Who Are Birth Mothers in Adoption?

Dawn Davenport


Birth mothers in adoption-who are they. What is a typical birth mom?

The part of the adoption triad we hear the least about is the birth parent–birth mothers and birth fathers who made the decision to place their child for adoption. (“Adoption Triad” is adoptionese for the group of people connected through adoption—the adopted person, adoptive parents, and first parents).  Let me stop for a minute to say that some people prefer the term “birth parent” and some prefer “first parent”, some prefer the spelling “birth mother”, and some prefer “birthmother”.  In an attempt to be respectful to everyone, I’ll try to alternate.

There is no “typical” birth mother…

Myths flourish likely from lack of talking about birth mothers and birth fathers and from lack of a place for them to share their stories.  There is no such thing as a typical first mother that we can hold up to represent the whole.  Just as, I might add, there is no typical adoptee or typical adoptive parent.  The human existence is too diverse and complex, and this is never truer than in the adoption experience.

We humans resist generalizations.  Regardless of this resistance and my distrust for homogeneity, from my experience talking with many birth parents in the US (mostly birth mothers) and adoption professionals, this is what I see.  I have not talked with enough birth fathers or birth mothers from other countries to make any generalizations. I should add that I have not found good research to support this information.

… but the average birth mother:

  • The age range for birth mothers is from early teens to late thirties, with the majority in their mid-20s.
  • The majority of birthmothers are already parenting at least one child.
  • Although lack of financial resources is often one reason, it is seldom the sole reason a woman makes an adoption plan.

Perhaps the best way to get a feel for the”typical” first mother is to listen. Here is one story from a woman who was 24 and working full time when she made the decision to place her child for adoption. The beautiful picture at the end is proof that a picture is indeed worth a thousand words.

Not to overstate the obvious, but this mom’s experience is not universal. Some birthmom’s strongly regret the decision to place their child for adoption rather than regretting that they “had” to make this decision. Some birthmom’s do not have the same easy relationship with their child’s adoptive parents. Sadly, some adoptive parents do not honor their initial agreement on openness. One way to hear more voices is to listen to this Creating a Family radio show/podcast with a panel of birthmothers talking about the adoption experience.


I found myself facing an unplanned pregnancy the beginning of 2009. My boyfriend of 5 ½ years offered me no support and started seeing someone else almost immediately.  My family was very supportive and offered to help me parent my child alone if I wanted to. But I felt very strongly that I wanted my child to always have a mom and dad who loves God, loves each other and loves them from the moment they can remember—even if it wasn’t their biological parents.  And if I did decide to be a parent, my child would most likely be in the middle of the dysfunctional relationship between my ex and me.  My baby was (and is) too important, too precious and too perfect to be raised in that environment.  Even though it wasn’t what I wanted, it’s what I felt was the best thing for the life growing inside of me.  When I explained this to them, my parents understood and jumped right in to take care of me.   A pastor at my church put us in touch with an Adoption Agency, and I started to make my adoption plan.

I was set in creating an open adoption so my son would always have the opportunity to know me. The agency gave me profiles of parents who were comfortable with openness too.   They encouraged me to take as much time as I needed and look them over.  As I started to read, I found myself coming back to a couple from a nearby state.  They seemed active, energetic, happy and warm.  I was flattered at how this couple who didn’t know me opened their letter saying “We believe that God can work for good, even in the most difficult and painful situations.  You have walked a difficult and painful road to get to this profile.  We have also.  Yet we have seen God’s faithfulness and you will too.” I immediately felt connected to them.  I felt like they cared about me even though they didn’t know me.  They seemed more concerned about acknowledging my pain than about trying to convince me to give them my baby.  I appreciated that.  It seemed like they knew that this was a difficult thing for me as well.  I knew I wanted to meet them.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when meeting a couple who had been waiting so long to have a child of their own.  Were they going to be weird and ask to touch my stomach?  Were they going to ask me personal questions that would make me uncomfortable?  Were they going to be fake to impress me so I wouldn’t change my mind?

I also worried about what this couple was going to think of me. Were they going to think I was just some girl who was irresponsible and got pregnant?  Were they going to look down on me for being in this situation?  Were they going to think I don’t love my baby?  Was I just going to be “that girl” who is carrying their child?

I can’t tell you how far my fears were from the truth.   The first time I met them they both greeted my parents and I with sincere hugs and we all sat down to get to know each other.  I was worried about the awkwardness but the conversations seemed to be almost effortless.  We shared family stories and photos and I liked them more and more as the afternoon went on.  I remember at one point sitting next to them on the couch and they looked at me and said that this was hard for them to know that in order for them to have the joy of a child I would have to go through something extremely painful.  They really cared about what I was going through.  I couldn’t get over how great these two were and for the first time since finding out I was pregnant I felt good about it.

I gave birth to my beautiful, perfect and extraordinary boy on April 23, 2009 at 8:12pm.  He had 10 fingers, 10 toes and a full head of RED HAIR, just like my mom.  He was alert and awake and just stared at me when I held him.  I never knew what love was until I met him.  He deserved so much and I knew I had found the couple who would give him everything they could.  They came up the next day to meet him and I was extremely nervous.  Now that their baby was here, were they going to forget about me?

It was important to me that I physically place him in his adoptive mom’s arms so I made sure I was holding him when they were brought into the room.  I’ll never forget the look on their faces when they saw him for the first time. She came in first with a huge smile on her face.  She looked at him and looked at me and said congratulations in a soft voice.  Before I could say anything, she asked if she could sit on the bed with me.  I said yes and she sat down and put her arms around both of us.  After a few minutes, I asked if she wanted to hold him and placed him in her arms.  She didn’t move.  She stayed sitting on the bed next to me and talked with me.  It was so comfortable.  The rest is kind of a blur but at some point I know I made sure they were able to take him into another room down the hall and have some time alone.  I knew I loved him but it was really hard to watch them fall in love with him too.  It was comforting but also reminded me of how I was going to have to say goodbye.  My son was admitted to the NICU because he was having trouble keeping food down.  He lost weight and they were even talking about surgery for awhile.  Each day, the 3 of us spent hours by his side.  This amazing adoptive couple was extremely patient and respectful of me and allowed me to gently let go and let them take care of him.

Those 2 weeks in the hospital were horribly stressful for all of us, but turned out to be one of the biggest blessings…it allowed us to develop a respect and trust for each other that’s unexplainable.  He started to do better and was released a little while after.  I signed the adoption papers while he was still in the NICU, on May 5, 2009. I still can’t sign my name to a check, letter or greeting card without cringing and thinking of that day.  It was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.

Since the adoption, my son’s parent’s and I remain close.  Through an amazing suggestion by our adoption agency, they created a blog for me and post pictures and updates frequently.  We talk on the phone and text periodically but I try really hard to give them respect and space so they can be a family.  I let them call me and treasure the times they do.  But the nice thing is, I know if I ever want to pick up the phone and call them, they wouldn’t mind.  And that makes it really easy to back off.  I know they haven’t forgotten about me.  I see them every few months, and my whole family will be staying an amazing 2 days at their home next month to celebrate our little boy’s 2nd Birthday.  My son’s mom put it best when she said we are family to one another and recognize that by our openness this blessed boy will have “more love in his life, than mysteries in his past.”  So true.

Now I’m not saying that any of this is easy.  The assumption that birthparents goes back to their normal lives after placing a child is absurd; nothing about my life is normal now.  Even though I am confident in my decision, placing my son for adoption created a hole in my life that will never go away.  I am a mother, without my child, and the pain can be overwhelming at times.  My parents and siblings struggle with this just as much as I do, and probably more in different ways.  Their love and support was and still is unconditional throughout this process, but I know it was hard for them to let go of their grandchild and nephew too.  We miss him tremendously and think about him all the time.  There are days I hurt more than others and nights where I can’t sleep.  But if I had to do it all over again to have my son and meet his parents, I would.  All three of them have changed my life.   Even though he won’t be with me physically, he will always be close to my heart and the best thing about my life.  And knowing he is loved and a part of their family makes my heart smile.  This picture captures our relationship. My son’s mom titled it “The Four of Us Facing the World.”

© Torchlight Photography

First published in 2011; Republished in 2018.

03/01/2018 | by Dawn Davenport | Categories: Adoption, Adoption Blog, Blog | 9 Comments

9 Responses to Who Are Birth Mothers in Adoption?

  1. Avatar Full Spectrum Mama says:

    My daughter was adopted from China and so the story behind her birth is surely very different. But we think about her first mother every day.

    It was so touching to read this birth mother’s honest and heartfelt and heartbreaking and hopeful words. Thank you.

  2. Avatar Cynthia P. says:

    Thank you for sharing this birthmom’s perspective. Reading this brought me to tears, as our story of adoption is very similar. We’re so thankful for our birthmother. We’re also very humbled that she chose us to be mommy & daddy to our amazing & lovely daughter. The day we left the hospital with our baby girl was such a bitter-sweet afternoon. I’ve never felt heartache so painful as I did that day. I’ve always told our birth mom that God can turn a tragedy into a beautiful story. He did so with our sweet, darling baby girl! We are forever thankful to her for this miraculous gift.

  3. Avatar Amy says:

    I just got through listening to the podcast from a few weeks ago with the panel of birth mothers. As always, it was a fantastic interview. I was surprised at how much it affected me emotionally. I am an adoptive mother and was also adopted myself at birth. I met my birth mother and we kept in touch for a short while and eventually lost touch with each other.

    As I listened to the podcast and later read this blog, I felt such a range of emotions: thankful, humbled, defensive, protective, overwhelmed, and deeply sad. Like so many adoptive parents, it is an understatement to say how thankful and humbled I am to be given a child after 8 years of trying and waiting. I also feel so sad and helpless that my joy and thankfulness came at the cost of another person’s deep pain. It reminds me of seeing something I will never forget: when we were at the orphanage with our newly adopted son, I went into the waiting area at one point to change his diaper and let him have a snack. As I sat in my nice clothes, putting on his chlorine-free diaper and giving him organic puffs to eat, I noticed two young women sitting on the other side of the room. Both looked very sad. One was pregnant and the other was consoling her. I was overcome with grief and helpless confusion that the very thing that gave us such joy and happiness was causing someone else immense pain. I still don’t know how to reconcile this in my heart.

    Please extend compassion and tolerance at my next thought, but I want to be honest in my struggle with this. Listening to the podcast, I also felt a little angry when a few of the birth mothers said they felt themselves to be in the role of mother. I enjoyed meeting my birth mother, but she is not my mother. I felt protective of my parents and I felt defensive of my own son. That all being said, though, after hearing the birth mothers’ perspectives, I want to give my initial gut reactions more careful thought. Perhaps it would serve me and my son well for me to open my mind to other ways of thinking about this.

    Finally, Dawn, in the podcast you mentioned doing future podcasts on this topic. I think that would be wonderful! I’d love to hear the perspectives of adopted (adult or older teen) people who grew up in an open adoption. I also wondered what open adoption would be like if the child had special needs.

    Thank you for all that you do, Dawn!

    • Avatar Mrs Moriarty says:

      And I feel angry that your response to those birth mothers’ *feelings* is anger, rather than compassion of your own. Those feelings are just feelings, they don’t threaten you or your family, they’re not a transgression, and you don’t have the right to dictate the sentiments of others. But this is emblematic of the hollow lip service widely paid to Great Respect for birth mothers – they’re oh, so noble, but they better hadn’t dare feel at all attached to that infant after the papers are signed, lest they be bluntly and indelicately reminded that they’re not mothers (subtext: “you don’t matter one bit.”).

      • Tracy Whitney Tracy Whitney says:

        Amy, thank you for sharing your experience both as an adoptive mother and as an adoptee. I would imagine that reconciling all those layers of feelings with your personal experiences requires a good bit of introspection and support from those who are in your life. We appreciate you reading here and sharing some of that “inside perspective” with us.

        Mrs. Moriarty, I understand what you are saying and yes, I agree that too often we (as a culture) give that harmful mixed message to birth mothers. However, I think that Amy’s wide range of feelings and figuring out how to reconcile all of them is also quite indicative of many adoptive parents’ experience. Additionally, as an adoptee, it makes sense that she feels additional conflict of emotion as she sorts through it all for herself and for her ability to parent her child well.

        We have an active on-line community where these conversations are welcome and voices from all sides of the adoption triad are valued. If you haven’t joined us there yet, please consider doing so: http://ow.ly/JNIv30jkG9O

        Thank you again, both of you, for reading and sharing.

  4. Avatar H. L. says:

    Being pregnant can be a source of much excitement, but it also inevitably produces a certain amount of fear. A mum to be can turn into afraid of several things, ranging from worries as to the babies health and well being to fear of how she will cope with pain in childbirth or whether she will be a good mum. There are multiple things which can build into a fantastic big source of fear.

  5. Avatar Waiting Mother says:

    Without birth families those of us who have adopted or are in the adoption process would not have the children we love. While my husband and I have not yet identified our child, I pray nightly for my future child and the child’s biological family.

  6. Avatar cindy says:

    I am a birth mom. I find myself identifying with many of the things you said. I agree with this
    “My baby was (and is) too important, too precious and too perfect to be raised in that environment. ”
    Although many of the details of my story differ from yours.
    I also was thinking not just of my own feelings, but the the entire well-being of my son and what would truly be the best place for him to be.
    I had absolutely no confidence in myself to parent, and I still don’t, even though my love for my son in boundless.

    Now, my open adoption relationship is not as seamless as yours, but I hope that someday things will get better…

  7. Avatar Julie in MN says:

    Bless you & thank you for sharing this Dawn. I appreciate this woman sharing her experience. As an adoptive mom, there is a hole in my heart that was filled by our daughter because of our daughter’s birthmom. I will be forever grateful & seek to understand how she feels. Open adoption is so full of happy/sad, joy/grief…it’s beautiful & humbling. Sort of like parenting ~ the depth of feeling is hard to explain to anyone not living it.

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