I am a birthmother of two decades and counting. I consider myself an adoption veteran and I would be honored to share some of my insights with you.
This letter will be very different from anything you have read or heard about adoption, but please bear with me. If you want to skip the detailed explanations, feel free to scroll to the bottom and read through the RECAP. This letter is limited to 29 things I’ve come to believe that every expectant mother should know before placing their baby for adoption (and I consider this the short list). Adoption is a very complicated and nuanced decision that spans a lifetime. It is much more than the happy videos shared on social media.
Why exactly am I writing this for expectant moms considering adoption? Because an uninformed decision could cost you and your baby a lifetime of grief.
I want to make sure that you are making an informed decision when considering adoption for your baby and how you will be affected by that decision as well. You matter and you will have to live with the choices you make for decades to come. Life goes on after signing away your rights, and I want you to be prepared for the many possible outcomes.
I first want to say that if you are in the process of considering adoption for your baby, then you are not yet a birthmother, though many prospective adoptive parent letters will address you as such. You are an expectant mother and I will speak on the importance of adoption language in a moment.
I’m not sure what has led you to consider adoption, but I do know that if you are only speaking with an adoption agency, a private attorney, or prospective adoptive parents then you are not making a fully informed decision.
You are possibly overwhelmed right now. I can empathize and I don’t want to burden you with too much information. But there are some very important things you need to know when making a decision on adoption. Things that will not be told to you by anyone who may benefit from the separation of you from your baby.
If I could go back in time, these are things I wish another birthmother had told me. I would have been fully informed and would have possibly made different decisions. Again, if you don’t feel like reading them in full, then scroll down to the RECAP where each point is summarized.
29 Things I Wish I Knew
1.) Pregnancy is a time of extreme emotions. It is perfectly normal to be “emotional” at this time in your life. Your body is coursing with hormones that can lift you up in the clouds one minute and leave you crawling out of a hole in the next. Your body is making another human being. That comes with hormonal changes that can leave you feeling out-of-control at times. (It may also not be the best time to make permanent life-altering plans)
*I am not a doctor so if you are feeling suicidal or violent, please tell your Ob/Gyn.
2.) It is also perfectly normal to feel overwhelmed with the idea of parenting your baby. I have had 4 children. Three of the four were conceived and born during times of perfect financial and relationship peace. I still felt overwhelmed with the idea of parenting. If you are a first time mom, it would be odd not to feel overwhelmed. If you have other children that you are struggling to take care of, it would also be odd not to feel overwhelmed. No matter what decision you make, do not let feeling overwhelmed alone be a reason to place your baby for adoption. Overwhelmed is a normal and temporary feeling for every mother during any or every pregnancy.
3.) Many, if not most, birthmothers admit to making an adoption plan due to a temporary crisis in their life. Studies have shown consistently that birthmothers’ main reasons for placing their babies for adoption are because of finances and/or isolation (no social support). These are two problems that may be temporary and not permanent, but adoption will always meet those problems with a permanent solution.
*At the time* struggles should not be met with *forever* solutions.
There is no un-doing an adoption no matter how financially comfortable or socially-supported you are in the future, whether it be within a month or 5 years; Adoption is forever.
4.) Adoption Language has been specially crafted to sell adoption to you. Follow me, though this point may get wordy, it is very important for you to be fully informed. There were studies done in the 1980s and 1990s on how to best talk expectant mothers into placing their children for adoption. The studies can be found online in a pdf format; they are called “The Missing Piece” and “Birthmother, Good Mother.”
A quote from “The Missing Piece” study:
“Counselors must be trained to give women sound reasons that will counter the desire to keep their babies (bold for emphasis). One example is to reinforce the notion that it takes a strong, mature woman to place a child for adoption. Arguments about financial survival can be compelling as well. Counselors must communicate that adoption can be the heroic, responsible choice and that the child benefits tremendously.”
*benefits tremendously* see #9
Be aware that when you express interest in adoption by contacting an adoption professional, that you are being met with a well-crafted sales pitch. You would not go into any other business transaction without doing your due diligence. You know that the car salesman wants to sell you a car at full retail price. You go in prepared to purchase a car with this knowledge so that you don’t get taken for a ride.
Know that adoption language has been crafted by professionals for decades to make the sale. As mentioned previously, calling you a “birthmother” prior to an adoption taking place is a means to groom and condition you. There is a well-rehearsed script and words like “selfless”, “brave”, “responsible”, “mature”, “adoption is different now”, etc should all be red flags.
Do not go into this transaction with the naïve idea that adoption professionals care about you or have you and your baby’s best interest in mind. My intention is not to demonize agency workers or attorneys, but like any business, a product must be sold in order for them to get a paycheck. They have rent and payroll to make just like everyone else. Unfortunately, your potentially temporary crisis is what keeps them in business. The product just happens to be you and your baby.
5.) Birthmother Testimonials displayed on websites are usually sought from birthmothers who are very early in their adoption experience. If you read enough testimonials, you will notice that most are written by mothers who are only a few short months or years into an adoption. In one study titled “Birth mother grief and the challenge of adoption reunion contact” by the American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, a psychologist said, “birth mother grief is like taking the continuous grief over the loss of a child and then adding Complicated Grief Disorder (CGD) AND Prolonged Grief Disorder (PGD) AND Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) while being expected to deal with it all silently because it was a choice.”
That’s not a quote you will hear from any adoption professional.
I suspect this is a reason why testimonials are written by birthmothers that are new to adoption rather than veterans, like myself. Many birthmothers say it is a grief that grows over time, not one that resolves. If you want to speak with birthmothers, I advise that you speak with those who have years of experience behind them.
6.) You do not owe anyone your baby.
Regardless of how you came to be pregnant, whether you are young, unwed, poor, you were raped, you don’t know who the father is, no matter your situation- you do not owe anyone your baby.
Do not allow an agency, attorney, or prospective adoptive parents to lay their burdens upon you. You are not responsible for creating another family. It is not your role to carry the emotional baggage of an infertile couple. You have enough of your own worries. Pregnancy is not a time to take on the troubles of complete strangers who lay the hopes of their potential happiness at your feet. If it isn’t your baby, they will happily take the next baby in line. But you can never get your baby back.
7.) A father is important, but the absence of one should not be a deal breaker in order to parent. Many in the adoption business will point out how having a father figure is so important to children, that making an adoption plan is the responsible thing to do. You alone can judge the responsibility of your decisions.
I am not saying that fathers are not important. I am saying that you do not deserve to be shamed or downgraded as a mother if the father of your baby is no longer in the picture. You are in the picture and that is something to take pride in. Adoptive parents divorce just like anyone else. Adoptive fathers die, abandon, neglect, and abuse just like anyone else. A father figure could also come in the form of a grandfather, uncle, or family friend instead.
Society does not urge mothers of toddlers or teenagers to place their children for adoption when a father leaves the home, so it’s worth exploring why it would be expected for you to do so with your baby.
8.) A different life does not guarantee a better life. For this point, I suggest that you read adoptee blogs and books or listen to adoptee podcasts. There is an overwhelming amount of media where adoptees speak about how their lives were merely different, not necessarily better because of adoption. It only takes a short Google search to find great adoptee insight.
Adoption is not a cure-all that will guarantee your baby opportunity, acceptance, love, or better. Take this time in pregnancy to read the words and hear the voices of adoptees. The internet is informational gold and something I regretfully didn’t have years ago.
9.) Adoptees face a greater risk of suicide. Unless you are presented with this fact, you are not making a fully informed decision. An Adoption.com article from August, 2017 stated:
“Did you know that adopted children are more likely to commit suicide than non-adopted children? It’s a horrible fact to swallow, but study after study have found that adopted kids are up to four times more likely to attempt suicide than kids who live with their biological families.”
10.) Labor room rituals were crafted with the express purpose of dissociating mothers from their babies. “The Missing Piece” study said that adoption needed to be a solemnized process, “Women need a way to formalize their commitment to the adoption and to provide themselves with reassurance and a sense of closure once the adoption is complete. This ritual would be analogous to some aspects of a baptism, some aspects of a marriage, and some aspects of a funeral (bold for emphasis). It involves a dedication, a vow, and a release. It could have both pre-birth and post-birth components. In this way, it can symbolize for birth mothers the beginning of the stage where they are carrying a baby for someone else as well as provide a sense of finality to the moment when they give their babies over to the adoptive parents.”
(Image courtesy The Huffington Post//Hannah Mongie adoption video)
It is not accidental that we see videos of mothers handing over their little ones moments after birth in the delivery room. It is the choreographed dissociating process, as marketed by studies, to convince a mother she is “carrying a baby for someone else.”
11.) You are not a surrogate.
To elaborate on the point that you neither owe anyone your baby nor should dissociate yourself from your baby- you are not a surrogate. Most birthmothers do not purposefully become pregnant with their own biological child with the sole intent to “gift” that child to total strangers. Regardless of your beliefs about surrogacy, you are not a surrogate and should not be treated as if you are one. Your baby carries your DNA and most likely was not conceived with the original intent to be given to other people. Do not forget this fact while talking with adoption professionals.
12.) Accepting gifts and/or living expenses does not require you to place your baby for adoption. Be careful and know your state’s laws about accepting such things because it may be possible to get sued for adoption fraud. But the mere acceptance of gifts or money does not require you to place your baby. A January, 2018 article from Adoptive Families says, “No contract can require birth parents to terminate their rights to their child.”
13.) Your baby is not a “blank slate.”
There has been a myth for decades that infants are blank slates- meaning they have no connection to their genetic heritage nor the mother who carried them for nearly 10 months. An idea that infants are empty pages waiting for the inscription of adoptive parents.
Science has firmly proven this theory to be false. Babies are born knowing and expecting to meet the mother who they have bonded with and have been carried by for 40+ weeks. You are no stranger to your baby. You, in fact, are their entire world. Your baby will know your voice at birth and your specific scent shortly thereafter.
There have been studies claiming that maternal separation can cause issues in newborns ranging from increased cortisol production (the “stress” hormone involved in “fight or flight”) to even rewiring their brain.
Humans have a natural desire to know where they come from; a need for connection with their genetic heritage. The billion dollar industries built around DNA testing, such as Ancestry and 23andMe, prove this fact.
14.) You will have to fight against mother nature in order to place your baby for adoption.
During labor and after birth, you and your baby will be flooded with the hormone Oxytocin. It is also referred to as the “love” hormone. This is the hormone that makes parents say they “fall in love” with their children at birth.
Call it divinity or evolution, it is a hormone that ensures that mothers will love and protect their offspring. It does not mean that you are “selfish” if you find yourself second-guessing an adoption plan after birth. It simply means that your body is performing its biological function and fighting to love and protect its offspring.
15.) Open Adoptions come with emotional baggage.
The vast majority of adoptions today are considered “Open”; meaning that there is (or at least should be) ongoing contact between adoptive and birth families. In a review put out by the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute in 2012, “Openness in Adoption”, the findings were that adopted persons reported themselves to be “more satisfied” with ongoing contact with their birth families. This was in comparison to the days of confidential adoptions, where adopted persons had no information about their birth families. The review also stated that, “Openness in adoption can offer benefits to all parties, but it does not provide a magic wand to heal all wounds” and that “Openness does not erase loss.”
You and your child will still lose the day-to-day interactions with each other. There could still be a sense of rejection and/or insecurity that your child will struggle with over the course of their lifetime.
The review stressed the importance of quality counseling for all parties before and after placement. Though you may not be making a commitment to daily parenting, if you enter into an Open Adoption agreement, you will be making a commitment to continual interaction. That interaction will have to confront the wounds and loss that adoption carries with it.
16.) Can you enforce an Open Adoption?
There are 28 states that currently recognize a PACA (Post Adoption Contact Agreement). It is imperative that you find out if your state is included and how exactly a PACA must be submitted for legal recognition.
But you are still not in the clear. Just because a PACA has been submitted correctly and recognized by your state, does not mean that it will be enforced.
I found a perfect explanation on an adoption attorney’s website, “What does enforcement of a PACA look like? This is probably the most commonly asked questions by both Birthparents and adoptive parents, alike. In the best world, enforcement would mean that each party adheres to the terms. Should that not happen, the party seeking enforcement (usually the birth parent) would file an action to enforce the agreement in the court where the adoption was finalized (or the state where the agreement was entered into). The adoptive parents would then be served with the court action. A hearing would follow where the burden is on the birth parent to show that the contact being denied is in the child’s best interest. Ultimately, the judge will determine what is in the child’s best interest and will order contact accordingly.”
Things to know before entering into an Open Adoption agreement:
- Your state may not recognize Open Adoptions at all, leaving you with zero legal recourse when/if an adoptive family closes the door on you.
- If your state recognizes and enforces Open Adoptions, the paperwork must be filed correctly. This is your responsibility to make sure it happens.
- Even if a state recognizes and enforces Open Adoptions, the burden of proof always falls on the birth family.
- Make sure your attorney only represents you and not the adoptive family as well.
- If the adoptive family has violated the PACA, it will fall on you to gather the resources needed to pursue enforcement. You may have to travel long distances depending on where the adoptive family lives. If you are struggling financially already, this could prove to be an impossible endeavor.
- Even if the adoptive and birth families go to court for a PACA to be enforced, the judge has the full discretion to determine what he/she thinks is in the best interest of the child. This could very well leave you out of the picture entirely. It is a gamble.
- If you “win” an enforcement agreement, how could this affect the relationship with your child knowing that you took their adoptive parents to court?
- If you make it to court and a judge rules in your favor, then what? There is no fine or jail time an adoptive parent faces if they still refuse contact. You may receive a paper win, but it doesn’t guarantee contact.
- If your adoption closes, that could very well be the last communication you ever have with your child. Ever.
- The face you see of adoptive parents before adoption is the best you will ever see of them. Its similar to dating in that regard. They are presenting their best side to you. They eagerly want a baby and competition is fierce. There are 36 of them for every one of you. Make sure that you are legally protected in case they close the adoption in the future. CYA.
*I am not an attorney either. Contact an attorney for legal advice regarding Open Adoptions.
17.) There is no example of modern day adoption in the Bible. I notice many birthmothers today reference biblical scripture when speaking about infant adoption. The stories most often cited are those of Moses, Esther, and a quote from Paul in the book of Ephesians.
To quickly counter those claims, Moses was still nursed and raised by his biological mother. She was hired by Pharaoh’s daughter to be his caretaker. The story of an adult Moses is one where he chose his original people over his “adoptive” people. Ultimately, his “adoptive” grandfather, Pharaoh, was drowned in the Red Sea after a lengthy annihilation of Egyptian families and livestock. Esther was truly orphaned because both of her parents had died. She was then taken in by her biological cousin Mordecai, not strangers.
The book of Ephesians speaks of spiritual adoption, not physical adoption. Adoption as practiced today has never been a historical practice of Jewish culture. Christians believe in the choice to join the family of other believers, whereas infant adoption is never a choice made by the child. Also, Christians believe that God is their original Father, whom they are made in the image of, but they have been separated from by sin. So technically, if there is any adoption happening for the Christian, it is only that of an original Father reclaiming His lost children.
There is no scriptural evidence proving God places a baby in the womb of one woman that He means for another woman.
For further reading see a previous post:
18.) You are not an equal party in Open Adoption. You will not be co-parenting your child like a husband and wife who have divorced. Certainly there are stories of adoptive parents who have been very welcoming to birth families. But know your place. You will have a place and it will not be of equal standing with the adoptive parents. Once an adoption is complete, the adoptive parents will be the ones who call the shots in every situation. You will always submit to their decisions if you want to stay in your child’s life.
19.) You may lose your voice. There are a number of ways in which you may lose your voice after adoption. There is always a real possibility of an Open Adoption being closed by the adoptive parents. It makes many birthmothers reticent to reveal their true feelings about Open Adoption. If they are perceived as going “rogue” by the adoptive parents, they can easily be shut out of their child’s life indefinitely. For a very real example of this, follow MTV’s Teen Mom couple Catelynn Lowell and Tyler Baltierra. They are birthparents who have had their fair share of public battles over visitation and social media posting about their daughter.
You may also lose your voice with your child. It is very possible for adoption to have opposite effects on you and your child. One of you may think adoption was a blessing while the other may think it was a curse. It may create friction in your future relationship if you are not on the same page; one feeling traumatized while the other feels fortunate.
Events could very well leave you in a place where you cannot express your true feelings, but have to live submissively to another’s narrative; the adoptive parents, the adopted child, or society at large. Society refuses to hear an unhappy adoption story. Be prepared to be silenced. “You made a choice” and you will never be free to express regret, grief, or anger over your choice.
20.) 18 is not a magical age. Over the years, I have noticed many birthmothers counting down the days until their child turns 18. There seems to be a belief amongst many birthmothers that once their child turns 18, they will be hastily on their way to either meet or live with their birth families. Perhaps, it is a means of survival to believe this. I was under this impression myself for a very long time. All too often, birthmothers are disappointed when the years continue to pass by with very little or no contact with their child.
Keep in mind that your child could also die. It is always unfortunate when a birthmother discovers that her child has died. And when an Open Adoption closes, sometimes these birthmothers find their child’s obituary while simply looking for pictures or social media pages.
21.) There may always be a new loss. Letting go of your child at birth is not the last time you will let go of them. The years bring many special moments that you will have to let go of. If your Open Adoption closes, you will imagine the moments through the years; first steps, first day of school, first dance, prom, graduation, weddings, baby showers, etc. If your Open Adoption stays as such, you will still have to process taking a backseat at special events and managing boundaries and staying in your place. And once your child is of an age where the adoptive parents no longer feel it necessary to keep you in the loop, you may still lose these moments of your child in their adulthood.
22.) You may lose your grandchildren. Adoption can be an intergenerational loss. Your child will process their adoption the best way that they know how and cutting you out of their life entirely may be their response and is certainly their right.
23.) You may lose your family. Outside of your child being adopted, you may lose your family in the future. If family members were coercive, threatening, or not supportive of you during your time of pregnancy, it is very possible that the resentment towards these individuals will grow over time. There are many birthmothers who have cut off contact with family members who did not support them when they most needed it.
24.) Your kept children may suffer. Yes, it is common for the younger children that you raise to be fearful that they will be “given away” to strangers. It has been a topic of conversation with my own children. I know plenty of birthmothers who have shared the fears of their children that they parent. Your kept children will also have to live within the Open Adoption arrangement. They too will have to adjust to visitations or the adoption closing entirely.
25.) Your child may be angry with you.
I remember clearly the adoption agency telling me that my daughter would “thank me” for placing her for adoption. They had no right or authority to say such a thing. But it is something that seems to be communicated often by adoption professionals.
It is very possible that your child will not thank you, but in fact be angry with you. To make a fully informed decision, an expectant mother needs to know that her child may be angry. There are no crystal balls and adoptees have every right to their own feelings.
26.) You don’t have to sign at birth.
There is no time limit for when you sign papers relinquishing your rights to your baby. If you get involved with an adoption professional during your pregnancy, they will by default expect you to relinquish at birth. Many birthmothers have expressed that they felt pressured to sign on their hospital beds. Many also believed that if they didn’t relinquish at birth that they could be charged with abandonment if they chose to relinquish at a later time. Adoptive parents will adopt a 6 month old baby just as quickly as they will adopt a 6 day old baby. There is no timeframe for when you can place a baby for adoption.
In addition, I encourage you to spend time with your baby in the hospital. To not allow any adoption professional or prospective adoptive parent to be involved in what should be a special time between you and your baby. If you place your baby for adoption, these moments alone will be even more precious to you. But this is also a time for you to process and absorb the reality of your decision. There is no reason to have outsiders pressuring you to make a life-altering decision within hours of labor, birth, and recovery. Again, your hormones are adjusting and more than likely you have an opiate in your system from an epidural or at least some form of pain medication. It is a terrible time to make such a profound decision.
You have time. Do not let anyone rush you into making a decision after your baby is born. Prior to birth, you need to know your state’s laws about revocation. Most states have no revocation upon signature. Which means once your name is signed, there is no getting your baby back.
27.) No matter what adoption professionals might say, I have yet to meet a birthmother who has “gotten over” or “moved on” from her baby. At least, those that aren’t psychopaths. For a normally functioning mother, there is little “getting over” or “moving on” from carrying your child for 40 weeks, laboring with them, delivering them, and holding them. There are always exceptions to the rule, but if you’ve read this far, I’m going to assume you are the rule.
An actual workbook I was given after adoption:
28.) You will be erased from your child’s birth certificate. This is something that is not required for adoption professionals to tell you. Your child’s original birth certificate, with your name, will be sealed. In many states it will be sealed indefinitely. The termination papers you sign may also be sealed indefinitely so make sure you get copies. As far as I know, they are the only legal papers you can sign and never have a right to see again.
The adoptee will receive an amended birth certificate with the adoptive mother listed as the woman who gave birth to your child. I know birthmothers who were promised open adoptions, but their child was never even told they were adopted. An amended birth certificate can help keep such secrets.
29.) Lastly, You matter.
You matter. You matter. You matter. You cannot say that enough to yourself right now.
You are not unworthy. You are not undeserving. You are not an object, vessel, or another woman’s answered prayer.
You are an expectant mother making the most critical decision of your life. I hope this letter has gotten you a step closer to a fully informed decision.
Two things before I close:
One, if you choose to place your baby for adoption, I want to be the first to offer you my consolation. You will most likely not receive it from anyone else. It is a tragedy for me to see a mother and child separated. I hope that this decision was one in which you weighed all of your options and genuinely believe it to be in the best interest for both you and your baby. I hope it is a decision you can live with peacefully and without regret.
Two, if you choose to parent your baby after considering adoption, I want to offer you my congratulations. Also, if you want to parent, but you are having difficulty with necessities or social support, feel free to private message me and I will try my best to connect you with organizations that may be able to help you.
Best wishes for you and your baby,
1.) Extreme emotions during pregnancy are normal.
*Contact an Ob/Gyn if you are having suicidal or violent thoughts.
2.) Feeling overwhelmed is normal.
3.) Adoption could be a permanent solution to a temporary problem. Adoption is forever.
4.) Adoption language has been crafted for decades to sell adoption. Adoption is a business.
5.) Birthmother Testimonials are written by new birthmothers, not veteran birthmothers, because the grief grows over time.
6.) You do not owe anyone your baby.
7.) A father is important, but the absence of one should not be a deal breaker in order to parent.
8.) A different life does not guarantee a better life.
9.) Adoptees face a greater risk of suicide.
10.) Labor room rituals have been crafted to dissociate mothers from their babies.
11.) You are not a surrogate.
12.) Accepting gifts and/or living expenses does not require you to place your baby for adoption.
13.) Babies are not “blank slates.”
14.) You will be flooded with Oxytocin, the “love” hormone, at birth.
15.) Open Adoptions require quality counseling over time.
16.) It is rare for an Open Adoption to be enforceable.
*Contact an attorney for legal advice.
17.) Infant Adoption is not in the Bible.
18.) You are not an equal party in Open Adoption.
19.) You may lose your voice.
20.) 18 is not a magical age.
21.) There is always a new loss to experience.
22.) You may lose your grandchildren.
23.) You may lose your family.
24.) Your kept children may suffer.
25.) Your child may not thank you, but be angry with you instead.
26.) You don’t have to sign at birth!
27.) You will not “get over” or “move on” from your child.
28.) You will be erased from your child’s birth certificate.
29.) You matter. You are worthy of motherhood.