Have you ever been through something that isolated you from the rest of the world? Something that made you think no one could understand what you are going through at that moment? ? I have countless times. Those moments are so raw and painful. We cannot possibly fathom that there are others who have been in the same place as us at one time in their lives. The reality is, however, that there are many women who have been in my shoes. They’ve come before me and they will continue to come long after my moments of heartache end. While I without a doubt can relate to them, I will never fully understand what they are going through. We are all so different. We cope, grieve, and understand in different ways. The first woman that I had to try and understand was my own birth mother.

Cheryl was a 17-year-old who had been rebelling for years. She never made it past middle school as she dropped out in pursuit of temporary highs and false promises. My grandparents were at a loss. They did not know what to do with her or how to keep her out of trouble. It was no surprise to anyone that she had found herself pregnant at 16. I remember recently talking to my grandfather about all of this, and he told me that he’d had no idea if she would make what seemed like the right choice to those closest to her and choose to place me for adoption, but he’d hoped God would give her the strength to make the right choice. He knew that the young woman who once was his little girl was no longer making healthy and wise choices. There is no telling what kind of life I would have had if she had chosen to parent. While it’s wonderful that parenting is an option for some situations, this is not one of them. Now almost 33 years later, my birth mother is an addict struggling with a great deal of pain. I will never understand why having three children and one stillborn child was not enough to make her get help and change. Grief is funny like that. Addiction is, too. It takes away from us, and if we don’t keep the monster at bay, we lose ourselves to it. There are things that I have learned from watching my birth mother and other birth mothers over the past 13 years of being a birth mother myself. I will continue to press forward and try to understand every single one of them with whom I cross paths. 

I Will Never Fully Understand Your Situation

As not only a birth mother but also as an adoptee, I have learned how different situations affect us and therefore affect how we adapt to life around us. Growing up in a closed adoption, I struggled with many questions about my identity. These questions then fed into a lack of self-worth. I became desperate for anyone to show me attention. The only ones who did were boys and they gave me a temporary fix for the holes I was finding in my life. I felt seen, beautiful, and loved. Little did I know I was just the pretty thing of the day or week and easily discarded for the next. They did not care about me or believe in my worth. Pretty soon, I believed that I was worth nothing more than to be owned, desired, and discarded by men. It’s not a mystery how I faced an unplanned pregnancy by age 18 and two by age 21. It breaks my heart to think back on the girl I used to be; she was so alone, misunderstood, and broken. I had no idea that I was worth so much more, that I could be so much more, and that I could rise up from my brokenness and flourish. 

Unfortunately, it took me until I was about 25 to wake up and fight for myself. The point of all of this is I don’t know your situation and I will never understand what it’s like to be in your exact shoes; however, I do understand brokenness, hurt, and a heavy past. We are all a little broken in some manner, but we are phoenixes who rise up from the ashes of our past to burn a new path of strength and resilience as birth mothers. We can take things as they are and decide if parenting or adoption is the right next step. No matter how far we tumble toward the bottom, we can always muster up the strength to rise back up. I know that no matter your situation, you made the choice you did for a reason. 

I Will Never Fully Understand Your Grief

I said earlier that grief is a twisted thing, or a monster if you will. Because of the loss we suffer as birth mothers by losing a child, we end up living a long life of hurt. And not only do we hurt but others hurt us. People assume that they understand the situations that put us at the crossroads of parenting or adoption. They think they understand that it’s an easy choice. How can we not just pull up our big girl panties and raise the child we made? How can we be so selfish to think that not parenting is the best option? Not only do we hear how selfish we are, but we also hear about how we clearly aren’t the best option for the baby, and how our situation made us unfit to be a mother. Somehow that lack of recognition in motherhood sticks with us. It’s such a vicious cycle to live in a double standard of shunned if we do and shunned if we don’t. The shame creeps in while the grief stirs its storm. 

Let me stop here and break the cycle. First, you are not selfish if you decide to place a child for adoption. Second, no one knows if the life you chose for your child was better than the one you didn’t because no one can see the future of what could have been or will be; you knew you needed something different for your baby at that time of your life. Third, you are not unfit to be a mother just because you place a child for adoption—if anything, you are mature and selfless enough to know that you may not be in the right position at that time in your life to provide everything you wish for your baby. Don’t let someone tell you that you are not a mother. Clearly, nothing can keep us from the grief that we feel after losing the mantle of motherhood. It hurts and it is something we have to fight against every day for the rest of our lives. For the longest time, I was in denial about ever feeling sad about my adoption plan. I didn’t think I would hurt. But eventually, I hit a brick wall of reality and realized I needed to process what had happened to me. So while I cannot fully understand your grief, I know you are not alone and that there are outlets of support for you. Finding therapy, support groups, and other birth mothers to talk with are great steps in the right direction. 

What I Want Others to Try and Understand about Birth Mothers

I hate stigmas. Every single day, I hear something that rubs me wrong. The other day I was standing in line at the post office to buy some stamps and mail some packages when the woman in front of me started going through the steps to mail off her package. The mail clerk asked her if she wanted to put a return address, and she replied, “No, we are adoptive parents. I don’t want us to be tracked. In fact, we are six hours from our home currently.” There’s plenty to unpack here, but the immediate response I had was frustration. I wanted to say, “Excuse me, I’m a birth mother! We are not a threat to you, especially not to need to drive six hours away to mail a package!” But I bit my tongue and waited to vent to my mother as soon as my errand was concluded. I called her and told her the story. I said “Mom, I was so bothered by that woman. I wanted to tell her that she is so misinformed about birth mothers.” While my feelings were totally valid and I always try and share a different perspective when it comes to these things, my mom, who is an adoptive mom herself, understood it differently than I did. She wasn’t seeing it through my lens of trauma and pain as a birth mother. She said, “Katie, we don’t know her situation. It could be a difficult one.” I paused and gave thought to it. Yes, there are situations out there that cause friction between birth parents and adoptive parents, and there are situations on both sides where boundaries may not be respected. 

However, that woman’s words still did not sit right with me because birth mothers are still seen as Lifetime movie characters that will just turn around and take the baby back from the adoptive parents or wreak havoc on the adoptive family’s life. The media’s view is so unrealistic. The reality is that most birth mothers are normal women who just want to have a connection to their child after placement. In fact, many birth mothers even want to have a connection with the adoptive parents. They just want to see that their adoption plan is working and that their child is living a life full of love and opportunity. I wish more people would take the time to understand that, learn from birth mothers and birth fathers, hear our stories, and see what modern birth parents look like. I also wish that more people would understand human behavior enough to give grace to people. The world would be better if we looked at people and tried to believe that they are doing the very best that they can. We all go through seasons of life that are challenging or hard, but we don’t always stay there. We grow, we learn, and we progress to a different season of life. Thus, others should give space for grace and try to understand birth mothers. 

Why Understanding Birth Mothers Is So Important

If you haven’t already come to a conclusion of how these things affect birth mothers and cause them grief, try and pause a moment to think of how you would feel if you put yourself in the shoes of some of the situations I listed. Would you have been hurt? Would you have had to fight shame? Would you have been more mindful of your words? Would you have rallied to support a struggling birth mother who needed you? Would you have felt guilt for not having grace for a birth mother ten years ago?

One thing that I have learned this year about uncomfortable feelings that I don’t fully understand is that I need to listen to my feelings. I need to process why I am uncomfortable, how I can grow, and what efforts and resources I can use. My first step is to always check my pride at the door and promise to be mindful of my words, body language, and listening skills. I know at the end of that intentional effort I can better understand those around me. Change takes time and, as we have learned this year, understanding takes intentional effort. We will never understand certain situations because they simply are not our situation, but we can still make the brave effort to see, hear, learn from, understand, and support birth mothers.