More than half of all pregnancies today are unplanned, but only a small percentage of them—less than 3 percent–result in an adoption placement.
Because of that, there are still many misconceptions surrounding women who chose adoption for their baby and confusion about how they feel immediately after placing.
Even birthmothers—the term given to women who create an adoption plan for her child—have a hard time coming to terms with their decision and struggle with a variety of conflicting emotions ranging from anger and guilt to excitement and confusion.
Feeling that their life is out of control, many will take a step back and withdraw from society, which only adds to their feelings of loneliness, alienation and confusion.
If you know a woman who has recently placed, you may want to comfort her. By all means, do. She can use all the help and support she can get.
Just make sure that do you it sensitively and avoid making assumptions about her or her decision by saying any of these hurtful comments.
1. Isn’t this what you wanted?
As in “What are you complaining about? Isn’t this what you wanted?”
This comment assumes that a birthmother has no reason to feel sad about placement. After all, she’s the one who made the decision and went through with it.
That’s true. But what’s also true is that placing a baby for adoption is a very complicated and unique process. Most birthmothers are unprepared and surprised by the depth of their feelings of loss after it’s over.
Like other people dealing with the loss of a loved one, they will mourn. But in a different way.
For most people, loss of a loved one usually means death and is permanent.
But adoption involves what’s called “ambiguous loss”: Although a birthmother’s child is still very much alive, he is growing up in another home, with another set of parents.
Even though he’s not there physically, he is present emotionally.
That kind of dichotomy is hard for anyone to resolve. And it becomes even harder when you try to explain it to the huge majority of people today who are unfamiliar with how open adoption works.
Bottom line: Just because a birthmother is confident with her decision doesn’t mean it was an easy one or that she won’t face periods of doubts afterwards.
2. You’ll get over it
As in, “Suck it up. You’ll get over it.” As we mentioned earlier, placing a baby for adoption involves loss.
Even though a birthmother made her decision knowingly and voluntarily and knows that her child is loved and cared for, placing your child in another couple’s arms after carrying her for 9 months is still incredibly painful.
No matter how open or strong their relationship is with the adoptive parents, for some birthmothers adoption means losing a child, and nothing anyone can say or do can change that.
Yes, most birthmothers eventually move on. But they never “get over it.”
3. You can always get your baby back
As in, “Why are you so sad? You can always get your baby back.” Actually no, they can’t.
Adoption is a permanent decision. Once a woman signs the adoption papers and the grace period ends, the child legally belongs to the adoptive parents.
They are responsible for raising the child and for all of the decisions regarding his well-being.
It’s true that in an open adoption, a birthmother can have a say in her child’s future and keep in touch with the family as the child grows.
But unlike the scenarios depicted in Lifetime movies, no matter how open the adoption is, she can’t suddenly show up one day at the adoptive parents’ doorstep and get her child back.
4. Now you can go back to your life the way it used to be
As in, “Well, at least now you can go back to your life the way it used to be.”
Adoption is a life-changing event. Leaving the hospital empty-handed as she watches the adoptive parents strap up her child and drive away is a heart-wrenching experience for a birthmother.
With the help of counseling, most birthparents gradually heal. It also helps if the birthmother receives extensive counseling before placement and is confident about her decision.
Every adoption story is different and every birthmother reacts differently to the period after placement.
How she adjusts depends on her personality, her involvement in the placement, her relationship with the adoptive parents, and the support she receives from family, friends and others.
But, just as with any life-changing decision, placing a baby has life-long effects and will have a huge impact on a birthmother’s future.
5. Your child is better off now
As in, “Why are you so sad? Your child is better off now.”
One of the things that birthmothers struggle with immediately after placement is that they’re a bad person or not enough.
If they were, the thinking goes, they would never have chosen adoption.
Even though someone else is raising their child doesn’t mean that they wouldn’t have been a good parent.
It just means that at this time in their life they weren’t ready or able to raise their child in the way they wanted to.
Telling a birthmother that her child is better off now isn’t only rude, it’s a huge put-down that will gnaw away at her self-confidence and make her circle back, in a negative way, to her decision to place.
6. You can see your baby any time
As in “What’s the big deal? You can see your baby any time.”
A lot of people think that open adoption is the same as co-parenting or shared custody, and that birthparents can show up at the adoptive parents’ house at any time and pitch in with a diaper change or a feeding.
It isn’t and they can’t. Once an adoption is finalized, the adoptive parents become the child’s legal parents.
And even if a birthmother changes her mind, the placement cannot be overturned unless she can prove that it was made fraudulently.
With open adoption, birthparents can play a role in their child’s life. But it’s up to the birthparents and adoptive parents to work out what level of contact they want to have.
Even then it’s complicated, especially immediately after the placement, when each party is adjusting to their new role.
The adoptive parents may feel overwhelmed with being new parents, while the birthmother may feel uncomfortable reaching out to them during such a stressful time, even if the door is wide open.
7. You can always have another child
As in “I wouldn’t worry about it. You can always have another child.”
Like many comments that people say to a birthmother after placement, this one is intended to make her feel better.
Instead, it comes off as harsh and insensitive. No birthmother places her baby for adoption with the idea that one day she can have another one.
Every child is unique and it’s not a question of finding a replacement for the one you placed.
Birthmothers choose adoption out of love, because they believe it’s the best decision for their child. Not because they think, “what the heck, if I give away this child I can always get another one.”
Plus, due to medical issues like secondary infertility and other factors, there’s no guarantee that she can have another child.
8. I’m so sorry
A birthmother will experience a wave of emotions following the placement of her child.
Some days, she’ll feel excited, knowing that her child will have the future she wants her to have.
Other days, she’ll feel down in the dumps, feeling ashamed and blame herself about her unplanned pregnancy and her decision to choose adoption.
And still others, she’ll feel relief, knowing that the pregnancy and adoption process is over and that she made the best decision she could under the circumstances.
It’s important to understand these conflicting feelings, and that her grief won’t be always the same. It will change and evolve over time.
So even though you may feel badly for her and don’t want to see her suffer, do her a favor: Don’t tell her that you feel sorry for her.
She doesn’t need your pity. She needs your understanding, compassion, and support.
She thought long and hard over her decision and felt like it was the right thing to do.
So if you shouldn’t say any of the above comments to a woman who has recently placed a baby for adoption, what should you say?
Let her know that you’re there for her. If you’re not sure what to say, don’t say anything. Just listen.
Don’t judge her. Don’t tell her that you know what she’s going through. Don’t pretend that she doesn’t have a child that she just placed.
And don’t use terms like “gave up” or “gave away” her child when referring to her adoption plan.
The period right after placement is one of the hardest for a birthmother. Most people don’t know what to say.
Show her that you do and that you care. This will mean to the world to her and it could help her heal faster.
Do you have a birthmother story? Email us or find out more about how to share it with our community.
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