Adoption is an amazing process. In the twelve years I have been working to bring families together through adoption, I have had the honor of witnessing the joyful anticipation, the hope and the love that adoptive families experience throughout their adoption process. For many, however, the beginning of their adoption journey is preceded by years of disappointment, grief and loss. A large part of the adoption agency’s responsibility is to take the time to understand each applicant’s experience and unique perspective on what brought them to this place. Loss is a common theme in adoption, albeit typically outweighed in the end by joy and gratitude, the loss of not birthing a baby biologically is often a difficult fact to accept for many adoptive families. This parallels the process of supporting birth parents through the loss of not being in a place to parent their child. Having adequately resolved grief sufficient enough to bring one to the point of acceptance is one of the key indicators of a successful adoption experience for birth and adoptive parents alike. Facilitating a healthy resolution of acute grief surrounding infertility issues is crucial for the applicant(s) to fully embrace the idea of adoption as a positive way to expand their family.
Comfortability with the birth parents, or lack thereof, can often times be an indicator of how well a couple or individual has worked through the loss surrounding their infertility. In my experience, adoptive parent/birth parent relationships are healthiest and most productive when these emotions have been expressed and the family has moved into the acceptance stage. That is not to say that social workers expect grief and loss will be fully resolved, but rather, worked through to a point where the emotions do not interfere with the processes that are inherent to all adoptions including healthy attachment to the new baby and healthy relationship building with the birth parent(s). Fear is another emotion driven by what is unknown that can interfere with healthy relationship building with birth parents. What every birth parent wants adoptive parents to know is that they are CHOOSING this adoption plan-and in many cases choosing YOU. They often express that they hope you as the adoptive parent will understand that they want you to be secure in this decision and to view the birth mother not as a threat, but rather, as another person in your child’s life that loves them deeply and unconditionally. When a birth parent wants contact with you and their birth child post-placement, this is not an indication of her ambivalence about her decision or lack of trust for you to raise the baby the way she hopes. In most cases, this is a healthy way for the birth mother to gain peace of mind about her decision and relish in the amazing gift she has given both to her child and to you as the adoptive parents. This is her validation that she made the right choice. Understanding these birth mother emotions will help adoptive families embrace their birth parents and their need for information and contact post placement.
Understanding the relationship between a difficult history with infertility struggles and the subsequent adoption experience is crucial in facilitating healthy and satisfying adoption stories. Accepting that adoption is often an alternative rather than an original plan for families doesn’t mean adoption is second best. It simply means that the family has realized that what is most important to them in the end, is having a child to nurture and love- not how the child comes to them. In the 12 years of working with birth mothers it is my hope that every adoptive family can understand that regardless of the circumstances that may have brought a birth parent to choose adoption – all birth parents deeply love their babies and want what is best for them. When we honor the birth parents, we honor the children and their history. The birth parent/adoptive parent relationship is as unique as the adoption process itself and the way by which you approach the birth parents will in part define your child’s impression of their adoption story. The adoptive family’s emotional health and acceptance of this journey has a strong correlation to the success of the experience for all members of the triad. Our role as adoption agencies is to provide families with the education, support and tools to successfully navigate the process. In the end, adoption is about a shared love that supersedes any loss and brings two families together for life.
Kristen Hirsch, LCPC
Clinical Director, Stepping Stones, Maine