I thank my lucky stars every day to have been paired with Erica (my daughter Ashley's first mom) for my own experience with open adoption. One of Erica's core beliefs, which she came to as part of her therapy and healing journey, is that parenting doesn't end when one's parenting rights are terminated. Though her hands-on role is reduced (and this is even more the case in terms of Ashley's siblings, who were placed in families less willing to include her), she believes that it is her job to do whatever is in the best interest of her children. This can be a tricky balance of stepping aside (so that bonding can happen with the adoptive family) and yet still remaining available.
I know that there are lots of reasons why bio parents drop away; not everyone is going to have to inner resources to do what Erica does. And I also think that many b-parents don't realize that continuing to be a presence in their child’s life has a huge potential benefit to the child (in fact, they may have been told just the opposite). This understanding can be a key factor. When I read the blogs of b-parents in open adoptions, I often hear them express that there are things about openness that are difficult for them (the b-parent) but that they will continue the relationship because they believe it is in the best interest of the child.
But anyway, the question was about what an adoptive parent can do when such conditions aren't present. For anyone else who is interested in this, I recommend starting with my earlier post about emotional openness. I firmly believe that "emotional openness" is of key importance, whether or not there is actual contact with the first family. Emotional openness, for me, includes something I call "making space for mourning." It's not necessary to be heavy-handed about this; adoptive parents don't need to walk around all the time saying to their adopted children, “Gosh, it must be hard not having a relationship with your biological relatives.” But parents should try to be alert to those moments when their kids hint at feelings of loss.
The a-parent can validate the child's feelings, communicating something along the lines of “I understand that you feel that way, and it is totally normal.” One of the major issues often raised by adult adoptees like myself who grew up in closed adoptions is that we never got to grieve. That was what inhibited healing. And, for many of us, one of the things that prevented grieving was the belief that doing so was in some way disloyal to our adoptive families. This is a place where adoptive parents can really make a difference. You can communicated acceptance of whatever feelings come up around adoption and birth families (while recognizing to yourself that these feelings will likely change many times through the years).
The other thing I would suggest is to be open to the possibility of creative solutions. Genetic mirroring can happen with other relatives, too. Bmom and Bdad may be unavailable, but maybe someday a grandparent or a sibling or a cousin will show up wanting a relationship, and if you are open, you’ll be ready. Pictures. Information. Every little bit helps. Again, the hard part for many adoptees in closed adoptions was that we had nothing. We went through our lives without ever seeing our genetic selves reflected back in any way.