Letter Writer: We adopted a baby boy almost a year ago. Initially, Bianca (birth mother) wanted a closed adoption, but a week after the Charlie was born, she changed her mind to an open one. We thought we were up for that, but in our first year, it feels like our son’s birth mom wants too much.
At first our relationship was mostly by text — Bianca would constantly ask me for pictures, and when I didn’t respond immediately, she would text again asking for more. I had to draw some boundaries and say I would update her with pictures once a week.
That soon became too much, especially when things got busy for me with my seasonal work. I had to switch to updating her with a longer update over email once a month, but still encouraged her to text me anytime and that we weren’t backing out of our agreement.
There’s more, but first, help us understand why she is being so intense.
Hi, Carla. Thanks for writing. Take a deep breath and prepare to be OK being uncomfortable. I’m going to ask you to be willing to stretch yourself and shift your perspective.
I’m not surprised Bianca’s preference shifted from closed to open once her baby went from being hypothetical to real. In theory, a person might think it would be easiest to “forget and move on,” but once that baby is in your arms, that advice seem not so doable.
Openness: Not Just for Adoptive and Birth Parents
It sounds like you are open to openness (which means more than just contact), so I’m going to talk with you through the lens of that assumption. Some of the ways I ask you to shift your thinking may be challenging.
But I promise you the reward will be worth it: having a healthy and vibrant life-long relationship with your son. People start out thinking “open adoption” is about the relationship with first parents. But really, it’s even more about your relationship with your baby/child/teen/adult — they do grow up. It’s about awareness of your own sore spots and choosing your response when one gets triggered (yes, darling Charlie will one day trigger you).
Birth Mom Wants So Much!
Let’s start with Bianca constantly asking for pictures.
This is an important exercise, so please do take the time and space to try and really shift from your perspective to Bianca’s. Try to feel what it was like for her during this first year of her journey — and understand that hers has had a very different trajectory than yours.
Imagine that you went into the hospital pregnant. You labored and delivered a baby. That baby is the most amazing sight you’ve ever beheld, and you made him! He is put in the arms of another woman at your request and consent, but still it is unbearably painful — yet you bear it. Hour by hour, day by day.
You leave the hospital without your baby. You’re surprised it didn’t kill you.
The Nagging Feeling that Won’t Go Away
You think about Charlie every minute. Is he OK? Did you make a good decision? How will you ever be OK with this, with the not knowing? Will it always be like this — Charlie on your mind every single minute and you not being able to get any relief from wondering?
To get some relief, you ask his parents for updates and pictures. You hope the updates and photos will help relieve your anxiety about the baby you can’t quite find.
We hear from mothers who have placed that it can be a horrible feeling, a pervasive and subconscious worry that you’ve misplaced something so very important. It’s unrelenting and unquenchable.
I’m sure you can summon these intense and pervasive emotions (or at least a portion of them): If you and your husband went away for a week and left Charlie with a trusted loved one, wouldn’t he ALWAYS be on your mind? Wouldn’t you be wondering every moment how he was doing and if he’s OK?
And in contrast to what Bianca has been experiencing the past year, your situation would have you leaving him in the care of someone you’ve long known and trusted, not someone you met recently as a result of a crisis pregnancy.
Lots of unknowns for Bianca. Is it any wonder she has yearned to make the unknown known?
Why So Intense? It’s Been Almost a Year.
I ask you to imagine all this just so you can have some empathy for what may be subconsciously driving Bianca to keep asking for news.
Can you “fix” this for her by sending news and pictures? Maybe not fix, but I think you’ll find that once she feels seen and heard and validated — in other words, when she really knows she is important to you — her needs level will go down. Be kind and compassionate with her during this tremendously difficult time in her grief journey.
To the extent that you can invest time now assuaging her fears that (a) she’s “misplaced” her baby (that may not be how it is but that’s how first moms tell us it feels) and (b) she’s expendable to you, your investment will eventually pay off through less neediness. It’s empathy and connection that will carry you through to the other side of her constant requests.
I understand that may sound counter-intuitive. It may seem that if you give more now, she may expect more forever. But give this a try. Aim to make the unknown known for Bianca. See if giving her the time and space and assurance she needs while she grieves and heals helps alleviate what appears as neediness.
Coming up: we’ll tackle your next question about Bianca backing out of planned visits.
First/birth moms: can you vouch for the intense and unrelenting feelings of misplacing your baby?
- The Open Adoption Grid | Contact vs Openness
- My Child’s Birth Mom is Passive Aggressive | Maybe it’s not really about the pictures.
- What to Expect | “Being Pregnant After I Relinquished My First Baby to Adoption”
- Birth Mother Stories | from the 1960s, 1980s, and 2000s
- A Life Let Go | First Mother memoir by Patricia Florin
About this Open Advice Column
- I am not a therapist. Please do not rely on words in this space to make your own major or minor decisions.
- Readers, please weigh in thoughtfully and respectfully. This is a teaching endeavor, not a shaming endeavor. We we aim to bring light rather than heat. People do the best they can with what they have to work with, and our goal is to give folks more to work with.
- Send in your own open adoption question for consideration.
Lori Holden, mom of a teen son and a teen daughter, blogs from Denver. Her book, The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption: Helping Your Child Grow Up Whole, is available through your favorite online bookseller and makes a thoughtful anytime gift for the adoptive families in your life. Lori was honored as an Angel in Adoption® in 2018 by the Congressional Coalition of Adoption Institute.