Virtually Speaking: Respecting Open Adoptions

One day last summer, I got an e-mail from a friend of mine. Check out this adoption blog I came across, she had written, along with the blog’s URL. I clicked on the link, excited to see what my friend had discovered.

Much to my shock, the blogger was a prospective adoptive mother who had been recently matched with an expectant mother. As I read entry after entry, I became increasingly horrified.

Not only had the author included photos of the expectant mother’s ultrasounds (yep, the baby, IN UTERO), but she also shared the town and state in which the expectant mother lived. She went on to share the name she had chosen for the son she was waiting for, shared pictures of a baby shower in which she had a cake with the baby’s name on it, and showed photos of the nursery she had painted blue. Other entries included personal details regarding the expectant mother and the last name and location of the blog author.

On one hand, I get it. She was excited about the baby. She had dealt with infertility, had waited years to become a mother, and now, finally, she had hope that her dream would come true. I’m an adoptive mother myself. I have two daughters, and both of our adoptions are domestic and open. I waited fourteen months for my first daughter. That’s a long, long “pregnancy.” To be chosen, well, no words can describe that moment.

However, on the other hand (the heavier hand), my first thought was, why is this woman laying claim to a baby that isn’t hers and may not be? The assumption this woman made was that the expectant mother would follow her adoption plan? That the baby would be named as the adoptive motherhad chosen. And why was it ok to let the public read information about a woman who was in a crisis pregnancy–letting everyone know her location, her age, and, worst of all, showing a photo of her baby which was still in her body?

This begs the question, does everything in open adoption need to be shared?

At various adoption speaking engagements, and when I consult with prospective adoptive parents via e-mail, I often share these virtual tips with them:

  1. Do not post photos of someone else, ever, without their permission. Be it Facebook, Twitter, a blog, a message board, or another virtual community. This is especially true of another person’s child–even a child in utero.
  2. Do not share birth parent, expectant parent, adoptive parent, or adoptee personal information. This information includes their location, age, situation, physical description, job title, school, etc. It is so easy to track down a person with just the tiniest bit of information about him or her. Adoption is a small, small world.
  3. Once information is shared, it cannot be deleted. This is true electronically and mentally. Even if you delete a blog, a Facebook account, or an e-mail, it is still out there in the virtual world, somewhere, and could be found. Once you share information about an adoption situation, someone will always remember that information and can share it, with or without your permission.
  4. Create pseudonyms when sharing adoption information online. What information you do share, create fictional names for the persons involved.
  5. When participating in an open adoption, have a conversation about privacy with the other parties involved. Decide what you feel is ok to share via social media and what isn’t. Discuss the fact that the young adoptee, despite their age, has a right to privacy of his or her photos and information.
  6. Check your state laws. As technology advances and the popularity of open adoption increases, the law is gradually catching up. You want to make sure you aren’t sharing any information virtually that could lead to a legal issue and that you are respecting the terms of your open adoption.
  7. Use your discretion. Be careful who you friend on Facebook, who follow on Twitter, what you share on online message boards, and whom you e-mail. Is your blog private or public? Treat your online interactions as you would your face-to-face interactions.

Above all, follow the golden rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Before you type or click or paste, stop and think. Will this benefit those who matter most (my child’s birth or adoptive parents? My child?) or harm them?

Rachel Garlinghouse is the mother of two beautiful brown babies through domestic, transracial, open adoption. She’s a part-time college writing teacher, part-time freelance writer and blogger, and all of the time mother. You can read more about her family’s adventures at


19 thoughts on “Virtually Speaking: Respecting Open Adoptions

  1. I’m kinda embarrassed because I tink your friend must have stumbled upon my blog! However, our son’s (whos almost 2 now) amazing birth mother actually asked right after she found us, when she was going to “make the blog?” I always asked her before I posted ANYTHING, and I think she appreciated the fact that as sacred as adoption is, we were so happy to share our story from beginning to end (her 30 weeks of pregnancy as well) with her friends and family that accessed my blog. I think she also liked knowing how much we loved her baby before she was going to help make him ours as well. I definitely agree with discretion and asking permission though, trust is so huge in an open adoption.

  2. As a birthmom, I am very careful about how I share about my placed son.
    I have permission to share his pictures, but I do so sparingly and discreetly, only with a few close family and friends.
    This post makes me glad they(my sons adoptive parents) didn’t know me until two weeks before I gave birth. I gave them ultrasound pictures, but they never shared them online and I don’t think they would. Neither would they share pictures of me with others without asking me, that I know for sure.

    • Me too! Though I doubt they would ever share a picture of me with the internet without having my express permission. They don’t have any ultrasound pictures and I never sent them pictures of my son and I before I placed with them. I would just like to have some things for me.

  3. i was embarrassed by this post too! Geesh! How do YOU know what conversations have been had behind the scenes about permission to post on a blog?! I think it’s perfectly reasonable to ask permission and to post one’s excitement about a baby. The learning curve about open adoption (or any kind of adoption) is steep! There are plenty of heart aches that may be more appropriatley expressed privately or with a pseudonym but CELEBRATING a life that is coming into the world?!!! All parents must celebrate. Every child deserves to be celebrated!!!! It is horrid to think that some babies get to be celebrated while others are “a crisis pregnancy” so don’t post the ultrasound online or form any other connections until the adoption is one hundred percent complete. Yes, there is so much grief and pain in adoption (DUH!) but no every blogger needs to be an “adoption” blogger writing about all sides and fighting for a just cause. sometimes one simply needs to celebrate the happy parts of a story (while probing the sad parts offline). anyway, slightly saddened by some of your post.

    • I think my issue with this POV is that until the papers are signed, the baby is still the mother’s. I think it’s presumptious to share things like pictures of a child that is still in the womb of the mother, and it could act as a bit of pressure to the birthmother, if she has second thoughts- which she is entitled to have. Perhaps a better idea would be to wait until the papers are signed, and then share the excitement and joy at that point. I also think it would save a lot of heartache for those PAP’s who have a girl who decides to parent her child too.

  4. I’m an adult adoptee and I felt the need to weigh in. Say you have a conversation with the expectant mother. And say she says “sure, share away!”. What about the baby? What about her child’s privacy? If my parents had done that to me, shared intimate details of my story with strangers (ie a public blog) I’d be devestated. Pictures of me while still technically with my biological mother would be very special to me and if I had them, I wouldn’t want to share them with anyone else. I would want both sets of parents to respect that. Sure, not all adoptees will feel the same. But what if yours does? Wouldn’t you rather play it safe than sorry with your child’s feelings? I’d keep that stuff off the web. It’s one thing to share your excitement. Share your own feelings and your own pictures. But leave the kids out of it until they are old enough to understand what your posting about.

    • Jenn, I took my blog offline after reading this and cried. But then I am thinking…So my best friend gets to post about her non-adopted children but I can’t post about my son because he is adopted? How does the question “What about the baby?” and their feelings about so much info floating around the internet not apply to ALL Mommy bloggers? I write our story (just a slice of life blog mostly about milestones and some gardening) on our blog to keep in touch with many friends and family members, but because my son is adopted I should leave him out of it? Our son’s first mother is very much a part of our lives and features heavily on our blog (with her permission and encouragement). When it comes to expression, motherhood, adoption we just all do our best.

      • I’m a firstmom/birthmom but I share pictures of my son and I in the hospital on my blog from time to time. Only a handful of pictures have ever been shared; that being said, I have the originals and they will be for him when he wishes to have them. I have oodles of pictures, more then I would ever care to share on my blog. I’ve never shared pictures of him in the present out of respect for his adoptive parents, and I would never share anything without express consent.

        That being said, I think it’s about respect. If there comes a time when our child can be given permission on whether or not he wants to be shared in the adoption blogging world, you should listen to him. Be respectful with what you share. I always blog about my own kids with the basic idea that everything can be found on the internet.

      • I totally agree with Jenn. Sorry, but an adoptee is not like a biological child. Adoptees have intensely personal stories and enormous losses. I think it’s one thing to share that a child’s birthday pictures or other milestones, but when it comes to adoption issues and trauma stemming from their losses, ap’s need to keep it off the internet.

        As far as sharing ultrasound images of a child, that should be against the law. That child is not your child until the ink has been dried on the adoption decree. Pregnant women change their minds all the time and decide to parent their child. And no one should share any identifying information online about a child of a pregnant woman. It’s presumptuous and rude.

  5. Good post. I think all points are valid and should be considered before blogging/sharing information online. I think we all get excited about our kids and want to share the highs and lows but can get caught up in the moment without thinking it through.

  6. Ahh…..things were so much more simple when folks still carried around snapshots in their wallets or pulled out the family photo album to share those adorable baby pictures, huh? With the social media monster and the fact that what we put on the Web will be around forever or so, I agree that we should take precautions to protect our children, and I could probably do a better job of that. I also agree that one shouldn’t post pictures or share identifying information about first moms/families without their permission and still be careful in doing so. I write about my daughter’s birth mom using an initial and have posted no pictures including her.

    However, I also agree with Kelly about celebrating life! My blog is a way to chronicle the life of my family…the ups and the downs (with discretion.) One day, my daughter will have a journal, complete with photos and videos, of how MUCH she was loved by all the people in her life…from the very first moment. I didn’t start the blog and post her pictures there until after the revocation period, but I did share pics with my family and friends on Facebook. Like any new mother, I was OVERCOME with joy, and I wanted to share with those I loved. I don’t ever want her to feel ashamed or that the circumstances of her birth are somehow unworthy of being shared and celebrated in the same way as that of her friends, cousins, etc. I want her to be comfortable and confident with all parts of her story and not feel as if it is something to hide.

    Will she be angry with me for sharing her story one day? I hope not. (I mean, I do have a few posts about boogers and blow-out diapers, so yeah…maybe when she’s 16, she’ll be kinda embarrassed, but do you know any teenagers not sometimes embarrassed by their parents?)

    I think of how much I learned from and appreciated the bloggers who were honest and open with their families when I entered motherhood, and I write with the same intention. To share. To learn. To grow. (I sound like a Fisher-Price commercial.) My first priority is always what’s best for her, so as she gets older, I may revise my feelings and change how or what I share, but for now, I’ll just say that I agree we’re all learning and trying to do our best.

  7. Good post! I came across a AP on Twitter this week that was live Tweeting the birth, and included pictures. I have an issue with live tweeting anything like that, but this particularly made me sick. Did the Mom know he was doing that? Telling the internet how dialated she was? It made me sick; there are boundaries and there are boundaries. A little respect to the process and those involved goes a long way.

    • Good LORD! I agree with the sentiments that some things belong solely to my son, some to his birth family, and some to just our part of the family.

      Live ‘tweeting’?!?!?! What if the first mother stays the ONLY mother in a case like that? What if she chooses not to relinquish? Then you’ve shared someone elses’ private information- with people who have NO RIGHT TO KNOW IT.

      I wish more people would show some restraint. (All people: birth parents, adoptive parents, and all my idiotic friends on FB).

      AFTER you are the child’s legal parent, share away if that is what you feel good about doing. But until the SECOND that the papers clear the courts, a prospective parent is NOT the parent- they’re just hoping to be.

      Which means that any information prior to that is NOT theirs to share (unless they have explicit permission to share said information from the other birthing mother).

      My son’s birth mother does NOT have permission to share our pictures- her privacy settings are not high, and she’s not very discreet about what she posts. She used to have permission though. She lost that priviledge when she posted pictures of (all) my children, with our names- without asking. She has over 1500 “friends” on FB. If it had been just her ACTUAL friends, or just her family, fine, but 1500 means most of them were strangers to her and ALL of them were strangers to me and my family.

      So, to all the a.parents who think they have the right to share (unless you’ve recieved consent)- don’t count your babies…. A ‘match’ doesn’t a mother make. The legal documents do.

  8. If we, as adoptive or birth parents, don’t share details of our children and how they relate to all their relatives and how open adoption works for them – how will people know about open adoption?
    I don’t use real names, locations, or photos on my blog, and I only share photos by email or FB with a small number of people, but I basically learned most of what I know about open adoption from blogs.
    So yes, I’m going to share information about his development and how he relates to his adoption, but if when he’s old enough to know what I’ve said, that’s when I can take his thoughts into account.

  9. I don’t have a blog but I agree with this post.

    We were in the hospital, hanging out with our daughter’s first mom for days but we refused to post any pics on Facebook or even email any pics to family until she signed relinquishment. And since it felt like our entire base of friends and family were waiting for them, we said publicly, “We won’t post pics or make any name announcement until the birth mom has given us permission to parent her child.”

    That being said, we’ve overshared more than a few times over the past three years – especially when our daughter was just born. When that happens, my husband and I talk about it, ask “How could that have been handled better?” and move on, wiser and better prepared for the next time (and there has ALWAYS been a next time).

    There’s a line and usually your gut knows when you’re crossing it. No need to beat yourself up over it. Just learn from it.

  10. I feel I have a unique prespective on this as I am both an adoptee (domestic, two days old, closed adoption now reunited) and an adoptive parent (domestic, at the birth, open adoption).
    I have a blog and I have never shared personal details of my son’s birth parents–no names, places, situations, etc., but I did share his sonogram picture (birth mom’s name cropped out of course). I whole-heartedly agree with Kelly. If I am not celebrating this child–this miracle–than who is? EVERY child should be celebrated. Unplanned. Crisis pregnancy. It doesn’t matter.
    When I think about how I should act in regards to my son’s (and his birth family) priviacy, I think about what I would have wanted as a child. Whether that be what pictures to share, what (and how much) contact to have with his birth parents, and what I would have liked to kept private.
    For instance, I’m friends with my birth mom on Facebook. I didn’t ever post about her or tag her or add pictures of her until she came to me and asked if she could post pictures of me and call me her daughter. I’m friends with my son’s birth parents on Facebook and again will never tag them, add pictures, or talk about them until (or if) they want me too. That’s their right. Privacy is very important to me. Just like my own story surrounding my birth is private, I keep my son’s private as well.
    But an ultrasound photo? Sheesh. I think it’s 100% okay to share–I wanted to scream from the rooftops, “Look at how cute my son is even in utero! He is so handsome!”
    After his birth mom placed with us she said, ‘One of the main reasons we placed with your family is we could tell how excited you were and how much our son was already loved by your family and friends.’
    I think that says a lot.
    So yeah, I showed an ultrasound photo and yeah, I even showed pictures of the nursery before he was born. I celebrated that little boy and I love him…but the details, the nitty-gritty? Those are all his.

  11. Interesting post. I believe I am allowed to celebrate my daughter’s life just like biological parents do! Once her birth mom relinquished her rights, I shared pictures and day to day milestones. I do NOT share information regarding her birth family or the circumstances surrounding her adoption. I am not ashamed of her situation, I just believe it is not my story to tell… it is hers. If she wants to share it one day great! I have learned a lot from adoption bloggers, but my first allegiance is to my daughter, not in educating others.

    I also believe that posting and blogging information about a child before the baby is legally yours is wrong. You can be excited, but also have to be respectful that this baby belongs to another women until he/she is legally placed with you. After the child is yours than you have the same rights to celebrate your child as everyone else does! Can’t you celebrate showers and nurserys without specicifics. Just a look at what we have done for our future family member…

  12. I went through a lot of emotions, not all of it positive and when I wanted to talk about anything that had to do with my son’s biological mother, I protected the post. And just about all of his pictures have been protected as well. I wanted to show off my son to my URL friends, but for a time I was super protective over him AND his image and certain things pertaining to his adoption. Why? For the reasons that have already been stated above.

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