Within the walls of my mind, I have often replayed the day my birth son came into the world. The sheer number of people in that hospital waiting room overwhelmed the staff. Among them was a quiet young man awaiting permission from my father to enter the birthing room and see his baby for the first and last time. That night in the hospital would also be the last time he saw me—a friend of many years and a brief lover with whom he had endured a rocky association.
While he held the child we’d created together and looked into his face, I watched. Few meaningless words passed between us as I tried to read his deepening brow. In my memory, we stayed that way forever. Love mingled with pain on this young man’s face as he drank in those moments. I wouldn’t have a chance to see his journey after that night, but I would hear of others: the footnotes in birth mother’s stories, the seemingly absent men who made eyes gloss over with nostalgia. But it was in what I didn’t hear that I recognized a silenced demographic enduring stifled pain.
I wish to address these men now and offer four suggestions for coming to peace with life as a birth father.
1. Let Yourself Grieve
The placement of a child isn’t something you can or should disregard as insignificant. While no two people experience pain in the same way, it is important to understand that your pain as a birth father is as real as the pain experienced by a birth mother. Know that grief is a life-long part of your journey, and you may grieve many losses as a result of the adoption:
- Opportunity to parent: Once the decision to place has been made, birth fathers may grieve their chance to parent and have rights to their birth child.
- Relationship with the birth mother: The relationships between birth parents are enormously complicated and heavily laden with emotion. You may grieve the friendship, romantic involvement, or even acquaintanceship with the birth mother.
- Familiar ideal: No one aspires to become a birth parent. As a birth father, you may grieve the loss of the family you imagined. You may feel sorrow at being unable to raise all of your children together.
In addition to recognizing what you’re grieving, it is important to face your pain rather than suppress it. Grief deserves acknowledgement. Avoiding grief is not only counter-productive toward healing, but it also gives the impression to others that you’re running from the situation. Instead, try talking to someone you trust, writing down your thoughts, or expressing yourself through something you love. Have the courage to address your feelings.
2. Know What You Can Control
One of the most difficult aspects of being a birth parent is the loss of stewardship and access to the birth child. There are many factors that influence openness of an adoption and the wishes of adoptive parents, adoptees, and birth mothers that a birth father should consider. As challenging as it can be, you may feel greater peace if you seek to empathize with those in the adoption and understand their wishes. If you are able, ask questions about aspects you don’t understand. Recognize that once you’ve made an effort to either be a greater part of your birth child’s life or otherwise change particulars of the adoption, the decision to accept your efforts rests in the hands of others.
And, as always, you cannot control the past; instead, focus on doing what you can in the present.
3. Love Your Birth Child
The love a birth parent has for a child they placed is various and unique to each relationship. You may fear that being in love with your birth child would mean facing more pain because of the separation. While this fear is rational and widely felt, avoiding your birth child as a result could lead to further pain for all involved parties. Remember: regardless of your involvement in the pregnancy or adoption, you still took part in the origin of your birth child and, as such, will always be a significant part of their identity. Their feelings toward you may be equally complicated, and knowing of your love for them could help as they navigate their own understanding.
Show that you love your birth child through actions and words. If you are involved in an open adoption, be sure to keep your promises and respect boundaries to demonstrate that you care for the child and the adoption. If you are less involved than you would like or not involved at all, there are still ways you can express your affection: write letters to your birth child or keep a journal for them. If you reconnect someday, they will know that they have always been in your thoughts and memory.
4. Defy the Stereotype
Both birth mothers and fathers often fall victim of stereotyping and judgement. The domestic birth mother community has banded together through awareness campaigns to change the negative assumptions toward them, but birth fathers have yet to be heard as successfully. As a birth father, recognize that your voice is also significant. If you can, tell your story. You can also empower yourself and other birth fathers through example.
Master your strength, and boldly press forward toward your goals. Focus on improving yourself as an individual rather than allowing denial or pain to defeat you. This will not only enhance your confidence, but will also allow you to set an example for your birth child. Regardless of your adoption situation, you can always work toward becoming an inspiration for those within the the adoption community and wider world. Never underestimate the impact you can have.