“Now is not a good time”

Arguably, the most important work we are doing right now at ASC is post placement care. We’ve spent the last couple of years developing our post placement program and then continually changing and adding to it as we learn more. It’s a work in progress.

Currently, it consists of a dedicated day each week, a specific phone number and email and a team ready to support all members of the triad. We are getting birth moms started in post placement counseling. We are helping birth and adoptive families navigate the logistics of their open adoptions. We’re signing adoptive families up for post placement class to prepare them for raising the part of their child’s identity that is that of an adoptee. We’re striving to create a safe space where birth families, adoptive families and adoptees can come to share and process their respective grief.

The Adoption Support Center has been facilitating adoptions since 1986. That’s going on 34 years. A lot has changed in those years. When we started, historically, adoptions were closed. We take pride in the fact we’ve always been a little ahead of the times when it comes to adoption. Since day one, we’ve been willing to change and evolve as we learn more. With that said, we still did many adoptions in the era of closed, secrecy and shame. In the era where adoptive parents were not given adequate education.

We made mistakes. Thankfully, adult adoptees, birth mothers and adoptive parents are sharing their stories. We’re learning so much from them! What we did wrong. What they needed. Now, we know more. We’re committed to doing more.

Without fail, there is a certain type of call we get each week right now. 

A certain type of email we’re responding to on post placement Fridays. Birth families are searching for their loved ones. (Note: Adoptees are searching regularly as well, but for this conversation, we’re focusing on the birth families initiating the search.) They are wanting to reconnect with the child who was placed. Sometimes it’s a birth mother reaching out, other times it’s the child she parented looking for their brother or sister who was placed for adoption. We start the process for them.

In the state of Indiana, legally, an adoptee has to be 21 years of age before they can personally search or be given information about their adoption.

When they are over 21 years old, we will often look for them directly. When we can’t find them, we’ll look for and reach out to their parents. When they are younger, we look for their adoptive parents first. As we’re making these calls and sending emails, we’re met with a common reply. An unsettling, puzzling reply.

“Now is not a good time.”

That’s what (many) adoptive parents are telling us when we reach out letting them know their child’s birth family is hoping to reconnect. “Now is not a good time.” Some give a little more information. Maybe their child is struggling with depression. Drug use/addiction. A bumpy life transition like going to college. Bullying. The list goes on. Hmmmm.

We have no doubt their child may be facing a challenge at the time. Going through something messy. Shoot, most of us are facing something hard at any given moment. Life is rarely neat and without complication. 

As we’ve listened and heard this response on repeat, we’ve got a guess at what is actually being said by adoptive parents…

“Now is not a good time for US.” We’re not ready for this. We’re scared. What if a reunion makes things worse? What if our child leaves us? What if they love their birth family more? WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR US?

But, they aren’t able to articulate that. 

If they were able to articulate the above, our response to those fears would be something like this: What if it helps?! What if your child finally has answers?! What if some of what they’ve been struggling with is related to being adopted and that specific part of their identity? And, the missing pieces. What if they can love two sets of parents? What if they can finally start to find healing? There is no perfect, right time for healing. What if the time is NOW?

Let us be clear. We do not fault adoptive parents for having these fears. They are valid. All emotions are valid. There’s probably more going on deep down as well. But, these fears left unrecognized and not given the proper space and time to be felt, and processed, can greatly impact their child. And, not in a positive way.

Only an adoptee can decide if NOW is the right time. 

We’ve also heard adoptive parents tell us, “We asked them if they want to meet their birth family and they’re not interested.” Is this true sometimes? Sure. But, we’ve heard from many (adult) adoptees that when their parents asked them if they wanted to meet their birth family, they didn’t feel safe and comfortable enough to give their real answer. Their YES. They could sense their parents discomfort. They didn’t want to hurt them. Maybe they didn’t even know how to vocalize what they needed.

The adoptive parents telling us “Now is not a good time,” were in part failed by us.

They weren’t given enough education and support. We didn’t do it on purpose. But, it happened. Now that we’ve learned and know more, we hope adoptive families will give us the chance to share this new information with them. Education and support that may be able to help their child heal! 

These days we say on repeat, adoption is complicated. It’s love and loss, joy and grief intricately woven together. We owe it to adoptees (of all eras) to give them a safe space to share their voice. And then, to genuinely listen.

This isn’t going to be easy. For anyone involved. But, it will be worth it.