Write A Great Birthmom Letter

This woman has made a courageous choice. She is considering adoption for her unborn child. And now she has another choice to make -- the parents who will raise her child. Not so long ago, most birth mothers had little say over who got their babies. An adoption agency or a religious organization handled that decision for them. But times have changed. These days, birth mothers will hear from many families who want to adopt their child. Your job is to make her feel that your family offers the best home and the best hope for her baby’s future.                                                                                                                           

Is the sweat already beginning to form on your brow? If so, don’t worry. This guide will help you get off to a strong start. And, if you desire, you can then send your draft to writing coach Dick Weiss (the good looking guy on the left) who co-authored this guide with adoption attorney Steve Kirsh (the better looking guy on the right). Weiss and his partner and wife Sally Altman (the gorgeous one in the middle) will edit and polish your draft so that it is as warm and persuasive as it can possibly be. You will find more information about this service at the end of this guide.

Getting Started

The first and most essential idea behind a “dear birthmom letter” is to tell your family’s story. Many prospective adoptive parents will say they are the best, most honest, decent, fun-loving, caring and compassionate people anyone would ever want to meet. The best letters though demonstrate this through storytelling. In other words, they don’t just tell. They show.

Stories, as you remember from your childhood, share a few important characteristics:

Among them:

Characters – interesting, sometimes quirky people who have feelings and motivations. Above all they DO things that help define them.

A timeline -- There’s a beginning, middle and end. In your case, the timeline might include your growing up, meeting your spouse, your efforts to conceive a child, your decision to adopt.

Drama – Everyone in their life faces difficulties. The way in which they overcome them helps define them. You needn’t have rescued anyone from a burning building, but perhaps you cared for a family member after a car accident, or maybe you served in the military with all the sacrifice that involves in being away from family and loved ones. Or maybe there’s a little drama in how you met your spouse or how you dealt with infertility.

So your “dear birthmom letter” will tell a story, perhaps several of them. As you write it remember that the facts about you are important, but your character, personality, and feelings are more important. A well written letter will emphasize your feelings along the way.

Okay, you might be thinking, just where am I supposed to start?

Following is an outline for a good “dear birthmom letter”. With comments on how you might address each section. Don’t worry about whether your “dear birthmom letter” might sound like someone else’s. It won’t. The unique facts that you provide and the personality you give it by telling YOUR story will make it distinct and persuasive.

The opening:

You introduce yourselves and quickly provide the birthmom with a concise overview of your family and your life. You are Tom and Mary. You live in a small town… or a big city. Describe your neighborhood. Do all this in general way for now because you will get back to it later.

Here’s a typical introduction:

Dear Birthmom. We’re Tom and Mary. We are grateful for the opportunity to write to you about our family, our home, and our hopes and dreams for a child. We’ve been happily married for over eight years and are looking forward to adopting a baby.

When we were first told that we could not give birth to a child, we were heartbroken. But after thinking about what was important to us, we realized that loving and nurturing a child was far more important than giving birth. Adoption offers us a chance to realize our dreams and to give a child a wonderful life and a bright future. We honor you for the courageous decision you have made to choose life for your baby and to look at all the options for securing your baby’s future. We want you to know that we are prepared to give this child a life filled with love and opportunity.

We live in the Midwest in a lovely two-story home with four bedrooms. Our home is at the end of a cul-de-sac in a neighborhood filled with young children. All of Mary’s family lives within two miles of our house.

Tom is a vice-president at the local bank. Yep, he’s got banker’s hours. Home by 6 p.m. every night. Until recently, Mary managed the local library. But she’s decided to be a stay-at-home mom once we adopt a baby.

Note the short simple sentences here. One thought per sentence. The idea here is to begin to convey a sense that you are personable, warm and stable without actually bragging about yourselves. Now it’s time to begin your story….

Begin at the beginning:

Good stories begin at the beginning. You choose where to start. Your story could start with your parents and the way they raised you. It could even start with grandma and grandpa. Perhaps they were immigrants and came to America to forge a better life for their family.

Or it could start when the two of you first met.

It really doesn’t matter where you start except that your letter from this point should always move forward in time to describe how your family came together to form the kind of environment that will provide a happy place for the child you hope to adopt.

Here are some key ideas to include in your story as it moves along through time.

How were you raised? This can give a birth mom some insight into Grandparentswhat kind of parents you might become. Use this as opportunity to share an anecdote or two about your upbringing. One adoptive parent told how a mere stare from her mother could bring her in line after she came in 15 minutes late from a date one night. This was a nice way of conveying how you that parent grew up with lots of structure in her home, something that may impress a birthmom.

How did you meet your spouse? What drew you to him or her? This is an excellent way of telling the birthmom about your spouse’s best qualities – but in a natural way without lots of platitudes. Instead of saying, Tom is the sweetest, most caring man …. You might begin like this … I had known Tom only three weeks when my brother, George, was critically injured in car accident. After I called him to tell him I would have to break our date and why, Tom arrived at the hospital within minutes asking what he could do for me. Well, my parents and I were beside ourselves and we could hardly talk. But Tom figured it out. He gently took my keys and drove home to make sure my dog got fed and walked; he drove by my parents house and checked to make sure my mom had remembered to turn off the stove because she always thinks she left it on and then he returned and held my hand for like 12 hours, until we were sure George was going to be all right. Later he handled all the paperwork with the insurance company. Tom says anyone would do that sort of stuff for people they care about. But I haven’t met too many people like Tom who seem to know just what to do when the chips are down.

Notice that along with telling a story, you are writing very informally… using words like “stuff” and referring to your mom’s foibles like thinking that she’s always leaving the stove on. These little touches will help make you seem more “real’’ to a birthmom.

One way to achieve this informal style is to pretend that you are sharing these stories with an old classmate, someone who knows and likes you, but hasn’t seen you for awhile.

Talking about each other


At some point in your letter you will want to switch from the “we’’ – Tom and Mary – to the first person – Tom or Mary.

Tom might write a section about Mary and what a wonderful mom she’ll be. Tom knows this because he’s seen her interact with nieces and nephews. Or he might describe how she’s coached the girl’s basketball team at the Y.

Then it’s Mary’s turn. She might describe how Tom started a youth program at his bank. Or how he joined a big brother organization. Rather than merely describe the big brother activities, she might share a particular episode that showed how Tom cemented his relationship with the child he was mentoring.

When you write about each other, it presents an opportunity to brag a bit without sounding egotistical. But don’t be shy about talking about yourself. The best way to do this is tell a story that represents who you are and where your values lie. Here’s how one would-be adoptive parent did it:

As a teenager, I set my sights on a private, Catholic high school, believing that a high school diploma from that particular school would ease my way into a career in law. However, the school’s tuition was beyond the reach of my family. At my parents’ suggestion and encouragement, I earned that tuition money by washing dishes and busing tables during my freshman and sophomore years in a public high school. At the end of my sophomore year, my parents took me to meet with the principal of the private school, to discuss my admission. I sat before him, in my best suit, my parents by my side, and told him of my dream of attending his school. The principal discouraged me from applying. He suggested that my public school education wasn’t rigorous enough for me to keep up with my classmates at his school. He doubted that I understood how much work I was facing.

I changed his mind. I pulled out the shoebox of cash I’d earned over two years of hard, dirty work. It held $2,400, in ten and twenty dollar bills. I was accepted, and got grades that earned me admission to a number of good colleges.

Other children

Grant %26 BetseyIf you have other children, be sure to talk about your feelings about them and the activities in which they are involved. The best way the birth mother has to judge you as parents for the child she is carrying is to know what kind of parents you already are. However, you must be careful about overstating your feelings. If a birth mother were to believe that you have no more room in your heart for another child, she will not consider you as adoptive parents. If the child( ren ) you already have came into your family by birth rather than through adoption, you must also dispel a concern which she might have that you would not love the child you adopt as much as the child(ren) to whom you gave birth.

Here’s how one family discussed their child in a compelling way.

We considered ourselves very fortunate to have Dylan so quickly. Maybe it was God's way of giving Hugh back his child who died at the age of 6 weeks so many years ago. We had actually talked about adopting before getting married. When Dylan came along so quickly we just put it out of our minds and figured we would be able to have another child without difficulty.  But then came several rounds of unsuccessful fertility treatments and a tubal pregnancy. We decided adoption made much more sense for my health and our family.

For now we are showering all our attention on Dylan. She loves going to football games with her dad and doing crafts with her mom. She’s crazy about Power Puff girls.

She is a wonderful little girl with lots of friends. What she would like most is a younger brother or sister -- as she readily tells everyone she meets. However, she has informed us diapers are yukky and she won’t be changing any. Not a problem, we have told her.

One other point about other children: Telling a birth mom that you think it is important for your child to have a brother or sister is not compelling to a birthmom. Her goal is to make her child’s life better not to make your child’s life better. Instead, talk about how important it is for children to have siblings so that she also sees the benefit to her child.

Finally, here’s a subtle but important point. Avoid using the expression “our own child”. Too many birthmoms (and for that matter, society in general, but that is beyond the scope of this article) associate “own” with a child by birth. They may think that you are making a value judgment; and that if your birth child is your “own” child, the child you adopt would be something less than your “own” child. If a birth mom ever thought you considered the child you want to adopt as second best, you will never be successful.

Share your interests and passions

One of the ways to get a birth mother to select you is for her to find some connection with you. Sometimes that is because of the impression she has of your relationship, but other times, it is because she shares a common interest with you.

As your story moves along, let the birthmom know about your hobbies and interests and how they enhance your life as a family. Some families love sports and make it a way of bringing people together. One family puts on plays. Many families celebrate the holidays in unique ways.

Be sure that you explain that the child you adopt will be part of those activities. More than one birth mom has said that she passed on a family because they seemed too busy with all of their activities and could not imagine how they would have time for a child. If the child would be part of the activities, problem solved.

Beyond the warm and fuzzy

One other very important aspect of your letter is to show the birth mother what you have to offer her child beyond the “warm and fuzzy”. You do not want to sound materialistic, but one of the reasons a birth mother is choosing adoption for her child is that she wants more for her child than she can provide herself. For that reason, you need to specify what it is you offer the child in addition to love and security.

Here’s how Tamara and Raymond put it:

Not only do we have an abundance of love to give our children, but we can give them many things to encourage them to develop their interests, skills, and talents. We can provide them with the best education available. Because Raymond does most of his work at home, he is with Dylan all day long, until Tamara returns from work. Tamara works part time, so one of us can be with Dylan—and any future child — almost all the time.

Earlier in their letter, the two noted that they lived in a spacious home; that they take interesting vacations to far-off climes and can’t wait to take their child on these excursions. Remember, it isn’t the money or the possessions that matter as much as how you will use them in the best interest of the child.

Other things to think about

There are a number of other issues which you might want to address in your letter. Do not use the following as a check list. In providing information about yourselves, if addressing these issues would give the birth mother a better idea of what you are like, include them. If not, then do not address these issues:

  • How did you feel when you found out you could not give birth to a child?
  • How did you feel when you found out you could have children by adoption?
  • Why is being a parent important to you?
  • What do you hope to offer your child? (i.e. discuss extended families, spiritual and ethical upbringing, financial security, college education, much love and security, etc.)
  • Talk about your hopes and aspirations generally, and, particularly, your feelings about each other.
  • Address the issue of presenting the adoption in a positive way to the child, and the birth parents' sacrifice for the child's future.

The two most common mistakes which couples make in writing their letters are:

  • They spend too much time talking about their relationship with other children. In fact, one client submitted a draft of their letter in which they made reference to children in literally every paragraph. Even if you spend every waking moment with children (nieces, nephews, neighborhood children, god children, and children of your friends), a birth mother will never believe that is the case. In order for you to be successful, she must believe that you are portraying an accurate representation of yourselves and not that you are just telling her everything she wants to hear.
  • Along the same lines, the other common mistake is that couples try too hard to make themselves seem perfect. I am not suggesting that you show her your “warts”, but to say, for example, “No matter where we go we are always holding hands” is just not believable (even if it is true).

Using pictures

A birthmom will be naturally curious. What do the would-be parents of my child look like?

Photographs benefit the couples who are more photogenic than the ones who are not. If you do not consider yourself particularly photogenic, do not include photographs. However, understand that a couple whose letter does not include photos is at a disadvantage. If you are concerned that the photos will give away that you are older, select photos of you being active. Likewise if you could lose a few pounds do not select photos of you baking or feasting at Thanksgiving.

If photographs are used, they should be more casual than formal. They would show you involved in various activities, your home, your pets, you on vacation. The pictures themselves convey a very strong message about the type of people you are. If you have a way of including a caption with the photographs, that’s all the better.

Photographs can help you make a relevant point. For example, if you talk about going to the beach as one of your favorite things to do, a photograph of you on the beach placed at that point in the letter is very effective. If you are talking about your pet, a picture of the pet at that point helps to tell the story.

In closing your letter

Tell the birth mother how she can contact you directly or learn more by calling Steve and Joel Kirsh. If you have an "800" number, include it along with the statement and be sure to mention a time when she would have the best chance of reaching you at home. Also give her Steve and Joel’s telephone number, (800) 333-5736. Explain that if she calls after regular business hours, their answering service will page them and they will call her back as soon as possible. Additionally, assure her that neither you nor they will try to influence or pressure her. Finally, assure her that she will not obligate herself to proceed with an adoption by calling. The Kirshs and you will seek to provide her the information she needs to make a knowing, well-informed decision.

The final polish

One of the best ways to know whether your letter is effective is to read it aloud, first to your spouse, then to a candid friend. You, your spouse and friend will immediately notice what sounds awkward, stiff or just not like you. Mark those portions and go back over them later when you have some time for further reflection. Don’t try to reach consensus or debate how best to say it.

Once you’ve finished the letter, sleep on it. Read it again in the morning. It’s amazing how many little gremlins you can catch that way before sending your letter.

Working with Dick Weiss and Sally Altman

Writing and storytelling is a skill acquired over many years. This guide offers a bit of a shortcut and can be particularly effective if you are already quite proficient as a writer. But it’s not a cookbook recipe in which you’ll instantly bake a pie as tasty as Julia Child’s. If you lack confidence in your writing ability; are swamped with many other things to do, or just want to be sure you are sending the best letter possible, consider working with Dick and Sally

Dick is a journalist by training, a former editor and writing coach at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. He is particularly skilled at profile writing and storytelling and has won awards in his field.

Sally, who has a Master of Public Health degree, has written dozens of successful birthmom letters for adoptive parents.

The two began working with Kirsh & Kirsh clients in the fall of 2003. The adoptive parents send pictures and a draft of a letter and/or biographical information. (Home studies often prove useful.)

  • Sally and Dick review the material then send an e-mail with questions that will provide even more information to enhance the letter.
  • Dick or Sally then either writes or refines the letter and sends it to the adoptive parents for their review.
  • Based on the response, they polish the letter further, add pictures and send it to both the adoptive parents and Steve Kirsh for a final review.
  • The final version is then sent to Kirsh & Kirsh.

If you are interested in such a service, you can contact Dick and Sally at mailto:%20rweiss@weisswrite.com or by calling 314-725-4233.

Recorded message for outgoing voice mail

If you have opted for the Kirsh & Kirsh Directed approach and will not be doing any of your own networking, your outgoing message can be as simple as: You have reached Tom and Mary. We are sorry that we missed your call, please leave us or message or try us back later. The best time to reach us is ________. This can be on your home phone with an 800# assigned to it. It is not necessary to leave a lengthy message because any birth mother who might call would have already read your dear birth mother letter.

On the other hand, if you are doing any networking or advertising on your own, you will need a separate line with a longer message. In recording the outgoing message you must understand that if your message is boring, the birth mother will hang up the phone without leaving a message. You have a better chance to get her to listen to your message, if your message is something like:

Thank you so much for calling. Please do not hang up! We are sorry that we missed your call. There is so much that we would like to tell you. We have left this short message to give you an idea of what we are like in hopes that after you listen to our message, you will want to know more about us. At the end of the message, we will tell you how you can obtain more information.

For now, we would like to tell you . . . (Include the two or three most important things you would want her to know about you. In other words, if you could only tell her two or three things about yourselves, tell it to her at this point in your recording. Give her a "taste" of what you are like, so that she will be interested in taking another "bite".)

If you would like to know more about us, you may do one of the following: (1) You may call us back. The best time to reach us is _____; (2) You may leave your first name and telephone number and a time for us to call you back, or (3) You may call our attorneys, Steve and Joel Kirsh at (800) 333-5736. (You should be sure to repeat our telephone number on the recorded message, so that if she misses the number the first time, she does not have to listen to the entire message to hear the number again.)

If it is important for your letter to be written in a conversational, down-to-earth manner, it is even more important when you record your message that it sounds like you are talking to the birth mother rather than reading to her. Think back to high school speech classes. The speeches that were read were very boring even if the content was good. How you sound to her, the tone of your voice, your enthusiasm, your interest and excitement, accounts for probably 95% of the effectiveness of your recorded message.

When you record your message, do so as if the birth mother was in the room with you and you were talking to her. I know it will be difficult to do that, but if you are able to do so, your message will be much more sincere and better received.

Additionally, when recording your message, speak closely to the microphone in the answering machine to avoid the "tunnel" effect.  

In Closing

John and Heather's babyWe’ve shared a lot of important information with you knowing that it will be difficult to absorb at a time when there may be many cross currents in your life. Always remember that you are doing a wonderful thing not only for yourselves but for your community and the nation by providing a safe and happy home for a child. We know that you have a wonderful story about your family to share with a birthmother. Let us know what we can do to help you tell it.

Read a sample birthmom letter