Tuesday, September 13, 2011

What NOT to Say to a Birth Mother...

This is something I wrote a while back and posted on my sister's blog here. She asked me to write something for her for national adoption month, and gave me a selection of topics. I chose this one because I think it will hit home for alot of people, both birth and adoptive parents. I'm being a little lazy lately but working on a few things at once too, so I decided to pull some old material. Hopefully you wont mind too much.


I once heard someone say “No matter how many babies you carry out of the hospital with you, you will never forget the one you did not”. There is a sting there that never really heals, a wounded piece of yourself that you hide away and nurse in your weakest moments. In some ways, when you place a child for adoption, you are sentencing yourself to the life of an outsider. Even your closest family and friends can sometimes be insensitive and callous. There are always people who will say terrible things, which is why many of us who have been on either side of the adoption world don’t usually talk about it right off the bat with people. Once you experience that first person who judges you harshly for your experience, you tend to guard that part of yourself from the hurt of those comments. I think it should be common knowledge and common courtesy to think before we speak in every situation, especially in matters that are close to someone else’s heart. Unfortunately some people do not believe that is necessary, and so here I will discuss what not to say to someone who has placed a child for adoption. Please keep in mind that these insights are my own, and may not reflect the feelings of EVERY birth mother in the world. I am only speaking from my own experience, along with the experiences of those birth mothers whom I have spoken with.

First things first: Think before you speak.
This is the main point I want to get across. I am not asking that anyone refrain from asking questions when speaking with me or any other birth mom. I am simply imploring every human being to realize that the people around you have emotions. I can almost guarantee that this part of a birth mom’s life will bring up strong feelings and reactions. Most of the women I know who have placed will cry simply from talking about their child, and many of them can barely speak about it. It’s a very private thing for most of us, and we share it with those who we feel comfortable and safe with. Please keep this in mind whenever you ask a question or think about saying something judgemental.

1. “I could never give up my baby.”

This statement smacks of moral superiority. As if someone is trying to say that the decision to place your child was entirely selfish and that you just dropped your baby in a dumpster somewhere. I have never met a birth mom who found it easy to walk away from a child. I have also never met one who felt that the decision to place a child was right for every mother in hard circumstances. Most of the women I have heard this from are either pregnant or have very young children. It’s as if they want me to know that they don’t want me “preaching” to them about the benefits of adoption. After placing my son I had to go back to high school, and there were several girls who got pregnant after I had placed my son who completely avoided me because they thought I would berate them for wanting to “keep” their baby. I would never assume to tell anyone what is right for them. If a young pregnant girl came to me and genuinely wanted to know about my experiences, I would confide all of the wonderful parts of placing my son: knowing he is safe in good hands, the wonderful relationship I have with him and his family, being able to see pictures of him going to far off places and having fun vacations, being able to finish high school and live on my own for a time, feeling at peace with my decision. To this same troubled young woman I would give all of the not so fun facts: The years of grieving I have experienced, the feeling of loneliness and jealousy when in the company of other mom’s, the fears, anxieties and difficulties of being one of the small percent who place, the part of yourself that never really feels right. It is a difficult road to travel and not one I would wish on anyone who did not want it. In most cases the above statement is simply not necessary. Most people in our society couldn’t imagine parting with a child, which is why there are so few internal adoptions in the US. As adoptive parents, we already feel like outsiders because of our experience, by saying you “could never” do what we did, you are only reiterating the fact that we are different, and making us feel alienated from you at the same time. All in all this is simply not necessary, so just try to avoid saying it.

2. “You can always have more children”

Most of us who have had children will understand why this statement rings as rude and callous. Again I will say that no amount of children in my home will ever “replace” or “make up” for the child that is not there. In the case of a woman who loses a child to death it is obvious to anyone that this woman is grieving that loss. Some people seem to think that because we made the choice we don’t deserve the same respect that you would give someone grieving the death of a child. By no means am I comparing the two situations, I realize that the grieving of a mother whose child has died is it’s own monster entirely, but still the fact remains that we are grieving the loss of a child. No matter the fact that we made the choice, we still feel that loss as any mother would. The difference is that at the same time we are grieving we are also at peace with the decision because we gifted that child with a life they would not have had otherwise.

3. “Don’t you worry about the effect your presence will have on the child?” (In regards to open adoption)

This was almost word-for-word the statement I heard from a family member not too long ago. It stung mostly because I had hoped that by now most of my family and friends would understand how important my relationship is with not only my son, but also his adoptive family. I consider myself lucky to be one of the few who has open contact with the adoptive family of my child. I have come to love his family and think of them as an extension of my own. We visit regularly, talk on the phone and write emails back and forth. After every new contact I feel revitalized and elated, and I love them more and more each time I talk to them. I realize that there is still the view out there that adoptions should be closed, this is usually out of fear that the birth family will seek custody of the child or out of fear of confusing the child at some point. I have no doubts that the latter was what my family member intended to convey at the time. I certainly understand the concern, and perhaps in another time, this was the most acceptable thing, but in an age where communication and information are readily accessible to everyone it is simply not as feasible as it used to be. Having done the research myself out of my own curiosity, I know the studies of adopted children have shown that those who are told from the time they are young that they are adopted have a better chance of being well-adjusted adults. This has to do with their confidence in their parents and also in themselves. Those in open adoption situations have even less issues because they never have to ask if their biological parents “wanted” them. They know it was not about wanting, it was about what was best. Of course I still worry that he may get confused one day, but I trust that his parents will know what is best for him, and I will do whatever they think is best. For my son this has always been the norm, he doesn’t question that and he knows he can ask questions of his parents or myself anytime he needs to.

4. “Didn’t you love your baby?”

Yes! With every fiber of my being and with every piece of my soul I love him. There was not a moment of his existence when I felt less than 100% love for him. Anyone who can ask this question of me has never had a child of their own. Having him will forever be one of the greatest moments of my life, and placing him will always be one of the hardest. Sometimes the hardest things are what has to be done. Had it been simply about me and my needs he would have come home with me from that hospital. This choice was in no way about me, yes I did benefit from it in some obvious and some unexpected ways, but I would have given all that up if I had only been thinking about me. The only thing that has gotten me through the tough times has been the knowledge that this was the right thing for HIM. I carried him, birthed him, held him, loved him and let him go all so that he could have the wonderful life and family he deserved. I love him every day and think of him often. Only for someone I loved so much could I give up a piece of myself. For him I did that, and for no one else. Don’t ask me if I loved my child, it’s just mean spirited and the answer is so obvious that I cant imagine why some people ask.

5. “Have you ever thought of taking him back?”

The answer to this question is no, absolutely never. My son is lucky enough to have one of the most amazing women I have ever met as his Mom. He has a wonderful man for a father and he even has a big sister who loves him. I could never take those things away from him, even if I never got to know them, never loved them and never knew how amazing they were. I could not take him away from the only family he has ever known. Just the thought of that makes me sick. Of course because I do feel all of those things for them now I would also never do that to them, but in any case my son was always the deciding factor, and I could never hurt him like that. I have never met a birth mom who would want this, and even though the stories abound I really think this is the exception and not the rule.

I understand the curiosity that people have around this subject, so I know that sometimes questions are asked simply because this is a situation that not many people have experienced in their own life. I am always happy to answer the well-meaning questions of my friends or acquaintances. Another pointer: Please don’t ask me to talk to someone you know who you think “should” place their child. It’s not a decision anyone but that person can make, and I will not try to force anyone to look into this option. Yes, I have first hand experience and I am happy to share that with truly interested parties, but I cant convince someone who doesn’t want to hear what I have to say.

I hope this information is somewhat helpful to someone who plans on talking to a birth mom soon. Remember to keep your curiosity, ask what you want to know but please THINK before you speak!


harriet glynn said...

I'm an adoptive mom and someone said #1 (let's just call it that), and I just stared drop jawed. I was totally speechless. Luckily, someone stepped in to save the day, and the person who said it, quickly back-pedalled. Later, all I could think was - Seriously, did someone ask you to? Gah. I have tons of ridiuclous things said to me including "Where did you get him?" (Again, I was rendered speechless).

Like, you I am happy to talk to good-hearted people anytime. But really - THINK PEOPLE BEFORE YOU SPEAK PEOPLE! Or as my Dad always loved to say to us kids: "Put brain in gear before opening mouth."

Missy @ It's Almost Naptime said...

I am an adoptee and #1 is the first thing people usually say to me too. It has never bothered me because my mom did such a great job of raising me and my brother to not have any adoption hangups, but seriously? Do you realize when you say that that you are disparaging ME, the baby who was given away? Plus the woman who made such a gut-wrenching decision?

People are stupid. What can you do.

MomRanda said...

I have heard #1 I don't know how many times. Like you said its just about putting your child and their needs before yourself. The child that I placed was my third. Not only did I have to consider his well being but the well being of my other two. If i made the decision for myself I would have kept him in a heartbeat but it was not fair to any of them. I believe children DESERVE the BEST we can give, even if that means the best is a another, more prepared family.

Alicia said...

Love this post! Thank you - very insightful.