There’s your brother who hates presents of any kind, your sister-in-law who never has a nice thing to say about you, and the cousin that you haven’t seen in years.
But this year there’s a new family member on your list: your child’s birthmother.
What do you give someone who has given you the gift of parenthood? A piece of jewelry? A photo of your baby? A framed handprint?
They’re all nice gestures and your child’s birthmother will certainly appreciate them. But as good as they are, they’re not the best.
No, the best gift you can give a new birthmother is to keep your promises.
Many adoptive parents go into an adoption situation with unrealistic expectations.
Anxious to find a match, they promise to keep in touch with their child’s birthmother after placement, only to realize that once their baby comes home it’s harder to do than they thought. Especially this time of the year.
In most cases, the promises are made out ignorance, with the best of intentions. Other times they’re made to please their agency or their child’s birthmother.
For instance, they may agree to keep their relationship “open,” without discussing what “openness” entails.
Does it mean, “You know how to get in touch with me, I know how to get in touch with you, and if there’s ever an emergency one of us will get in touch with the other one”?
Or does it mean “If we ever have a medical question about our child, can we talk to you about it?”
Or does it mean “We want you to be part of our family and, just like any member of our family, we want you to know that you can reach out to us any time. And that includes getting together over the main holidays. Oh, and by the way, what are you doing next Saturday at around 2 p.m. because we’re planning to go to a crafts fair and we’d love you to come along?”
Similarly, in regards to contact, does it mean keeping in touch through emails, texts or Facebook? Or phone calls, Skype and visits?
As an adoptive parent, you’ll have one idea about what openness or contact means — and, by the way, they’re two very different things — and your child’s birthmother will have another.
To avoid misunderstandings and hurt feelings, it’s important to go into your relationship with realistic expectations and to set boundaries.
One of the first things you’ll need to decide after you determine what is “openness” is when does it start?
Does it start right away or will there be a “cooling off” period to give you and your child’s birthmother a chance to catch your breaths and move on with your lives?
As a new parent, your life will be complicated enough without throwing adoption into the mix. There will be a huge learning curve and countless things you’ll need to do.
Some of them you’ll do well, others you won’t. And the things that you don’t do well, you’ll stress out about and convince yourself that you’re the world’s worst mother .
Not to worry: it’s all normal. Every new mother goes through it.
But when other new mothers get stressed out and need some alone time with their baby, they only have to explain it to a small circle of family and friends.
As a new adoptive mother, you’ll also have to explain it to your child’s birthmother. And, after being entrusted with her baby, you may worry about hurting her feelings or falling short of her expectations.
But don’t let that stop you from levelling with her. Let her know how much you would like to see her, but that you need more time to find your footing.
Chances are she’ll understand. She will be also transitioning into a new role and may be struggling too.
But even if she says she’s okay with it or you don’t hear from her doesn’t mean she isn’t thinking of her child or longing to see her.
Many birthmothers find the first holiday hard to bear, regardless of how comfortable they are with their adoption plan.
So if you think the holidays will be too hectic for you to follow through on your promises, arrange something before they begin — or, if that’s not possible, afterwards.
If you put things off for a late time, pick a specific date. Don’t leave it hanging in the air. You can always adjust it later.
The first holiday is always a challenging time for adoptive parents and birthparents and will test the strength of your relationship.
So if you want to show your appreciation for your child’s birthmother, by all means give her a piece of jewelry or a photo. But if you really want to give her the greatest gift of all, keep your promises and the lines of communication open.
Building an open and honest relationship will not only see you through this time of year. It will also serve you well in the years to come.
What do you think is the greatest gift you can give a new birthmother? What helped you build a healthy relationship with your child’s birthmother or adoptive parents? Tell us on our Facebook page.