The Unspoken Guilt Of An Adoptive Mother

This guest post is by Paige Knipfer, an adoptive mother.  

The day I met my daughter and her birth mother was one of the happiest and saddest days of my life.

When that day came it didn’t seem real. It felt like an out-of-body experience.

I know that many people frame an adoption placement as being “picture perfect.” But to do so distorts the reality of what it really is.

As an adoptive parent, you want to be in the moment as much as you can. But you also want to guard your heart for fear that the birth mother will change her mind.

You rarely hear about the emotional rollercoaster you undergo or how mentally draining the process can be—in addition to dealing with all of the challenges that every new parent faces.

Adoption is not for the faint of heart.


MaeFlower Photography

I felt extremely happy that day because I became a mother. But I also felt the pain and suffering of the sobbing birth mother who had handed her newborn girl — my daughter — to me.

I felt her loss at the pit of my stomach and the weight of guilt on my shoulders. Today, it still creeps in sometimes.

I wonder constantly about how my daughter’s birth mother is doing, and not knowing the answer to that question is hard.

I am fortunate that I can share photos through our agency that show my daughter’s growth and how amazing she is. Most closed adoptions don’t get to do that.

But it’s still nothing compared to what I had hoped for: an open adoption.

I hope that someday my relationship with my daughter’s birth mother will grow and that her pain will lessen so that she can heal.

I remember being home for about a week and my daughter was crying and wouldn’t go to sleep.  Like any new parents trying to figure things out, my husband and I felt frustrated.

But then he said, “Remember when we sat in this room and just wished and hoped so much for this.”

Complaining about issues with your child is so hard because you feel so much guilt.

You also feel the incredible burden to be perfect because another woman gave birth to your child and chose you to be her parent because she thought you would be a better mom than she would be.

Even before our placement, I felt guilty. I felt guilty when our family and friends talked about their pregnancy or labor, and I felt guilty when my doctor asked me about our attempts to get pregnant.

But adoption guilt is different from infertility guilt.

The idea that another woman spent nine months carrying the child you are now raising — and, in some instances, had to conceal her pregnancy and deal with insensitive questions about her adoption plan — is hard to handle.

Honestly, when someone says my daughter looks like me I feel guilty. And I feel guilty for complaining about the adoption process and the costs because I have such an amazing daughter.

I also feel guilty during important milestones or family events because her birth mother is missing out on them.

Looking at my daughter and enjoying these moments with her always causes me to think of her birth mother and her amazing sacrifice.

When I rock my daughter to sleep at night, I feel so much gratitude for her that I can’t even begin to describe it.

I am a mother because of the loss of my daughter’s birth mother. I feel so much love for my daughter and am happy with my life because of this woman I have never talked to.

I hope she knows how loved our daughter is and I hope she is at peace with her decision.

I think about my daughter’s future a lot, as I’m sure all parents do. I think about whether she will want to meet her birth mother.

Or whether she will feel rejected.

Or whether she will have no interest in meeting her.

Or whether she will meet her and become closer with her that she is with me . This thought in particular breaks my heart.

A sense of dread looms over me that I will never be my daughter’s actual mother, the one that gave birth to her—her ‘real’ (oh, how I hate that word! ) mother.

And I wonder about which characteristics and personality traits will be hereditary and which ones will be from us.

I don’t know what the future will bring. All I want is what’s best for my daughter.

I don’t want to see her heart get broken, but I also don’t want mine to be broken either.

I’m willing to share my story, my experiences, and my love with her birth mother and with whoever else is interested. The door is always open.

Paige Knipfer is a trainer for a financial institution, an adoptive mom, wife, mentor to a high school student, volunteer, and avid traveler (Semester at Sea alumni). She loves to share her adoption experiences and assist anyone interested in learning more about the process @PaigeKnipfer.

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