“Birth Mom Strong” is more than just a phrase, it’s a way of life. You have experienced something that most people will never experience in their lifetime. However, there are times you may feel anything BUT strong. Placing a child for adoption can cause a whirlwind of emotions. Whether you placed recently or long ago, these feelings can sneak up on you when you least expect it. So often, we as birth mothers feel that no one understands what we are going through. Here you will find helpful advice on ways to cope with adoption, even in the most difficult moments.
When I placed my birth son for adoption almost 21 years ago, I was a mess. I was a scared and naive 14-year-old girl—not even old enough to get a job. If love alone could provide for a child, I could have given him the world. Unfortunately, raising a child also requires money, support, time, and so much more that I didn’t have at that point in my life. While I knew that my circumstances wouldn’t allow me to raise my birth son, it didn’t make the situation any easier. On top of that, I felt that none of my friends (no matter how well-meaning) could possibly empathize with the way I was feeling inside. I felt very alone. I have never wanted anyone else to feel that way. I hope that these coping mechanisms will help even one soul to breathe a little easier.
While I received counseling often during my pregnancy, it was almost non-existent for me during the post-placement period. It took me years to seek therapy on my own. In fact, I was already in my 30s by the time I started attending counseling regularly.
I highly recommend finding a social worker, therapist, or some other professional in whom you can confide and speak openly. So often we tend to hold our emotions inside because we don’t know where (or even how) to safely express them. Because counselors are unbiased and don’t typically know anyone that’s being discussed, they can listen objectively to anything that needs to be shared. Patients can speak openly without being unfairly judged. Also, everything you say is confidential, so you don’t have to worry about anyone sharing your secrets. Just speaking the truth out loud can lift an enormous weight from a person’s heart and mind.
There is NO SHAME in seeking counseling. No, it doesn’t mean that you are crazy or that there is “something wrong” with you. It means you are taking a positive step to improve your quality of life. There is something empowering and wonderful about striving to be the best version of yourself.
2. Connect With Other Birth Moms
As well-meaning as friends and family typically are, unless they have been in a similar situation, it may be difficult for them to fully understand the range of emotions you are feeling and the thoughts that race through your mind. Do you know anyone else personally that has placed a child for adoption? If so, reach out to them! If they are further along in their journey, perhaps they can share what they have learned. If you are the one with more experience, perhaps you can help them in some way. Sharing thoughts, ideas, and hugs can bring you both a sense of bonding and solidarity. If you don’t have any birth mothers in your circle, seek them out!
If you placed through an agency, ask if they offer (or if they can refer you to) any birth mother support groups. It might feel a little awkward at first—meeting new people and figuring out how to open up to them—but once you do, you may find that you look forward to your gatherings with great anticipation. Having a group of ladies to lean on and share with can really build a person up.
There are many groups online that are specifically created for birth mothers. While each person’s adoption journey is different, you may find that many of these ladies are able to identify with you on a deeper level than those who have not placed children. Make sure you join a positive and respectful group. If you find yourself in a group that’s not a good fit, don’t give up; find one that is more suited to your personality.
Realizing that others have gone through similar situations helps to normalize what you are going through personally. You are not alone! Whether you placed long ago or more recently; whether you are a member of a closed adoption or a wide open one, you may be surprised and relieved to hear that other women have similar joys, fears, questions, and heartaches.
3. Allow Yourself to Grieve
Grieve? Wait…that’s what we do when people die. My birth child is alive and well. Is it okay for me to grieve? Yes! While you have not lost a loved one to death, many birth mothers do still feel a loss. Carrying a child inside your womb for nine long months, giving birth, and then going home without that child can leave a gigantic hole in a person’s heart. Even if you have an open adoption with frequent visits, it is still completely normal and healthy to experience stages of grief.
I have been through all of these stages at least once. There are times I go back through some of the stages again, and that’s okay! We all heal at our own pace. You may get through these stages very quickly. It may take you years. You may skip over a few stages or experience them out of order.
So many people feel the need to be strong all of the time. We don’t want to appear weak. We think that if we dismiss our feelings, they will go away. However, what tends to happen if we bury our feelings is that they pop back up later…and not always in a nice way! You have been through a major life change. Allow yourself time to cry, to laugh, to be angry, to be hopeful—whatever you need to feel. However, if you feel that any of these emotions are beginning to overwhelm you, please don’t hesitate to seek help.
Psychologists use different models of grief—stages, symptoms, etc. Your grief may be similar or not quite the same. For this article, I will share the Seven Stages of Grief Model.
– Shock & Denial
This stage includes numbness and disbelief. Some people distance themselves from the emotion as a protective measure. The reality of the situation refuses to work its way into the mind. Perhaps a person avoids feeling or speaking about the trauma altogether.
– Pain & Guilt
Once reality sinks in, a grieving person can be hit with intense and inconsolable pain. There may be periods of weeping. There may be an inability to eat or sleep well enough. While it is devastating, it can be important to feel this pain. Trying to numb it with drugs, alcohol, etc., is not recommended. Temporary fixes only delay the pain. With adoption, it is very normal to feel pain as well as guilt. Even if you know without a doubt that you have made the best decision for your little one, there may be a voice in the back of your head that asks, “How could you?” or “Why didn’t you try harder?” or “Why aren’t you good enough?” You may feel remorse. This is an extremely painful time, but you WILL get through it. Just keep moving forward.
– Anger & Bargaining
You may get angry at yourself or at others. It is easy to place (and misplace) blame during this stage. Try to avoid lashing out because harsh words can be hard to take back. A “Why Me? I don’t deserve this,” feeling is common. You may find yourself trying to bargain with God or with others. You wonder if maybe it’s not too late to “fix it.” “If I just do ___, then ___ will happen.”
– Depression, Reflection, Loneliness
Even though others may be trying to encourage you, you may still feel depressed. Even if quite some time has passed, and you feel like you should be “over it” by now, the pain may linger. I call this the empty ache. And it sucks. You may isolate yourself, find yourself deep in thought, and recall memories of each and every moment along the way.
– The Upward Turn
Once some time has passed and your life begins to readjust, you start to feel a bit more normal. While you may still have tough moments, the grief doesn’t overwhelm you anymore. You start to smile more and begin to find enjoyment in life again.
– Reconstruction & Working Through
We all fall down. What’s important is that we get back up. During this stage, a person begins to rebuild their life. Sure, life is different now. You’ve been through a lot! Rational solutions to everyday problems come a bit easier, and we can look back and reflect without falling completely apart. Forward progress is being made.
– Acceptance & Hope
After what might seem like an eternity—you have made it! You find peace. There will still be rough times, but there will be undeniable hope as well. You find your joy again. You are stronger. You find healthy ways to deal with your emotions. You move forward with your life with a positive outlook for the future.
4. Express Yourself Creatively
When emotions build up inside of a person, they need to be let out somehow. Something that has been incredibly therapeutic for me, personally, is writing. Poetry, journaling, letting my soul spill out from the pen onto the paper. Even if nobody ever reads what I have written, I have successfully gotten that emotion out of my heart and onto a page. If you can’t write? Draw. Or paint. Or scribble. Maybe singing or dancing is your thing. Finding a way to creatively or physically exert your emotion in a positive way can be such a helpful release. If you save what you have written or created, you can look back on it years later, remember where you were at that point in your life, and see how far you have come.
5. Focus on the Positive
Believe in the power of positivity! Our thoughts become our reality. If we manifest negativity, we feel negative. If we speak in optimistic and positive terms long enough, our minds will feel more positive as well. Think about the reasons you chose adoption. Or, if it was a choice made for you, think about the good that could possibly come from the situation.
Is your birth child being raised by an amazing family who showers him or her with love and affection? Will they have amazing opportunities and build lifelong memories? Were you able to bless a family with a child they had prayed and longed for? Think about every good thing that this child will experience. Also, remember that some of his or her best traits will come directly from you.
What about yourself? Think about what you have to look forward to in your own life. Will you further your education? Chase your dreams? What do you love about your life? How will you make your birth son or daughter proud of you? Focus on that. The future is bright, and some of the best days of your life haven’t even happened yet. There is much to look forward to!
6. Celebrate Milestones
For me, birthdays are hard. Every year, the week leading up to July 19th (my birth son’s birthday) is bittersweet. I celebrate him, knowing that he has been around the sun one more time. I am so excited for what his future holds! At the same time, I get a bit sad because I wish that I could be there to celebrate with him. As of yet, we have not reunited…
If you have an open adoption, perhaps you are invited to a birthday celebration. Soak it up! Enjoy the fun and festivities! If you aren’t able to attend, perhaps you can send a special card or gift. If your adoption is not open, you can still celebrate. Do something nice for yourself. Go out to dinner. Listen to songs that touch your heart and stir your memories. Light a candle in honor of your child. Remember that it’s okay to cry if you need to.
Mother’s Day can be tricky too. In case you didn’t know, the day before Mother’s Day every year is Birth Mother’s Day. It is a special day set aside just for the brave women who have made an adoption plan for their children. Remember that YOU ARE WORTHY of celebration. Because of you, a beautiful life has been created. Because of you, someone’s family has been made complete. Because of you, a child has a chance to grow up and change the world. If your adoption agency offers a Birth Mother’s Day celebration—you should really consider attending.
7. Don’t Beat Yourself Up
I have heard this saying a lot over the years, “If IFS and BUTS were candy and nuts, we’d all have a Merry Christmas.” We can go round and round asking ourselves, “What if?” We can drive ourselves crazy questioning whether we have made the right decisions or wondering what we could have done differently. Remember that when you made the choice to place your child for adoption, you were making the best decision you could for your child. You put their needs ahead of your own wants. If you were forced into a decision, then know that you ultimately had no control over the situation and you still did the best that you knew how. Regardless of how your story began or how it ends up, you are strong, you are beautiful, and you are WORTHY.
8. Make Time for Self-Care
Have you ever heard it said that you can’t pour from an empty cup? It’s true, you know. With responsibilities like work, family, school, and the stresses of everyday life, it can be easy to overlook your need for self-care. It is imperative that we set aside time to care for ourselves. How? That’s what’s cool about self-care. YOU get to decide! Maybe it’s a hot bubble bath or a day at the spa. Maybe it’s taking a long drive with the windows down and the music up. It could be meditation, yoga, or taking an exercise class. If you are like me, it may be spending time in the beauty of nature. Whatever you do, make sure it’s something that relaxes you, inspires you, or just makes you generally happy. Self-care is all about making time for yourself. It is so important in helping to prevent burn out and in caring for our mental health.
9. Write Letters or Make Scrapbooks for Your Birth Child
Whether you have an open or closed adoption, consider writing letters to your birth child. You can send them if you’d like and if you are able. Or you can simply save them in a special place. You can keep them for yourself or give them to your birth child in the future. Making a scrapbook can be a great outlet as well. Some items to include are the adoption story, fun facts about yourself, medical history, photos of yourself and your family, letters from yourself and your family, art work you have made, poems or items you have written, etc. The sky’s the limit! You can really personalize it. It will make an excellent gift someday.
10. Don’t Let the Opinion of Others Get You Down
I’m sure you have heard what people say about opinions….ha. Everybody’s got one. Hopefully you are surrounded by only positive, understanding, and uplifting people. Chances are, however, that at some point you will run into someone who is uneducated about adoption or doesn’t have an open mind and heart. I have heard hurtful comments about birth parents many times over the years.
There’s the typical, “How could you give your baby away? Didn’t you love him?” YES. I love him so much that I put his needs above my own wants. I love him SO much that I was willing to go through heartache to make sure that he had the best life possible.
Or how about the other hurtful comment, “That kid will grow up and wonder why you kept your other kids, but not him/her.” Wow! What a rude thing to say! Our situations change. Perhaps if and when we have other children, we are at a different place in our lives. It doesn’t mean that we loved our birth children any less.
Typically, when I hear negative remarks about birth parents, the person talking doesn’t realize that I am one. You name the jerky remark, and I have probably heard it. Do not let these cruel words bring you down. Instead, realize that you don’t have to justify your decisions to anyone. Other people’s opinions can never define you. Also, this is a great time to educate people on adoption. If you use this as an opportunity to share the truth, you may help them to see things in a new light.
There is also the innocent, yet tricky question, “How many children do you have?” When I hear this question, I still pause sometimes. Do I really want to go into this whole story with someone I barely know? You can choose to talk about your situation or not. That’s completely up to you. Your decision may change based upon the person you are speaking to and your level of comfort with them.
11. Memory Boxes/Keepsakes
When I placed my son for adoption, his adoptive parents gave me a golden heart-shaped locket. Inside the locket was a lock of my birth son’s hair. I wore it every day. I never took it off. Eventually, the chain broke, but I put it away in a safe place. If you have a keepsake, a gift, or something tangible that reminds you of your birth child, put it in a special place. I have a treasure box. It’s a good place to store the original birth certificate, hospital bracelets, any documentation, photos, or cards you have received. Anything that you can go back to when you need a moment to reminisce. Keep it in a safe place and look through it on birthdays, Birth Mother’s Day, or any time you feel you need to.
12. Share Your Story
If you receive pictures of your birth child, feel free to brag and share them with your family and friends! If you have had a fun-filled visit, let your face beam with pride as you recount the details. These joyous moments are definitely something to smile about!
Sharing your story can be one of the best therapies there is. Not only does it help you to really own your story, it gives you the opportunity to help others. I have spoken to groups of prospective adoptive parents fairly often. When they go through their home study, they get a chance to meet a birth mom. Sometimes that’s me! I share my story and let them know that birth parents aren’t usually scary at all. I share my emotions, my hopes, my fears, and the love behind my placement. I have also spoken at an adoption banquet and with birth moms just beginning their journeys. When we are able to turn our darkest moments into a ray of sunshine for someone else, we have really made a difference. If you feel led to share your story with others, I encourage you to do so. Your voice may shake the first time or the first 10 times, Eventually, it will become second nature. What an amazing gift it is to help other people with your own experience. Check with your adoption agency to see if there are any speaking opportunities available.
13. Practice Your Faith
If you believe in a higher power, spend time in prayer. Read your religious text of choice. The right verse or story can be extremely uplifting. Faith can move mountains. It can carry us through to hard times and help us to rejoice during the happy times. If you are not a person of faith, spend time in meditation or wherever it is that you find your peace and where your spirit is uplifted.
14. Plan For Your Future
Remember that you are fully capable of achieving any goal you set for yourself. If you struggle with your past, know that it does not define your future. You are not your past mistakes. You are not your family members. You are not your worst qualities. You. Are. Amazing. And you can do anything you set your mind to. So go! Learn! Do! Travel! Better yourself! Be someone that you are proud of, and someone that your birth child will be proud of too. Your future is bright and so are you. You’re not just strong. You are a warrior. You are a survivor. You are loving and selfless. You are capable. You’re “Birth Mom Strong.”
What is your best advice to other birth moms? How do you cope with adoption? How do you deal with your pain and how do you share your joy? What makes you “Birth Mom Strong?”
Leslie Bolin is a happily married mama of 3 amazing kids. She is also the birth mother to an adult son. She is just beginning the reunion process, which makes her nervous and excited at the same time. Leslie enjoys educating others about adoption and has done her fair share of outreach, writing, and public speaking on the subject. She has an Associate of Arts degree in Social Work and plans to continue her education. Leslie enjoys spending time with her family, finding peace in the beauty of nature, and laughing as much as possible. She believes that smiling is contagious and that music is good for the soul. She is a firm believer that even the most difficult moments can be turned into something beautiful when we use our stories to help others.