Meeting the Needs of Birth Moms Facing Crisis

 

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:

  • Be empathetic
  • 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.

 

 

Adoptive Family

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.

It’s 2020: Why Are We Still Afraid of Adoption Telling?

 

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?

The move toward openness in adoption started in the 1980s, which means for more than 40 years we have been morphing from shame, secrecy, and walls of closed adoption => to => truth, disclosure, and doors of open adoption.

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).

adoption telling from a wall to a door

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.

Relevant Resources

Thanks to TAO for those last two.

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.

Anonymous Embryo Donation Doesn’t Work

 

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.

 

written by Kimberly Tyson

Developing a Heart for Birth Parents

 

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

Meaningful Ideas for Birth Parent Gifts

 

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:

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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

Tackling the Holidays as a Birth Parent

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

How Can I Love My Child’s Birth Mother Through Her Grief?

 

“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

Understanding Birthmother Grief

In my career as a licensed clinical social worker, I have been honored to counsel women walking through the process of grief after placing a baby for adoption.  One such woman, Mary (name and information used with permission) captured her journey in a heartfelt essay entitled “The Beautiful Side of Grief,” which she wrote shortly after the adoption of her daughter:

 

“How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”

 

“Grief. Mourning. Bereavement. There are countless different words to try and describe something that is utterly indescribable, and none of them really pinpoint exactly what grief is. Grief is not the movies. Grief is not Hollywood, where you hold a black umbrella and shed a few tears in the rain at a funeral. It’s not walking around donned head to toe in dark colors. It is not a simple psychological process of five clean-cut stages.

 

“Grief is waking up every single morning and asking yourself if you’re in a dream. Grief is hearing people talk, but you find yourself not really listening anymore. It’s walking into a grocery store completely fine, and leaving barely holding your tears in. Grief is the constant stream of “would haves,” “should haves,” and “could haves” playing through your thoughts. It’s getting to the end of the day and realizing that you’re not really living, you’re just going through the motions. Grief is that ever-present indefinable ache in the bottom of your heart. It is the constant feeling of exhaustion that no amount of sleep can alleviate. Grief is the time when tears take the place of words.

 

“But grief, in a sense, is beautiful.

 

“There is beauty in the process of grief. It comes after the shock, after the initial sting to your heart. It might take months, it might take years, but the beauty will reveal itself. The beautiful side of grief is found in the reassurance and understanding in the words you can now lend to those who are walking the path you once walked. The comfort of, “I know how you feel,” or “I understand what you’re going through,” now replace the blind guesses of, “I’m sure this is hard,” and “I can’t imagine how heartbreaking this is.” The beautiful side of grief is found in the supportive friendships that have risen from the ashes of tragedy. The beautiful side of grief is seen in the ability of those who have traveled an unbearable path to hold the hands of those who are being forced down the same lonely road.

 

“When you are faced with a heartbreak so unbearable it brings you to your knees, you are also faced with two choices: to let that heartbreak consume your every thought and action until it kills you, or to act in the same love that you had for that person and use your experience to be the guiding lamp for those now embarking on that dark journey.

 

“If you have ever grieved over the loss of someone, consider yourself lucky. Yes, read that line again. Consider yourself lucky. You are lucky to have had something so precious, so special, a type of love so genuine, that you have a reason to grieve. Without that kind of raw love, there would be no grief.

 

“In my eyes, the best way to pay that type of love forward is to show it to those who need it the most, and coming from firsthand experience, those who are grieving need understanding and genuine acts of love more than anyone else. Those acts of warmth and affection from those who have mourned the same loss as you, who have carried the same burden as you, are the very stepping stones that lead you from the suffocating depths of grief into the joyful light of remembrance. If you have the rare chance to pave these stepping stones for someone, why wouldn’t you?

 

“I was once told that grief is like treading water in the ocean. Sometimes you’re doing just fine, and you can handle the waves that come at you. It takes effort, but you’re getting by. Then other times, a wave will come out of nowhere, catch you off guard, and you’re pulled under into the dark and cold depths once again. What is so important is that we keep treading, we keep fighting, and we come back to the surface no matter how hard or exhausting it might be. What is important is that we don’t give up on our own life in remembrance of someone else’s. All we can do is to take grief one wave at a time, and, if given the opportunity, help others stay afloat along the way.”

 

Mary put her experience and the words she wrote into action by counseling and mentoring birthmothers who were considering adoption, including Taylor, the birthmother in the Nightlight video entitled “Journey’s Story.”  Mary states she was propelled to help others because of the love she had for her daughter and the experience she gained in processing her adoption decision. As Mary faced her pain and reached out to others, she emerged stronger.  Like many brave birthmothers, she has journeyed to the beautiful side of grief.

 

If you know a woman considering adoption or struggling with the inevitable grief that comes when we say goodbye to someone we love, please consider referring her to one of the talented counselors and social workers at Nightlight. Processing emotions, negative thoughts, and unhealthy or ineffective behaviors can be extremely helpful within the therapeutic process. Nightlight can also connect birthmothers with others, like Mary, who have walked this path before them. Research has demonstrated that having a support system is crucial for grief work and emotional health. Nightlight is committed to the care of the brave women and men who are choosing adoption for their child.

 

written by Megan White, MSW, LCSW | Executive Director, Florida

Spirit of Openness: How it Relates to Adoption

 

 

As an adoption agency, Nightlight Christian Adoptions deeply believes in the value of open adoption and the positive impact it has on all members of the adoption triad. One of the main questions that Nightlight social workers typically receive from inquiring prospective adoptive parents is about openness and the relationship they will have with their future child’s birth family. It is a topic that we often explore in depth with families throughout the process, starting at inquiry and spanning through to post-adoption. If the idea of openness is not explored and researched properly, culture (including movies and TV shows) may lead to feelings of fear and anxiety, especially since society does not portray many parts of adoption accurately or in a healthy way. Many prospective adoptive parents have walked a painful and difficult journey prior to beginning the adoption process with an agency or attorney, and fear may be a comfortable place to settle (as it is for most of us in so many areas of our lives) as the new path to parenthood is begun. As I continue to explore the concept of openness that will be unique to each adoption with prospective or current adoptive parents, I have really begun to shift encouraging both “open adoption” and a “spirit of openness.” The purpose in this is because a “spirit of openness” can be demonstrated within the adoption triad in every adoption (embryo, domestic, foster care, international), where the practical logistics of an open adoption may not – for various reasons.

Now what can this look like? This may look like the creation of a life book (maybe even beginning with the birth mother’s pregnancy journey), open and honest conversations with the child (and almost always his/her birth family), sharing pieces of a child’s tough story as appropriate, explaining openly and kindly to the child as to why they may not have contact or any knowledge about the child’s birth family, and addressing intricate identity questions as the child begins to understand the complex, unique, beautiful, and sometimes painful journey to their adoptive parents. One of Nightlight’s domestic adoptive parents told their son a story about his birth mother every day when he went down for a nap. Before 15 months of age, he knew her name and that she is another person in his life who loves him. Of course at that age, he cannot grasp what that entails; however, he will grow up always having a memory of her being someone important in his and his family’s life – and as appropriate and healthy, he can begin to understand all that entails. Logistically, this family has not had a visit with their child’s birth mother since he was born (a few years ago) due to the birth mother not desiring visits at this point of her journey of adoption (it is so critical to remember the journey experienced by birth parents and navigating that with the child’s). However, he will always understand that his parents not only want to share his story with him, but also his parents’ desire to love his birth mother and honor her role in his life by sharing about her openly and regularly. Birth (or genetic) parents may not always desire visits or even direct contact, and there is no question that adoptive parents may have a difficult time navigating that part of the child’s story. However, the honest and open discussions will allow for the child to ask questions as he or she feels necessary and help in the journey of bridging that gap in their story.

Even in open adoptions, there may not necessarily be a “spirit of openness.” There may be certain circumstances in a birth family’s (or adoptive parents’) life or adoption journey that may lead to hard conversations and complicated contact between members of the adoption triad. But even in those moments, the adoptive parents play a key role in shaping a child’s view of his or her birth family (and, in turn, a reflection of the child’s own personal identity as a part of the biological family). In the end, many adoptees may internalize how adoptive parents reflect on their birth family – as he or she always will have a connection to them that cannot be broken or ignored or glossed over. This lack of a spirit of openness can be displayed in very simple things that adoptive parents may not even realize, such as tone/attitude when discussing the behaviors of the birth family or fear or anxiety when preparing for visits, phone calls, letters, etc. Children pick up on the smallest attitudes and fears, especially when related to their adoption story. There is no doubt that this is a difficult balance to explore, but humility, honesty, forgiveness, and grace play major roles in the journey for the entire adoption triad.

Many times, the struggle with a spirit of openness comes from a place of fear (before, during, or after the adoption). However, our Heavenly Father does not give us a spirit of fear, but of power and love and self-control (2 Timothy 1:7). Adoption is a complicated, messy, and beautiful journey for all members of the adoption triad, and a spirit of openness is going to further provide opportunities for exploration, development, and healing throughout the process for everyone. A spirit of openness about a child’s adoption and his or her birth family can always be attainable, even when an open adoption may not be (whether now or ever). In the end, the goal for all adoptive parents, birth parents, adoption professionals, etc. is whatever is in the best interest of the child.

 

written by Chelsea Tippins

Ways to Love a Birth Mom

All the chocolate has been consumed. All the flowers purchased and delivered. All the cards and kind messages relayed to loved ones. As February is drawing to an end, what better time to reflect on what it looks like to love others well in the coming year. As adoptive parents, you often have special people to love that would not have otherwise crossed your paths if it weren’t for adoption. Whether you are still waiting to meet your child’s birth mother or whether you’re walking through life with her already, here are some practical ways you can actively and genuinely love the women in your lives that made the sacrificial choice of adoption and, thus, have become a special part of your family.

  1. Pray. Pray daily for your child’s birth mother. Pray that she would grow in wisdom. Pray that she would know God’s presence and be comforted by His great love for her. Pray that she would be strengthened by His spirit and that any shame or guilt would be laid to rest through Christ’s love and fondness for her. Set aside a special time each day—maybe the hour your child was born or the hour you first met your child’s birth mother—to specifically and earnestly pray for her.
  2. Give. Give your time, especially. Give a listening ear. Give a photo when you promised to send one. Give a special gift on certain days throughout the year. Give validation where it is needed. Birth mothers experience a variety of different thoughts and emotions that are often hard for them to process and express. Validate her fears when they are expressed to you. Validate her sadness and grief. Validate her efforts to remain connected with your child. Validate her value and worth as an individual. Validate her gifts and talents as they become evident to you.
  3. Pay attention. Whether you already know your child’s birth mother or are just beginning to get to know her, take time to understand what makes her feel loved, valued, respected, and cherished. Does she respond well to words of affirmation or prefer receiving gifts? Does she enjoy spending quality time or appreciate acts of service? Be attentive to her needs as an individual and seek to meet them in notable ways. Write a note to her detailing what you love or value about her. Send a bouquet of flowers to her unexpectedly one day. Speak to her as a friend. Really pay attention to what she says and value the opportunity to learn from her.
  4. Do what you say you’re going to do. Birth mothers have often had people in their lives make promises that are left unfulfilled. You can imagine how wounding that can be over time. Overcommitting can often lead to even more heartbreak, grief, and rejection for birth mothers. That is why it is absolutely crucial to avoid overcommitting and only say what you’re actually willing to do. Let your yes be your yes, and your no be your no. If you say you’ll send pictures, send them as you promised. If you agreed to meet up before the birth, make time to meet her! If you told her you would write a letter a few times a year, make sure the letters make it to her.
  5. Empathize. Social researcher, Dr. Brené Brown, made an important distinction when saying that empathy fuels connection, whereas sympathy drives disconnection. Connection is always the goal—for adoptive parents, birth parents, and children. So, when listening to the stories, thoughts, or feelings of these courageous women, try focusing on empathizing—feeling with them rather feeling sorry for them. For more on the distinction Dr. Brown makes and why empathy holds so much more power when connecting with not just birth mothers, but also others with whom we interact each day, I would encourage you to watch this short video.