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Birth parents come with unique experiences

LAYTON, Utah — Birth mothers and birth fathers are unique with individual stories, personalities and needs. They shouldn't all be lumped into the same group or treated the same, said speakers and panelists at the Families Supporting Adoption conference sponsored by LDS Family Services at the Davis Conference Center this weekend.There are stigmas attached, said Mitch Hirano, a counselor who works with adoptions in Ogden. People tend to think of birth fathers as gang members or prison inmates when they come in all shapes and sizes, he said.Hirano introduced a birth father from South Africa who is currently fighting to retain custodial rights to his baby daughter, a daughter his girlfriend decided to parent although her circumstances are worrisome. He discussed how the dynamics of a placement decision affects the people around a birth father.Hirano said he hugs more birth fathers than birth mothers in the course of his work.Tamra, an adoptive mother whose daughter is now 21 and just found her birth father, said he has told her he would have loved to have received pictures and news about his child.The panelists agreed that legally, it's been tricky to establish and maintain contact."I think we need to look at each situation individually," said Hirano.Adoption policies are changing rapidly, so it becomes necessary to adjust perceptions and behaviors, he said.Tamra Hyde placed a little boy in 1996 when adoptions were "semi-disclosed" and correspondence could only be maintained up to age 5.Valerie Mechling placed a son three years ago in an open adoption. She's free to e-mail, blog, call and visit as she and the adoptive parents wish."Policies change, but you can find a sister (in a birth mother)," said Hyde. "We are not a different sort of people. We need your love. We need your trust. We're trusting you with our child."Both birth mothers said it's critical to communicate openly and clearly so both parties know what to expect.Mechling said she was hurt and confused when the "novella" e-mails abruptly stopped after she placed her baby with his adoptive family."I wish I had been prepared for that," she said. "The sudden loss was so terrible."Members of the audience shared concerns about being too pushy with birth moms or hurting feelings."I was treated like a rock star because I'm a birth mom," said Hyde.Mechling and Hyde said adoptive parents need to be consistent in their approach and slow to make promises they cannot keep. They need to let the birth mothers and fathers know they are loved. That can include frequent letters, lots of pictures and invitations to important events in the child's life.Each birth mother and father said they prize information about their child even though sometimes they won't be writing back or returning phone calls.Adopted siblings sometimes envy contact from a birth parent for his or her brother or sister, so sometimes it's a good idea to incude all of the children in the contact.But it's individual, said Hyde, Mechling and Hirano."Just keep me involved," Hyde said. "We're not some delicate flower."To hold back is to deny everyone involved blessings, she said. "We love to see you happy. That's what we broke our hearts for."E-MAIL: