How to Support Expectant and Birth Mothers Throughout an Adoption
Why Do Birth Mothers Choose Adoption?
Dr. Madden said there are a variety of reasons, from financial to emotional, that expectant mothers choose adoption.
Lack of family support: Some family members withdraw emotional, logistical, and /or financial support after learning about the pregnancy.
Timing and resources: Sometimes, an expectant mother might already have children and not be in a position, emotionally or financially, to care for another child.
Lack of readiness to be a parent: Some expectant mothers may not feel prepared to bring a child into the world.
Nonexistent relationship with birth father: If the father is absent, some expectant mothers may find the prospect of caring for a child on their own too overwhelming.
Poor or abusive relationship with birth father: Expectant mothers may feel more reluctant to bring a child into a problematic or abusive environment.
While it may be helpful for family and friends to know why a mother has chosen to relinquish their child, the decision is intensely personal, and it should be up to the birth or expectant mother whether to disclose that information.
What Does the Emotional Journey for Birth Mothers Look Like?
But every birth mother’s experience is different, and healing is not linear. Dr. Madden encountered birth mothers who experienced grief and loss years after the adoption, even if they were fine in the immediate aftermath.
Dr. Ryan Hanlon, vice president of education, research, and constituent services at the National Council For Adoption, said that isn’t surprising.
“It would be very common that birth parents would not just need services for the period of time when the placement happened, but may also seek services months or years later,” he explained.
Certain milestones and life transitions, such as the anniversary of the adoption placement, Mother’s Day, or the birth of a subsequent child, can feel like a wound that can trigger difficult emotional responses. Nobody should assume the mother is over it, Dr. Madden cautioned.
What Role Can Adoption Professionals Play?
Setting clear expectations. Boundaries may need to be drawn for all parties involved.
Setting up interviews and meetings. Video interviews allow all parties to discuss important issues like parenting styles and values to ensure families are a good fit.
Reframing the parenting role. Birth mothers can define their parental status in whatever way works for them. “It’s not that she’s not our daughter anymore,” Harmon said. “She’s just being raised by another family, and we have a different role.”
Finding a support group. Facebook, for example, has some online birth mother support groups, but there may also be in-person support groups in local areas.
Making relinquishment a memorable experience. Relinquishment doesn’t always need to be painful. Taking photos together, writing a letter, or giving a present are all ways to help celebrate the moment.
How Can Friends and Families Support Birth Mothers?
Support doesn’t have to be limited to professionals. Friends and family can be important sources of comfort. During her pregnancy, Harmon found that the people who knew about her decision tended to tiptoe around the subject.
“I wish they were more aware that I was going through a lot with being pregnant and knowing that I wasn’t going to actually be able to experience [raising] a kid,” she explained, noting that she would have appreciated more check-ins.
Dr. Madden suggests that friends and family use containment, a skill in listening that’s taught to social workers. Containment requires actively listening. The listener provides support without acting on the natural impulse to give advice or offer suggestions. Friends and families can use this technique to become more mindful of what the mothers are experiencing. It can also mitigate any shame or stigma the expectant and birth mothers may feel surrounding the decision.
Six Ways to Offer Support to Birth Mothers
Give them the space to make their decision.
Let them discuss what they’re willing to talk about.
Don’t try to solve a problem.
Validate their experiences.
Taking the time to be considerate of expectant and birth mothers and their experiences can make a difference. Even if the mother leans on one or two people for support (for Harmon, it was her boyfriend and brother), it’s important to provide that outlet for them to freely express their feelings and feel less alone.
At the end of her time at the hospital, Harmon dressed her newborn daughter in her going-home outfit: a tiny pink cardigan with rainbows and hearts on it. The birth parents and adoptive parents took photos together before leaving the hospital together.
“I hope that everything goes as well as possible for my daughter,” Harmon said. “I hope she understands that I’m doing this out of love more than anything.”
The Emotional Responses of Birth Mothers Post-Adoption
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|Emotional Response||A lot||Some||A little||None|