Honoring the Birth Mother: Dealing with Open Adoption in a Healthy Manner

Unplanned pregnancy is a difficult position for a woman to find herself in. Whether she is a teenager with a momentary lapse of judgment or an older woman unprepared for the financial or emotional responsibilities of parenthood, the positive result on a pregnancy test can seem like the end of the world.

For many women, adoption seems like the only reasonable solution. Agencies abound to help with the placement of children with stable families, and sometimes private adoptions are arranged by lawyers. Current law allows for adoptions to be either closed or open. Closed adoption refuses contact between the birth parents and adoptive family until after the child reaches the age of majority. Open adoption leaves the lines of communication open throughout the child’s life. Most adoptions in this day and age are open.

The Birth Mother’s Conflict

Despite years of work, a stigma is still attached to the woman who chooses to give her child up for adoption. Regardless of the circumstances of conception or her social situation, there is a sense that birth mothers are simply “not good enough” to raise their children. They made a mistake and they have to give up their child to pay for it. This attitude is very destructive.

Even in the best of circumstances, the birth mother goes through a period of grieving after her child is placed with an agency or family. “Empty Arm Syndrome” can manifest as taking on pets or being involved with other families, and sometimes it shows up as a complete rejection of anything to do with children and babies. Many women even question their own sanity at having gone through a pregnancy but having no child to show for it. While resources and therapy is available for women like this, the same social and financial constraints that often led to their decision in the first place keeps them separated from the help they need.

The Adoptive Family’s Debate

On the other side of the coin, the adoptive family now has the child that they have hoped for, but a shadow of fear can hang over their new joy. What if the mother changes her mind? What if she shows back up and wants to reclaim her child years later? While the law appears to be on their side, there are a few cases where the courts have decided in favor of the birth parents, tearing families apart.

In the cases of open adoption, some of that fear can be either alleviated or aggravated by how the topic of the birth mother is handled by the adoptive parents. Too often, parents shelter their children from information about the birth mother and create a vacuum of curiosity, which creates a sense of rebellion. Sometimes information is misrepresented in order to imply the idea that the child was not wanted by the birth mother and, therefore, the child doesn’t want to have anything to do with the mother.

Finding the Middle Road

Fear only begets more fear, but fear often stems from a lack of information. Honest and open communication on a regular basis in both directions can reduce and relieve the tension and anxiety that the adoptive and birth parents both feel. Knowing where the birth mother is and how she thinks is important. Keeping her in the loop and up to date on the progress and life of the child she placed can relieve a lot of the fears that she has over the wisdom of her decision.

For many women, simply the acknowledgment of their experience is enough to allay many negative feelings. Sending Mother’s Day cards and thank you notes can mean the world. Likewise, for birthmothers to have the option to also send Mother’s Day cards and perhaps birthday cards to their child helps to validate the experience and heal some of the grieving that naturally occurs.

Adoption is seen as a great gift and sacrifice by many, but in the triad of the birthmother-child-adoptive parent relationship, only respecting all three elements mutually can guarantee a good outcome for everyone.

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