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Telling Family/Friends About an Adoption and Other Emotional Issues

Kathryn Patricelli, MA

Choosing to place a child for adoption is generally a very difficult and emotional process for the birthmother. It is often hard for birthmothers to tell friends and family about their decision to adopt out their child. This is particularly hard when the birthmother's extended family is against the idea of adoption. Many grandparents, especially, may protest the idea of adoption and actively work to change the birthmother's mind by making offers to raise the child themselves. Pleas may be made to "not give my grandchild away". Suggestions about how to accommodate a new child may be made. While family opinions and ideas should be seriously considered, it is ultimately the mother who must make the final decision about what is best for herself and her child, even if that means going against the wishes of her family.

A birthmother can involve her family in the adoption process in positive ways. If the family is resistant to the idea of adoption, she may need to give them time and opportunity to adjust to her decision. She can then use them as support while she goes through the adoption process. She should also recognize that just as she will need to deal with grief and loss issues surrounding the adoption, her extended family may also need time and space to go through their own grieving process.

As part of the adoption, the birthmother may choose to keep a pregnancy journal to be given to the adoptive parents to someday share with the child. The mother can allow her family to participate in the journaling as well, so that they are able to express their thoughts and emotions about the child.

Emotional Issues

Birthmothers who choose to adopt out their children may find themselves dealing with feelings of shame, guilt, doubt, and grief. Even though the mother is choosing adoption because she believes it is best for the child and for herself, she may still feel that she has failed as a mother. Another commonly experienced thought is that because she is "rejecting" the child, the child will some day come to hate her for "abandoning" him/her. She may feel shame at answering questions about her pregnancy or her decision to adopt.

Doubts about the decision to adopt are common at all stages of the process, including while making the decision, during pregnancy, and after the birth of the child. It is important to remember that the experience of doubt can be a natural consequence of having to make any serious life decision. Doubtful feelings should be taken seriously, but their mere presence does not mean that the decision to adopt is ill-founded. It is perfectly possible to have good reasons for wanting to adopt, but to still feel badly. Nevertheless, birthmothers who experience significant doubts should talk with their social workers or counselors about their concerns and review why they have made the decision to pursue adoption.

Birthmothers are also likely to experience grief and loss feelings, particularly after the birth when the child has been placed with the adoptive parents. Even though the child is still alive, there is still a very real sense of loss which has to be accommodated.

Grief is the process and emotions that people experience when their important relationships are significantly interrupted or ended, either through death, divorce, relocation, theft, destruction, or some similar process. There are two types of losses that people grieve. The first is the actual loss of the person or thing in someone's life. The second is the symbolic loss of the events that can no longer occur in the future because of the actual loss. In adoption, the birth mother may grieve the actual loss of her child to another family, and additionally grieve the loss of many events that she might have shared with her child, including birthdays, graduations, and wedding days.

Grief is a normal and natural process that takes work to get through. Dealing with the emotions that occur during the grieving process takes much time and energy, and is usually both physically and emotionally demanding. It is normal for people to grieve in very different ways. Some people grieve openly, while others hide their feelings of distress. Some people grieve quickly, while others take a long time to "finish." There is no "right way" to grieve. Each individual comes up with a method of grieving that fits them and their particular loss. For more information, please visit our article on Grief and Bereavement Issues for an extensive discussion of the stages of grief and how people work through them in healthy and productive ways.

The process of adoption may also trigger positive emotions. Some women feel joyous and hopeful as they contemplate the gift of a better life that they are giving to the child. They can also focus on the dreams and wishes that they have for the child and the reality of another family being able to make those opportunities happen at a time when they are not able to do so. In addition, birthmothers may also feel relief at resolving a difficult situation with multiple options. Other emotions may include gratitude in locating appropriate adoptive parents as well as a sense of satisfaction at helping people who have likely waited months or even years for this experience.