Years ago, Adoptions With Love met a courageous young woman facing an unplanned pregnancy; she knew she could not provide for a baby at the time, and wanted her daughter to have the best possible life. With great love and consideration, she created an open adoption plan and chose the right family to raise her daughter.
While this birth mother does not go sharing her adoption story from rooftops, she does take the time to help others understand adoption when the opportunity arises. When hearing negative comments about adoption, she takes time to educate others on talking about it positively or helps them to think about it from a different angle. In this interview, C shares her thoughts on adoption language and provides advice for others on how to talk about adoption the “right” way.
A lot of people don’t fully understand the emotional implications of adoption, and will ask things like, “Why didn’t you keep your baby?” or say, “I could never give my baby away to strangers.” Do you get (what seem like insensitive) questions or comments like this?
I really haven’t gotten comments like this from people who know about my daughter; I tend to hear them from people who don’t know I’m a birth mother. Adoption is certainly a subject that most people feel they have a right to comment on, which is sometimes frustrating because they haven’t experienced it, and don’t always have an accurate perception of what adoption is.
I try to point out, in those moments, that you never have any idea what you’d do in a situation like that until you’re in it, so it’s wrong to judge other people for the impossible decisions they make in those moments.
I didn’t raise my daughter because I was not the best mother for her. I wasn’t prepared. I wanted her to have the best life, and I was not the best option for that. I chose adoption for her.
I didn’t give my baby to strangers. I spent hours reading stories of parents who would love my daughter, found a family that felt right, and personally placed my daughter into her mother’s arms. You don’t give a baby away. She isn’t a gift or an object. She is the most important person in my world.
How do those make you feel?
Usually frustrated, to be honest. It’s hard to go through such an emotional process, to make a beautiful and life-changing decision, just to have someone reduce it to an apathetic sentence or two. It can make me angry or sad when adoption is misrepresented that way, because I’ve had such a positive experience with it. That’s why I think it’s so important to challenge those assumptions and hopefully shift the way people think of adoption.
I think the important thing to hold on to, in a lot of these conversations, is that people form opinions based on what they know and have experienced themselves. So if you, as a birth mom, are comfortable with talking about your own experience, it can educate others and give them another point of view on the subject. I’m usually not comfortable telling my own story, simply because of my own situation, but I do usually try to play devil’s advocate in those situations as best I can. I try to make sure that I offer another perspective.
What is your typical response to people who use words like “give up” and “put up” for adoption? (I know you had several thoughts in your blog here.)
I have a pretty visceral reaction to hearing people say birth mothers “gave up” their baby or that they “put up” their baby for adoption. I try to remember that most people don’t mean any harm by it, but I definitely take the time to change the language of people who know about my daughter.
“Give up” sounds to me like a bad habit, like my beautiful daughter was a mistake I needed to get rid of and adoption was the easy way out. It offends me to think that my daughter is anything but the smart, curious, amazing, funny girl she is. She’s the best thing that ever happened to me, and I’m so proud of who she is, and saying I gave her up implies that her existence was a problem that I needed adoption to fix. Nothing could be further from the truth.
“Put up for adoption” is another phrase I hate, because it sounds impersonal and transactional. Like I posted an ad on Craigslist for newborn baby — free to a good home. As I mentioned, babies are not gifts or commodities. They are the most precious parts of ourselves and as birth mothers, we love our children more than I can possibly express.
I much prefer saying that I chose adoption, or that I placed my daughter with a family. I think that captures the feeling much better – that I chose her parents, that I was involved the whole way through, that it was a decision I made out of love, that I took my time to make the choice. Most of all, that I took the time to choose the right people – I didn’t just accept whoever came along first.
Do you have any advice for other birth moms, adoptive parents, or even children who don’t know how to respond to language such as this?:
My responses usually go something like this, when these topics come up:
- “Keep your baby”
- I chose not to raise my daughter — I wanted her to have a loving family, and I thought she deserved better than an unprepared single mother who wasn’t ready to be a parent. So I chose a stable, happy, healthy family for her.
- “Unwanted pregnancy”
- It wasn’t unwanted. It was unplanned. There is a massive, and important, difference.
- “Give up” or “give away”
- I didn’t give her away. She isn’t an object. I chose parents who were better prepared than I was, people who were emotionally and financially prepared for a child.
- “Real parents”
- I am real, and my daughter’s parents are real. She’s my daughter because I gave birth to her, and she’s their daughter because they are raising her. To imply that any of us are not real is to diminish what we’ve all gone through in this process, and I don’t accept that.
- “Adopted child”
- She’s their child. She knows she’s adopted and they are raising her to know that it’s simply part of her story, part of who she is. There is no shame whatsoever in being adopted — it just means you have extra people who love you.
Do you have any advice – for people in general – on talking about adoption?
ASK QUESTIONS! We have no idea what you’re curious about, unless you ask. We have no idea what your objections are, until you discuss them (I emphasize “discuss” and not lecture, impose, or judge). We have no idea what you’re interested in hearing, until you bring it up. I am always willing to clarify or explain or talk about my story. I think people avoid asking questions about adoption because they assume it’s a difficult topic, but even when it is (occasionally it is, yes), I’m usually just so glad that they came out and asked. Then I know what they’re wondering about, and I can give them information.
As birth mothers, we don’t get to brag about our kids as much as most mothers do, so most of us love the opportunity to talk about adoption and our children and their families. Ask questions, get clarification. Ask us about our experience with adoption, why we chose it, what the process was like, how we feel about it. Don’t be afraid to talk to us about it. It’s a huge part of our lives and we think about it all the time, so sometimes it’s nice knowing that someone else is too.
When people ask things like “don’t you love your baby?” or “don’t you want to see your baby again?”, or even call the adoptive parents “strangers,” it makes it sound like birth mothers don’t have a ton of say in the process. They may not know that birth mothers today do. That’s why we prefer to say “make an adoption plan” at AWL – because you have the option to plan for your baby’s life, including choosing the parents. What are your thoughts on this?
“Don’t you love your baby?” That one’s easy: yes. More than the earth. More than you can imagine. Imagine what it takes to go through pregnancy, go through childbirth, hold your beautiful baby in your arms and accept that you cannot provide the life you think your child deserves. It’s impossible. It’s an impossible choice and it hurts. It’s the hardest choice I’ve ever made in my entire life, no contest. But the love you have for your child outweighs everything. The love is more important than the doubts, the fears, the deliberation.
At the end of the day, you make the choice – whether to raise your child, or to place them with a family – out of love. You make that choice for your child, not for you, BECAUSE you love them so much.
“Don’t you want to see your baby again?” Well… it’s complicated. Yes, of course I want to see her. I have seen her, and I always want to see her again. I think about it all the time. But I also understand the birth mothers who don’t see their children. It is impossible to explain the conflicting emotions. You want to see your baby – of course you do. But it’s another one of those choices that has a lot to do with emotion, and what you ultimately think is best for your child. Some birth moms think it’s better if they stay away entirely, to let their child grow up with his or her family without influence from their birth parents. Some birth moms want to be involved all the time, on every level, as much as possible. Most of us, though, fall somewhere in between. I love seeing my daughter, but I also do my best not to intrude on their lives too often. It depends entirely on your situation, on your child’s family, on how everyone feels about it. There’s no right or wrong answer. It’s complicated. The emotions are complicated.
Is there anything else you want people to know about adoption, or about your experience?
I think there’s a misconception that adoption is this quick, simple thing – like you just fill out a form, hand your baby off to stranger, and move on with your life. That doesn’t even resemble my actual experience. Adoption has been (and sometimes still is) an emotional roller coaster, and you have these moments of unbearable sadness and intense joy, and you have all of these incredible experiences you never imagined possible.
I think of adoption as such an amazing and loving and beautiful thing, and I wish people knew that it is emotional, but it can also be wonderful.
I have held my daughter and talked to her, have had conversations with her parents, have seen pictures of my daughter on almost every holiday. I plan to be a part of her life, and I have by no means “moved on” from the experience. It’s a part of me and my life, of who I am, and that’s never going to change.
If you are a birth parent or adoptive parent looking to learn more about adoption language, please download Adoption With Love’s free “Guide to Talking About Adoption” below. For more information on adoption in general, you may call Adoptions With Love toll-free at 1-800-722-7731.