Just when you think you have a handle on all the emotions that come along with placing your child for adoption, the smallest thing can bring all the pain rushing back. That could be the baby aisle at Target, hearing a song you first heard while pregnant, or even a smell that reminds you of that time in your life. Even more triggering than the small stuff might be things such as holidays, family events, and birthdays. All of these moments highlight the painful truth—we, as birth parents are to be celebrating these occasions without a child in our arms. We celebrate these things alone, all while picturing our birth child celebrating at their home without us. For some with open adoption, you may get to be a part of some of these things, but there will always be that reminder that you are just a guest in that moment. It is a stark reality of adoption that continues to sting year after year. 

Celebrating your birth child’s birthday can be one of the most painful days for us birth parents. After all, we were there. A birth mother is the one who is doing the physical work for birthing a child. I can still remember every detail of that day. I can also remember one year later, on my daughter’s first birthday, feeling completely lost and alone. I was unsure of how to feel, how to celebrate, and even considered it an anti-celebration. As the years went on, it was a struggle each time the big day was coming up. Each year brought a different emotion and I never felt prepared on how to handle that day.

As I met more birth parents and reflected back on the advice they gave me at the agency I placed, I realized that there is not one set way to deal with a big event, like a birthday, as a birth parent. Each journey, each road we walk is different from the next person’s story; so there is not going to be a black and white answer to how you should honor your birth child’s birthday. There are a few things I have learned that could be helpful for a birth parent during those times.


  • Having a small celebration with your support system can be helpful, as long as your people are healthy and stable enough to support you through whatever emotion might arise
  • Lighting a candle or making a cake every year to honor your child
  • Writing a letter to your child, whether you decide to mail it or not, can be very therapeutic in releasing your feelings
  • Mailing a gift to your child, if your adoption plan allows for that
  • Reaching out to other birth parents—they can understand how you might be feeling

There are many different ways you can honor your child on their birthday. You can decide to do the same thing every year or change it up, as your relationship with your child grows. There is one very important thing to remember: do not forget to honor yourself as well. You deserve to be recognized as a birth parent and whatever feelings you may have are valid and understandable. Whether your adoption is closed, open, or somewhere in between, taking the time to honor yourself and your child in some way can help you grieve, and grow, through this journey.

Are you considering placing a child for adoption? Not sure what to do next? First, know that you are not alone. Visit Adoption.org or call 1-800-ADOPT-98 to speak to one of our Options Counselors to get compassionate, nonjudgmental support. We are here to assist you in any way we can.