Ten Things Adoptive Parents and Birthmoms Have in Common

When Cecilia and I decided to go the open adoption route, we knew that part of the adventure would be getting to know the birthmother who chose us. But after feeling like a human science experiment while undergoing fertility treatment and subsequently miscarrying twins, my usually strong self-esteem took a nosedive. Every time the IAC counselors talked about the importance of empathizing with and honoring the birthmother, I felt smaller and smaller. I pictured this hypothetical birthmother as fertile and glowing; clearly everyone thought she was so special. And since she was carrying our child, she had all the power.

After processing my own grief a little more and reading testimonials by birthmothers—their pain sometimes leaping off my computer screen—I started to think about what our hypothetical birthmom might have in common with me. So here’s my list, in the form of a very different kind of Dear Birthmother letter.

1. We know that life is unpredictable. I wanted to be pregnant. You wanted not to be. Neither of us got our way, and I’m guessing that we both felt frustrated by the lack of control we had over our own bodies.

2. We have big plans for the future. Cecilia and I daydream about introducing our parents to their first grandkid, reading her Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, or helping him with college applications. Maybe you want to go back to school, or devote more time to the child(ren) you already have, or start your own business. Either way, we’re the kind of people who think ahead. You and I are not goofballs who get thrashed in the currents of life. We look out for those waves and grab our surfboards.

3. We’re terrified. You’re probably thinking, Can I really trust these people to raise my baby? What if they don’t honor our contact agreement? Not to mention, Oh my god, a live human being is going to come out of my body at some point. We’re thinking, What if she changes her mind at the last minute? What if she doesn’t stay in touch and our child wonders why? What if there are complications with the birth? We’re both taking a leap of faith.

4. We’ve become adoption educators. I know a woman who placed a child for adoption when she was 19. At the time, people she knew said, “How can you be so cruel?” She (and you and I) know that the opposite is true: Placing a child for adoption is an act of love and selflessness. Cecilia and I have gotten our fair share of infuriating questions. Sometimes people assume that adoption is a “last resort.” Just because it’s the thing we tried second doesn’t mean it’s our second choice. But you and I keep our cool (most of the time) and remind ourselves that the more open we are about open adoption, the more understanding the world will become.

5. Sometimes we’ve felt frustrated with the IAC. When our adoption coordinator sent us his 59th edit of our (undeniably awesome!) letter to you, we wanted to throttle him. When we had to lock up all sharp objects and install a handrail at our house and a zillion other things that other parents of newborns never have to do, we wanted to scream, Why are you picking on us? When your IAC counselor made you track down the birthfather you were so done with, or kept telling you how sad you’d feel, or asked you a bunch of questions about stuff that should be private, you probably wanted to scream, Why are you picking on me?

6. But usually we realized the IAC was right. The truth is, they’ve done this many more times than you or I have, and they have hundreds of happy families to show for it. I still don’t understand what’s so terrible about having sunglasses on top my head in a photo, but I’m willing to take their word for it.

7. We want to impress each other. Have I already thought about what I’ll wear the first time Cecilia and I meet you? You bet I have. Something that says, I have maternal instincts to spare! I’m neither a slob nor a snob! I’m responsible yet fun! I’m guessing you’ll be wearing maternity clothes, but limited wardrobe options don’t mean you’re any less conscious of what our first impression of you will be.

8. We want to make a new friend. You know how, on reality shows, contestants always say, “I’m not here to make friends”? Well, Cecilia and I are here to make friends. True, our friendship with you will be the kind that includes a lot of intense conversations and a big stack of paperwork. But we know that none of it would work without the things that make any friendship strong: shared values, trust and the ability to laugh together. Yeah, yeah, we both know it’s all about the kid. But that doesn’t mean we can’t share a pizza and talk about our favorite movies.

9. We both want to name the baby Apple Zuma Coco Bronx Klein-Ybarra. Just kidding. I’m pretty confident that we’ll both come down on the side of non-food- or geography-related names. But there will undoubtedly be a few things we don’t see eye to eye on. That’s where good communication and a little friendly mediation from the IAC come in.

10. We both love this baby like crazy. If we didn’t, how could we possibly put up with all the paperwork, anxiety, uncertainty, heartbreak, stretch marks and stinky diapers? In other words, we’re just like any other parents.

Cheryl Klein is a fiction writer and arts administrator living in Los Angeles. She and her spouse Cecilia are currently waiting to match. Get to know them here: http://www.iheartadoption.org/users/ccandcheryl

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  • Ann Wrixon

    Amazing article!!!!!!!

  • Bedwelladopt

    Love it!  Best wishes to the two of you!

  • Leslie


  • ani

    The birthfather comment tells me you need to do allot of reading by adoptees.  I am adopted,, its always about everyone else but us. My Dad may be an asshole but it’s my decision to know him know that I am an adult. No one has the right to keep that info from me. How dare they. Our rights as adoptees are so fucked up. What makes me any different then a unadopted child. There is no difference but because I am adopted my rights are taken away. Pathetic. Adoptive parents that support this have no right adopting and your comment about letting the birthfather out of the picture concerns me. 

  • Coco Rogers

    I’m truly sorry for the loss of your twins. As a first mother, however, there are a lot of items in your post that distress me. Comparing your experience as a couple hoping to adopt with that of a pregnant woman who is very likely in a crisis situation with little support is oversimplifying at best. While I do know several first mom friends who were eventually able to achieve goals such as a college degree, the majority of the moms I know have experienced ongoing grief for their relinquished children. Yes, even those with open adoptions and good relationships. My daughter is 19 now. I miss her, even though we are in close contact. I have forever separated my children. I have had severe panic attacks related to the guilt and sadness I experience over adoption. I wasn’t thinking about starting a business when I gave her up. I was alone and desperate. I didn’t plan to get pregnant, but I sang to my baby as she kicked inside me. I ate ten thousand bananas and drank a river of milk because she craved them. I named her. I held her the second after she was born, and she touched my face. I wanted her. I just had no support, and I thought I had no choices.

    I don’t bear ill will toward her adoptive family. They are nice people. They’ve done their best. They love her. I have a good life. But none of that changes the fact that I wish I had chosen to parent her instead. If you really care about the hypothetical woman you’re writing to, I hope you’ll encourage her to really explore all of her options for parenting. Because my experience is not an isolated one.

  • Coco: Thanks for sharing your story. Imagining what a hypothetical birthmother might be going through is no substitute for hearing from actual birthmothers. The fact of very real and ongoing grief on the part of the birthmother who chooses us will be something that Cecilia and I–and our birthmother and child–will have to deal with as a family, one step at a time. My goal isn’t to equate my own suffering with that of a woman who isn’t able to parent her child; I’m just trying to understand, and the best place I can begin that process is with my own experience.

    Ani: Thanks for adding the adoptee perspective. I absolutely agree that adopted kids should get to know their birthfathers if at all possible, which is why IAC strongly encourages birthmothers to notify the fathers of their children. My point was only that (some) birthmothers have a complicated relationship with the fathers. I’m sure there are non-adoptees who would like to know more about their fathers too.

  • Coco Rogers

    Cheryl, I’m glad you recognize that there will be ongoing grief. Since you’re interested in the perspective of first mothers, and in being an advocate for adoption education, I’d like to say that among us moms, it is mostly considered disrespectful to refer to the first mother of your adopted child as “your/our birth mother”. She is your child’s first mother. Additionally, a pregnant woman considering adoption is not yet a “birth” or first mother. She hasn’t relinquished her rights yet. A more accurate way to talk about her is simply as an expectant mother. Even if she’s promised not to change her mind. Even if she’s sworn up and down that she is not ready to be a mother. Even if she insists that the baby she is carrying is yours. Even if she refers to herself as a “birth mother”.

    These may seem like trivial distinctions to you, but language is important. Choosing your terms with care, and understanding why what seems harmless you you can be so hurtful to first mothers reinforces that you really respect this woman as a mother, and a person, and you intend to honor her decisions even if the outcome is not what you hoped.

    Thanks for listening.

  • Wonderful article!  Thanks so much for sharing!

  • I’m a writer, so I definitely don’t consider language trivial. IAC usually uses the term “birthmother,” so I’ve followed their lead. I heard “first mother” for the first time fairly recently, and I wasn’t sure what the difference was. So again, I appreciate your perspective.

    I know the baby won’t be ours until he or she is born, and until the first mother confirms her decision. (I say “ours” in a nonexclusive way; on some level, the baby will always belong to his or her first mother as well.) If the baby’s first mother decides to parent, I believe I’ll respect that decision. I know how badly I want to be a mother, so I don’t think I could deny another mother’s attachment to her child, even though I would be devastated.

    I know that loss is inherently part of the process of open adoption–either way, someone goes home without a baby. It’s strange and difficult to think that my joy might come at the first mother’s expense, or that her joy–if she decides to parent–will come at my expense. The only thing that helps me through this reality is the knowledge that either way, the baby will go home with someone who loves him or her deeply.

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