My wife and I felt called to adoption for quite some time, but the process always seemed daunting, and fraught with uncertainty. After completing long years of medical school and residency, along with having two children during the process, our family finally had more time together, and life started to feel pretty “comfortable.” However, we did not feel complete, and we knew we wanted to add another child; we just did not know how. Adoption weighed heavy on our hearts, but we were still plagued by doubts and insecurities. We feared the unknown and we held tight to our newly found, and long-awaited, sense of “comfort.”
Ultimately, we decided to fast for clarity and wisdom; and God answered in remarkable ways, as we know only He can. Our story leading to adoption is long and detailed, and one we love sharing, but it was during this time He made it undeniably clear our family was called to adoption. God had reminded us that we are not called to a life of “comfort,” rather we have been called to a life of purpose, regardless of the challenges that lie ahead. We have been called to exercise our faith through action, even during times of doubt and uncertainty.
Following our fast, we began our home study process, and started making our family profile book. Within a couple months we became a “waiting family,” and several months later we received the call we had been selected. Later that day we held our girl, Hayden Grace, for the first time, and our family was forever changed. Our “gotcha day,” also just so happened to be my birthday; so, every year we have plenty to celebrate.
I imagine every adoptive parent has their faith tested and refined throughout their adoption journey, and ours is no different. Over Hayden’s first year, she battled multiple health issues, each one testing our faith in new ways, and each one resurrecting more insecurity and doubt. Yet, through every storm, God calmed our unrest, and reminded us of His greater purpose and of His steadfast presence. Looking back, we cannot believe our fears almost led to missing out on our sweet Hayden. Well-intentioned friends and family often say, “she is so lucky to have you,” and my wife and I feel that statement could not be further from the truth. We are the ones who needed her, and we are infinitely grateful she is family.
Hayden just turned one, and she’s far too young for the difficult conversations of identity, grief or any other challenging topic that comes with adoption. Her older siblings have already started asking some pretty hard questions, hopefully helping to start prepare us for what is to come. We know there will likely be difficult conversations ahead, but as we have experienced time and time again, He will be there every step of the way.
written by an adoptive father | submitted by Lara Kelso
Last year was my second Mother’s Day. A celebration that was hard fought for after several years of infertility, grieving, and then choosing a brand-new journey of foster care and adoption. My very first Mother’s Day went quietly. It was a couple months after our first official placement with twins, and I did not want to make a big deal out of it but was still a big deal to me. At the time I was at home focusing on bonding, worrying if I would be “mom-enough” for these kids in my care, and wondering if they might be reunited with their biological mom. It would be good for them all to have that, to find healing and be together again, though painful for me. It was memorable, but free of people’s expectations about how I should feel about the day.
My second Mother’s Day, however, will always stick with me because we were remarkably close to our finalization date! A staggering amount of people wanted to celebrate my FIRST Mother’s Day with me, because of the adoption. “CONGRATS on your very first Mother’s Day!” they would say. Over and over this happened. They did not ask, did not think, did not know that their assumptions and lack of understanding about foster care would feel immediately painful. I spent many moments correcting and saying “second” Mother’s Day. It brought up an entire concoction of emotions that looked a lot like anger. I did not misunderstand their intentions, they wanted to celebrate the adoption with me. They wanted to share in my joy. They did not know the date of our placement like people know birth dates. It was an easy mistake.
Every time “first” was uttered, I just could not help but think of my foster momma friends who did not get to celebrate an adoption that month. The ones that were battling for the emotional healing of their little fosters. Losing sleep to help their kids cope, cleaning up messes (both emotional and physical) that are bigger than some parents with bio kids will ever understand.
Would those people trying to make a big deal about my “First” Mother’s Day celebrate those moms too?
Would they understand the emotional cost of fostering? Would foster moms be “mom enough” for them to give a happy Mother’s Day to regardless of whether they got to keep their littles? Were those well-meaning people willing to wade into the muddy waters of foster care and recognize the utter PAIN that can come from this holiday? To recognize that somewhere out there is a biological mother who is feeling wrecked about the kids she cannot see? Would they notice that fear that sometimes sneaks in when foster mom’s worry that they are not equipped enough to help these kids through their storm?
I’m not sure. After all that is a lot to unload on a well-wisher.
It is something worth saying though, isn’t it? That mom life doesn’t start when a judge declares it to be so. While it sounds like such a happy ending to focus on the day that things are final, adoption is not the goal of foster care. Being a mom these kids need is, even if they don’t want one.
Foster mommas might wake up to an angry child who is struggling with their first (or fifth) Mother’s Day away from their birth mom. Their kid may have had 6 different mom’s they have lived with in their lifetime. Their kids might love on them, or completely ignore them. They might need someone, anyone, to send them a text and say, “Happy Mother’s Day, you are doing a great job no matter what this day looks like for you!”. It may be a good day for them, a quiet one, or a painful one where they try their best to comfort a child who has melted down into an angry puddle.
What they do need, unquestionably, is to be SEEN as moms. It is who they are, regardless of the legalities. Don’t forget them this Mother’s Day.
Bringing and adopted child into your home will be a huge transition for your children. There are some practical ways that you can make this easier for your children and at least help them to better understand adoption and the changes it may bring to your family.
Explain the process
You want to be honest and realistic with your children. Explain what this process will look like and be honest about what the timeline might be. You also should work on preparing your children for some of the issues that your adopted child may have after coming home. You can use your education to talk with your children about issues that come from trauma that your child may struggle with. It is important not to paint a rosy picture about what things will look like because there may be some really difficult times.
It is also important to use positive adoption language when talking with your kids. You shouldn’t use phrases like “giving up their baby for adoption.” Instead you should tell them that the expectant parent is considering “making an adoption plan for her baby.” You can check out one of our older blogs to see more examples of positive adoption language: https://nightlight.org/2017/12/positive-adoption-language/
Read books together
There are several books that are specifically written to help children better understand adoption. You can find many recommendations from Creating a Family HERE.
Involve your child
It is important that your child feels involved in this process and preparation. Perhaps they could help pick out some toys or decorations for the child’s room. Maybe they can help get the room together. It may help them to feel more excited if they get to play a small part in this. Depending on the age of your child, it is also important to talk with them about the adoption and get their input and opinions. This isn’t to say that if you child isn’t on board that you need to stop the whole process, but you can at least address some of their concerns and work through these issues to help them feel more comfortable about the situation.
Spend one on one time with your kids
Obviously bringing a new child into your home is going to change things greatly. It is important that during the preparation period you aren’t completely focused on the adoption all the time. There should be a degree of normalcy in your child’s life still and you should cherish that time with them before everyone’s world changes. Once you bring your adopted child home, it will be important to continue some of your same routines and to make sure that you are having some quality one on one time with each of your children so that everyone is taken care of emotionally and physically.
A crisis is defined as a time of intense difficulty or trouble, or a time when a difficult or important decision must be made. With expectant parents facing a difficult or important decision, we can see that many, if not all of our birthmoms can experience a time of crisis. A large portion of this crisis can be amplified by the addition of grief and loss. Grief can be a form of trauma and crisis as well. Therefore, as a professional working in this field, part of our jobs is to meet the needs of expectant parents in the midst of crisis. Not only professionals, but also other people can take on a supportive role in the birthmother’s life, during the adoption process and after.
Family and Friends
Family and friends can be extremely helpful in supporting a birthmother during and after the adoption process:
Be open-minded and ready to listen
Help with day-to-day tasks
Stay connected and available
Respect the birthmom’s way of grieving
Accept mood swings
It is a complex role of being a friend or family member of a birthmother who is making an adoption plan. However, by showing up and being there for a birthmom, you can make a large impact of letting this birthmom know that she will not have to face this time alone.
Professionals Working in Adoption
As professionals, expectant parents come to you during their time of crisis for guidance and understanding. To meet the needs for expectant mothers, you can do the following:
Create a safe-place for the expectant mother to express her emotions
Listen to her wishes and work to meet and support these needs
Work together to identify healthy coping skills
Working professionals are in the midst of a very sensitive setting for most of our expectant mothers. Many of our birthmoms come to us to learn more about the adoption process, and how we can meet their needs that others may not be able to. Because of this, we want to respect the birthmom’s space for processing, and be able to show support in any way we can.
After placement, adoptive families have a very sensitive role in a birthmom’s life. In order to meet the needs of the birthmom facing crisis, they can be supportive in these ways:
Respecting the agreed upon openness agreement- whether closed or open adoption
Write her letters of encouragement
Practice clear communication
Treat her with respect and dignity
After placement, there is still a tremendous amount of grief and healing that can occur for birthmoms. This phase of the adoption process is a great place for adoptive parents to be appropriately open and willing to support their birthmom during these high’s and low’s along with the adoption agency.
Birthmoms facing crisis is inevitable throughout the adoption process. It is a part of the decision-making and grieving process. Therefore, it is important that professionals, friends, family, and adoptive families are aware of ways to meet their birthmom’s needs during this time. Support and open-mindedness are crucial tasks of people that are in a birthmother’s life to meet her needs in the midst of crisis. Just a few of these actions can open the gates of moving forward from a crisis into a place of healing.
Written by Mimi Jackson.
Mimi is currently our TX office’s MSW intern. She will graduate in May of 2020 with her master’s in social work from Baylor University.
This blog was originally published on LavenderLuz.com.
How do I tell my child he’s adopted? And when?
Rant: I’m frustrated that these questions still come up (and surprised because my readers are adoption-savvy, so I start thinking everyone is). Who is preparing adoptive parents for adoption telling? And who should be preparing them? What can we do for the current and next generation of adoptees to help them own their story from their very beginning?
But time alone doesn’t mean all adoptive parents and hopeful adoptive parents have gotten the message of dealing in truth and openness. The adoption professionals who are launching these moms and dads into the world of adoptive parenting are not, as a group, doing a good enough job preparing their paying clients to parent with openness and disclosure (there are definitely some exceptions).
Prospective parents, though, may bear the ultimate responsibility for learning about current best practices in adoptive parenting. But how can they know what they don’t know? A blind spot is, by definition, a thing you can’t see is there.
Recurring Evidence That Parents Don’t Know When & How to Disclose
A few times a month, someone will ask in a social media adoption group WHEN is the best time to tell their child they were adopted. And WHEN to disclose information about that child’s birth family. We’re not talking about an advanced course in “open adoption” — facilitating actual contact — but merely the basic disclosure that the child’s origin story has an extra element in it: adoption. That the child has first parents.
And that we can talk about it all.
Why Can’t Parents Talk About Adoption?
Time and time again, I hear this from well-meaning parents: We’re waiting until our child is ready to hear.
What I hear behind the words, though, is this: We’re waiting until we’re ready to tell.
But becoming ready doesn’t necessarily happen automatically, which creates a big problem for the whole family, not least of all the adoptive parents.
Sorites: A Paradox
Relevant here is the concept of sorites, a term I learned a few years ago from a New York Times‘ Ethicist column headlined “Should a Sibling Be Told She’s Adopted?”
‘Sorites’ (saw- RAHY-teez)’ — from the Greek for ‘‘heap’’ — is the name of a philosophical paradox. A grain of sand isn’t a heap, and adding one more grain can’t make it a heap, and as you add grains of sand, you reason that another grain can’t turn your pile into a heap. Yet at some point, a heap is what you have. In the temporal realm, there’s an analogous problem. Very often, it won’t do any harm to wait one more day to do something. So you put the deed off until, at some point, you’ve waited too long.
Sorites sins can creep up on well-intentioned people. Maybe your wife meant to tell you, when you first started dating, that she once had a fling with your brother, but the time never seemed right. There was no particular moment when she crossed the line from permissible deferral to culpable silence. A decade later, though, a spiny eel wriggles in her stomach whenever she thinks about it. She prays you never find out.
Sorites sins can rock relationships.
— Kwame Anthony Appiah, NYT Ethicist columnist in 2016
The Effect of Not Telling
Never mind the causes of why some parents can’t (or won’t) talk about adoption. They are numerous, individualized, and because they are in the past, they can’t be changed.
But the effects can be known and mitigated. And this leads to a deeper point than merely figuring out when and how to tell:
Whatever is keeping adoptive parents from telling is probably hindering their ability to parent effectively in other ways.
Because when parents are not disclosing something so big and integral to a child, they are not able to build a fully trusting relationship with him/her. Lies of commission and omission are likely to be devastating to the person they care about, once they realize that parents knew and did not/could not tell.
Not being able/willing to tell can also mean parents are having a difficult time dealing in What Is, in accepting the whole story of how the child came into the family, of the existence and validity of another set of parents — all in an effort to keep their own fears and insecurities at bay. If there is denial going on in one place, there may be denial going on in others (see the 1956 study listed in Resources, below). This compromises the ability to be truthful, which hinders the ability to build trust.
Adoption Telling is in the Best Interest of Parents!
When children sense they cannot trust their parents, they are more susceptible to looking for connections elsewhere. This can manifest in so many nightmarish ways, and as you can imagine can lead to lots of problems for the child and parents.
As I’ve said before, as the tween/teen years approach, parents are going to want to have a clear and trusting channel of communication between them and their adolescent. There really is no other true power in parenting during this stage. Grounding and withholding things can only go so far. Trust and connection are vital for making it through the turbulent tween/teen years in a trusting and connected way (adoptive parents: if you’re not already in this Facebook group, consider joining).
As one wise and experienced parent said in an online group, disclosing early and fully is “so much EASIER. No big reveal, no nervousness, no confusion, no sense of betrayal, no lies. Just the truth.”
What do you think? How should adopting parents find out best practices, and who should be tasked to make sure they do? With a focus on a solution (and not just on placing blame), please offer your ideas for progress for better adoption telling in the comments.
When to Tell a Child They’re Adopted: “Trust is a fundamental part of your relationship with your son, upon which everything else rests. So you must tell, and soon. If you have a series of little talks, you won’t have to have The Big Talk.”
A 1956(!) study that shows parents should “inform the child early” and that “adoptive parents reveal important attitudes on acceptance of adoption in discussions about telling the child.” (Truth as a best practice has been around for at least 60+ years!)
Lori Holden, mom of a teen son and a teen daughter, blogs from Denver. Her book, The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption: Helping Your Child Grow Up Whole, is available through your favorite online bookseller and makes a thoughtful anytime gift for the adoptive families in your life. Lori was honored as an Angel in Adoption® in 2018 by the Congressional Coalition of Adoption Institute.
In the Snowflakes Embryo Adoption Program, there are no anonymous or closed placements available. Why? Simply put, it is just not possible anymore. Thanks to the at home DNA testing kits, and the internet, individuals can easily find out if they are donor-conceived and even who their donor is.
The Donor Sibling Registry is an online resource for donor-conceived people trying to locate half or full siblings and for donors trying to locate potential offspring. The results of some searches are disturbing, such as the sperm donor who fathered over 130 children! Medical science created the need for registries such as the DSR when assisted reproductive technologies became normative.
In 2018 the DSR presented a study of 485 adult donor-conceived people and their desires to find their egg, sperm, or embryo donor. The study sought to understand the search methods used and if they were successful, what became of the potential relationship between child and donor.
Many people who are interested in donating their embryos to another family have not yet told their children how they were conceived. This adds to the difficulty of making the decision to donate their embryos and often hinders their ability to choose open communications with the adopting family. What will happen if their children discover the secret of their conception? Decisions are made based upon fear rather than what is in the best interests of the children who are born from the set of embryos.
The good news is that 85% of the survey participants were told about their conceptions by their parents. The remaining 15% searched for their information themselves or were told by someone else.
The participants used one or more methods for trying to locate/find their donor:
6% used a record search
1% used DNA testing
2% contacted the fertility clinic/doctor/sperm bank
6% used the Donor Sibling Registry
6% hired a genealogist
9% used other means of searching
When working with the Snowflakes program you are asked to accept using the best practices of adoption. Most of those best practices are in place to do what is in the best interests of the children – children born to the donor, children born to the adopter.
Several of those best practices include:
Encouraging open communications between the placing and the adopting families. The two families, not Snowflakes, mutually agree upon the level and frequency of the communication.
Respecting privacy and not supporting secrecy.
Completing a family evaluation.
Permanent records storage by the agency.
There are many ways for your children to discover the truth about their conception. Why not have the source of that truth be you, the people who love them the most?
Learn more about embryo donation through the Snowflakes program, visit Snowflakes.org.
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.
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.
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.