After you adopt, your baby’s birth mother might be experiencing deep depression and grief. Birth mothers typically experience a unique form of grief. Unlike the suffering experienced when losing a loved one to death, birth mother grief is more complex. It may feel like grief in the way of separation from a life that she might have known with her child.
“Leaving the hospital without my daughter was the single hardest thing I’ve ever done,” shares one birth mother, Adrian. “No matter how much I tried to wish it away, my grief clung to my insides. Grief is heavy. It’s heartbreak. It’s paralyzing. And it’s part of the adoption journey. The feelings of loss never dissipate, but can linger in a birth mom’s heart.”
After placement, the intense emotions a birth mother may feel can be surprising to them. In an open adoption, you too may find yourselves in a whirlwind of emotions. You’re probably feeling thrilled, yet overwhelmed, that you’re now parents. It’s important that you’re able to adjust to your new roles as mom and dad, yet remember your child’s birth mother.
I want to share some practical ways that you can help her birth mother grief. Offering her support is in everyone’s best interest, including your child’s. It’ll improve your open adoption relationship and let your child know where they came from and why their birth mother chose adoption.
Keep in Touch
A wonderfully effective way to help your child’s birth mother during her post-adoption blues is to stay in touch with her. Make sure to keep up with your promises of open adoption. Even if she doesn’t reply to your emails, pictures, and letters, keep sending them. She may find it difficult to put her thoughts into words, or it may simply be too hard for her to think about right away.
Knowing that she can remain a part of her child’s life will help relieve some of the birth mother grief she is experiencing. And in each step of the way, our compassionate team of adoption experts will be with you to help guide you.
Birth mothers really appreciate it when the adoptive family shares emails, letters, pictures, and visits. Each contact helps her move through her grief and allows her to become more productive in her life.
Check In With Her
The next time that you talk, ask her how she’s feeling. You may have heard of the stages of grief after the death of a loved one. Women who choose adoption experience a similar grief and loss process. It’s important to know that her feelings are intricate.
Sometimes, birth mothers feel like they’re overstepping their boundaries if they call or write you. If it’s been weeks or months since you’ve had contact, reach out to her. If you don’t feel comfortable reaching out, ask Lifetime to share with your child’s birth mother that you’re thinking of her.
Encourage Her to Seek Help
Lifetime Adoption has been helping birth mothers since 1986. In fact, birth mothers and birth fathers are the heart and soul of Lifetime Adoption. These amazing women and men are placing their children for adoption out of great love, despite the pain they are causing to themselves. We hold these parents in the highest regard, and it is our priority to provide them with all of the support and resources they need. We have a wide range of resources available for your child’s birth mother. So, you might ask your child’s birth mother if she’s taken advantage of Lifetime Adoption’s offer of post-adoption counseling.
We can refer her to a licensed third-party counselor to speak with her and help her sort out her birth mother grief. Lifetime also maintains a peer support network comprised of women who are birth mothers themselves. Our peer counselors can discuss the emotions she may face after adoption and what helped them. Talking with another birth mother lets her realize that she’s not alone: the grief she’s experiencing right now is normal.
The Beauty of Open Adoption
While your attention will be on your baby, it’s vital to stay in touch with your child’s birth mother. Send her photos, a “thinking of you” note, and share about your baby’s milestones. Doing so can ensure she feels cared about and reassures her that her baby is doing well.
We’ve had many birth mothers tell us that staying in touch via open adoption helped them through their grieving process. As one birth mother puts it, “I know I made the right decision when I see what a positive life I gave her.”
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on September 9, 2016, and has since been updated.
As Vice President of Lifetime Adoption, Heather Featherston holds an MBA and is passionate about working with those facing adoption, pregnancy, and parenting issues. Heather has conducted training for birth parent advocates, spoken to professional groups, and has appeared on television and radio to discuss the multiple aspects of adoption. She has provided one-on-one support to women and hopeful adoptive parents working through adoption decisions.
Since 2002, she has been helping pregnant women and others in crisis to learn more about adoption. Heather also trains and speaks nationwide to pregnancy clinics to effectively meet the needs of women who want to explore adoption for their child. Today, she continues to address the concerns women have about adoption and supports the needs of women who choose adoption for their child.
As a published author of the book Called to Adoption, Featherston loves to see God’s hand at work every day as she helps children and families come together through adoption.
Dear Heather, I applaud the important work you are doing. It is wonderful that this type of support is available. My story of loss was from a very different time. As a 16 year old girl with no supports, dealing with an unplanned pregnancy was terrifying. The year was 1969 and no services existed to support teen mom’s. My 1st sexual experience resulted in an unwanted pregnancy. In those days…child welfare agencies became involved and controlled the decisions.
All of the decisions…did not offer information on financial supports or housing supports…only one solution. Hide the teen mom from society…place her with a Christian family to perform domestic work…and then send her to a Catholic Home for Unwed Mothers. Demand that she change her name…yes…I could not use my given name. Then set in motion the doctrine of Catholic Church…that these girls are sinners. Provide no support during labour and delivery. Then force the teen mom to attend Family Court to relinquish her parental rights. No place for the teen mom to grieve and even share her experience. Adoptions in Ontario at that time were closed. Many adoptive parents were fearful of the birth mother…the awful sinner. So…the chime was never told that they were adopted. Years pass…the child grows up…and finds out that they were adopted. Then the journey begins…to find the birth parents. And that is another story…as in my case. With an unhappy ending…🙁
Hi Patricia, thank you for your thoughtful response and sharing your story. I’m very sorry for the experience you had. And yes, I completely understand that adoptions that took place prior to the modern era are full of a mixed bag of emotions not easily sorted out. And, certainly happy endings are never guaranteed. In fact, I have sat with many birth mothers who placed years ago, women that were sent away in an era where pregnancy outside of a marriage was something very different than it is today. These women all have stories very similar to yours — the feelings, the experiences, and the shame. I am so sorry that you and every woman experienced adoption like that.
Today, our culture is so much different. And thankfully adoption is too. Birth mothers are included, cherished, known, and loved. Please know that I’m praying for you, that somehow you will find some healing in your heart as you share your story.