Understanding and Relating to Birth Mothers


Rea Flamer
Focus on Adoption magazine

Birth mothers come from a wide variety of socio-economic backgrounds, are varying ages and come with a diversity of expectations and needs concerning adoption. Whatever their backgrounds or their expectations, one thing remains common to all of them: they love their children deeply and want to choose the best family for their child. They never forget their children. It is very helpful for adoptive parents, and for their families and friends, to understand the birth mother, the issues she is facing and the difficult decisions she must make.

My experience has been that the more adoptive parents understand the birth mother, the better their relationship can be with the birth parent.

Many of the birth mothers I encounter are young, and have never dealt with separation, loss or grief. The common expectation is that once the birth mother has relinquished the child, she needs to “get on with her life.” This takes longer for some birth mothers than for others. Since they have bonded for nine months with the child during the pregnancy, there is a strong connection and an equally  strong feeling of loss. It is very difficult to simply carry on and forget the child. It is helpful for the birth mothers to be reassured through progress notes following adoption, that the child is thriving and bonding. The pictures and progress notes are  important to them and they look forward to them. It is very critical that these progress notes be delivered on time.

However, misunderstandings can occur and the services of an intermediary might be useful to clarify problems in communication if they arise. It is advisable to attend to problems before they build up. Often birth parents are not fully aware of what their needs will be at the signing of the adoption papers. Occasionally they may desire  more pictures or progress notes. Hopefully, adoptive parents will be sensitive to this if the social worker should call and suggest one or two more progress notes.

For the birth mother, grieving will be a lifelong process. Most often the birth mother can carry on with her life much more easily if she is reassured the child is doing well and can look at pictures and see that the child is happy. The child’s birthdays, Christmas holidays, Mother’s Day, are very important to birth mothers and are difficult times for them. They are “mothers without babies” as they have often referred to themselves in our groups. Many of their families and friends will criticize them for continuing to think about their child and say things like, “Why don’t you get on with your life?” and, “You’re not a mother any more.” However the birth mother is still a mother, and will always be. They cannot forget their child. It is a wonderful gesture if adoptive parents can recognize the importance of Mother’s Day for the birth mother and send them pictures, progress notes or even just a card on this day. I have seen how touched the birth mothers are by a small gesture of a card from the adoptive family.

Some birth mothers have reunions with their children and adoptive parents around one year after the adoption. This meeting does not lead to the birth mother changing her mind or wanting her child back. Generally, it is a wonderful reassurance to the birth mother that the child has bonded with the adoptive parents, and that they are a strong family unit. The birth mother’s last memory of the child was in the hospital and there are often lots of tears on everyone’s part. This later meeting helps them see the adoptive family as a happy, functioning family. All the birth mothers I have worked with have found these meetings helpful.

Every birth parent desires different pieces of information in the progress notes and pictures. It is helpful to check with the birth mother prior to the adoption about what she would like to have included. As her requests may change following the adoption, it is thoughtful and sensitive to ask in future progress notes if what she is receiving is helpful to her, or if she would like more or different information. Some birth parents are satisfied with less personal information, others want very personal, detailed information on the development of the child. Pictures sent should be clear and not blurred. Some birth mothers request pictures of the baby with the adoptive parents and some want the baby’s pictures alone. Details birth parents like to know include the baby’s personality, schedule, favourite toys, favourite foods, preferred activities and any amusing or special situations. Adoptive parents have often expressed to me their concern that this information may strengthen the birth mother’s tie to the baby and the possibility that she will want the baby back. It usually does the reverse and confirms to the birth mother that her decision to place the baby with the adoptive family was a good one. It also  reassures her that her baby is having a happy life.

To encourage letters from the birth parents to you is very helpful as well. The adopted child often has questions in the future about how their birth parents are doing. Letters from the birth parents can answer a lot of questions for the child in years to come, if they are not able to meet with their birth parents.

The birth fathers, who are often no longer with the birth mothers, may also want progress notes and pictures. Separate arrangements, if possible, should be made with them before the signing of the adoption papers. If meetings are to be arranged for future dates, specify with the birth mother and father if these will be together or separate. Many birth mothers feel their time with the child and with the adoptive parents is so special they prefer that the birth father make his own arrangements.

The adoption experience is difficult for all parties: the birth mother and father, birth grandparents, their respective families, the adoptive parents and the adopted child.  The following is a quote from a birth mother, written to her baby at the time of adoption:

“I am writing to tell you of my love for you, the love I will always have. I would not have to do this if I had kept you in my arms, the arms you fit so well. It was me that did it though. I had to let you go. You were too wonderful, you deserved so much more. I wanted to hold you for all my life, but I had to do what was right. I will never forget the way you felt inside me for those nine months. You grew in me, the most perfect baby I have ever seen. I wanted to give you all I could, all you wanted. I had to do it all at once. I pray that you will understand it was not out of hate or spite, because, darling boy, you are the love of my life.”

Here  is another piece from Christie:

"After my son was born, my whole life changed. I knew about some of the changes, i.e. depression and grief, but I also knew this would end. The first few months I thought of him all the time and always wondered how he was doing. I anxiously awaited the progress notes from his new parents and shared the information with anyone who would listen. My grieving slowly, very slowly, lessened, and I was able to think of other things. I went back to work and things seemed to start to go back to normal. What I didn’t realize was that my mind would never be the same. I felt everything I did from that point on would have to mean something. I thought I had to become some sort of superhuman. I felt I should work full time, go to school at night.  Everything I did, I did to improve myself. I wasn’t doing it for myself though. I was doing it all so that when I finally met my son, eighteen years later, that he wouldn’t be disappointed in me. For several months I did not really allow myself to have much of a social life. I would go out occasionally, but only under very safe conditions. I would go to movies and comedy clubs, or out for dinner with friends, but I would never venture anywhere that I might meet someone of the opposite sex. During this time I would allow myself only one drink—in my mind it would be bad to have any more than that. Eventually I would go to dance clubs, but I would not dance. Looking back on this, it really didn’t make much sense. I realize now that I do not have to be superhuman for my son to be proud of me, and that making mistakes in life is part of living. I have slowed down a bit and I am not so hard on myself to accomplish everything right away. I was feeling that I had to accomplish all these things in order to justify having given up my son. I have learned to forgive myself and to be easier on myself."

by Rea Flamer