After years of waiting, your adoption finally happens and you are a real honest-to-goodness mommy. You’ve been preparing for this – for years. You’ve been dreaming of this – for a lifetime. You are living your dream.
Life is good.
But then, seemingly out of the blue, you feel overwhelmed with a longing to have given birth and grief at what you have missed. Maybe these feelings are triggered by a friend’s pregnancy or some sappy commercial on TV. Maybe they are triggered seeing a new mom breastfeeding her baby at the park; or maybe by the talk around your parent’s table about who the grandkids look like. Maybe they just creeps up on its own with no known trigger.
I’m not sure what brought this on but I’m having a sad moment about the things I wasn’t present for or didn’t get to be a part of with our girlie. She is the best little human ever and I’m so grateful for her. It just makes me sad that I didn’t get to carry her, witness her birth or name her. I love that she has those connections with her Birth Mother and what they have is so special. I also love all the connections that I do have with my daughter and what we have together is precious and so special too. But I sometimes still wish I could have been a part of all the things that mothers who have kiddos biologically normally get to do, and then feel guilty.
Dirty Little Secret of Adoptive Parents
Some adoptive moms never look back once they adopt, but plenty do and most feel guilty. It feels like they are betraying their child that they love more than life itself to still wish for something or someone else.
- I have one son (adopted at birth). He’ll be 5 in 10 days. I was able to attend his birth mom’s last OB appointment. I was able to hear his heart beat and I have a copy of the ultrasound picture. I was at the hospital when he was born and held him within 10 minutes of his birth. My husband and I spent the night at the hospital and he stayed in our room. HOWEVER, I still feel like I missed out. I missed out on feeling him grow inside me. I never got to feel him kick me (well he’s made up for that…haha). So many things that women get to experience when they are able to carry a child, that we don’t.
- Most days are great. They are my babies and that’s all that matters. But then the stupid infertility nightmare rears its ugly head! Pregnancy was taken from me, and I didn’t choose it. And bottom line it just sucks!
- My son turned one last week. I was surprised by my emotions on his birthday. It reminded me of what I have lost. I missed his birth since he came to us at 10 days old (foster to adopt). My feelings of loss was like a little shadow on our celebration this year on his first birthday.
- Feeling a little depressed. Yes, I still have my little man, but is it selfish that I wish he came from me???
These feeling of wishing to have experienced pregnancy and birth are common; they aren’t dirty and they shouldn’t be a secret.
Matter of Degrees
Guilt and secrecy intensifies feelings. While it is very normal to occasionally feel a longing for what you didn’t get to experience, it’s another thing when this grief takes over your life.
This: “355 days out of the year he feels like mine and I’m so happy, but then the infertility pregnancy loss rears it’s ugly head occasionally.”
This: “Whenever I think that the one, first, basic, essential thing that a mother is supposed to do for her child is the thing I can’t do – it makes me cry. Like all day long cry. I know I’ll always be sad that I couldn’t give birth to my baby.”
Occasional sadness is normal and deserves a pity party and venting with friends who understand. Intense sadness that you can’t shake deserves professional help from someone that understands infertility grief. (Creating a Family has resources to help you find an infertility therapist.)
Ditch the Guilt
Human beings are wonderfully complex organisms. We can, and often do, hold more than one emotion at a time: Gratitude at having this wonderful perfect child in our lives and sadness that we didn’t give birth to him. Fulfillment in parenting this exact child and longing for the child that we will never have.
- I can be sad for what I lost and exuberant for what I’ve gained through adoption. I honestly don’t think my husband and I could make a better little person if we tried and believe me, we really tried!
No need to feel guilty for being human, unless you let the negative feelings take over what is good in your life. Get help if that becomes a concern.
Connect With Other Adoptive Parents
When we think we are the only one experiencing something, we feel weird and the problem feels bigger. It’s easy for emotions to start spiraling. “I should be so happy. This is what I’ve always wanted. I’m a bad mother for still wishing I could have given birth. My kid is going to be permanently screwed up because I feel this way. We’re talking years of therapy…”
Adoptions aren’t rare, but plenty of people who adopt don’t have other adoptive parents in their circle of friends or family. They don’t have someone they can call up and ask if they ever cried over a birth scene on stupid TV shows or wanted to smack their sister for going on and on about her labor. This isolation can lead you to believe that you are the only one who has ever felt this way.
The solution – find a support group.
If you are lucky enough to live in a big (ish) city you may be able to find an in person adoption support group. Some churches with active adoption ministries also have parent support groups even in smaller cities.
If you aren`t so lucky to have a support group nearby, don`t despair. Join the Creating a Family Facebook Support Group. Were here 24/7/365. Drop by whenever you need a reality check or a virtual hug.
- So glad I found you awesome ladies!! In my reality I am the only one I know in this boat and feel crazy half the time!!! I hate that anyone else has these feelings of sadness about not giving birth to their child, but knowing I’m not alone makes it just a little easier.
It Gets Better
The good news is that these feelings often get better with time. Pregnancy and birth stories diminishes as you and your peer group age, to be replaced by T-Ball and school stories. You will fell less left out.
Also, you will likely start seeing some of yourself in your child and appreciating some of the differences.
- As your little one grows, you’ll start seeing yourself in her/him. Things they say, faces they make. And you realize that while the genes might’ve come from someone else, you’ve given them the most important thing…the rest of their lives.
- I remember holding my newborn baby girl and sobbing asking God why I couldn’t have been the one to give her life. It was so devastating to me, at that time, to feel like I had nothing to do with the creation of this little person that I already loved so passionately. But what’s funny is that now, 4 years later, the fact that brought me so much pain in those first few months now fills me with so much happiness. I adore those dark gorgeous eyes that I could have never given her. I dote on her olive skin that would not have come from me. I love the way she moves her thin delicate frame with ease over the smallest balance beam while I fall over just walking on a sidewalk. Thank goodness she didn’t inherit my dopey genes, I would have just screwed her up! Haha!
These Feeling May Never Go Completely Away
Adoption is for life. The intensity of longing for the birth and pregnancy experience usually wanes, but may never go completely away. The desire to see your genes reflected in your child comes and goes as well. I spoke with a mom whose daughter (adopted) recently gave birth, and she said the experience was a weird mixture of joy and sadness. She wished she could have shared birthing stories with her child. She wished she could see her parents and grandparents reflected in this child. She also was ecstatic about her grandchild and thrilled that he wouldn’t have some of the negatives in her family medical history. Adoption is complex, but then so is life.
After adopting, do/did you still wish you could be pregnant?
(All quotes in this blog came from threads in the Creating a Family Facebook Support Group with all identifying information deleted.)Image credit: Juan R. Martos
Add Your Comment
I’m having a tough time finding support for my son. I have been able to overcome not giving birth and not getting him until he was almost 2 years old.. however, I never wanted anything to be a secret from him (my personal choice). I have been open from the start. We also have another son and one daughter. He is sad that he did not come from my belly. We openly talk together and recently he told me this. I replied that if he had come from me, he wouldn’t be who he is and that the world needed a boy like him in it. He was always meant to be born and I am lucky enough to be his Mama. I asked him later and also asked all my children because they should understand as well what our beliefs our, “what is a Mom?” I asked. They told me, “a mom is someone who does everything for you and who loves you no matter what.” How correct that is! I then asked them all that if I hadn’t given birth to them, would it make me any less of a mom and therefore their mom? It’s something to think about. We all agreed together that we make the family. That being there and loving each other is what makes us family. He became at ease and seemed to feel less alone bc it does hurt me too. Though I wasn’t able to l bring him in to the world, I am blessed to bring him up in the world.
Thanks for reaching out. We have some great resources to help you talk to your kids about adoption, even the hard parts, in age-appropriate ways. Here are a few we especially like:
Talking with your Adopted or Foster Child About the Hard Parts of Their Story
Talking about Adoption at Different Ages
Talking with Young Children About Adoption and Birth Parents
Depending upon the ages of the older kids in your home, it might help them to take in these resources as well, so you can all be on the same page when you talk with your little guy. The fact that he is surrounded by so many who love him and are willing and able to learn more and be open with him will be such a help as his questions get harder and his understanding of his story changes and develops.
Please, feel free to reach out for more resources if you are looking for something more specific! Thanks again for reading and reaching out.
I see infertility grief as the same thing as adopted children;s need to connect with biological parents. Both are craving the natural biological way of making families that nature created and that society celebrates.
As an adoptive parent, I’m told it’s natural for my kids to want to connect biologically (and I agree), yet I don’t love them if I wish I could have given birth instead. Double standard.
Either it’s natural for all of us to yearn for biological family relations, or none of us. But it isn’t natural and okay just for adoptees, and not the adoptive parents.
There are occasional parents who never yearn for biological kids, but there are also occasional adoptees who couldn’t care less about biological relations. Overall though, both the parents and kids need to acknowledge their natural yearning and support each other.
Understand that the parents’ sadness about it is not about them “refusing to let their kids grow up and live their own lives, or trying to control them” which are the usual accusations I kept reading on another forum.
On that other adoption forum, the adoptees absolutely cannot understand the connection between their adoptive parents grief when they seek their biological parents — when it’s the same grief as their own — coming from the fact that if the parents could have given birth, their kids wouldn’t be seeking out other parents, posting the thrill of finding them out to all their friends online, pointing out all the biological traits they share, etc. It triggers the same grief and yearning for biological ties that the kids are seeking to fulfill by searching for them.
I think if the person is open minded that will happen but if they arenâ€™t, Iâ€™m not sure if they do.”
If they say it online, it leaves the door open for people to point out the similarities.
“I have a question for you, would it benefit a child (at an age appropriate age) for a parent to admit their infertility sadness to a child. Or would it just have a negative impact on a child?
At least for me I would think it would be best if they didnâ€™t tell the child ever because it had nothing to do with the child and could only make the child feel guilty and want to protect the parent at the expense of their own feelings.”
I agree with you that it is not really the parents place to admit their infertility sadness to a child. If an adult adoptee asks them about it then one can discuss it with them then but it is usually best to separate it from the adoption. It is usually best to “play it by ear”.
Most adoptees know the facts about their parents infertility but most aparents tend to keep their pain to themselves. I don’t know about other adoptees but I found myself being protective of my APs even though they never expressed any sadness about being IF, so I could imagine that if they had done so, that might have placed even more pressure on a child.
In my parents day, they tended to go straight to adoption after a diagnosis of IF – my parents had no problems adopting. NZ apparently had the highest rate of adoption in the western world (perhaps due to the very short (at the time) time between birth and consent (10 days), also Auckland (largest city) had mainly adoptions done through non-government organisations)). The IF couples were the sympathetic face of adoption. I was once in conversation on a train with a lovely older lady and it turned out she was a nurse who had experience with adoption during the 60s in Melbourne. She did have sympathy for the bparents but the people she truly had the most sympathy for were the couples who couldn’t conceive – one comment was “those poor couples, they really needed those babies”. Unfortunately, I had to get off the train at that stop otherwise I might have discussed it more. (The topic came up because I was visiting my bmother’s home town.)
“I dote on her olive skin that would not have come from me. I love the way she moves her thin delicate frame with ease over the smallest balance beam while I fall over just walking on a sidewalk. Thank goodness she didnâ€™t inherit my dopey genes, I would have just screwed her up! Haha!”
“Actually, as an adoptee, I actually quite like it when I hear APs admit these things.
That is because it means that they can then start to realise that their child might also have complex feelings similar to the ones that you say here re adoptive parents:”
I think if the person is open minded that will happen but if they aren’t, I’m not sure if they do.
I have a question for you, would it benefit a child (at an age appropriate age) for a parent to admit their infertility sadness to a child. Or would it just have a negative impact on a child?
At least for me I would think it would be best if they didn’t tell the child ever because it had nothing to do with the child and could only make the child feel guilty and want to protect the parent at the expense of their own feelings.
I gather many people also feel they have resolved all of these issues until their child finds him or herself expecting a baby. All of a sudden it becomes clear once again that you don’t have pregnancy stories to tell, can’t be the one to say, “oh, I had wicked heartburn with you, so it runs in the family”, etc.
Thinking about it over the past couple days, I don’t feel sad that I didn’t carry our daughter, but infertility and some of the lost simplicities of being a biologically-connected family do sometimes make me sigh. Kind of a wistful, wonder what that is like sense in the same way I wonder what it would have been like to have a short wait to become a family instead of a relatively long one. Wistful, but with a recognition that our daughter is a marvel, and for her to enter our lives at the time she did took an incredible combination of both process and happenstance. We love her fiercely and take joy in being her parents every day.
Love this: [but infertility and some of the lost simplicities of being a biologically-connected family do sometimes make me sigh.]
Adult adoptees having feelings about their adoptions are told all the time to ‘get over it’ or to ‘be grateful’ for what they have. I hope adoptive parents will use these experiences to inform their attitudes to adoptees and their experiences.
Von, yep, the similarities of having mixed feelings is remarkable common in all people. The key is for parents to channel that understanding and not take it personally when their children have mixed feelings about their adoption.
This is a great article. One thing that is left out is if the adopted child has trauma and attachment issues. This complicates things A LOT. The reminder that I did not carry her in my body is evident EVERY DAY.
Jeanne, such a very good point!
“Some adoptive moms never look back once they adopt, but plenty do and most feel guilty. It feels like they are betraying their child that they love more than life itself to still wish for something or someone else.”
Actually, as an adoptee, I actually quite like it when I hear APs admit these things.
That is because it means that they can then start to realise that their child might also have complex feelings similar to the ones that you say here re adoptive parents:
“Human beings are wonderfully complex organisms. We can, and often do, hold more than one emotion at a time: Gratitude at having this wonderful perfect child in our lives and sadness that we didnâ€™t give birth to him. Fulfillment in parenting this exact child and longing for the child that we will never have.”
So don’t feel guilty about having those feelings – use them to help understand your child 🙂