Impact of Adoption on Birth Parents: Gaining Control and Resolution

This information was taken directly from Child Welfare Information Gateway

Gaining Control and Resolution

Each individual’s path toward reconciling the placement of a child for adoption is different, but there are some common themes: (1) resolving grief, (2) making peace with the decision, (3) incorporating being a birth parent into one’s identity, and (4) overcoming the effect of the experience on other relationships (Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, 2007). Acceptance of the loss and working through the grief does not mean that birth parents forget their birth child and never again feel sorrow or regret for the loss. Rather, it means that they are able to move forward and integrate this loss into their ongoing lives. For those in an open adoption, this may mean developing a new relationship with the child and the adoptive parents. For birth parents whose child was adopted in a closed adoption, it may mean learning to live with uncertainty about whether the parent will ever see the child again.

The following describes ways birth parents may cope with the placement of their child:

Rituals. Birth parents may find it helpful to create a tradition that honors the child and the decision that was made. Some birth and adoptive parents use an entrustment ceremony as a ritual to transfer parental roles. Entrustment ceremonies can take place in the hospital, a church, a home, or any other location in which the families feel comfortable. There are no guidelines to an entrustment ceremony; the families can tailor the ceremony to fit their needs and wishes. Entrustment ceremonies allow the birth parents to say good-bye to their child and to maintain a sense of control over the placement. Birth parents also may choose to establish other ongoing or finite rituals, such as commemorating certain days or milestones in the child’s life, such as the child’s birthday or a high school graduation or writing a letter to the child, whether they send it or not.

Finding Support. Birth parents can seek out family, friends, support groups of other birth parents, or understanding counselors to communicate their feelings and gain support. Being able to openly share feelings is often helpful in moving through the stages of grief and achieving some resolution.

Education. There are a number of books, articles, and websites (including blogs) about adoption and the birth parent experience. Many of these include first-person accounts from birth parents, which can provide some context about what other birth parents experience. These resources can be helpful to birth parents who may feel that they are alone in their loss.

Writing. Birth parents may find it useful to keep a journal or blog of their experiences and feelings. This may serve as an outlet for grief or other emotions, and it can also serve to provide some perspective over time. Keeping a journal also allows birth parents to remember details that might otherwise be forgotten over the years.

Counseling. Birth parents may find that they need more support than family and friends can offer, or they may be unable to move forward in the grieving process. In such cases, professional counseling may help the birth parent make progress in dealing with the grief or may reassure the parent that such feelings are normal. A counselor should be able to help a birth parent replace unrealistic fantasy with reality, to acknowledge what has happened, and to accept the reality of the birth parent role. Birth parents should look for counselors who have significant experience with adoption and with bereavement. Referrals for counselors may come from friends, birth parent support groups, or from the adoption agency or attorney who helped with the adoption.

Other Postadoption Services. Birth parents also may benefit from postadoption services, such as support groups or mentoring programs. Some birth parents may be reluctant to return to the agencies that facilitated their placements and seek out in-home services or other agencies (Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, 2007).

While the birth parent will never forget the child, it is important that the birth parent adapts to the new circumstances and comes to terms with any regret. When birth parents are able to integrate the loss into their lives and gain some feeling of control, they can then move on to deal with whatever else life brings to them.

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Child Welfare Information Gateway. (2013). Impact of adoption on birth parents. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Children’s Bureau.