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Adoption 105: Healing after placing your child for adoption

It’s normal to experience a range of emotions after placing a child for adoption. Here’s how to navigate the feels.

Choosing adoption is one of the biggest decisions of your life. As you explore what adoption means, how to find the right adoption provider, how to find the right adoptive family, and how to navigate open adoption, it’s also important to learn about what to expect after placement, as it may affect your decisions now.

Thinking about how you’ll feel after placing your child for adoption will help you make an informed decision. It will also prepare you for the most common emotions and help you recognize when to seek professional support.

Mixed emotions

Some birth parents feel regret and heartache, while others experience peace and trust. Usually? It’s a roller-coaster ride of different feelings. You may feel some or all of the emotions listed below, but keep in mind that there is no right or wrong way to process this experience. It is all normal.

Grief. Let’s face it, placing a child for adoption is a loss, and with loss comes grief…even when you are 100% certain about your decision. Ever see a Hallmark card that says, “I’m sorry you needed to place your baby for adoption, but happy you made the decision you believe was best”? Nope. Me either. Our society just doesn’t have a way to acknowledge this kind of grief, and it never fully disappears. It can pop up when your child’s birthday rolls around, during a friend’s baby shower, or when a random song plays on the radio. Unfortunately, adoption providers don’t always address lifelong grief. Many women say that if they had been told how hard it would be long-term, they would have been more prepared, or may have even decided not to place.

Regret. Every birth parent I know who made a voluntary adoption plan—and I know lots—made the best decision they could given their circumstances. Regret doesn’t mean you’ve made the wrong choice; it just means you wish things were different. Also, regret isn’t unique to adoption. People who face unplanned pregnancy and choose parenting or abortion can also experience regret. Your decision-making process should include figuring out which regrets you can best handle.

Anger. While birth parents may know they made the best decision possible, some of their situations were really hard. Some had family members pressuring them to place, others had super-shady partners. Some were misled by an adoption provider or their child’s adoptive parents. If you have not been treated respectfully at every step, you’re allowed to be angry—it’s both a natural part of grieving and a rational response to injustice. Your wisest self is saying “no” to mistreatment.

Relief, joy, acceptance. You might also have lighter emotions such as relief, joy, and acceptance. After all, you were pregnant, you labored, and you delivered your child (or supported your partner doing all of the above). Give yourself credit; all parents have to make difficult choices and put their children’s needs first, and you did that. You’re allowed to acknowledge that you’ve made the best choice for your child. Having positive emotions doesn’t mean you’re a bad birth parent or that you don’t love your kid. It’s okay to heal and enjoy life. Really.

Dealing with other people’s emotions

Not everyone will get it. The people in your life—family, friends, or co-workers—may not know how to respond to your feelings. There’s no how-to manual, so tell them what you need. You might also encounter negative stereotypes in media about birth parents and judgey comments from randos. Peer support groups can be a helpful place to vent and learn how to respond. (Check out the resources in the last section of this article for more on that.)

When you just can’t even…

Difficult days are normal and totally expected. They’re more common in the first few years, but can hit anytime after placement. When facing something as traumatic as adoption placement, it’s normal to to deal with difficulties by either turning away from life or turning up the dial. These can be healthy coping strategies in small doses, but they can also get out of hand. For example, spending Saturday in bed, ordering takeout, eating ice cream, watching This Is Us and ugly crying? Totally okay. Spending a week in your room, missing work or school, and avoiding your friends because you’re too sad, anxious, or exhausted to get out of bed? Time to consider professional counseling. You deserve to feel better.

Similarly, spending a weekend distracting yourself by going out dancing, partying, staying up all night, and generally being cray? Great way to boost your mood for a hot minute. Spending every weekend—plus Fridays, Mondays, and sometimes Thursdays—binge-drinking, using drugs, having unprotected sex, and bailing on important commitments? It’s time to seek professional support. You deserve to be safe and healthy.

Resources for the road ahead

Adoption is a lifelong journey and there is no single path to healing. Too often birth parents don’t get support and struggle with their confusing feelings alone. If you are in this situation, try any or all of these resources:

Susan Dusza Guerra Leksander, LMFT, is a licensed psychotherapist who has provided services to all members of the adoption constellation since 2008. At Pact, an Adoption Alliance, she focuses on the needs of expectant parents considering adoption and birth/first families who have placed children for adoption. She is also a first mother and a transracial adoptee. Susan enjoys zombie fiction and tending her menagerie of 10 animals.

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