Tuesday, January 23, 2007

"dear birthmother letter"

two of our closest friends are in the process of adopting a child, and i'm looking for some advice about how to help them.

k & p are wonderful people and have a two year old biological daughter. they do not have any fertility issues, but want to grow their family through transracial adoption (they will be adopting an african american child; they and their daughter are white), and are as well equipped as anyone i know to do that thoughtfully and ethically. they are very interested in having the adoption as open as possible, and while i don't think they have thought through all the ethical issues in adoption, i know they are very much open to and trying to have a very ethical adoption. (i know that may be a contradiction in terms; i just mean as much as adoption can be ethical, they would like theirs to be, even if they don't know all of what that means yet.)

they are working with a regional open adoption agency which requires that they create a profile with a "dear birthmother letter" on one side and photos of them and their family on the other.
i've read the first draft of their letter, and it feels pretty typical. they have included all of the things that the agency has told them are important: their thoughts about open and transracial adoption, descriptions of their family, their community, their jobs, interests, etc. the first paragraph is fairly typical: "we admire your courage in making this difficult decision ... we desire openness but want to honor your needs ... if you place with us your child will always know you loved him/her and made this difficult decision out of love..." (this is my paraphrase; i don't have the letter in front of me.)

i have a couple of things i'm wondering and would love guidance from you, especially those of you involved in adoption reform and/or ethical open adoptions:
  • i find that it's very hard to share your own insights into anything you've learned through experience with someone who hasn't yet experienced it. sometimes the only way you can really learn something is through experiencing it. one of the things i've learned as a la leche league leader is to give information, rather than advice, to hold judgement, and to try to empower women to make their own good choices. more and more i'm learning that's a good way to approach life (the older i get, the more i find that being a righteous know-it-all has a way of coming back to bite you in the butt!) so i guess i'm wondering what you all think is the "bottom line" of ethical adoption, the stuff you would always be blunt and up-front about with prospective adoptive friends (as opposed to the nuances that folks might need to learn for themselves). i guess another way of saying this is, what do you wish a trusted friend had said to you as you embarked on your first adoption, and what would you not have been able to hear, because you needed to learn it yourself?
  • k & p's agency calls k & p's profile a "dear birthmother letter" and probably every other profile in the book will begin "dear birthmother." if you were k & p, what would you do in this situation? how would you advise them if you were their friend?
  • what about that ubiquitous "courageous, noble birthmother" paragraph at the beginning of the letter? how would/have you handled that?

thanks internets! i hope you're share your thoughts.

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At January 23, 2007 2:38 PM, Blogger SaraSkates said...

I have no relevent personal experience to share...but the "share information, without judgement" part resonates.

At January 23, 2007 4:10 PM, Blogger Dawn said...

I'm writing really quickly here because the kids are outside sledding a teeny bit before we run to the grocery.

Thankfully our agency was on top of this (at least our social worker was) and even though the "birth mother" before placement thing is ubiquitous there they did drum it into our heads that it would be inappropriate (and insulting) to assume any person reading our profile had already made a decision about whether or not to place. When I've talked to friends about their own "dear birth mother" letters, I've told them this and told them what the agency shared with us -- it's a great way to make someone NOT consider your letter. What we did was put a lot of "if" in our letter. "IF you choose to place, IF you choose us to place with..."

I was ready to hear this 'cuz I wanted to write a good letter and it also got me to thinking more about the women who would be reading the letter, which got me on a good page.

We really learned as we went and I guess that's all anyone can do. I do believe that people who are moral and ethical and OPEN in adoption (to whatever happens next) will end up in good places -- provided that the institution they're working with is pretty good, too, you know? I do have faith in people, including prospective adoptive parents.

I want to reread this but I gotta hit publish so I hope I said what I wanted to say!

At January 26, 2007 10:41 AM, Blogger art-sweet said...

qttI think I would start my letter saying "dear mom-to-be" or "dear parents-to-be" or some variant thereof.

If they've thought through adoption enough to be queasy about the term "birthmother" their letter should reflect that they understand that regardless of how much of a relationship these two families choose to have with each other down the road, these folks will always be related to this child.

At February 14, 2007 11:45 AM, Blogger Anne said...

Personally I have to say I would strongly object to saying "parent-to-be or mom-to-be" (as one comment read) because, if all goes as the reader and the adoptive parents are planning, that person will not be a mom or parent, but a birthparent. Dear Birthparent or Birthmother is considered acceptable in the 'persons considering an adoption plan realm'. If they are finding that term offensive, I would be cautious that they are not fully on board with their adoption plan and may still be thinking of parenting once the baby is born. Which, of course is fine, but not someone you would want to invest your time (and money) in if your goal is to adopt. We used Dear Birthparent(s), but "Dear Birthparent to Be" is very good too if someone has issues about the reader not actually being a birthparent yet.

Just my $.02! Good luck to your friends! :)
Heart and Home Adoption Profiles

At April 05, 2007 1:59 PM, Blogger kristen said...

Excuse my blatant spam to ask you to email me about a Philly Blogger event (got your info from another philly mom blogger).


At April 06, 2007 5:45 PM, Blogger warriorwoman said...

Allow me to play "devil's advocate" for a moment:

This woman has not given birth so she's not a birthmother. Right now she is a gestator. The only role she'll ever be permitted to play in her child's life is to produce "it" for someone else.

HOWEVER, just imagine how much easier it will be for your friends to get her baby if they write to "Dear Mother-To-Be" instead of writing to "Dear Gestational Woman" or "Dear Birthmother". Acting/writing respectfully will help to trick her into thinking they consider her to be a human being like themselves.

Now (exiting the "devil's advocate" role):
I'm just trying to point out that this woman is really related to the baby she's carrying. The baby is her own son or daughter and she is her baby's mother-to-be. Separating mother and baby will not change this reality. Like every mother she will be hurting terribly after her baby is taken away. And from the perspective of the baby the replacements will not be enough; the baby will be crying for the comfort and security of his/her own mother's arms.

At April 18, 2007 2:21 PM, Blogger Maria said...

I've enjoyed visiting your blog and while I did not have to go through an agency (my child is the birth daughter of a relative), I would see the obvious importance of showing respect and observing a social niceties.

I guess I should have prefaced this comment with the fact that I am blog jumping today and stumbled on to your blog. I've found it very insightful.

At June 28, 2007 3:50 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

lesbian and a christian? oxymoronic - they cannot coexist

At December 29, 2007 6:20 PM, Blogger JoAnne said...

Hi Mama, my name is JoAnne Weber-Baligad, and I have a question I would like to ask you off your comments board. It is regarding breastfeeding, being a lesbian, and advocacy work. I am a fellow lesbian breastfeeding mama, I have a four year old son, with my partner of 15 years. You are uniquely qualified to ask this question, and would really help me out! You can contact me at Jwebbal@aol.com
thank you!

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At September 17, 2008 9:20 AM, Blogger Helen said...

My husband and I have adopted once and plan to adopt again. We just started our letter with "hello" because we were so confused about how to address the reader. What are your suggestions for the first paragraph? It just seems there is no appropriate way to ask someone for their child.

At September 21, 2008 4:07 PM, Blogger samantha- mama to julian said...

wow, great question, and great food for thought.

off the cuff/musing why not skip the "dear" part altogether. start with "hello, we are...we think...etc."

seems reasonable and less phony.


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