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Center for Advanced Studies in Child Welfare

Center for Advanced Studies in Child Welfare

Adoptive parents forging relationships with birth parents

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This guest post was written by Kristin Struss.

05MODERN_SPAN-articleLarge.jpeg [Illustration by Brian Rea for the New York Times]

What could be one of the most stressful moments of an adoptive mother and father's existence? This moment could be when they meet their child's birth mother for the first time. What adds even more stress? When you are the one who has reached out and invited the birth mother into your lives. Is it the right choice? Are they making a decision too early in their child's life? Will their lives forever be altered in a negative way because of this choice? This is why I chose the article, "Untying a Birth Mother's Hands." This article was written by Elizabeth Foy Larsen and was featured in The New York Times on August 2, 2012.

This article succinctly weaves through the story of Elizabeth and her husband, Walter and their adopted child. They had heard that their daughter's birth mother had loved her very much. They had heard all the statistics that open adoptions are healthier for the families and most importantly the adopted child. They made the choice to find Helen (birth mom) in Helen's native country of Guatemala and hoped to include her in their daughter's life. They brought their daughter to see Helen when she was two years old and again when she was six and asked to go back.

There are many strengths to this article. Larsen tells a beautifully honest story about the fears of their own decision. They had questions about how they were going to navigate a relationship with someone they did not know. They worried that they were "inappropriately imposing our own Oprah-style enthusiasm about the healing power of truth onto a culture that didn't accept or even want it" (Larsen, 2012)? They understood that part of the culture was that some Guatemalan people distrusted white Americans and believed that white people only wanted Guatemalan babies for their organs. Larsen discusses what her own fears are, but is also able to step into Helen's mind and worried about how she was feeling as a mother as well. "I'm inconsistent about writing letters to Helen about our daughter and who she is becoming; I worry about how reports of tennis lessons and spring breaks in Hawaii will distance her from her first family. Sometimes I think I take my time because it's overwhelming for me to acknowledge just how much Helen's loss is my gain" (Larsen, 2012).

I really enjoyed this article and did not feel there were many weaknesses. If I had to pick out something, it would be that it left me wanting more. I wanted to know and understand every detail of how both meetings with Helen and her mother went. I would also love to read an article from Helen's perspective explaining what impact this has had on her life.
I believe this article really did a fantastic job of dispelling the myth that adoptive families want to take their adopted children and run far away from any tie to the biological family. Many adoptive families are curious and want to know their child's biological family and think about what it would be like if biological family members could be involved. Larsen did a thorough job in explaining how motivated she was to find her daughter's biological mother and how that motivation scared her more than anything. I believe many adoptive families could read this article and relate.

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