Domestic Adoption is a scary journey with lots of questions. “What if the birth mother changes her mind?” This seems to be the biggest fear of most adoptive parents. And the truth is that some birth mothers do change their minds about placing their baby for adoption.
Then we have the birth mother’s questions “What if the adoptive parents choose not to adopt the baby after it is born?” Really??? Birth mothers ask these types of questions? Yes, they do.
Domestic Adoption is a scary journey with lots of questions whether you are the adoptive parents or the birth parent. Many birth parents begin an adoption journey by making perhaps the scariest phone call of their lives. I’ve had birth parents state that they have picked up the phone and even dialed the number multiple times before having the courage to speak to a pregnancy counselor.
It has been my experience that adoptive parents come into adoption with their own fears and rightfully so. But many adoptive parents are surprised that the birth parents have fears as well. Fears that they will never see their child again. Fears that their child will hate them for choosing adoption. Fears of what their family or friends will think of them if they find out the birth mother chose an adoption plan for their child. Fears that the adoptive parents will change their minds. Fears that their child will not be loved for the person they are.
As I have walked the journey with many women who were choosing adoption for their unborn child, I have listened to these fears and offered assurance. I have assisted a mother and a father to process these fears as they meet prospective adoptive parents. I have been in the hospital room after the birth of a baby when the mother must again make the most difficult decision in following through with the adoption plan. I have hugged fathers as they thanked me for assisting them and their girlfriend in finding a family who they can trust for their child. I have shed tears with birth parents as they have left the hospital. I have held their hands in attorney offices as they sign documents to terminate their parental rights with tears in their eyes.
I have also walked the journey with many adoptive parents as they look through the nursery window at their baby and state “Lisa, I can’t be fully happy right now because I know what is going on in her room.” Meaning she knew that the birth mother was grieving. I’ve sat with adoptive parents as they grieved for the birth mother as she was leaving the hospital. I’ve counseled with adoptive parents as they are crazy in love with the baby while grieving for their new friend, the birth mother.
How can you develop a heart for a birth parent? See the birth parent as the loving father or mother that he or she is. Meet them and get to know them. Spend some time with them. While it is true that many birth parents have some struggles in their lives and may not live the same lifestyle that you live, it is also true that birth parents love their babies very much and choosing to place their child for adoption is the most difficult decision they will ever make.
written by Lisa Whitaker
Having a prospective birthmother choose you to raise her child is a priceless gift that you can never truly repay. Many adoptive parents choose to express their feelings for a birthparent by giving them a meaningful gift at the hospital when the baby is born or at placement- something a birthparent can treasure for the rest of their life. With the holidays approaching you can also be mindful to continue celebrating and loving your birthparents, even if the placement has already happened. For birthparents, the holidays can be a difficult time, filled with reminders of loss and grief. This is completely normal. Adoption can hold a lot of pain, loss, heartbreak, and grief, but also a lot of forgiveness, redemption, and love. The sheer definition of the word “gift” is: “a thing given willingly to someone without payment; a present.” It is a simple act of kindness to show someone that they are cared for, thought about, and loved.
Because giving birthparents gifts can be a sensitive topic, it’s important that you talk to your agency caseworker about what gift is appropriate in your situation, whether it is for placement or after. Your caseworker will be able to give you input about which kind of gift is best for the birthparent’s emotions at that time, as well as remind you of your state’s legal standards regarding living expense laws before or at placement.
Here are some gift ideas for birthparents, whether it is for the adoption placement or a “just because” gift throughout the years as you continue to grow with one another in the adoption process:
- Flowers: Flowers are always a cheery sight for anyone. For a first match meeting, the hospital, or an annual visit, this can be a great idea to bring with you and give directly to her – or have them delivered. This could also be a fruit or chocolate bouquet.
- A commemorative piece of jewelry: Many adoptive parents choose to give their child’s birthmother a piece of jewelry she can wear as a reminder of the child she placed for adoption. It may be engraved with her baby’s initials or feature the baby’s birthstone. Whatever personalization you choose to give it, make sure it’s subtle so that your child’s birthmother is not constantly having to explain it to people she may not want to share that part of her story with. We have also seen adoptive families gift their birthmother a beautiful necklace called the “Adoption Triad Necklace”. It is simple, delicate, and a subtle chain necklace with a gold triangle; representing the adoption triad.
- A post–partum recovery basket: Recovering from giving birth can be both a physical and emotional act. A birthmother could not only be dealing with the emotions of placing her child for adoption, but also may have had to take time off work. You can make that process easier by creating a spa, self-care basket (lotions, bath items, etc.) so she can pamper herself during this time. If approved by your lawyer or agency caseworker, you may wish to also send a gift basket of meal preparation, gift cards and other practical things to help her during this time.
- Stuffed Animals: Birthmothers will likely be looking for comfort after placing their child for adoption. I recommend getting two identical stuffed animals: gift one to the birthparent, and one to the child. I then encourage adoptive families to take monthly/yearly photos of the child next to the stuffed animal as they continue to grow and send these photos to the birthmother. This is so the birthmother can see how big the child is growing and will be able to compare it to the same stuffed animal she has. To go a step further, you could even purchase a stuffed animal with a recording in it and record the child’s voice or heartbeat to gift to the birthmother. Another option is taking an outfit your child wore during their time in the hospital and have it turned into a bear.
- An engraved watch: Like jewelry for birthmothers, an engraved watch is a great way for a birthfather to carry around the memory of his child and your relationship with him. As you would with the jewelry, make sure the engraving is subtle (perhaps on the inside of the wrist) so he doesn’t have to answer unwelcomed questions about what it means. Ideas for engravings could be the child’s time of birth, the child’s date of birth, or initials.
- A meaningful book or an adoption memory book: If you know the birthparent has a particular interest in something, consider buying them a book about that subject. This goes hand in hand with hobbies. If you know your birthparent is interested in a particular hobby as well, consider gifting them something along those lines. Sometimes adoptive parents have created a more involved memory book as well for their birthparents. In addition to photos, it can include mementos from the adoption process, like your original adoptive family profile, things from the hospital stay, baby’s footprints, etc. You can leave blank pages for the memories still to come. Some families purchase a recordable children’s book. Have the birthmother record her voice by reading the book. This will allow her voice to be heard by the baby and it is a wonderful way for her to feel connected with her child. As the child gets older and is able to read, you could also have the child record their voice and gift the book back to the birthmother.
- Beautiful Framed Art: If you and the birthparents live in different cities or states, you could gift them with a beautiful art piece of the two cities or state maps overlapping one another. This could be found online, such as Etsy. A framed copy of your child’s footprints or handprints would be meaningful too if your birthparent did not receive this from the hospital. Even as your child grows up, don’t forget to gift your birthparents some of the child’s artwork that they will create throughout the years.
- Photo frame or photo album: A birthparent may appreciate a memorable, engraved frame or photo album with several photos of their child. This way, they can store or switch out photos they receive from you or the agency over the years as their baby grows up.
- Journal: Gift your birthmom a journal. This can not only be healing and therapeutic for her, but also a way for her to write notes and letters to her child. You could also do a stationary set that includes envelopes and stamps so that she can send letter to her child.
- Keepsake box: A memory box or a keepsake box contains a selection of memorable and meaningful items or memorabilia that belonged to a loved one. Gifting your birthmom a memory box can be a significant and meaningful way for her to store precious memories and gifts that you send her.
Remember, each adoption relationship is different, and it may not always be the right thing to give a gift to the birthparents. However, if you do choose to give your child’s birthparents a meaningful gift, it can be an important step in solidifying a strong relationship between you all for many years to come.
Written by Caidon Glover, LMSW | Pregnancy Counselor
While the holidays can be filled with fun times spent with family and friends, they can also be a very difficult time for birthparents, especially if you placed your child for adoption around the holidays. In these seasons, it can be hard to find healthy ways to cope with those feelings. While everyone’s experience is unique, the following strategies may help if you find yourself feeling down this holiday season.
Reach Out to Your Child’s Adoptive Family
For many birthparents, hearing from their child’s adoptive family can bring encouragement and peace in difficult times. Send a card or a holiday gift to your child’s adoptive family. Consider making a gift or sharing some of your family holiday traditions with them. Ask your child’s adoptive family if they could send you a photo of your child around Christmas or share a bit about their holiday plans. If you have a closed adoption, you could write a letter to your child that you can keep in a journal or place under your Christmas tree as a way to honor them.
Express Your Feelings with Others Who Support You
Identify family or friends that you can talk to about the difficult feelings that may arise during holiday seasons. Reach out to one of Nightlight’s pregnancy counselors in your state and talk about things with her. Connecting with other birthparents is a great way to process your shared experiences and learn what has helped others cope. If you are a birthmother who placed a child through Nightlight, reach out to your pregnancy counselor about joining our private Facebook group for birthmoms!
Find Ways to Honor your Child
Whether you have an open or closed adoption, there are many things you can do to honor your child during the holiday season. Try creating an ornament with a picture of your child or your child’s birthday. You can hang this on the Christmas tree as a remembrance of your child during the holidays. Some birthparents light a candle in honor of their child. Giving back is another way to honor your child and help with sadness during the holidays. Look into different organizations where you might be able to volunteer during the holidays. Volunteering could be even more meaningful if you find an organization that reminds you of your child or serves people that have had similar experiences as you.
Take Care of Yourself
Make sure you continue to take care of yourself physically and emotionally even in difficult seasons. Spending time outside and getting physical activity have been shown to benefit mental health. Make sure you get plenty of rest and find things that refresh you. Consider taking a weekend away by yourself or with a friend. Try reading a book, learning a new skill or hobby, or setting goals for the next year.
Remember that you are not alone if you are grieving this holiday season. Find healthy ways to express your emotions and talk about them with others. It is our prayer that you would be filled with love and comfort this holiday season.
written by Lindsay Belus | Pregnancy Counselor
“I can’t imagine how you’re feeling right now.”
“What a hard decision you are making.”
“Thank you for trusting us with your baby.”
“You are so brave.”
“I admire your strength.”
These are all statements that one might hear being said to a birth mother in the hospital or at placement. How many of us have stood in that moment and wished we had something better to say than the typical “thank you” or “I can’t imagine”? How many birth mothers have wished there was something that could be said that would make the whole situation hurt just a little bit less? As I have had the opportunity to walk alongside birth mothers throughout their pregnancy and placement experiences, I have learned that you can just never be fully prepared for how differently each and every birth mother will feel during the placement process. Some cry, others rejoice, some are disengaged, and others decide that adoption is no longer the choice they wish to make. No matter what emotions are being shown on the birth mother’s face, there is grief involved. This grief feeling may not hit immediately, but it will.
As adoptive families and adoption caseworkers, we have the incredible opportunity to support birth mothers through this grief. While all of the above statements are true and the birth mother is strong, brave, selfless, and worthy of admiration, what are some things we can remember about her and ways we can support her through her grieving? Remember that she just went through the 9-month experience of carrying your baby inside of her body and loved that baby enough to choose life. Remember that she just spent “X” number of hours giving birth to a baby that she is choosing not to bring home with her. Remember that this experience is painful and remember that she is incredible.
No one has all of the answers in regard to making the pain of adoption go away. No one can pinpoint exactly how each birth mother and adoptive family will feel and respond to the placement of a child, but here are some pieces of advice I would give to adoptive families during all phases of the adoption process:
- Respect your birth mother’s wishes. She is trusting you to care for her child for the rest of his or her life, and while you have the tremendous joy and responsibility of being the baby’s parents, she will also ALWAYS be his or her parent too. The power of DNA is strong and respecting a birth mother’s tie to her child is necessary for both the child’s growth and the birth mother’s growth. Send the pictures that you promised, post or mail the update that you said you would write, make that visit happen even if it is not the most convenient for your schedule. Your birth mom/birth family is worth it!
- Encourage her to seek support. If your birth mother has a wonderful support system or if she has no one, encourage her to continue healthily processing her emotions and feelings toward the placement of your baby.
- Tell her you are thinking of her. Even if you do not have the most open of relationships, she wants to feel special, known and remembered (we all do!) so keep trying. Just because your birth mother is not comfortable with contact or gifts right now, that does not mean the door is closed forever. Send your letters and pictures to the agency for the day that she does decide she is ready to know your family and build a relationship with you and your child.
- Build a genuine relationship with healthy boundaries. While this is easier said than done, be open and honest with each other about your desires for this relationship and do not promise more than you can provide. Set a schedule for picture updates, texting, visits, etc. This relationship is ongoing, so make a plan with your caseworker and your birth mom regarding how everyone’s voices can be heard and how you can ensure that all involved know what to expect for the days ahead.
Enjoy your baby and enjoy building a relationship with their birth mother. You have embarked on one of the sweetest and difficult journeys a family can choose to take, and it will be worth it! It will not always be easy, and you will not always be comfortable, but listen to your birth mother, think about her, respect her, and love her- no matter what! She will grieve and you will grieve for her. Continue to pray for her every day and speak highly of the incredible woman that gave your baby life.
written by Phoebe Stanford | MSW intern
Mother’s Day has recently passed and it has had me thinking of all the unique paths that lead to motherhood. Working in the adoption world has taught me so much about all the ways a woman can become a mother—whether that be through embryo adoption, domestic adoption, international adoption, or placing a child for adoption. While each path to motherhood is unique and has its own story, I want to focus on the story of the birth mother.
In my first couple years working at Nightlight, I worked strictly with expectant mothers who were deciding to place their baby for adoption. After placing their baby, they became “birth mothers” and just as any mother, will keep that title for the rest of their lives. Adoption is all about the unconventional ways to parenthood and this includes birth parents as well. In the process of working with expectant mothers, a large conversation piece that we often had was their value and affirmation as this child’s mother at this moment. They would not be parenting this child, but they were making parenting decisions for this child based on the family they were choosing to parent them. They were choosing the life they wanted for their child and choosing it in love, and that was not taking away their motherhood, but instead, validating it. As much as I reinforced this idea to them throughout pregnancy, I’ve seen more birth mothers believe this truth most when the adoptive mother reaffirmed her of this when they hold the baby for the first time or when the final goodbye is being said. Those have been the most tear-filled moments of my job not because of immense pain or joy from either party, but because of the raw, beautiful experience that two mothers, both valid in their titles, share over the same child. It is then when humbleness and gratitude meet that all preconceived societal hierarchies of motherhood are broken down to share an immense love for a child.
While it is easy to recognize the parenting mother on Mother’s Day (and please do, they deserve it!) let us not forget the birthing mothers as well – the ones who carried children and made hard choices in the name of love for their babies because after all, that is what motherhood is all about.
So, if you are a birth mother reading this and no one has told you yet, Happy Mother’s Day to you too.