When the birth parents we meet talk about having placed a child for adoption, they almost always say that placing their child was one of the most difficult and important decisions of their lives. Many recall having feelings of sadness and loss combined with a sense that, although others questioned their decision, what they did was best for their child.
When someone is contemplating placing a child for adoption they frequently wrestle with questions like: Will my child be angry with me? What will my friends and family say? Will I be able to keep in touch with my child? What are the adoptive parents really like? Will the adoptive parents keep their word and stay in touch? Will I ever feel good about myself again? Who will I be able to talk to about what I’ve done?
Although as an organization we take a decidedly non-psychoanalytical approach to adoption, we have come to believe that grief and loss are central to the experience of adoption. Certainly, feelings of grief and loss are central to the human experience. All of us will lose loved ones and people we who are important to us and if we haven’t it is only a matter of time.
There is an adage which summarizes what we have learned about grief and loss and how human beings process such feelings: “If it’s mentionable, it’s manageable.” That is why most societies have prescribed rituals that accompany death. Wakes, visitation, sitting Shiva, etc. These post-death customs provide a setting for people to meet, talk about, remember and celebrate the departed.
In adoption no such rituals exist. Therefore it is incumbent upon adoption professionals to help others consider ways of addressing grief and loss to whatever degree it is experienced in relation to adoption.
The notion that mentionable actions are manageable is reflected in our approach to counseling with expectant mothers who are considering placement. When a woman is thinking about making an adoption plan for her child, even though her mind is not made up (under the law it cannot be made up until days after a child is born) the first step in our process is to have her meet with an adoption counselor. We now know that having someone there to listen and provide emotional support, without judgment, goes a long way in helping birth parents think through and anticipate their feelings about adoption. Our counselors are trained to listen and to answer questions in a neutral and forthright manner.
We provide a setting where expectant mothers feel safe to talk about their feelings – without pressure to move in one direction or another.
We have no expectation that any birth mother will feel happy about placing a child for adoption. We do however hope that, as time goes on, birth parents will feel that all their questions were answered; that they acted responsibly; that they signed surrenders only when they were ready; that their child is safe; that their wishes were respected; and that they acted responsibly as partners in providing for their child’s future.
Ignoring the feelings and emotions that come with adoption serves no one – least of all the adopted child.