Being a Birthmother

I have just read your question and answer page on, and as a birthmother, I am so very touched to have discovered a voice for what I have been sorting out for the past seven years. I have an eight-year-old daughter, adopted into a wonderful family, and our adoption is open. I am currently pregnant with my second child, whom I will raise. Your words, “Adoption is an interruption, a disruption, of the natural order of things” is exactly the conclusion that I’ve come to at this time about my experience. It has worked out extremely well; my daughter is well cared for, and I know her, get emails from her, and we love each other and tell each other as much. But it has done nothing but disrupt the last eight years of my life, and I am constantly questioning the extent to which it has and will disrupt her own.

I am seven weeks away from delivering my second child, a boy. I have had a very difficult time allowing myself to bond with this child. I have felt guilt throughout the pregnancy, for both children. I feel I love him and have bonded with him, but not like with my daughter. I sang to her, knew her, talked with her. I sat for hours and watched her move inside of me. I cherished and cared for her every moment I had with her. With my son, I do the same things, but I also have so much more fear. I fear he will be taken away; I fear he will not be healthy; I fear I will not be able to nurse or to soothe as a mother. I fear a part of me has been lost. Can you speak to what I, as a birthmother, have experienced? On a primal level, have I lost something? My therapist says I will bond with this child when he comes, when I hold him, when I see him. I believe to a pretty solid extent that I will. I also feel I’ve been damaged and don’t want to do damage to my new son with my inability to forget the past and separate this birth from the last.

First of all, I want to acknowledge you and congratulate you for the inner fortitude to even be conscious of these feelings of constantly questioning, as well as your current fears, which indicate an imbalance, something needing to be integrated. I’ve often said that it’s the last surviving taboo in America to speak honestly—and question honestly—about adoption. You ask if you as a birthmother, on a primal level, have lost something. The answer is of course you have. If you were a client of mine, I would give you the homework assignment of writing down all of the things you have lost—yes, on a primal level—but also on any level, and we would begin from there. I’ll suggest a few to get your own list started: the uninterrupted unfolding of your own native motherness; the continuity of your daughter’s uncomplicated relationship with you as her only mother; the sweet months of nursing her; feeling her nestle into you; feeling that continued communion that began when she was in your womb. Until we’ve allowed ourselves to feel a loss and to grieve what needs to be grieved, we aren’t really quite available to feel the blessings in our life, like a new baby. Emotions are like a single-lever faucet: when you turn one feeling off, none of the others can flow, either. Well, yes, fear can flow, but fear is less an emotion than a primitive, mind-body system orientation. I find that the best antidote for fear can be to take some constructive action. In this case, you might find it helpful to keep a journal, in which you let all of your feelings—fears, joys, anticipation, sadness, anger, and so on—flow onto the pages. It will help you to sort out the important differences between your past pregnancy and this one, and to name and clarify—for you and for the son you’re now carrying—what exists in that powerful field of emotions. Write the truth of what has taken place, what you feel, what you fear, what you hope and dream. (A wonderful guide for pregnancy journaling is Mary Knight’s book Love Letters Before Birth and Beyond.) Open adoption is a vast improvement over closed for the greater emotional well-being of all concerned (especially the child), and yet it can sneak up in some ways and bite us when we least expect it. Because you have always gotten to know about your daughter, to keep up with her development and have a relationship with her and her adoptive parents, it may not seem quite right to feel like there’s something to grieve, or even to complain about. Heck, you may have even participated in choosing those parents, as part of making an adoption plan. Compared with birthmothers of old, back in the days when they were spirited away to maternity homes and the entire process was shrouded in stigma and shame, and—here’s the salient point—it was very often not their choice to relinquish their babies, the modern birthmother is much more empowered and self-determining, even to the point of choosing who will parent her children! Who in her right mind would deserve to feel anything negative with a deal like that? Do you see where I’m going with this? The fact is, it is still a huge loss. Despite being a twenty-first-century, open-adoption birthmother, who chose everything that happened (everything, that is, after the crisis pregnancy), it is still most definitely a loss you are entitled to grieve. We, in our culture, aren’t good at grief, or loss. There are no cards at Hallmark that read, “I’m so sorry that after bonding for nine months with a baby who was woven from the very fiber of your being, whom you came to know like your own breath, who carries you in her veins, you had to say goodbye.” There should be cards like that. There should be those knowing looks, from friends, relatives, neighbors. But there are not. We need to cultivate those knowing looks within our own souls, and with that newfound inner nurturance will bubble up new springs of loving life energy with which we can weave new connections with new babies. This will also bring in light that will help with the fears, which flourish in an inner atmosphere in which something essential is clamped off. Another piece of homework, which will be helpful for both you and your baby boy, is based in the most cutting-edge science of attachment and neuropsychology: Tell (many, many times) the whole story to him, simply, and with compassion for all of the players involved, without any layers of wishful thinking, straightforwardly explaining the circumstances of his coming and why this time you are ready to welcome him and raise him. Tell him why and how you came to accept the idea that to give up a baby was OK, and what you have since come to understand and recognize. (One aspect of your fears might be that you’re actually picking up on the fears of your baby, whose transcendent sentience knows that you gave away a baby before but whose limited human psyche doesn’t quite see that you won’t do so again. Reassure him.) And speaking of transcendent, while in the womb, babies are still vast and limitless, connected to the eternal, what Deepak Chopra would call the “unified field of intelligence.” (Actually, we all are so connected, but have gathered lots of filters and noise and distraction away from that connection.) Don’t hesitate to ask for help from that limitless soul/spirit dimension of your baby, who has clearly chosen to come to you. And then on the very human side, if your boy can remain intact (not circumcised), and be breastfed for an extended period of time, this will all add up to great healing for you, for this baby, and even for your daughter—in that most mysterious of quantum ways. As you become more whole, so too will your firstborn.

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