Have you ever wondered what to say to a woman who has relinquished her child for adoption? Afraid to say the wrong thing? Here are five comments not to make to a birth mother who has placed a child in an open adoption.

I have come up with these five comments from my own experiences, as well as the experiences of other birth mothers I have spoken with over the past two years.

1. “I could never place my baby for adoption.”

This one used to make me cringe each time I heard it. I felt like I had failed at motherhood and the person making the comment had succeeded. It was as if I must have been heartless to do such a thing. I felt inferior, like I needed to prove something to them.

I have since learned I am not inferior, and I do not have to prove my mothering abilities to anyone. Now, I believe that comment has more to do with the person making it than with myself. Never has a woman secure in her role as a mother said that to me. Only the doubting, struggling-to-get-by mothers feel they must make such a declaration.

2. “What a wonderful gift you have given to a childless couple.”

Try to see this comment from the birth mother’s point of view. Now, I love my daughter’s adoptive parents, but by no means did I place my first-born child as a “gift” to a childless couple. I am not that nice, not that giving. When I clutched my nine-months-pregnant belly with tears in my eyes, I did not recite the mantra, “Just think how I am giving a special gift to people I do not know.”

When you hold your child for the first time, all thoughts of everyone else fade away; it’s just you and your child. So, there has to be a higher reason for placement.

I gave Emily’s parents as a gift to my daughter. That was my plan. That was my intention. Now, as an added benefit, I see her parent’s lives enriched by Emily’s existence. Together, we celebrate the gift of knowing our daughter, Emily.

3. “You can have other children.”

This speaker means well, I am sure, but this comment can strike the very heart of a birth mother. Other children? You can never replace one child with another! To try and do so is to dishonor the child you have placed for adoption and the child you think could fill the void.

Let us remember our children. Let us celebrate them. We hold a special place in our hearts where their names will be etched forever.

No matter how many babies you carry out of the hospital with you, you never will forget the one you did not.

4. “That sure is ‘nice’ of her parents to let you see Emily.”

My quick reply was, “That sure was nice of me to give them my baby!”

Needless to say, the woman who said this said nothing more. I try to educate people by telling them my story, even on days I do not feel like doing so. Some, I have learned, are not able to be very teachable on the subject.

Her attitude was that I should be grateful, as a dog is grateful to get scraps from the dinner table. I will not put myself in such a position. I refuse to be the silent shadow in the corner with my eyes downcast.

Aside from the fact that my daughter’s parents would never treat me in such a fashion, I am grateful to God. The open adoption I have with my daughter is like a gift from Him—a gift that I get to open each time I see her smiling face.

5. Awkward Silence

No comments are about as bad as the wrong comments. We want to talk about our children. We want to remember them. And we know when you are avoiding it. It hurts.

I love it when others ask me how Emily is doing and to see the pictures from my recent visit. I enjoy swapping my labor and delivery tales with other mothers. By the way, I was in labor for forty-two hours with my Emily! Ouch!

It is okay to talk about the children we placed. We placed them for adoption. We did not place them out of our thoughts and hearts.

I don’t wish to offend, but to educate on how a birth mother may feel about these five comments. Since not every birth mother is the same, some may disagree or not be affected by any or all of these.

I hope by reading this article you will feel more confident and comfortable when speaking with a birth mother. Please do not think we would rather not talk about our children. For many, silence is the first step on the road to shame and lasting pain.