Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Birthparent Letters: Let The Marketing Begin

One of the most stressful parts of the adoption process for my husband and I has been composing the “birthparent letter” in which we attempt to introduce ourselves to any birthparents who are considering adoption, express our desire to adopt, summarize our lives and family backgrounds, and portray our personalities and interests in just a few pages.

We stress over what information to include or what not to include: On the one hand, we want the reader to come away with a better understanding of who we are and we obviously want to make a favorable impression, but at the same time we don’t want to come across as braggy, fake, or cheesy.

As for the fear of sounding too “braggy” in the letter, a good solution is to have each spouse write about the other- because I have no problem whatsoever expanding on my husband’s good qualities, but it would be very uncomfortable for me to go on and on about myself, in essence writing, “This is how fabulous I am and these are the reasons why you should choose me to parent your child.”   Ummm . . . Awkward.

Writing a birthparent letter reminds me of building a resume in that you have to list your good qualities and work experience or you won’t get the job. And that’s precisely what bugs me so much about it- Parenthood shouldn’t be a “job” you have to apply and interview for, right?!

The fact of the matter is that adoptive couples do, in fact, have to go through an extensive screening and “interview process” in order to be considered eligible to adopt in the first place. We have to be found “worthy” to be considered parents by having our fingerprints taken, our backgrounds checked, our physical and mental health and financial stability approved, our marriages evaluated and our homes inspected. We even have to provide letters of recommendation from friends and neighbors who can vouch that we’re decent people!

Furthermore, just because we “pass” our interview and screening process (that is, have our home study approved) does not necessarily guarantee that we will automatically be able to adopt a child because that is something which is entirely up to the few birthparents out there who choose to place their children for adoption.

This is where the next stage of the adoption process comes in: spreading the word about our desire to adopt to as many people as possible so that a birthparent can find us. At times this aspect of the adoption process makes me feel like we’re “marketing” ourselves or running an advertising campaign which, in turn, reduces our highest, most sacred, and personal aspiration of building our family into a very public “marketing campaign” or “ad”.  I don’t like how that makes me feel.

Of course, it goes both ways: adoptive parents aren’t the only ones in the adoption triad who are bothered by adoption being compared to a market economy. As one birthmother described the process of searching for a family for her child by looking through birthparent letters,

”I could tell right away the couples who had adopted before-they read like they were trying to “sell” themselves to me. You think you know just what I want to hear I would think to myself. . . Then one day as I read one “sales pitch” after another, I was all but ready to give up.”

To anyone who questions the motives or sincerity of adoptive parents I just have to say, Trust me, it’s not that adoptive parents WANT to “sell” ourselves. Realistically, what are we supposed to do? Sit around and wait for an anonymous stranger to leave a baby on our doorstep with a note attached that reads “You look like a nice family- here’s a baby for you- free for the taking!” (Because that just hasn’t happened yet.)

I, for one, am NOT a salesperson by nature. But if plastering my family’s picture on a web button with a plea to any possible viewers to ”Help Us Adopt” is what it takes to find our children, then I’m more than willing to get out of my comfort zone and do it.

And speaking of getting out of my comfort zone, as if composing a birthparent letter isn’t awkward enough, hopeful adoptive couples also have to come up with a couple dozen pictures representative of our family so that potential birthparents can see what we look like and what kinds of activities we like to do together. If I were an International model I wouldn’t have as many issues about this, but the truth is I’ve seen “younger” (and thinner) days which would probably make me a more attractive candidate for a birthparent. Yet even back then I’d rarely be satisfied with how I look in pictures as there is always some fault I can point out in my appearance. So now not only is our greatest desire (to have children) made public for the whole world wide web to see, but photos of us- sans glitz and glamour- are available for everyone to scrutinize as well.

When I think about birthparents (or anyone else for that matter) reading our birthparent letter I sometimes worry about wording things in a way that could come across differently than was intended. For example, at one time the caption under very first picture on our adoption profile of my husband and I (pre-children; I prefer to display our pictures in chronological order) simply stated “We were married for seven years before we became parents.” My intent was to share the background of our married life together. After all, if a couple has been married for seven years you would hope that they have had time to develop a good solid relationship with each other, right? But then I thought “What if people think we waited seven years because we didn’t want children or we were too busy with careers or something? Does that make it sound like we were married for seven years before we became parents out of choice? Because that’s not it at all!”

So I changed the wording to “We were married for seven years before we were able to become parents”. And then, of course, because I have a tendency to over-analyze things I thought “What if that sounds like we’re trying to feel sorry for ourselves now?”

I think the most important thing to remember when composing a birthmother letter is to just BE YOURSELF, because I wouldn’t want a birthmother to think I’m anyone or anything other than who I really am.

1 comment:

LeMira said...

You just explained how I feel about these letters. I have had probably five different drafts in three years because I went from writing who we were, to writing what expectant parents want to hear, to writing who we really are again. I had a really hard time making pass-along cards and other things for the marketing aspect, too. It's just hard, especially when you know there are people that believe you are trying to take a baby away.