The Myth of the Careless Teenage Birth Parent

the myth

Ah, the careless teenage birth parent.

I’m not sure she actually exists.

Getting pregnant, no matter how old you are, doesn’t mean you’re careless. And although there are thousands of teenage birth parents, there are even more birth parents who made their adoption plans well after their adolescent years were over.

It’s time to dispel some of the birth parent myths under which too many people still seem to be operating. With the help of the Donaldson Institute’s 2006 study “Safeguarding the Rights and Well-Being of Birth Parents in the Adoption Process,” we went ahead and took a look.

 

Myth: Most birth parents are teenagers.

Fact: Birth parents are an extremely diverse group, but if we’re going to make generalizations, the statistics show that the majority of today’s birth moms are high school graduates in their 20s, many of whom are already parenting other children. Only about a quarter of women who choose adoption are teenagers.

 

Myth: Most birth parents are drug users.

Fact: Many Americans struggle with substance abuse, and so do some birth parents, but that doesn’t mean that all birth parents abuse drugs. Every year about 13,000 to 14,000 women place an infant for adoption, and they each have their own unique situation and story.

 

Myth: Birth parents “give up” their babies because they don’t care about them.

Fact: Most birth parents choose adoption out of love for their babies and feel a deep loss after placement. Those who have open adoptions and are able to know how their child is doing as they grow up have been shown to experience lower levels of grief and greater peace of mind as time goes on.

 

Myth: Birth parents want to drop their babies off and never see them again.

Fact: Birth parents have the right to choose the level of openness they want in their adoption, and Adoptions Together respects the needs of those who do not wish to keep in touch. However, most birth mothers say they do want to have contact with their child and their child’s family after placement, or at least receive information about how their child is doing.

 

Myth: Sometimes biological parents don’t realize that adoption is the best choice for them and need a friend, family member, social worker, or medical professional to help them understand why it is.

Fact: No parent should be pressured into placing their child for adoption; research has consistently shown that those who feel coerced have a much more difficult time healing after placement. This is why Adoptions Together supports state laws that require thorough in-person counseling as well as waiting periods during which birth parents can change their minds.

 

What other birth parent myths have you come across? Tell us in the comments!

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How Your Post-Placement Contact Agreement Can Help You Heal

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image c/o Tom Hunter via www.saatchigallery.com

Is it possible to predict how you’ll feel after placement?

The short answer is no. Every person is different, and your emotions will vary based on your personal situation and on how you handle life’s hurdles in general.

The longer answer is …. sort of. The Donaldson Adoption Institute found in an early 2000s study that birth parents who chose their child’s adoptive family and who had ongoing contact – or in some cases just a little bit of information about their child’s well-being – had lower levels of grief after placement and felt more at peace with their decision than did birth parents with closed adoptions. 

Women with the highest levels of grief after adoption were those who thought they would have ongoing contact with their child but whose adoptions ended up being closed. This can happen for many different reasons; check out our blog post “When Adoption Is Less Open than You Thought” to learn more. When open adoptions close, it is often because they were arranged through a for-profit adoption facilitator; facilitators generally end their involvement after they’ve been paid by the adoptive family, which means there is no one around after placement to make sure the lines of communication stay open.

Ethical adoption organizations agree that birth parents who specify from the beginning that they want to have contact with their biological children have the right to do so, which is why organizations like Adoptions Together also believe that post-placement contact agreements – the plan that birth parents and adoptive parents sign that specifies how they will keep in touch with one another after placement – should be legally enforceable. Right now, contact agreements are only legally enforceable in thirteen states, two of which are Maryland and Virginia (woohoo!) It is rare that contact agreements actually wind up being used in court, but knowing that they are official legal documents sometimes helps birth parents and adoptive parents stay on track with openness even when their lives and relationships get complicated.

If you live in a state where post-placement contact agreements are not legally enforceable, that doesn’t mean you can’t take steps to minimize the risk of your open adoption closing unexpectedly. First, make sure that the agency handling your baby’s adoption is licensed, non-profit, and regularly provides support to birth parents and adoptive families after placement. Second, ask the agency whether they teach their waiting adoptive families about the importance of open adoption. Organizations like Adoptions Together work with adoptive families to help them understand why openness is beneficial for their child, for their child’s birth parents, and for them. Third, make sure you still have a written post-placement contact agreement, even if you know it’s not legally enforceable; it never hurts to have things written down so that everyone is 100% clear on what’s supposed to happen.

As we said in our March 30th post, we never know exactly how relationships will turn out, and that includes relationships between birth parents and adoptive families. But planning for openness with a post-placement contact agreement plants the seed for a positive experience. It’s a good start, both towards ensuring a positive relationship with your child and their family and towards healing and coming to peace with your adoption decision.

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What Adoptees Want Their Birth Parents To Know

 image c/o www.irwinweiner.com

Did you get a chance to watch the video for Mark Schultz’s song to his birth mother?

Many birth parents worry that their child will be angry at them for making their adoption decision, but the song and its lyrics (which include lines like “You gave life to me, a chance to find my dreams”) remind us that adoptees are capable of understanding the difficult decisions their birth parents made. That is one of the reasons why we encourage the birth parents with whom we work to consider open adoption, where they can maintain a relationship with their child and personally explain their adoption decision to them when the time is right.

Not all adoptee experiences are the same, but the stories we hear about adoption in the media are often the ones that are most dramatic and sensationalized. Rarely do we hear about the millions of adoptees who are living happy, healthy lives, because the news outlets don’t find their stories to be nearly as juicy! The stories below probably wouldn’t make it into the news, but they are much more common than any of the ones you see on TV or read about in the newspaper.

“Forever Grateful”

Heidi Sprouse was adopted back in 1971, when closed adoption was still common, but she feels similarly to Mark Schultz about her birth mother’s placement decision. In her recent blog post over at America Adopts, she explains, “I will be forever grateful to her. She gave me life and by allowing me to be adopted, she gave me a family.” Sprouse also urges birth parents to let go of the shame and guilt that they often feel: “To anyone considering sharing your child for adoption, it is the most selfless act that you could ever do. There is no shame in it.”

“I Am Happy”

In a lovely essay in Elite Daily, fellow adoptee Tori Lyn, whose adoption was also closed, wrote in an open letter to her birth mother, “Wherever you are in the world, I hope you know I am okay. I’m more than okay, in fact; I am happy.” Like Sprouse, Lyn says she feels gratitude toward the woman who gave birth to her: “I am grateful you chose to give me a life, and I feel that way each day, as I try and become a better person.”

All three of these adult adoptees talk about how grateful they are for their adoptive families and for the lives they’ve been able to lead – that’s a far cry from the stereotype of adopted children being bitter and angry!

For those of you whose children are old enough to express themselves, have you talked to them about your adoption decision? Tell us about it in the comments section below!

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The Birth Parent Song You Have to Hear Today

If you’re like many of the other birth parents with whom we’ve worked, you sometimes worry that your child won’t understand why you chose adoption and will grow up feeling hurt, rejected, or hateful.

On the contrary, we have found that adopted children are just as well-adjusted as children raised by their birth parents. Plus, birth parents who have an open adoption can personally explain their adoption decision to their child when the time is right.

But don’t just take it from us! Mark Schultz is an adoptee who wrote the song “Everything to Me” for his birth mother. The video is above and the lyrics are below, and we think you’ll find Mark is anything but hateful when it comes to his biological mom. One birth mom with whom we worked told us she teared up when she first heard it – and then she listened to it five times in a row. So take a few minutes to listen, and let us know what you think!

“Everything to Me” by Mark Schultz

I must have felt your tears

When they took me from your arms

I’m sure I must have heard you say goodbye

Young and so afraid, had you made a big mistake

Could an ocean even hold the tears you cried?

 

But you had dreams for me

You wanted the best for me

And you made the only choice

You could that night

And you gave life to me, a brand new world to see

Like playing baseball in the yard with Dad at night

Mom reading Goodnight Moon and praying in my room

So if you worry if your choice was right

When you gave me up, oh, you gave everything to me

 

And if I saw you on the street

Would you know that it was me?

And would your eyes be blue or green like mine?

Would we share a warm embrace?

Would you know me in your heart?

Or would you smile and let me walk on by?

 

Knowing you had dreams for me

You wanted the best for me

Oh, I hope that you’d be proud

Of who I am

 

You gave life to me, a chance to find my dreams

And a chance to fall in love

You should have seen her shining face on our wedding day

Oh, is this the dream you had in mind?

When you gave me up, oh, you gave everything to me

 

And when I see you there

Watching from heaven’s gates

Into your arms, I’m gonna run

And when you look in my eyes

You can see my whole life

See who I was and who I’ve become

 

‘Cos you gave life to me, a brand new world to see

Like playing baseball with my son late at night

And reading Goodnight Moon and praying in his room

I’m so grateful that I have this life

When you gave me up, you gave everything to me

Everything to me

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Should You Go See a Therapist?

Counselor with Young White Woman

 

Way more people are in therapy than you think.

Many of us resist the idea of going to see a professional counselor, therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist because we assume that “normal” people don’t need to talk to a professional about how they are feeling – but nothing could be further from the truth.

In fact, a recent poll showed that more than one in every four adults had gotten counseling in the past two years. To put that in context, consider this: only one in five Americans has a tattoo. You read that correctly: therapy is more common than getting a tattoo.

Susan Cahill once said, “Life isn’t easy for most people,” and she’s right. Millions of us have, at some time, gotten to the point where our emotions just feel like more than we can handle. And while grief and sadness are normal parts of the adoption process for birth parents, if months have passed and you’re still not feeling like yourself, it might be a good idea to seek professional help. Here is a list of signs that it may be that time.

  • You feel sad or worried most of the time.
  • You are angrier and more irritable than usual.
  • You can’t stop thinking about things that upset you, like the adoption.
  • You have negative feelings about yourself, like that you are worthless or a bad person.
  • You aren’t interested in doing any of the things you used to enjoy.
  • The steps you would normally take to make yourself feel better aren’t working.
  • Your performance at work or school has gotten worse.
  • Your behavior has led your friends and family members to start acting differently towards you.
  • You get unexplainable headaches or stomachaches or find that you’re getting sick all the time.
  • You are abusing drugs or alcohol to help you feel better.

Walking into a counselor’s office can feel scary; you might feel embarrassed about needing to be there, or worried that you’ll be judged harshly for decisions you’ve made. But remember that the person in the chair across from you chose this job because they want to help people who are having a tough time. They’ve talked to all sorts of individuals with all sorts of problems. They don’t believe there is anything crazy about needing to talk to someone– so why should you?

Making an adoption plan can knock you off kilter for a bit. But we’ve seen many folks in your position successfully work through their feelings, even when those feelings seemed completely overwhelming to at first. You deserve to be happy, and if you’re having a hard time getting there, then we hope you’ll reach out to get the support you need. If you’re not sure where to find a therapist, give us a call and we’ll help connect you. Because hey, if Halle Berry can do it, then so can you.

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How to Live in the Moment


It’s easy to get distracted by the chatter in your head.

For Laura Gladden, “Feelings of guilt, sadness, anger, grieving, and incompetence flooded her mind” after she placed her daughter for adoption. “Did I make the best decision? Will I regret this later? Will [the birth father] ever understand why I placed her?” Sometimes, says Laura, those questions and fears still strike her. “A lot of times,” she says, “I felt the urge to sink back to my old ways…I think this is pretty common with birth moms. We are so full of so many emotions that we sometimes don’t feel capable of becoming bigger and better.”

We all spend time replaying moments of our lives, and we all have regrets or fears about the future. This is normal, but it can also be harmful, because when we spend all of our time listening to our anxieties, we miss out on what’s going on right now. We stop being aware of our lives as they are happening – and it’s difficult to be happy when we’re not even paying attention.

Here are a few ways to slow down and savor each moment when you’re feeling haunted by old feelings or anxieties.

  • Breathe deeply. When we feel stress, our breathing automatically becomes more shallow, which works us up into even more of a crisis state. In other words, science shows that “just breathing” really can help you calm down!
  • Concentrate on small moments. For example, when you’re eating, focus on each individual taste. Don’t let your mind wander and start thinking about other things.
  • Spend a few minutes just sitting and relaxing. Leave your phone in another room and turn off the TV. Close your eyes and concentrate on relaxing your body. When your mind starts to wander, bring it back to the present moment, even if you have to actually repeat the word “Now” over and over to yourself.
  • Keep a journal AND read through it regularly so that you’re really thinking about what’s happening in your life right now.
  • Notice something new about everyday routines. Our whole day is composed of very small moments and tasks – how long has it been since you really thought about them individually? What do you love about getting your kids ready in the morning? What is relaxing about your get-ready-for-bed routine? As you go through the motions of your day, take a second to pay attention to exactly what you are doing and appreciate the little things.

If you practice these techniques and learn to “live in the moment” in your daily life, you may find that when life does get difficult again (and whose life doesn’t?), you’ll already be in the habit of reacting in ways that help you stay happy and healthy.

How do you keep yourself in the present moment when old anxieties threaten to resurface?

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Guest Post: Embracing Your Feelings

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image c/o www.clairetimberlake.com

To follow up on our post about allowing yourself to heal, we wanted to re-post a comment that guest blogger Shana wrote back in 2008. At the time she wrote this comment, it had been nine years since she placed her son.

In reference to the difficult times … for a long time I pushed them away, refused to feel. I was so overwhelmed with guilt for all the things I had done wrong, and finally I allowed myself to really look at my son’s photo sent to me in an update. He was smiling so big and laughing and happy, and that minute gave me insight into what I had done right. I started to focus on the rightness of the whole thing. I stopped pushing away my feelings and embraced them instead. Now I’m not saying it is easy because it isn’t, but I know that I made the right decision, and I am proud of it. I know my son is happy and loved. Knowing this makes it easier to focus on the positive of it all. I just had to let go of all that negative focus. I think sometimes we get so used to feeling bad about our decision that we think it is normal. It doesn’t have to be that way. It is a huge burden for a child to carry, to be the cause of such pain and sadness in our lives. I don’t want my son to feel that way, I want him to know I’m proud of him and I’m proud of his parents, me included. I want him to know it hasn’t been always easy, but that it was worth it … for him!

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Are You Letting Yourself Heal?

are you letting

c/o healingenergy.com.au

Pain doesn’t just go away by itself.

Losing a loved one, whether through death, divorce, or something else – like adoption – isn’t an event whose consequences you can just “wait out.”

But grief can be so raw and feel so unbearable that our brains tell us we simply cannot deal with it. We let ourselves become numb, burying and ignoring the pain, and we simply wait for it to pass and for life to get easier. Some of us do this by sleeping in bed all day or by distracting ourselves with hours and hours of junk TV. Others fill up every moment of every day with activities so they won’t have time to think about how they feel. For example, Chelcie at BirthMom Buds describes how she “went back to school about two months after [having her daughter] and lost 50 pounds in five months through diet and exercise.”

Numbing yourself to pain is a normal part of the grieving process – but only for a few weeks. If months have passed and you are still not allowing yourself to feel the pain of your loss, that means you are not healing. For Chelcie, that meant that “one day it all hit me. I was just plain sad. I had never let myself truly grieve for what had taken place.”

We sometimes suggest to clients, especially those who have other children or particularly busy lives, that they actually schedule fifteen minutes a day just to “feel their feelings” by talking to someone, writing or drawing their emotions, or just sitting or walking alone. It is important to give yourself time to sit with your emotions and let them hit you without trying to push them away.

As writer Carol Crandall states, “You don’t heal from the loss of a loved one because time passes; you heal because of what you do with the time.” Healing doesn’t just happen on its own, which is why you can’t bury your pain and expect it to pass. Kelsey, who placed her son for adoption five years ago, explains, “I gave my heart when I chose another family for my son.”

Healing from such a loss can’t possibly be easy, but that’s not the end of the story for Kelsey – or for anyone who has grieved their parenthood for a child. “I feel it constantly and the pain has not gone away,” she says. “I know it never will. However, the pain is only one piece of the puzzle.” If you can sit with your suffering, endure it, and work through it, you can come out on the other side. That pain will still be a part of you, but it won’t define you. It won’t keep you from living, loving, or being happy in your life. If you run from your feelings, on the other hand, “they will catch up to you and hit you harder.”

Have you ever numbed yourself to the pain of adoption? How were you able to heal?

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What You Should Know About Safe Haven Laws vs. Adoption

Choiceimage c/o meetup.com

Pregnancy can be scary, and so can being a new parent.

In the 1990s, there was a surge in the number of newborns being abandoned by their birth parents. Since they were left in places where no one thought to look, many of them died. If you’ve ever felt overwhelmed by pregnancy or parenthood, maybe you can imagine how these parents might have felt when they left their babies alone: frightened, uncertain, and desperate.

In response to these deaths, many states enacted what are known as Safe Haven laws. These laws say that a birth parent can leave an infant at a designated location – usually a hospital, police station, or fire station – and as long as the baby has not been harmed, the parent will not be punished for leaving them. Proponents of the laws hoped that they would encourage birth parents who felt they couldn’t care for their children to leave them in a place where the baby could be found and cared for, rather than in a random location where they might not be safe.

The well-being of children is our top priority at Adoptions Together, and we believe that Safe Haven laws work well when they keep babies from being harmed. However, we feel that it is crucial for birth parents to know that using a Safe Haven law is very different from choosing adoption for your baby through a non-profit agency.

If you are pregnant or a new parent and feel like you need someone else to take custody of your baby, take a moment to learn about the differences between using Safe Haven laws and choosing adoption.

Difference #1: Adoption gives you time to be certain about your decision.

Everyone feels overwhelmed at times. Some problems seem unsolvable, but much of the time there is help available, even if it seems difficult to find. For example, many new mothers suffer from post-partum depression, which can make caring for a child feel impossible to them; but post-partum depression can be treated through counseling and medication, and there are resources available for folks who need that sort of help. An ethical adoption agency will help you access those resources, and then if you still don’t feel like parenting is the right choice for you, they can work with you from there. With Safe Haven, you don’t get that type of support, and you can’t just change your mind once you’re feeling better; you’ve already given up custody of your child. Plus, if you decide one day that you want to know how your child is doing, you won’t necessarily have the right to get in touch the way you would if you arranged for an open adoption through an agency.

Difference #2: With adoption, you are in control.

Ethical agencies like Adoptions Together put you in control of your baby’s adoption process. This means that you can choose the family you want to raise your child and that you can determine what kind of adoption relationship you’d like to have with your child’s family, whether that means yearly letter-and-picture updates, in-person meetings, or other arrangements. If you relinquish custody of your baby under a Safe Haven law, the baby will go into the social services foster care system and will be adopted from there. Not only can this take up to a year – which is a long time for a baby not to have a permanent family – but you don’t have any control over who eventually adopts your baby. Nor can you specify what type of contact you’d like to have with them and with your child in the future.

Ultimately, we all want children to be safe. If leaving your child at a Safe Haven location is the best way for you to keep them out of harm’s way, then we trust you to make that choice. But we also want you to stay safe, both physically and emotionally, and we don’t want you to give up your right to be a part of your child’s life if there might be another way. If you’re in crisis and worried about caring for your baby, we hope you’ll call us or another licensed agency so we can figure out a plan – together.

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Will You Spend Time With Your Baby in the Hospital?

Sleeping Mom and Babyimage c/o Thinkstock

You’re probably sick of hearing us say “Only you can know what’s right for you,” so today, we’re going to add something new to the mix. Of course, we still believe that only you can know what’s right for you, but we also have quite a bit of experience (25 years, to be exact) working with birth parents. So, even though we can’t – and wouldn’t want to – make our clients’ decisions for them, we do like to provide guidance based on our experiences working with other birth parents.

Over the years, many birth parents who chose not to spend time with their baby in the hospital have told us that they regretted that decision. Some of them chose not to see their baby because they worried that doing so would make it even more difficult to go through with their adoption plan. Interestingly, we’ve found the opposite to be true; in our experience, birth mothers who see and hold their baby after delivery tend to be better able to process the adoption later on, because they don’t have unanswered questions about what their baby looked like or about what it would have felt like to hold, smell, and hear their baby.

If you are in the process of making an adoption plan, you may worry that spending time with your baby will create a bond between the two of you that will then make it impossible for you to place them with another family. When blogger Liz held her baby, her baby’s birth father warned her, “Be careful Liz, you’re creating that bond…” He assumed that their spending time together would make the adoption process more emotionally difficult for Liz. But Liz’ description of that moment says it all: “Little did he know, [my baby] and I already had the most powerful bond on earth.” In the end, adoption is bittersweet no matter what; deciding not to see your baby won’t change that.

And, interestingly, many of the birth mothers with whom we’ve worked who have changed their mind about adoption were the same ones who made the decision not to spend much or any time with their baby while in the hospital. In some cases, their unanswered questions and feelings became too overwhelming and they ended up going back on the entire plan. As the folks over at Birthmom Buds explain, “Many birthmoms have regretted not spending time with their baby but we have never come across a birthmom who spent time with her baby and regretted it afterward.” We’ve found this to be quite true, and so have a number of birth parent bloggers, including Janel Indingaro, who spent time with her baby and the adoptive family in the hospital:

“I have photographs of all four of us spending time in my room. In the photos we are laughing and holding this sweet precious girl and I cherish those pictures. I am glad that I had this time with the three of them which helped me find a comfort zone with everything going on around me. During my hospital stay, I had no idea of the coming whirlwind of emotions I would soon cope with…”

In fact, far from wishing she hadn’t spent time with her baby before placement, Janel wishes that she had gone one step further and had fed her baby too: “If I could change anything about the delivery room and the recovery room, it would be getting the opportunity to feed [her]. I wish I would have said, ‘I want to hold her; I want to provide food for her.’ ”

Remember, seeing and spending time with your baby doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing scenario. You get to decide how much contact you want to have. Maybe you want to look at your baby through the nursery window but not hold them. Or perhaps you’d like to have just an hour or two with your baby. You’re in control; you get to make the plan, and you can always change your mind.

And we know we’ve said it before, but……only you can know what’s right for you!

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