This episode explores the topic of grief and resources for expectant mothers after placing their baby for adoption. Being a panel episode, the episode will feature two birth mothers who were invited to take part.
Leslie has been a birth mother for the last 15 months since this episode was recorded. She gave birth to a baby girl and has an extremely close open adoption with the adoptive parents and her daughter.
At the time this episode aired, Heather had worked at an adoption agency for 14 years, and for 12 of those years, she worked with both expectant mothers and birth parents from start to finish; helping them understand what adoption is and assisting them through the grieving process to placing their babies. She was able to learn from those she aided.
Panel Questions and Answers
Q. Leslie, have you dealt with grief in the last 15 months and how have you handled that grief?
Leslie says she has grieved a lot but it is a bit weird because while going through the adoption journey from the beginning, she felt she had prepared herself enough so that she would be able to place her daughter and not experience the emotional ups and downs that come with the grieving process. She finds that she will get hit with emotions at random times but she noticed that she ignored the grief while she was pregnant and still does at times, keeping busy so that she does not have to think about her daughter being placed. She feels that giving birth changed her to the point that although she has days where she still keeps busy so she does not have to think, she is immensely aware of what emotions she takes with her when she gets to see her daughter.
Heather says that birth mothers can do everything in their power to prepare for placing their baby and the changes come post-placement, but birth mothers will still experience the emotional upheaval that is grief. She says there are women that make the decision once they find out they are pregnant, while some wait until after the baby is born but no matter what, they do have this experience.
Q. Heather, what are some ways that birth mothers have coped, are triggers common, or is everything all over?
Heather: First of all, she states that people think that grief is kind of like a quiz; that once you have checked off all the boxes then the feelings regarding placing a baby for adoption is over for a birth mom. She says that it is not that easy. Even 50 or 60 years later, birth mothers can have those feelings of grief, She reiterated what Leslie said about staying busy just so the emotions will not hit. From the outside, it may look like a birth mother is doing awesome but if they do not work through it, being in survival mode, they will be a mess on the inside. She asks questions of her clients when they are looking to place. How have you dealt with trauma in your past? Do you hit it head-on, or run?
There are triggers that can slam into a birth mother’s emotions at any time, according to Heather. One trigger is seeing a baby the age of the birth mother’s baby, another is being a part of a happy occasion like a baby shower that can cause emotions to flare up, getting updates about the child, or visiting can make a birth mother feel bad because she wishes she could be available to the baby she placed all the time and she cannot. Holidays are really hard even the little ones like Halloween because seeing dressed-up children can make a birth mother feel things she does not necessarily want to.
Leslie was asked if in the 15 months since placing her daughter if any of the triggers that Heather brought up stuck out to her. For her, the holidays were the most difficult. She gave birth in October and did not think about what those upcoming holidays would mean so they hit her all at once. There are other things that happened while she was pregnant that she did not realize would trigger her afterward. For example, when she was pregnant, she would drink Dr. Pepper and it would cause her daughter to move around in her belly but post-placement she would drink it, not feeling her daughter move anymore, and can now acknowledge that Dr. Pepper is a trigger that makes her sad sometimes.
Q. Leslie, are there things that have aided you in dealing with your grief?
Leslie: Being in an open adoption has helped her even though she has to mentally prepare herself before she looks at text messages or updates. She is an overthinker and does not know who she would be if she did not have an open adoption. She uses this as a positive way to cope as she could have had a closed adoption and would not be able to get the updates on her daughter because that pain she experiences is worth it.
Heather spoke to Leslie about how well she is self-caring enough that she sets boundaries on what she sees when a message or update pops up.
Muthoni, a year into post-adoption, had to change her notifications on her phone so she would not see what it was until she was able to prepare to look at it. Later on, her daughter’s adoptive mom would message and ask her if she wanted an update prior to sending one, giving Muthoni that option.
Q. Heather, what ways have you experienced when it comes to birth mothers and coping?
Heather: It is vital that birth mothers have someone they can talk to when the feelings of grief come up. Self-awareness aids the birth mother with coming up with healthy ways to combat the feelings that they know are going to hit them. For example, if a birth mother knows that she is getting an update regarding her child, she can mentally prepare for that by doing something for self-care. She stated that knowing what self-care things a birth mother can do before placement like journaling or whatever she likes that helps with dealing with these emotions. She has talked with several birth mothers about putting anything that reminds them of their adoption in the box and goes through it when they feel the need to have a cry when needed but at the same time, have the much-needed control.
Muthoni said that her therapist has tried to get her to begin journaling since starting therapy but she cannot get herself to go there. She does, however, talk to other birth mothers post-placement which helps her a lot to make friendships. She also talks with adults who were adopted which helps her the most.
Leslie, after the first couple of months post-placement tried several different projects to drown out the feelings she did not want to feel. She wanted to see what would help her feel better. She does not journal. Jigsaw puzzles are her coping mechanism, completing one a day. Not only does she do those but does word searches and crossword puzzles as well.
Q. Leslie, were there any resources that you knew about prior to placement and how did you use them?
Leslie says she learned everything as she went along. She was not aware of anything until afterward. The only thing she knew was what she saw on television and movies where it does not show what happens with the birth mother after placement. She says her caseworker was awesome, making certain she had whatever she needed especially after delivery. She knew that no matter what, her caseworker was there. She does not go to any of the birth mother meetings. There are people in her life that are not aware that she is even a birth mother and it did not occur to her to share. The idea of going to a meeting, she gets scared to go so as each month passes, she deals with it on her own, reading blogs regarding adoption.
Heather says that what Leslie is going through is quite normal for birth mothers. She ran a group for birth mothers for several years and, for a lot of them, it took them a long time to want to attend. Birth mothers have to be ready to take that step. This broadcast helps others who are listening understand that they are not alone. Choosing adoption is a hard decision but being scared to go to groups is also difficult.
Muthoni went to one or two meetings but found it was not her cup of tea. She prefers one-on-one therapy.
Q. Heather, what are some other resources that expectant mothers and birth mothers can utilize that are not a support group?
Heather: Therapy is great, but it is not for every birth mother. Finding the therapist that works for a birth mother is really important as it can benefit the birth mother to deal with the grief they feel from placing their baby but other issues they have not dealt with might come up; all the emotions and issues that come up that they might not be aware of. It’s important to find one that is okay with adoption. She encourages both birth mothers and fathers to talk with the agency to talk to a caseworker. There are more and more resources available post-adoption. Bravelove.org helps to encourage and empower birth mothers, showing videos and telling stories from the birth parents’ experience. It is important that they know that they are not alone.
Emma reiterates that being with the right therapist is so vital because it would help birth mothers deal with what they need to. There are a couple of books that she recommends to birth mothers as well that can help them deal with their feelings and emotions.
My Thoughts on Episode 21
I enjoyed listening to this podcast, getting to hear from not only three birth mothers but a caseworker as well. Leslie, the birth mother on the podcast, was upfront and frank about her feelings surrounding her adoption. I like that she brought up more than once how grateful she is that her adoption is as open as it is and she is aware that there are birth mothers that do not get to see their babies or get updates as much as she does. I also like the fact that the adoptive parents are aware of her needs and now ask if she wants an update before they send it to her. She seems to be handling post-placement adoption as well as can be expected, and I think finding out that adoption and birth mothers are not as rare as she thought. It was interesting that prior to placement, the only thing Leslie knew about adoption was only what she saw in movies and on television but those do not portray what the birth mother goes through post-placement. Most of the time, these shows only portray the adoptive parents and how happy they are when they finally become parents.
Heather seemed down to earth, and extremely sincere about the feelings and needs of birth mothers especially post-placement. I liked how she said that when a birth mother finds herself becoming self-aware and is able to find those “moments of pause,” then they are doing good even if they do not feel they are. She talked about having an “adoption box” where she urges birth mothers prior to placement to put items that remind them of their babies in a box, so when they feel the need to have a meltdown, recalling what it was like to let their baby go, they have the means to do so. All three birth mothers on the podcast have one.
Having a panel with a birth mother who is fairly new to the adoption process, and pairing her with an actual case worker allowed them to be able to ask and answer some impossible questions all in one place.