This is What It’s Like to Be a Birth Mother in Adoption

The adoption narrative is commonly communicated from the adoptive parent view, which is a valid perspective. But so often the other voices of adoption are overshadowed. As a birth mother who’s experienced over fourteen years of a wonderful open adoption, I’ve spent many years sharing my story and educating others about my perspective of participating in a fully open adoption and how it has been so beneficial to all of us. With November being National Adoption Awareness Month, what better time to enlighten others on the bittersweet journey of being a birth mother!

Truthfully, it is hard to narrow down all that could be said about being a birth mother. There are so many stories, different situations, and important myths to debunk. I’ve chosen a few to help others understand more about a birth mother’s heart.

It feels similar to the loss of a pregnancy or baby. Having been through adoption loss and then a miscarriage a few years later, I was shocked at how similar it felt. When we lose a baby, whether in adoption or a death, we are left with empty arms and a hole in our heart. We are left with dreams and plans unfulfilled. We are left with an ache to hold that sweet baby. We are left with grief that will unfold over time and triggers we need to avoid for a time. There’s a physical recovery that has to happen, but no baby “reward” to show for it. We may feel forgotten by others in our invisible healing as people think it’s taboo to talk about or that we should be over it by now. Birth mothers deserve compassion, just as a mother who has experienced loss in other ways.

Every story is different. Some birth moms have beautiful open adoptions where questions are answered and real hugs are given, as I do. Others were forced into adoption with years of painful silence spent wondering how their child is doing. Some birth moms were young teens, as I was; others may be in their 30’s and with other children and feel that they cannot parent another. The motivation to choose adoption may be different, as are the stories that play out after signing the relinquishment papers. Still, there is a common bond amongst us, as no else can truly understand our hearts as those who’ve walked a similar path.

Love ultimately is why many of us place our babies in an adoption plan. In the moments of pregnancy, we feel that we have to love our babies enough to let them go. Whether that’s because of our age, our health, our lack of resources, abuse, etc., we feel (or are told) that our baby would be better off in another mother’s arms. As a sixteen-year-old, while I desperately wanted to parent my daughter, I knew she deserved more than what I could offer at that young point in my life and without her birth father in our lives. It was my love for her and my desire for her to have a better life than I had growing up that gave me the strength to place her in her momma’s arms fourteen years ago.

It was a sacrifice. Dawn, a fellow birth mother, describes the sacrifice well. Even though we chose to give our child to a family to love, cherish, provide for, shape and mold into a spectacular human being, it was the ultimate sacrifice for us. We carried the child for nine months and built our own bond with that unborn baby who we will always love as if they were with us every day.” Personally, I sacrificed my desire to be her mother for what I felt was for my daughter’s best at that point in my life. We give up something in exchange for our child’s best interest.

It is a continuous, suffering grief. It’s not a grief you just “get over” and move on as people would hope. Out of sight is not out of mind. It’s a hole in our hearts forever, whether we have contact or not. It may get easier over the years to cope with, but there will always be triggers to bring the flood of grief back again. Birthdays and holidays, particularly Mother’s Day, can be especially hard for birth moms. For many, the grief also can be connected to PTSD, especially for those in the “baby scoop era” where young moms were sent away and babies were taken away before the birth moms could even see them. A great memoir to learn more about that era is Fran Gruss Levine’s book, The Story of Molly and Me.

Having contact numbs the ache, but our child can never be replaced. I know I am lucky to have such a beautiful open adoption! We have regular visits, I am there to witness milestones, and we have created our own traditions with double the family love– even sleepovers during the summer! Getting to watch our girl grow older certainly has eased my pain of missing her. Our relationship has been a balm to the part of my soul that walks out the door with her every time we have to say goodbye. However, contact doesn’t completely take away the pain of loss, nor does having more children erase the pain. I have five children that I now parent with my husband, but they could never take her place.

It’s bittersweet. Choosing open adoption was simultaneously the hardest point in my life and one of my most joyful. It was a second chance for us. It truly is like a bittersweet candy, with moments of sourness and moments of sweetness. Fourteen years later, it is mostly sweet. While there has been pain, it also has been a source of abundant good in my life and my birth daughter’s. It’s been a source of happiness to see and know she is beautiful and thriving, there is immense joy in my relationship with her adoptive family as we have bonded together, it’s brought me to some of my dearest friends and has fueled a passion for me in my writing and educating others.

What’s life for a birth mother like? Life after adoption placement for a birth mom can be like making lemonade out of lemons. If we choose to wallow in our pain, it will drown us in sourness and anger. If we choose to add some sugar and water and allow it to sweeten our lives and those around us, we can treasure what we have and not let our past define us. We can use our stories as birth mothers to propel us forward– and to help others along the way.