Adoptive parents often speak of a fear that the birthparents will “come back” and wish to reclaim the child in years to come. There are several important perspectives on the issue of safety:
It’s important to achieve a realistic understanding of birthparent motivations and feelings:
Some of this is “projection.” – You may already feel love for a child who you can’t even see. You presume that the birthparents must feel even greater attachment if they are bearing the child. You project your own intense longings onto others and think that birthparents must have your same feelings or feel them more intensely.
In fact, as birthparents contemplate an adoption plan, many speak of separating emotionally as they prepare for a plan they feel is best for their child and for their own lives. Some spontaneously report feeling as though they are bearing the child for the adoptive family or talk about their planned adoption in other phrases that suggest that, for them, the adoption plan feels “meant to be”. Birthparents love their children, but they may be in a different place in their lives than the adoptive parents are. Rather than wishing to reclaim the child, most birthparents are hoping that the bonding between their child and the adoptive parents will be strong.
Birthparents often spontaneously talk about not wanting to be experienced as interfering with the connection between the adoptive family and child. They want to promote the healthful development and growth of their child. They sometimes wish to be reachable to answer questions for a child. They usually have an interest in knowing that their child is doing well over the years. Adoptive families provide photos and letters to the agency or directly to the birthparents at a frequency agreed upon between the birth and adoptive parents. Birthparents feel love for their child, but this is not the same thing as having a wish to reclaim.
There is a lot for birthparents to do in making a voluntary adoption plan. Birthparents who make a voluntary, well thought-out plan are in a different emotional “place” than birthparents whose children may have been removed involuntarily by the state.
We have observed over 60% of the birthmothers who’ve made adoption plans with Full Circle families are already mothers. They are very loving and appropriate mothers. They know about bonding and often want to send the adoptive family ultrasound pictures so that they can share the excitement of the impending birth. It is hard to imagine the courageous process whereby a woman and man separate emotionally from a child for the sake of what they feel is best for the child, for themselves and perhaps for their other children. They may feel overwhelmed with their other responsibilities and grateful to you for caring for and loving their child. The birthparents love the child but this love for the child’s well-being means that they want the child to do well with the adoptive family.
There is often a legal risk period, but honesty and good counseling are the best protections against disappointments during this period.
Most prospective adoptive families have heard a story from a friend or through the media suggesting that domestic infant adoption is unsafe. It is frustrating for those of us who practice domestic adoption because, from our perspective, the media has given very disproportionate attention to a few national cases that have been, arguably, handled improperly. If domestic adoption was as unsafe as the media has suggested in some of these stories, we adoption professionals would not find our work as satisfying nor feel drawn to spend our lives helping families grow through domestic adoption.
The most important area of safety has to do with honesty. Those exceedingly rare cases where birthparents “have come back” have tended to be situations where the birthmother has not been honest about the identity of the birthfather. This has, understandably, upset the birthfather when he has learned later of an adoption placement. Full Circle takes great care in its work with birthmothers and birthfathers and, by offering free and early counseling, hopes to involve everyone in a thoughtful and safe process. Whenever possible, we ask birthfathers to consider participating in paternity testing (which now, with the “buccal swab” test, does not have to involve a blood test) so that everyone can feel confident that the adoption is legally safe and that accurate medical information has been received.
The other related area of safety has to do with “changes of heart”. Each of the states has a different set of procedures by which birthparents may make an adoption plan. The general protocol is that some period of time after the child’s birth (e.g. in Massachusetts, this period is four calendar days), the birthparents can complete paperwork by which they make an adoption plan for the child. In some states, this paperwork is final and “irrevocable” upon signing (e.g. Massachusetts, Florida). In other states, there is a “revocation” period; for example, in several states, the surrenders can be signed approximately 72 hrs after birth and then there is a ten day revocation period during which time the birthparents can change their mind.
Who cares for the child during this time? Newborns are generally discharged from the hospital sooner than the time when birthparents may sign adoption paperwork. In almost all cases the birthparents ask the adoptive parents to care for the child from the moment of discharge from the hospital; they want the adoptive parents to bond. Most birthparents are vigorous in their request that professionals avoid foster care, even when foster care is offered by a loving and well-established private family. As a result, most adoptive parents are asked by the birthmother to take a legal risk placement for those few days between the baby’s discharge from the hospital and the day when the signatures on the adoption papers are considered final and irrevocable.
In the vast majority of cases, this legal risk time period passes without event. Sometimes birth and adoptive families get together for a meal and to admire the baby. Sometimes each family is spending time alone adjusting to the birth and their feelings afterwards. There is the chance that birthparents will decide to parent during this time. Usually there’s been enough counseling beforehand and this has helped birthparents clarify for themselves what their wishes and feelings are.
If a birthmother or father changes their mind, this can be sad and upsetting for the adoptive family. Sometimes, because the birth and adoptive families have come to know each other, the adoptive family, in those relatively rare instances where a “change of heart” occurs after birth, feels understanding and “at peace” with the birthparents’ change of heart because they know them. Most birthparents are already very good and loving parents. Most children placed in voluntary domestic placements will thrive whether in the arms of their birth or adoptive parents.
If there is a “change of heart” during the legal risk period, an adoptive family may understandably feel discouraged. That is one of the reasons it’s very important to work with a licensed agency that is comfortable helping birth and adoptive parents navigate both the procedural and emotional path of domestic adoption. The staff at Full Circle is always available to talk about the course of your adoption plan, whether things are going well, or whether there are bumps in the road or disappointments.
Are there disappointments short of a post-birth change of heart? How many “fall throughs” do families generally have before the match that results in a placement? It is not uncommon for a family to have several situations which seem promising in the moment, but which, on closer evaluation, are not right for them. The agency is very careful about evaluating potential adoptive matches, directly, and with the help of our allied colleagues in other states. We listen for important information regarding the mother/child’s health, presence/absence of drug/alcohol use, risk factors (social, medical, and legal) and other factors. As a result, you may decline one or more offered matches. You are not judged for this. We believe this is your life and you need to make choices that are right for you and your family. In the other direction, a birthmother may decide to parent shortly after reaching out to the agency. This can be disappointing but may not be overwhelming for the adoptive family since a short time is involved. While domestic adoption has “ups and downs”, the joy of the work is in witnessing the connections that result when adoptive and birthfamilies persevere and have faith.
Our fees are “flat fees” so the agency bears the risk of disappointment with regard to our professional time; you do not pay the flat service fees to Full Circle more than once. What you have paid already continues to cover our time during a subsequent match. Depending upon the birthparents’ comfort level with counseling, early counseling is recommended to help the birthparents sort through a variety of natural feelings that may include both wishes to parent and wishes to make an adoption plan. The goal of counseling is to help the birthparents figure out what’s important for them and what, in their opinion, is important for their child.
In the vast majority of cases, post-birth changes of heart do not occur. Birthparents are aware of adoptive families’ fears. They know you are worried until the procedural part is final. You are surprised to hear the birthmother taking care to reassure you of her steadfastness to the plan and how grateful she is to you for your loving her child. The hospital nursing staff refreshes you on aspects of newborn care and loads you up with formula as you leave the hospital for your hotel room. You and the birthmother stay in touch by phone and you reassure her about how the baby is doing. This is often a time when your heart has the difficult task of loving a child and holding back a little until the birthmother and birthfather’s paperwork is final. Usually while you’re diapering the baby, she’s on the phone talking about how she’s doing, sharing genuine reassurances that she’s firm about her plan and happy that the child is blessed with you as parents.
As you proceed in a domestic adoption match, our staff will share their expertise in evaluating the match with regard to a range of risk factors. We hope to empower you to make decisions about whether the match feels strong and safe. The matches that seem to warrant the greatest confidence are those where there is a genuinely warm connection between the birth and adoptive families. There tends to be a shared sense of planning for the welfare of a child for whom everyone wants the best. Sometimes the conversation turns to names that everyone likes. The birthmother expresses her wishes as to whether she’d like you present in the delivery room. There is talk about when the first photos and letters might arrive. Our professionals can provide you with our best impression of how things are going. When they are going well, you often have a strong sense for yourself as well.