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Adoption Blog: Improv Mom

How I Handled Calls with Prospective Birthmothers

Our adoption advertising was placed, our adoption profile book was ready to go, and it was only a matter of time before our 800-line started ringing with calls from prospective birthmothers. Yikes! Mercifully, I was prepared, thanks to the expertise of my adoption attorney, adoption consultant, and other adoptive parents.

Here's what I learned… 

Get organized. I had dedicated place where I took the calls, my desk. I kept a notebook and pen right by the phone, so I could refer to my "script" as well as jot down notes during the conservations. I also wrote down my thoughts and any questions I had for my adoption attorney. I had my attorney's phone number displayed for myself and in case the prospective birthmother wanted it. I set up a FedEx account so I could overnight our adoption profile book (I made 10 copies). I even set up a sort of shrine with a Mother's Day card my then seven-year-old niece had made for me and little wishing rocks with the words "create," "strength," "magic," and "dream." (Hey, every little bit helps, and these items helped keep me focused on my desired end result.) 
Write a script. Personally, I found it very comforting to have talking points. It kept me organized and gave me structure. Yet, it also allowed me to be me and kept the conversation moving along (which you'll both appreciate). 
My script went something like this…
Introduction. "Hi, I'm Barbara. My husband, Tony, and I placed the ad. Thank you for calling." (Then, I acknowledged that this was probably the most unusual phone call I'd ever had. Every prospective birthmother I spoke with agreed. It definitely helped break the ice.) "We don't have any children and we aren't able to have children. The phone has been so quiet and we're happy you called."
Questions to ask. "What's your name? Are you pregnant? (If yes, how are you feeling? How far along are you? If no, are you calling for someone who is pregnant?) Have you called any other ads? Who do you live with? Do you have any other children? What makes you think about choosing adoption? Are you exploring other options at this point? Is your baby's father helping you?"
What not to ask. Whether she's working, going to school, or going to the doctor. (If the birthmother chooses you, these questions will come up over the course of your relationship. In a future post, I'll share how I approached whether or not the prospective birthmother is getting prenatal care, which I believe is a very important question to ask.)
Explain where you are in the adoption process. I said that we were completely approved to adopt; that before anyone in New York can adopt they need to be cleared by the FBI. I explained all the things we had to do -- get fingerprinted, have a homestudy, submit our taxes to show that we were financially stable, go to the doctor to show we were healthy.
Tell the potential birthmother about you. I shared that Tony and I had known each other for a long time. I said that we loved children and always wanted to be parents, and, most important, were ready to be parents. I mentioned the stability of our relationship and that we owned our home. I talked about our family and friends, especially the ones who live close by. 
Concluding the conversation. "Can I send you our profile book? What's your address? I'm so happy to talk to you and I'd love to talk some more. What's your number? Can we talk again tomorrow?" After each call, I immediately called my attorney to discuss the conversation. 
How we answered sticky questions…
Money. Whenever a question about money arose I said, "We'd love to help you with anything that's legal. This is why we hired an attorney who knows adoption, and we trust her. Tell her what you need." 
I once had a caller who said he was a friend of a birthmother. He sounded genuine to me and he said he could fax me her medical record to prove that she was pregnant. He said the woman needed money for rent immediately or she would be evicted. I spoke with him at length, but told him I couldn't send any money without speaking to my attorney. I told him he could contact my attorney directly and gave him her number. He never called. 
Relocation. I had one potential birthmother ask if she could live with us. I said, as I'd been coached, that that sounded like a perfect thing to do and let's talk to the attorney.
Religion, marital status, age. Answer any questions on these topics with complete honesty. My husband and I are not religious. When asked about religion, I shared that we were both raised Catholic and that our family's holidays were focused around children. Now on to the question that probably caused the most anxiety for me -- age. At the time I was 45 and worried that a potential birthmother would think "what a geezer." Not the case at all! Our consultant said we should emphasis all the positives that came with our being older parents -- we had established careers and were financially stable, which would allow me to be a stay-at-home mom. Also, we were at a point in our lives when we were ready, and excited, to be parents. 
In general, defer to your experts. For any question or subject that left me feeling perplexed, the best advice I received from my expert team was to be a sympathetic listener and let my attorney handle it.
Some things to keep in mind... 
Let her know you care. Before I picked up the phone, I always took a deep breath and reminded myself to speak to this woman as I would speak to a good friend -- with care and respect. I asked her, "How are you feeling? What are your plans for the weekend? What television shows do you like?" I also called when I said I would call. Once I connected with a birthmother, I tried to set up a regular time to talk each week. 
Never hesitate. We were told by our adoption consultant that a prospective birthmother may test our commitment and that it was important for us to respond to her without hesitation and with enthusiasm. I remember potential birthmothers asking if we wanted a boy or a girl, or what if the baby wasn't healthy. I responded that we wanted a baby to love. When one prospective birthmother asked, "Do you want a closed adoption?" I thanked her for asking how we felt about it and told her that the degree of openness in our adoption would be up to her and we would support her in whatever decision she made. Another question I got was, "Will you come and meet me?" I replied, "Yes, of course! And we can make it special. Do you have a favorite restaurant we can go to?" 
What a relief! I remember my attorney telling me, "Barbara, it's not your job to screen and qualify a potential birthmother, that's my job." My job was to create a connection, send out our adoption profile book, follow up with each potential birthmother, and eventually ask her to call my attorney. That was it. We didn't get many phone calls, but the ones we did led us to our daughter's biological mother
I hope this was helpful. I would love to hear about your experiences speaking with expectant mothers and any wisdom you'd like to pass along to others going through their wild adoption rides right now. 

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LOVED this!!!  Where did you advertise????

By shadowellis on Saturday, January 21, 2012 at 5:27 am.

Very nice! Thanks!

By MotheringBoys on Thursday, January 26, 2012 at 5:53 pm.

Hi, this is great advice. I tried doing my own outreach like this for 2 years but didn’t succeed and it finally wore me down. Since I don’t work from home I could get the call anytime…
I am curious about a few things:
How and when did you get them to call your attorney. My atty advised in the 1st 1 to 3 calls get that done. I found it very hard and they often wouldn’t call the atty. He wanted this done so he could begin to get info from them and not have me waste time with someone who was not even pregnant. I was never pushy but I wonder how you did it.
The other thing was meeting them—would you meet them before they contacted your atty? We did it once and felt like fools—took a day from work to fly to meet her. It never panned out and we lost $500 in airfares. Our atty wanted us to have her call him 1st but she kept saying she wanted to meet us 1st. The meeting was fine but the whole thing utlimatly fell apart.

By babydreams on Thursday, January 26, 2012 at 6:34 pm.

Hi Babydreams,

I tended to follow the prospective birthmother’s lead when it came to bringing up our attorney. The goal I had in mind was to get her contact information to send her our profile book and speak on the phone with her again. However, I would always let a prospective birthmother know that I really trusted and liked my attorney, that she was down-to-earth and easy to talk to, and she would be able to answer any and all questions that the birthmother had.

I remember conversations usually turned to “what do we do next” or some question about money. At this point, I would let a birthmom know that obviously this situation was new to me as well and I often wasn’t clear about what the next steps were, but my attorney knew everything about adoption, and the best thing to do would be if she called the attorney directly. If BM said she didn’t like attorneys or got nervous, I would say I understood, speaking to an attorney can be nerve wracking, but I would then stress again how nice and caring my attorney was and that I liked and trusted her. Ultimately, I would tell a prospective BM that if she chose us and wanted to move forward with us, she would have to speak to our attorney.

By Barbara Herel on Thursday, January 26, 2012 at 9:27 pm.

Nicely done, thanks so much!

By babydreams on Thursday, January 26, 2012 at 11:30 pm.

How long did you advertise?  What did you say???

By shadowellis on Thursday, January 26, 2012 at 11:48 pm.

All advertising was placed the end of August. I worked from home for a month and didn’t leave the house to take every call. Mind you, we didn’t get many.

We connected with the first prospective birthmother in September. Ultimately, this turned out to be a failed adoption. Then right before Thanksgiving, our attorney told us about another birthmother she was working with. The prospective adoptive couple dropped out of the picture (this had nothing to do with the birthmother). We sent our profile book (birthmother received 10 books)and she picked us. This turned out to be our birthmother.

Our daughter was born in February. We were at the hospital for her birth and were even given a room, free of charge, right down the hall from birthmother. Today, we have an open adoption with her.

Looking back from the time we placed the advertising, it all went very quickly. But I gotta tell you, it certainly didn’t feel like it when we were in it!

By Barbara Herel on Friday, January 27, 2012 at 3:37 am.

Oh, almost forgot about what we said in our ad. I remember there was some back and forth with our adoption consultant about this… I’d have to go through my “adoption box” to double-check, but the ad was close to the following: 

Adopt: Author & TV Director,
Secure, Creative, Happy Home,
Sing-a-longs & Outdoor Fun await.
Expenses Paid
Tony & Barbara 1-800-xxx-xxxx

By Barbara Herel on Friday, January 27, 2012 at 8:14 pm.

Where all did you place the ad???

By shadowellis on Saturday, January 28, 2012 at 5:28 am.

For that I will definitely have to go through “the adoption box.” It was placed in local papers like a Pennysavers in IN, PA, AL, AK and WA. Our advertising budget was around $8000. The kicker, of course, is that ultimately we didn’t connect with our daughter’s birthmother through our ad.

By Barbara Herel on Sunday, January 29, 2012 at 1:15 am.
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Barbara Herel

Barbara Herel

New York

I have recently adopted or am adopting from...
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