Pamphlets and Brochures
I Wish I Knew When I Was Considering Adoption
by Heather Lowe
of the things I hear most frequently from parents who have recently
lost children to adoption is, "If ONLY I had known." People
in a crisis pregnancy are especially prone to denial, and it's
very hard to accurately imagine what adoption will be like.
I am posting these items in an effort to share the things I
wish I had known when I was considering adoption (and was stuck
in major denial myself.)
well be the best thing for you and your child, but in order
to be a truly good thing, it needs to be a well-considered
decision, and you need to hear the negative aspects as well
as the positive.
will likely change and grow as input from other first parents
is received. Please visit the guestbook on
my website if you are a first parent wanting to add advice
to this site.
I wish I'd known that family preservation should come first. Most
experts on adoption agree that if a child can stay in his first
family, he should. Family separation is traumatic for
everyone involved, and if there is a way to keep the mother and
child together, it should be found. Single parenthood is NOT inherently
bad; it's the way it's handled that makes the difference.
Some people make excellent single parents, others do not.
is often a permanent solution to a temporary problem. Consider how
you will feel if you've relinquished due to money reasons, and six
months down the road, you have a good job that pays well. Or how
you'll feel if you relinquished due to lack of family support, and
the same people who refused to help you raise your child are now
saying, "We wish you'd kept the baby. We could have helped you."
(Family members who are unhappy about your unplanned pregnancy will
often do the most amazing turnaround once they see the newborn baby.)
Try to separate which of your problems are time-limited and which
seem here to stay. Some problems are insurmountable and will
lead you to choose adoption, while some problems can be fixed if
you know where to turn.
I wish I'd known that the child will probably not be grateful to
have been relinquished. Most adoptees report feeling abandoned
by their first mothers. While they may be glad to have been adopted,
they are most definitely not happy to have been relinquished. (In
other words, they see their adoption as two separate events: being
given up and being taken in. The second is warm and fuzzy, while
the first is full of hurt.) It's very hard to know that the most
painful choice you make for your child might not even be appreciated
by them. There are no guarantees that your child will love you for
what you've done. Can you live with that? Don't fall into the "martyr"
mindset that you are doing something beautiful and noble for your
child - you might be disappointed if the eventual adult doesn't
see it that way.
I wish I'd known that I wasn't carrying my child for someone else,
and that it wasn't my responsibility to help all the poor, infertile
couples of the world. A pregnant woman in a crisis situation
desperately wants to make things better again. She may be under
enormous pressure from her family, experiencing disapproval and
shame. It's natural that a woman in those circumstances will want
to "fix" things and earn approval once more, but it shouldn't be
done by trying to make a prospective adoptive couples' dreams come
can be very emotionally wrenching to look through the profiles of
hundreds of waiting couples, all of whom seem so "deserving" of
parenthood when you aren't even sure if you are. You begin to feel
sad for each one of them, and would love to be the one to provide
them with their most cherished desire. DO NOT FALL INTO THIS TRAP.
Their hopes and dreams exist independently of you. If you relinquish
to them in order to make them happy, you've lost your only child.
If you decide to parent, they will be heartbroken, yes, but they
can always go on to find another child. It is not your responsibility
to "fix" someone else's childlessness. The only people who should
count in your decision for or against adoption are you and your
I wish I'd known that society hates first parents. Americans
have a very schizophrenic attitude toward adoption. On the one hand,
we love people who take in "unwanted" children. On the other hand,
we see families who have adopted as settling for second-best. The
same two-faced approach is found on the first parent side of the
equation. We applaud a woman who is considering adoption as being
admirably unselfish in putting the needs of her child first.
But once the woman moves beyond consideration and actually surrenders
her child, she is looked down upon. After all,"who could give away
their own flesh and blood?"
adoption author Jim Gritter has noted, nothing can prepare you for
the plummet in your stock you will see once you move from potential
first mother to first mother. The very same people who told you
you were doing a terrific, noble thing while you were pregnant will
now tell you you are a heartless abandoner. What's even worse is
that they will be telling you this at a time that you are most vulnerable:
grieving heavily, full of post-partum hormones, feeling completely
alone in the world.
do not accept the role of first mother. Even first moms in the healthiest
of open adoptions, who feel they made a great choice for their child,
are sometimes unable to talk about their child without experiencing
judgement. People will avert their eyes when you try to speak of
your child. They will whisper about you behind your back, saying
things like, "There goes the woman that gave her baby away." Part
of the reason society hates and fears first mothers so much is that
we show how tenuous the mother-child bond can be. It is not
unbreakable. That's scary to society, which is built on families.
If families can be easily rejected, the entire world order is in
you choose adoption, get prepared for a lifetime of being misunderstood
and even feared.
I wish I'd known that those who might say they are there to help
you are in actuality serving the real client, the prospective adoptive
parent. Please don't go to an adoption agency or
a pregnancy counsellor thinking that they have only your interests
in mind. They do not, and they cannot. Adoption agencies, like it
or not, have to make money to operate. The paying client is the
adoptive parent, and services are usually geared toward them. There
is a real conflict of interest if an agency is counselling you on
whether to pursue an adoption or not. It's the rare agency that
can tell a woman,"You shouldn't be thinking about adoption" when
they have waiting lists of hopeful parents that are seven years
the time of your decision-making, you need unbiased advice from
someone who is not a stakeholder in the outcome. Free pregnancy
counselling is sometimes available through crisis pregnancy centers
(but watch out--the center could be affiliated with an adoption
agency or a religious group.) If you can afford to see a therapist
on your own, do it. Look for one that is skilled in adoption issues.
If you cannot afford to see a therapist, use one of the email addresses
provided to put you in touch with a first mother who is living adoption,
and who can tell you honestly what it is like. Don't rely on first
mothers who speak on behalf of agencies for all your information.
Sometimes these women are stuck in denial and will only tell you
about the happy side of adoption. Get the full range of viewpoints,
happy and sad.
I wish I'd known that agency adoptions are safer than private adoptions.
Post-adoption is the time when you will need help most, but if you've
chosen a private adoption, there will be no one there to help you.
Good agencies offer post-adoption support groups, as well as mediation
should your open adoption start to go wrong. These services are
invaluable, and you will most likely need them. There are well-run
agencies and there are bad agencies, but even if you wind up with
a bad one, at least you have someone to complain to should the adoption
not go well. Talk to first mothers online about what agencies they
recommend and which ones they say to avoid. Brenda Romanchik at
R-Squared Press is an excellent resource who can tell you the name
of the best agency near you. (Brenda is the first mother of a teenager
in a fully-open adoption and runs her own publishing company devoted
to open adoption resources. She is always glad to talk to women
who are considering adoption. Reach her through the contact info
at the end of this article.)
I wish I'd known that numerous internet resources exist for first
mothers and potential first mothers to find each other and talk.
Next to reading dozens of books about adoption, the single best
thing you can be doing right now is talking to actual first
mothers. (The next most important thing is talking to adult
adoptees. Unfortunately, many potential first parents wind up talking
only to prospective adopters.) The internet is the easiest,
fastest way to find triad members. At the end of this document
are listed addresses for web sites, mailing lists, and newsgroups.
I'm glad I did know that in most states, open adoption agreements
are not legally enforceable. Many women choose adoption based
on the promise of openness, only to have their trust violated when
the adoptive parents become fearful. It is vitally important to
know that in all but seven states, there is nothing that holds adoptive
parents to anything that they say prior to the adoption. If you
are lucky enough to live in California, Indiana, Minnesota, Nebraska,
New Mexico, Oregon, or Washington, you have some recourse, but otherwise,
you're out of luck. (A bill is pending in New York.)
are dozens of variations of betrayal in open adoption, depending
upon the level of openness that was initially agreed upon. Sometimes
the adoptive parents stop sending the promised pictures, sometimes
they go so far as to change their names and move to another state.
Most frequent is a cessation of the promised visits.
It is important to note that you as a first parent can also betray
the adoptive parents' trust if you say you will be in contact with
the child and later decide to drop out of sight. Open adoption is
done for the sake of the child, and if you don't think you'll be
able to live up to it, don't promise that you will.
you surrender your right to parent your child, you become a legal
stranger to him. You have as much claim to your baby as any person
walking down the street--that is, none.
I wish I'd known that there was no need to rush my decision -- it
could have waited until after the birth. Our fixation with "drive-through"
relinquishments shows that we as a society do not respect the awareness
of a newborn baby. We pretend that if the switch-off is executed
quickly enough, the baby will never know what happened. Pre- and
perinatal psychologists tell us, however, that that is just not
true. There is no hurry. Your decision needs to be re-thought
in the light of your baby's actual presence.
of my adoption decision was based on denial-not knowing whether
I could love the child of a man I did not love, not knowing if I
had the instinct for motherhood. You will find out, in the moment
of meeting your child, whether you have the right stuff or not.
If your adoption decision is based only on doubts and fears, rather
than on cold hard facts like addiction, homelessness, age, or a
total inability to provide, then you will most likely have a change
of heart. (This is why having potential adopters in the delivery
room can be such a bad idea.) Give yourself the freedom to have
that change of heart.
sign papers in the hospital. Take your baby home from the hospital.
Give parenting a one or two week try, so that you know for sure
what it feels like and whether it is something you could manage
or not. If you decide to go ahead with adoption, you will feel better
knowing exactly what it is that you gave up. You will feel you gave
it your best shot before admitting defeat.
I wish I'd known that the pain of adoption never goes away. You
can learn to live a happy and productive life after a relinquishment,
but there will always be a hole in your heart and soul, one that
can't be filled up. Subsequent children won't take away the
pain (in fact they usually worsen it, as you come to see all that
you gave up). Very few members of your family will fully understand
your losses, even though they're suffering losses too.
will feel very alone, and true communication with others might become
difficult. In an open adoption, each new milestone in your child's
life can bring fresh pain on top of the joy, while in a closed adoption,
reunions often bring new wounds instead of healing the old ones,
as is commonly thought.
I wish I'd known that the effects of adoption are so far-reaching.
Here are some subsequent losses you might not have considered:
parents will lose a grandchild.
could lose your relationship with your own grandchildren.
nieces and nephews have lots of questions about why a family
member was given away.
subsequent children fear that they will be given away.
could suffer secondary infertility and never be able to have
studies suggest that secondary infertility among first mothers
can be as high as 40%.
might lose your faith in intimate relationships, and it becomes
harder for you to trust and to love.
of the people you thought were your friends may judge you and
scorn you for your decision.
12. I wish I'd known that in putting your baby first, you
don't have to put yourself last. Experts view the mother
and child as a "dyad," that is, a single organism built of two people.
That's because newborn humans emerge from the womb much earlier
in their physical development than do many animals, and they aren't
able to survive on their own. They are also hard-wired to look for
their mother, who they know by her smell and her voice. So for the
early months at least, what is good for you IS good for your baby.
As long as you are not abusive or neglectful, your baby WANTS to
be with you. Don't let all the negativity about your "stupidity"
or "carelessness" in getting pregnant affect your self-esteem and
cause you to relinquish because you think you aren't good enough.
can prepare you for what it feels like to leave the hospital empty-handed,
milk running, crying like you will never stop. You need to try very
hard not to be in denial about what is in store for you should you
choose adoption ... but that's the problem with denial, you can't
tell someone they are in it. A lot of first mothers repeat
like a mantra: "I wish I had known...if only I had known." Don't
assume that you will feel any differently from the first parents
who have gone before you. I hope this information has helped
you to have an idea of what it feels like to be a first parent.
Keep reading, keep educating yourself: this is the most important
decision you'll ever make.
Nancy Newton Verrier
and Found, B.J. Lifton
Born, B.J. Lifton
of the Adopted Self, B.J. Lifton
the Circle Be Unbroken, Lynn Franklin
Open Adoption Experience, Sharon Kaplan Roszia and Lois Melina
of Open Adoption, Kathleen Silber and Patricia Dorner
Secret Life of the Unborn Child, Dr. Thomas Verny
Dark Side of Adoption, Mirah Riben
Birthmother, Kathleen Silber and Phylis Speedlin
Spirit of Open Adoption, Jim Gritter
Ghost at Heart's Edge, Susan Ito and Tina Cervin, editors
Copyright © 1999 Heather Lowe
A pdf of this pamphlet is at: Adoption
Pamphlets and Brochures
Note: The terms "unwed" mother, "birthmom", "biological"
parent make a parent appear to be less than the mother or father
they are. These terms dehumanize and limit the parent's role
to that of an incubator. Using the honest terms "mother",
"single mother" or "natural mother" help
the public to understand why real family members must not be
separated to obtain babies for adoption.