Reaching Out: The Guide to Writing a Terrific Dear Birthmother Letter

Reaching Out: The Guide to Writing a Terrific Dear Birthmother Letter

by Nelson Handel
The comprehensive guide to creating a Dear Birthmother letter that genuinely expresses who you are. Writing tips, examples, and the insight of leading adoption professionals have made this book both the accepted standard reference within the adoption community and the beginning of thousands of happy families.


The comprehensive guide to creating a Dear Birthmother letter that genuinely expresses who you are. Writing tips, examples, and the insight of leading adoption professionals have made this book both the accepted standard reference within the adoption community and the beginning of thousands of happy families.

Editorial Reviews

Adoptive Family Magazine
With loads of examples and step-by-step instructions, Reaching Out will help you present yourself, your partner, your home, and your hopes in the best possible light.

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EasternEdge Press
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Read an Excerpt

PLEASE NOTE: The information on this page is protected by U.S. Copyright law and may not be reproduced or distributed in any way without the express written permission of the author.

Here's an excerpt from ³The Golden Rules,² a chapter that helps readers achieve a healthy mental attitude toward writing their letter, and toward the adoption process itself. Much of REACHING OUT contains this sort of ³dual wisdom,² information both universally applicable to the adoption process and specifically useful to writing a good letter.

The Golden Rules

Yes, just a page or two after I said there was no right or wrong to writing a Dear Birthmother letter, I'm going to lay a few rules on you. Perhaps ³rules² is a bad word to describe this chapter; these philosophies represent the core values upon which this book is based. Taken as a whole, they provide a great mind set with which to begin not just your letter writing, but your whole adoption journey as well.

#1 - The Goal of a Dear Birthmother Letter is to Connect with the Birthmother who is Right for You.

Adoption professionals all agree that successful open adoptions­where the right baby makes it into the right home­occur when potential adoptive parents and birthmothers make a strong personal connection prior to the birth of the child. So, this first Golden Rule contains two bits of essential wisdom.

First, you must understand that your goal is to connect with a birthmother, not a child. If you are looking to adopt a newborn, you can't pick your child; you can only pick your child's birthmother. After all this time hoping for a baby, suddenly you must hope for an adult, and that's a change in consciousness. To find the baby that's meant to be a part of your family, you must connect with the birthmother who is right for you.

And there's that phrase again: who is right for you.

Not every birthmother will match up well with every potential adoptive parent. Personal temperaments, life philosophies, and personalities vary, ways of communicating differ, and personal rhythms sometimes don't click. The same variables that govern all interpersonal communication are naturally at play, and often amplified, within the high-stakes context of a birthmother/potential adoptive parent relationship.

A successful open adoption grows from a certain natural comfort level between the participants, a sense of ease that is reassuring to both parties. Your birthmother needn't be ³just like you,² either. This type of simpatico can easily exist between people of widely differing backgrounds and experience. When you finally meet the birthmother who's right for you, you may be surprised to find that you come from very different places yet share much common ground.

The best way to heighten your chances of meeting that special someone is to present an accurate and insightful impression of yourselves in your Dear Birthmother letter. The more authentically your letter communicates the essence of who you are, the better chance you have of connecting with the birthmother who shares those feelings.


#4 - Be Yourself

The temptation, when you're first starting to write, is to think in mercantile terms, to think of yourself as a product to be packaged and sold. This is a natural instinct given our consumer culture and the number of advertising messages we absorb everyday. Many potential adoptive families find the whole Dear Birthmother letter process so distasteful that they choose to abandon the course of adoption altogether. They are either discouraged by what they feel is a need to present picture perfect, ³Ken and Barbie² images of themselves, or they are turned off by the feeling that they are advertising for a baby.

My wife and I certainly wrestled with these issues. I wrote about them for Offspring and Adoptive Families magazines [See Appendix 1: ³Love for Sale²]. And indeed, in some sense, writing a Dear Birthmother letter is constructing an image for yourself, an image you hope will appeal to a birthmother.

But primarily, a Dear Birthmother letter is an introduction, the purpose of which is to meet a person who may need your help (as you might need hers). You are not writing to persuade, as a sales pitch might do. You are writing to open widely the door to your life and let a birthmother have a good peek inside. Maybe even put out the welcome mat. The closer to your heart you can keep this thought, the freer of competitive concerns you will feel.

If you can't fully separate yourself from the feeling that you are selling something­and it would be disingenuous of me to suggest that you would be alone in this­at least sell yourself honestly. Don't pretend you're chicken if in fact you are steak. Always remember that your goal is to appeal not to just any birthmother, but rather to the one with whom you are likely to be able to form a strong connection.

Most importantly, don't begin this most important of life journeys with a lie, no matter how small it is. Now, more than ever, to thine own self be true.


#8 - Be Positive

For couples who come to embrace adoption after infertility, it's common for all thoughts of starting a family to come with a measured dose of sorrow. Coming to terms with the inability to conceive involves a process of acceptance, grieving and healing. For many at this early stage of the adoption process, these sorrows are still fresh and the wounds raw.

These are natural and normal feelings, and need to be dealt with and processed as you move on in your journey towards family. But your Dear Birthmother letter is not the place to do it. Your letter is your opportunity to reach out in love and joy to the birthmother of your child.

Articulate the positive things you have to offer. State your case honestly, simply, and directly. It's not a bad thing to mention your infertility, or any other sorrow or difficulty that seems central to your life, but do so within the context of the positive things that adversity has taught you.

Don't waste time qualifying, equivocating over, or pointing out the deficiencies of your life. We all wish our homes were bigger, our incomes larger, or our relationship with our parents better, but compared to Birthmother Problem #1, most potential adoptive parents have it pretty good.

Put your best foot forward. Speak of adoption as an exciting process that will lead to happiness for all involved. Communicate the same positive messages to your birthmother that you hope one day to communicate to your child.

What People are saying about this

Roberta Rosenberg
Clear, concise, lots of good examples, all told with humor and the experience of someone who's been that, done that. A stellar book!
— Owner,, and adoptive mom.
Kathleen Silber
Reaching Out is a wonderful resource for prospective adoptive parents working with attorneys, facilitators or agencies. I would recommend it to all potential adoptive parents who are having difficulty writing that important letter of introduction.
— author of Dear Birthmother and Children of Open Adoption
Douglas R. Donnelly
Nelson Handel takes much of the mystery out of writing a powerful and effective letter in a positive, encouraging, and enjoyable fashion. I will be recommending this book to my clients.
— Attorney-at-Lawformer president, Academy of California Adoption Lawyers
Frey, Courtney
Reaching Out gets it right. Even as a birthmother, I found it inspiring.
— birthmother, director of

Meet the Author

Nelson Handel is a journalist and media professional whose print work has appeared in Family Circle, Los Angeles Times Magazine, Adoptive Families, Boston Globe Magazine, Radar, This Old House Magazine, Yahoo Internet Life, Los Angeles Magazine, Offspring, Fine Gardening, The Walrus, and many others.

His work has also been heard on NPR's Morning Edition.

He gives workshops in Dear Birthmother letter writing at RESOLVE conferences and adoption agencies throughout the country.

A parent by adoption, he lives in Los Angeles with his wife, Elicia, and their son, Charlie.

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