Missing Pieces
Missing Pieces by Lisa Ritter Starr

Preparations for a Family

by Lisa Ritter Starr

Part 3: The "Dear Birthmother" Letter

Part One of this series discusses the preliminary actions to take when considering adoption as a way to start a family, while Part Two examines the process of applying to an adoption agency.

When a couple applies to an adoption agency, they must submit to an extensive process. This includes providing information on finances, personal history, and emotional preparedness, as well as a visit by a social worker to complete the homestudy portion of the application. Some agencies, as well as some lawyer-instigated adoptions, also require a special letter to appeal to birth parents, known commonly as the "Dear Birthmother" letter.

A "Dear Birthmother" letter is like an extended form of a newspaper ad that some couples submit when seeking a child. However, it is much more than a promise to love and provide for a child. The letter should show a picture, introduce the couple's concept of family, and also include some personal background, such as the type of adoption wanted, along with anything else they'd like to say to the birth parents.

What Family and Adoption Mean to You

Many of us can't imagine growing up any way other than we were raised, but it's important to remember that the phrase "family values" does not mean the same thing to everyone. You will need to elaborate on yours in your letter, so that the birth parents have a clear idea about your unique dream of a family. How many children do you have, or want to have? How many siblings did you grow up with? Did your parents divorce? Do you have step-family? Are your pets treated like family? Do you visit with cousins, aunts, and uncles often? How often?

It can't hurt to introduce your experience with adoption. There are a lot of questions you can anticipate and answer in your letter, but it is not necessary to go into depth. Is anyone in your family adopted? Do you have friends who have adopted children, or who were adopted themselves? How open do you envision this adoption to be? Whatever your experience, choose the most significant piece of information and mention it briefly. If nothing else, it lets the birth parents know that you can discuss the subject openly.

Introducing Yourself

A "Dear Birthmother" letter is relatively short - usually just one or two pages - but you can include quick, thoughtful details that reveal a lot about yourselves. One example mentioned earlier was from the letter my daughter's adoptive parents wrote. The letter stated that the wife of the couple practiced "meditative dishwashing." The phrase was meaningful to me because it implied a peaceful, contemplative nature that I am attracted to. Because of it, I felt that these were people with whom I could work, create, and most likely be good friends.

To the Birth Mother and Birth Father

It is so important not to forget this part of the letter. In fact, many prospective adoptive couples begin their letters with a word to the birth parents as an indication of respect. After all, the baby is still a part of the birth mother, and there is still the possibility that the woman will change her mind about the adoption. Most birth mothers go through with it in the end, and most want the prospective adoptive parents to anticipate happily the birth of her child. A couple certainly may feel a connection to the child before the birth; however, a delicate balance must be found between preparing for and depending on the adoption.

Though it can hardly be helped entirely, it can be upsetting to be pregnant and hear other people speak about your child as theirs. While a woman is carrying a child, the child is hers. Or better yet, you can avoid possessives like "mine" and "yours" altogether. Be considerate of the fact that no adoption agreement can be made until after the baby is born. Consider, too, that the pregnancy may be the birth mother's only time alone with her child. Ironically, it is this very experience that becomes vital to the satisfaction of most birth mothers. Having time to herself with her baby tends to help a birth mother let go of the mother role. Because she has experienced a taste of motherhood, she becomes even more comfortable with her decision.

This may take a great deal of trust, but so do many things in life. One day, you will have to trust your child to do many things on his own, from spending the night at a friend's, to taking the car for the first time, to going off to school. Until she signs the adoption contract, the birth mother has to be trusted to do the right thing for both her child and herself - whatever the "best thing" may be.

Birth parents have an important and very tough role. Acknowledging this in a "Dear Birthmother" letter, and continuing to remember this throughout the adoption, can only enhance the adoption, your family, your lives, and your child's well-being.

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