Initially Fearing Birth Mothers


As you research adoption, it’s normal to have some fear. Some of the fear could be in regards to something tangible, like the amount of money an adoption costs. Or you may be afraid of the entire adoption process because you don’t know yet what the necessary steps are. You could even have a strong fear of an adoption topic before having all the facts. An example of this would how prospective adoptive parents may be afraid of a potential relationship with a child’s birth mother.

At my recent Adoption Support Group meeting, this specific topic came up. One woman bravely admitted that she wished she could just get a baby and have the birth mother disappear from the picture. At first that sounds may sound surprising and a little cold-hearted. But at some point, didn’t most of us who pursued domestic adoption have this exact same thought?

My Fears

I definitely had a fear of birth mothers when I began researching adoption. I had the desire to parent a child from birth but the thought of another woman challenging my role as the child’s mother frightened me. I felt like I had to choose either domestic adoption with both the newborn and birth mother or choose international adoption and get an older child with no birth mother involvement. I was upset that I had to make this choice. I didn’t want to co-parent with a birth mother if I chose to adopt a newborn.

The books I first read on the adoption process only mentioned the birth mother when it was discussing termination of her parental rights. I didn’t run across what her rights would be in making decisions for the baby I adopted. Yet I knew that she must still be actively involved because that is what I had seen on television, specifically the Lifetime Network movies, about adoption.

I didn’t know anyone who had adopted domestically to ask about relationships with their child’s birth mother. Honestly, I don’t know if I would have asked because I didn’t want to appear heartless toward birth mothers. I appreciated that these pregnant women chose adoption but didn’t appreciate them enough to want them to be part of my family’s inner circle.

Willing to Listen and Learn

At my first Adoption Support Group meeting, I didn’t say much. Actually I cried during most of it. In my mind I kept thinking, “I can’t believe I ended up HERE in order to become a parent.” It seemed surreal and very unnatural that my life led me to that meeting. Wasn’t becoming a parent a private thing between couples behind bedroom doors? I knew for sure it wasn’t sitting in a circle gathering information about social workers from strangers.

Between my tears I was listening to the other couples at that meeting. Most of them were pursuing domestic adoption or had done so already. I heard them speak highly of their child’s birth mothers. You could tell in their voices that they loved these women and were protective of them. This surprised me because I was picturing birth mothers as immature women who would constantly be bothering the adoptive family after the placement of their child. Why weren’t the adoptive families complaining about how the birth mothers were butting into their lives?

People began telling the group how much contact they have with the birth mothers. Most were only sending letters and pictures to the birth mothers. Actually, they were sending these things to the adoption agency who then forwarded them onto the birth mother. Hearing this perked me up because sending stuff through the mail to her was easy. It was a lot less than having her to dinner every Sunday night, like I imagined. Then these people said that they wished they could see their child’s birth mother more often. They wanted to know how she was doing as they cared for her well being. This took me off guard and got me thinking that it must be possible for an adoptive mother to care for the birth mother without feeling fear or intimidation.

Could it be that I could choose a newborn through domestic adoption and be a mom without feeling threatened by the birth mother? Would I actually feel compassion for her and desire her to be in my family’s life? I still couldn’t picture it but was willing to do some more research. By the end of this first Adoption Support Group meeting I was 100% positive that I wanted to adopt a newborn. So for me to adopt a baby I had to accept that I had to be involved with a birth mother.

Reading Personal Stories

I began to read adoption books that had personal stories in them. My two favorite were “Secret Thoughts of an Adoptive Mother” by Jana Wolff and “Adoption Without Fear” by James L. Gritter. In the first book, the author writes about all the taboo thoughts that most people who choose to adopt have had at some point. I could relate to something I read on every page. Learning that I wasn’t the only one made me feel more comfortable with my thoughts. The author worked through her initial thoughts on topics, such as ones about birth mothers which was similar to mine, and came through it as a wonderful adoptive parent.

The second book, “Adoption Without Fear” is full of true stories of adoptive couples having open relationships with birth mothers. Each story left me awestruck. Toward the beginning of the book, I thought it was crazy to be so open with the birth mother. But by the end, I understood the love the couples had for the birth mothers and was rooting for them to have as close as a relationship as possible. It was obvious there was no co-parenting and no butting into each other’s lives. The birth mother doesn’t want to parent, but just be informed of what is going on with the child. This helps reaffirm that their decision of adoption was a good one. That book helped show me the point of open adoption is the child having information and not about making me feel comfortable. Open adoption is to surround the child with as many people who love them as possible. What parent would try to prevent that?

By the time we filled out our application for a domestic newborn adoption, we had picked an agency that strongly encouraged “open adoptions.” We filled out forms where we said “Yes” we wanted visits prior and post birth. “Yes” we wanted phone calls with the birth mother. “Yes” we were willing to send pictures and letters about our child. Even our adoption profile, which the birth mothers view in order to choose a prospective adoptive couple, had our last name and hometown listed in it. I, the one who thought for a long time how to avoid birth mothers, now wanted one to be actively involved with our family. I will admit though that we did select an agency a few states away. Would I have been willing at that time to be so open had we chosen a local agency? I freely admit that I am not certain.

My Relationships Now

Fast forward eight years since I cried through that first Adoption Support Group meeting. I am now the parent of three children, all through the same agency which promoted open adoptions. Do I have my children’s birth mothers actively involved with our family? Unfortunately not. When researching adoption and birth mothers I wasn’t told that the relationship with the birth mother is like any other one in life. That is, there are moments of closeness and distance. People get busy and their lives move on. That doesn’t mean people forget. It just creates an ebb and flow relationship.

We send annual letters and pictures to each of our children’s birth mothers. A few times we have heard from them out of the blue. It took a long time for me to accept that I have no control of when or if I will hear from them. It’s surprising to me that I fought so hard against having birth mothers in my life, then I welcomed it and now with all of my heart I desire it. I don’t think poorly of them for not contacting me but I do hope it changes sometime down the road.

I speak highly of my child’s birth mothers to my children. I want it known to them that they are wonderful women and without them we wouldn’t be a family. I keep copies of all the letters I send the birth mothers so I can show my children some day that I tried my best to keep our relationship going.

Telling Others of My Relationships

At my Adoption Support Group meetings, I want prospective adoptive parents to hear the love in my voice which I have for the birth mothers. It may seem crazy to them hear that I feel this way because they have the same fears of birth mothers that I initially had. I hope that hearing how my mind about birth mothers changed from avoidance to fear to love will inspire them to research this topic more thoroughly to see if it’s appropriate for their family.

Should every adoptive family have a relationship with their child’s birth mother? I don’t have that answer. I think it should depend on what is best for the child. But I think that anyone researching adoption should not make assumptions what the relationship with the birth mother will be until they listen to other adoptive families. They should read personal stories, like I did, to see if it’s even appealing to them.

Adoption is not for everyone. Domestic adoption is not for everyone. And open adoptions are not for everyone. Just don’t say you know what you want before you explore your options. I’m thrilled I did my research which eventually led me to open my heart to my children’s birth mothers.

Can you relate to this initial fear of birth mothers? Have you been able to work past it? If so, how?

Danielle I. Pennel

Three Yellow Roses

5 thoughts on “Initially Fearing Birth Mothers

  1. Danielle,

    You so need to write a book on adoption! I Love these articles. I am going to post on my blog again to send a few of my readers over here. Please don’t ever stop writing from your point of view, it is so helpful knowing how to prepare and deal with the roller coaster ride of adopting.

    My fear with J’s birth mother was that she would and could find our house and just show up unannounced after the placement to try and take J with her. Mind you, she lives about 20 minutes away from our house. Well, that did not and has not happened to this day. We do have an open relationship, but it has consisted of 1 or 2 in person meetings a year and most other correspondence by snail mail between us and J’s birth sister (who is 10). When we first met them at their apartment parking lot to go out to dinner one night, I was afraid her older daughter and older son would not like us, actually it is just the opposite.

    I just found out that J’s birth sister took a photo of her, us and all of the birth family to school to show her teacher. We happen to know that teacher and she said J’s birth sister was so proud of us and her sister and said she can’t wait to see us in person again soon. That warmed my heart knowing she cares so much about her sister, our daughter J. I hope to always keep the open line of communication, but we let J’s birth mother dictate that line of and frequency of contact. We feel it is putting too much pressure on her if we try and make the arrangements to meet up in person. Too emotional on her (she has told us that through letters). We give them their space and honestly, they do the same for us too. Respect is a great part of this relationship we will have for life.

  2. Dear Danielle,

    When I wrote “Secret Thoughts of an Adoptive Mother,” I thought I was the ONLY wannabe-mom experiencing two kinds of feelings: the type that I thought was probably normal (anxiety, excitement, gratitude) and the type that I thought made me weirder than the adoption application let on (resentful, terrified, insecure). I ultimately found out that I had a lot of company in my ambivalence!

    It means so much to me to learn that my story was actually helpful to you on your journey. Your post brings back a lot of memories for me and I deeply appreciate your willingness to share your own evolution. Most of us spend so much time trying to look like we know it all, but I find adoption to be pretty humbling. It feels like the more I know about adoption, the less of a know-it-all I become.

    Keep up the great work! Jana

  3. Thanks for your openness and honesty! We had a lot of fear about the birthmother relationship. Unfortunately, due to their dysfunctional lives, we were unable to maintain an open relationship. But we are still hoping that our sons will eventually be able to connect and heal that broken relationship. I know that they would have gained a lot from having contact with her. Unresolved, broken relationships are always hurtful.

  4. Thanks so much for this blog. We are considering starting the adoption process in January, and it just seems so overwhelming. The birth mother/open adoption thing has me very concerned. I will look into the books you suggested. I’ve talked to a few agencies and they speak of Open adoption as such a beautiful thing, but it does seem scary and intrusive to me.

  5. This blog has been insightful, thank you. We have found a birth mom and are excited about being parents for the first time. My anxiety level is get worse every time I talk to the birth mother, however, because she almost sounds like she wants her son and her to be involved in every step of the baby’s life. She only live 10 min away and has already been to our house. We want the baby to have a relationship with her half brother who is 5, but are scared that it will become too much interference. Is this normal, does this wean off or will I find a happy medium? I am looking forward to reading these book selections to find out more. Thanks!

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