There are a lot of unknowns when you start the journey of placing your child for adoption. From the very first step, the adoption world can be an interesting journey that has no handbook that details what exactly that journey might look like. Each person can have a vastly different experience, so even if there was a guide to navigating your way through this life-long journey, it—unfortunately—would not be accurate to each story.
However, there is one common theme after the placement of your child, and that pertains to the grief and loss that inevitably affects each birth parent, whether birth parents try to run from it or embrace it right away. Of the multitude of feelings that can come along, like a cold you cannot shake, sadness is one that can show up at any time.
After I placed my child for adoption, I wanted to slip back into my life like I had not just experienced a life-altering event. Sadness tried to weasel its way along, and I would shove it back down as far as I could. I wanted to embrace the happy, proud mask I placed upon my face that only showed the positive emotions. It was not until about six years after placement that I let sadness in and fully embraced what came along with it. Looking back, I wish I would have let myself feel everything that was crashing around me sooner because it was a pleasant surprise at how good it feels to let it all out. Sadness, grief, anger, and many more feelings definitely come along on your adoption journey whether you fight it or not. Thankfully, they are accompanied by love, life, and happiness. If you at any point in your journey are asking yourself “Is it okay to feel sad?” the answer is an astounding yes!
Let’s start with defining the term sadness. There are several definitions of the word “sad” including the following: affected with grief or unhappiness, of little worth, and of a dull, somber color. Not unlike how each person can experience their adoption differently, people also experience sadness differently. I can personally relate to the description of a dull, somber color. I once compared myself to the children’s movie The Trolls where the normally happy, bubblegum pink main character, Poppy, loses her colors and turns into the grey color of a cloud during a storm. I felt as if all the colors that typically light me from the inside out had faded away, and I was left dull and empty.
After I placed my child for adoption, each morning I awoke and fixed a smile on my face to convince those around me, and myself, that those feelings did not exist. I was drowning in my depression but wanted to believe I could overcome the feelings of sadness and grief on my own. Oftentimes, sadness and depression go hand in hand, but that is not always the case. You can be sad about a smaller-scale event such as not getting a job promotion, a fight with a loved one, or ruining your favorite shirt. Experiences such as the death or loss of a loved one can also prompt sadness, but if that sadness is not properly dealt with (i.e., allowing yourself to feel or using coping skills to manage the sadness), it can spiral into a depression that is much more difficult to overcome.
Initially, after I placed my child for adoption and did not address the underlying sadness that accompanied it, my sadness morphed into both depression and anxiety. I did not understand the origin of these issues because whenever I spoke about my adoption or child, I would beam with joy and feel very proud of the decision I made to give my child a better life. Those underlying feelings that I was not acknowledging were manifesting in other ways and affecting every aspect of my life. I had a job providing childcare during an exercise class that a family member taught, and one day I was literally so paralyzed with anxiety and fear that I was unable to even walk into the class. I sat on the floor, crying and afraid, not sure what was happening or why. In retrospect, being around children everyday so soon after placing my own child for adoption was internally eating away at me, and those unresolved feelings were building up inside of me like a pressure cooker ready to burst. Feeling sad is something that every person has an experience with in his or her life in one way or another, but dealing with sadness or depression from placing your child for adoption (or any other traumatic event) can be all-consuming.
Even if you entered into your adoption plan wholeheartedly, with no reservations or concerns, it can be surprising the amount of emotion that follows. Sadness does not always present solely on its own. You can be elated at getting an update about your child and suddenly feel sadness jump in and take over any happiness you were feeling. The emotion can erupt at the strangest times, like with something so obvious such as walking into the baby section at Target or even as small as coming across a movie you last watched when pregnant.
Recognizing the signs that your sadness is beginning to morph into something unmanageable on your own is important. Some of the signs that show you may be experiencing depression are the following:
- Loss of interest
- Irritability or anger
- Appetite increase or decrease
- Forced happiness
- Physical ailments
- Suicidal thoughts or actions
There can be other explanations for any of the symptoms above, but placing your child for adoption is a traumatic event, and going through something like that can trigger even the most mentally stable person to struggle with her or his emotions and feelings.
It’s also important to talk about postpartum depression affecting birth mothers. The physical toll that any pregnancy and postpartum period takes on a woman’s body and hormones can be a huge adjustment for anyone, but add that to a woman who has just placed her child for adoption, and you are looking at a huge opportunity for depression to rear its ugly head. Your body will continue to show the physical signs of the human you just gave birth to, but your arms will continue to be empty. That realization can have painful consequences on an already fragile mental status. Postpartum depression is real for all moms and should never be something to be ashamed of. If you think you are experiencing any symptoms of depression, do not hesitate to reach out to someone you trust or a trained professional. Getting yourself help is the best thing you can do for yourself.
The good news is that sadness, depression, anxiety can all be overcome. Whatever you may be feeling after walking the journey of placing your child for adoption is perfectly acceptable. Not every person’s sadness turns into a debilitating depression, but it is important to give attention to each stage of grief and loss after placement.
One of the biggest benefits I have found as a resource for support for birth parents after placement is support groups. About six years after I placed, I attended my first support group specifically for birth moms. I received an email about it and remember going back and forth in my head about if I was ready to go and face the feelings I had been trying to outrun for all those years. It was a brand-new group, and I was the only one who showed up that night, but it was truly a life-changing experience for me. I instantly connected with the facilitator of the group, and for the first time, I was able to remove my mask and say, out loud, “I am sad, and this is painful.” It was exhilarating to be that raw and honest with someone, and the facilitator looked at me and said right back, “That is perfectly okay and normal.” I called my family on the way home from that group that night and thanked them for pushing me to attend because it was like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders to be able to share my true feelings in a safe space where people understood how exactly I was feeling.
As time went on and the group gained new members, I met many other birth mothers who were experiencing the exact same feelings that I had been fighting to keep inside. I was learning that not only was feeling sad normal, but it was also not something to feel shame for. To be surrounded by other women who were walking similar journeys as mine made me feel so much less alone. I wished I would have embraced my sadness from the beginning and not allow it to make me feel ashamed. Sadness isn’t something to shut out because it is going to continue to make an appearance for the rest of my life, especially at those random, inopportune times when I least expect it. I have continued to seek solace from other birth parents in different ways as the years have gone by. My old friend Sadness still makes an appearance in my life, but thankfully, through counseling, support, and hard work, I am able to recognize the feeling and work through the coping skills I have learned. Here are some of my top tips for utilizing coping skills:
- Ask for support – Reach out to a family member, trusted friend, or even a professional to help.
- Set healthy boundaries – Do not be afraid to advocate for what you feel comfortable with. Whether that be not attending a baby shower or not answering questions in regards to your adoption plan, you have every right to set boundaries for yourself.
- Crying – One of my favorite quotes of all time is “Crying does not indicate that you are weak. Since birth, it has always been a sign that you are alive.” Allowing yourself to have a good cry releases stress hormones, and it is perfectly acceptable from time to time. (Be mindful if you find yourself crying uncontrollably all the time, however).
- Journaling – Writing down your feelings can be so much easier than speaking them aloud. A great exercise is writing letters to yourself, your child, or any person in your life you need to express thoughts to but might not be able to do so in person. You do not have to send these letters, but it can be very freeing to get those thoughts out on paper. (Burning them when you are done is fun too!)
- Meditation or Prayer – Take time to be alone with your thoughts or connect with whatever higher power you choose.
- Exercise – Any kind of physical activity has been shown to help release stress and anxiety.
- Music or Art – These are more great tools for helping release any pent-up emotion.
These are just some examples of the many different ways you can help deal with your feelings and emotions in a healthy way.
Placing your child for adoption is a difficult journey that can have a beautiful end result. It can bring along many different emotions—both positive and negative. However you experience it, whatever you feel along the way, it is normal because there is no “normal” way to feel about adoption. Each person will walk the journey differently, and each person processes emotions differently. Please do not be scared to let those emotions in, and sadness—especially—is not something to be afraid of. There is absolutely no time that feeling sad about placing your child for adoption is not acceptable. The most important thing is that you find healthy ways to cope with these feelings so you can continue to experience the joys that also come along with you as you grow through your adoption journey.
If you or anyone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, please reach out to any of the following services for help:
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-8255
Lacy Davis is a birth mom who enjoys educating and speaking about how adoption has shaped her life. She has spent time connecting with other birth moms at local support groups and has spoken on panels educating prospective adoptive parents. She grew up in the Dallas-Fort Worth area and placed her child for adoption in 2006. In her free time, she is an avid reader and enjoys watching Law and Order episodes on repeat as well as spending time outdoors with her husband and two children.