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Birth Family Contact in Open Adoption

Memories with baby photo

We adopted and didn’t know anything about birth family contact.

When we adopted our daughter 4 years ago, we really didn’t know anything about birth family contact in open adoption. We were informed by our adoption advisor that we would have a semi-open adoption. To them, this meant we would send pictures to our daughter’s birth mother every 3 months for the first year of her life. Then we would send pictures and an update letter once a year until our daughter turned 18. To be honest, I had hoped to have a stronger bond with our daughter’s birth mother so that birth family contact would be easier, or at least less awkward. Unfortunately, it didn’t happen.

Our relationship basically consisted of us writing letters and sending pictures with absolutely no response. I shamefully admit that at first I was okay with that. Writing the letter and sending the pictures were a reminder that I was not my child’s only mother. Her birth mother’s response would have solidified it even more. As a first time mom it was hard for me to swallow. I selfishly wanted to be seen as her only mother. In part, I think that to do with grieving infertility—that I didn’t give my child life and never would give any child life. That being said, I religiously sent the letters and pictures. I knew she deserved to have them, possibly needed them to heal, and I wanted to keep some type of relationship with her for my daughter’s sake.

The more I understood adoption, birth family contact got easier.

I am happy to report that sending the letters and pictures got easier and easier the more I sent and the more I matured and understood adoption. I realized that while I will never be my child’s only mother, I am her mommy. I get every precious moment with her while her birth mother lives with the pain of missing her daily. I even got comfortable enough to ask her birth mother questions about her family and medical history. Sadly, we never got a response. I really wanted to know if she got them and enjoyed them. I also understood that she was dealing with her own grief. The pictures and letters may have been too much.

Thankfully, after 3 years without birth family contact, her birth mother reached out to tell us she was getting married. She also sent our daughter pictures of her half-brother, and gave us some health information. We were shocked and happy. Six months later, she wrote to us again and invited us to her wedding. It was only 2 weeks notice. Since she lives at least 14 hours away and we hadn’t had the chance to rebuild a relationship or define boundaries, we respectfully declined the invitation but invited her to have more ongoing contact with us through e-mail. We also sent her more pictures of our daughter and made sure she had them before the wedding. Then our relationship went silent again.

Three months later, we sent the yearly update and more pictures. I asked her to let us know when received them as I wasn’t sure of her current address since she got married. We didn’t hear anything. After a while, our daughter asked to send her birth mother a letter. She wrote it, but we didn’t know where to send it. We decided to use an old track phone and text her birth mother to be sure we had her address. To make a long story short, she wrote back and gave us her new address and was very excited that our daughter wanted to reach out to her. I was glad to be rebuilding a relationship with her, while helping my daughter discover who gave her life. I was scared too. I think that’s natural with anything in life that is “new.”

The letter was sent and received a response within 3 weeks!  It was four pages long and overwhelmed our daughter. It contained many “I love you” and “I miss you” comments. Our daughter didn’t seem to know how to take that. Her birth mother also suggested a summer visit. We had debated reading that part to our daughter, but felt it would be wrong to withhold any information. She seemed excited about meeting her biological brother, but when we were finished reading the letter to her she didn’t really want to talk about it. She told us that she might write back someday. This worried us. We are afraid that maybe we shouldn’t have revealed the whole letter. It was addressed to her and it is part of her story.

Would I like my daughter to meet her birth family?

We are just taking it a day at a time now, and on our daughter’s terms. I feel bad not sending a response to her birth mother, but I think we will wait until our daughter is ready. The one thing I really liked about the letter was how much she validated our parenting and she expressed that to our daughter. I do wish she would have talked to us about a visit before mentioning it in a note to our 4 year old. Would I like my daughter to meet her biological family? Of course I would! However, I’d like to get to know them better and establish some boundaries first. I’m interested to see how it all unfolds and I will be sure to update on any progress made in the ever changing world of open adoption.