Blog talk Radio Transcript:  Connect With a Birth Mom    Air Date: 4-19-16  (You may listen to the podcast by clicking on the audio link, or read the transcript of the podcast below.)

The word “Adoption” invokes a lot of different thoughts, and feelings. For a lot of people it still carries the negative stereotype of a young mother who gives her baby away. It is our goal to change that. A birth mother does not give her baby away. A birth mother makes an adoption plan. It is a carefully crafted plan, a plan made out of love for her child. This podcast shares insight on the courage, and strength of the birth mother, and adoption trends today that connect adoptive families to a birth mom.

Adoption RadioJennifer: Hi, and welcome to Adoption Focus. My name is Jennifer Jaworski, and I am a social worker with Adoption Associates of Michigan. This is Adoption Associates’ premier talk radio blog show. Adoption Associates and its staff are trusted leaders in adoption, and we have placed over 5,000 children into loving homes. Since 1990, we have advocated, supported, and nurtured both birth families and adoptive families. Our offices are located in Jenison, Lansing, Farmington Hills, and Saginaw, and our pregnancy and adoption services are available throughout all of Michigan. One of Adoption Associates’ commitments is to this weekly radio show, so thank you for listening in today. We hope that you find this forum to be inspirational, educational, and thought-provoking. I’m excited today to welcome to our show Mark Livings. Mark, are you with us?

Mark: Sure am.

Jennifer: Hi. How are you?

Mark: Doing great. How are you doing today?

Jennifer: Doing wonderful. Thanks for joining us, and I’d like for you to share with our audience a little bit about your personal and later professional experience with adoption. I think it was about eight years ago that you and your wife first began looking into adoption. You want to set the stage for us there?

Mark’s Story

Mark: Sure, absolutely. It was over eight years ago that my wife and I decided that we were going to start a family. And, like many couples do, we found out that adoption was our only option if we were going to start a family. So, we started looking around and trying to figure out how adoption works and how to connect with a birth mom. We committed to adoption, and then we connected with an agency. We did the normal things like every family going through the process did. And then we were able to adopt two boys. We were very excited about that.

I’ve been in the computer technology field my whole professional career. I’ve been a Chief Informational Officer for a number of different companies and held a number of different management positions. And what I found going through the process was the lack of technology. There was a need for technology support throughout the adoption process. In other words, I saw the need to introduce technology into the process so it would reduce the work on caseworkers. It would allow caseworkers to spend more time with birth moms and families, working with them on the adoption process rather than spending so much time on paperwork.

After we adopted our two boys, I decided that I was going to really devote my professional career to developing software that would support adoption. Software that really focused on supporting birth moms and adoptive parents, specifically birth moms because of that incredible gift they’re giving every family. 

Jennifer: Absolutely. So yeah, you have brought the world of technology to adoption, and we thank you for that. It sounds like your personal experience led you into adoption consulting in addition to software work and things of that nature. So, I’m curious if you could talk to us a little bit about what trends you’re seeing with birth mothers, and what they’re looking for in terms of selecting adoptive parents.

Connecting With a Birth Mom is Different Now

Mark: Sure. If we rewind the clock a number of years ago, maybe eight years, your traditional method of connecting with a birth mom was significantly different than it is today. Over the last several years, it has changed dramatically. Traditionally, birth moms would say, “Okay, I’m choosing adoption” and would open up to the Yellow Pages and look up adoption. Then they found an agency, or they’d get a referral to an agency through a number of different sources. The world of the internet and smartphones has completely changed the way birth moms connect with families. In addition to the way they connect with adoption agencies. 

Jennifer: Absolutely.

Mark: It’s interesting. Birth mom’s don’t really know what the Yellow pages are anymore. Most birth moms connect with an agency through Google.

Jennifer: Right.

Mark: I can’t even remember the last time I saw the Yellow Pages.

Jennifer: Exactly.

How are Birth Mom’s Connecting With Adoptive Families?

Mark: That’s what birth moms are doing. They’re Googling: “I’m pregnant. What are my options?” Then they’re getting hit with “here are agencies near you”. Also, birth moms grew up with the internet. They’re used to and expect the same thing from a family that they see in other parts of their lives. For example, using Facebook, posting videos, Snapchat, posting photos, etc. They’re used to that, and what’s really transitioned is that adoptive parents used to create a printed profile book. That’s transitioned to electronic profiles on the internet, Facebook pages, blogs, etc.

Now adoptive families connect with birth moms on multiple levels. I know AAI is really championing this. The printed book is given to the birth mom as a keepsake, not as a means to connect with a family. The birth moms are connecting with families on the internet. Birth moms make a connection when they see photos and watch videos of adoptive families.

Jennifer: I’ve personally received a lot of positive feedback from our clients. Birth mother clients access adoptive family information on the web and on their smartphones. They see our adoptive parent videos and profiles. That has been extremely helpful for them as they’re considering choices of families.

Mark: One of the things I’ve learned is you can’t predict how a birth mom’s going to connect with a family. I asked our birth moms, “How did you pick us?” Every family wants to know that. “Why did you pick us?” One of our birth moms said, “You looked like a fun guy,” which I am. But our other birth mom said, “You know what, I saw that you had palm trees. You took pictures with palm trees at your house.” I live in Florida. And she said, “I’ve always wanted to live in Florida. Not only did you look like a great couple, but you lived in Florida.” That’s what made the connection. 

Jennifer: Oh wow.

How Does a Birth Mom Choose?

Mark: A birth mom for one of our families said she made the connection because of the dogs the adoptive family had. I asked her how that happened for her. She said, “Well I was watching their video. They were going around showing their house, and they had two dogs sitting on the couch.” They introduced their dogs and said, “These are part of our family.” She said, “You know, those are the same dogs that I grew up with. That brought back memories of me growing up as a child having dogs. I wanted the same thing for my child.”

Jennifer: Those choices and differences between lifestyles and families are significant and important for a birth mother as she’s making those choices. In your particular situation, what did you and your wife do to try to make birth mother connections as you were waiting for your adoption?

Mark: It seems like decades and decades ago, but I realize it was only eight years ago. When I first was doing this, I said, “Okay, I want to connect with birth moms.” We created our printed material, because that was very traditional at the point in time. But, I wanted to give the birth mom every opportunity to view my wife and I in our house and where we live so she could make the right decision. We actually created a website, uploaded pictures and uploaded videos. 

Jennifer: Right.

Technology Evolved

Mark: I knew everything was on the internet, so I thought, “You know what? I’m not going to create just a card and printed profile. I’m going to create a whole environment.” We posted pictures, we posted videos, we did recordings. We tried to capture our life. We put it all on our website. The thought was that birth moms could get a feeling of who we were, what our beliefs were, what we celebrated, how we lived, and our environment so they could make the right decision. We actually had about 5,000 people following our site at one point.

Jennifer: Wow.

Mark: Yeah, unbelievable. Both of our birth moms saw everything online, and my personal feeling was, “I want to make sure that a birth mom is extremely comfortable picking us, and that they know in their heart that they picked the right family.”

Jennifer: Absolutely. That’s important for all birth mothers. I’m glad that you had focused on that and kept it at the forefront. In your experience, what would you say attracts a birth mom who is in a crisis pregnancy to look for an agency? Why are they turning to agencies such as Adoption Associates to make a plan?

Mark: Well, I think there’s a couple different reasons. Number one is what I love about agencies like Adoption Associates, you take a face-to-face, vested interest with the birth mom. It’s personal. When a birth mom walks into a crisis pregnancy center and says, “Okay, I’m pregnant and I’m considering adoption,” they can call up Adoption Associates. This is not an advertisement for you. I know you folks. I know that Nancy or Paula or whoever will answer the phone, will set up a meeting face-to-face. They will work with them, and understand their situation. And, they will help them put the right plan in place to carry them forward and support them.

Jennifer: Yes.

A Personal Touch

Mark: It’s not a “parachute somebody in on a conference call” and things like that. You’re developing the relationship and making sure that adoption is the right path, and that the woman has all the support she needs, which is extremely critical. 

Jennifer: Absolutely. For any woman who’s considering an adoption plan, our message is not just about the days, weeks, or months up to deliver. But also what happens thereafter. I can say as a caseworker with Adoption Associates, our door always remains open to our birth mothers. Those are relationships that we cherish. I think that you really hit on an important part of the support that agencies should and need to provide to their clients. The support system that we hope develops within her own family as well. 

Mark: Right.

Jennifer: I think that’s probably what you’re seeing as well. She’s in her twenties and parenting one or two children already, sometimes in her thirties. It can be a scary place and a lonely place to be. I think that what I was hoping you could share with us a little bit is your newest relationship. I believe that you’ve teamed up with Birth Mother Baskets?

Mark: Yes. Birth Mother Baskets was started by a birth mom who didn’t get the support post-adoption. Her focus was to start an organization that would really support birth mothers post-adoption, and it’s grown. Now, it’s really becoming an adoption advocate and helping birth moms understand their needs. It’s hard to describe in words the feeling I have for birth mothers, and the courage they have with the decisions they make. But frankly if it wasn’t for birth mothers, I wouldn’t have a family. I look at it and I’ve kind of taken the charge to say, “We need to do whatever it is to support these women.” You talk about rock stars? They are rock stars.

Jennifer: Absolutely. 

Birth Moms are Rock Stars

Mark: I mean, I talked to one birth mom and she said, “I decided to go down this path because of my mad love for this child. Because I wasn’t in the position to have a child. But because of my mad love, I wanted to make sure that child had the right family.”

I look at my two boys and I look at them running around, crashing their bikes and all their crazy boy stuff. I think to myself, “If there wasn’t two rock stars out there, I wouldn’t have my family.” There is nothing that we can’t do to support our birth moms. We should go to any length to support them. Every situation is different, but we need to aggressively understand every situation and then provide support that that woman needs. Whether it’s counseling support, making sure that she’s getting updates if she decides that she wants updates, or if she wants to have an open adoption. To able to support that is the least we can do.

Jennifer: I couldn’t agree with you more, and I absolutely love “mad love.” I may need to use that actually. I think that that describes what we experience in our work and what we hear from our birth mothers who are making this selfless and brave decision. It is mad love, and I love that you said that. I love that she said that. 

So, thank you. This was an extremely enlightening conversation. We may need to have you back sometime because I think there’s probably more to be said here. Thanks Mark for being on the show today. This is Jennifer on Adoption Focus. Have a great day, everyone. Bye-bye.

To learn more about becoming an adoptive parent, and adopting in Michigan, click HERE.

To learn more about making an adoption plan for your baby, click HERE.