Parenting After Placement – A Birth Mom’s Perspective

After hours of labor, I heard the joyful cry of the child I had worked for the better part of year to create. Tears came from nowhere as I automatically held out my arms to comfort my son. There was a bond between us, the one I’d heard about in books and stories from other mothers. “Bittersweet” cannot define what that moment was to me, for I knew I was placing that child for adoption.

Years passed. My grieving had led me to comfort, I got married and when my birth son was 4 years old, and my husband and I were expecting a son. I’m not sure what I expected from my pregnancy, nor from parenting. Even now that my husband and I have a son and we contemplate adding another to our little family, I don’t know what to expect. In terms of being a mother and a birth mother, there are a few things I have come to know:

1) You can never replace the child you placed. Sadly, this is a comment I got a lot when my husband and I were expecting. People either accused me of trying to replace my birth son, or just flat out told me I couldn’t replace him. Didn’t they think I knew that? But I must expand on the subject: I never wanted to replace him. I want him to forever hold a special place in my heart, just like my other children will. He is part of me, I am part of him, we have a relationship that is unique to us. No, I’m not his mother and he is considered my “birth son” (not my son). I could never replace the child who reminded me how to live. I could never replace that precious soul that reminded me, without ever saying a word, that my life had value. I could never replace the son who taught me what sacrifice, love, and life were all about. I could never—and I would never want to.

2) Bonding did/does frighten me. This one surprised me a bit, I’ll certainly admit that! I bonded so naturally with my birth son that when the time came for my son to be born, I saw his little toes and the glee in my husband’s eye (“You did it! Great job!”), and I laid down my head. I was waiting for the moment of awe when the bond would wash over me and I could coo and cuddle this precious baby. I held him in my arms and I knew I loved him—I had an instinct inside me telling me he was mine—but I was so afraid to bond. My mind said,  “You’ve bonded with a child before, remember how that turned out?” part of me thought, “You really think you can live through not raising another child?” Of course, it was a protection I had somehow placed over myself. A shell I didn’t know existed. It took counseling to break it down and allow a bond with my child, and I can assure you that the bond exists now. As I mentioned before, my husband and I are considering adding another to our family. I feel the same fear of bonding and loving a child, but I think I’m more prepared about it that fear this time around. I won’t deny what my mind is telling me, but rather work through it.

3) It’s OK to continue to grieve. My birth son’s family did so much to include me in his life. I’m so blessed to be able to have pictures and updates as frequently as I do. When my husband and I had our son, I saw him roll over for the first time, I fed him mashed carrots, and I recorded his first steps. I woke up with him in the middle of the night and changed his diaper more times than seems possible. I’m his mother, and becoming my son’s mother made me realize once again how much I had missed in my birth son’s life. I knew I would miss it all, and I chose adoption so that he would have two parents and at least one of them would be there to not miss it. His parents didn’t miss those milestones, but I had, and that reopened the wounds once again. The joy I feel with each of my son’s milestones makes me realize what I am missing my birth son’s life.

However, and it took me a few months to realize this, it’s OK to continue to grieve. I went back to a birth mother’s support group and an individual counselor. The counseling lasted only around a month before I felt the joy of motherhood was in me and the jealousy I felt for the adoptive parents was gone. It’s something that shocked me, that becoming a parent after placing a child meant I would need to grieve my birth son once again. It reminded me that grief is ongoing, and that’s OK. It reminded me that, As Elizabeth Kubler-Ross and John Kessler wrote, “the reality is that you will grieve forever. You will not ‘get over’ the loss of a loved one; you will learn to live with it. You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again, but you will never be the same. Nor should you be the same, nor should you want to be the same.”

Being a parent is rewarding, and I love every second of it—even through the temper tantrums and the refusal to eat his peas. Being a birth mom sheds a different light on parenthood, on myself. In becoming a mother, I relearned how fresh the wounds of adoption always are, I learned that I can be strong once again, and I learned quickly that I’m willing to do whatever I need to in order to provide the best environment for all of my children and myself.

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