So when I discovered early on in the open adoption process that the key to becoming a parent was in “connecting” with prospective birthparents, I was ready to throw in the towel.
All of a sudden all of my memories of my nightmare dates from years past — the awkward silences, the sweaty palms, the dashed hopes — came flooding back to me. Then a light bulb went off. Ok, I may not know a lot about dating. But I know even less about adopting. What if I applied the lessons from my dating days to my quest to adopt? Could that help me create a connection and eventually find a match?
I did, and it did. And it can help you, too, if you’re willing to go out there and give it a try.
Step #1: Create a profile
In dating, the starting point to finding a match is putting together a profile of yourself — finding the words that describe you in the best possible light and illustrating it with an eye-catching photo. Ditto with open adoption. In words and pictures, your job is to make a case for yourself to prospective birthparents about why you’ll make a great parent and why they should pick you over all of the other hopeful parents out there trying to adopt a baby.
Do: Identify your strengths and create a portrait that’s honest and heartfelt.
Don’t: Don’t boast, don’t sound desperate or don’t say anything that you can’t back up later.
Step #2: Start networking
Once your adoption profile is done, it’s time to send it out into the world in the hopes that prospective birthparents will find you. Just as in dating, a lot of the networking is through word of mouth and online. One way to maximize your chances of getting noticed by prospective birthparents is to tell everyone you know that you’re adopting and post your profile on your agency’s site, on your own site, and on a parent profiles site.
Do: Be proactive — the more people you tell about your adoption search, the better the odds are of your getting matched with prospective birthparents.
Don’t: Don’t expect results overnight — finding an adoption match takes time and patience.
Step #3: Wait for a response
Creating a adoption profile and sending it out is just the beginning. Now comes the hard part: waiting for a response. Just as in dating, you’ll find yourself checking your email and voice mail a million times a day, anxiously waiting to see if prospective birthparents get back to you. The longer you wait, the more second guessing you’ll do. Why hasn’t anyone called? Is there something wrong with my profile? Is there something wrong with me?
Do: Stay positive and keep yourself busy.
Don’t: Don’t underestimate the role that luck and timing play in creating a connection.
Step #4: Make contact
This is where things start to get interesting — when sparks fly, hearts pound, and people fall madly in love with each other. At least, that’s the hope. Just as in dating, making a connection in open adoption can be instantaneous, turning your life upside down. And sometimes it takes longer. And yet just because you hear back from a prospective birthparent, or someone who identifies herself or himself as a prospective birthparent, doesn’t mean you’re in the clear. They may like you. The questions is, do you like them? Or more to the point, are they right for you?
Do: Be warm and welcoming and keep an open mind.
Don’t: Don’t get emotionally or financially involved with anyone until you run everything by your adoption professionals.
Step #5: First conversation
In dating, a successful match often comes down to one thing: chemistry. A feeling or sense of connection that’s hard to put into words. In open adoption, it’s much the same. Sure, you’ll both be nervous, worried about saying the wrong thing. But apart from that, how do you relate to each other? Do you have anything in common? Can you see yourselves hanging out together in the future? Are these people you can picture being a part of your life — a part of your family down the road?
Do: Try to create an emotional bond with prospective birthparents and build a foundation to your relationship.
Don’t: Don’t talk down to them or make any assumptions about their circumstances.
Step #6: First date
Hurray! You survived your first conversation. And the second one, and the third one. You and the prospective birthparents are so comfortable with each other, you can talk for hours. Now it’s time to take your relationship to the next level: a face-to-face meeting. What happens if you’re different from what they thought? What happens if they’re different from what you thought? What should you wear? Where should you meet? What should you talk about?
Do: Meet in a public place and if you get the jitters, bring your social worker along with you just in case.
Don’t: Don’t just talk about their baby.
Step #7: Going steady
This is the time when you’re in limbo, when the the prospective birthparents is stamped in your mind and you’re just waiting for it to arrive, hoping that everything goes according to plan — or at least according to the prospective birthparents’ adoption plan. Just as in dating, not every relationship will survive this stage or go smoothly. There will be lots of up and downs along the way. There may even be a breakup — the prospective birthparents may suddenly change their mind. Or you might. That’s why it’s important to keep your eyes open and take things one day at a time.
Do: Keep the lines of communication open and be supportive of the prospective parents.
Don’t: Don’t ignore warning signs if and when they show up.
Step #8: Live happily ever after?
In dating, success comes when the two parties make a commitment to spend the rest of their lives together. In open adoption, a similar pact takes place, only in a slightly different form. Instead of becoming life-long partners, you and the prospective birthparents commit to being more like in-laws or distant aunts and uncles — family members, who while you may not get together and see each other on a regular basis, nevertheless still have a strong lasting connection thanks to your child.
Do: Find a level of contact that you and the prospective parents are comfortable with and honor it.
Don’t: Don’t be surprised if your relationship changes and evolves over the years as like any relationship.
What do you think are the similarities between dating and adopting? What lessons you’ve learned from connecting with prospective birthparents? What worked or didn’t work for you? Leave your comment in the section below.