This section will give you tools and resources for how to talk with your child about their birth parents and their history.
The Important Role of Birth Parents
Whether your child’s birth parents are known or unknown, they will always be a part of your child’s life in one way or another. Adoptees do think of their birth parents, and not having the information regarding the circumstances of their relinquishment or abandonment is difficult for most adoptees. It leaves them with many questions. The more an adoptive parent knows about their child’s birth parents and can share with them, the better. Depending on the country and whether or not your child was reported “abandoned,” it can be difficult or impossible to find this information. But this doesn’t mean your child won’t have questions. This section will help you think about the role your child’s birth parents will have in their life and in yours, as well as give you tools and resources for how to talk with your child about their birth parents and their history.
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<strong>Things to Consider Regarding Birth Parents</strong>
In almost every case, birth parents choose adoption because they are unable to parent, not because they don’t love or care about their child. Several factors — such as financial hardship or lack of social or family support — may play into this decision. They choose adoption because they feel it is in the best interest of their child.
Avoid statements like “your birth mother loved you so much she wanted us to be your parents.” Although the sentiment may be true, it sends a confusing message to the adoptee that love equals abandonment.
Whether they are known or unknown, your child’s birth parents will be a part of your child’s life and who they are. Your child’s birth parents are the biological connection to her background and where she comes from, and even if you have no information about your child’s birth parents, your child will still have questions and wonder about her birth family.
Take as many pictures as you can when you travel and journal about the time spent in the country where your child’s birth parents live. Even if you do not have pictures of your child’s birth parents, you can help your child visualize where his birth parents live, which gives your child a reference point.
Whether they share their feelings or not, adopted children do think of their birth parents and do have questions. It’s important to create space so your child feels safe to ask questions and for you to answer their questions as honestly as is age appropriate. Don’t wait until they bring it up.
- Pass on whatever information you have about your child’s background. Her personal history is a key part of her story that you should read to her at an early age.
- Displaying pictures of your child’s history and the time you spent in country will help your child feel proud of where he comes from and the story of his adoption.
- Take the initiative and approach the topic. Don’t wait for your child to bring it up. For example, you could say, “I think of your birth mother often and I wonder how she is. Is this something you think about?” By saying you also think of her, your child gets the message that it’s okay to talk about his birth parents and okay to think about them. You are modeling for your child how to approach the subject. She may say “no,” she doesn’t think about it and she may not be ready to talk about it, which is okay. Don’t push the subject, just casually bring it up and let your child guide the discussion.
Spend time learning about your child’s birth country together. Knowing about the customs and traditions of his country will help your child feel closer to his history.
It is okay to not have all the answers, and important to accept that you may never have answers to all of your child’s questions. If your child asks, tell her what you do know. Don’t wait until she “is old enough to handle the information.” If you don’t have any answers, it’s okay to say, “I don’t know, but I wish I had more information.”
As parents, we tend to try to fix things. But when your child is grieving, it’s important to let him experience sadness and to convey that these are very normal feelings to have. If you convey that your child should be happy now because he has wonderful adoptive parents, he will bottle up his feelings of sadness. Grieving is a process and something that never goes away. We just learn, through the years, how to manage our grief. Your child will, too, if he is given the freedom to express his grief.
The most important thing you can do is to support your child, to give her space and time to express her thoughts and emotions, and to let her grieve the loss of her birth parents. This is something that will never go away. It will always be there to a greater or lesser degree. Grief comes up in different ways for different people, and we all handle it differently.
- If your child’s grief moves into depression, consult your physician and an adoption-competent therapist. For resources, contact your agency’s post-adoption department.
When your child reaches an age when he can begin a search for his birth family, you can initiate the conversation, but it’s important to let your child take the lead on how he wants to move forward. When conversing with your child about searching for his birth family, try to focus on your child’s needs and feelings. It is normal as an adoptive parent to have some feelings of insecurity about your child’s desire to search for his birth family. Remember, just because your child wants to search does not mean he doesn’t love you or think of you as his parents.
Each child is different in regard to their desire to learn about their birth history. It is important to validate your child’s feelings and let her know it is okay if she has a strong desire — or no desire — to learn about her birth history.
Children who have been adopted internationally can have the same strong need to know who they look like and where they came from as children who have been adopted domestically. Distance does not matter to your child if he wants to know more about his birth family.
Talking with your child about her birth parents may be uncomfortable. But to truly be present for your child, you will need to process and come to terms with the role your child’s birth parents play — and continue to play — in your child’s life. Embrace the discomfort, for the sake of yourself, your child and your child’s birth parents. In time, as you continue the discussion, you should become more comfortable. The more you are open to the discussion, the more you normalize it for both yourself and your child.
<meta charset="utf-8"><strong><strong>Birth Parent Fantasies — Helping your child form a realistic impression of their birth parents</strong></strong>
“Over the years, 7-year-old Amy and her mom have had several ‘birth mother’ talks. As a small child, Amy wondered aloud about what her birth mother looked like, whether she would come to visit, and how big her belly was when Amy was in it…”
Continue reading this article by Fran Eisenman.
<strong>Birth Mother — The Forgotten Voice of Adoption</strong>
By Sunday Silver, MA | Director of Post Adoption Services
She came to the agency much like any young woman in her predicament. She didn’t know what else to do. Her family was unable or unwilling to help. She informed her ex-boyfriend, but he wanted nothing to do with her. She was alone, scared and tired. So she did what the nurse at the clinic suggested — she called the agency asking for help. Here, she now sits, pouring out her soul to a counselor— not knowing what to do with the child growing inside her. The whole time, she cries and begs for help. She wants so desperately to keep her unborn baby, even though she knows she has nothing to give this child. No father, no family, no future. The counselor shows her kindness and comfort instead of judgment. After several meetings in which she looks at all her options, she decides to do what she thinks is best for her child. She makes an adoption plan. She knows what it means. She knows the pain it will cause her. But she genuinely believes this is the best outcome for her child. As she thinks about this choice, she lays her hand on her stomach and cries. She cries for herself. She cries for her child. And she prays that someday, the little one will forgive her for what she knows she has to do.
And so she makes her plan. She works with the counselor and chooses the parents for her child. She writes a letter to her unborn child, wishing for her a wonderful life — a life she is unable to provide. She speaks of her love and her deep desire that someday, they will meet again.
The day finally comes and she gives birth. It’s a girl. She holds her all night. Rocking her, and telling her all the things she wants her child to know. She takes in as much as she can; her warmth, her soft skin, her smell. She tells her baby girl how much she loves her, how much she will miss her. She tells her that her life will be so much better with her new mom and dad. How much they will love her and how much they can give her. A life she could not give her.
Her counselor comes in with the paperwork. She tries to think of reasons why she should not sign the papers, but she knows she has no other choice. If she truly loves her child, she will do what she believes is best for her. So she signs the papers. She gives her child one last kiss and with tears in her eyes, she says her final goodbye.
This is a story I have told through my many years of working as a social worker at Holt. This is a story of any birth mother, whether in the U.S. or overseas. Parts of the story would be different in different countries or settings. In China, where there is no legal way to relinquish a child for adoption, the mother would likely place her child in a box where she can be easily found or leave her on the steps at an orphanage. She would have no support, no counseling, no safety net or resources to help her parent her child. She will not choose her daughter’s adoptive parents, but will only have faith that her child will be well cared for. She will stand by, hiding in the distance, waiting until someone picks up her child and takes her in. She will walk away, with tears in her eyes, hoping that her child will know how much she loves her; hoping that her child will know that if things were different, she would have been her mom. But life doesn’t always work out the way we want. So she walks away with hope in her heart that her child will have a better life. Dreaming of a mom and dad that will care for her, love her as she deserves to be loved, giving her the future she could not.
While the circumstances may be different from country to country, the pain, the hopes and the dreams are all the same. I have worked with birth mothers here in the U.S. and I have talked with birth mothers from other countries and they often share the same feelings. They had no other choice. Their hearts broke in two and the only thing that got them through each day was the hope that their child would be placed in a loving home. There was not a day that went by that they did not think of their child and wonder… “What is she doing right now? What does he look like? Is she happy? Does he think of me?”
In my more than 25-year career at Holt, I have primarily worked with birth parents and adoptive parents both domestic and international. Early in my career, I counseled birth mothers who were experiencing an unplanned pregnancy and needed help looking at their options. Some of these women ultimately placed their child for adoption.
Since becoming the Director of Post Adoption Services at Holt, I have heard more from the adoptee perspective. In these past few years, I have heard the adoptee voice grow louder and I have become more aware of their thoughts and opinions. I have heard from many adoptee group organizations and have heard from many adoptees about what they wish their parents knew before adopting. Likewise, I have heard from many adoptive parents regarding why they adopt, what they need in the way of education and how to help their child have a healthy identity. More and more, we are seeing adult adoptee groups and adoptive parent groups emerge. We as an agency can learn much from both these groups.
Adult adoptees have become increasingly vocal through the years, which I applaud and encourage. But as I hear these groups speak out about adoption, I have also become increasingly uncomfortable. Uncomfortable not only because it’s not easy to hear some of what they have to say, but because the one voice that isn’t being heard — that isn’t all that loud — is the birth parent voice. This is a group that no one seems to want to hear from. They are the forgotten voice. Because, after all, “How could anyone give up their child?” This is such a contradiction in our society. We praise adoptive parents for adopting, but we collectively condemn the birth mother for making the extremely difficult decision to place her child for adoption. In some countries, where birth mothers have no other option but to abandon their child, this voice becomes non-existent. Domestically, the birth mother voice is a bit louder. And as birth mothers in the U.S. have become more vocal, open adoptions have become increasingly prevalent. But for birth parents in other countries, this voice is barely audible. It is a whisper, a small voice straining to be heard, but with no energy. This in part is due to the culture of many countries and partly to the guilt a birth parent feels.
As an agency, we have an ethical obligation to help that voice be heard. To work with all members of the adoption community and hear what they each have to say, even when they contradict one another. We must hear, honor and respect all voices. And when that voice is unable to speak, we must step up and speak for them whenever possible.
I tell this story not to diminish the joy of being a parent, but to remind you that someone had to go through the pain of relinquishment so you could be a parent. To remind you that your child was entrusted to you, not by Holt or any other agency, but by a woman (and man) who wanted more for their child than they could give.
I share this because it is your child’s story. It is a part of who your child is. It is where they came from. It is their story that needs to be told. Yes, it is heartbreaking. But by telling the story, by acknowledging the pain, we honor the loss and in turn, honor your child and where they came from. It is a way to normalize that which does not feel normal. It is important for us all in the adoption community to acknowledge this forgotten voice. Birth parents should have a place in our community because they have a place in your child’s heart.
Please click on the worksheet below, which can be saved to your computer or printed. Each parent must complete their own worksheet. Please return all completed worksheets to your Holt branch office assistant or the assistant for your country program at Holt’s home office.