This guest post is by Michelle Erich at Michelle Erich Law.
As an adoption attorney, I love making that long awaited phone call to adopting parents and saying the magical words “A birth mother has chosen you and wants to meet you.”
Sometimes I hear screams or sputters or absolute silence on the other end of the line, but eventually real words form and the response is some version of: “Oh, my God! I am so scared. What if she doesn’t like me? What do I say to her?”
And that is almost identical to the fear the prospective birth mother has. No one likes rejection. Interviews of any kind are a bit unnerving, but an adoption interview seems to raise the pressure a notch or two above anything else.
It is very personal. It is about a very personal subject. And it is taking place between people whose lives have already been in turmoil perhaps from infertility or surprise pregnancy.
Pick a friendly place to talk
Choose a friendly location for the meeting, if possible. Some meetings occur late in the game and by necessity take place in a hospital room, but usually you can arrange a meeting before that. I prefer a restaurant rather than an office. It immediately demonstrates to the prospective birth mother your desire to care for her and to see to her needs without words.
The interruptions to order, to eat, and so on give time for reflection and taking stock as to where the conversation needs to go next. Eating gives natural breaks to the flow. There is something comforting, too, about a delicious warm meal and the tradition of breaking bread together.
My practice is to be present at the first introduction, though not all attorneys do this. My observations after hundreds of such meetings is that a variation of the “Golden Rule” applies. Ask about others, as you would have them ask about you. It may seem too obvious, but be polite and gentle. Most birth mothers hang back and will take their cues from you.
Regardless of chronological age differences, the situation seems to place a birth mother in the role of child to the adopting parties’ role of adult. You want to ask some intimate questions, but ease into it. Communicate adult-to-adult regardless of the possible youth of the prospective birth mother. She is the first mother of the child she carries and deserves your respect.
Find topics of interest
If you are meeting a prospective birth mother through a representative (lawyer or social worker), she will likely have spent a minimum of two hours doing paperwork and providing a fairly a detailed medical history and family background. Something in that shared information can be a good ice breaker. What are her hobbies?
If she plays a musical instrument or sang in her high school choir, try asking about her musical preferences and volunteer your own. Sports is another great opener. Subjects like these also allow commentary on plans for the child to investigate potential areas of interest.
A great observation and bonding statement is to mention that if the child shows an interest or has a talent in an area shared with the mom, that you will be able to tell the child of his mother’s ability or desire along the same lines.
Sometimes at a first meeting these subjects dominate and leave little time for the more difficult questions. That’s okay. All that needs to happen is for the parties to leave with an adoption agreement, if possible. Sometimes a second meeting is needed for that.
Avoid talking about money
Don’t talk about finances. That subject must be handled delicately and preferably by the attorney or agency. There are gray areas, such as providing transportation, but not giving her a car.
Discussing money is the best way to drive a wedge. You’ll either be seen as being too generous and she may see a blank check for all her wants or you’ll seem stingy and she’ll worrie about her child’s future. Just let the professionals deal with the budget, explaining allowable expenses, and working out any payment plan.
Don’t grill her. Do I have to say this? Yes, yes I do. I have seen a few times where the poor prospective birth mother begins to feel like she is under a bare light bulb in a dingy police station. One prospective adoptive mother was so horrible in her examination of the prospective birth mother that I just dropped my head and stared at my hands in disgust.
The prospective birth mother was in her thirties and handled it without the need for my intervention. But the inquisitor was so confrontational in her tone and word choice that she left the clear impression that she did not believe a word that the prospective prospective birth mother said.
I cut the meeting short and returned to the prospective birth mother. When I asked what she thought, she had one question, “Do you have someone else to take my baby?” I fired that client two days later. It look me that long to talk to her calmly.
Answer questions truthfully
Answer questions honestly, but simply. If she asks about your vegetarian diet, acknowledge it, indicate you are researching diets for infants and children. But don’t try to convert her to your way of thinking or get bogged down in distinguishing vegans from vegetarians unless she clearly has an active interest.
Disciple of children and education can be pitfalls. Let me assure you that your parenting style will evolve, even if you already have a child so indicating that you have some ideas is fine. But don’t lock yourself into a position that she may disagree with and which you may later discard. Sometimes it helps to frame your thoughts as a question to her. “We don’t want to be too permissive or too strict, how do you feel about that?”
If she asks about private versus public education, ask her thoughts. She must have some for asking the question. Be honest, but be aware that many things can cause your plans to change, so leave room for that. Consider future contact and involvement so that your answers leave room for the evolution of your own parenting style.
Ease into the relationship
Finally, the information to not volunteer is important, too. Although an adopting parent is anxious to be liked and has prepared to share many things, if the prospective birth mother isn’t asking don’t talk too much about yourself. It will tend to leave her feeling that you just see her as a baby factory and that you don’t care about her as a person.
If you discover that you both like hunting and fishing, discuss rifles and lures, but not favorite locations. Do you later want to avoid those spots wondering if she may be there unexpectedly? Women who are considering adoption for their baby are generally emotionally raw. They need love and concern for themselves as well as for their baby.
Even if you plan to have long term communications, be wary of becoming too involved or becoming her new BFF. This is a recipe for disappointing her down the road, but do be interested and show you care.
In all likelihood, the meeting will be a delight to all. It is quite rare for these meetings, in my experience, to be negative, if your representative has done a good job of sharing information adequately to allow both sides to choose to meet. If you get a meeting the odds are all on your side that you will come away with an adoption plan. So relax!
How did you prepare for your first meeting with a prospective birthmother? What was the hardest part? What helped you break the ice and move forward with your adoption plan?
Michelle Erich is an open adoption attorney in Ventura, California with more than 20 years of experience working with expectant parents and hopeful adoptive parents. You can find out more about her and her services at Michelle Erich Law.
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