The first open adoption visit can be very emotional. Everyone looks forward to it with excitement and some leave feeling let down. It’s important to plan the visit with sensitivity to everyone’s feelings. You should also take time to consider what you will do if emotions run high. Here are some suggestions to plan for a successful first open adoption visit.
Be sensitive to your birth mother’s feelings
Many adoptive parents think their birth mother will feel joy and relief upon seeing the baby for the first time after the adoption. In reality, this isn’t always the case. Remember that grief is at its highest for most during the first 6 to 8 weeks after birth. Baby’s first year is generally the hardest time for birth mothers. Most continue to experience varying levels of grief for the rest of their lives as they learn to cope. Here’s what you can do:
- Validate her feelings of grief by offering words and gestures of comfort
- Don’t expect her to hold or interact with the baby right away
- Offer to visit first without the baby and then bring the baby when she’s ready
- Give her the opportunity to feed the baby
- Bring other family members, if she wants, so she can see the baby with others
The goal is to show her that you have no expectations about how she will feel, and that you are ready to support and comfort her in the way that feels most natural. She should not feel pressured to feel anything in particular or to do anything she isn’t comfortable doing, like hold the baby.
Every birth mother is different, so don’t be surprised, too, if yours feels joy and relief to see her baby again.
Consider a park or other neutral place to meet
Always talk with your birth mother first to find out where she prefers to meet. Your birth mother might really appreciate being a part of the planning process.
Consider meeting in a neutral place. Meeting in a park or other neutral place tends to put everyone at ease. It creates just the right amount of distraction so everyone isn’t looking at each other wondering what will happen next. Parks are particularly nice if the child is older, or other kids who will be at the visit, and they need something to do. It also gives the birth mother the opportunity to interact, like pushing the child on a swing. This makes for great memory photos as well!
A restaurant can work well but isn’t ideal if the baby gets fussy. Many babies like the relative calm and openness of the outdoors and might actually be more calm in an outdoor environment. Fussy babies might also be pacified if you have a stroller and can go on a short walk.
Give your birth mother some private time with the baby. A neutral place shouldn’t be so public that the birth mother can’t have some private time.
Remember, too, that meeting at home might be the best option for everyone. Your birth mother might really appreciate seeing the baby’s room, and the home the child will grow up in. She might actually feel more confident about the adoption if she is able to imagine her child in the environment.
Decide who will be at the meeting and how long you plan to visit
Some birth mothers really appreciate meeting extended family at the first visit. This is especially true if family members provide regular childcare for the baby. Many adoptive parents and birth parents feel that this first meeting is a really private and intimate experience with their birth mother. In these cases, keeping it just between you can be really nice as well. Always talk with your birth mother first to see what she prefers, and be flexible in case she changes her mind about this at the last minute!
Many adoptive parents wonder how long to plan for the visit to last, especially if visiting from out of state. There are many things to consider when thinking about how long the visit will be. Your birth mother might be ready for the visit to end after an hour or so, even less. All depends on how comfortable she is feeling, and many are surprised at their reactions.
Most visits won’t last all day, even if you’re out of state. Inevitably, everyone will be emotionally exhausted and frequently will run out of things to talk about. Some birth mothers are satisfied with a very short visit of just seeing and holding the baby for a few minutes. If the baby is particularly fussy, this can have an impact as well.
As always, talk with your birth mother about what she envisions. Discuss the possibility of a back up plan if the baby is fussy, the weather is bad, or the house is too hot in the summertime. Setting expectations and having a few options is the most important aspects to all of this, so be sure to talk with her.
Be prepared for anything–including a last minute cancellation
Seeing the baby for the first time after birth can be really scary for some birth mothers. Don’t be surprised if she asks to cancel or reschedule as you get closer to the meeting date. This is true even if she initiates the plan and seems really excited about it. Many women feel anxiety before the visit, fearing what their reaction will be. If she cancels the meeting, be supportive and remind her that it isn’t a missed opportunity. Remind her that you are flexible and will be ready to meet when she is.
You might also offer to meet with her without the baby. For some women, just seeing the adoptive parents again and looking at pictures together can be reassuring. It’s also a great way to continue building your own relationship with your birth mother as individuals.
I hear from birth mothers all the time who say they are really surprised at how they feel at the first visit. Be prepared to support her however she is feeling! You can also reach out to me by phone or email and I will be happy to offer suggestions for your specific situation.