The minutes on the hospital clock dwindled as I swaddled my infant daughter one last time before she was permanently placed in the arms of her adoptive family.
In those final moments, I thought my heart might shatter into a thousand slivers without any hope of being mended. I was broken. Scarred. Devastated. When I left the hospital without my baby, it felt like someone was pounding on my chest with both fists and I couldn’t catch my breath. The emptiness that followed was inconceivable. A piece of me, my daughter, was gone.
I couldn’t comprehend the magnitude of my role in her life, until years later, when I became an adoptive mother myself and was able to reflect on the incredible value of birth mothers. Following are four small, but powerful, things an adoptive parent can do for their child’s birth mom:
Do: Tell My Child She Was Loved.
Let’s get one thing clear. Just because I decided to make an adoption plan for my little girl doesn’t mean I didn’t love her with my entire being. Since I was young, I’d always dreamed of being a mom. In elementary school, I wadded up a t-shirt and stuck it under my dress to appear pregnant, while gazing at my reflection in the mirror. I daydreamed about baby names in my high school science class. I couldn’t wait for someone to call me, “mom.”
But when a pregnancy test revealed I was pregnant during my junior year in college, my heart sunk. I knew I wasn’t ready to be a mom. I knew I couldn’t support my daughter in the way she deserved. I wanted her to have a stable home with a loving mom and dad. So, I put aside my own dreams for the needs of my daughter. I wanted her to have everything I wasn’t able to give at the time. Adoption is a love-inspired sacrifice. Every child needs to know that he or she was loved from the very beginning. And it is up to you, adoptive parent, to send that message loud and clear.
When I became an adoptive mom eleven years later, my adopted son has asked, “Why didn’t my mom keep me?” I tell him, “She loved you so much, she sacrificed her dreams so that you could have yours.”
Don’t: Shut Me Out.
Of course, there are different types of adoption plans, most notably open, semi-open, and closed adoptions. With open adoption, there are many ways to involve a birth mom in a child’s life. If possible, adoptive parents should be proactive in scheduling visits with or sending letters to the birth mom.
Don’t assume a birth mom isn’t interested in her child’s life because she doesn’t initiate contact or respond. After I’d made an adoption plan for my child, it was difficult to understand what my new role should be in my daughter’s life. Was I like a favorite aunt? A long-distance cousin? The initial visits with my daughter would tear open my wounds, leaving me in a deep depression for days afterward. It was too painful for me to watch someone else parent my child. So, I pulled back from face-to-face visits with her and her new parents to allow myself time to heal.
Instead, I cherished every letter, picture, and card from a safe distance. Healing looks different for every birth mom. Some are ready to stay involved from day one. Others need time—days, months, possibly years—until they are ready to make an appearance. And that’s okay. For me, it took about ten years before I felt whole again and could schedule visits without crumpling into a crying heap on the floor.
For families not involved in an open adoption plan, they can still honor a child’s birth mom by simply taking the time to talk about her in a kind-hearted manner. If you know positive stories about your adopted child’s birth mom—share them. If you have a picture of the birth mom—frame it and put it by your adopted child’s bedside. The most important thing is to have regular, open discussions with your adopted child about their birth family. Birth moms deserve to have some recognition, even if the circumstances that led to an unplanned pregnancy weren’t ideal, which brings me to another point:
Do: Be My Cheerleader
Birth moms are loving and thoughtful individuals who found themselves in a difficult situation and tried to do the right thing. Think highly of your child’s birth mom and be their biggest cheerleader. I can assure you, birth moms don’t need any further judgment as they’ve received enough criticism outside your house walls. While I was pregnant at a Christian college, I chose to hide my pregnancy for five months in fear of being kicked out and shunned from my community. Later, I heard people describe me as “irresponsible,” “promiscuous,” or “lost,” and some of them refused to interact with me altogether. Still worse were the names I called myself. “Whore,” “Neglectful,” “Worthless.”
The load of guilt and shame I carried was heavy enough without anyone else adding to it. Help others to see my actions as heroic, not irresponsible. The simple truth is that I chose to carry a child and walk away empty-handed.
Understand that the words you choose to describe your child’s birth mom will have a lasting effect on your adopted son or daughter. As a birth mom, one of my greatest hardships was realizing that I’d been portrayed in a negative light by my daughter’s adoptive parents. Not only was I crushed by this discovery, but I had to spend months, even years, trying to replace the negative words she heard about me with truth.
Now, as an adoptive mom, I understand the importance of being the greatest advocate for my son’s birth mom. He needs to know that I respect and cherish her, which, in turn may help a relationship between my son and his birth mom to flourish.
Don’t: Forget I’m hurting.
Despite the knowledge that I’d made the right choice by making an adoption plan, it didn’t erase the dark shadows of loss and emptiness that followed. When I arrived home, I curled up in bed and pulled the covers over my head, blanketed with alternate layers of guilt and shame. Too depleted of strength to utter a prayer, I needed someone else to speak the words on my behalf. I needed prayer for my heart to heal. I needed to know that I’d rediscover my identity. That I’d find new dreams and achieve personal goals. That’d I’d eventually let go of guilt and shame.
When I became an adoptive mom, I immediately prayed for my son’s birth mom. I prayed for her healing process to begin. I prayed for her to feel comfort and love. Ever since my son could speak, I’ve taught him to pray for his birth mom with these words, “Dear God, Thank you for my birth mom. Help her to know she’s loved. Amen.”
Adrian Collins writes about the real-life complexities of being both a birth mother and an adoptive mother. She studied journalism at Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego, and has a deep rooted love of classic literature. She has been married to her high school sweetheart for twenty one years where they currently reside in Castle Rock, Colorado. When she’s not teaching or writing, Adrian is actively pursuing her goal of visiting all U.S National Parks with her kids. Adrian is working on her first memoir about hope and healing through the journey of adoption. She can be reached on Facebook, Instagram: instagram.com/adrianccollins or email at [email protected].