Tough Conversations with A Birth Mom, Part 3

Help: How to Talk to a Birth Mother?

Letter Writer: Thanks for your previous help in understanding Bianca when she constantly wants pictures of Charlie and when she cancels our visits. We are taking your advice but are still struggling to build a relationship with our son’s birth mom. One thing that has been hard in relating with Bianca is that most every attempt to connect with her outside of Charlie is met with silence or a quick response.

For example, if I text her pictures of Charlie letting her know that I’ve been thinking of her, she’ll respond with a thank you or how Charlie looks like her. But when I try to continue the conversation (ask her how she’s doing, if she had a good birthday, etc) she either stops responding or simply says “I’m good,” and the conversation ends there.

I’m sure there are triggers I’m not seeing, but it’s hard to not feel like Bianca sees us as only as a vessel to get pictures or information about Charlie. She doesn’t show much interest in us or our family (I probably shouldn’t expect her to), but that does make it hard to know her intentions in all the sharing on social media. If I actually knew her better, it might be easier to not be so alarmed.

Do you have any ideas for how to approach the conversation of not sharing images on social media? I’ve never actually asked her to not share them before, so bringing it up would be for the first time. Should I bring up the fact that I found her account and saw the images she’s shared? Should I make a blanket statement of “hey I know we’ve never talked about this before, but please don’t share these images of Charlie online for his protection?”

— Carla

how to talk to a birth mother when she won't engage with you

Helping Your Son Integrate the Split of Adoption

Carla, I commend you for working so hard to make a connection with Bianca, even though you have fears about doing so. You are willing to search within yourself for your own part in the discomfort, and you are trying to make the unknown known so you can offer Charlie what he needs to integrate his identity — both his biology (first parents) and his biography (you and his dad).

4 Tips for Building a Relationship with a Birth Mom

Sometimes overtures to build a relationship with another person are rejected, and rejection is painful! The rejection may have something to do with us, and it may have nothing to do with us — or perhaps the answer lies somewhere in between. Here are four ideas I’ve found helpful, thanks to many wise teachers and therapists.

Drop Expectations & Feel Safe

1. Drop your expectations completely. If Bianca responds, that’s a plus. But if she doesn’t, don’t make it a minus.

Assume best intent; Bianca is most likely doing the best she can.

2. I know people are not animals, but try this. Imagine a skittish horse, maybe one that was rescued from a tough situation. This horse does not know how to trust. The horse has been let down. This horse expects everyone to let him down.

It’s possible that Bianca is used to being let down by people around her. Be open to that possibility while also not assuming it’s her story.

With that in mind, you can see how it might be that Bianca is slow to trust. She doesn’t trust you — yet. You cannot DO anything to earn her trust except for to feel safe over time. This means you continue checking in and chit-chatting, even if there is no encouragement from her as you do so.

This is a long haul. Stay connected because YOU know it’s the right thing to do, rather than because you get a payoff from it. You are doing this for Charlie, and for gratitude for Bianca for the very painful sacrifice she made that resulted in you being his mom.

Give Freely & Love Enduringly

3. Do not make Bianca “earn” your relationship or contact with you — she may not currently be capable of doing that. Just give. Give freely. Like water dripping on rock, a constant and steady giving of your attentiveness to her will eventually carve something deep.

4. The easiest way to feel safe to Bianca is to actually love her. See beyond her skittishness and rejection into what may be her very hurt heart. The loss of Charlie is possibly not the first big hurt she has had. Perhaps others have let her down and she’s waiting for you to do the same.

Just. Love. Her. Imagine Charlie in her place and love Bianca from that wide open heart space. Love is the only way through. Not loud love, but soft, gentle, inner, persistent love. Challenge yourself to love her as you love Charlie. Not because she deserves it (that would be conditional) but because she is a human who is important to you (unconditional).

Your Social Media Policy

As far as Bianca’s posts on Facebook, be clear within yourself what your objection to her sharing is. Is your rule about sharing photos of Charlie the same for Bianca as it is for others, like your parents, siblings, friends?

If not, try to figure out why. This is what I call removing the adoption charge. It helps you separate decisions you make that come with an adoption charge from decisions you make that don’t have one.

The Social Media Conversation

If you are requesting that no one post photos of Charlie online for his protection, then yes, your statement above would work as a start. Then communicate why your policy is good for Charlie. Because Bianca already wants the best for her son, she may be open to complying when she hears your reasons and that you’re treating her the same way you’re treating your inner circle. I might say something like this:

Hello, Bianca. I found your other account on Facebook (thanks, Facebook suggestions!) and it’s good to be able to keep up with you. We love seeing [mention something you saw on her wall to show you see her and value her.]

Hey, I noticed you were posting pictures of Charlie and I wanted to fill you in where we are with that. Maybe you have noticed that we are not posting pictures of him, and let me tell you why.

We’d like to keep his digital footprint really small because we don’t know where technology may go as he grows up and we want him to be able to make some of those big decisions himself when he is ready. So for now, we are doing what we can to preserve his privacy.

We know that you want the best for him too, so we are asking you, as a member of our extended family, to post only non-identifying pictures. Do you have any questions about that? Just let me know. I’d love to chat with you about that and anything else.

Open Open

Best wishes on this journey of a lifetime, Carla. Remember to keep Charlie’s well-being at the center of your decisions and keep checking your motivations for any trace of your own wounds and insecurities. I hope you have new ideas how to talk to a birth mother in ways she can hear.

May Bianca one day be open to your overtures as you remain open to her presence in your lives.

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 your own open adoption question for consideration.
Lori Holden's book cover

Lori Holden, mom of a teen son and a teen daughter, writes 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. Catch episodes of Adoption: The Long View wherever you get your podcasts.

Lori was honored as an Angel in Adoption® in 2018 by the Congressional Coalition of Adoption Institute.

4 thoughts on “Tough Conversations with A Birth Mom, Part 3”

  1. We had to unfriend my 5 year old’s birthmom because she posted inappropriate things and we are friends with her now through texting and video chat only. She lives very far away now.
    My 9 year old’s birthmom lied about us because we wouldn’t do the exact number of visits she wanted. We have zero communication with her.
    My advice is focus on your child(ren) and pay attention to any questions they have about adoption as they get older. Contact your adoption agency if you need to for support. Your child(ren) will be fine because they have two wonderful parents who will always be there to help. 🙂

    1. Good advice to focus on your children.

      And you’re right that boundaries are necessary in all relationships. We can keep healthy boundaries as long as we are doing as much evaluating our own motivations as we are the other person’s behavior.

      Your children will benefit when they know they can talk with their parents about anything and everything (including birth parents and without judgment). I’m glad you mentioned always being there for them.

  2. I agree that boundaries are necessary, no matter the relationship. What I took away from reading this is recognizing that everyone is doing the best they can in life, but often those who are behaving in ways we don’t like are doing so due to extended circumstances and life patterns that usually are generational. We don’t know what messages Bianca is getting from her own family about Charlie and how she should be interacting with these parents, which could be coloring her interactions. Additionally, it’s very likely Bianca isn’t getting the support she needs to process this adoption.

    I agree with Lori about proceeding with openness. It doesn’t mean allowing Bianca to walk all over you and your family and limiting contact may be necessary for a time, but assuming that Bianca is behaving in a manner solely to hurt the parents also assumes that there’s nothing else impacting her reactions and behavior.

  3. I love your point about conditional and unconditional love. How many of us decide people don’t deserve our love, without thinking that why they might act the way they do, or without thinking what they mean to us in our life?

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