Speaker Series: Birth Parent Relationships & Navigating Reunion with April Guffey

By Jess Nelson, Community Manager, PairTree

June 19, 2024

April Guffey is an Adult Adoptee, Adoption Coach, and creator of Mercy and Healing.

Through April's lens as an adult adoptee and Jess' perspective as a birth parent, this was a powerful conversation discussing:

  • Creating space for birth parents in your lives.

  • Maintaining birth family relationships, even when it's difficult.

  • The role of Birth Fathers in adoption and navigating reunion.

Jess Nelson, Community Manager at PairTree: Welcome everyone, my name's Jess. I'm the Community Manager here at PairTree, and I am so excited to have April join us tonight to talk about birth parent relationships and navigating reunion. April is an adult adoptee and an adoption coach and the founder of Mercy and Healing, where she offers her speaking, coaching, and her incredible writing services, to help foster and adoptive families navigate challenges, educate them, and just empower them to be better parents and service to their kids.

April, welcome back! It was a long, long time without you. Why don't you take a few minutes and introduce yourself. Tell us a little bit about yourself, and kind of what led you to start Mercy and Healing.

April Guffey, Adoptee & Adoption Coach: Absolutely. It's good to be back. I have a 4 month old, so I feel like I'm rising from the ashes a little bit. So 4 month old, 6 year old and 8 year old, all girls, girl mom. Just totally love them to death. It's so fun and exhausting. I live in Central Oregon and just love all the things outdoors. We love to go camping as a family. I work part-time for a local nonprofit that supports foster families, and so I just feel so fortunate to be able to use my passions to help others. And so yep, I started Mercy and Healing. I saw a huge gap in adoption services. I saw the Foster care world, and felt like there was in most instances, inadequate support, and even for families pursuing adoption. There seemed to be okay support. But as soon as that adoption was finalized I noticed that a lot of those supports fell off. And as adoptive parents know, challenges don't stop when that adoption is finalized a lot of times. That's when they get kicked into high gear.

And so I wanted to provide both my professional and lived experience as just mentorship to these families I wanted to give my insights into. Why is my adoptee freaking out after they had a visit with their bio family? Just little nuances that really if you have lived experience in the adoption field, it's so so valuable. I also wanted to give adoptive parents hope. A lot of diagnoses, if you will, such as fetal fetal alcohol syndrome, drug baby things like that are very scary and are not talked about very often. And so as a drug baby myself, just to give adoptive parents hope that a lot of times adoption, even with no diagnoses, is very intimidating. But even if you add in a couple it can just seem downright downright daunting. And so to give those adoptive families hope that every single adoptee has hope, and that our stories do not stop with our adoption. They do not stop with our diagnoses, and that we are strong, and with your help as adoptive parents can overcome pretty much anything.

J: I love it and you are. You're absolutely right with everything that you just said. Like, 1st of all, adoption doesn't end at finalization. Truly, that's when it begins. That's when the real work begins. And you're kind of out of this little safety net of the adoption professionals you've had guiding you up into this point. And now you're kind of like in the real world. And you have to figure out how to build these relationships, maintain these relationships and so that's something that we're gonna talk about today.

Navigating Reunion with Birth/Biological Family

J: But first, since we just celebrated father's day yesterday, you wrote such an incredible blog post recently kind of talking about your own journey to finding your birth, father. And so I just kind of want to get into what that journey was like for you.

A: Yeah, yeah, I try to condense it into a reader digest version. And so I'll do my best to just kind of get a snapshot of it. But I was adopted out of foster care. So when I was born I had already had my 5 older siblings taken away by the state due to abuse or neglect. So when I was born, I tested positive for substances. My bio mom tested positive, and the State said, Absolutely not. You cannot take her, went straight into Foster care, and thankfully that 1st Foster home did adopt me. Birth Mom had no idea who my birth father was. She had no name even put on the birth certificate, but she did kind of throw a random man's name on there for court paperwork of who she thought possibly could be the father.

So I grew up, not having any biological mirrors, as we call it, in the adoption community. I didn't have pictures of my birth parents. I had no idea what my medical history was. And a lot of those things like the lovely school projects of building your family tree just kind of festered, and added salt to that wound of I don't really know who I am, because I don't know where and who I came from.

So when I turned 18, I decided, you know what, I'm gonna look up that random man's name that was on that court paperwork. See if I can't find him. I was able to find him connected with him and had a paternity test, but it was negative, and I really wasn't prepared for the onslaught of depression. Really, that would come. I didn't realize how big that wound was in me, that only my biological family could fill until that negative paternity test came, and so it took years to even muster up the courage to look again.

I definitely had to do therapy. I had to have some frank conversations with my adoptive parents about just things that I struggled with growing up. And I really had to 1st be okay with either never finding my birth father, or finding someone that I didn't want in my life before I could start to search again. I really had to make peace with that. And so I felt like I did. And I said, You know what ancestry has a sale. I'm just gonna do the darn thing. And this was kind of gonna be my last ditch effort, and if I couldn't find him, it is what it is. And I really, truly finally felt. Okay, again, years of therapy, years of healing. Your adoptee probably won't feel this way growing up. It's a journey. And so did ancestry, and nothing happened for a while.

But about 6 months later I connected with a cousin, and we went one by one of her 6 uncles. And we were like, Yeah, that's not him. Timeline doesn't match up. He passed away before I was born. For one reason or another none of them seemed to make sense, and so again, thankfully due to the healing that I had experienced. I was like, All right, it's just not gonna happen. So I got a message a couple of days later from my cousin, and she said my uncle was just sitting downstairs in his man cave, and he had an epiphany of a random one night stand that he had with a lady named Sharon. Is that your birth mother's name by any chance? And that was the only thing I had was her name, and sure enough, that was her name.

So I wanted to get on the phone with him right away, not sure that this is how most people would react. But I just had been waiting for 28 years at this point to just have a picture, just have a snippet of information. And so I wanted to get on the phone and just ask him all the questions. And I did. And he was so kind and so sweet. He apologized time and time again. He said he had no idea I existed. If he would have known he would have definitely been involved, and it was definitely way more than I ever expected. And so he came out a few months later and met my girls, met my family, and so we have been in reunion now for a little over 2 years, and he actually came out for my graduation from college last year and met my adoptive family. And that was amazing.

And his last name is Morgan, and I never got to have that last name, obviously cause he didn't know about me. But my little girl, who's 4 months old. Her name is Morgan, and so she'll get to carry his name for the rest of her life, which, when I told him he absolutely lost it, this big 6 foot man just totally crumbled into tears. So that is the very quick readers digest version of my search for my father.

J: Well, I wanna cry. I didn't know that you had named your little girl Morgan.

A: Yeah, as soon as we got pregnant, we said, if it's a girl we love Morgan, and just all we love the name anyways. But then all that it stood for, and just the redemption that is, in that it just was so obvious.

J: Oh, my goodness! I love that so growing up, I know that you got to grow up with your sister, but aside from your sister you didn't have any connection to your mom. And then, you know, you didn't have a connection to your dad until a couple of years ago, right?

A: Correct. Yeah. So our birth mom, we had no idea where she was, what she looked like. And then, when we found the guy who I thought could be my birth father. On Facebook we actually found our 2 oldest birth brothers, half brothers, same mom, different dad, my sister and I found, and they had let us know that she had passed away about 6 months earlier, that she had never gotten clean. And so yeah, I grew up, never having a relationship with her. And so at that time I did finally get some pictures of her, but correct no, no biological mirror, except for my sister, thankfully that I was adopted with.

How Adoptive Parents Can Support Adoptees Through Search & Reunion

J: Oh, my goodness. Okay, big question.How did your adoptive parents support you on that journey to finding your birth father?

A: Yeah, absolutely. So starting out, my parents tried to keep track of where my birth mom was. It was extremely hard, and they did eventually lose track of her. They also tried to keep track of any siblings that came after me. With the state involved. It was a little easier than if you're doing private adoption. But they just tried to keep track of whatever they could keep track of through social workers. Now we have social media. I'm sure they would have utilized that if we would have had it back then.

And they just always told me. If you want to look. We'll support you and there was never a stigma to it. They never talked bad about my birth parents. They always formed it in ways that, Yes, she struggles with drug abuse, but a lot of times that's not a choice. And a lot of people who turn to drugs have been through really horrific things, and just really speaking about where I came from and my birth parents in a positive light, humanizing them and just making them humans, right? Like, I think birth parents are so often villainized, and that's not what they did at all. And I saw that also as foster parents, they just talked highly of how hard these parents were working to try and get those kiddos back. And even if the kiddos did have to be adopted. Wow! They're really trying to keep in contact. And so there was no bad talking, no bashing and they also really really encouraged me. You know, if you ever want to search, if you want to know, we don't have the answers, but we will support you when you do wanna search. And then when I called them and let them know. Hey, crazy! I just found my biological father. The 1st words out of my adoptive father's mouth were, “the more the merrier”, and he lives that out. My mom lives that out. It's not just a saying for them. There's no competition. Just yesterday I called all of my dad's, my father in law, my biological father, and my adopted father yesterday, and that was one of the things my adopted father asked was, How's Richard doing? How is he doing? How's he feeling? How's his health? Just was genuine.

And so I just knew, okay, they're okay with this. So I can be okay with this. And that was kind of just kind of an epiphany. And this goes and kind of to like what their support meant to me is just. I had so many demons that I was fighting, and so many emotions that I was fighting in deciding to search, and then in finding him and I don't know what I would have done if I also had to shoulder the feelings and demons of my adoptive parents. I honestly think it would have been too much, and I don't think I would have searched because I could barely handle the storm going on inside of me if I would have had negative feelings from them, or even just like Whoa! You're crazy like you don't know what you're looking for. Don't you remember where you came from, I would have been like, Yeah, you're right. And I'm not because their support and their words of wisdom always meant a lot to me. And so I think it was really really important that they opened that door for me and then kept it open through the years, and then, when I decided to walk through it, they had nothing but support for me.

J: I am so grateful that your parents supported you in that journey. I know in talking to a lot of other birth parents and adoptees and even adoptive parents. That's not always the case, you know. You hear a lot of adoptive parents feeling as if searching for birth family is almost as if it's an attack on them, or you know they feel kind of like you said. You know, we weren't enough for something along those lines, and so I'm so grateful that your parents supported you in that journey.

Do you feel like them supporting you through that, and even just growing up you know the way that they talked about your birth family and talked about your story and humanized instead of villainized, do you think that that helped your relationship with them growing up as well.

A: Absolutely. Yeah. It. It built a foundation of trust there that I know I can go to talk to you about, hey, I'm really missing my birth mom today, because someone was talking about their mom at school. And they just went on a special date. And like, I don't need that. But I just wanna know what she looks like, and them just listening. I wouldn't have gone to them with those struggles if I didn't trust them. And so it definitely builds that foundation of trust.

And I think this can be a very controversial statement, what I'm about to say, full disclosure. But I think it helps posture your heart the way it needs to be postured in adoption. And I really do think adoption should be trying to find families for children, not children, for families. And so if that stings a little bit, hear me out. You're not the villain either. That just means that there needs to be some hard work done there. There needs to be some listening to adoptees. There needs to be that heart posture. If you're trying to provide a family for a child you want what's best for that child you want. Whoever's gonna be good for that child to speak into their life. You're gonna want to build a community up for that child. If you're looking for a child to fit in your family then you're gonna be looking to that child to do things that they're never gonna be able to do. They're never gonna be able to fill that hole that you need them to fill in your family. And so I think that's a really great place to start for adoptive parents is, what is my heart posture towards adoption? 1st and foremost, because that will definitely affect how you talk about birth families, how you really put the effort into include them is how you then build that foundation of trust with your adoptee, so that when they're coming to you, when they're having a hard time, or if you set a boundary for them, and they're really upset and they scream at you. I hate you. I just want to go back to my real parents. You're not triggered. You take a step back. You realize that that is just set out of extreme hurt, and you're able to meet your adoptee where they're at. And so that's my little, it's tough, it's tough, and I'm not an adoptive parent. And so I'm very, very careful of that, too. But Adoptees really really need adoptive parents to get into those trenches with them. Not to act like the trenches don't exist.

J: Absolutely. I'm so glad you said that. I think that's such an important message for adoptive parents to hear and kind of keep in the back of their mind as they're going along this adoption journey, because, you know, I talk to adoptive parents, and you do, too, through your work. We talk to adoptive parents often as they're really getting started on their adoption journey. And so they're filling out all their paperwork for agencies or whatnot, and they get to that question about openness. And a lot of times at the very beginning, a lot of prospective, adoptive parents are like either. I want a closed adoption. Or I, you know, just wanna send emails in person visits or terrifying facetime is terrifying and so I think the more work that we're doing to educate on openness and creating space in your lives and in your hearts and in your home for birth families, you know the better adoptees, the better relationships and opportunities adoptees are going to have growing up and being able to establish those healthy relationships with their birth family.

A: Yeah. Yeah. And the science now shows we have scientific studies now to prove that adoptees really do need not just a picture, but they need a relationship because the Ghost Kingdom is a popular king, a term, and I know we have quickly talked about it before. But we it's very common for us to build up my mom as a prince princess, and my dad is a prince, and they're gonna come in on a white horse and save me the relationship with actual birth mom and dad tears that down and makes them realize, wow, yeah, my birth, mom does have some struggles. And so, you know, loving her, taking some work, and even then I was able to then have gratitude for my adoptive parents of Wow. I really can see how it would have been because you were honest about my birth family. And even though I didn't have that relationship growing up, I can look back and say, Wow! My birth dad was a single man. He really struggled. Would I have been better off being raised by him? I don't know. I'll never have a full answer to that, but I am so grateful that my adoptive parents stepped up and said, Yes.

J: Love that, I think we had a question.

Guest: Yeah, I am an adoptive mom. My little girl is about 17 months old now, and my question is a little different, but in the same vein is what you're saying here. So where we wanted open adoption the whole time. We are in very, very close connection with birth mom. She's actually coming out for a visit next week, and it's just that kind of beautiful. Birth Dad was very tumultuous the 1st year he contested the adoption, and just wasn't in a good place. But I really want openness with him and a relationship with him. And right now. He's being very resistant, but we are connecting with his mom. So, bio grandmother, and my question to you and I know yours is just your story, but I would love just to hear your opinion. I don't ever want to put my daughter in an awkward spot right because I'm forging this and wanting this. But what if she doesn't mirror that for a little while? Right? And so I just wanna be sensitive to her, you know. Cause I've heard I have a lot of adoptees in my world, and they all have a different opinion. Right? Some of them are like, I have no interest right, and some are like, Oh, yes, I cherish that relationship, or and so just some guidance, or you just your opinion on what is. I know how my heart is. So I really want a relationship. But also I want to respect her, and I don't want to force it on her just because it's something I think she needs.

A: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. I always like to, because it's hard, right? We don't know what she'll want. I like to think of what is going to make her life the easiest long term. So there's 2 ends of that spectrum: completely forcing ourselves on him and continuing to pester him, and continuing to say, Hey, we want you to see her. Is that long term going to be what's best for her or is it completely saying, Okay, we give up on you going to be what's best for her? Because then, what if in 10 years she comes back and says, No, I actually want to find him. Well, we actually have no idea where he is. And so I think the answer lies somewhere in that very gray middle which a lot of adoption does is. You know, keeping track of him, sending him maybe a couple of times a year, and I'd love to hear what Jess has to say. But a couple of times a year, you know, maybe sending a picture. If that's where you're at, or just sending a text or an email or something in the mail, saying, Hey, we're thinking of you. We hope all is good, absolutely forging that relationship with grandma. I think that's amazing, because that is a very valid connection on his side. And so, if he never comes around, if he never wants a relationship that is not quite the same thing, but almost just as good. And so again, that's a very gray area. But that's a lot of what falls into adoption. I try to think long term of what is going to make the easiest situation for my adoptee. When they're older. Whether they decide they want no contact or whether they decide they want full contact.

Guest: Thank you. No, that's beautiful. Appreciate that.

J: I would absolutely agree with April. I think, continuing to reach out and try to build that relationship as much as possible until he officially says, like, No, please stop. And even if he does say No, please stop, saving the things that you would send to him anyway. I have a rubbermaid tote. You know I'm part of one open adoption, one closed adoption. I keep a rubbermaid tote in my closet of all the things that I want my daughter that I'm in a closed adoption, with all the letters I send to her, all the cards that I've written her for birthdays and Christmas. I keep them in a box, so that when that relationship does open one day, like I have, you know, 18 years of what I would have sent you when and and you know this is just my opinion, April, you know, you might have a completely different opinion. But I feel like you aren't forcing your daughter into a relationship that she doesn't want. If she grows up knowing that this is a relationship that you've already built, or been building that's already been established. I don't think, you know she's gonna feel forced into anything, if that's all she knows.

A: Yeah, yeah, I agree with that, I think it's her normal and so normal is Mom and Dad trying to connect with my bio dad and attempting to reach out to him. And so then I can decide. I see all of the attempts, you know, texts that weren't responded to, or emails that were never responded to. And again. It chips away at that ghost kingdom. So that when I'm old enough I'm gonna go in weary. I'm gonna go in with a guard up. I'm gonna go in with some boundaries up instead of there's been nothing to go off for 18 years. And so I'm gonna go in. I'm gonna dive right in and not have any boundaries, and then potentially get really, really hurt. And so absolutely, I think it's very, very wise to continue to try while also realizing he may never. And she also may say, You know what, I really don't care. I don't care to have a relationship with him. But then it's a lot easier for her. I've also seen adoptees who have to start at ground 0 kind of like I did no fault to my adoptive parents, but it was tough.

I didn't have anything to go off like I said I thought he would probably be addicted to drugs cause that was my mom's story, or just not be someone that I wanted in my 3 daughters lives. I definitely had my guard up. I definitely, you know, multiple times started to send that ancestry kit and be like, we're gonna wait a little bit. And that's a lot, that's a very big toll. And so if you, as the parent, can try and take some of that off the adoptee’s shoulders by continuing to try and have contact, it's so so helpful.

Guest: It feels right. I I can say that it feels right to continue to make those. I just wanna walk cautiously for her.

A: Absolutely.

Guest: I agree, and I love that. I've never heard that term before like that ghost, syndrome, or whatever. But it's beautiful right, if she can and I mean I always speak the truth. That's always my thing is, I will always speak the truth, and that's where I got inroads with grandma. I was like you are her grandmother. Please be in her world like shy. She will cherish you. I've met the grandmother, and she's wonderful. And so like you were saying earlier, what's best for our daughter, and to have her in her world as well. But I love that kind of syndrome piece of give them truth. Let them, you know, digest it when it’s age appropriate, but that way it's not a mystical scenario, or if he comes back and tells her a different story than what has been portrayed. Right? I just love that I love that.

J: I think it's so important to acknowledge and kind of talk about the role that birth fathers play in the adoption process, and I'm so sorry that you know you had to go through a contested adoption. I know how emotionally exhausting and financially draining that those can be. But, on the other hand, you know, I'm glad that he was at least somewhat involved in the adoption process, because so often expectant women are the ones considering adoption and making the adoption plan and the birth father and his rights are just a complete afterthought, or they're just, you know, a box on a checklist that a social worker has to check off and and in some cases with super unethical professionals, women are encouraged to just put in your case April, a random name on the birth certificate, or even to just put unknown when they're, you know, filling out their adoption paperwork so that no one has to do any extra work along the way, and this is my soap box, so I'll keep it short.

But that's 1 of the reasons why States like Utah, are so popular in adoption because of their really lax laws about birth fathers. So there's a lot of agencies in Utah that encourage women to come there to deliver because they don't have to have a birth father involved, which, just you know, creates a myriad of not only ethical issues, but also you know, 18 years of 30 years of trying to figure out who your birth father is, because he wasn't involved at all in the adoption process. But that's probably a conversation for another day.

A: Well, I think that beautifully goes into, I had to mentally go to what if land? What if he would have known about me? What would that have looked like? What if he would have raised me? Okay, maybe if you wouldn't have raised me? What if he would have been involved. and I really had to grieve the 28 years that we lost out on, and I'm not sure who marked unknown. I don't know, it very well could have been someone at the hospital saying, Just mark unknown like, just make our lives easier. I don't know. And so I had to go there, and you're very, very correct in all of that. There is grief there. There are memories that just will never have been made. He wasn't there for some very, very specific life, things that I would have loved him to be there for. And so I had to grieve that. And again you have to feel it to heal it right. I felt it, and I have healed but even even moving forward there, there's still some grief and sadness there. I think he feels that even more than I do, just by little comments that he says because, he said multiple times, you know I had no idea about you, but I would have thought that you'd be calling me from a jail cell like just from your story, and how you started, and just the trauma you've endured.

And so he's like, you know, I'm just so thankful that you're okay. But I wish I could have been a part of that. And so I think we do absolutely undervalue a birth father's rights and his feelings in all of this. And so I love that you're trying, you know, to fight for your daughter's birth, father, to be involved, and I think a lot of times we do. Just think about the birth, mother, and even more so than just the birth, mother and birth. Father like you, said grandmother, aunts, uncles. There are so many pieces of the puzzle that adoptees really need to know, and they need to crave. They need to have access to, and absolutely, if they get to be old enough. And they're like this is way too overwhelming. I'm slimming it down. That's their right. But again, it's a lot easier for them to slim down than it is to try and track down. And thankfully now, because of the DNA test, I don't think if DNA test didn't exist, I don't think I ever would have found him. He's this old, you know, old guy up in the New Hampshire hills like lives 30Â min away from civilization. And so again, I'm just so thankful that DNA tests exist, and I know they're controversial. But I'm thankful for me as an adult that it is a tool that I could use to find him.

Building & Maintaining Connections with Birth Family

J: Okay, I'm gonna ask a controversial question about DNA testing. As an adoptee who used DNA testing to find your birth father, what are your thoughts on adoptive parents utilizing ancestry, or 23, and me on behalf of their adoptees before they're old enough to consent in an attempt to find birth, parents or birth family to create those connections?

A: Despite my story, my answer might be surprising.

I think it is not okay until the adoptee really understands. I got some crazy messages from people that I connected with oh, you're such and such and such. Oh, did your mom ever get clean? Oh, you know just some crazy, crazy things, some cousins coming out of the woodworks trying to find out where I lived trying to add me on Facebook. And so I think we really need to. It sounds innocent, right? It sounds simple, like this is just the way we find birth family, and it absolutely can be that.

But you also, by taking your child spit and running it through a DNA test, open them up to be discovered by others, and so, especially if your child is coming from really rough circumstances, or if there is actual safety concerns, I would say absolutely not because your adoptee is going to be the one that is gonna have to wade through that and some of those doors may be really really tough to shut once they've been opened. And so if your adoptee wants to when they are, you know. 15,16, 17, they fully understand. Are you guys able to sit down and fully understand? Hey, this could open you up to a lot of crazy people, a lot of crazy messages, and we need to be very careful again. They're at a mature age to realize that their ghost kingdom is not accurate. If they're still in the ghost kingdom and everything's gonna be great, and I'm gonna find my mom and everything's dandy. Well we should probably wait, and so I know 18 is a recommendation. I think some adoptees might be ready before then but that is just something to aim for if you know what? When they're 18, that's something that we could talk about, and something that we could bring up, because especially you, as the adoptive parent doing it on behalf of your adoptee. I feel like that's taking a lot of power and they need to be able to have that power.

J: I completely agree with everything you said. And then, just to expand on that a little bit further, coming from a birth, Mom's perspective. If you are kind of trying to circumvent birth parents to build connections with an extended family without you know, involving the birth family, or at least giving them the heads up, especially a lot of their family doesn't know about their placement, you know, you potentially run the risk of damaging that relationship with the birth family in the process. And so I completely agree with everything that you said, and I know I have talked to some adopted parents who have considered, you know, on a toddler doing DNA testing to try to build those connections. And I always encourage not doing that until you know. Like you said, they're fully old enough to understand and be ready to open a door that is very difficult to close.

A: And I think, especially with social media. I think it's just such an easy tool to anonymously look up someone and a lot of times people put so many things on public. Oh, move to a new town. Oh, got married! Name change! And just if you're like screenshotting that or writing that down there are so many ways to collect information. That's not putting your adoptee at risk. That's not putting them in the driver seat of a car, that they may not be fully understanding what it entails, or even wanting to drive, for that matter. And so I think, especially with social media and having just tools like that. Absolutely, you know. In my case, my birth father lives in New Hampshire and doesn't have a Facebook, and so that would have never worked in my case. But then, again, I was 28 years old, and I had been through a lot of therapy and a lot of healing, and I really could wrestle with whatever came up.

And even then I added some family members on Facebook, and I deleted them shortly after, and really had to kind of bounce around and figure out, Okay, what does this look like? And what do healthy boundaries, even with my birth father look like, because he's extremely kind and caring and loving. But you know there is a certain respect that my adoptive dad, you know, should have. And so how do I balance those 2? How do I love both men really really well? With boundaries even though he's completely safe and completely kind and completely loving. That's still something that I kind of had to work through.

J: And not just social media. There are just so many other tools. Now, thank you to the Internet, you know if you have a name and a general, even just a state. But you're in a closed adoption, whether it's actually closed or just no contact, you know, for 14.95. Every year you can run a background check, or you know I pay 4.99 a month for a white pages premium subscription. And you can check phone numbers and email addresses and addresses, and even just little things like that to you know, gather whatever scraps of information that you can. I think will go a long way.

A: Absolutely.

J: What are some of your thoughts or suggestions in looking for connections or relationships outside of birth? Parents like looking into that extended family? What are your thoughts or advice on creating those types of connections?

A: Yeah, yeah, I think one just 1st acknowledging that birth family includes so much more than just the parents. I think an often understated relationship is sibling relationships. And so really. one realizing, you know, do I have capacity for siblings, whether that's at the same time, or whether that's mom gets pregnant again and wants to place am I open to that? And then, if you are making that very, very clear to whoever you adopt through making sure that they understand that because sibling relationships, having my sister growing up, just us being able to wonder and we look alike. We don't look like we have different fathers, we look dead on alike. And so then, when she started having kids seeing myself in those kids, it's just so so special. And even my 2 birth brothers that I didn't grow up with. I met a couple of years ago, and it was just eerie getting together, and like we have the same sense of humor, and we, of course, look alike, and it just was so healing, because, as adoptes, we so often feel like we don't belong. We don't look like anyone. No one just quite gets us. And so biological family relationships allow that.

And so siblings are so important, whether you try and track down through the agency you adopt in, hey, has Mom placed before? Please let Mom know I would like to, you know, if she has any more kids. I would love to just know just to know where they're placed if you're not open to them being placed with you. And then, yeah, looking outside of that, my sister that I was adopted with, same mom, different dad, her birth dad, birth aunt and birth grandma all were in her life growing up. And so I saw what that did for her. I saw having those relationships, what healing occurred. And I, we're actually gonna get together with the aunt in a couple of months. We haven't seen her in a couple of years, and so they took me in thankfully, and I was like their own growing up. But that really just showed me wow! That's really really important, that aunt is involved, and grandma's involved. And you could always tell. It was healing on their end, too. There was definitely a lot of guilt there, but when they saw us they saw we were okay. They saw that we were happy. It's almost as if they could breathe a little easier after we hung out.

And so I think a lot of times again. What is best for that adoptee, but also what's best for those birth families, and yes, your adoptee's wellbeing comes first, but you know, if a 2 year visit really stretches you, but you can make it work, and you see what a blessing it is for birth. Grandma, you make it happen. And so, really, really thinking outside of yourself. And so yeah, kind of the tools that we suggested social media, white pages, all the things. I think it's easier the sooner you get in contact. So if you can, as you're starting that home study as you're starting that start that conversation, hey? Are you able to tell me if birth mom has placed at this agency before, are you able to connect me with that family that she placed with? Are you able to keep me in contact if she places again, and then really asking her and making that clear when she does choose you sitting down with her and saying, You know we want this child to be surrounded by their family, and that means your extended family. And so who do you have a relationship with? And is there anyone that you think would want a relationship with our child? Are you willing to give us just some pictures? If there's not anyone that really wants a relationship. And so the more upfront, and I say the widest you can cast your web in the beginning really saves you the grunt work year after year after year, because I really do feel like it gets harder the longer you wait.

J: Absolutely. And what about, I know that we kind of touched on this a little bit earlier, but what if you know families are in a closed adoption, or a closed adoption right now, how should they go about trying to maintain connections, or you know maintain a relationship when that's really hard sometimes?

A: Hmm, I absolutely loved your idea of still writing those letters on special occasions and keeping them in a box, I think that would have done wonders for me again if my birth father would have known about me. But wow! You really did think about me and love me, and want to have contact with me for these 18 years, or whatever that time span is, I think, post adoption resources. We've talked about it before. Andy has just beautiful kits that are just so easy, just templates for letters that really make it easy. And so if you're not able to send those just hanging onto those. But I think really challenging, and this is where Jess and I really are similar, challenging your adoption professional in that. So if you're working with an agency that says we only do close adoption. Why?

That’s a red flag. Or you know, if birth mom really does want to close adoption again, trying to through the adoption professional, just connecting, sending those things. Is there anyone that possibly you would be okay with having some contact with us, even though now you think you want a closed adoption. Could we just get a po box for you or an address, and just send you things just in case maybe you change your mind just really gently pushing the boundaries on that again at the very beginning, because I think and I'd love to hear your perspective on this, Jess, I think adoption is absolutely daunting and traumatic for everyone involved. And I think often decisions that will affect parties for a lifetime are very quickly made and made out of hurt and trauma and minds change, minds change. And so I think, as adoptive parents, we need to leave space for that for minds to change and really to be open to that and, like you said, if an agency only does close adoptions run the other way.

J: Yes, and one thing that I have had a lot of adopting families do is kind of either in tandem or instead of creating like a tote to hang on to. But they create just a generic email address that you know a birth family can have access to. One of the reasons that I love it is even if you do have an open adoption. And sometimes, just speaking as a birth parent, sometimes getting updates are hard, you know you might be. It might be emotional. It might be difficult. You might be going through even non adoption related stuff in your personal life, and then you get an update or a photo, or it's time for a visit and then it just kind of adds on to the crap you're already dealing with in your day to day life. But creating a generic email address to send those updates and send those photos that way. One birth family can see them when they're in a good place. They're not getting that update directly to their phone. They can see it and open it, you know, when they're ready and when they're mentally and emotionally ready to open that email. But also, even if you don't have contact, you just send the photos and the updates. And so then, when that door does open here, here's the password to, you know, 10-15 years of emails and updates that we've been sending you. And how meaningful is that to be able to open up this email inbox and see the Timestamps and and the days and the frequency that you are sending updates. I mean, that's just I feel like that would be so just empowering and so grateful to people to open that up and see how often they thought of you and wanted to send you, you know, photos and updates and things like that.

A: I had some realizations, this 3rd pregnancy around. I just really like hitting some depression around 37 weeks. And I was like, what is going on like, we're getting ready for this beautiful birth. I've already had 2 kiddos and it just hit me that up. Until that point I was thinking, like my birth mom just couldn't wait to get rid of me. She just couldn't wait to give birth, and just kind of continue on with her life. Not have to handle me. Not have to, you know, deal with the craziness of a child that she just gave birth to and was free to go. And I really think again, from all the healing I think I was feeling her emotions when she was 37 weeks from me. I think I said, what if she was actually just holding on to every kick and every single, Oh my goodness! That was a movement and mourning, grieving what was to come and that was really really powerful for me, because as an adoptee, and I've talked to other adoptees, and I think it's common. That's the common mindset of, you know. My mother just dumped me and moved on with her life, and she was so thankful to get rid of me and I challenge that I don't think that is the norm. And as a mom myself, and so I really like, I totally broke down at 37 weeks of like, wow!

I felt what my birth Mom felt because she knew she had 5 kids already taken away. She knew she didn't have a shot. She knew the second she showed up at that hospital, and she tested positive for drugs. She knew what would happen, because she's been through this before. And so she was probably savoring. And so I think again, that heart posture towards biological families realizing the need our adoptees have for the biological family just helps orient our hearts to make space for them and make room for them, and again realize that they are people going through so many challenges that we don't all start at the same starting line in life. We don't all get the same deck of cards dealt to us. And so that helps us be understanding. If, yeah, birth, mom says she absolutely wants no contact. But I am gonna still send these to an anonymous email, so that she has those, so that when my adoptee is pregnant themselves, and they wondered, you know, did my adoptive parent ever try to get in contact with my bio mom. They can, or best case scenario. They find she has this whole list of Oh, my goodness, that's what my mom was going through when she was pregnant with me. And that's what I'm going through now like that's so crazy. Or Wow, my birth mom had that weird craving when she was pregnant with me. And I'm having that weird craving, just being able to connect those dots is so healing and so powerful.

J: And this is probably not the conversation to start, you know, when we only have 7 min left.

A: Always do this. We need to have a 2 hour session.

J: I get so frustrated sometimes with how birth parents are viewed or portrayed in adoption both as a hero. You know this narrative of birth. Moms are so brave and selfless, and they're the hero, but also as the villain, because we're not either. We are just people who have been dealt a different hand, or, you know, might not be in the best situation, or have a lot else going on in our lives, are on our plate that make us feel like we are not in the position to parent at that time. And so yeah, I think that's 1 of the things that I work so hard to educate adopting families on is that birth. Parents are literally just the same as you and I. If you didn't know that I was a birth mom. 90% of people in my daily life do not know that I'm a birth mom. It's because I don't, you know, fit into some of those boxes that society imagines, or, you know, portrays a birth, mom to be.

A: Absolutely. Yeah, I think it just allows so much room for compassion and empathy, and I think it really just again builds trust, because if you view birth, mom and birth dad as heroes or villains, that's not accurate. And so that is already leading your adoptee on a path that's not true. And so we need to make sure. As adoptive parents, we're grounded, in truth, so that we can lead our adoptee in truth.

J: And so that they don't have unrealistic expectations, because even portraying birth parents, as you know, the hero of the story. They can't live up to that.

A: No. Yeah, absolutely.

Guest: So that's a hard narrative to turn, you know, for the birth parent like how do you? How do you turn that to? And I still made this decision. If they've been told that you're a hero. Yeah. Different kind of question for you April as an adoptee. Do you feel like from your experience,are you able, and is it fluid and okay, to have that precious space for both your birth parents, and your adoptive parents cause I feel like in the adoption world, a lot of adoptive parents that is the biggest fear is, will I be replaced, or will I be judged, you know, by either my child or both families by stepping in right in. In our story there was a lot of the accusation for a while right of you're stealing, my child. You know you're taking over. I want her. And all this, and but just from an adoptee's perspective there is that null like you can hold space for both.

A: Absolutely, I think, in finding my birth, father was the biggest thing. And then me allowing myself to be grateful and realizing, Wow, yeah, my adoptive parents really stepped up in ways that they didn't have to, and holy smokes. My story is so much better because my adoptive parents did that, and I think it was amazing. I think this may have been the best moment of my life, but they actually all met adoptive and birth families last year for my graduation, and we told them all in person at the same time that we were pregnant, but literally my birth dad and my adoptive dad worked at the same place for years, never ran into each other, lived in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, for years, never ran into each other, and they literally act like long lost best friends, the whole entire weekend. And it just still makes me wanna cry when I think about it, because I just want that back. And it just showed the power that there actually is room for both. I was like, Hi! I'm here like, I know I'm not into old sports, but like, hey? But that was just so. That was one of my big moments. It was just like I just wanted it to not be awkward like I was having everyone under the same roof for the 1st time. What the heck am I doing?

But God God showed up in huge ways that weekend. And so that was so so healing for me, and the only way that they could have been in the room is by both parties acknowledging. And again, that was one of the things that I heard them say was, my adoptive parent, looked my bio father in the eyes, and said, Thank you. Thank you for the part that you played in creating April. And my bio dad looked at my adopted father and said, Thank you. Thank you for taking care of her when I couldn't. And just that if you can't make space for your child's Bio family that is what you could be robbing them of. There's nothing in this world that could have healed me like hearing those men sit across from each other, acknowledging the other man's importance in my life. So then I finally could actually be as excited as I wanted to be about it all. And so absolutely is the short answer.

J: Well, any last questions for April. I know. If you're on the east coast it's getting late. You're on the West coast. It's getting to be about dinnertime.If not well, April, thank you so much again for joining us. It is always such a pleasure. I just put your website and Instagram in the chat. You do one on one consults so if you, if anyone has, you know additional questions or just want to talk through specific situations. I highly encourage you to book time with April. She is an incredible resource. And we're just so grateful to that. You share yourself with us.

A: Thank you for having me. I just absolutely love all that PairTree is. They are blessed to have you, and I just think it's so encouraging to see the level of education, support, and resources available to prospective and current adoptive families. And I just think adoptees growing up in this generation now are just so light years ahead of where we were even just 10-20 years ago. And so thank you. Thank you for what you do, and just bringing the community together, that you do.

Jess Nelson Jess Nelson is the Community Manager at PairTree, focused on growing the resources, programs and education offered for both expectant and birth families, and adoptive families. Jess has spent the last 5 years working in the field of private adoption, first as a paralegal for an Adoption Attorney in Louisiana and most recently with PairTree. As a birth mom of two through private adoption, her firsthand experience of both agency and attorney adoption led her to becoming an adoption professional and join the fight for reform and post placement care for birth moms.