Why Do I Need Support As a Birth Parent?
Deciding to place your baby for adoption is one of the hardest decisions you’ll ever make. Even when you know you’re making the best decision for your baby, you’ll inevitably experience a host of emotions about your decision. Birth mothers and fathers alike need support before, during, and after the placement of their baby to cope with difficult emotions and heal their hearts.
Support for Coping with Emotions
As a birth parent, you will inevitably experience a lot of emotions.
Shock, Numbness, and Denial: It’s common to experience shock, numbness, and denial initially. Denial is a defense mechanism that acts as a buffer to protect you from feeling pain. If you are experiencing shock, numbness, or denial during the birthing process, you may not remember the birth or significant details of the birth such as what day or time the baby was born. Forgetting significant details of the baby’s birth may lead to feelings of guilt later on.
Grief: The grief a birth parent feels is complicated and unique. When a parent loses a child to death, family and friends rally around her or him, offering their support and love. This is true even if the child was only alive for a mere few moments. Others understand that there are certain events or situations that may trigger a parent’s grief, and they are sensitive to the parent’s feelings.
A birth parent experiences the same type of grief when she decides to place a child for adoption. However, the grief a birth parent experiences is often ignored or forgotten. Loved ones may invalidate a birth parent’s grief, saying that placing the child for adoption was a choice.
The grief a birth parent feels is actually more complicated than that of losing a child to death because a child placed for adoption still exists. Grief is often experienced by a birth parent over a lifetime with varying degrees of intensity. Birth parents may experience grief during the child’s birthday, holidays, and other major milestones. It may also be triggered by events such as starting school or a high school graduation. Even everyday milestones such as learning to ride a bike, going to a sleepover, playing a game of basketball, or going to summer camp can also act as grief triggers.
Without support, birth parents are at higher risk of developing complicated grief, also known as persistent complex bereavement disorder. Complicated grief gets worse rather than better with time. Birth parents with complicated grief find that their grief is all-consuming, intense, and debilitating. Some signs and symptoms of complicated grief include the following: not being able to focus on anything except for the loss, intense pain and sorrow over the loss, persistent longing to be reunited with the child, detachment or numbness, an inability to enjoy life, a lack of trust in others, feeling like life has no purpose or meaning, and difficulty accepting the loss.
Complicated grief interferes significantly with an individual’s ability to function in daily life and carry out daily routines. Birth parents with complicated grief may isolate themselves from others.
When complicated grief goes unaddressed, a birth parent may experience depression, suicidal thoughts or behaviors, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), have sleep difficulties, experience relationship problems, and be at increased risk for developing physical health problems.
Birth parents who talk about their loss receive support from family, friends, and peers. They might also seek counseling services that may be able to reduce their risk of developing complicated grief. If you are a birth parent coping with complicated grief, you may find it beneficial to seek help from a mental health professional.
Anger: Anger is another common emotion experienced by birth parents. Birth mothers may be angry with themselves for getting pregnant. Birth fathers may be angry if they weren’t included in discussions about placing the baby for adoption. Birth parents may be angry with themselves because they can’t give their child the life they feel the child deserves.
If birth parents are forced or coerced into placing their baby for adoption, they may be angry with the people involved in the situation. Birth parents may also be angry with the lack of acknowledgment and invalidation others show for their grief.
Guilt and Shame: Shame and guilt are two common and intense feelings birth parents feel when they place a child for adoption. Birth mothers may feel shame and guilt over becoming pregnant, keeping their pregnancy a secret, and for placing their child for adoption. A birth father may feel shame and guilt for not being able to “do the right thing,” for getting the birth mother pregnant, and for causing the birth mother pain.
Though times have changed, some people still believe that “good” girls don’t have unplanned pregnancies. Birth parents may feel ashamed for being “irresponsible” for their part in the unplanned pregnancy. This shame is compounded by society. Many birth parents may choose to keep the pregnancy and adoption a secret because they are afraid of others’ judgments. Insensitive comments such as “How could you give up your own child?” or “How could you allow this to happen?” are shaming and discourage birth parents from talking about their experiences and feelings.
Isolation: It’s quite common for birth parents to feel isolated and alone, especially if they do not have support from their families and friends. Birth fathers, in particular, are often isolated from the adoption process all together. Some birth fathers are encouraged to be uninvolved in the pregnancy and adoption. Others don’t even know they are birth fathers until after the adoption process has been completed.
Both birth mothers and fathers may be encouraged to keep the pregnancy a secret so they don’t bring shame upon themselves or their families. Birth parents who don’t have the support of their loved ones are likely to withdraw from social situations, which can lead to further isolation as well as feelings of shame and depression.
Getting the Support You Need
Support is essential for birth parents who have decided to place their baby for adoption. Without support, birth parents are more likely to struggle with grief, anxiety, guilt, shame, and other emotions for longer periods of time, delaying the healing process.
It is wonderful when a birth parent’s family and friends offer their love and support. Sadly, not every birth parent’s loved ones are supportive. In any case, seeking help from a mental health professional is beneficial.
Psychotherapy (talk therapy) is incredibly beneficial for birth parents before, during, and after placing a baby for adoption. When birth parents initially discover they are dealing with an unplanned pregnancy, a therapist can help them explore all of their options and how each option will impact their lives. The pros and cons of each option can be explored safely and without judgment with a therapist. A therapist can also serve as someone to confide in if the birth parents are not yet ready to disclose the pregnancy to their loved ones.
During the adoption process, a therapist can help you determine what type of family you would like your child to be placed with and explore and express your feelings about the process. After the placement has taken place, counselors can help you cope with grief, guilt, and shame, work through relationship difficulties, and find ways to move forward with your life.
It’s important to note that psychotherapy provided by a private practice mental health professional is often different from the adoption counseling services offered by adoption agencies, though both types of counseling may cover some of the same areas. Adoption counseling provided by adoption agencies is usually more informative and educational—although every adoption agency is different with what type of counseling they offer so be sure to check with your agency if you are working with one. Typically, adoption agency counseling will help you explore your options, provide education regarding the legal process of adoption, make an adoption plan, and educate you about what will happen at the hospital. Psychotherapy provided by a mental health professional in private practice may also focus on some of these logistics, but the sessions will typically focus more on exploring your feelings and experiences.
Support groups are a valuable resource for birth parents. Birth parent support groups offer a unique opportunity to connect with others who have been in or are currently in your situation. Placing a child for adoption is a unique and incredibly difficult thing to do; being able to talk to others who can relate might help you feel less alone.
You can additionally ask your adoption counselor or adoption agency if they know of any local support groups. Hospitals, your faith-based organization, like a church or synagogue, and mental health organizations may also know of local support groups for birth parents.
If there are no local support groups in your area, you can find support from other birth parents in online forums. Online support groups and forums may be limited to birth parents, or they may be open to the adoption triad—birth parents, adoptive parents, and adult adoptees. Both types of groups can be beneficial; it’s up to you to determine what type of online support group or forum is right for you. Adoption.com offers support forums for birth parents, adoptive parents, and adult adoptees.
Social media sites such as Facebook also offer support for birth parents. To find support on a social media site, use search terms such as “birth parent support” in the search bar. A few examples of support groups on Facebook for birth parents include Birth Parents Support, Birth Parents Only, and Birth Parent Support Group.
It should be noted that there are many more support groups available for birth mothers than there are for birth fathers. However, support groups do exist for birth fathers. Find these groups by searching terms such as “birth father support group” or “birth parent support group” in a search engine.
You should read the rules of each group or forum before posting as each group or forum has its own set of unique guidelines. Members should always be respectful and kind to one another, even when they disagree. Members should remember that everyone in the group is seeking support and deserves to be heard, understood, and supported.
In addition to seeking support before, during, and after placing a child for adoption, you can do several things to take care of yourself during difficult times.
· Give yourself permission to feel all of your emotions throughout the adoption process. While there will be difficult emotions to cope with, there may also be positive ones. You should allow yourself to feel any emotions you have; doing so will help your heart heal with time.
· You should pamper yourself a little. The adoption process is difficult, and you should take extra good care of yourself during this time. You should spend a little time each day doing something you enjoy or something that makes you feel good such as reading a good book, taking a bath, going for a walk, watching a favorite television show, or writing in a journal.
· Exercise, eat well, and get enough sleep.
· Do relaxation exercises, meditate, or pray.
· Spend time with loved ones who make you feel good.
· You should give yourself permission to say no to things you don’t want to do. Putting yourself first is okay; it is not selfish.
Self-care is especially important during challenging times. You need to actively commit to caring for yourself during the adoption process; you need to make a decision to consciously do something daily to care for yourself. Scheduling self-care is important because people tend to let self-care fall by the wayside if it’s not part of their daily routine.
As a birth parent, you will inevitably face many difficult emotions before, during, and after the placement of your child. Though these emotions may be difficult to cope with, they are normal. You need the support of loved ones, peers, and professionals to help you through the adoption process. When you have the support you need during the process, your heart can begin to heal.
Sierra Koester is an award-winning freelance writer and professional blogger. She earned her BA in Psychology in 2004 and has worked with several nonprofit agencies. She began her writing career in 2006 and has written extensively in the areas of health, psychology, and pets. Sierra advocates for the adoption of children as well as homeless animals. When she isn’t writing, you can find Sierra with her nose in a book or hanging out with her two kitties, Carmine, a wise old orange tabby Sierra adopted when he was a kitten, and Tylan, a cat whom Sierra adopted after he was rescued from a hoarding situation in Thailand. You can learn more about Sierra by visiting http://www.sierrakoester.blogspot.com.