Adoption Self Help Manual
About Birth Mothers
It is important to spend some time getting to know and understand birth mothers. This is because, in most U.S. adoptions, they are the "key" people in the entire process. If you know more about them, it will help you understand the way they act. You will understand not only why they choose to place their children for adoptions. You will also begin to understand the reasons they choose certain families to adopt their child.
And why they sometimes change their minds.
It is important to be aware that, in many cases, the birth mother has direct input into selecting the family who will adopt her child. Many birth mothers have long and specific "lists" of requirements they insist the adopting family must satisfy. You'll learn all about this as you read further.
Just Who Are These Women?
The majority of birth mothers are in their mid-teens to early twenties, but I have dealt with birth mothers as young as 12 and up to age 44. They are usually single but may be married or separated. Many are no longer involved with the birth father while others are in an ongoing relationship. And while there are exceptions, almost all of them are decent, deeply caring people. They are not wild, irresponsible, unfeeling individuals.
For whatever reasons, they find themselves pregnant.
For whatever reasons, they decide they cannot keep their child.
For whatever reasons, they want to let their baby live, but in someone else's care.
Their decision is not easy. You may not realize it, but most of these birth mothers want to love and care for their babies just as much as you do.
But many adopting families have had years to come to grips with the fact that they cannot have children. A mother who is placing her child for adoption has only a matter of months. She has just a few months to get used to the idea that although she can have a child, she is not able to keep it and raise the child in a way she would like.
Her decision, to give life to her baby and then place the child with an adopting family, must be one of the most agonizing decisions of her life. This is very difficult for someone who may be little more than a kid or young adult herself.
Don't think for a moment that the birth mother places her baby for adoption because she doesn't care. Or because she doesn't want the baby. Or because she doesn't love her child.
Birth mothers (and birth fathers where they are involved) care very much for their children. They try to accept the tremendous sacrifice they will have to make, and they put their child's welfare ahead of their own wants and desires. They recognize that their marital situation, financial situation, or general environment is not ideal. They know they cannot offer the child the opportunities that a loving, adopting family can offer.
So they look for an alternative.
They look for a loving family who can offer the child whatever the birth mother thinks will be important for her child's well-being and happiness.
They Sure Can Use Some Help
Don't be impatient with me for going on so long about birth mothers. It's just that frequently, the whole thing gets to be too much for them to handle. They just can't cope with it.
They become confused. They feel pressured. They get frightened. Maybe they panic.
The birth mother feels the child growing inside her. Feels the foot or an elbow. As the time gets nearer, she starts to be taken over by the same feelings that all mothers develop. Natural, maternal instincts.
She will have to turn her back on these feelings! Not easy!
Sometimes, she simply cannot go through with the idea of giving up her baby, and she changes her mind. She keeps the baby. The baby you and your spouse have been waiting for.
The truth of it is, I am writing this part of the manual having just finished a dreaded phone call. I had to call an adopting family to tell them about the birth mother whose child they were to receive the coming weekend.
She has changed her mind.
They are not going to get her baby. The baby they have been hoping and praying for. And to make it worse, this is the second time this particular family has had a birth mother change her mind.
The last time this happened to them, they had already taken the baby home with them. They had had the child for a week.
But, that's the way it goes. The real way it goes. Somebody has got to tell you the facts, even if they're not happy. Or not what you want to hear.
You must know about birth mothers because they force you to accept a certain amount of risk. That's part of the gamble you have to be willing to take. Part of the decisions you have to make. Not easy, either.
How to Reduce Your Risks
My experience has shown me that any woman who is considering placing her child for adoption should receive comprehensive counseling and information regarding adoption. She should have all the steps spelled out so she knows what is going to happen to her. What will happen to the baby? She should have information about the adopting family, so she can be satisfied that her child is going to be placed into good hands.
I also believe she should know all her options. This includes the possibility that another member of her own family, such as a sister or brother, might help to raise the child. Perhaps there are community resources that would allow her to keep her baby.
Only after such counseling can the birth mother make an intelligent decision. Even then, there are no guarantees. Because placing a child for adoption is not merely a decision requiring logic or intelligence. It is also an emotional decision.
Adopting families who attempt to short circuit the counseling process are increasing their risk. If you work with "professionals" who do not make the birth mother fully aware of the adoptive process, you are making a serious mistake. You are taking needless chances and doing everyone a disservice.
To take short cuts, to try to save a little money by not offering counseling, or to bamboozle, trick, or under- Inform the birth mother only results in one thing: It increases the risk that you will not succeed in adopting a baby.
There is no way I can tell you how tragic it is to have to take a baby back from the adopting family.
You've heard of "bonding"? Well, the emotional bonding between an adopting family and the new baby takes place in a matter of just a few hours! After so short a time, that baby becomes yours. If you have to give it up, even after just a day, the results to you are devastating.
For goodness sake, if it is at all within your power, be sure the birth mother you are working with has good counseling.
What Kinds of Things to Include in Counseling
Some of the services I recommend be provided to the birth mother – by whatever source you are working with – should include the following:
- Ongoing support, guidance, and counseling available throughout the pregnancy. It is a good idea to provide this even after the baby is born. Indeed, the period of time immediately after the birth is a very troublesome one for the birth mother.
Because there is expense involved, find out what services will be available to the mother. Also, be sure you understand who is going to pay for this. If you are the one who is going to foot the bill, get some idea of what the total cost will be.
VERY IMPORTANT POINT: Though this is going to sound unbelievable to you, there are some states that specifically forbid you to provide money to the birth parents, even money for counseling. Check the law before you act.
- Some effort should be made to find out if the birth mother has any special or specific requirements of the people who will be adopting her baby. What type of family does she want for her child?
- The birth mother should be made aware of the fact that many screening techniques are being used to make sure her baby is placed into the hands of loving, caring people. She needs to know that your family has gone through a high degree of screening and examination in order to meet the needs of her child.
- You might want to talk to the intermediary yourself and find out what he or she plans to tell the birth mother about you, about her options, or about the whole process in general.
- An effort should be made to find out what the birth mother wants to know as the child is growing. Does she want to see pictures? Will she want "progress reports"? How often will these need to be provided? For how long? Also, you need to make your feelings and wishes about providing ongoing information known to the intermediary.
If you follow the steps suggested here, you really help to give the birth mother important assurances. These things reassure her about the placement of her child into your hands. You want her to feel good and comfortable about you. It reduces the likelihood that she will change her mind because she is afraid about the quality of care her child will be getting.
How Much Say Does the Birth Mother Have?
I'm going to emphasize something that many adopting families know but don't fully realize the importance of.
Most of the time when a pregnant woman decides she is going to place her baby for adoption, she will tell the agency, or the people she is working with, that she has specific ideas. Ideas about the couple she wants to adopt her baby.
Or she has certain specific questions about the family who will adopt her child.
It may be very important to her, if she has strong religious beliefs, for instance, that the adopting couple have the same religious beliefs as she does. She may want to know that the couple attends religious services regularly. Or she may want to be sure the adopting parents aren't smokers or heavy drinkers. Or whatever.
It's still her baby, and she calls the shots. The agency or the intermediary should, and usually will, genuinely try to see that her wishes are met.
Now that you know this, you can see how important it is for you to learn the things that most birth mothers worry or care about. In this way, you can be prepared to deal with their concerns and be in a better position to be selected as an adopting family.
Questions Birth mothers Have About You
- Why do you want to adopt a child?
- Why haven't you been able to have children of your own?
- Are both adopting parents mentally sound?
- Is there any kind of drug abuse or other "substance" problems?
- How do they plan to discipline my child?
- Will one of the adopting parents be home all day?
- Will the mother care for the child full-time or only part-time? Will they put my baby in a day care center?
- Is theirs a secure marriage, or is there a chance my baby will end up in a divorced family?
- Is there any chance that the family may abuse my child? Are either of the adopting parents victims of child-abusing parents themselves?
- What kind of religion do they practice? What role will religion play in raising the child?
- Will the child be an only child, or will there be siblings?
- When will they tell the child he/she is adopted? What will they tell the child about me (the birth mother and birth father)? What will they do if some day the child wants to come and meet me or just find me?
- Do they have enough money to meet all of life's necessities for my child?
- What goals do they have for the child?
You can tell from the questions they ask that the birth mothers are, indeed, concerned about their child's welfare and about the family adopting their child.
In addition to these questions, many birth mothers also want to know a few other things about you and your personalities.
They will frequently ask for a description of the parents, in terms of weight, hair color, eye color, and sense of humor. I have known instances where the birth mother has asked for a brief, written description of the adopting parents' personalities.
Birth mothers will ask if you have pets or like animals. They want to know your interests and activities. This is because they often want their child placed in a home where the family shares the kinds of interests and activities the birth mother, herself, likes and enjoys.
It is not intended that you use the above questions in order to "fake anyone out" by making up phony answers. But you do need to give some thought to your answers. You have to look at yourselves and really think about some of the values you may have taken for granted.
And after you have worked these things out, think about how you are going to be able to present yourselves in the most appealing and reassuring way. In a way that will make you most acceptable to the birth mother.
It can make all the difference in the world. She can decide she wants you to have her child, rather than some equally fine and deserving couple.