Five Things To Think About Before Searching for Your Child’s Birth Mother

Every child and every family is unique.  The decision to search for a birth mother is a big one and no adoptive parent that I have ever met takes it lightly.  Here are a few things to think about to help you decide what is right for your family.

Is Your Child Asking about his Birth Family?

I’ve worked with adoptive families who tell me that their adopted son or daughter began asking about his birth family as soon as he or she could talk.  I’m sure how open a family has been to the subject of adoption may play a role, but I also believe that each kid is different and processes their adoption differently.  My own daughter, with whom I had always talked openly about her birth mother M., never really asked about where she was or why she wasn’t with her. If your child has lots of questions about her birth family then that could be a good reason to search.  But even if not, many parents decide to search for their own reasons, not the least of being gathering information about the birth family so they will have it when their child does start to ask.

Your Philosophy on the Birth Family's Role in your Family’s Life

I’ve often been confused by adoptive parents who spend hundreds of dollars on a birth mother search and then after receiving the search report never reach out to the family again.  These families are few and far between and I’m sure they have their reasons, but it is difficult for a searcher to get calls from a birth family asking for news of the adoptive family and having to say they have not been heard from since the search.  

In my personal case, I feel such love and compassion for M. that I can’t imagine not keeping in touch with her and having her in our lives.  But I do understand not all adoptive families feel that way and relationships with birth families (as with all families) can be messy.

Before undertaking a search, give some thought to what you want your relationship with the birth family to look like after a successful search.  If you have reasons for not wanting to maintain contact after the search, then letting your searcher know this upfront will allow her to set the birth family’s expectations.

You were told the birth mother did not want contact

If your attorney or adoption agency told you somewhere along the line that your child’s birth mother did not want contact - I would not take this information at face value.  Adoptive parents were often told this by adoption attorneys and agencies for a variety of reasons.  Maybe they did not want the responsibility or bother of being an ongoing go-between, perhaps they did not have the means to keep the two sets of parents in contact given the language and cultural differences involved, or maybe they believed it was in no one’s best interest to keep open lines of communication.  Whatever the reasons, chances are, years later, the birth mother will welcome receiving news of the child she placed for adoption.  In hundreds of search cases (many where the adoptive parent was told the birth mother did not want contact)  I can think of none where the birth mother was not glad to hear about her child.  Of course, there are birth mothers who have kept the adoption secret for years and are not able to be in contact with adoptive families for fear of having the secret known.  But even these mothers are relieved, happy and excited to be told the child they thought they’d never hear from is safe, well and loved.

Your willingness to be open to whatever you may find

We all know intellectually that our children’s birth mothers had to have been in dire straits in order to even think about placing them for adoption.  But often the messy realities can still be a shock.  And after we come to terms with the facts, we need to figure out how to age-appropriately share what we have learned with our children in a way that will not cause them further pain.  If you are wondering what those facts might be, here are some situations we have come across:  The child was a product of rape or infidelity, the birth mother hid her pregnancy or told family and neighbors the baby died and no one in her family knows the truth,  the adoption decision was made for her by her partner and not something she wanted,  there were children born before and after the adopted child that are still with the birth mother for reasons we may never fully understand, the birth mother was a prostitute at the time the child was conceived,  the family lives in such extreme poverty that the children can’t go to school because they are too hungry to concentrate on their studies.

Do you believe this is a decision best left for your child to make?

While I believe as adoptive parents we have the right (and responsibility) to make decisions on behalf or our children which we believe to be in their best interest, I also recognize there is a camp (which includes some adoptees) who believe differently. This group holds that since adopted children had no say in their adoptions, they should be given the say in the decision to search.  My personal belief is that by the time a child is mature enough to make this decision it may be too late and many years lost in which the child could have had information which would make her more comfortable in her own skin.  This is something each adoptive parent needs to think about and decide what feels right to them.

If you have already searched let me know if there are other considerations you felt were important before making the decision to search or things which you wished you’d been better prepared for after the search.  If you haven’t yet searched let me know if there are other concerns you have.

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