Adoption at Birth: Coping With the Aftermath

Ever since I was a little girl, things haven’t ever worked out like I expected them to. It was hard growing up as an adoptee from a closed adoption at birth, which meant I didn’t have any connection to my biological family. While I had wonderful parents and a great life, I was always trying to find where I fit in. I was so desperate to belong. Of course, I didn’t realize this then, but I was struggling with my identity, which fed into my lack of confidence in myself and my worth. It wasn’t long before I found a path of rebellion and felt more accepted with the other misfits. I let others define my worth, mainly boys, and not too long after I ended up pregnant at 18.

As an adoptee, I did consider adoption at birth, but I eventually decided to parent. I truly tried my best for the season of life I was in. My desire to be his mother was so strong, but I had no idea how to even take care of myself. Eventually, I looked around us and it wasn’t working out how I had hoped. He deserved more than I could find the stability and maturity to give. This was not what I wanted for my son. My parents thankfully offered to adopt him when he was six months old. The day that I signed the relinquishment papers is still so vivid in my brain. I knew without a doubt that this was the right thing to do, but it hurt. I remember crumbling to the floor and I just wailed. The pain was too much to bear and I eventually pushed it so far down that I was numb. I began to grow up a little bit, but I was still a hurting young adult who didn’t know what direction she wanted to land in.

A few years later, I was back where I began—pregnant and overwhelmed. I knew that regardless of how much pain I knew I would surely face that I needed to look into adoption at birth this time. I put on a brave face and wore my adoptee mask for most of my journey. My rose-colored lenses helped me live in this alternate reality where I believed that I would never hurt or be sad because adoption is such a beautiful thing. I’m creating a family. I am amazing. It was all a crutch bound to break at the first rocky obstacle. It took me about five years post-placement to realize that I had been living in denial. Grief had consumed me. I wish I could tell you that this was the pivot point for me and I got help but, unfortunately, I had my own junk with therapy and people telling me what it looked like to be mentally healthy that I refused to let this become a thing. I brushed it off and convinced myself that it was just a phase and that it would go away once I cried it out a few times. That never happened. For the next two to three years my grief would rear its ugly head and I’d sweep it under the rug before anyone could connect the dots.

By the time my daughter was eight, I gained the courage to ask for help. I realized that I had the power in my therapy sessions and that was what finally got me through the door for my first session. I was quite the defiant client still, but after about a year that pain that I had buried so deep inside of me came out. I had convinced my mind that feelings were negative, and I avoided them at all costs. So much that I couldn’t even watch a chick-flick because I didn’t want to feel anything. It had affected my relationships, my friendships, my family life, and the thing that hurts the most to admit is that it kept me from being at my best for my kids.

With time, I have come to know my feelings like the back of my hand. I know when things trigger me, sometimes I know before something even happens that they will, I know how I best process my thoughts, and I know that my story is not something for which I should scold myself. I often think back to that broken girl who didn’t see how beautiful and worthy she was, and I tell her, “I see you. I know your heart. You are enough and nothing that happened between then and who I am today changes that.” If there was anything that I would want someone to take from my story, it would be that your past doesn’t define you, but if you don’t unpack your story and commit to healing, you might get stuck in a chapter for far too long. You are worthy of healing, love, and support. The journey won’t be easy, but it will be rewarding. Here are some tips for how you can cope after adoption at birth.

Therapy After Adoption

I know, not many people want to be told they need therapy but, the truth is, everyone can benefit from it. Therapy is whatever you make of it and if you just simply need to vent for an hour it can be that for you. However, there are also a lot of other therapeutic practices worth pursuing. I found good progress through Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR). I’ll be honest, I didn’t have high hopes for therapy to work and when my therapist suggested EMDR, I was skeptical. After all, it’s the process of holding two small devices in your hands that vibrate back-and-forth, mimicking how your eyes move when in a REM Cycle. This allows your brain to naturally reprocess traumatic or stressful memories to work toward healing. It sounds bananas, but it truly helped so it’s something to look into. Two other activities I am currently working on are an attachment styles workbook and reading a boundaries book. While what is suggested for my journey may not apply to your journey, I am sharing these different examples because it’s not always about someone psychoanalyzing you while you pour out your heart on a couch. It is interactive, thought-provoking, a huge step of growth, and dare I even say fun sometimes. I know it can take time for you to get to a place where you want to try therapy, but I encourage you to try it and see if it’s something worth doing for even a short-term time. 

Adoption Support Groups

I had to attend many groups growing up as a rebellious teen, so I have never been gung-ho about sitting in a room with others talking about our problems. That all changed for me when I went to a birth mom support group at the agency I used to place my children. While the group was far from perfect and had some major growing pains, I began to meet so many other birth moms in my area. It eventually was more about me networking and connecting with new friends and not so much a therapeutic motivation.

While support groups also offer a great safe space to unpack your story and situations as well as gain beneficial feedback, they are even better for meeting other people who have gone through placing a child for adoption at birth. I cannot tell you how valuable my friendships are with birth moms that I’ve met over the years. I call them whenever I am triggered by something in life, text them all of the time, meet up with them as often as I can to simply just fellowship, and just as I would for them they’ll always be there for me. Because we see through the lenses of a birth mom, we understand things differently than anyone else could and it makes a huge difference. There are many support groups out there that you can try out very easily because we live in a very virtual world thanks to the year 2020, so finding one to hop onto for a short bit is as easy as a web search. There are also events for birth moms and birth parents that are mainly for networking and making friends. Those are a great stepping stone if you are not ready to go to a therapeutic or more formal support group. I challenge you to at least find a group of birth mamas to lean on after placing a child for adoption at birth. I believe it will be one of the most helpful coping skills you utilize. 

Coping Skills

I love to write. Thank goodness, since I have about seven to ten articles a month to shoot over to my editor. But really, I can articulate my feelings and thoughts with such clarity on paper or my laptop. Sharing my story has helped me as well, which feeds into the writing. Find things that you enjoy doing already like hiking, hanging out with your dog, getting dinner with a friend, painting, doing home décor or DIY projects, watching Netflix for hours, listening to music while you go on a run, et cetera. All of those things—yes, even binging Netflix—are healthy coping skills. Anything that is taking time for yourself to recharge or process is a coping skill.

This year I made a goal for myself to visit 12 state parks for hikes. I can relieve stress, and also get lost in the beauty of nature alone or with others while I take a break from reality. It’s been a great motivator for me to take time for myself and to find a retreat for my mind. Whatever it is that you decide to do, make sure that it stays a healthy routine and not unhealthy. Coping skills can become unhealthy if they are causing you to find isolation. Solitude and isolation are very different. While solitude is sometimes isolating because you are alone doing something without distractions, it’s temporary me time, but isolation is avoiding connection and destructively retreating within yourself. Make sure to check in with yourself during activities that you are doing alone and think, “Am I depending on this activity to keep me ‘checked out’ or am I just taking a break for a bit?” Isolation can lead to depression and that’s not something that you want to add to an already difficult healing journey out of grief. Depression is sometimes avoidable if you suffer from it, but that’s all the more reason to be mindful of your coping skills and how they are or are not benefiting you. 

Connection with Your Child

All situations are different, and I don’t know if you have visited, updates only with no visits, or closed adoption. If you can visit your child, make sure to check in with yourself and think, “Am I ready for this? Or will this only deepen my grief?” It’s okay to not be ready to see your baby after adoption at birth. Many birth moms cannot imagine seeing their child in the first year of their life. Make sure you are transparent with the adoptive parents or your caseworker if that is the case because supporting you post-placement is important. If you are ready, be fully present during those visits and when you leave them, check-in with a friend or family member, journal your thoughts or find a healthy coping skill to do as soon as you can to help you unpack your feelings. If you have a closed adoption and you do not get updates or visits, I want to encourage you to start a journal for your child. Write them letters to get your thoughts out and to help you unfold what you are feeling. Maybe someday you will get to give them some of your letters as I would encourage you to never give up hope of seeing your child again someday. Whatever works best in your situation, just find a way to have a connection to your child. It will help. 

Part of coping with the aftermath of adoption at birth is learning how to cope when your emotions are triggered by something or someone. While it seems hard to believe now, your grief gets more manageable. It will never be easy, but you eventually learn what makes you sad or upset and how to prepare for it so that you can cope and move forward. It’s a lifelong journey full of challenges and hard to process emotions. Remember that healing is not linear and it will take time to get to functional grief, as silly as that sounds, but there is hope after adoption at birth. 

Are you considering placing a child for adoption? Not sure what to do next? First, know that you are not alone. Visit Adoption.org or call 1-800-ADOPT-98 to speak to one of our Options Counselors to get compassionate, nonjudgmental support. We are here to assist you in any way we can.