When you are preparing for the first meeting with a potential birthmother, whether via conference call, or matching dinner, it is bound to be an anxious time - for both you and the birthmother. Here are some helpful hints:
When you meet a potential birthparent, either by phone or in person, realize that you are encountering someone with a huge problem to manage. Treat her as you would any friend with such news. Let your first thoughts be not of your needs and concerns, but of hers. There will be plenty of time later to discuss the "nuts and bolts" of things, like medical history, desire for post-placement relationship, etc. Don't get ahead of yourself. This is about human connection. Focus on what she needs most, and address yourself to those needs. Isn't that the kind of parent you would want, if you could choose?
Ask about the pregnancy: how's it going? Ask her if she likes her doctor, how she's getting to her appointments, what foods she is craving.
Ask about the people in her life. Does she have friends or family she can talk to about what's going on? Your empathy might be just the invitation she needs to unload her thoughts and feelings. The more comfortable and positive you are about adoption, the more you normalize the conversation.
Invite her questions. It's awkward to ask strangers about personal things, especially for younger people. Send a message that you welcome her interest. Answer her questions simply and honestly. Be as open and vulnerable as you would like her to be.
Let the conversation flow without an agenda. In a first meeting, it is less important what you talk about than that you talk, and, most importantly, listen. Remember that, although your biggest fear is that she won't like you, her biggest fear is that you won't like her.
Nothing can fully prepare you for the awkwardness of this first meeting. But every day, people negotiate the same waters of a first contact. And every day, through the power of love and authenticity, people find a way past the awkwardness and come together for the sake of a child. You can too.
Nelson Handel is a father by adoption, a journalist, and the author of the book, Reaching Out: The Guide to Writing a Terrific Dear Birthmother Letter.