Distance Makes the Heart Ache: Building Bridges to Birth Family

By Raquel McCloud

April 2, 2024

My oldest daughter, the sweet girl I placed for adoption just a few months after my fifteenth birthday, called me on a random day in May. I was driving to a long dreaded dentist appointment, or maybe I was already on my way home…some of the details are a bit fuzzy. What I know for sure is that I was driving our big Ford F-250 truck, it was raining hard, and I was navigating city traffic. All of this was a recipe for anxiety, but when she called in the middle of a work day, I was concerned enough to answer.

“Is everything okay? I’m driving and have you on speaker.”

“Yeah, everything’s fine, I just wanted to know if you might want to go to a concert with me in September?”

I was overwhelmed with excitement over the possibility of our first girls' trip but I also knew I had to be practical, so I promised to talk it over with my husband and let her know as soon as possible…four months later I was sitting on a plane while my daughter headed to the airport to pick me up.

We decided to make a whole week of it, so besides road-tripping into Maryland to see the Arctic Monkeys, we also explored the town, got a hotel at the beach, and soaked in all of the little mundane moments we so often take for granted. We enjoyed slow(ish) mornings with expensive iced coffees and late nights with greasy pizza and conversations that lasted into the next day.

It felt surreal…and in a way it was. This wasn’t our reality and soon enough we would go back to our normal lives…600 miles apart.

Navigating the Logistics of Reunion

I am nearly twenty-one years post-placement, and about twelve years into reunion, and in my experience, the most tragic challenge of a long-distance relationship is the inevitable loss of time. It’s an asset so valuable, once spent, it cannot be regained and this perpetual loss is insanely familiar within the adoption community; oftentimes, whether near or far it’s our one common ground.

Missed opportunities seem to be a dull ache that most birthmothers and many adoptees are acutely aware of.

While this reality is always fresh on my mind, it tends to be a bit more tender when my oldest brings up coming to visit. It’s when I’m faced with the hard truth that it’s not as easy as a car ride or even a weekend road trip. It takes months of budgeting, planning, and sacrifice to make it happen.

I was reminded of the challenges again this past Christmas when she asked if she could spend half of her holiday vacation with us. I hate to admit that such a special moment was temporarily overshadowed by logistics, but it was. A quick search for plane ticket costs around such a major holiday and all the added dynamics that go into our planning visits because we live nomadically and never know with any certainty where we will be months in advance, made the prospect of our first Christmas together feel impossible.

As expectant mamas create adoption plans and prospective adoptive families discuss expectations, physical distance is sometimes overlooked. Maybe it isn’t considered because no one knows how these relationships will evolve. Other times, I think the distance is a welcomed space, a buffer between our fear of the unknown. Sometimes it's just an oversight or the reality of an uncertain future; jobs change, opportunities arise, people move. Yet no matter the origin, the challenges persist all the same.

Creating Connections Where You Can

Fortunately, there is a bit of silver lining to this gray cloud. When we know better, we can do better. We certainly can’t predict the future, but we can prepare for it with a collection of knowledge from those who have traveled these roads before us. I won’t pretend to have the kind of solution that feels like a miracle, but I do have some lived experience and ideas that might help the distance feel a little less pronounced…and remember mamas and papas, you can cultivate these practices early on.

No two relationships between adoptive and birth families are the same but in my years of advocacy, I’ve seen some done really well and others not so much.

The level of connection will vary from person to person and is dependent on two willing parties, but it’s clear that establishing boundaries and creating connections with birth family is a valuable part of the adoption experience and something that your child is counting on you for.

Without further ado, here are five things you can put into practice no matter how great or small the distance is between you and the birth family.

FaceTime Is Better Than No Time

I’m just old enough to have escaped a childhood, adolescence and early adulthood consumed by electronics. I’m familiar with it now but some things still feel more awkward than convenient…like FaceTime. Or at least it did until I complained one too many times about it to my firstborn daughter and she communicated that she liked it because she could see me instead of just hearing me. As obvious as that seems, it hadn’t crossed my mind.

Now every time I see a FaceTime call coming in from her, I smile, no longer cranky about this technology, but grateful it gives us the opportunity to see each other from hundreds of miles apart.

Budget In Advance

This one is for birth families AND adoptive families: create a travel fund! Even if you can only spare to set aside $10 or $20 a week, it will add up and help alleviate the financial strain of future trips. If you aren’t in a position to save anything (been there)...

...Be bold enough to ask for travel money, flight miles, gas cards, etc., anytime someone asks what you want for a gift. Set it aside and let it accumulate until you can fund your next trip.

On that note, be honest. If the financial strain is too great, communicate that truth instead of allowing the other person to worry about why you are unwilling to plan a trip. More than once my daughter’s parents have fully funded a plane ticket that enabled her to come visit because we were in a tight spot and couldn’t contribute.

Send Care Packages

Just because we have the capability to FaceTime doesn’t mean physical mail is unnecessary. Maybe you don’t have anything new to say in a letter, but don’t underestimate the thrill of opening up an intentionally pieced-together package! Consider sending small care packages every so often. It doesn’t have to be expensive, a new book, some homemade treats…anything that says, “I’m thinking of you.”

*Bonus tip: There is a company called Post Resources that has taken some of the guesswork out of keeping adoptees and birth families connected. They have kits, subscriptions, and holiday-themed prompts intended to build connections and preserve memories, emotions and thoughts even holding space for absent biological relationships.

Find Connection Points

Adoptees love finding similarities and interests that connect them with their birth family. Being intentional in that way is a great way to help cultivate those relationships while apart. Is there a show or a book they can read or watch simultaneously? A skill, a sport, or a talent they share and can discuss? Maybe a monthly recipe exchange or even a silly game over Facetime…the possibilities are endless, it just needs to be age-appropriate and intentional.

Make A Schedule

Plan ahead with regular video calls or phone calls for consistent conversation. Children thrive on structure and predictability. Creating a routine can help them feel more secure in the relationship when physical distance is a barrier. There is no need to over-commit or promise more than you can manage. Whether it becomes a weekly routine or monthly check-in, having it on the calendar can become an exciting thing for everyone to look forward to.

This list is far from exhaustive but it's a great start for those hoping to navigate distance with intention. If this concept is still new or scary and you’re asking yourself why, I have a few answers.

  • Cultivating and preserving healthy biological connections have been linked to better outcomes for both birth family and adoptees.
  • Birthmothers can gain a deeper sense of peace regarding their decision to place their child. Seeing how they adjust, grow, and thrive offers a level of reassurance that is absent in no-contact situations.
  • Birth parents can also find comfort in knowing that their birth child will always know them and have the chance to hear his or her adoption story and the reasons for placing him or her into an adoptive family.
  • Additionally, birth families benefit just from the opportunity to know their birth child and celebrate his or her accomplishments throughout life. The benefits for adoptees are just as extensive.
  • Children with healthy biological connections have access to their stories, medical information, biological family histories and more which can offer a sense of peace as they process their stories.

Unsurprisingly, adoptive parents who are supportive of an adoptee's access to information and biological relationships tend to cultivate a deeper bond and genuine trust between them and their child. I’ve seen this time and time again from hundreds of adult adoptees who have shared their personal experiences with me. Putting a face to the statistics and facts instantly makes them feel more pressing to get right. Something I keep in mind as a kinship adoptive mom, educator and advocate. I’m not just preaching it, I’m living it y’all.

At the end of the day, none of this is easy but it’s important. Both adoptive and potential adoptive parents deserve the education and tools to navigate this journey well. I have a feeling that’s why you’re here, reading through these tips…because you care. What a beautiful place to be, one open to learning from the lived experience of others for the wellbeing of your child and the ones that entrusted them to you.

Raquel McCloud Raquel McCloud grew up a child of kinship care and is also a birthmother in reunion, and kinship adoptive mom that uses her lived experience, education and community involvement to cultivate resources like this! You can find her adoption and kinship care children’s books on Amazon at and follow her Instagram @McCloudLife for daily adoption and kinship care content.

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