A Birthmother’s Advice on How To Build Trust in An Open Adoption

This guest post is by Michelle Thorne, a birthmother.

Navigating an open adoption is not for the faint of heart. It takes bravery and love and work.

I would say, even as a birthmother in my own adoption, I have massive anxiety surrounding every moment of contact.

I never want to overstep my bounds or do anything that would cause further separation.

It’s not my son’s parents who make me feel this way, but an ingrained fear that I don’t deserve a relationship with him.

I am not alone in this.

“I want to tell them but I’m afraid…”

“I wish they sent me more pictures but I don’t want to bother them.”

“It really hurt me that they didn’t send me anything on his birthday.”


These, and more, are all things that I have heard from birthparents.

As a professional and a parent, I see the other side of it as well.

“I am afraid to tell her about…”

“I wanted to send her a million pictures, but I don’t want to bring it up for her/make it harder.”

“I thought about his birthmom all day on his birthday.”

Working in adoption, I have heard breakdown in relationships happen with one overpowering emotion—fear.

Fear steals intimacy. It can wreck our vulnerability and destroy our trust.

In an open adoption, we have to have vulnerability and trust to make this thing work.

And if we have the child’s best interest at heart, we want them to work.

Here are some thoughts on how to be vulnerable and build trust in your open adoption relationship.

Be aware

The adoptee voice is the single most important voice in your triad. When he is able, let him speak.

If both sets of parents are able to know how the adoptee feels at any point in his life, it can help them make informed decisions about how best to love and support him at that time.

If the adoptee isn’t old enough to speak, begin with the end in mind.

How can we set these children up for success? What will communicate to them as adults that they were dearly loved? Can we choose words and ways of communicating that offer security down the road?

Be open

Relationships change. What you set up before the baby was born may not be what happens when he is sixteen.

Especially with the adoptee having a voice, there may be time for less communication, or more.

Be open to the natural ebb and flow of the relationship and don’t let one define how things are going.

Know that love relationships are defined by love, not by anything else.

Be honest

If you want more contact or if you want pictures on a certain date, say that. If you want to send more pictures, say that.

I think open adoptions would be better if we would speak openly and honestly to each other about our desires.

Asking simple questions can dramatically increase the success of the relationship. “Would you like more pictures?” “Can we send you something on his birthday?”

Even rearranging forms of communication to make it easier can help.

Sometimes, sending an email is easier than sending snail mail these days.

Whatever you do, don’t make it harder on yourself than it already (likely) is, and know for sure that something is better than nothing.

Be gracious

Know that you (or they) aren’t always going to get it right.

Take the opportunity to practice forgiveness with each other, knowing it is vital for your relationship to thrive in the long run.

Adoption is a lifelong relationship that starts with a woman and spreads to a child, another family, and extended families.

Adoption, in a word, is community.

It’s sharing lives together, and because we are human, it’s hard.

If you can see the relationship as we, as if you are one community, one team all working hard to love the adoptee well, that can help diminish the us vs. them mentality.

So often we love big and we are frustrated when the other person in the love relationship doesn’t, or so we think.

I want to challenge each of you to consider love though. What does love look like?

If my love were a shape, let’s say a square, I could define it, right? I could say to my son’s parents, “My love has four sides.”

“Our love has four sides too,” they might announce, feeling connected.

“My love has four right angles.”

With excitement, they would reply, “Our love has four right angles.”

But when we show our love to our son, I would have a square and they may have a rectangle.

Do you see what I mean? Love can be the same but look different. I love him like he is my son and so do they. Whose love is right?


When navigating an open adoption, realize that love is the single most important aspect of the relationship and that it will look different for each person.

Be present to the similarities and differences in the relationship, and consider the work associated with the openness an opportunity for your child to discover his identity and grow into the person he wants to be.

Michelle Thorn is a wife, mom, birthmom and the author of three books on various topics in adoption. She lives in Qingdao, China. To learn more, visit Michelle Thorn Books

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