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Our Son’s Birth Mom Wants Too Much: Part 1

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.

— Carla

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?

See Also

About this Open Adoption 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 young adult daughter and a young adult son, writes from Denver. She was honored as an Angel in Adoption® by the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute.

Find Lori’s books on her Amazon Author page, and catch episodes of Adoption: The Long View wherever you get your podcasts.

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11 Responses

  1. I love this exercise (honestly, it’s one that can be applied broadly) as it changes the lenses for viewing a situation. It’s hard enough to do under normal circumstances, so I greatly appreciated the guidance here.

    I agree with having the first mother feel heard and validated. That’s not trivial! I get that those on the outside may not understand, but the ache of this lose is all consuming and this mother needs to know that she’s not going to be cut out. And it’s important for this child that an effort be made to help build a relationship.

    1. When my kids were little, we watched two switcheroo movies time and again: Freaky Friday and Brother Bear. The walk-in-the-other’s-mocassins is what finally helped untangle a knotty situation. Works in real life, too!

  2. This sounds like there were a lot of expectations on both sides that were not made clear. Unmet expectations always lead to bad feelings, but it’s never too late to hash it out. Your empathy exercise should help, I hope!

  3. Lori — Thank you for breaking down a complicated, emotional situation and reminding me that my viewpoint is not the only viewpoint. It is easy to forget that other people have completely different experiences and needs. This is a great reminder. <3

  4. Makes me think of attachment theories…. anxious, avoidant, and secure. For my personal experience and the experience of my son and what he is personally dealing with.

    Great insight for adoptive parents struggling with understanding.

  5. There are some wonderful gems in here. I plan to use some of this with families struggling to see each other’s perspectives as they build relationships.

  6. Love this empathy exercise! Stepping away from your own perspective and truly trying on a different one in these emotionally charged relationships is so powerful. I love how empathetic you are and your message of support and exploration, not shame. Embracing the discomfort to open up to new possibilities. ❤️

  7. You gave great advice, and I love how you force us to look through different lens.

    I was struck with this thought while reading her question: replace birthmother with another family member. Would she say a grandmother asking for pictures once a week was too much work? Asking for an update once a month too much work? The answer may be yes, which makes her consistent. But if the answer is no, it may also raise the question of why the work of interacting with this family member is different from other family members? I mean, time-wise. It feels like we’re missing information.

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