It’s every hopeful adoptive parents’ worst nightmare: the fear that a birthmother may change her mind.
Nobody knows exactly how often it happens or why it does. But if you’re a waiting parent, that’s beside the point. The fact that it happens all at-– and that it could happen to you-–is all that matters. And it’s enough to push waiting parents to puruse other adoption routes.
So how do you know a birthmother will change her mind? To be sure, there are signs to watch for. But before we get into them, remember that a birth mother and a prospective birth mother aren’t the same thing.
A birth mother is a woman who has relinquished her rights to her child. A prospective birth mother, on the other hand, hasn’t relinquished anything. Just because she’s pregnant and has an adoption plan doesn’t mean she’ll go through with it. Nor does she have to. keep that in mind as you set out on your journey.
There are three time periods when a prospective birthmother is most likely to change her mind:
- Before she places her baby for adoption
- Just after she places her baby for adoption
- After her rights have been terminated
That covers a lot of time. For your purposes and in the eyes of the law, however, not all of these three periods are equal.
Before she places her baby for adoption. If a pregnant woman changes her mind during this period, unfortunately you’re out of luck. There is nothing you can do but wish her well and move on.
Just after she places her baby for adoption. For would-be parents, this is by far the most stressful time due to the emotional state of the prospective birth parents and their family and the fact that it’s the last opportunity she has to legally change her mind and not have her rights to her child relinquished.
The exact laws and time period will vary state by state. But depending on the jurisdiction where the baby is born, a birthmother has anywhere from a few hours to a few weeks or months to change her mind. If her decision takes place within this period, she has the right to get her baby returned to her, no questions asked.
After her parental rights have been terminated. It’s no uncommon for a birth mother to question her decision or have a change of heart after she’s signed the adoption papers. But once the grace period expires, her decision is irrevocable. The only way she can get it reversed is if she could legally prove she was tricked or pressured into making it.
Knowing that an expectant mother has the right to change her mind at any time, one way to protect yourself is to let her know early on that if she wants to change her mind before the relinquishment of her baby, she can do so–but to give you as much notice as possible.
Another way is just to make sure she has all the counselling she needs and to watch out for warning signs. Some reversals will come out of the blue and catch you unaware. But in other cases, the signs may be there all along. Either you didn’t see them or you didn’t want to see them.
Red flags include:
- the expectant parent is a teenager with no other children
- she lives with her parents and/or they don’t know about her pregnancy or are opposed to it
- she has a continuing relationship with the father of her child or he is unaware of the adoption plan
- she was raised by a single mother and/or has friends who are single mothers
- she has dropped out of school and has no plans for the future or for going back to school
There are other signs, too: for instance, she may have kept her pregnancy secret or is so confident of her decision that she refuses counselling. In open adoption, or any adoption, for that matter, there are no easy answers or guarantees.
Just because the expectant mother who’s contacted you falls under one of these categories doesn’t mean she’ll change her mind. But it’s good to be prepared just in case she alters her plan.