The Ministry of Open Adoption

We may go into open adoption to complete our family and minister to a child, but I believe God calls us to extend that ministry to the birth mother as well.

Growing up, I longed to adopt, imagining I would rescue a poor little orphan in need of a good home. Adulthood and infertility brought new purpose to my pursuit, and in the end, we adopted to fill a void in our family. 

As I learned more about open adoption in the years before we pursued it ourselves, I quickly became an advocate. Study after study showed open adoption was much healthier for the adopted child, and I wanted what was best for them. I heard many positive stories of couples with healthy relationships with their child’s birthparents and I felt prepared for what lay ahead.

The adoption agency we used was surprised at my comfort with open adoption, but they still opened my eyes to a new concept: ministering to the birth mother. A woman was about to make the toughest decision of her life, and being an example of Christ’s love to her brought a whole new responsibility for me to consider. 

Birthmothers are rarely in a good place. Often they struggle economically, emotionally, mentally or any combination of the three. Adoption almost always begins with tragedy and trauma. As adoptive mothers who follow Christ, we have a choice to make: to die to self, or be selfish. As Psalm 10 says, we can encourage and defend these mothers, or we can oppress them further for our gain. 

“You, Lord, hear the desire of the afflicted; you encourage them, and you listen to their cry, defending the fatherless and the oppressed, so that mere earthly mortals will never again strike terror.” (Psalm 10:17-18, New International Version)

As Christian women, we have a calling to disciple the broken and hurting, and I believe this should take precedence over receiving a child in return. This is not an easy emotional space to be in, especially after years of infertility or money and time spent in pursuit of a baby. But I believe it is the unique position we can occupy because we have a loving, powerful God.

How we step into adoption and walk that path will shape the way we journey through it. How we speak about our child’s first mother, and we help her or hurt her, will color our relationships for decades to come. Our hearts need to be in the right place.

We are seven years into our open adoption, and it actually gets harder, not easier. However, my desire to put our adoption completely in God’s hand and my willingness to live that out, even in the small things, has brought us immense blessings and peace. 

With each conversation, tense moment, request or issue from our birthmother, I have sought the guidance of the Holy Spirit. I believe the right way to minister to our birth mother is to die to self, and I couldn’t do it without the Holy Spirit. I have all the normal selfish desires that come from motherhood, and especially adoptive motherhood. The desire to control information, withhold special moments, and become overwhelmed with jealousy are all warring within me. And honestly, those are often the places I go to first. So, I have learned to wait to respond or act until I’ve prayed for guidance. The growth I’ve experienced in my faith journey because of our adoption is worth every bit of awkward tension or jealous gripping of my heart. 

And the amazing thing is, God has provided every time! 

When I seek Him, and show Christ-like love to my daughter’s first mother, I receive so much in return. We have a healthy, and I hope honest, relationship with our daughter’s birthmother built on mutual respect. I could have messed it up so many times, but choosing faith over fear has allowed God to be glorified.

In order to minister to birth mothers, we must be honest with ourselves. Honest about why we’re adopting. Honest with our unspoken biases about their circumstances. And most importantly, honest with them about our expectations and willingness to let them be a part of our families. 

“He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’” (Matthew 25:45, NIV)

Adoption is not just about us, and it’s not just about that child. It’s also about the third member of the adoption triad. What a tremendous opportunity to share God’s love and grace. What a chance to serve someone in great need of support, love, and commitment. 

Because of open adoption, I have witnessed our birth mother experience a new view of love, one that she was denied too often as a child. The unconditional love that only God can give. She has also experienced grace and truth through the Holy Spirit’s moving in me. None of this would be possible if I let my fear shut her out.

As I look back at how our adoption story has unfolded, I’m surprised by how important ministering to our birth mother has been. I now believe God’s intent for adoption isn’t just for that child, or that adoptive family, but even more so in the healing of these hurting women. We have enormous power in this triad. God will be glorified when we use that power for love and healing.

NIV® Copyright 2011 by Biblica, Inc.®

FaithKathie Harris