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Adoption Pamphlets and Brochures

Things I Wish I Knew When I Was Considering Adoption

  by Heather Lowe

One of the things I hear most frequently from parents who have recently lost children to adoption is, "If  ONLY I had known." People in a crisis pregnancy are especially prone to denial, and it's very hard to accurately imagine what adoption will be like. I am posting these items in an effort to share the things I wish I had known when I was considering adoption (and was stuck in major denial myself.) 

Adoption might well be the best thing for you and your child, but in order to be a truly good thing, it needs to be a well-considered decision, and you need to hear the negative aspects as well as the positive. 

This list will likely change and grow as input from other first parents is received. Please visit the guestbook on my website if you are a first parent wanting to add advice to this site.

 1. I wish I'd known that family preservation should come first. Most experts on adoption agree that if a child can stay in his first family, he should.   Family separation is traumatic for everyone involved, and if there is a way to keep the mother and child together, it should be found. Single parenthood is NOT inherently bad; it's the way it's handled that makes the difference.   Some people make excellent single parents, others do not. 

Adoption is often a permanent solution to a temporary problem. Consider how you will feel if you've relinquished due to money reasons, and six months down the road, you have a good job that pays well. Or how you'll feel if you relinquished due to lack of family support, and the same people who refused to help you raise your child are now saying, "We wish you'd kept the baby. We could have helped you." (Family members who are unhappy about your unplanned pregnancy will often do the most amazing turnaround once they see the newborn baby.) Try to separate which of your problems are time-limited and which seem here to stay. Some problems are  insurmountable and will lead you to choose adoption, while some problems can be fixed if you know where to turn. 

2.  I wish I'd known that the child will probably not be grateful to have been relinquished. Most adoptees report feeling abandoned by their first mothers. While they may be glad to have been adopted, they are most definitely not happy to have been relinquished. (In other words, they see their adoption as two separate events: being given up and being taken in. The second is warm and fuzzy, while the first is full of hurt.) It's very hard to know that the most painful choice you make for your child might not even be appreciated by them. There are no guarantees that your child will love you for what you've done. Can you live with that? Don't fall into the "martyr" mindset that you are doing something beautiful and noble for your child - you might be disappointed if the eventual adult doesn't see it that way. 

3.  I wish I'd known that I wasn't carrying my child for someone else, and that it wasn't my responsibility to help all the poor, infertile couples of the world.  A pregnant woman in a crisis situation desperately wants to make things better again. She may be under enormous pressure from her family, experiencing disapproval and shame. It's natural that a woman in those circumstances will want to "fix" things and earn approval once more, but it shouldn't be done by trying to make a prospective adoptive couples' dreams come true. 

 It can be very emotionally wrenching to look through the profiles of hundreds of waiting couples, all of whom seem so "deserving" of parenthood when you aren't even sure if you are. You begin to feel sad for each one of them, and would love to be the one to provide them with their most cherished desire. DO NOT FALL INTO THIS TRAP. Their hopes and dreams exist independently of you. If you relinquish to them in order to make them happy, you've lost your only child. If you decide to parent, they will be heartbroken, yes, but they can always go on to find another child. It is not your responsibility to "fix" someone else's childlessness. The only people who should count in your decision for or against adoption are you and your child. 

4.  I wish I'd known that society hates first parents. Americans have a very schizophrenic attitude toward adoption. On the one hand, we love people who take in "unwanted" children. On the other hand, we see families who have adopted as settling for second-best. The same two-faced approach is found on the first parent side of the equation. We applaud a woman who is considering adoption as being admirably unselfish in putting the needs of her child first.  But once the woman moves beyond consideration and actually surrenders her child, she is looked down upon. After all,"who could give away their own flesh and blood?" 

As adoption author Jim Gritter has noted, nothing can prepare you for the plummet in your stock you will see once you move from potential first mother to first mother. The very same people who told you you were doing a terrific, noble thing while you were pregnant will now tell you you are a heartless abandoner. What's even worse is that they will be telling you this at a time that you are most vulnerable: grieving heavily, full of post-partum hormones, feeling completely alone in the world. 

People do not accept the role of first mother. Even first moms in the healthiest of open adoptions, who feel they made a great choice for their child, are sometimes unable to talk about their child without experiencing judgement. People will avert their eyes when you try to speak of your child. They will whisper about you behind your back, saying things like, "There goes the woman that gave her baby away." Part of the reason society hates and fears first mothers so much is that we show how tenuous the mother-child bond can be.  It is not unbreakable.  That's scary to society, which is built on families.  If families can be easily rejected, the entire world order is in question. 

If you choose adoption, get prepared for a lifetime of being misunderstood and even feared. 

5.  I wish I'd known that those who might say they are there to help you are in actuality serving the real client, the prospective adoptive parent.   Please don't go to an adoption agency or a pregnancy counsellor thinking that they have only your interests in mind. They do not, and they cannot. Adoption agencies, like it or not, have to make money to operate. The paying client is the adoptive parent, and services are usually geared toward them. There is a real conflict of interest if an agency is counselling you on whether to pursue an adoption or not. It's the rare agency that can tell a woman,"You shouldn't be thinking about adoption" when they have waiting lists of hopeful parents that are seven years long. 

During the time of your decision-making, you need unbiased advice from someone who is not a stakeholder in the outcome. Free pregnancy counselling is sometimes available through crisis pregnancy centers (but watch out--the center could be affiliated with an adoption agency or a religious group.) If you can afford to see a therapist on your own, do it. Look for one that is skilled in adoption issues. If you cannot afford to see a therapist, use one of the email addresses provided to put you in touch with a first mother who is living adoption, and who can tell you honestly what it is like. Don't rely on first mothers who speak on behalf of agencies for all your information. Sometimes these women are stuck in denial and will only tell you about the happy side of adoption. Get the full range of viewpoints, happy and sad. 

6.  I wish I'd known that agency adoptions are safer than private adoptions. Post-adoption is the time when you will need help most, but if you've chosen a private adoption, there will be no one there to help you. Good agencies offer post-adoption support groups, as well as mediation should your open adoption start to go wrong. These services are invaluable, and you will most likely need them. There are well-run agencies and there are bad agencies, but even if you wind up with a bad one, at least you have someone to complain to should the adoption not go well. Talk to first mothers online about what agencies they recommend and which ones they say to avoid. Brenda Romanchik at R-Squared Press is an excellent resource who can tell you the name of the best agency near you. (Brenda is the first mother of a teenager in a fully-open adoption and runs her own publishing company devoted to open adoption resources. She is always glad to talk to women who are considering adoption. Reach her through the contact info at the end of this article.) 

7.   I wish I'd known that numerous internet resources exist for first mothers and potential first mothers to find each other and talk.   Next to reading dozens of books about adoption, the single best thing you  can be doing right now is talking to actual first mothers. (The next most  important thing is talking to adult adoptees. Unfortunately, many potential first parents wind up talking only to prospective adopters.) The  internet is the easiest, fastest way to find triad members. At the end of this  document are listed addresses for web sites, mailing lists, and newsgroups.  Use them! 

8.  I'm glad I did know that in most states, open adoption agreements are not legally enforceable. Many women choose adoption based on the promise of openness, only to have their trust violated when the adoptive parents become fearful. It is vitally important to know that in all but seven states, there is nothing that holds adoptive parents to anything that they say prior to the adoption. If you are lucky enough to live in California, Indiana, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oregon, or Washington, you have some recourse, but otherwise, you're out of luck. (A bill is pending in New York.) 

There are dozens of variations of betrayal in open adoption, depending upon the level of openness that was initially agreed upon. Sometimes the adoptive parents stop sending the promised pictures, sometimes they go so far as to change their names and move to another state. Most frequent is a cessation of the promised visits. 
It is important to note that you as a first parent can also betray the adoptive parents' trust if you say you will be in contact with the child and later decide to drop out of sight. Open adoption is done for the sake of the child, and if you don't think you'll be able to live up to it, don't promise that you will. 

When you surrender your right to parent your child, you become a legal stranger to him. You have as much claim to your baby as any person walking down the street--that is, none. 

9. I wish I'd known that there was no need to rush my decision -- it could have waited until after the birth. Our fixation with "drive-through" relinquishments shows that we as a society do not respect the awareness of a newborn baby. We pretend that if the switch-off is executed quickly enough, the baby will never know what happened. Pre- and perinatal psychologists tell us, however, that that is just not true. There is no hurry.  Your decision needs to be re-thought in the light of your baby's actual presence. 

Much of my adoption decision was based on denial-not knowing whether I could love the child of a man I did not love, not knowing if I had the instinct for motherhood. You will find out, in the moment of meeting your child, whether you have the right stuff or not. If your adoption decision is based only on doubts and fears, rather than on cold hard facts like addiction, homelessness, age, or a total inability to provide, then you will most likely have a change of heart. (This is why having potential adopters in the delivery room can be such a bad idea.) Give yourself the freedom to have that change of heart. 

NEVER sign papers in the hospital. Take your baby home from the hospital. Give parenting a one or two week try, so that you know for sure what it feels like and whether it is something you could manage or not. If you decide to go ahead with adoption, you will feel better knowing exactly what it is that you gave up. You will feel you gave it your best shot before admitting defeat. 

10.  I wish I'd known that the pain of adoption never goes away. You can learn to live a happy and productive life after a relinquishment, but there will always be a hole in your heart and soul, one that can't be filled up.  Subsequent children won't take away the pain (in fact they usually worsen it, as you come to see all that you gave up). Very few members of your family will fully understand your losses, even though they're suffering losses too.

You will feel very alone, and true communication with others might become difficult. In an open adoption, each new milestone in your child's life can bring fresh pain on top of the joy, while in a closed adoption, reunions often bring new wounds instead of healing the old ones, as is commonly thought. 

11. I wish I'd known that the effects of adoption are so far-reaching.  Here are some subsequent losses you might not have considered: 

  • Your parents will lose a grandchild. 

  • You could lose your relationship with your own grandchildren. 

  • Your nieces and nephews have lots of questions about why a family member was given away. 

  • Your subsequent children fear that they will be given away. 

  • You could suffer secondary infertility and never be able to have another child.

  • Some studies suggest that secondary infertility among first mothers can be as high as 40%. 

  • You might lose your faith in intimate relationships, and it becomes harder for you  to trust and to love. 

  •  Many of the people you thought were your friends may judge you and scorn you for your decision. 

12.  I wish I'd known that in putting your baby first, you don't have to put yourself last.  Experts view the mother and child as a "dyad," that is, a single organism built of two people.  That's because newborn humans emerge from the womb much earlier in their physical development than do many animals, and they aren't able to survive on their own. They are also hard-wired to look for their mother, who they know by her smell and her voice. So for the early months at least, what is good for you IS good for your baby. As long as you are not abusive or neglectful, your baby WANTS to be with you. Don't let all the negativity about your "stupidity" or "carelessness" in getting pregnant affect your self-esteem and cause you to relinquish because you think you aren't good enough. 

Nothing can prepare you for what it feels like to leave the hospital empty-handed, milk running, crying like you will never stop. You need to try very hard not to be in denial about what is in store for you should you choose adoption ... but that's the problem with denial, you can't tell someone they are in it.  A lot of first mothers repeat like a mantra: "I wish I had known...if only I had known." Don't assume that you will feel any differently from the first parents who have gone before you.  I hope this information has helped you to have an idea of what it feels like to be a first parent.  Keep reading, keep educating yourself:  this is the most important decision you'll ever make.   

Recommended Reading

The Primal Wound, Nancy Newton Verrier
Lost and Found, B.J. Lifton

Twice Born, B.J. Lifton

Journey of the Adopted Self, B.J. Lifton

May the Circle Be Unbroken, Lynn Franklin

The Open Adoption Experience, Sharon Kaplan Roszia and Lois Melina

Children of Open Adoption, Kathleen Silber and Patricia Dorner

The Secret Life of the Unborn Child, Dr. Thomas Verny

The Dark Side of Adoption, Mirah Riben

Dear Birthmother, Kathleen Silber and Phylis Speedlin

The Spirit of Open Adoption, Jim Gritter

A Ghost at Heart's Edge, Susan Ito and Tina Cervin, editors

 Copyright © 1999 Heather Lowe


A pdf of this pamphlet is at: Adoption Pamphlets and Brochures




Note: The terms "unwed" mother, "birthmom", "biological" parent make a parent appear to be less than the mother or father they are. These terms dehumanize and limit the parent's role to that of an incubator. Using the honest terms "mother", "single mother" or "natural mother" help the public to understand why real family members must not be separated to obtain babies for adoption.



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