No, I am not a birth mother. However, I know a pretty awesome one. I asked her about all the firsts that she experienced from placement to birthdays to the day that we were reunited. Yup. These are the real thoughts and impressions of my incredible birth mother—someone who can answer the question: “What is being a birth mother like?”
The First Last Hug
“The first time holding you was so bittersweet. I knew that the clock was ticking, so I really had to take it all in because I only had 24 hours with you.”
Your baby is finally in your arms. This tiny beauty that has been growing in your heart and in your belly for the past nine months has relied on you for health, safety, and nourishment. None of that has changed. The motherly instincts and flood of responsibility will overcome you and the bitter cannot be separated from the sweet.
Hold on tight. Memorize every second you have with your child. In some circumstances, that’ll be a few moments, and in others, it’ll be a few days. No matter what, if there is a time you will not wish to regret, it is the first and potentially last time you will hold your child in your arms. Your heart will be heavy. Your mind will be foggy. These are the moments you will never forget and must never regret taking for granted. Make the memory count and take it all in.
The First Day
“I held you all day and only put you down for the absolute necessities.”
Let the nurses talk. Ignore them when they say that “You’re going to spoil that baby if you never put him or her down.” You take every moment you need to soak in all the love that child can give you. That baby will be spending the rest of his or her life basking in all the love that you’ve given through placement. The first 24 hours will feel like an emotional roller coaster. But, if you do all you can to prepare for this day and share it with the right people, you will make it.
The First Week
“Excruciating! Not only mentally but physically. My body wanted to nurse a baby I no longer had. I knew what I did was the right thing but had a physical reminder that you were no longer with me.”
After you leave the hospital empty-handed, you’re not necessarily done. Your body will continue to function as though you just had a baby—and that’s not necessarily what you would consider back to normal. You will need time to heal, go through postpartum cycles of milk supply, mentally process the realities of placement, and address the emotional stress you may be feeling.
Plan for this time period. There is no way to mitigate every pain of postpartum life—especially when that involves placing your child. However, you can do all you can to surround yourself with support, communicate your needs to the adoptive family, and take care of yourself.
The First Month
“Time heals a little; by now papers have all been signed and everything on my end is officially over. So, I just started to figure out my new, nonpregnant normal.”
The storm might’ve passed, but the time to rebuild is now. For nearly a year, your life has probably revolved around keeping yourself and your child healthy. You made hard decisions every day. You lived and breathed for your child. Now, you have to relearn to live and breathe for yourself again.
Understand your new normal. Odds are, you’re probably living in a bit of a haze post-placement. You are still experiencing post-pregnancy symptoms, but there is no baby around to justify them. There is no denying the grieving period that will take place during the first month post-placement. Never hesitate to ask for help. Is there anyone in your immediate circle that has any idea what you are going through? Probably not. Are there other birth mothers out there that do? Absolutely. If confiding in your loved ones turns out to be insufficient for your needs, do something else. Find your people—the people that have walked in your shoes and cried the tears you are crying.
The First Year
“I would still cry at least once a week wondering what you were doing and what milestones you were hitting that I had no part of. But I was still very conscious that you were getting a much better living situation than what I was able to provide to you at the time.”
The first year for your child is full of discovery, growth, and development. First smiles, first giggles, first steps, first words, first holidays, first vacations—the list goes on and on. Not only is your child experiencing a world of firsts, but so are you. Placing a child for adoption is life-changing. If you’ve chosen to pursue counseling or participate in a support group, evaluate your progress throughout the first year. Continue learning your role in your child’s life and discovering how to maintain a healthy relationship with his or her family. Set goals for the next year and the progress you hope to make then.
It is completely normal to live, and relive, and relive again the moments leading up to the placement of your child. Throughout the first year, you can expect to experience times of sadness but also times of reassurance. Embrace them both.
The First Birthday
“It was hard. There was a lot of wondering what you were up to and how you were being treated. All birthdays were celebrated in my mind and heart.”
It doesn’t matter if your adoption is open or closed, domestic or international, under the best or worst of circumstances. The first birthday is hard. This will be a day every year that you cannot avoid. Learn to embrace it in a way that helps you better process the pain and welcome the good. Allow yourself this day to be whatever it needs to be for you.
Take time to recognize your child’s first birthday. Set aside a moment to celebrate your child’s birth and the decision you made to place him or her. If you feel it would be appropriate, take an hour to write down your thoughts and feelings about your adoption journey as a birth mother. You’ve gained experience, perspective, strength, and knowledge in the past year. If legal circumstance allows it, consider sending a letter to your child’s adoptive parents and child that express your feelings of love of encouragement. Whether you are celebrating with or without your child on this day, don’t hesitate to pause and reflect.
The First Sign of Reunion
“Getting the call from the legal representative was one of the very best moments in my life. I had never actually cried tears of joy until that moment. The flood gates opened!”
It’s the call that birth parents everywhere anticipate. It feels like some sick waiting game. But, for some birth parents, the call that gets the reunion process started is the light at the end of the tunnel that snuck up on them from behind. There is no telling when or how a child who is ready to reunite will reach out. However, the day he or she does will change your life completely. It may be the only moment that will emotionally match the day that your child was originally placed.
Everyone hopes for a happy reunion. However, expectations regarding reunion should be carefully considered. There are several reasons a child may reach out—not all of them will end in a happily ever after for everyone. As you did when you first placed your baby, be patient, put your child’s needs first, and do all you can to respect the wishes and boundaries placed by your child and his or her adoptive family.
The First Look
“The first picture I saw [of you] was on Facebook. We did a little sneaking and found you after learning your name and before I got to call you the next day. My husband looked first. I was too scared to look and wondered, ‘What if it isn’t the right person?’ But, after seeing your senior pictures, there was no doubt. I actually saw a lot of [your birth dad] in your face, but also a lot of me as well.”
Some birth parents will receive regular photographs of the child they placed for adoption. Nowadays, with the popularity of open adoption and easy access to social media, following along on the journey is easier than ever. In other cases of strictly closed adoptions, it could be years before a birth mother will even see a picture of the child she placed.
Children who were adopted could wonder their entire lives if they resemble their birth parents. They wonder about eye colors and the shape of their noses. The same goes for a birth mother who, for whatever reason, has not seen her child for an extended time period. You wonder if your daughter grew up to look like her mother or if her son is the spitting image of his dad. All the curiosity and what-ifs are answered with that first look.
The First Call
“The first phone call was amazing. It was like talking to one of my sisters; yet, I didn’t really know you.”
There is a unique bond between birth mother and child. In cases of closed adoption and eventual reunion, building this relationship is like nothing you’ve experienced before. Your child changed your life, and you changed your child’s life. But your child is still a stranger to you. You are a stranger to your child. That’s weird.
Don’t shy away. Embrace the awkwardness. Embrace this chance you have been given to forge a relationship with your child after 10, 20, maybe even 40 years post-placement. The reunion will look different for every birth parent, every adoptive parent, and every adoptee. So, take it one day at a time. Communicate your hopes for your child’s future and talk about the past when it’s necessary. This is the time for everyone to begin receiving the closure he or she may have never realized was needed.
The Last First Hug
“I was surprised by an in-person reunion. I’ll never forget the hug. It was like a hole in my heart was instantly filled, and I felt whole again.”
The world of adoption is full of pain and healing, happiness and tragedy, separation, and—hopefully—reunion. It’s a day birth mothers pray for but may never experience. It’s a day some birth mothers experience, but it may not go according to plan. Whatever your adoption journey has in store for you, there is little that can prepare you for the feeling of holding, yet again, your child in your arms.
Remember to maintain the perspective you have grown and found strength in it. Just because you are reunited, it does not mean your child has come home after years and years of being lost. Continue to have faith in your decision and confidence in the adoptive parents that raised the child you placed. Seek to understand your new place in this child’s life and how, together, your love for each other and those around you can be multiplied.
So, what is it like to be a birth mother? It’s hard. There are no words that can truly define what it is like. I may not be a birth mother, but I know a pretty great one: my birth mother. Having the opportunity to speak with her about all the firsts she experienced made me appreciate even more the sacrifice she made for me and the depth of her love for my family. The reunion wasn’t necessary for me to have the respect I do for my birth mother. I couldn’t be more grateful, though, for the relationship and understanding we have grown to have for one another. Her strength, humility, and selflessness have inspired me to do better and be better every day.
Courtney was adopted at 3 days old. Growing up in a home where adoption was discussed openly, she always had a passion for sharing her story. When she was 18, she reunited with both of her birth parents and continues to have a positive relationship with each of their families. She went on to earn a Bachelor of Arts in English with an emphasis in professional writing. Since then, sheâ€™s had the opportunity to create and edit content in areas such as fitness, health and wellness, financing, and adoption. When she isn’t behind a book, you can find her dancing in the living room with her 11 nieces, attempting to cook, and tending to her extensive collection of house plants.