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The Impact of Adoption on Birth Parents, pg 3

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Birth and Placement

Under any circumstances, giving birth is an important event in the life of a woman and her partner. But giving birth knowing that the baby will be placed for adoption adds another dimension.

The birth experiences of women who placed a child for adoption are varied. Jones' book gives many examples. For some, the birth took place in an ugly back room of a maternity home, with very little medical care. For others, it took place in a bright, cheerful hospital with their partner, family, and preselected adoptive parents nearby. For many it was somewhere in between. Some were allowed to see their baby. Some held the baby, named the baby, and were given some time to say goodbye. Others had their baby whisked away by nurses who said it would be easier that way. Some had lots of emotional support, others did not.

Women interviewed by Jones described a number of reactions and emotions after the baby was placed. For some, after recovering physically from giving birth, the reality of what had happened sank in. To make it hurt less, they denied that what they had gone through was important. Other people also acted like it was no big deal and said the mother should just go back to whatever she was doing before she had the baby. Many women did just that.

Some women became angry, either at their parents, their partner, the adoption agency, or "society." They acted out, stole, lied, stayed out late, quit school, or got involved with a bad crowd.

Or, they turned their anger inward and became depressed. They decided that they were absolutely worthless. They believed the people who said they were no good. They started to take drugs, drink a lot of alcohol, or drive carelessly.

Some birthmothers get stuck in this phase for a long time, moving from denial to anger to depression over and over again. Birthmothers who get out of this cycle of emotions usually do so by doing one or more of the following things:

Going to counseling;
Talking with supportive family members or friends;
Attending birth parent support group meetings;
Writing their feelings down in a story or poem;
Writing letters, even if they are not sent, to their child;
Holding a private ceremony each year on their child's birthday.
All of these are positive methods for dealing with grief and accepting the loss.

When Your Child Is a Minor

The emotions associated with having placed a child for adoption will always be a part of your life. As a way of dealing with your grief, you might decide to try to find out how your child is doing. If you were involved in a confidential adoption and you do not know the identity of the adoptive family, the only way to find your child is to contact the agency or attorney who arranged the adoption. Many birthparents do this, even though the child is not yet 18.

If your adoption was confidential, you can write a letter "to the file" of the child to explain the circumstances of the placement and to tell the child that you love and wish the best for him or her. This can be very therapeutic. And it can be tremendously helpful to the child as well. In one such case, the adoptive parents of an 11-year-old boy placed as an infant called their adoption agency for assistance because he was having self-esteem problems. He was convinced that since he was placed for adoption, he must be worthless. Though he and his adoptive parents had a good relationship, he expressed to them that he felt "unlovable."

The agency social worker retrieved the boy's file and found that the birthmother had recently sent a letter, her first communication with the agency since the time of the placement. The letter explained why she placed her child, in case he ever asked.

The adoptive parents read the letter to their son and they discussed it at length. His self- esteem "shot up like a rocket." He started to like himself more, do better in school, and get along better with his friends. The adoptive parents were extremely grateful. The adoptive and birth families have now started writing letters to one another, without disclosing their identities and with the agency acting as an intermediary-an arrangement that is working out well for them.

You might decide to actually search for your child during the child's minor years. If you find him or her, you will have to decide if you want to contact the adoptive family or not. You might just want to observe from afar. Those that contact the family get different reactions. Some are positive and some are negative. You must be prepared for both. (See the discussion that follows about contact and reunion with adult adoptees.)

If you already have an open adoption, you have contact with your minor child. Sometimes initial agreements about the amount of contact can be changed. Perhaps you'd like to increase your visits or receive more photos. These changes may or may not be possible, but you can certainly try. Adoption professionals with experience in this area may be able to help you reach a new agreement.

What if you find out new medical information later in life? Many in the adoption field believe that it is definitely a responsibility of all parties in adoption to share medical information. For instance, if you or your partner develops breast cancer and you placed a daughter, that daughter ought to know about it. Some kinds of cancer run in families, and she ought to know so that she can be screened for breast cancer as early as it is recommended. In an open adoption, you can easily contact your daughter and her adoptive family. In a confidential one, it may be more difficult, but you should still try to do so through the adoption agency and/or the attorney.

Credits: Child Welfare Information Gateway (http://www.childwelfare.gov)

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