The decision to establish a relationship with expectant parents who are making an adoption plan is a subject that can result in a heated debate. On one side, the argument is that creating a bond can hinder the expectant parents from making an unbiased decision when it comes time to terminate their parental rights. On the other hand, with the increasing popularity of open adoption, establishing this bond helps each set of parents feel comfortable about the lifelong relationship they will share.
I was naïve heading into adoption. I had no idea what to anticipate throughout the pregnancy. With our first match we met with the expectant mother with the agreement that I would come to the remainder of her prenatal visits. That never happened as she did not follow through on prenatal care. We exchanged texts through the pregnancy but never met together again. That match went on to result in a late-term adoption loss.
Our second match we worked closely with the expectant mother, Mama-A, throughout her pregnancy. I took her to each of her check-ups and we would spend time talking after each of her appointments. It worked out this way out of necessity as she did not have transportation to her appointments so I took her.
During the pregnancy I worried that the relationship that we were forming would make it difficult for Mama-A to make an impartial decision regarding terminating her rights. I did not want her to make a decision based on our emotions if she decided to parent. It was a conversation I had with her. I needed her to know that she did not owe us for working with her throughout her pregnancy.
The relationship went on to have a distinct advantage. In heading into that match we were still not comfortable having an open adoption with an ongoing relationship. The bond that we created enabled us to become at ease with her being an ongoing, active part of Turkey-Man’s life. Had we not had that rapport, I highly doubt we would have been open to the idea.
It was not until our third match that I witnessed the heated debate about developing a bond with expectant parents. In the match with Little-Flower’s birth parents we ran into a complication as her birth father is part Native American. I did not understand how the Indian Child Welfare Act worked so I posted questions on an adoption forum. I was completely unprepared for the reaction I received.
There were some harsh, outspoken, critical responses about the relationship we were developing with Little-Flower’s birth parents. I knew I had worried about the influence it would have on Turkey-Man’s birth mother, but I was not aware there were people who were so opposed to the idea. Some boiled down the bond to a form of cohersion, a word that is very powerful in the world of adoption. If a birth parent later claims that they were cohersed into signing off on their parental rights, the child will be removed from the adoptive parent’s home and placed back with their birth parent(s). It is something adoptive parents want to avoid any indication of.
We needed to form a bond with this third match so we could make sure it was the right match for us. We wanted to mimic the relationship we had with Turkey-Man’s birth mom. We wanted our second child to have an ongoing relationship with their birth family like he did. The only way to assess if a long-term bond was going to be sustainable was for us to establish it prior to the baby’s birth.
As an adoptive mom, I needed each birth mom to make the choice regarding adoption unhindered by our relationship. I struggled to make sure they knew that I respected their right to parent. I wanted them to understand that we would be okay if they made that choice instead of following through with adoption. In reassuring both Mama-A and Mama-D, I was also trying to set my mind to rest that they were making what they felt was the best decision.
Each family has to decide what is right for them. I fully understand the argument that the opposing camp makes. I, too, worried they were right that developing an attachment would make it too difficult for the expectant parents to turn away from the adoption plan. However, for us, making an open adoption plan depended on the bond we had with the expectant parents. It was imperative that we had the relationship in place before the births of our kids.
Like so many parenting arguments, both sides are correct. Yes, I would agree that the relationship may sway birth parents and that is not desirable. I also know that, like a marriage, open adoption requires a courting period. Obviously, it is good to know that it will be a sustainable relationship prior to the birth of the child.
The adoption triad is unlike any other relationship. The bond of a mutual child is life-long no matter how it looks. Supporting families to make the best decision for them is incredibly important. There are so many variables that there cannot be a blanket statement for what is the right thing to do.
So, is it ethical to form a connection with expectant parents? For some families, yes; for some families no!