I find it hard to deal with expectant mothers considering placement. I don’t mean that to sound rude, callous or judgmental. I just remember, too vividly, being in their very shoes. I remember the emotions, the overwhelming decisions, the judgments and the fear. I also remember my stubborn streak; a mile wide and a mile deep, no one could get past the raging waters of my stubbornness. I see the same things mirrored all too often in mothers who are considering placement. It’s disheartening.
I’ve decided I need to get over myself. I encourage you, as a birth parent, to get over yourself as well. Truth be told, I can’t go back and change what I went through or the final decisions that were made. I can’t make myself listen to x, y or z person. I can’t magically wave a wand and open both my ears and those of my mother so we could be on the same page during that time. What’s done is done! Instead, I can use the knowledge I have (and what I’ve learned from other mothers in discussions on the topic) and impart it to expectant mothers.
All with this basic bit of knowledge: they probably won’t listen. We’ll come back to this in a bit.
So what can birth mothers do to reach out to expectant mothers considering adoption? The list is possibly endless!
1. Be honest. Share your experience; the good, the bad, the ugly and the in between.
2. Lead them to any available and reputable resources. This includes resources for parenting (state assistance, Medicaid) and adoption (an ethical agency, the forums, other blogs by birth mothers) alike. If you know how to deal with state assistance representatives without getting hassled, share this information or offer to help them through the process. It can be daunting! If you have a personal rapport with the ethical agency in question, offer to help them get set up.
3. Get them information on their specific state’s laws. (ChildWelfare.gov has a great State Statute Search. Utilize it!) Be sure to help them figure out whether open adoptions are legally binding in their state. That is a big one for parents who are considering placement in today’s open adoption system!
4. Remind them of their rights. If they have a doctor who is treating them poorly, encourage them to find another one. Tell them that they can have their own attorney and list the reasons why it might benefit them to have that legal representation of their own as opposed to relying on the attorney that is, for all intents and purposes, representing the best interest of the adoptive family. Tell them, with regard to the laws in their state regarding relinquishment times, that the time limit is a “MINIMUM.” They can’t sign before that time but they can take as long as they need to in order to make that decision. This list goes on and on.
5. Stress the need for unbiased, third party counseling. If they say that their agency is providing an in-house counselor, please remind them that the agency benefits from their placement. Offer to find a counselor that works on a sliding scale if they’re unsure how they will be able to afford such a thing.
6. Give them books! There are many great books on the birth parent experience (The Girls Who Went Away by Ann Fessler and Lifegivers by James L. Gritter, for example). Include books on the legal process and the adoptee experience.
7. Speaking of the adoptee experience, point them in the direction of adoptee blogs. (I really wish that I had researched the adoptee experience in greater detail prior to placing.) Don’t include all happy or all negative ones. Get a good mix and encourage the expectant mother to engage in conversation via comment or e-mail with these adoptees. Their knowledge and experience is so valuable!
8. Be that shoulder to cry on. No matter the expectant mother’s eventual decision, this time frame is likely to be fraught with lots of emotion. Remember your own experience? Did you feel as though you had support no matter what you decided? No? Neither did I. Be that person for someone else. Whether you feel that their best decision would be one way or the other, let them know that you will be there to love and support them no matter what. In the end, we all need people like that as we go through this tumultuous time.
The list of things you could do to support a mother during this time could really go on and on and on! These are just some things that stuck out to me as I thought about what I could do or could be doing with a few expectant mothers that I currently know. It also helped to think about what I wish I had when I went through that time (besides a frying pan to the head!).
Now back to that little point: be prepared to be ignored. I say this with love and admiration for mothers experiencing an unplanned pregnancy and considering adoption. Remember when I said I was stubborn? I think it’s a trait that seems to flow through many birth mothers and actually leads them to look at adoption in the first place. Be prepared to have your experience and advice from your experience ignored and possibly dismissed. Be prepared to be told that counseling is pointless, even if you know better. Be prepared to be treated like you know nothing, even if you’ve thoroughly researched the laws of their state. Why? Most mothers considering placement are fiercely independent and don’t like to be “told what to do.” Be gentle in your approach and realize that their dismissal of your experience really shouldn’t be taken personally. Most likely, something you say will get through to them, even if they don’t let you know it. Find faith in the fact that you’re offering knowledge that you might not have been given (and find yourself wishing, “If only someone had told me…”) and let the seed grow what and where it will.
And remember: be supportive, no matter what. (What’s that mean? Keep the “I told you so’s” to a minimum if you feel as though you weren’t listened to or were dismissed and things turn ugly.) Be the person that you wish you had.
Welcome to another new series on the Birth/First Parent blog! “Reaching Out” is going to be a weekly series that focuses on how birth parents can “reach out” and help others, foster change by helping others or, in the end, help themselves by helping others. Too often we get bogged down by the weight of it all and lose sight of things that we could be doing. This series is being written with a hope of reminding us all that we can make a difference, even in our own lives!
For more, read: