Preparing Space for Birth Family :: Early Thoughts on Open Adoption


As I pieced together my first daughter’s nursery, the concept of preparing spaces in my life for others crystalized. I matched crib sheets with changing pad covers, commissioned custom framing for whimsical art prints, and imagined the new baby we’d soon bring home from the hospital. 

Three years later, I find myself in a similar period of preparation for baby — this time during the adoption application and home study processes.

I also find myself imagining another parent preparing for this same child, though not perhaps with my joy. She will carry our child, feel the kicks and hiccups, stretch in both body and heart to bring this new life into the world, and then place him or her in my care. In my mind, that already makes her part of my family’s story.

So, how do I — or anyone considering adoption — begin to prepare space in my life for a birth parent whose child I will call my own?

Empty Frames
Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Acknowledge the Loss, Respect the Grief

Every member of the adoption triad (adoptee, birth parent, and adoptive parent) stands to lose a great deal through adoption. Yes, adoption is wonderful. It provides homes for children and a way for pregnant mothers to choose life for their babies without choosing to parent. But it is also sorrowful. The place I am preparing in my heart and in my family for our future child’s birth family is touched by loss.

I was blessed to carry two biological children to term, labor naturally, and breastfeed exclusively for many months with both. Not only will I lose out on the privilege of initial connection with my adopted child, but the woman who carries my child will miss the privilege of day-to-day mothering. She will not be present with her child every day, nor at those precious milestones I have witnessed in my daughters. As a parent, I don’t begin to fathom that loss. Even considering it takes my breath away.

If I am to help my child cope with this situation — and with his or her own grief over losing the opportunity to be raised by birth parents — I want to respect the birth family from day one. I acknowledge the profound sacrifice they made. I honor their wishes for as much or as little distance to grieve. It will, and should, shape the relationship from early on. 

Honor a Child’s Heritage

The truth is, although my adopted child will grow up in my home as part of my family, he or she will likely trace roots to an ancestry, a heritage, and maybe even a culture we don’t share. That starts with birth parents. I want to learn what I can about their customs and traditions, their dreams and passions. I want to pass these down to our child the same way I plan to teach him or her our family traditions.

I envision a day I can tell my adopted child, “You have your birth mama’s beautiful hair,” or “You are so talented in music, just like your birth dad.” I dream of cultivating a home environment that defaults to positive adoption language (although friends and extended family may require some ongoing guidance). I want a household that celebrates diversity — from dolls and kids’ shows to art and literature. I aspire to raise children who respect different cultures and opinions, and who value their elders. In short, I long for our family to be lovers of people.

Desire Relationship in Open Adoption

Making space in my life for birth parents aims for openness in adoption. Compared with a closed adoption — in which little or nothing is known about an adopted child’s birth parents — an open adoption encourages transparency among all members of the triad. It fosters lifelong connections between adoptees and their birth families.

I view my role in an open adoption as facilitator of the relationship between my adopted child and his or her birth family. While my child is young, I act as the means of connecting him or her with birth parents or other family members. This can’t happen effectively, consistently, and early on without my involvement. It likely starts with a shared digital photo album, and maybe email updates.

My ideal open relationship some day in the future looks like birth parents (and even other siblings) coming to my home to share meals, celebrate birthdays and achievements, and mark special occasions. I would love them to occupy picture frames and photo albums around the house, to be regular faces during holidays, and guests at graduation. Many factors, chiefly the wishes of my child and his or her birth parents, will determine the accuracy of that picture.  

Of course, one family’s adoption journey might look different from another. Openness in adoption is never guaranteed. I hope and pray for it, for the sake of my child and for the birth parents who will place him or her in my family. Until that prayer is answered, I will keep this place in my heart open for birth family.


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