Love Them Both: How to help a friend who is placing her child with an adoptive family

By Nancy Flanders

Facing an unplanned pregnancy and choosing life for a child is not the end of the story for any woman. It’s a new beginning. And for some women, the beginning of their motherhood story starts with choosing to place their baby with an adoptive family. It’s a selfless decision that requires a lot of strength and sacrifice —  and it can be heartbreaking. Here’s how you can help a woman you know who is placing her baby for adoption.

Listen. When a friend tells you she is planning to place her child with an adoptive family, she is going to need you to listen rather than tell her what you think about adoption. Let her talk to you about why she thinks adoption is her best option and what ultimately led to her decision. Unless she asks, do not offer advice. Simply listen.

Offer support. Your friend is going to need to meet with an adoption agency, and may need support when she does so. Going with her is a great way to offer support, help calm her nerves, and learn about the process with her. You can take notes for her as she learns about the process, which will be helpful to look over later. There are also different types of adoption, but it is very common now for families to set up open adoptions, in which the birth parents keep in contact with the adoptive family. Help her walk through how much contact she wishes to have, so she can search for a family that has similar ideas about what the adoption will look like. You can also help her figure out the most important qualities she is looking for in an adoptive family and make sure that she is not feeling pressured to place her baby for adoption.

Stress during pregnancy is common, but can be harmful to a child’s development. Check in with your friend often, and let her know she can call you at any time to talk things out or help lift her spirits.

Use positive words. When discussing adoption, refrain from using the phrases “giving your child up” or “giving your child away.” Birth mothers don’t “give up” their babies. They seek out the best family they can find to offer their babies the best life possible. Adoption is a beautiful gift that can benefit everyone involved, and no birth mother should be told that she is somehow failing or giving up by placing her child with another family.

“… I am judged by some who say ‘I could never give up my baby.’ As if she was a piece of trash I threw away,” explained Jacquelyn, a birth mother. “This enrages me, because adoption is not the easy way out. The path I chose was selfless and the most difficult decision I would ever make.”

Cry with her. Pregnancy is an emotional time in any woman’s life, but knowing that you are going to make the sacrifice of placing your baby with another family can be very difficult. Even when a woman is confident in her decision to place her baby with an adoptive family, it can still be overwhelming emotionally. If she has second thoughts or doubts, tell her that it’s okay, and reassure her that she can change her mind at any point in pregnancy, and even immediately after the baby’s birth. When the baby is born, if she has decided to continue with her plan to place the baby for adoption, she will likely experience grief. Be there for her to listen and be a shoulder to cry on.

“Sometimes I don’t want to talk,” said one birth mother. “Sometimes I just want to sit and have a good cry. You don’t have to know what to say — just be there for me. My best friend is great at this. He tells me, ‘It’s okay to feel how you feel.’ And then he sits in silence with me while I cry. Most of the time, that’s all I need.”

Visit her. Life won’t go immediately back to normal once her baby has been placed with the adoptive family. Spend time with her as she navigates the challenges of her changing body and baby blues without her baby. Visit her in the hospital after the baby is born, and continue to pay attention to her and her needs once she is home from the hospital. She will be grieving for her baby, even though the adoption was her decision. That doesn’t lessen the pain of missing her baby. Let her talk about her child whenever she feels like it.

Ask about the baby. If she decided on open adoption, ask about how the baby is doing. She may have pictures she’d like to share from the adoptive family, or a story to tell from going to visit the baby. Just because she placed her baby for adoption doesn’t mean she doesn’t want to talk about her child — but she may feel like no one wants to hear about her baby. If she wants to tell you how her baby is doing, please listen and celebrate her child’s life and accomplishments with her.

One birth mother explained, “I absolutely love it when people ask me ‘So, how are baby R and her family?’ I am no different than any other proud mama in that respect – I will whip out about a hundred photos and tell you all about her milestones and the cute things she does. I will tell you about how cool her adoptive parents are and how much fun her brother is.”

Help her connect with other birth mothers. Building a support network of birth mothers can help your friend with the healing process. Groups such as Lifetime Adoption’s Peer Support Network are made up of moms who placed their babies for adoption and want to support other birth mothers. Lifetime’s network is free for women before and following the adoption.

While there can be trauma associated with adoption, open adoption seems to be helping some women and their babies adjust. Having a friend to lean on, especially during the holidays and on her child’s birthday, can be a great help to a woman who has made the enormous sacrifice of placing her baby for adoption.

Editor’s note. This appeared at Live Action News and is reposted with permission.