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  • Dear Birth Mother Letter

    Dawn Davenport

    17
    Is it time to retire the Dear Birthmother Letter?

    Is it time to retire the Dear Birth Mother Letter?

    When adopting an infant in the US, almost all adoptive parents will be asked to prepare an adoptive parent portfolio or profile, which is also called a Dear Birth Mother Letter. In fact the preferred term at some agencies is Dear Birthmother Letter, some even require that the portfolio begins with a letter addressed to “Dear Birth Mother”. The problem is that the person reading the letter is not a birthmother and may never be one. She’s an expectant mom who is considering placing her child for adoption. She likely is also considering parenting the child.

    Sick of the Word Police

    I’m truly the least likely person to play word cop. All the care that must be taken to say exactly the right words wears me out. I’m more of a big picture person, and I care more about what people mean than what exact words they use. But… words matter.

    The Pressure of Expectations

    No matter how you dice it, the pressure begins when a pregnant woman is matched with an adoptive family. No matter what we say or how we try to give her permission to make the right choice for her child, the reality is that she knows that if she decides to parent, she will break the adoptive parents’ heart.

    The other day I was having a discussion on Twitter with Frank Lightvoet, an adoption reform advocate (as if you can have a real discussion in 140 characters, although we made a good attempt). He turned me on to a really great blog by a first mom–Adoption in the City.

    When talking about the pressure to not hurt or disappoint she said the following:

    I believe that if at the time of relinquishment that I suddenly realized parenting was a possibility for me that I would have been able to stand my ground then. I think I would have, but I also know how difficult it would have been. My agency wasn’t telling me I shouldn’t parent, in fact they did everything they could to protect me from feeling pressured by M&P including telling them to somewhat keep their distance and to not think of J as theirs until he was actually theirs.  And M&P made it clear all along that J was mine, that the decision wasn’t made until I signed papers. They asked permission to hold him in the hospital, and thanked me profusely when I asked if they wanted to feed him for giving them the opportunity, heck they didn’t buy any baby stuff until the evening before J went home with them. And even with them being super aware of overstepping, it still would have been a decision that I know would have hurt M&P, these two men I was coming to know and like…. If I felt like M&P were seeing my son as theirs as soon as he was born (or even before) the pressure to not hurt them would have been profound.

    In light of this, maybe it’s time to retire the Dear Birthmother Letter. Why not just start your adoption portfolio with a simple “Hi”.

    How to Prepare an Adoption Profile

    To learn more about how to prepare a great Adoptive Parent Profile, listen to this week’s Creating a Family show. We give you lots of options for how to begin, what to include, and what to leave out. We had some technical difficulties cause by a combination of Mexican Internet, Skype, and the fact that the only working Internet I could find was at the baby house of the orphanage, which is not exactly the quietest place on earth.

     

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    Did your agency require that you address your adoption profile to “Dear Birth Mother”? If you are a first mother, do you feel like this term puts undue pressure on you?

    06/03/2014 | by Dawn Davenport | Categories: Adoption, Adoption Blog, Blog | 17 Comments



    17 Responses to Dear Birth Mother Letter

    1. Another Anoymous says:

      One final comment-I realize that not ALL EP’s see PAP’s as a source of funding for their pregnancies and child welfare needs-some of them are truly ethical people who just want what is best for their child, and who actually see the potential parents of their children as human beings who are vulnerable in their own way in this process, and who are respectful of their feelings no matter what the outcome of their decision. I am thankful for those folks and hope that they are the exception not the rule. Respect must be a two way street especially in adoption-this truth cannot be forgotten, by anyone.

    2. Another Anoymous says:

      Anonymous-I have waited a while to respond to your last comment on my comment because I wanted to make sure that I articulated my point properly. I am not an AP, so my anger at your earlier comment about whose problem it is when PAP’s get hurt is not from personal experience. I am an IF person who is considering my family building options and one who is getting tired of this idea that PAP’s are somehow in a position of power in the adoption triad. I also do not, as you so snidely put it see EP expenses as a “down payment” on a particular baby. That being said, I do not see PAP’s as having the responsibility of bankrolling another person’s pregnancy out of some misplaced sense of obligation. If the EP decides to parent, she should not be entitled to those expenses that were paid for by the PAPs-her child will not be raised by the PAP’s and so should not be beneficiaries of their financial support. Harsh, yes, but the baby HAS a biological mother, shouldn’t his/her care be this person’s SOLE responsibility once she decides to parent? If not, when do you suggest that the PAP’s financial responsibility should end for that particular family? When the child finishes high school and goes on to further education? How long should an EP be allowed to milk PAPs for support once she has decided to parent? I just wanted to make the point that PAP’s are vulnerable too-I daresay they are even more vulnerable than the EP’s. After all, if a PAP is in an adoption arrangement because of IF, they are already at a physical disadvantage to the EP-this person is capable of getting pregnant without assistance, while an IF PAP cannot. Why should someone who is physically disadvantaged in such a way be forced to pay someone else’s expenses, just because they are more able-bodies than you yourself are? You have already lost much of your autonomy-you don’t get to become a parent unless the EP gives you permission, why should you also lose what financial resources that you had going into the arrangement too? EP expenses should be made illegal for the sake of the PAP’s as much as the EP’s-the only people who should receive payment in an adoption are the professionals who are there to HELP work this adoption out, whatever the outcome.

    3. cb says:

      “I totally disagree that all adoptions should be done through the state. Every adoptive parent I’ve ever talked to in Australia hates how adoptions are – or rather aren’t – done there.”

      First of all, I am talking about domestic infant adoption. Domestic infant adoption – NOT foster care, NOT international adoption. Domestic infant adoption.

      Secondly, I wasn’t actually bringing up Australia as an example, I was specifically bringing up an NGO in NSW as an example of the type of agency I like. You entirely missed the point as to why I brought up Anglicare (a Christian non-government orgnisation), i.e. I was pointing out that it is a family services charity organisation that provides any assistance required through their family services section of the charity, thus the cost is not passed onto the APs because of all that being sorted out before adoption enters the picture. I specifically chose an NGO so I couldn’t be accused of talking about state adoptions! So, can you see that I am talking about a TYPE of agency? eg I think a similar agency in the US might be Volunteers of America but I can’t be sure which is why I brought up the NSW agency.

      “Every adoptive parents hates how it is done in Australia”. I’m quite sure that they do hate it. However, I don’t think it should be changed to suit APs. Again though, let’s be clear that I am talking about Domestic Infant Adoption.

      “We disagree on what “done properly” means. I believe pre-birth matching is, ultimately, worthwhile. It should be offered, but not mandatory, for any party”

      Actually, I did acknowledge that pre-birth matching, if done properly can work:

      (said earlier by me) “When done properly” is the key though isn’t it. WHEN DONE PROPERLY! As I said above, I do think there are some agencies that are able to do it properly but there are many that don’t – there needs to be better guidelines. I do know though they have prebirth matching in Canada and I suspect it is done under much stricter guidelines.”

      I’m just not sure that it is done properly in a lot of cases in the US. I thought “Another anonymous” was a great example of when it isn’t done properly.

      “E-parents aren’t immune to the “best behavior” syndrome either, and that they can be untruthful as well.”

      Of course they aren’t and in a money-driven market, you are going to get dishonesty. When it comes to actual scamming, the US is a ripe market. I don’t think many other Western countries have many scammers because there is nothing in it for them.

      “Ideally, agencies would have a pool from which they can draw expense money so no PAPs are out their money again and again.”

      And that is why family service agencies – which to repeat again DOESN’T necessarily mean STATE agency – it can be an NGO, yes indeedy it can – are good because all assistance is done as part of a the general services provided via the charity thus it is not passed to the APs.

      So, just in case, I wasn’t clear enough, I’m talking about domestic infant adoption, not foster care.

    4. Robyn C says:

      I maintain that almost all important decisions are made under outside pressure.

      I totally disagree that all adoptions should be done through the state. Every adoptive parent I’ve ever talked to in Australia hates how adoptions are – or rather aren’t – done there. I’ve met two Australian foster care alumni, and they didn’t care for Australia’s system either. I couldn’t say I met two Australian adult adoptees because they were not allowed to be adopted, although one was adopted as an adult by the family that had cared for her.

      I think there’s more of a chance of getting to know the real PAPs with a pre-birth match than a post-birth one. E-parents aren’t immune to the “best behavior” syndrome either, and that they can be untruthful as well.

      We disagree on what “done properly” means. I believe pre-birth matching is, ultimately, worthwhile. It should be offered, but not mandatory, for any party.

      To “Another Anonymous”: I disagree with many of the things that you’ve said, especially with regards to “birthmother expenses.” I believe the expenses themselves need to be better regulated. Ideally, agencies would have a pool from which they can draw expense money so no PAPs are out their money again and again. Paying back “birthmother expenses” should only be an issue in cases of outright fraud. For example, we were scammed by a woman who forged her proof of pregnancy. She should absolutely have been held accountable for that, but, the way laws are written, it’s difficult to do so.

    5. cb says:

      Sorry, the above was “cb” again, I pressed return before entering my name.

    6. Anonymous says:

      Hi “another anonymous”, I’m glad you’ve posted because your reply does prove my point about “when done properly” as it sounds to me like things “weren’t done properly” in your case. Did you go through an agency or attorney? It does need to be stressed to both parties that each has their own reason for “considering/choosing adoption”,

      First of all, when I said “it ain’t the birthmother’s problem”, I probably phrased it a bit harshly but what I meant was “in the end, the birthmother had to make her decision regardless of the feelings of the PAPs, their feelings really can’t influence the decision”, i.e. other people’s problems can’t be her problems. It is precisely because I know that I would feel compassion for the PAPs if I were an emom that I felt it necessary to say “it ain’t the birthmother’s problem” because, in the end, it can’t be.

      As for birthmother expenses, I don’t like them either and that is because too many people like yourselves consider birthmother expenses to be a down payment on the baby:

      “I would wonder about the moral integrity of any woman who willingly received money and resources from a PAP with the intention of following through on an adoption plan, but who then for whatever reason decides to keep her child, without making any kind of monetary restitution to the PAP’s or at least making an effort to reimburse them for what they have spent on her during her pregnancy.”

      One has to remember the Golden Rule of Adoption: If birthmother expenses are going to be paid, then the PAPs should only pay what one is prepared to lose because once one starts to pay out money one can’t afford to lose, one is in effect expecting that that money is going towards “guaranteeing” that the baby will be theirs and thus in effect are “buying” the baby.

      Also many agencies encourage the emom to take advantage of liiving expenses to their pregnant clients. So if you have an issue with bmother expenses, take it up with your agency/attorney etc as many encourage birthmother expenses. This is how one agency explains it to their pregnant clients:

      http://www.americanadoptions.com/pregnant/article_view/article_id/4415?cId=177

      I have to admit the first sentence made my head spin a bit:

      Pregnancy-related expenses, otherwise known as living expenses, can be a deciding factor in a woman’s decision to pursue adoption and are often even among her first worries when she learns she is pregnant.

      It would be rather a cheek if this agency then expected the money back after all they’ve said, wouldn’t it.

    7. cb says:

      “When done properly, pre-birth matching is, I think, vital.”

      “When done properly” is the key though isn’t it. WHEN DONE PROPERLY! As I said above, I do think there are some agencies that are able to do it properly but there are many that don’t – there needs to be better guidelines. I do know though they have prebirth matching in Canada and I suspect it is done under much stricter guidelines.

      And even with places that don’t have prebirth matching, it desn’t mean there is no matching – most other western countries do have matching – it is just done after the birth.

      Certainly, I agree the following:

      “I think the key points are that everyone has to realize that the real decision doesn’t take place until after the baby is born, that the PAPs have to support the e-parents no matter what their decision is, and that the e-parents (e-mom) has to realize that she doesn’t owe the PAPs anything.”

      But way too often one sees that isn’t the case.

      “I think “birth parent expenses” are more dangerous (for lack of a better word) than the pre-birth match.”

      Yes I agree. That’s why adoptions are best done as an auxillary service provided by a family services agency. For example, here in NSW if one were considering adoption, one might contact an organisaton like Anglicare and if one needed a place to live during their decision time about their child’s future, the funds would be provided by the charity for a person in need, just as it would for other people who needed assistance. Adoptions cost about $4000 through the 2 private agencies in NSW – achievable because 1) any assistance that an emom might need is given as if for any person in need and 2) there is no advertising fees for “searching for birthmothers”.

      As for this:

      “You wouldn’t marry someone you just met, so why would you give your kid to them?”

      And what, do you really think the expectant mother really gets to know the “real” PAPs? They are of course going to be on their best behaviour. When the mask slips, it aint always pretty.

      As for this:

      “and to have people hovering over them while making that decision? ”

      Come on, Robyn, you know exactly what I mean. Your examples aren’t relevant to what I’m talking about. For one thing, I’m talking about the “main beneficiaries” hovering over one when one is making a decision which puts emotional pressure on the one making the decision. For another, one is not making the decision for oneself but for another.

      Robyn, you are a good and ethical person who can think with a clear head. But you know yourself that not everyone is able to think as clearly as you and thus it is important for the agencies to make sure that both parties follow the keypoints you mentioned above. You and I are on another forum together (I think you can guess who I am) and you are quite rightly giving other members little pinpricks to remind them of those keypoints. Don’t you wish that it wasn’t always up to you and some of other more clearheaded APs do to so?

      I am just trying to point out that it is all very well saying “When done properly” but that means that it MUST be done properly. So, let’s make sure it is done properly ALL the time.

    8. Dina says:

      Kristine, they are from the creating a family blog. the link for this thread/post is at the top of this thread. Here is a link to the home page. http://www.creatingafamily.org/

    9. Kristine says:

      Dawn, can you share what site you are sharing comments from?

    10. Another Anonymous says:

      To Anonymous’s comment about how the feelings of the AP’s if the expectant parents decide to parent “ain’t the EP’s problem”, I must raise a STRONG objection. If you make a decision that hurts someone else, no matter what your motivation or whether it is actually for the best, the fact that you have caused hurt or disappointment to another person SHOULD cause you a bit of remorse. I agree that it should not be a factor in your decision, but unless you are a complete sociopath, you should realize that your decision is going to have a negative impact on someone else and then possess the maturity to face that reality head on. I am so tired of hearing that the feelings and the investment that PAP’s have put into a match has no bearing or meaning on an EP’s actions when it comes to going through with a match or not-are PAP’s not human beings, with feelings and hopes just like anyone else? If you are an EP and you choose to parent at the end of the day, yes that is your decision and yours alone, but you cannot make that decision under the illusion that no one is going to get hurt by your decision. The idea of “letting the PAP’s down gently” is a joke-no matter how “gentle” you are, they are still going to be hurt, and you should not be shielded from this inflicted hurt by any sense of self righteousness that you may possess. If you decide to parent, that is your right, but the PAP’s have every right to feel how they want about that decision, and as the maker of that decision, you will have to (to use a popular term) “put on your big girl panties and deal with it” if you find their feelings directed at you.
      To Robyn-I echo your concern about the expectant parent expenses. While I know that there are no laws that require an expectant parent to reimburse PAP’s for expenses paid, on a moral principle any expectant parent who chooses to parent instead of following through on an adoption plan should make an effort to pay back any and all monies that she received from the PAP’s. I would wonder about the moral integrity of any woman who willingly received money and resources from a PAP with the intention of following through on an adoption plan, but who then for whatever reason decides to keep her child, without making any kind of monetary restitution to the PAP’s or at least making an effort to reimburse them for what they have spent on her during her pregnancy. That money was intended by the PAP’s to help them in their efforts to build THEIR family, NOT to help the EP to build hers. If an EP needs money or resources to keep their family together, there are charities and social services for that, and the EP should be guided towards them. At the very least, I hope that any EP who behaves in such a shameful and exploitative way towards PAP’s would have a hard time looking herself in the mirror. We talk all the time about EP’s being exploited, but PAP’s can be exploited too, and this exploitation is NOT a victimless crime! I know my opinions will not be popular, but I stand by them.

    11. Anon AP says:

      cb, I imagine you’re right in many cases, but I don’t think in all. We were matched pre-birth with a couple who were considering placement and they ultimately decided to continue to parent their child. As we spoke to them and our social worker, it was clear that they actually had a degree of comfort from knowing what their options were. They chose us and talked with us, and were asked us lots of questions about what we thought and felt about different topics. I won’t say they didn’t feel for us when they made their decision after they had their daughter, but I don’t know if they would say that it was a bad thing to have a chance to meet their daughter’s potential parents in advance. Now, there are a few caveats I would add as well:
      – they were a committed couple and had each other for total support
      – they were not young and knew their own minds
      – they were parents already
      – During the match and pre-birth period, we and they had different social workers so their SW could focus on making sure they had all the support they needed to make a decision about parenting
      – they were very clear with the agency that they wanted to match pre-birth so they could meet us beforehand

      I don’t know how common those circumstances exist, but in this instance I think it was an OK thing to do, and potentially even helped give them some peace of mind that things would work out OK during their last month of pregnancy. Whatever the case, we saw how well they were raising their kids and we know they made the best decision for their family. It was really a privilege to even be considered an option for them, and we do hope that any pressure they felt was minor and fleeting.

    12. Robyn C says:

      “In what other situation in life would anyone even think that it is OK to have someone making an important decision and to have people hovering over them while making that decision? ”

      Every decision ever made! Which college are you going to go to? My grandfather went to the college I ended up going to, and every other person in my family weighed in on where they thought I should go. Who are you going to date? Are you really going to marry him/her? What job are you going to take? No decision is made in a vacuum.

      When done properly, pre-birth matching is, I think, vital. You wouldn’t marry someone you just met, so why would you give your kid to them? Establishing a relationship can start a lifelong journey, or show the participants that they should not be going down this road together. I think the key points are that everyone has to realize that the real decision doesn’t take place until after the baby is born, that the PAPs have to support the e-parents no matter what their decision is, and that the e-parents (e-mom) has to realize that she doesn’t owe the PAPs anything. I think “birth parent expenses” are more dangerous (for lack of a better word) than the pre-birth match.

    13. cb says:

      “Anonymous, patronizing or not, in my opinion the reality is that many expectant women feel this pressure once an adoption match has been made. It’s not a matter of adoptive parents having “the right” do make her feel this way, it’s a matter of human nature that we all need to be aware of and try to be sensitive to. That was the point I was trying to make”

      Exactly, which is why it is wrong or at the very least should be done by organisations that are capable of keeping a close eye on the participants. I don’t have a problem with matching, in fact it is recommended – it is the prebirth/pre-TPR matching I have a problem with. Once the prospective APs enter the picture, then they inadvertantly become part of the decision and that’s not right. And again, that’s not aslam of APs but the opposite – it is BECAUSE the APs are often so likeable that that makes the decision compromised because the APs become the “ideal” and who wants to deprive their baby of “the ideal”. That is, of course, what the adoption professionals are hoping for.

      In what other situation in life would anyone even think that it is OK to have someone making an important decision and to have people hovering over them while making that decision? Yet when it comes to one of the most important decisions in the world, it is a case of *shrug* or even encouraged?

      Prebirth matching is one of those things that the participants think they want but that is actually really bad for them.

      (sorry, I am that last anonymous, I just forgot to fill in my name)

    14. Anonymous says:

      “No matter how you dice it, the pressure begins when a pregnant woman is matched with an adoptive family. No matter what we say or how we try to give her permission to make the right choice for her child, the reality is that she knows that if she decides to parent, she will break the adoptive parents’ heart”

      “or how we try to give her permission to make the right choice for her child” – I’m confused as to what right do the PAPs have to even do that? It comes across as rather patronising.

      And:
      “the reality is that she knows that if she decides to parent, she will break the adoptive parents’ heart”

      I’m sorry but isn’t this important decision supposed to be about making the best decision of the child or is it about what’s in the best interest of the prospective adoptive parents? If the eparents decide they are in the best interest of their child – then that’s that. The PAPs should be let down gently and kindly but apart from that, it ain’t the expectant parents’ problem.

      In the end, organisations who arrange adoptions need to know how to properly prepare their clients, both expectant parents and prospective adoptive parents, and it seems fairly obvious from what I’ve seen on other sites and blogs that they are sadly remiss in their duty.

      • Anonymous, patronizing or not, in my opinion the reality is that many expectant women feel this pressure once an adoption match has been made. It’s not a matter of adoptive parents having “the right” to make her feel this way, it’s a matter of human nature that we all need to be aware of and try to be sensitive to. That was the point I was trying to make.

    15. Robyn C says:

      We started ours with “Salutations! That’s our fancy way of saying ‘Hello!’ That’s from Robyn’s favorite children’s book, Charlotte’s Web.” We had free reign, but I know a lot of PAPs don’t, which is unfortunate.

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