Our model for helping birthparents is based in case management - providing birthparents with a dedicated case manager; one-to-one help, though advocacy, communication, education and coordination of services. However, we know that lots of people don't always understand exactly what case management is, or how it can help birthparents. Our case managers ensure that birthparents are connecting to their community; discovering tools to heal and love again; and are learning to accept, move forward and believe in themselves, changing their lives for the better, and today, with permission, we are sharing a story from one of our birthparents, Sarah, and her case manager, Katy, as an example of how important that support can be, and how tailored it is to each birthparent's unique needs.
I am a social worker. I am an artist. I am strong in my faith. I am an ethnic mutt with ancestors from all over. I am a daughter. I am a woman. I am a birthmother ... though I don’t share that I am a birthmother often; not because I hold shame but rather because I know we live in a society who quickly associates the word “birthmother” with the historical stigmas that unfortunately continue to be believed. So the moment I say I am a “birthmother” then it's difficult to see everything else I am. Contemplating placing for adoption or parenting was a season filled with loneliness, abandonment, pain and deception. However, my time being pregnant all the way to the three amazing days I had in the hospital during my son’s birth, was filled with such great love and joy. It is a sacred story that only I know and carry. I am the gatekeeper to my son’s birth story and I feel it is one of the few things I can protect and save for him.
He was placed in the arms of his forever family at 10 days old and his placement ceremony was without doubt an inviolable time filled with two families becoming one. Well, that was my hope. Though in the nearly 5 and half years since the placement ceremony, I have been on my own journey. A journey of grief, or trying to find other birthmothers, of learning more about adoption and its laws including birth parent rights or lack thereof. In that process, I came across an amazing organization, the On Your Feet Foundation. I couldn’t find anything supportive of birthparents where I live in the Northeast. Through On Your Feet I started to connect with other birthmothers through BirthmomsConnect calls. I found more resources through their website. I was paired with an amazing birth mother who guided me for a year as a mentor. Then I got introduced to Katy, who by title is a caseworker with On Your Feet but over the 9 months we have been working together, she has become more of a cheerleader and advocate for my personal and adoption goals. I am a birthmother. She is an adoptive mother. Any possible barriers from our title as mothers become an advantage in our work together. She supports me with a different perspective but she shares the same goal of making the adoption journey as cohesive as possible for birthparent, adoptive family and adoptee.
When Sarah speaks about her 5-year-old son Felix, you can hear the pride beaming in her voice through the phone. I began working with Sarah 9 months ago. During our initial call, she was reconsidering how involved she should be in Felix’s life, and the life of his adoptive parents. During the placement ceremony, Lisa and Edwin shared their love for Sarah and made sure she knew that she was now a member of their family. Sarah would always have a place in their lives.
Sarah has no doubt that Lisa and Edwin’s sentiments were genuine. The reality of building a new relationship with their child, and with their child’s birthmother is uncharted territory, with little-to-no guidance from agencies, or adoption attorneys. There’s no guidebook for this intimate relationship. Communication with Felix’s parents became sparse post-placement. They check in periodically, send a gift here and there, and see Sarah once a year, unless they cancel, or postpone, or squeeze it in between other commitments. As I worked with Sarah over the past year, we’ve set goals, talked about balance, and worked on self-care. In the time I’ve known Sarah, she’s moved into her own apartment, she’s taken steps to see doctors to take control of her physical health, and we’re beginning to talk about finding an adoption-competent therapist for her to work with. Huge wins! No matter the nature of
our call, we always circle back to her relationship with her son, and his adoptive parents.
As we built trust and a rapport with one another, she slowly shared the details of her 5-year relationship with Felix’s adoptive parents. Despite knowing her son's parents are well-intentioned, navigating open adoption for all of them is new, and has been the basis of uneven expectations, miscommunications and lack of communication. The intended yearly visit with Felix and his adoptive parents always takes place in the summer and so, it’s not surprising that this past May, Lisa and Edwin reached out. This sent Sarah spiraling. The thought of a visit was incredible and wonderful, but also heart wrenching and anxiety-inducing. After not-so-great visits in the past, and those last-minute canceled visits, Sarah wondered if she could handle this relationship.
She decided to use this opportunity to begin to address her needs and be proactive in the relationship with Lisa and Edwin. She asked them if they would be willing to have a phone call with her talk about expectations for the visit, and to discuss how she’s been feeling. For the next 2 months Sarah and I worked together to set realistic goals for the call, outcomes, and next steps. Sarah created a shared Google doc, creating an outline for the call with “I feel statements”, objectives, and possible outcomes. I went in and offered feedback, suggestions, and encouragement. We would then set up a call and tease out how the conversation might go. We would laugh and sometimes cry and feel real silly as we thought about ridiculous outcomes for the visit.
There was A LOT of build up for what would most likely be a 20 min phone call. I’m happy to report the call went beautifully. Perfectly? No. Beautifully? Yes. Sarah was her authentic self and was empowered to begin to share openly and honestly about her needs and wants for the relationship. Her expectations were not that everything would be solved or fixed, but that this would be a first step in advocating her needs to better the relationship, all for the sake of her son.
We’re a funny pair, Sarah and I. Me, an adoptive parent, and her, a birth mom with BIG feelings towards her child’s adoptive parents. I’d like to think that my ability to empathize with the Lisa and Edwin, and offer Sarah feedback from that perspective was helpful, if not always easy for her to hear. We share a mutual respect for where each of us sit in the adoption constellation, and that allows our conversations to go deeper.
The delight of that phone call has worn off a bit. Even the healthiest, most loving relationships take work and Sarah and I are continuing to work on ways to best communicate with Felix’s adoptive parents as they all plan for a visit. Navigating the relationships between birth families and adoptive families can be incredibly challenging, painful, delightful, and complicated. None of this is easy. I’m so proud of the work Sarah has done, and OYFF will be here to continue to support her.
This is just the beginning. None of the trauma and pain and loss Sarah felt through placing her son can be “solved”. Sarah has repeatedly shared that she made the best decision for herself and for Felix. However, that doesn’t mitigate the need for support and guidance as she navigates her relationship with her son and his parents.
We are so proud of the work Katy and the rest of our Case Management team do on behalf of the birthparents - both birthmothers and birthfathers - that we serve, and we are equally proud of our birthparents, like Sarah, who are doing the hard work of healing. Are you a birthparent who could benefit from help? Our case management services are birthparent-directed and built around your unique needs. Case Managers work with birthparents to support them by identifying needs; linking to community resources and providers; creating a plan of action; and monitoring progress on their plan, ensuring needs are being met. Get in touch and start getting the support you deserve - there is no charge to your for our services.
Want to help us make sure every birthparent has access to everything they need to heal, for their lifetime? Donors like you can help connect birthparents with the support and resources they deserve.