What it's like to be a birth parent?
Adoption is complex. At MPower Alliance we hear a variety of birth mother/parent stories. Each birth parent's experience is unique, yet there are some feelings and experiences that are common among birth parents regardless of when, where, and why they relinquished their children for adoption.
Here are some common feelings and experiences (and some tips) that we hear from birth parents:
- The first 12 months after placement can be extremely difficult. Placing a child for adoption is a significant loss. The grief can be overwhelming and intense. Some birth parents feel depressed and anxious, some may have suicidal thoughts*. You may cry easily or feel agitated or angry. Many birth parents say they feel a sense of mental heaviness, like they are in a deep fog.
- Some birth parents struggle with low self-esteem or self-doubt after placement.
- Open adoptions have become the norm over the past few decades. However, open adoption is not a perfect concept. Sometimes adoptive parents close the adoption with little to no reason. Some birth parents close the adoption because it is too painful or they feel invisible. Like any relationship, open adoptions need to be nurtured. Communication and flexibility are key.
- Even in the most idyllic adoption experience, a birth parent may still experience grief, sadness, and conflict.
- Visits can come with a variety of feelings. Sometimes those feelings conflict with one another. Some examples: A birth parent may feel excited about an upcoming visit, but also feel anxious. They may feel gratitude for the visit, and also frustration or anger that they are not parenting their child. The visit may have been wonderful, and there is also some sadness in saying goodbye or “see you later” to their child. It is possible for a birth parent to hold space for all of these feelings so they can keep showing up for their child or children. If possible, scheduling downtime after a visit can be helpful. This allows a birth parent to reflect, rest, and recharge from the visit.
- Birth parents never really “get over” placing their children for adoption. It is possible to move forward in life, and the sadness may lessen over time, but no birth parent forgets about their child or the loss created by adoption.
- It is important to know that adoption will have some sort of impact on the adoptee as well as any of their siblings that are parented by the birth parent. Some birth parents struggle with the decision whether or not to have additional children post-placement.
- Birth parents can expect to receive mixed reactions (or no reaction) from people when sharing their experience with adoption.There is still quite a bit of stigma, and little empathy, attached to people who voluntarily, or involuntarily, relinquish their children for adoption.
- It is important to have contact with other birth parents. Many birth parents report it is helpful to have their experiences seen, heard, and validated by other birth parents. That support is going to look different for everyone and it is important for birth parents to find what works best for them. Some birth parents join monthly online groups (MPower Alliance offers 1-3 every month). Others prefer to find an in-person group that maybe meets a few times a year. Due to the desert of post-placement care for birth parents, others may use social media for connection.
- Reunions can be wonderful, complicated, stressful, and beautiful. Most of us have seen joyful, teary reunions between birth parents and their children on the news or morning talk shows. However, those depictions do not capture the reality of what happens after the “honeymoon” phase of the reunion. Like any relationship, the reunion between a child and their birth parent needs to be patiently cultivated and nurtured. We recommend that birth parents research a variety of experiences of adult adoptees before and during reunion. There are many books, podcasts, and social media accounts where adoptees share their experiences. This can be helpful to understand the perspective of your adult child.
Here is what a few birth parents say about their experience with adoption:
“The promise of openness was the only reason I ever even considered placing my child for adoption. If I had known then that I was in fact giving up my right to be a part of my child’s life, I never for a second would have ever considered it. I only learned the truth after I lost the power to change my mind and lost my daughter forever. Now I get accused of abandoning her. My truth is that she was stolen. I never agreed to say goodbye.”
“My placement experience has been truly and consistently empowering, healing, and joyful. I know that that isn’t necessarily common- and I wish that more women experienced their placement the way I have. I’m so in love with this family who has always deeply honored me, birth father, and our families in addition to the children we placed into their home.”
“While my adoption is still very open, the fear that it could be closed at any time is so stressful. I feel like I constantly have to walk on eggshells because I know that the adoptive parents are able to change their mind at any time. And even though they are wonderful people, I still can't trust that this situation will last. It's a terrible feeling.”
If you are a birth mother/parent looking for support and services, click here to connect with us!
*If you are having thoughts of suicide or self-harm, here are some organizations you can contact:
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988. When you call, text, or chat 988, you will be connected to trained counselors who will listen, provide support, and connect you to resources, if necessary. For deaf, hard of hearing use the online chat 988lifeline.org. For TTY users: Use your preferred relay service or dial 711 then 988. Ayuda en Espanol 1-888-628-9454.
- Friendship Line call 1-800-971-0016. This is for people over the age of 60 and adults living with disabilities.
- Trevor Project for LGBTQ+ youth call 1-866-488-7386 or text 678-678.
- The Mental Health Coalition for immediate support 24/7, reach out to the Crisis Text Line by texting COALITION to 741741
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