Open Adoption, Birth Mother Connection: What Should You Do?

Many gay dads who choose to adopt struggle with how much involvement they want from the birth mother and other members of the biological family. Sometimes, deciding whether to include the birth family is an easy, even affirming choice that strengthens the family. But sometimes gay dads lose contact with the birth mother and her family. Sometimes the birth mother, despite her good intentions, is unable or unwilling to maintain contact, leaving dads unable how to explain to their child what happened.

Every situation is different, vastly different often. But no matter the situation, you're not alone. In this article, several gay adoptive dads share their own experiences with open adoption and birth mother connections. We hope it will help you sort things out and will make talking to your kids about your unique family a little easier.


Nathan and Peter

Nathan (photo above, left) and Peter (photo above, right) created their family through adoption from foster care. It was finalized in May 2014. They live with their three kids in West Palm Beach, Florida.

Did you try to structure contact between your child and their biological family?

At first we agreed to an open adoption with once-a-year visits on Mother's Day, supervised, and at a public place with the biological mother. However, after several months of red tape and waiting for the birth mother to sign the agreements, the adoption was postponed because the birth mother was unable to be located. As a last ditch effort, the judge agreed it was in the best interest of the twins to have the courts demand a termination of parental rights and move the case to adoption.

How do you talk about your child's biological family when they ask questions?

I share with the twins the truth about being adopted, trying to explain that sometimes mommies and daddies can't always care for their babies how they should and that because their mommies and daddies loved them so much they found other mommies and daddies to take care of them. I never speak negatively about biological parents or siblings, but am honest and open about who they are.

What advice do you have for other gay dads struggling with how to include the biological family in their adoptions?

Don't feel pressured into doing what others think are best for your family. Only you and your husband know. Every situation is different, and that's OK. What works for one family, may not be appropriate for the next. Do what feels right your family.


Octavius and Seth

In a relationship for six years and married for three, Seth (photo above, left) and Octavius (photo above, right) adopted their son Julian at birth. Initially they had a wonderful relationship with the birth mother. Sadly, she fell back into her addiction and died of an overdose. Recently, and completely unexpectedly, a pregnant woman approached them to find out if they were interested in adopting her unborn child; the birth mother is due in a few months. Octavius and Seth were profiled in a recent article on Gays With Kids.

Did you try to structure contact between your child and their biological family?

Sadly, our son's birth mom passed away due to an overdose. This was very hard to hear as we thought that she was doing better and was preparing to have some role in Julian's life.

How do you talk about your child's biological family when they ask questions?

We are still figuring out when and how to have the conversation with Julian about his birth mom. We have a beautiful picture album that she sent him for his first birthday that we review and talk to him often about. While we explain to him who the woman in the photos is (pictures that were taken when he was born), we don't talk about her current state. Fortunately, we are still in contact with the birthmother's parents and assume they will play an important role in how we shape the story around his mother.

What advice do you have for other gay dads struggling with how to include the biological family in their adoptions?

I think having a network of dads like us has been invaluable. Between our friends and groups like this, we have been able to develop a clearer outlook on the challenges we will face and how we can deal with them. Everyone may not live in an area where there are tons of gay families around. I would suggest that if you can't connect with other LGBT families physically, then connect with a few via social media. Having people that have walked our path before to discuss these circumstances with has been beyond beneficial.


Erik and Douglas

Erik and Douglas (photo above, right) have been together for more than ten years. They live in Chalmette, Louisiana. They have adopted one girl and are hoping to expand their family in the near future. Erik (photo above, left), a regular writer for Gays With Kids, talks extensively about his family's adoption experiences in his first piece, “Our First #GayDadStory: Erik Alexander Shares How His Family Came to Be" as well as in a post titled “The Loving Process Behind Our Open Adoption Plan."

Did you try to structure contact between your child and their biological family?

Yes. We knew that we wanted a few visits in the first year for them to see the baby's growth in person. Throughout that first year, we would also send updates through text messages. After the first year, the personal visits would end and instead we would continue to send them updates two or three times a year. In our minds, we already planned to be in touch each year during summer, around her birthday, and again at Christmas time­–important milestones that would make for a perfect time to provide these updates.

How do you talk about your child's biological family when they ask questions?

Both families brought Alli Mae gifts at different points through the first year, from clothes to jewelry to stuffed animals. At first, I always got sad looking at these gifts, but I soon came to realize that I needed to see the beauty in these gifts, and not the pain. Each stuffed animal Alli Mae received was a symbol of her birth family's love, which would always be with her, just as the love of her two fathers would always be with her. We all developed a friendship through this

What advice do you have for other gay dads struggling with how to include the biological family in their adoptions?

The unlikely friendships that we made through this process and the love and appreciation we have for everyone involved is a beautiful feeling. I could not imagine our adoption any other way. I think about the birth families often and wish each member happiness and light every day of their lives.


Craig

Craig, a single gay dad with six children, lives in Indianapolis, Indiana. He adopted his children, now in their early or mid twenties, all from foster care: In 1998 he took in an (African-American) sibling group of three boys in 1998; their sister joined them two years later. Then, ten months after that, he adopted two (Caucasian) boys. All kids experienced neglect; some suffered physical abuse. Four suffer from fetal alcohol syndrome, two from PTSD, three have been diagnosed with reactive attachment disorder, two with bipolar disorder, and one has an intellectual disability. The oldest three kids had lived mainly with their birth families; the youngest three had spent almost their entire lives in foster care. Craig (photo above, center) was recently profiled in an article in the Huffington Post and Gays With Kids.

Did you try to structure contact between your child and their biological family?

With each of my adoptions, parental rights were terminated. I legally had no obligation to communicate with birth families. But after being contacted by another family who had privately adopted the younger sibling of my three youngest sons and who had contact with the birth mother, I decided to arrange a meeting. My sons were 4, 5, and 6 at the time and had no memory of her. We exchanged introductions. stuck to a pre-arranged format for dialogue and took pictures. With minimal fanfare or expectations, my sons were able to see the woman who gave them life but who did not have the ability to care for them. Upon returning home, our lives continued as usual.

With my last two sons, the situation was entirely different. Their birth mother said that she wanted contact. So did my sons, since they were 9 and 10 when coming to my home. But the birth mother never followed through with her promises. No birthday cards, no Christmas gifts, nothing. My sons were devastated and then accused me of stealing items that she sent. As their fantasy of their birth family grew, they labeled me the bad guy who despised their past. Nothing could have been further from the truth. Simply put, I had no way to contact her.

My daughter has maintained contact with her birth mother.

How do you talk about your child's biological family when they ask questions?

The contact with the birth mother centered around my children, not me. Because the facts could not be changed, I had nothing to fear–unless I let my own insecurities get the best of me. I refused to go that route, and with that mindset, I set appropriate boundaries to protect everyone.

Adoption is loss. It's a form of trauma. All of my children have deep hurt–some greater than others. Most are available to verbalize their feelings, since I have always made such conversations totally acceptable with no shame. Without hesitation, I do my best to celebrate their lives before me. In other words, they will always have two families.

What advice do you have for other gay dads struggling with how to include the biological family in their adoptions?

In hindsight, I wish my adoption training had included more insight into the birth family relationship. Initially, I thought my children wouldn't want a relationship with their birth families. After all, they had been neglected and abused. Their parents made little effort to change and had lost their rights.

Within the first year of adopting, I saw that I had been judgmental in my thinking. Birth families did matter to my children. On the plus side, I never said anything disparaging about either birth family to my kids. Otherwise, those unkind words would have forever remained with them and come back to haunt me.

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