We often talk of the members of the adoption triad, the birth parents, the adoptive parents, and the adoptee. These sets of individuals are integral to adoption. There are many others who are affected by the act of placing a child for adoption and the family members of those that can play a significant role in helping, or making more difficult, an already emotionally-charged situation–such as the birth grandparent.
Meet Laura, a birth grandparent who shares her insights on the impact adoption had on her life.
Q. Tell us about finding out you were going to become a grandparent.
I was standing in the nail polish aisle at the local Walmart when my daughter called and told me she was pregnant. I literally sat down on the cold tile floor and tried to gather my thoughts which ranged from, “How could she be so stupid?” to “Please God, let her be alright.” To be very honest, most of the weeks that followed her initial phone call are a blur. I remember lots of tears and fear, but no good ideas on how to deal with this situation. The only thing we agreed on was that she did not want to have an abortion.
Q. Was there a specific moment you knew adoption was going to be the choice made? What were your feelings about that choice?
My daughter was 5 months pregnant when she decided to begin making an adoption plan. It was not an easy choice for her, and she was not happy about it. She was mad at me for not offering to take her and the child in; I was mad at her for the entire situation. Once she made the decision that placing was her best option, my initial reaction was one of relief followed quickly by such sadness. I had no experience with the adoption world, so my belief was that once the baby was born, she would be gone forever and that this whole experience would be something our family never talked about again. I couldn’t help but think that I was–in a sense–losing my first-born grandchild forever.
Q. How were your emotions post-placement? How did you manage your own emotions without letting them impact your child’s emotions?
First, let me say that the time my daughter spent at The Gladney Center for Adoption was such a blessing. I would go see her every Wednesday and it allowed us to repair our broken relationship. I sat with her while she went through the hopeful adoptive parent profile books. I watched her prepare for birth and prepare for placement day. I was with her when she delivered a perfect little girl and with her when she signed the papers and lovingly put her newborn child into her parents’ arms. I believe it was because of these experiences that I was able to cope in the days and weeks following placement.
I also had a great support system of friends that were there for me while I processed my emotions: mainly grief. I was so sad and concerned for my daughter. I was scared that she would not recover from the experience, and I knew that I could not let her see any of my fears because she was so fragile. I did my best to remember that whatever grief I was feeling was only a fraction of what my daughter might be feeling. I also felt a tremendous amount of guilt that somehow, I had been a terrible mother, and all of this was my fault. About six months after the baby was born, I started to see a counselor who helped me let go of the guilt and process the grief in a healthy way.
Q. What have you learned in the years since placement? Are there any viewpoints you had about adoption before that you now see differently?
I have learned so much about adoption over the years! Adoption can be an amazing option for those who choose it. It is the most unselfish act a woman can do and there is absolutely no shame in choosing to place your child. Birth mothers have options. They are actively involved in choosing who will be parenting the child they give birth to. They have options regarding an open, semi-open, or even closed adoption. I have learned that birth fathers also have options and rights regarding the choices made about the future of the child. I have learned the language of adoption—a woman does not “give her baby away,” she places her child for adoption. I have learned that there is still so much misinformation regarding adoption which is why I take every opportunity I get to educate people about the reality of adoption.
Q. What advice would you offer another grandparent whose child was considering adoption?
First, try not to make it about you. There is nothing to be embarrassed or ashamed of. I also understand and am not discounting that this child will be your birth grandchild and will always have a place in your heart. However, if your daughter (or son’s partner) finds themselves with an unplanned pregnancy and adoption is a consideration, please make it about the child. What is in the best interest of that little one? Will your family member be able to provide a stable, loving, healthy environment for the child to grow up in? Does your family member have the maturity to deal with not only a newborn, but a toddler, and then a teen? Be honest with yourself.
If she chooses adoption, help her do the research and find the right agency for her. Be her advocate. She is embarking on the most emotionally difficult time in her life. Encourage her to take advantage of the counseling programs and support groups available for birth mothers. As the birth grandparent, I encourage you to also find a group or counselor that you can process your feelings with. Remember that the journey continues long after placement day. There will be ups and downs and tears and regrets. Fifteen years after my daughter placed her daughter, I sit here in wonder and amazement at how far our family has come. My daughter has grown into an inspirational woman who is changing the face of what adoption looks like. I have seven grandchildren that I am so proud of and completely in love with, but not a day passes when I do not think about my first-born granddaughter and the space she will always have in my heart.
Like Laura mentions, supporting a birth parent during the challenging times of adoption, both pre- and post-placement is essential. As a birth mother myself, I continue to lean on my family members as both the seasons of my grief, and the milestones I experience with my relationship with my daughter, course throughout my life. Any members of the birth family, whether it be a grandparent, sibling, aunt, uncle, or cousin, might still have their own feelings of loss. Addressing those emotions through counseling or community can not only improve your own life, but also allow you to support the birth parent in the healthiest way possible. I can speak to the impact it has on a birth parent to have an encouraging parent available because Laura is my own mother and her ability to be there for me as I feel both the highs and the lows of adoption is something I am grateful for every day.