Otherwise known as a guarantee, verbal contract, pledge, vow, or assurance.
It is both a noun and a verb. It is both a statement and an action.
Unfortunately in the adoption world, it seems people have forgetting what a promise really means.
Many adoptive parents make promises of how contact will go after the relinquishment papers are signed and often don’t follow through. Essentially they “get their baby” with promising the birth parents what they want to hear to make the adoption go through, and legally don’t have to fulfill the promises once they go home. So they can then close the door because they feel “it’s too much to send updates or have visits” or, “it might be confusing for our child.”
*Giant eye roll.* In another post I’ll tackle that myth about openness, but for today let’s talk about how your word should be your bond, as my husband’s family would say. If you say you are going to do something, do it!
According to the responses the owner of Arrow + Root, Mallory, saw in adoption forums on this topic even agencies aren’t holding adoptive parents to the standard of ethical commitment. Many have been telling their clients to just appease the expectant parents until papers are signed. Seriously?
This isn’t okay.
This isn’t ethical. It isn’t moral.
As a birth mom, I cannot even count how many times I have watched my fellow birth moms and friends have their hearts broken. The posts in our forums are endless. Filled with hurt, regret, and anger. They were essentially lied to, mislead to believe that they would have a part in their child’s life, were told what they wanted to hear so that the adoptive parents could walk away and shut the door once they got what they wanted.
This. Must. Change.
Have you stopped to think about the other side of the door? The heartache a birth mom feels, that she chooses to part with the baby she’s grown for 9 months to do what she feels is best for her baby? Have you stopped to think about what closing that door means to the person whose face is on the other side? Do you realize that we birth parents hold on to your every word, that you are our HOPE! That we are trusting you to make a sticky situation right, that you will raise our child and follow what we agreed on. Yet, then to be faced with only rejection and silence. Would you want to be treated this way by your family, friends, co-workers-- with broken, heartbreaking promises?
This is a huge passion of mine and one that I advocate for in the work and education that I provide. Why? I’m a “lucky one.” I have an amazing open adoption because my daughters parents kept their promises and have welcomed me into their life with open hearts. We had monthly visits for several years, and now she spends a week during the summer with me and we just started taking trips together. I trusted them with my baby girl and our promises, and they in turn trust me because I’ve been here to prove that I’m trustworthy.
Sure, I feel my birth daughter missing in my daily life. Adoption is bittersweet. It is a lose no matter how open the contact is. But, I have a source of hope and reminder of why I made my choice. I can go text her right now, or FaceTime her, or plan a visit to reconnect the pieces of our hearts that hold one another.
Yet, I’m fueled by the anger I feel seeing my birth mom friends be lied to over and over. I’m tired of seeing them cry for years, left angry instead of at peace with their decision, and their heart missing a piece forever. They feel used.
It’s not just about birth parents. Or you.
The majority of adult adoptees express wishes that they had access to their birth parents, or even records to know their own health history. Have you stopped to think about what impact your decision as an adoptive parent-- how you react, how you include or dismiss their birth parents-- will ultimately come back to either haunt you or bless you?
Surely, you’ve seen the hit tear jerker of a show, This Is Us. Did you see the one where Randal finds out that his adoptive mom knew and had access to his biological dad his entire life? Did you see how angry and hurt he was? Did you see how it caused a huge rift and distrust in their relationship for a long time?
Yes, our lives are not TV and every situation will vary. But, there is no excuse to closing the door for no good reason. Let’s be honest here-- usually that reason is straight up fear. Insecurity. Jealousy. These are things adoptive parents should wrestle with and heal before adopting.
It isn’t fair.
It isn’t fair to your child to keep the roots of who they are away from them. They will likely want answers to who they are, who they look like, or who they share a certain talent with. Those are the most common questions that I get from my birth daughter now at 14 years old. She wants to know what genetics she shares with us while being balanced between her two families that she loves both dearly. Each have a place in her heart and life. I respect that about her adoptive mom, and she respects that about me.
I struggle with anger and guilt as one of the “lucky ones” with promises fulfilled. Why do I have the adoption I do-- one that I requested and fits all of our needs--and other birth moms don’t get what they asked for? Why does my birth daughter get to fill her missing answers, and others don’t? Because my daughter’s parents made a promise to me and our baby girl. Because other adoptive parents need to step it up and open their hearts. Agencies need to fight for birth parents rights and desires, too.
Adoptive parents...do not make promises you do want intend or want to keep. Instead…
Birth parents trust you with their child. This is huge! This should not be taken for granted. All we ask is to be truthful in return. As Nicole from Birth Mom Buds reminded us, “When adoptive parents break promises about contact it often makes us as birth moms question every promise the adoptive parents made to us, including how the things they said/promised about how our child would be raised. Wondering if they kept or broke those promises is a terrible place to be.”
Know what you want, as best as you can.
Part of adoptive parents education in the wait should be to explore all options of adoption and relationships, just like an expectant parent does as they decide what is best for them. Make the effort the explore all options, even the “scary” ones to prepare for whatever your path may be ahead. Sometimes there is a choice and other times it is made for us.
In my opinion, it should take something extremely serious and a danger to your child to close an adoption. “It could be confusing,” or “we don’t have time” or “well, our other adopted child doesn’t have an open adoption so that’s not fair for one to have a relationship and one not” is not a valid excuse.
Make a good match.
If you have a vision of a certain level of adoption openness, but the birth parent has another. Don’t do it. Don’t pretend. Believe it or not, there are plenty of birth parents who decide on closed adoptions still today! For whatever reason, they feel safest to make that choice. If you are wanting a closed adoption, wait for the right match. Don’t rush a match without similar comfort levels, just like you wouldn’t rush into a marriage commitment with extreme differences. I know you long for a child, but special things are worth the wait.
LOVE THEM BOTH.
Honor and respect the role that your child’s birth family has in their lives, no matter the degree of contact that you have. Without their choice, you would not be a parent. Period. Acknowledge their sacrifice and honor the piece of your child’s heart that their biologically family will inevitably hold. That doesn’t mean they won’t love and appreciate you, but just means that things are complicated and adoptees deserve to be able to sort out and seek.
Love the child placed in your arms, and the woman who placed that baby there. The one who chose you, the one who trusts you. Keep your promises.
I leave you with this: Ecclesiastes 5:4- “it is better to say nothing than to make a promise and not keep it.”
Written by: Leah Outten, birth mom of 14 years.
IG- @thegracebond and @openadoptionconsultant