoption relationship.

3. Set boundaries

You and the prospective birthmother may get lucky and hit it off right away. Sometimes the connection is instant, with both parties saying they felt like they’re old friends who knew each other forever.  More likely, though, your relationship will take time to develop and have moments of silence and awkwardness, especially in the early stages as you get to know each other better.

To help you move forward, set some ground rules to guide your relationship. Decide what mode of communication works best for you, who will initiate it, and how often you want to keep in touch. Will you do it by phone? If so, who will initiate the calls, with what frequency — once a week, once every two weeks, or on a need-to-talk basis?

If you’re struggling in creating a relationship with a prospective birthmother or having trouble finding common ground, think about bringing in a third party for extra support and direction.

If, on the other hand, nothing you do seems to work, if you find that your relationship is keeping you up at night and you’re having serious concerns about the future, there’s a chance that this match may not be the right one for you. Only you will know that, and as difficult as it may be, you may find that the only choice you have is to step aside and find another one that is. Then again, the prospective birthmother may feel the same way about you and could make the decision for you.

Either way, after you find a match, you need to go into the relationship not only hoping it will work, but doing everything you can to make it work. And that means opening up to the prospective birthmother and being true to her and yourself.

What do you think is the key to a successful relationship between adopting parents and a prospective birthmother after an adoption match? What tips do you have? Leave your comments in the space below.