Emotions aren’t fun to talk about, because it means being vulnerable. This, in of itself, is not an easy or always pleasant experience. It is, however, extremely important — especially when it comes to adoption.
Adoption is fraught with emotions. It deeply affects everyone involved, which is easy to forget throughout the process. So often, adoption focuses on the adoptee and the adoptive parents — and rightfully so, as growing families is the ultimate goal of adoption. But there’s more to it than that. The woman who makes adoption possible. Unfortunately, after the paperwork is signed and court process finalized, when her child joins a new family, all too often she fades into the background.
Each birth mother is vastly different than any other, and her adoption journey just as unique. Yet, there are crucial elements that all birth mothers share. Her grief. Whether the adoption is open or closed, birth mothers endure a period of grieving before and after the child leaves.
Adoption is a traumatic experience for birth mothers. Beginning with the pregnancy. Researchers have discovered through MRI scans that a woman’s grey matter in her brain undergoes change when she is pregnant. The volume reduces to optimize and rewire itself in anticipation to equip the soon-to-be-mother to satisfy her infant’s needs. Social processes such as empathy and the ability to understand others seemingly fine tune themselves, and strengthen cognitive functions like memory. Experts call this the “theory of the mind.” As a whole, this change can alter a woman’s brain and have lasting effects for up to two years.
Following birth, a woman goes through postpartum depression, also known as post birth baby blues. The symptoms can vary, but some examples are: irritability, anxiety and insomnia. Typically, postpartum can begin two to three days after the child is born and last for the first two weeks. If it sticks around longer, a prompt visit to the doctor is recommended. While there is no known reason for postpartum depression, the physical and emotional changes that women go through from pregnancy to birth play a large role.
For women who are able to keep their children, they are able to work through the baby blues and bond with their child. But for birth mothers, it’s a different story. Because they have made the selfless and difficult choice to make a plan for adoption, they are unable to do what their brains and bodies have prepared them for — motherhood. Thus, they feel loss and enter a grieving period.
Grief and Loss
Even if a birth mother enters into an open adoption agreement, where she can have updates about her child and have opportunities to communicate with them, she still has to process the loss. She has to grieve that she isn’t the one raising the child, and come to terms with her choice. In this way, being able to see pictures and receive updates from the adoptive family is extremely comforting, and encourages her to grieve healthfully. Closed adoptions, on the other hand, can make her grief and moving forward more complicated.
Many books and online resources will state that grief has five to seven stages, and that it sticks to an invisible timeline. The most popular model was created by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross in her book, On Death and Dying, where she describes her five stages as: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Birth mothers do indeed experience all of these emotions and more. However, there is one aspect about grief that isn’t very well-known or talked about as much it should be.
→ Grief has no timeline, and never fully goes away.
Instead, the birth mother must learn to process and grow around her loss. It always remains part of her, and she never forgets. Anniversaries, holidays and birthdays can be especially challenging, and be triggering events for her. Fortunately, there are post-adoption support and counseling options available to lend a hand. Not only does this help the birth mother process in a healthy and positive way, but it also reduces the risk of any long-term emotional or mental health damage.
Guilt and Shame
A birth mother’s journey through grief and loss is complex and individual. Even if making a plan for adoption was her choice, she can still experience regret, confusion, or question her identity as a mother. Some birth mothers may struggle with how she fits into the adoptee’s life, especially with the adoptive parents raising them. Post adoption, birth mothers may need some space apart from the adoptee and adoptive parents, and that’s perfectly okay.
Another layer to a birth mother’s grieving process and trauma through adoption are feelings of guilt and shame. She may be subject to judgment of friends and family, and future or current relationships. Not everyone will support her or understand why she chose adoption. This can impede her healing and cause her to further question herself. If she made the right decision, if there’s something wrong with her, and if she’s worthy enough to be a mother at all.
Long Term Issues
Remember that choosing adoption doesn’t end when the court process concludes. It affects a birth mother for the rest of her life. She never forgets her decision, and thinks about the adoptee every day. While the adoptee may not be living with or being raised by her, she is no less a mother. It’s important that this is not only recognized and acknowledged, but honored.
Without the selfless and loving acts of birth mothers, who make plans to give her children their best chance, adoptions wouldn’t happen. Adoptive parents who struggle to conceive or grow families on their own wouldn’t be blessed. That said, adoptions are truly a gift.
Adoption Choices of New York
For more information on adoption or if you are currently in the process of adopting a baby and have any questions or concerns, feel free to contact, Adoption Choices of New York.
Support Adoption Choices
Adoption Choices, Inc. is partnering with Crowdrise, a fundraising website for nonprofits, to help our adoptive parents and birth parents with much needed financial assistance. We understand that expenses keep clients from fulfilling their dreams. Both with birth parents making a plan for adoption, and with adoptive parents growing their family. It is our mission to provide financial assistance through grants and scholarships, awarded annually in November, in honor of National Adoption Month. Funds assist adoptive parents with matching and placements, adoption finalization and helping birth mothers improve their lives through higher education — and much more.
However, we can’t do it alone. Please read up on our programs and donate money where you are able. Your donation will make a huge impact.
About the Author
Rachel Robertson is a published journalist, book editor, certified Publishing Specialist, and aspiring novelist. She graduated from Central Washington University (CWU) in March 2011, having found her writing voice within the Creative Nonfiction genre and grew to work as a freelance book editor for small presses all across the United States.
In June 2018, she embarked on an internship with Virginia Frank and came on board with Adoption Choices Inc., Not for Profit 501(c)(3), in December 2018. Between her mutual passion with adoption and surrogacy, and her own personal history with adoption, Rachel is excited to research and share topics each week that will spread awareness and better serve the faithful patrons of Adoption Choices Inc.
When Rachel isn’t haunting her local Starbucks or Barnes and Noble, she’s avidly pouring over her Writer’s Digest subscription or cozying up with a cup of tea and book. She currently resides in the beautiful Pacific Northwest with her beloved wife and Border Collie.
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