We had just started our open adoption journey and were at an education session with five or six other couples when the social worker asked us the question that we had all been asking ourselves: how do you get a birthmother to choose you?
A series of hands shot up into the air.
“Show her you have a solid marriage.”
“Tell her that education is important to you.”
“Make sure she knows that you love kids”
“Describe the opportunities you can offer her child.”
“Explain how you’d make a great parent.”
“All good,” the social worker said after we had exhausted our list. And then she turned to us and after a pause offered a suggestion of her own.
“Get a dog,” she said.
The room fell silent. At first I thought she was kidding. And judging by the expression on the other faces in the room, it seemed like I wasn’t the only one.
“No joke,” she said. “Birthmothers love dogs.”
For months, I had been waiting for this moment — the moment when I discovered the secret to finding a birthmother match. And now it was here. The moment of truth had arrived.
For the first time since the beginning of our adoption journey, I felt encouraged — that success was within finally reach.
As it so happened, we didn’t have to go out and get a dog. We already had one.
Looking back, that afternoon was memorable for all sorts of reasons.
For starters, until then everything I had read and heard about birthmothers had led me to believe that they were cold and uncaring — teenagers who wanted nothing more than to dump their unwanted children into the loving arms of a poor, desperate deserving adoptive couple and then move on with their lives.
Who knew they had a soft spot for dogs? That they had a soft spot at all?
Ever since we climbed onto the adoption rollercoaster, we had been doing everything we could to make ourselves attractive to this nameless, faceless person that we believed held the key to our happiness. And suddenly, it seemed like the answer to our prayers had been sitting right there, under our noses, all along.
I felt empowered. But also somewhat confused. If you could get a prospective birthmother to choose you just because you had a dog, what did that say about them?
What did it say about the matching process?
What did it say about us?
And those other things we had mentioned — a strong marriage, a loving family, educational opportunities, etc. — didn’t they mean anything?
And so we went off and put our adoption profile together, making sure that our dog, Phoebe, a graceful Australian shepherd that we picked out at the pound and slept at the edge of our bed, was front and center.
When it came time to show our profile, the verdict was unanimous: Phoebe was a hit. “She’s so000 cute,” everyone said, as if she was the one on display, not us.
After we got chosen by a birthmother — a kind, gentle college-educated woman who turned all of my ideas about birthmothers on their head — I asked her what drew her to our profile.
I was expecting to hear about Phoebe’s eyes — which really were quite striking — or about how Phoebe reminded her of her own dog, or how she wanted her child to grow up with a dog.
But none of those things factored into our conversation. She said she picked us because of who we were. Nothing special in particular, and no special mention of Phoebe.
Once again, I felt let down. I guess I was looking for validation, proof that there really was a key to finding happiness. Or at least an adoption match.
But I also felt relieved. The mystery and magic behind a birthmother’s choice was still intact, unknowable to all but her.
Since that afternoon with the social worker, I’ve always had my radar up for adoption profiles in which dogs play a starring role. I wonder if these other couples got the same advice I did. Others certainly have asked about it.
So do I think a dog will help you get picked?
Dogs are wonderful companions, a great addition to any family, especially when you’re going through the ups and downs of infertility. Whenever our adoption journey took a turn for the worse — as it often did — Phoebe was always there to comfort us in a way that no one else could.
We toilet trained her. We cooked for her. We took her for walks and play dates in the park, as if she were a child. And in many ways, she was our first child. Our introduction to adoption.
That said, I would never get a dog — or, as some couples have done, borrow one for an afternoon photo shoot — just because I thought it would help me get chosen by a prospective birthmother.
- What if the prospective birthmother discovered that the dog wasn’t yours?
- What if she found out it was just a prop to get her attention?
- What if she was allergic to dogs or, worse, didn’t even like dogs?
Adoption is rarely straightforward. As with any relationship, what you get out of it depends on what you put into it.
Some birthmothers may very well be looking for a couple with a dog. And if you’ve got one, lucky you.
But most will settle for some honesty.
What’s your take on the topic? What do you think makes a good adoption match? What are you doing to connect with a prospective birthmother? Tell us in our comments section below.