Kiana Carr, domestic adoption specialist
The first open adoption visit post-placement is usually an emotional experience, with both adoptive parents and birth parents feeling anxious and awkward. However, this first visit lays a foundation for a lifelong relationship between both parties. The following tips for adoptive parents can help make your first reunion a more comfortable and positive experience.
Note: Because most open adoption visits take place between adoptive parents and birth mothers, I use “birth mother” and the pronouns “she” and “her” below. Birth fathers can and do make open adoption plans and have visits with their children.
1. Immediately set the date of the first visit.
Setting the date at placement brings birth mothers a significant sense of peace. A poignant shift takes place at placement: birth mothers no longer have full control; they begin to rely on adoptive parents to facilitate future meetings.
In the difficult first days, weeks, or months following placement, it’s important that she has a concrete date when she will see her baby again.
2. Understand that the birth mother is likely grieving.
Seeing her baby for the first time since the hospital can trigger an emotional response. This doesn’t mean the birth mother is second-guessing the adoption plan; the reality of it is just incredibly hard.
She chose adoption because she felt it was best for her child, and she selected your family to be the child’s parents; but she may cry or seem understandably anxious at the visit. Help her feel more comfortable by inviting her to bring a support person with her to the visit, such as a relative or a friend.
3. Prepare for unexpected emotions.
I remember one birth mother who entered the first visit feeling very bonded to her son; it was jarring and upsetting to her to realize how attached he was to his new adoptive family. On the other hand, I’ve seen birth mothers who expected to feel a stronger bond with their child but didn’t.
Birth mothers may be surprised by the way they respond, or by the way their baby responds. If things don’t go the way she’d hoped, assure her that she will have many more opportunities to communicate and spend time with her child and with your family.
4. Select a neutral location where everyone can engage with the child.
Families often choose to meet over lunch or coffee. Consider finding a place where you can walk around with a stroller afterward, like a park or mall. If you feel like the visit should be structured, one option is to meet in a Bethany office where your adoption specialist can bring a sense of stability to the interaction.
5. Take the lead during the first visit.
Birth parents are often afraid to request anything at this first reunion for fear of affecting future visits with you. Ease their worry by offering for them to hold the baby. If it’s getting close to feeding time, ask the birthmother if she’d like to give the baby her bottle. Often, she’ll be overjoyed!
Even if she says no the first time, continue offering other times. The same goes for a canceled visit: keep offering to reschedule so she feels valued and included.
When open adoption is possible, it can be beautiful for all parties involved; but, as with any relationship, yours will have its ups and downs. You may have a period of great, engaging visits followed by a period with no visits at all. Sometimes one of you will say the wrong thing or act insensitively.
Remember to extend grace to everyone, including yourself. Ultimately, you’re building a relationship for your child, so everything you’re doing today is laying groundwork for the future.