You made the ultimate choice for your child. You choose life and placed him or her into the loving arms of another family. You are a birth parent. There are many times ahead that will be difficult and painful, but there are many beautiful, joyful moments after placement too.
The path of a birth parent is not an easy one, but you don’t have to do it alone or without help and guidance. Read on to know how to help manage the hard parts of adoption, navigate an open adoption, build relationships, and conquer your emotions and feelings about adoption.
1. How To Manage The Feelings That Come After Placement
After placing your child, you are going to feel some powerful emotions. It can be difficult to cope at times. Grief, anger, and regret are all normal feelings after placement. But there can also be joy. As a birth parent, there are a few things you can do to face each emotion.
Grief will be a part of your life, likely forever, after placement. At times it will be overwhelming. Other times it will be just a dull ache, ebbing in the back of your mind. Grief for the loss of your child. Grief for what could have been. Grief for the memories you’re missing out on. You know it and you feel it.
The worst thing you can do with your grief is not allow yourself to feel it. It’s a natural and appropriate feeling for a birth parent. Bottling it up will only cause an explosion later down the road. You must fully experience an emotion to release it, and then be able to move on.
Throughout your life, you will cycle through various stages of grief. Some days are going to be harder than others. Seek others that have been through the same experience and find comfort in others. Do not let your grief be suffered alone.
You will feel anger with yourself, with your child’s adoptive parents, and with others that you encounter. Anger is not unhealthy, and it doesn’t mean you were wrong to place. Even in the best open adoptions, anger happens. The important thing to remember is to not let your anger consume you. There are healthy ways to feel and express anger. If you are feeling angry with your birth child’s adoptive parents, it’s wise not to express that in the heat of the moment. Take some time to cool down before you address the issue. Vent on a sheet of paper or to an unbiased friend. Go for a run. Find what works for you. Confrontation in anger may lead to worse conflict.
You may even feel regret even though you know you made the right decision for your child. This doesn’t mean you need to feel guilty for feeling regret. But as one birth mother wrote, “Feelings are like visitors. We welcome them into our homes, chat with them for awhile, and send them on their way.”
Regret is not meant to stick around, so it’s up to you to kick it out of your heart. Everyone feels some regret and wishes they could go back and do things a little differently. But as long as you remember that you did the best thing that you could at that time, you should feel some peace about the choices you have made. You are a brave and strong birth parent.
Acceptance can be a wonderful feeling in your adoption journey. You feel as if you are finally at peace with your decision to place. Feeling peace that you did the best that you could. Acceptance may mean recognizing that although things are not perfect. Remember, grief is a cycle. If at some times you feel acceptance and sometimes you don’t, that’s totally normal and okay.
There is joy after placement. You can find joy in the life that you created. You can find joy in your open adoption with your birth child and his or her adoptive parents. You can find joy in your life outside of adoption. Take the time to find the little and big joys in your life. Make note of them in a journal or notebook to have when the joyful times are harder to come by. You will never regret remembering the good, happy times in your life, be they adoption-related or not.
Handling the many feelings that come with adoption can be so challenging, but remember that you do not have to do it alone. There are forums and groups that have been through a journey much like yours that are willing to help, if you only reach out to them.
2. What You Should Know About Counseling
Don’t be afraid of getting help. It can seem intimidating, but there are professionals out there who are sensitive to your adoption journey and will be able to help you navigate the rougher times. Here are few things you should be aware of when you seek professional help.
- Shop around before choosing a professional. There are many professionals out there, but they are not created equal. Don’t be shy about meeting with someone ahead of time before choosing them. Many counselors will be happy to offer a free consultation to be sure it would be a good fit between the two of you.
- Be open in your sessions. It can feel strange to be completely open with a near stranger, but sharing the whole picture with your counselor will only help him or her help you work through your problems. It will be challenging to open up at times, but be patient with yourself and only do what you are comfortable with.
- Find a support system. There may be a birth mother support group locally that you might wish to attend. There are also groups online that can help you navigate your feelings and be the support system you need in between sessions or share breakthroughs with. A support group can be the extra help you need to keep you progressing forward.
- Ask for homework. If your counselor doesn’t send you home with things to work on, don’t be afraid to ask for it. This will help strengthen what you’ve learned in sessions and help you grow outside them, too.
- Keep a journal about your progress. Not only can writing be meditative, but it can also be a great way to keep track of your progress. Looking back and seeing how far you have come can be its own reward. It’s also a good idea to keep track and remember all the breakthroughs you’ve made.
If you’re unsure where you can get help, talk to your adoption professional. Your professional may also be able to connect you to free or low cost counselors or help you attain funding. You may also wish to contact you local family and child services for a referral.
3. How To Navigate An Open Adoption
Hopefully you had many conversations about your open adoption before placing your child. However, even when those conversations have been had ahead of time, there will still be conflicts and awkward times ahead.
An open adoption is like any relationship, imperfect. But that doesn’t mean it should be a miserable ordeal. Doing your part in a relationship is how you create a happy, healthy relationship for all parties. So what can you do to successfully navigate an open adoption?
Communicate, communicate, communicate. Communication is key to the success of any open adoption. If you bottle up any ill feelings, you are only going to foster resentment. If something isn’t right, or something needs to change, you should let the adoptive parents know. Take some time to cool down, and calmly but directly address the issue.
At some point in your open adoption, you may feel that you need some space from your child and the adoptive parents. That’s okay! You’re allowed to have space and time to grieve and heal. Share with the adoptive parents that you would like some space. Tell them as much or as little as you would like. It may beneficial to establish some boundaries (i.e. no phone calls, but emails are okay). And when you’re feeling ready to come back to the open adoption, share with them. You don’t need to go into detail if that will cause you pain, but let them know you’re ready.
When conflict arises, you may also wish to step away for a time. Take time to gather your feelings and prepare to address any conflict with a clear head. It may be better to write a letter or email with your feelings toward any conflict. You may wish to discuss the conflict with other birth parents to understand how they have dealt with a similar issue. Seek guidance if you need it.
Birthdays, holidays, and your everyday visits can bring incredible happiness and the perfect opportunity to build a relationship. But you don’t have to be regularly visiting your birth child to have a strong relationship. Technology has come leaps and bounds, perfect for open adoptions that don’t allow for in-person visits. Depending on the boundaries and comfort levels of adoptive parents, birth parents, and yes, the adoptee, communication can be done through Skype, FaceTime, email, text, social media, and even old fashioned snail mail. Work out what type of communication is best for all parties. Take into account location and time and set realistic expectations for communication. Are you able to email as much as you want, but want to limit FaceTime calls to big events? That’s okay! Whatever works for your triad.
Another issue that arises is where the adoptive parents need some separation from birth parents. Even if your contract is ‘legally enforceable,’ oftentimes little can be done in court. If you are wanting to continue an open adoption, share that with the adoptive parents. Do what you can to be heard and acknowledged. Ask why they are asking for a less open adoption right now. Ask, too, what you can do to bring the openness closer to a level that you are hoping for.
Remember to compromise. Unfortunately, life isn’t setup for humans to have everything they want–which is why compromise exists. Making a trade off of one thing so you can have another is the perfect strategy for maintaining a healthy open adoption.
Give the benefit of the doubt to adoptive parents. They’re human, too. Adoption is emotionally sensitive for all parties, and mistakes will be made and feelings will be hurt. This is something that’s easier said than done, but can save you a lot of anxiety, stress, and sadness.
Remember that open adoption is all about the child. Adoptive and birth parents have come together to do what is best for the child (though there may be disagreements on that subject). Both parents love and care for the child. Ask yourself, “Is what I’m doing going to benefit the adoptee?” Make your decisions and responses based on that question, and you can say that you are doing the best that you can.
Just like other relationships, open adoption will fluctuate and change as time goes on. At times it will be unbearably difficult, and at others, it will be filled with incredible joy. All that you can do is communicate and be the best you can to support the relationship in your way. Do not be afraid of change and hardship because great things can come from growth.
4. All About The Relationship With Your Birth Child
Navigating a relationship with your birth child can be magical, stressful, joyful, and difficult (maybe even all at the same time). How do you build a relationship with a child that you love dearly, but don’t parent? Well, it’s not always easy, but it sure will be worth it.
Be there for your birth child. This doesn’t mean you have to drop everything for every little thing you’re invited to, but it does mean that you should go to events for your child if you can. Your child will look forward to seeing you and that will be the start of healthy birth parent-birth child relationship.
Be on your child’s level. As your child grows, his or her needs will change, which will mean your relationship will change. Grow your relationship at the level that your child feels comfortable. Participate in age-appropriate activities. Let your birth child associate you with things he or she enjoys.
Be sure to follow the adoptive parents’ lead. There will come a time when you fully recognize the adoptive parents as the parents of your child. It will be hard and saddening, but then you can rely on them to help you navigate your relationship with your birth child. They will know your birth child so well, they will be able to help you with any advice.
Be hesitant of making promises. Not because you shouldn’t make promises–you should make promises. But don’t make promises that you can’t keep. If you know you won’t be able to attend your birth child’s recital or soccer game, don’t say that you will. You are trying to build trust with your child and the surest way to destroy trust is breaking promises.
Be affectionate and loving with your child. Your child will someday want to know why you placed him or her. Having a lifetime of showing him or her that you truly love him or her will be proof when you explain to your birth child that you placed out of love and not because you did not want him or her. Your birth child may not always reciprocate the affection, but all kids go through phases–it doesn’t mean it’s a rejection of your love.
Be on the side of your birth child’s adoptive parents. This one can be a toughie, especially if you personally disagree with the adoptive parents. But remaining neutral in turmoil between your birth child and the adoptive parents can save you the open adoption that you have built for so long. Your child may come to you for help or comfort, and you can give those things, but it’s okay to defer to the adoptive parents.
Always put your child first. Putting your birth child’s health and well-being over all else will help you fortify the relationship for you and your birth child. You can have a wonderful, rewarding, lifelong bond with your birth child.
5. Handling The Relationship With Your Child’s Adoptive Parents
The parents of your birth child are forever going to be a part of your relationship, so why not make it a good one?
- Grow trust, however slowly. Healthy relationships start with trust. Sometimes adoptive parents can be wary toward a relationship with birth parents for fear of the unknown. Be open and honest with them and back your words with your actions. Trust takes time to build, but once you have it, it can be stronger than any wall.
- Don’t let your birth child be the only subject. While you and your child’s adoptive parents love your birth child very much, don’t let him or her be the only focus. You should try to get to know the adoptive parents as people, not just parents. Ask them about their lives, likes, dislikes, family, etc. People love to talk about themselves, if you only ask. Don’t be afraid to spend a little time with them without your birth child too!
- Set boundaries together. It can be an awkward, uncomfortable meeting, but in the end setting boundaries together will clear the air and make for a happier open adoption. It might be a good idea to hold regular meeting (perhaps yearly) to evaluate how the relationship is going, where it can be improved, and air out any feelings within. These shouldn’t be emotion-fueled meetings, but rather a time to come together and discuss how things can be improved.
- Make plans together. Talking about birthdays, holidays, and other events ahead of time can clear up potential confusion. It will allow your relationship to grow into bonding rather than fuss over stress.
- Resist making assumptions. No one can poison a relationship like your imagination can. If you feel like something is up, it’s better to confront the issue head on. And if it’s not a major issue, sometimes it’s best to just let it go and move on.
6. About Being A Birth Father
This section is all about being a birth father–the lesser appreciated member of the adoption triad.
Though birth fathers can sometimes get a bad rap, and some exist which may be deserving of that, but not all birth fathers should be generalized under that. So how do you fight against the stereotype? Check out these tips.
- Tell people what being a birth father means to you. You’re the only one that can. Break the stereotype and tell people how your relationship with your birth child means the world to you.
- Educate people on what open adoption is and what it is not. If you have an open adoption, let people know where you stand in your relationship. What do you do to stay in touch with your child? How do the adoptive parents feel?
- Show people that the stereotype doesn’t fit you. Be there for your child. Be a friend to your child. Be consistent in positive ways toward your child. Keep promises you make. Read the above section and keep those actionable ideas in mind as you try to build a relationship with your child.
- Respect your birth child’s birth mom. Whatever your history with her–good or bad, long or short–show respect toward her, if nothing else. Your birth child will be perceptive of your relationship, so what do you want him or her to pick up?
- Don’t let the stereotype or other people’s opinions weigh on you heavily. It’s obvious if you’re reading this that you want to be a better birth father–and that is good! But it can be hard to feel like you’re fighting an uphill battle constantly. So don’t let your peers weigh too heavily on your mind. Let the relationship between you and your birth child be the most important factor of all.
And don’t forget there are others like you. Reach out to other birth fathers and seek help that you may need. You may also consider the resources below.
7. How To Find Community Support
Having a support group can be one of the best ways to help you heal. But finding the right support group can be a bit of a challenge. There are a few options for finding the right help for you.
There may be local options available for you to attend. You can reach out to your the agency, social worker, or other adoption professional to find out if a local group is near you.
Finding a local group can be incredibly helpful as it gives you others to talk to to and meet with face-to-face that are experiencing the same things as you. Navigating the adoption journey as a birth parent it not easy, so don’t feel as though you must go it alone.
If a local group is not available, don’t be shy about starting one! If you are passionate about advocating for birth parents and providing birth parent support, it may be a good idea for you. Plus, this would give you chance to bring together a unique community for help and healing.
If a local group isn’t available, you may seek a close confidant that can become someone you can rely on. Having another birth parent to talk with can help relieve stress, gain new perspectives, and provide a relationship bond that be filled by few. And don’t be shy about discussing other things outside of adoption. Developing true, meaningful relationships can help you flourish as an individual.
Of course, you always have the option of utilizing online communities. Many times these are free and can provide incredible levels of support. There may also be the option of some anonymity, if you feel more comfortable. Online community support can be the first step to healing. If you have a smartphone, it’s likely that you can carry that support whenever you may need it.
As you move forward in your birth parent journey, you may find yourself in good places to help others. Although you will be going in a similar journey as many others, you should consider reaching out being a support system for others that are struggling. The lessons you have learned and the trials you have faced may be able to ease the burdens of others.
Check out these online communities:
8. How To Deal With Your Peers
One of the hardest parts about being a birth parent may be the encountering of judgmental peers, be they friends, family, or even strangers. There will be haters, anti-adoption folks, and just plain ignorant people. They will say things that are inappropriate, rude, and hurtful. But you cannot let what others’ think run or ruin your life as a birth parent. There are several paths you can take as you encounter these moments with people.
- You can choose to be offended. When someone says placing your child was the wrong thing to do, it will hurt your feelings, and you can attack them back. Tell them they don’t know what they’re talking about. Get angry at them. Call them names. But will that really help the situation?
- You can educate them. You can inform them how beautiful an open adoption can be. You can share how much you truly love your child and that placing him or her was one of the truest acts of love a woman can do. You can give them homework to inform them of their misguided ways. But will they really listen?
- You can ignore them. Walk away, run away, change the subject, move on. Choosing not to address whatever their comment or question is can save you from educating them or stopping them before they go any further. But will that change the way they perceive adoption?
Unfortunately, whatever option you choose to fight against the haters there will always be the potential for an undesirable consequence because people are people. It’s up to you to read the situation and address it in the way you see best.
Perhaps one of the best ways to respond to negative or ignorant comments or questions is to ask the person a question in return. Do they really feel that way? How do they know that’s what it’s like? Although it may sound like a response filled with edge, it can be a great way to cause people to reflect on their comments.
Always remember that it doesn’t matter what anyone says. You did what you felt was right for your child, and no one else has a right to voice their negative opinions.
9. Know That It’s Okay To Talk About It
Adoption is oftentimes kept a secret, like it’s something shameful. But it doesn’t have to be. You did an amazing thing for your child, who is still very much a part of your life, even though you are not there day to day. You should be proud of your decision and your beautiful birth child. You don’t need to hide.
Placing your baby is also a very personal choice, so if you feel uncomfortable talking about it, you don’t have to. Sometimes people ask questions that feel invasive. It’s okay to say “Thanks for your concern, but my adoption is a personal thing. I’d rather not talk about it right now.”
There will also be people who will feel uncomfortable discussing your birth child. Try to keep in mind that they are likely just uneducated, or they come from a place where culturally adoption is not talked about. Try to educate them as best you can.
10. Moving On And Finding Your Identity
Sometimes people will tell you that it’s time to move on from the loss that comes with adoption. You will never completely “move on.” The bond you have with your birth child will be there forever, regardless of how open your adoption is.
However, at different stages in your grief process, adoption will sometimes be a bigger part of your identity than others. That’s okay. You can live your life and be a birth parent at the same time. You can have a family and parent children. You can focus on your career or education. Living your own life does not mean you have forgotten your birth child or that you’re a bad birth parent.
You are allowed to heal. Being a birth parent will always be a part of you, but it doesn’t have to be the only thing you are. Chase your dreams, and become whoever you want to be. You’re strong enough.
Are you considering adoption and want to give your child the best life possible? Let us help you find an adoptive family that you love. Visit PregnancyHotline.org or call 1-800-GLADNEY.
You may wish to visit the following resources: