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Adoption Blog: My Paperwork Pregnancies

The Stress of Open Adoption Letters

From getting gifts to my kids' teachers before the last day of school before winter break and sending out our family Christmas cards so they arrived before the 25th, I feel like there are 50,000 holiday-related deadlines in December. On top of the normal deadlines of running a household—which for me consists of three kids, two dogs, and my husband—that leaves no time for procrastinating.

I know holiday stress is normal for families, whether we like it or not. Yet my biggest seasonal stressor is not normal for most. It has nothing to do with buying the right gift, decorating the house, or making cookies for church. Every year it's the same seemingly simple task of having to sit down and write a few pages about my children that is the most time consuming and emotionally draining. Go ahead: Ask me about any of my kids and I can brag for hours about their accomplishments and how adorable they are. But if I have to sum up a year of any of their lives in a few pages, and send them to the people who created my children, to whom I am eternally grateful, and who I imagine are yearning to learn as much they can from my words, it's hard, really hard.

But as my part of upholding our open adoption arrangement, I agonized over every word, sentence, and description of a personality trait or family vacation in our annual adoption letters. (Can't you see the pressure mounting?) Every year, I am positive each letter will take me at least a week or two to complete as it is such an emotional experience.

Even before I write my letters, I sort through the past year's worth of pictures and pick out 20 to 30 to give each set of birthparents. I take my time—hours, even days—examining. Does he look cute enough? Can you tell she's having fun? Are there enough close-up shots? Do I have enough pictures of their birthday party?

Going through all the pictures helps me remember our family's activities from the previous year. But I also try to recall moments not captured by a camera. What movies and television shows did my son watch over and over? What was my daughter's favorite thing about playing soccer? At the parent-teacher conference, how exactly did the teacher describe my child? I do my best to convey these small moments in my letters.

It's because I want to give the best representation of my children to each of their respective birthparents that I stress over the pictures, the wording of my sentences, and the content of my paragraphs. I need them to know how happy their children are and how happy we are to have them in our family. If there is anything I can do to help them in the healing process for what I imagine was a difficult decision—adoption—I want to do it.

I always write how thankful we are to have our children in our family, that we think of them daily, and that we pray for their happiness. I also politely ask for some correspondence to share with the kids. Unfortunately, this last request has been ignored for many years, which has caused me much sadness. (I've written about how it's affected me and my children.)

This year though, I realized something which has helped ease my pain: If I spend days picking out pictures, and worrying about the wording of my annual letter, maybe my children's birthparents are in a similarly difficult position. My end of this arrangement—sending pictures of my beautiful children and bragging about them for pages and pages—seems easier than theirs. The question I've often asked—How hard is it really for them to just send a letter?—overlooks the anxiety I feel about preparing my letters each and every year, let alone the emotions my children's birthparents may be coping with each time they think about what to say to the children they chose to place for adoption. I can only imagine how daunting that might be. Perhaps they worry about coming across too happy, too distant, or that their words might leave their children feeling forgotten or separate from their lives since the adoption.

Considering how it might be for the parents on the other side of our open adoptions, I feel guilty for the sadness and anger I've felt and expressed about the lack of correspondence from my children's birthparents.

And while I have a deadline of getting my pictures and letters to my adoption agency by a specific date each December—something we agreed to, in writing, when we adopted—there is no deadline for my children's birthparents to write back. Perhaps every year as I'm feeling overwhelmed about my letters, they're also thinking about writing me—but get so overwhelmed their letters never end up in the mail. It's possible that every time they think about it, they say, "Tomorrow, I'll work on that." And suddenly, a year or two goes by. I know how easy it is to procrastinate when something seems especially difficult.

So, as another year has ended, I've sent my annual pictures and letters of my children, which will never be a fully adequate way to say thank you for the precious kids in my life. But this year, I'm grateful mine is the stress of figuring out how to thank them in the best way possible, rather than the kind of stress that is likely keeping my children's birthparents from writing back. From now on, I will imagine them sitting down to write their letters every year, putting so much thought into what to say. Whenever the letters arrive will be just fine with me.

Find related articles on open adoptions from Adoptive Families magazine and join related discussions on AdoptiveFamiliesCircle's Open Adoption Group.

Related Posts on AdoptiveFamiliesCircle


Not the point of your post but why not write a short letter each month and save them until the end of the year and send 12 short letters instead of one long one.

By Belle's Mama on Saturday, January 08, 2011 at 12:21 am.

Loved your post. It mirrors so many of my own thoughts and feelings. At first the updates made me really nervous because I didn’t want to say the “wrong thing.” I have come to view them as another way adoption has blessed our family. Not all parents pause long enough to really look at the details in photos and ponder what their family has experienced in the last few months. (We do it three times a year.) It takes us about two weeks to complete the process, too, and it’s worth every minute of it. Everyone participates. The updates remind us all of this precious gift. And even as time passes, I still can’t believe how lucky I am to be the one called “Mommy.” Wow.

By 3genadopt on Saturday, January 08, 2011 at 5:36 pm.

This was beautifully written!  I am such a worrier and perfectionist, but for some reason the letter that I just sent did not cause me much anxiety.  I’m honestly feeling more anxious after reading your words because I feel like I should have placed more thought into my letter and the pictures that I sent! 

I guess there are really two reasons I wasn’t so worried about the letters.  First, I email back and forth with my daughter’s birthparents about once or twice each month.  Second, I have already sent three updates this year.  So, I guess my scenario is a bit different. 

I’m so happy that I read your article, though, because it makes me think about where I will be one year from now.  Maybe the emails won’t keep coming.  Also, I will only send the one update through my agency next year.  I think I may take the advice of someone above that said to write a little bit each month.  That would be a great way to reflect, and what a great memory book that would make for your kids. 

It really is a blessing to have this record of our little ones’ childhoods.  smile  Thank you for opening this discussion!

By bluebab25 on Sunday, January 16, 2011 at 6:29 am.

I liked reading your thoughts on this. Every time I write a letter, I end it by telling our birthmom that she is welcome to write us back any time if she wants to and that she can ask us any questions she has, etc.  I also offered once that if she wanted to to write a letter soley to our daughter,I would keep it for her, sealed, until she is 18 or whatever age. 

I have not heard anything back from our birthmom.  I feel sad b/c I’d like to know how she is doing. I also feel sad for our daughter.  She is too little to understand now, but I do not look forward to the day when I have to explain why her birthmom is not in contact with us.  I know it is b/c it is too painful for her to contact us, but I hope I can adequately explain that to our daughter some day. 

I also wish I knew for sure that our birthmom is receiving the pictures and letters. It’s funny, but my husband and I still have our birthmom’s cell phone number in our phones from when we met her and had contact with her after the birth of our daughter 18 mos ago. We would never call her out of the blue like that, and yet I wonder why I have not deleted the number from my phone.  Maybe someday she will call or write us.  I hope so.

By Luckymom on Friday, February 04, 2011 at 7:55 pm.

Great post and great comments. We share the stress of conveying the annual joys to the birthparents of our children. At the same time, we share your grief in seldom hearing back from them. Thus here’s my advice: Make copies of the correspondence that you send to the birthparents and keep copies to share with your children. (Sorry, that extra step is not intended to add further stress to the process—-please read on…)

At some point in the future when your children inquire about their birthparents you can show them copies of these letters/emails and pictures to demonstrate that, although you didn’t hear much from them over the years, that at least you kept their birthparents apprised of your children’s development, their milestones and their life. And what an amazing gift that is that we give to both the birthparents as well as our children: we have memorialized and shared their beautiful existence in our lives.

By lucky dads on Friday, February 04, 2011 at 9:46 pm.

I have a different problem. My daughter is 7. Our adoption started out open. In the last 3 years our bm and her mom have moved and we don’t know where they are. The cards and letters I have sent have been returned. My daughter is heartbroken and does not understand. She is frightened that her bm will die before she gets to meet her. For the first 4 years we had contact and now nothing. My friends do not understand my frustration. They think I should be glad she is out of the picture. She gave birth to my terrific, adorable, wonderful little girl and now she is just gone!

By Mama2Molly on Friday, February 04, 2011 at 10:48 pm.

As the poster luckydads above, I make copies of the letters I send too. I thought the same way - that my daughter will want to read what we sent to her birthmom over the years about her. And it’s a way for me to chronical how she is growing and what she is doing year to year. 

Im sorry to hear from mama2molly about losing touch with her birthmom. We try so hard to do all the right things for our kids, but so many of them are out of our control.

By Luckymom on Saturday, February 05, 2011 at 6:08 pm.

I take pains to write sensitive letters, too. Ones that are sensitive and hoefully, give our birth mother some comfort. She often writes back and we exchange through the agency which I think is great since if either of us moves then the other can still keep in contact as promised in our agreement. I also make copies of all the letters so my daughter can see them when she is older. Other adoptive moms often seem very upset at our semi-open arrangement but this is what both sides agreed to upon placement and during our last conference call I asked the birth mother her thoughts on our arrangement. She said that it was all she wanted because she couldn’t handle more. So, I send letter and cards and lots of photos to the agency way more than every 6 months as agreed to- more like every other month so that she is reassured that she made a good decision. Have you thought about writing more than once a year? It might make it easier to write a few times so you don’t have so much time to cover- just a thought-  I know that what works for some adoptive paretns doesn’t work for others smile

By mel123 on Monday, May 09, 2011 at 7:07 pm.

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Danielle Pennel

Danielle Pennel


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