Birth Parent

Questions to Ask Yourself When Considering a Birth Parent Search

During our late teens and early twenties, a main developmental task is to establish our identity while simultaneously seeking independence from our family. In other words, to figure out who we are becoming, we need to know where we came from so that we can have something to actually separate from. For adoptees, who have limited information about their origin, this is often the time when there is an increase in wondering and seeking out more information about birth family—Questions like: What makes me unique? What about my genetic history? How am I similar and different from my birth and adoptive family? Where do I fit and belong? These are all important, valuable questions. Some adoptees move through this stage comfortably by exploring these search-related questions on their own without pursuing contact with birth relatives or an actual reunion. Yet for others, these curiosities lead to a strong desire for an active search and the hope of making a connection with birth relatives.   

If you are in this age group, here are a few questions to ask yourself that may help you decide if this is a good time to pursue a search.

1.     Do I have the support in my life to embark on a search right now, or should I build my community first? 

Having a solid support system of trusted people who are accessible to you is critical during your search. Consider the kind of help that you may need and then think carefully about who in your circle of friends, family, and professionals can be there for you. Many adoptees find that well-meaning friends and family have trouble understanding what they need, and that having the support of other adoptees makes all the difference. As you explore the answers to this question, you may consider working with a coach or therapist who specializes in adoption-related concerns. Joining an adoption community or support group can also offer a network of people who have been where you are and can share their search experiences.  

2.     How will searching impact my relationship with my parents?  

This is a tricky thing to talk about. However, overlooking it could lead to bigger troubles. Consider how much or little you want to involve your parents in your search process and be proactive in how you approach this so that you are in the driver’s seat. As a young adult, it is recommended that this process be on your terms—but you need to know what you want in order for this to happen. Take the time you need to explore and define what is right for you. If not, you may be swayed by other people’s point of view, no matter how well meaning. It’s important for you to feel “in control” of the process—so you can take responsibility for the outcome as well as feel confident that you are making the right decisions. These in-between years can be a confusing phase of life because parents have often been the stewards of the child’s adoption information. As you transition to adulthood, you can learn to own your story. There are often growing pains here—parents may need some help letting go while you may need some encouragement and support to take the lead. Being ready to deal with your parent’s feelings about a birth parent search is an important part of the decision-making process. This can be hard for anyone, and even harder for a young adult who is still “in the nest.”  Bottom line is, recognize that searching affects your whole family system—especially your parents and consider this in the timing of your search.    

3.     Do I have the time and emotional bandwidth to dedicate to a search?  

Although everyone’s search experience is different, most would agree that the experience took them on an emotional roller coaster that, regardless of the preparation, was difficult to predict. Many of our coaching clients initially reached out because they were unprepared for the emotions that came up as well as the impact it had on their lives. This is also true for people who feel they had very positive experiences. With this in mind, consider what else is happening in your life and try not to overlap the active part of your search with other weighty decisions or commitments that require significant energy (application deadlines, school exams, new job, or stressful travel, etc...) Once you actively engage in the search process, it can take on a life of its own and the feelings that come with this are hard to anticipate and prepare for. As positive as your experience may be, it is likely to be consuming and distracting for a period of time.  

In closing, keep in mind that your search doesn’t have to be conducted all at once. Searching can happen in phases over a period of months or years. Consider both internal and external factors that may be influencing you and set a pace that is right for you. If there is no pressure to move quickly, it is recommended that you give yourself time to think things through. Seek the support of a trusted friend or advisor who can support you to clarify what outcome you hope to achieve, as well as how you will manage both the joys and sorrows that may arise. 

Spence-Chapin’s coaching and counseling services can support you at every phase of the birth parent search process.  Contact us at 646-539-2167 or postadoptionservices@spence-chapin.org to schedule an initial consultation.

Domestic Special Needs Adoption at Spence-Chapin: Who Chooses the Adoptive Family?

Families often have questions about what the matching process is like in our Domestic Special Needs Adoption Program. Similar to Spence-Chapin’s Domestic Infant Adoption Program, the matching process in our Domestic Special Needs Program is driven by birth family whenever possible.

Spence-Chapin’s Domestic Special Needs Adoption Program (formerly called ASAP – A Special Adoption Program) was created when parents struggling with an unexpected diagnosis for their child came to us needing support. Since creating this unique program in 1995, we have found over 500 loving adoptive families for children with special medical needs, and we continue to work hard at expanding the benefits of adoption to more medically-fragile children and the prospective adoptive parents who want to love them.

The Spence-Chapin Way

For both our Special Needs and Domestic Adoption Programs, our counselors provide free, confidential, unbiased and culturally-sensitive options counseling for parents in crisis. Our goal is to support these families in understanding all their options and rights as well as the resources available, so they can be empowered to make informed decisions and plans for their child. This includes connecting families to early intervention services, Social Security Income (SSI), and finding additional resources to parent a child who is medically fragile.

For birth parents choosing adoption, we are uniquely qualified to support and guide them through the adoption planning process. Our Special Needs Adoption Program is one of the only places in NY and NJ that has expertise to support birth families and find loving adoptive families for medically-fragile infants. Sometimes we know prenatally that a baby will have a special need, other times we are contacted after the birth of the baby. We know that all birth parents have a great deal of love for their baby and want to make a plan that they feel is best for their child. When a child is born with a special needs, we look for adoptive families registered in our Special Needs Adoption Program.

Birth Parent Perspective: Watch Melissa tell her story about how Spence-Chapin helped her through a difficult time.

Ideally, birth parents can review profiles from multiple adoptive families. Some children have very severe medical conditions and it may be challenging to find multiple families for every child. When looking for prospective adoptive families, we network with other special needs organizations and advocates around the country to find supportive and loving families for children with diverse medical needs.

Additionally, some families have requests about the adoptive family, such as one or two-parent household, religious, racial, or ethnic preferences. In some cases, a birth parent may be looking for families that reflect their own heritage or cultural background. This means that not all families who are open to adopting a child may be profiled with birth parents. If a preference is known, we will often write it in the child’s online profile. Since the children are ready to be adopted immediately, birth parents are only presented with profiles of families that meet their preferences and have a current home study written by a social worker at an accredited agency in the family’s state.

Sometimes we already have adoptive families who have pre-registered with SC who can be considered. Other times we need more options for the birth family and are looking for more prospective adoptive families. Not all waiting children are photo listed on our website. It is the birth parent’s choice if their child’s photo and/or background information is shared online and each parent makes a choice that feels comfortable for them.

Because the children have special medical needs, it is important to know how and why a prospective adoptive family feels prepared to parent a child with significant medical needs. Eligibility is very flexible; we see all types of families: people who are not yet parents as well as parents of 8 or 10 children, families who live in urban, suburban, and rural areas throughout the U.S., families of different races and ethnicities, and parents of different ages. Families living in any state are eligible to apply to adopt. Overall, we are looking for loving families who are prepared and excited to adopt a child with special medical needs! Spence-Chapin supports open adoption and is seeking adoptive parents who are open to ongoing contact with their child’s birth parents, often in the form of phone calls, video chat, letters, emails, visits, and texts.

Ultimately, birth parents select an adoptive family by reviewing adoptive family profiles with their social workers. Once they have narrowed their choice to one family they would like to meet, a match meeting is held between the birth and adoptive parents with their social workers.

Birth Parent Perspective: Hear Zeke’s birth parents speak about their experience working with Spence-Chapin to make an adoption plan for their son. Zeke’s story was featured at the Spence-Chapin Gala in 2017. Learn more about his story here.

Birth Parent Perspective: Watch Scott talk about the unknowns he faced when his third child was diagnosed with Down syndrome prenatally and how he and his partner explored adoption and ultimately chose to parent their daughter.

To learn more about becoming a prospective adoptive parent through our Special Needs Adoption Program, read our Special Needs FAQ on our blog! You can also contact us at 212-400-8150 or asap@spence-chapin.org.

If you are a birth parent considering making an adoption plan, you can contact us 24/7 for free, confidential and unbiased options counseling: Call 1-800-321-LOVE or Text: 646-306-2586.

Things Never to Say to a Birth Mom

Written and Shared with Permission by Terri Rimmer

Why don’t you have another one (baby) and keep it?
You just didn’t have the confidence to be a mom.
Can I take the baby?
Give me the baby.
I’ll raise the baby.
I have a relative who’ll take the baby.
You mean you don’t want it?
So, you just don’t want to keep it?
That’s really cold.
You’re a cold-hearted person.
So, you’re just going to give it up, just like that?
Why do you care if the baby’s okay? You’re not keeping it?
Why’d you name the baby? They’re just going to rename it anyway.
I’d try to get the baby back.
You can always change your mind back, right?
Why are you doing this?
Do you just not want kids?
Do you just not like kids?
You know you can sell your baby on the black market?
You can get on welfare.
You can afford it.
I’m not a fan of open adoptions.
It’s time to move on with your life.
You’ll think about your daughter one day maybe.
That’s a selfish decision.
You can make it.
I’ll give the baby a good home.
Are you going to have any more kids?
You love this child. You should have another one (you shouldn’t have placed her for adoption).
You should have faith in God and try to be a mom anyway.

Share Your Story: Birth Parent Perspectives

Listen to Aline, Latoya, Mariah, Melissa, and Scott share their stories about making a plan for their child with the support of Spence-Chapin. Spence-Chapin provides free, confidential, and unbiased options counseling for pregnant women & biological parents.

Aline's Story: Birth Parent Perspectives - Watch Aline talk about the comfort she received from her Interim Care Provider.

https://youtu.be/7k_KfKsYing

 

Latoya's Story: Birth Parent Perspectives - Watch Latoya talk about finding post-adoption support from Spence-Chapin.

https://youtu.be/Aep_Ba1vSg4

 

Mariah's Story: Birth Parent Perspectives - Watch Mariah talk about why she chose open adoption.

https://youtu.be/_rCWzmbO0Ps

 

Melissa's Story: Birth Parent Perspectives - Watch Melissa tell her story about how Spence-Chapin helped her through a difficult time.

https://youtu.be/razlsWn8be8

 

Scott's Story - Watch Scott tell his family's story about how Spence-Chapin helped them find hope.

https://youtu.be/383NfwauWIw

Biological Parent

Call us 24/7 at 1-800-321-LOVE. Contact the writer Lucy Shaw at lshaw@spence-chapin.org.

Latoya's Story

Latoya Sinclair is a birth parent who placed her son for adoption without the help of Spence-Chapin. Five years later, she found Spence-Chapin's support group and has become an advocate for other birth mothers. She wanted to share her story publicly and to help other women in her situation get the support and respect they deserve. In 2005, at 15 years old, Latoya became pregnant. “I was on the track team, just an average teen.” She remembers her cousin having dreams about fish, which in Caribbean culture means someone is pregnant. She didn’t think it could be her, but her cousin convinced her to stop at the hospital while they were on the way to the supermarket. When the doctor told her she was 2 weeks pregnant, “I kind of had a blank moment,” she describes. “I didn’t really have a reaction until the next day.”

Latoya recalls telling the biological father, “He was older than I was and had other relationships. So I thought it was something more than it was.” He wanted Latoya to have an abortion. At the time, it would have cost her 700 dollars. But when the time came to do it, he denied the baby was his and refused to help. “He just left me in the dark, by myself,” Latoya says.

Latoya lived with her aunt and uncle at the time and they did not want Latoya to raise a child in their house, with her being so young and the biological father being much older. Latoya’s aunt took her to see the family obstetrician and sought her advice. The doctor mentioned that she was seeing a couple who were unable to get pregnant and wanted to adopt. Latoya’s aunt arranged for a brief meeting with the couple. In the meeting, Latoya asked if she would be able to have an open adoption and see her child, and the couple said no. Latoya decided she did not want them to adopt her baby.

Latoya’s pregnancy was a very lonely time. None of the adults in her life understood what she was going through or how to help her. She began to withdraw at home and focus her attention and energy on being an excellent student. “I would go to the doctor by myself and see everyone with their boyfriends or husbands and get very sad,” recalls Latoya tearing up a little.

Due to the age difference with the biological father, Latoya had to testify in a trial against the biological father, for statutory rape. At the end of her pregnancy Latoya decided to go back to planning with the couple she met through her doctor because she felt that she had no other choice. She didn’t know she could turn to a licensed adoption agency to help her understand her rights and options in this critical time.

After a difficult 23-hour labor, Latoya delivered her son. She was disappointed that she wasn’t the first person to hold him and felt a range of emotions while in the hospital. She was happy to have bonded with her baby in hospital, and the adoptive parents would visit often.

The year after the placement was very difficult for Latoya. “People expect you to just go on with your life,” she said, “like you didn’t just have a human being inside you.” She started her Junior year of high school without the emotional support she needed. She was depressed but her family just kept telling her to “be strong”.

While the adoptive parents did not agree to on-going contact with Latoya, they did end up sending a photo and letter through the doctor a year after he was born. Receiving this photo increased Latoya’s desire to connect with the adoptive parents and remain in contact with her son. But this has been difficult for Latoya to do on her own, not knowing how to navigate and strengthen a relationship that was never clear to her when it started. Her son is now 9, and she has seen pictures and videos of him and exchanges a few text messages with his adoptive parents once or twice a year.

Latoya’s story is still unfolding. She has finished college and has a career in government helping others that she enjoys. She continues to strive for the relationship she deserves with her son and his adoptive family.

Endnote: As an adoption agency, we at Spence-Chapin are here to support women like Latoya and promote their voices as part of the adoption discourse. If Spence-Chapin had been involved when Latoya was pregnant, she would have received options counseling, been counseled on her rights to open adoption, and provided with an attorney at no cost. She would also have been able to choose families that wanted open adoption. Unfortunately, Latoya only found Spence-Chapin five years after she placed her son for adoption and did not have the support of an adoption professional when needed it most. But we are inspired by her strength and commitment to share her story and be a role model for others.

Read Latoya's interview with SC staff here or watch Latoya describe what would've been different if she made an adoption plan with Spence-Chapin, below.

If you have a friend, family member or client in need of options counseling, we can help. Please call us 24/7 at 1-800-321-LOVE. Contact the writer Lucy Shaw at lshaw@spence-chapin.org

NEWS from Our Outreach Team!

family-icon Dear reader, We just created a new FAQ for biological parents. Read it here first!

Why should I consider adoption?

This is a very personal choice and there are many reasons people have considered making an adoption plan for their child. Many say it’s because they aren’t ready or able to fully parent a child at this time, but want to choose a loving family and stay connected to their child. Others say they cannot provide the special care their child will need and want to find them a family who can. Others feel they will lose their parental rights, and would rather choose an adoptive family and maintain contact with their child.

What are the benefits of open adoption?

Open adoption is an ongoing relationship between the adoptive family and the birth family. You can decide what this relationship looks like – it may include visits, letters, emails, photos, and phone calls. Birth parents who have chosen open adoption say they couldn’t imagine it any other way. They say that being able to choose and meet the adoptive family and maintain contact is the main reason they chose adoption. They say that being able to see their child grow up in a happy, loving family is what gives them peace of mind. In addition, they say they are happy their child will understand and know their birth parents and their birth story.

How can Spence-Chapin help me with this decision?

You have the right to confidential counseling before making your decision. Every woman or couple we work with is offered FREE options counseling and is assigned their own social worker who is an experienced professional. They will advocate for you in making the decision that feels most right to you. The social worker will answer all your questions and connect you to resources, including health insurance, prenatal care, etc. We can help you fully consider all of your options and advise you on all aspects of making an adoption plan, including open adoption and your legal rights. We respect your decisions and you will never be pressured by us to make an adoption plan.

Why should I trust Spence-Chapin?

At Spence-Chapin, we take a lot of care in supporting and advocating for you. We are a non-profit organization with over 100 years of experience finding loving families for children who need them and we are here to support you throughout your journey. We believe in free, unbiased and confidential support for women and couples making this decision, which is why we have separate and robust processes for working with biological parents and adoptive parents. Our social workers are available for free, unbiased, confidential options counseling in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. Those we work with say they appreciate our support and did not feel pressured. In fact, the majority of expectant and biological parents who meet with Spence-Chapin find the resources and support to parent.

What if I want to keep my decision confidential?

Spence-Chapin will respect your right to confidentiality in making this decision. We take your privacy and safety very seriously. If you choose closed adoption and do not want contact after an adoption, Spence-Chapin will respect your rights as well.

What types of people are looking to adopt?

Spence-Chapin has all types of prospective adoptive parents waiting to adopt. They vary in age, background, family structure, religion, race, etc. Some are big families, some are small. Some live in the city, some live in the suburbs. They all are eager to adopt and provide a loving family to a child. You will be able to meet and connect with the people you select. Adoptive parents registered with Spence-Chapin have been screened by our social workers and prepared for open adoption.

Can I hear from other people you’ve worked with?

Yes, hear biological parent perspectives on our youtube page.

Speak to an options counselor Call 24/7: 1-800-321-LOVE Text: 646-306-2586 Email: helpline@spence-chapin.org

Email the writer: lshaw@spence-chapin.org blog post authorBiological Parent 

Our 15th Annual Birth Mothers' Gathering

All of us, birth moms, first moms, those of us pushed to relinquish, or those having more choice but nevertheless feeling there was no other way out, those in closed, semi-closed, or open adoptions, those in reunion, those who aren’t or can’t be — we know we are mothers. We know we have been unbearably strong. We may need to whisper it first to ourselves, but then we can proclaim it to the universe and know we are heard. Just don’t take anyone or time itself for granted.

Reflecting on Birth Parents and Placing a Child in Adoption

As a social worker in the International Department at Spence-Chapin, I’ve been enlightened by so many aspects of adoption: the way hearts of adoptive parents can break, heal, stretch, and grow; the tenacious resiliency of children; and the conflicted governments who don’t always recognize the fate they hold in their hands. But, I had not, amazingly, ever met birth parents in the process of placing their child in adoption. When Leslie Nobel, my colleague from the Birth Parent Department, asked me to be a Russian translator for a couple who were making an adoption plan for their son, I agreed with great distress. I was very willing to assist the family, but my first generation immigrant Russian had been rusting away in a corner while I moved ahead with my life. I didn’t even know how to say “adoption” and had to immediately call my mother for help: “adocharyt” (to make one a daughter, docha means daughter) or “asinovyt” (to make one a son; sin means son).

Meeting Vlad and Maria was a surprising experience.  They are extremely attractive and look like they could be a pair of figure skaters. In the United States on a work visa when Maria gave birth,  they had intended to parent their child. I learned that the country in which they reside could not possibly address their son’s special needs, and he would be exposed to a difficult and unfulfilling life.  They visited with their baby, cried often at the loss of not being able to raise him, but knew that adoption was the right choice.  I sat through several meetings with them, tripping my way over the language that was once my mother tongue.  I’ve often wondered, about the birth parents of our kids born overseas.  The adoption process cloaks the identities of birth parents, gives us snippets of information from which we can only create scenarios; Due simply to circumstances of timing and geography, I got to know this couple. Although it’s not entirely fair, I couldn’t help imagining Maria and Vlad’s story layered onto the stories of all the children I have helped to place.  This quiet, unassuming couple became the large voice of silent international birth parents.  As we spoke, I witnessed many of the same emotions as I do with adoptees and adoptive parents — regret, loss, confusion, relief and hope.

This all culminated with the honor of attending the child’s placement, and watching the sometimes awkward and sometimes heart-warming moments between the two families.  At feeding time, there was confusion as to who would give the bottle—each mother was trying to accommodate the other.  I had to repress tears when the adoptive mom gave Maria a beautiful necklace holding their son’s birthstone.  I had to repress laughter as the dads tried calling each others’ cell phones so they could program the numbers.  The reception was lousy, and ultimately they both ended up side-by-side at the window, phones high up overhead, trying to connect the two phones that were inches apart.  Both wives were cracking up and taking pictures.

Soon, it was time to go and a heavier mood took over. Talk of Skyping and nearest airports changed to everyone admiring the baby, and finally, handing him to his birth parents for goodbyes. There were tears, of course, but there were also smiles. We walked out to the elevator and Vlad and Maria left to grieve in private.

That day, my adoption world both grew and shrank. It grew because I was given the opportunity to have a new and invaluable experience, and shrank because the differences between international and domestic adoption are not so stark as I had believed them to be. Yes, how the adoption happens is different, but in many ways it is just a matter of geography. No matter where in the world a child who needs a family is born, all adoptions have the same players. They form what we in the adoption world call the triad – the birth family, the child, and the adoptive family.  I learned that when the birth parent piece is missing from the picture, it is our responsibility to put it back into its rightful place.

Supporting Women and Families Across the Pregnancy Spectrum

Cori Lohser, Spence-Chapin’s Community Advocacy and Outreach Program Manager, discusses Building Connections Across the Pregnancy Spectrum hosted by the Adoption Access Network (AAN) Ok, stop me if you’ve heard this one: “A community health worker, an adoption professional and a Planned Parenthood social worker all walk into a conference room…” This isn’t actually the beginning of a joke, but the scenario at an incredibly successful conference hosted on November 5 by the Adoption Access Network, a project of Spence-Chapin. We welcomed close to 100 participants representing all points along the pregnancy services spectrum, from adoption to abortion to prenatal care to labor and delivery.

Building Connections Across the Pregnancy Spectrum, was envisioned by our Outreach and Advocacy Team as a productive conference for skill-building, conversation and networking for professionals across the country who work with pregnant women and families making decisions about pregnancy and parenting. It was also the first opportunity to highlight the exciting work of our Adoption Access Network to a larger group of professionals.

Planning for the conference began nearly a year ago, and grew out of our sense (shared by Planned Parenthood and the independent clinics that we work closely with through the Network) that individual providers working in the fields of adoption, abortion and parenting rarely get an opportunity to connect and share experiences with their counterparts working in other fields. In the course of our work on the Adoption Access Network, we’ve heard from professionals time and again that they or their staff feel uncertain about the alternate options available to the women they serve. They also feel ill-prepared to counsel patients regarding these options or to offer additional resources and referrals for those who want to explore a particular option more fully.

This in fact was the impetus for Spence-Chapin’s launching the Adoption Access Network close to two years ago. We knew there was a real need for information and training amongst abortion and family planning providers about adoption, as well as a real shortage of pro-choice adoption agencies to which they could feel comfortable making referrals. The work of the Network therefore centers around giving these professionals the tools and resources necessary to effectively integrate the adoption option into their practice. And, it mobilizes other like-minded adoption resources around the country who can partner with their local health centers. The Adoption Access Network has been extraordinarily well-received and gained the attention of policy makers, the media and other stakeholders because it recognizes a simple yet critical fact: the decision to terminate a pregnancy, place for adoption or parent are all reproductive choices; and all choices to which women have the right to unbiased access.

The November conference was a perfect representation of this shared ideal. It was facilitated by Grayson Dempsey, founder of Backline (a hotline for women needing support around pregnancy decisions) and a renowned speaker on options counseling. Participants began by engaging in a values clarification exercise in which they were asked to explore their own beliefs and biases around various pregnancy options. They then went on to discuss an array of topics including the difficult questions posed by clients.There was a fascinating brainstorming session in which participants described their vision of a world in which pregnant and parenting women and families are fully supported.

As one conference attendee put it, “Today acted as a catalyst to get my brain going to creatively integrate the concept of the pregnancy spectrum (in my work with patients). Thank you for taking the time to organize this conference. It was invigorating and educational.”

Finding Birth Family Online

There was an excellent feature on ABC News on June 25th about how Facebook is impacting the world of adoptive and birth families. As I pointed out in my article in Adoptive Families magazine on the same topic, individuals now have access to each other without the support or preparation that can be so helpful in negotiating these new relationships. While openness is a wonderful opportunity for all members of the adoption triad to know each other and understand their shared path, relationships are never easy and often fraught with emotional landmines. Teenagers are particularly prone to jumping in rather than slowly building these relationships. Parents need to keep communication going about what their kids are feeling and wanting to do in relationship to their birth family.