I thought long and hard about how to give advice on the preparation for post-placement grief for expectant parents with an adoption plan. Long story short, there is no right or wrong answer.
Grief – Noun: deep sorrow, especially that caused by someone’s death. Synonyms: sorrow, misery, sadness, anguish, pain, distress, agony, torment, despair, affliction
To begin, “grief” and “grieving” are already pretty strong words. The dictionary says grief is “deep sorrow, especially that caused by someone’s death.” When we think about the grief of potentially placing our child, it turns to an anticipatory grief. We are setting ourselves up for the sorrow and misery. It is self-inflicted and terrifying because the velocity of it is unknown. Post-placement, the grief is complicated. Grieving someone who is still alive is an ambiguous grief. We are grieving a person who is tangible but not “ours” in the way that our body, heart, and mind has prepared us for. Additionally, other people may not recognize or acknowledge our grief, which sometimes causes us to feel as we do not have permission to grieve this type of loss. It is a lonely and isolating type of grief.
Everyone grieves in different ways, and we all feel on our own terms. I honestly do not believe that there is a preparation for grief when you have no idea of the swiftness of the moments. The term “ebb and flow” comes to mind when I think of birth parent grief. Waves of emotion can come at any given moment, and there is never full preparation for what to expect.
I posed the question to the birth parent community I’m a part of: “What advice would you give to an expectant parent to realistically prepare for the grief that will consume them post-placement?” Many felt that it was a trick question, and the truth is, there is no way to fully prepare for grief.
However, the advice that I received was solid. One of my dearest friends made a statement that is truer than true. She said that it’s essential that a birth mom understands that “whatever she wants/needs in the moment is perfectly all right. If she wants to be alone, or be surrounded. That it’s okay to ask for whatever help/support she needs, and that it’s okay to fall apart (or not) and feel exactly what she’s feeling.”
Here’s a short list of what others suggested:
- Create a safety net in advance. Surround yourself with a support system and have post-placement counseling set up with a therapist, even if you feel like you won’t need it. You will. You should. Talking about something as monumental as adoption to a third party can help you by leaps and bounds.
- Have a pre-placement plan set up. Talk to your primary physician. Talk to the nurses when you check in at the hospital and have someone there to advocate for you and your wants/needs.
- Spend time with your baby. This is your time and you deserve this time. You will not hurt someone’s feelings by saying that you want your time. Snuggle your baby, feed her, smell her, and whisper all of your dreams for her life in her ear. Hold her close to your heart so she can hear your heartbeat. These are the moments that you will cherish and hold onto while you go through the grief of saying “see you later.”
- Allow your body time to physically heal. You’ll be tempted to “make yourself better” by launching back into your pre-pregnancy life. Don’t rush this.
- Know that grief is going to be your new normal. Allow it in to your world and trust that you are not alone in these feelings.
- Allow yourself to feel. Be kind to yourself. Acknowledge your pain and validate your feelings. Be angry, sad, or scared.
Finally, I would strongly suggest that you find a positive adoption community support group, one that is open to all members of the triad. Don’t keep it closed to just birth families. We learn from each other and we are able to hold one another up when we are at our lowest. Hearing the love and support from every member of the triad helps heal a heart. Remember, you are not alone.