The healing journey in adoption is one that is lifelong. There is no time limit to grieving. There is no right or wrong to how you are feeling.
There will be ups and downs. Highs and lows. It is truly an emotional rollercoaster.
For birth parents:
Are you feeling conflicted with your adoption decision? Are you wondering if you did the right thing? Are you contemplating all the “what ifs” that can enter into your mind and cause you to doubt yourself?
Do you wonder if you will ever feel better about the decision you made?
You are grieving. The process of grief is one that is without a time limit. You are grieving the loss of the parent/child relationship that you have decided to allow your child to share with someone else. You are questioning if you did the right thing for yourself, as well as your child. Will this self-doubt ever go away?
Just as with other loss and grief, the feelings come and go. Some days, you are able to cope in a healthy and productive way. Other days, you may find it hard to cope, and may even feel unable to process your feelings adequately. This is completely normal.
Grief tends to get easier with time. However, that isn’t to say that time will “fix” things. Grief has several stages, and typically, when you accept the loss, you are able to feel better and move on. There will be times that you are triggered in your grief, such as holidays or birthdays, and you may feel a bit overwhelmed with the emotions again. There will be times when you are able to cope well with your decision, and you may even feel positive and happy with your choices. You might be able to feel the love of the adoptive family, and their appreciation for your choice that enabled them to become a family.
Each day is a new day. Each day may bring another facet to your adoption journey of emotions.
If you are struggling with your emotions and feeling like you need help, seek out a support group or therapist.
Support groups are great to help you feel validated in your feelings. You will be able to meet other people who have been through a similar experience. They will be able to understand your feelings, which will help you feel validated and let you know you are not alone.
Making the choice to place a child for adoption is not an easy thing to do. It is completely normal to struggle with and question your choice. Support groups will be an excellent resource to be able to share and to meet others who will not be judgemental, as they are experiencing similar things in their lives.
You may be able to find strength and understanding in those who have been processing their feelings for more time than you have. They may be able to offer advice that will help you, and allow you to feel a bit better about the decision you made.
What else could you do to help you feel better?
Would you feel better if you could receive a letter or photo? What type of adoption did you enter into? Are you allowed contact? If you are in an open or semi-open adoption relationship, you should be able to make contact (even if it is through a third party like a social worker or agency representative) and ask for an update. It is okay to let others know that you are struggling. Asking for help and finding the best ways to help you heal does not mean you made the wrong choice or a bad decision. It doesn’t make you emotionally weak. In fact, to know you need help in such a moment makes you emotionally aware and strong. It means you know what you need to cope and make it, and are willing to ask for it. You will not allow yourself to become overwhelmed and unable to handle things. You are making healthy choices if you can identify when to seek help, and if you can find ways to make you feel better about your situation.
No matter your reasons for choosing to place your child for adoption, you cannot allow others to shame you or make you feel like you did the wrong thing. Nobody enters into a decision like adoption lightly. Whatever the reason, you know what you needed to do, and you did it. Nobody else is in your shoes, and nobody else should feel entitled to make judgments. You will need to be able to make peace with your decision. This doesn’t mean you won’t have good and bad days.
Do you wonder if you did the right thing when you adopted? Is parenthood more challenging than you imagined it would be? Are you wondering if you have taken on more that you can handle?
For the record, all parents question their parenting abilities at times. Parents who have adopted sometimes do this to the extreme. Adoptive parents feel like they need to be extraordinary in their parenting to somehow “deserve” this opportunity they were given. They were chosen to parent this child, and they do not take this honor lightly. Often, they beat themselves up over every possible mistake they may make, and question if they deserve to parent at all.
Adoptive parents can experience post-adoption depression syndrome. The adoption process can be so difficult, that when you finally become a parent, all the stress leading up to the big moment can cause depression. You aren’t sure why you aren’t feeling continuous joy by fulfilling your dream of becoming a parent. You may be worried about bonding, you may be feeling sad and emotional for the birth parents who are surely grieving, and you can feel extremely anxious about being a parent and trying to “get it right.”
Because you are putting unrealistic expectations on yourself, you may feel as though you are failing. Nobody can be happy constantly. Every parent will sometimes feel overwhelmed and exhausted. Every parent will have moments when they look at the tiny human in front of them and feel unworthy of their incredible trust and love. Every parent wonders if they are making the right choices, or if they are messing up the very thing they love the most.
Parents often hold themselves to unattainable standards. Adoptive parents tend to take this to a whole new level of high standards, always thinking they need to do more or better.
There are support groups for adoptive parents that can help with your adoption journey. You will be able to meet others who are struggling, and wondering if they made the right choice pursuing parenthood through adoption. The decision to adopt is a big decision. You are not entering into it without significant thought and effort. Mountains of paperwork have passed through your hands, and countless hours of preparation in order to become a parent. So, when this actually happens, it is completely normal to wonder if you did the right thing. It is totally normal to wonder if you are bonding properly, if your child is bonding properly, and if you are making the best decisions and doing all the right things.
Support groups are great for sharing these feelings and acknowledging them. Finding others who struggle with some of the same insecurities you have will help you feel supported by the adoption community and know you are not alone. So many struggle with their insecurities and try to keep them hidden, rather than sharing and realizing it is so common to have these feelings.
All parents (adoptive, biological, etc) will question their choices and decisions when it comes to their children. We all wonder if we are doing things the right way and if our kids are all right. We all see other parents and make comparisons between us and them. We will see the places they are excelling and we feel as if we are failing. This is all normal.
If you are taking these feelings to the extreme though, and falling into depression or overwhelmed with anxiety, please see a therapist or doctor.
Adoption and grief:
Adoption has all the stages of grief. The five stages of grief are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.
How do all of these stages apply to adoption? How do we recognize these stages? It is important to know that you may experience some stages in a different order or go back and forth between stages before you finally reach the stage of acceptance. And, once you have reached the stage of acceptance, you can move backward in your grief.
How does denial affect the grieving process in adoption? A birth parent may deny that they are struggling with loss. They may deny that they are having a hard time. An adoptive parent may deny that they have feelings of insecurity and worry about proper bonding and attachment.
How does anger fit into the grieving process in adoption? Birth parents may feel angry for finding themselves in the position of needing to make such a hard choice. They may feel anger toward themselves or others, who they may blame for what they are going through. They may feel angry that the pregnancy occurred at a time they felt they were unable to parent. An adoptive parent may feel angry with how long it takes to get the opportunity to adopt. They may have anger if they have infertility issues—feeling it is unfair that some women can easily become pregnant while they cannot. Adoptive parents may feel angry with the extensive paperwork and background checks they are subjected to, while some women who would never pass these checks are able to parent babies because they were physically able to do so. They may take out second mortgages or loans to pay for their adoption journey but insist that it is okay. Privately, they may be struggling with the cost and upset that the process isn’t easier. They may insist they don’t mind cutting back in some areas, but in fact, they may feel a bit bitter that so much effort is needed for them to become parents.
The third stage of grief is bargaining. How does bargaining work in the adoption grieving process? For birth parents, bargaining may be the fantasy that they will someday reunite with this child and will be accepted by them as a parent. Bargaining may be the stage where scenarios play out in the imagination of wonderful reunions later in life, or that they will be able to re-enter the child’s life when they have made changes to their own life. For an adoptive parent, bargaining may be the stage where parents try to convince themselves that they don’t care how they get a child, as long as they become parents. This may be the stage where they pretend they aren’t hurt if they are infertile, and instead decide to be overly positive about their infertility and need to adopt. They may hide their true feelings of loss, and instead, insist on finding the silver lining. They may also fantasize that they will have a perfect parenting relationship with their future child and that they will never struggle again once the child is placed in their arms.
Depression we have touched on a bit already. Both birth parents and adoptive parents can suffer from depression during their adoption journey.
The final stage of grief is acceptance. For birth parents, acceptance may be when they come to terms with their decision, and no longer feel guilt or depression. While there still may be hard days, as with any loss, the majority of days are now met with acceptance of the loss, and the ability to find joy despite the loss. For adoptive parents, acceptance may be when they are able to accept that they will not have biological children. This may be the time when they make peace with their inability to conceive and are able to fully embrace the decision to adopt.
No matter where you are in your journey, or which side of the journey you are on, you are not alone. If you need help coping, reach out to local support groups, or therapists to help.
Jennifer is a mother to 3 children (one biological, two adopted). She is also a mom to numerous pets. She enjoys volunteering in her children’s classroom, reading, and crafting in her spare time. She has been married for almost 15 years.