My son asked me recently if I ever wrote articles for Holt’s post-adoption services newsletter that weren’t related to citizenship or documentation. When I said that I haven’t, he asked me why not. Good question. I asked him for examples and his response was fairly typical of a young man — “I don’t know. Just stuff. You adopted, you should write about that.”
I decided to give it a go. I considered several topics, but kept coming back to the fact that we were fortunate to meet his birth mother and that she physically placed him in my arms. We were ecstatic; he was a beautiful baby, and the center of our world. Then why did I feel so guilty? Why was I so afraid that we’d lose him? It’s a very strange feeling knowing that although our son’s birth parents relinquished the right to parent him, they have a legitimate claim to a piece of him. They brought him into this world, and then placed him in our care to be his parents.
Many years later, while telling my son his adoption story for what my son referred to as the “millionth time,” I realized that I felt guilty because our happiness came at her pain and loss — something we witnessed firsthand, and weren’t really prepared for. As she placed him in my arms, she said, “If you ever stop loving him, I’ll take him back.” His birth mother was quite certain that placing him for adoption was the right thing to do, for both of them. But that didn’t ease her pain. There was always the thought in my mind, just out of sight, that she would change her mind and take my son from me.
Our adoption wasn’t a typical Holt adoption at that time as our son was born in the U.S., and placed through Holt’s domestic program. Both of his birth parents were from the same S.E. Asian country, living in the U.S. However, by the time our son was born, his birth father had returned to his family in S.E. Asia. We believe his birth mother stayed in the U.S. for several years, but may have since returned to her home in S.E. Asia as well. In my mind, no matter where she lived — and no matter how irrational my fear — she could still take our son… She is his birth mother.
Fast-forward several years to when I joined Holt as an employee. That’s when I discovered that other adoptive parents felt the same fear that their child’s birth mother would decide she wants to parent the child they all love — even after the child is legally relinquished. These feelings don’t just happen in domestic adoptions, as I thought they did. I had thought I was the only parent struggling with these feelings of guilt and worry. Internationally adopting parents may have contact with the birth parents at the time of the adoption, or years later through letters and photos.
There are advantages to having met my child’s birth mother. When he asks about her, I have more information than many parents have. I met her, I have a photo of her, I talked with her. That’s a huge advantage for my son, and how I was able to respond. He still asked a lot of questions that I couldn’t answer, and had to admit that some things we may never know.
The disadvantage is that I couldn’t pretend that this beautiful baby’s birth mother was unknown — I met her. I saw her pain, I hugged her, and I read her letter to us and our son. Its one thing to know that someone is in emotional pain, but quite another to experience it in person. I imagine his birth father’s pain, but I never met him nor has he written any letters, and I never worried that he might want to parent our son.
Fortunately, I stopped being paranoid while my son was young. I knew the decision she made was the hardest decision of her life, but that she felt it was the right one at that time. The guilt has mellowed into sympathy and concern for the birth mother who hasn’t been able to see him grow up. I’ve always told my son that once he turns 18, he can search for her. And I hope that he will. I’d like her to see what an incredible young man he is.
She’s his birth mom, I’m his mom, and we have a wonderful son.
Deb Hanson | Former Holt team member