With modern, open adoption, a birth parent is able to stay in touch with their child through their growing years. This contact typically helps birth parents feel relieved that they made the right choice with adoption. As one birth mother, Maddy, puts it, “Even though I couldn’t see it at the time, giving my baby up for adoption was the best choice I could have made. I get to see her once a year, and the adoptive family sends me plenty of updates so I know she is healthy and thriving.”
You’ll work out the details of how you want to communicate in the future with the adoptive family. This contact could come in many forms. Some of the most common methods of staying in touch include emails, phone calls, texts, social media posts, and in-person visits. Every open adoption relationship is unique and will look different from family to family, just as every one of our adoption success stories is different.
A child’s birthday is a special event in the life of any family. For you, this day can bring on a whole range of emotions, from joy to grief to anxiety. Each year, a decision needs to be made about how you will honor your child’s birthday.
No matter what emotions their birthday brings to the surface, you can mark the day in many ways.
Celebrate with Family
If the adoptive couple has included you in other major events of your child’s life, they may invite you to share in their birthday celebration. If that’s not the case, you can always reach out to the adoptive parents and ask if you can be a part of the special day. Some birth parents have shared with Lifetime that they connect with their child’s adoptive family over Skype or FaceTime for a virtual celebration of the special day.
Either way, in a private adoption, the adoptive parents should guide the celebration plans. Follow their lead in what they expect your involvement to be.
If you’re not spending the day with your child and the adoptive family, there are still ways for you to honor your child’s birthday.
Gather family and/or close friends around you. Plan a night to share dinner and have a small celebration together. If your family and friends are healthy and stable enough to support you, you may feel comfortable sharing your feelings with them. If not, it can be enough to remember the day’s importance.
Celebrate on Your Own
As your child’s birthday approaches, your emotions may be all over the place. You may be thankful that you chose a loving, stable family for your child. On the other hand, you may feel sad that—for whatever reason—your child isn’t celebrating with you. You may be reliving your difficult decision of adoption. After all, most birth mothers feel a sense of loss. You may also experience feelings of loneliness.
All of these are valid reactions to your child’s birthday. Make sure to take time to feel whatever it is you’re feeling. You might consider making a cake every year to honor your child or lighting a candle in their honor.
Some birth parents may want to honor their child with something more concrete. For instance, you could name a star after your child, plant a tree, or make a piece of art dedicated to them. Activities such as these can be a wonderful way to bring yourself a feeling of peace when remembering your child’s birthday.
Connect With Your Child
Maybe you’re spending the day with your child and their family. Or perhaps you’re marking the occasion on your own. Either way, there are special things you can do to connect with your child.
Many birth mothers find it helpful to write their child a letter. First, share what’s in your heart. Then, depending on your child’s age, share the story of how you both arrived at this place in time. You don’t even need to mail the letter. Just writing it can make you feel better.
Milestone Birthdays to Celebrate as a Birth Parent
There are so many special birthdays throughout a child’s life: their first birthday, their 13th (when they become a teenager), their sweet 16, their 18th, and their 21st. There are a variety of ways a birth parent can celebrate these milestones. Whether you give your child gifts will depend on your relationship with the adoptive family. So it’s good to bring this up before mailing your child a gift.
On your child’s first birthday, you could send them a children’s book with an adoption theme. Take a look at this list of some of the best children’s books about adoption. Nowadays, adoptive parents are encouraged to begin sharing their child’s adoption story with them from a very young age. So your child’s adoptive parents will probably appreciate receiving such a book to read to them.
On your child’s 13th birthday, you could send them a keepsake of some sort, such as a piece of jewelry, one of your favorite stuffed animals from when you were a child or a family heirloom. Your child will treasure a gift that comes from your heart.
Turning 16 is a rite of passage. You might consider the gift of a scrapbook or photo album featuring keepsakes and photos from your life. Your child may welcome the opportunity to learn more about you and their birth family.
By 18, your child may have many questions about why you chose adoption (though this may have come up earlier). If questions do come up, be honest and open. They may have an interest in meeting more members of their birth family, so be prepared with a response to that request. Your family may or may not want to be involved.
The last milestone birthday, the one which marks the beginning of adulthood, is the 21st. At this point, you may want to take your child on a special trip to make some lasting memories together.
Remember that whatever you do, you need to honor any agreement you made about contact in your adoption plan.
Therapy and Self-Care
Be sure to keep in touch with your Adoption Coordinator at Lifetime and reach out to her if you need counseling. She will connect you with a licensed therapist who can help.
Also, practicing self-care on your child’s birthday is perfectly okay. For example, you might indulge in a relaxing trip to a spa or plan a special dinner out for yourself. Some birth parents choose to go to the movies or a concert.
Finding Joy as a Birth Parent
The arrival of your child’s birthday is an occasion you may want to celebrate in one way or another. You may prefer a quiet moment on your own, or a small get-together with family and friends may feel like the right way to go. On the other hand, you may be invited to a celebration with your child and their adoptive parents. No way is wrong.
Give yourself some grace. Your child’s birthday is the anniversary of a life-changing decision as a birth parent. So allow yourself a moment to reflect.
Are you unsure how to navigate your child’s birthday as a birth parent? Call or text us at 1-800-923-6784 to get tips and learn more about your resources.
Mardie Caldwell, C.O.A.P., is nationally recognized as an expert on open adoption. A Certiﬁed Open Adoption Practitioner (C.O.A.P.), Caldwell is the founder of Lifetime Adoption Center, established in 1986. She has assisted in over 2,000 successful adoptions and was one of the ﬁrst adoption professionals on the Internet.
Caldwell’s life work is dedicated to educating and helping birth parents find the right adoptive parents for their child. She spreads the word about modern adoption through speaking appearances, webinars, online resources, and as a podcast show host.
She has written several award-winning books, including So I Was Thinking About Adoption, the first book of its kind. There are many reasons women choose adoption, and this short book is a comprehensive resource to make the best plan for you and your baby. Caldwell wrote So I Was Thinking About Adoption as a handy guide to the details of the adoption process.
Caldwell has made over 150 media appearances, including ABC News, CBS News, Larry King Live, CNN Headline News, NBC’s The Today Show, CNN’s The Campbell Brown Show, NBC News, KGO Newstalk Radio, CNN’s Black in America II, MSNBC, Fox, PBS, BBC, and Dr. Laura.