A Place in Her Life

Eight weeks doesn’t seem like such a long time.

But, of course, when you’re checking your email every day — actually, several times a day — desperately seeking a reply, eight weeks is interminable.

Our relationship with our youngest son’s birthmother has been the proverbial long and winding road, twisting most recently into a declaration that we are on a sort of break. It was her decision, and one we had to respect but also had to explain to our then-four-year-old son who had become conscious not just of her place in his life but her presence.

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We had had regular visits since he was just weeks-old, the existence of which didn’t necessarily register with him in ways we could understand, that is until only recently—right around the time she gave birth to her second child, his birth sibling, a baby boy she was choosing to parent.  We did our best to explain who he was and why visits for her were becoming increasingly challenging.

When she told us we probably should not continue with visits lest he become confused or feel angst when she could not come, we felt the loss—for him, for us, for our other two sons who had never had the benefit of any birthparent contact.  And though she still wants photos and updates via email, it isn’t the same, isn’t what it once was or could have been.

When too much time had gone by without contact, I reached out. I waited eight weeks for a reply, and then an apology and an announcement: a new baby, a daughter this time, another baby she is choosing to parent, is able to parent—and another explanation I needed to provide to my son.

And as I sit from this vantage point, my now-five-year-old son with a grin at times so big his face can barely contain it, I think of her, of her life filling up, of him, her first, becoming  less of a focus. I can’t speak for her since I will never be able to fully understand the enormous sacrifice she made when she created his adoption plan, but I think of her—a lot. And I think of this beautiful boy who will have much to process and eventually reconcile as he endeavors to understand if not forge his place in her life.

If you ask my son what words come to mind when he thinks of his birthmother, he says he loves her. He then asks— fairly quickly — when he can see her again.

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I wish I knew enough to offer him answers — today and tomorrow and decades hence.

But I don’t, and I don’t think I ever will.

About the writer

Samantha lives with her family in Newport, RI, and is a high school English teacher (now at her—gasp—quarter-century mark). In the last several years, she has had published in Adoptive Families and ADDitude magazines; and her blog, My Three Sons was named by Adoptive Families as one of the Top Twenty Adoption Blogs on the internet and has been “Freshly Pressed” by WordPress. She is also the author of the column “Different Drummer” on ADDitude.com and featured on the sites The Creative Mama and Families in the Loop.


Melissa Simmons 1 year ago

Adoption, whether opened or closed, is extremely painful. As a birthmom in an open adoption , some of these comments are extremely hurtful.
This woman gave you a piece of her that she can never get back. I see a lot of bitterness and anger, but not a lot of empathy. Birthmoms place their children because they want them to have a better life. They go through family profile after family profile, hoping and praying that it will be a perfect fit.
I’m not surprised she needs a break from it all. It’s an emotional rollercoaster. For me personally, I love the adoptive mom like a sister. She’s beautiful inside and out. What I love most about her is when I need a break, she understands that it’s not because I don’t love him or care about him, it’s because it’s painful.
Birthmoms are selfless. They put their baby above everything else.
She might contact you again. She might not. I don’t know her situation. Maybe she thinks he’s better off without her. Maybe she doesn’t want to complicate his life. Cut her some slack.

Anna Vondale Salsberg-Grimes 1 year ago

Being a mother who CHOOSE to give her child a better life by choosing to let go and stop trying to keep in contact, think of it like looking into a store window seeing someone you love with all your heart and adore, being loved, taken care of by someone else like a new adopted/step parent. You know the child is loved and sometimes get to witness the New Family transition and the happiness but the B.Mom feels the ache , jealousy and missing piece everyday of her life! As a B.Mom “baby-sickness” like the feeling you get missing home you just go back and feel better……how do you do that when you let another raise your child? For what the heart lost is gained HOPE of success in school a family of their own someday. Madame You were open with your love,life, family and home to another human being. Its hard as a BIRTH MOM to see where to “Fit – In” with that kind of love when you have never had family who gave you that kind of environment, that is our wish our babies LEARN from your bond and relationship the peace, family, and love we didn’t. Thank you for caring enough to save a life from poverty, addiction, violence. My suggestion keep on trying monthly contact emails, and keep two scrap/event/memory books if you can. Curiosity gets the better of a B.Mom she’ll come around eventually if you are open to her keeping in the child’s life but don’t judge to harshly. REMEMBER SHE CHOOSE YOU TO BE THAT BABY’s PARENTS…… BECAUSE OF HER REASONS FOR GIVING HIM AWAY. I’m not yelling at you in type, just stressing to remember we all do things for our own reasons, and good intentions. By thinking with your head or your heart, it never makes sense to anyone else but yourself. Take care and love that baby she knows what she is missing out on!

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Gail R. Encerrado 1 year ago

This is such a tough one for me to read. My beautiful girl is the joy of my life. Her birth mother gave me the greatest gift imaginable. I’m very open about the adoption, and my child will always known her story. She’ll never hear a bad thing about her birth parents from me. I did the best I could with staying in touch, but, like you, found that I was the one making all the effort, all the contact. I’ve chosen to just leave it be. My door and my heart will always be open, and I still send pictures, but I no longer initiate contact.

As a child who grew up without knowing one of my birth parents, I’ve always had that place on my heart that wondered. My daughter won’t have to have that. I’ll always answer her questions, explaining that people do the best they can with what they have. Birth mom kept and raised five of her other eight children. The only way I’ll be able to explain that is with honesty.

I’ll always be her “real” mommy. I’m the one who holds her, who nurtures her, who tends her when she’s sick, who shares her daily joy. A friend once called it “birth mom and earth mom.” My sweet girl will always know the difference. Birth mom is a lovely woman who has a life I can’t begin to understand or judge. I hope my daughter learns compassion and kindness from me, and I hope she understands that birth mom and I are both doing the best we can with what we have. And that’s all we can do.

Louise Brad 1 year ago

I have gone through the same thing with my 16 year old son. His grandparent adopted his 3 older siblings. They have had access to him yet only seem to want him around at weddings, graduations ect where they drag him around introducing him to distant relatives. My son is shy and hates this. Last time after 15 minutes he said let’s go and he no longer will go to these events. He has a brother who is 4 years older he is that he enjoys seeing because they are identical. I let him choose. My daughters birth family wanted no contact and she always had them on a pedestal. I have always been positive about their birth families, each child deals differently. I personally would drop the subject and only give him simple answers to his questions. As far as the birth mother goes, I would have a talk with her and let her know she is hurting your son and she needs to be on or out.

Beverly Hall 1 year ago

i gave up my beloved son at 16 years old. I didn’t feel qualified to raise him at that time. i gave him up to the church when he was 5 days old. it was the hardest thing I have ever done, it truly broke my heart. although I desperately wanted to know that he was loved and happy, I realized that it was his right to contact me if he wanted to. he did when he was 33. it was worth the wait, even though it took so long. his rights were more important than mine.

Jill Grosdidier Dodge 1 year ago

This is so hard! The amount of contact with birth parents can change so much and that can be difficult for the child (some may have an easier time dealing with it than others). Because it is out of our (adoptive parents) control, all we can do is continue providing stability, unconditional love, and keep the dialogue open with them. I love the comment from someone else about leaving the light on for them. Says it perfectly!

Roxanne Smith 1 year ago

I am a birth mom. I have an open relationship with my daughters patents. Before she was even born I recognized them as her parents. I was around a lot during her first year but chose to step back out of respect for them. I now see her 2 a year. I have the option for more but I just don’t. She has always known she is adopted and she’s ok with that. She is so secure with her parents that she hasn’t asked yet about her bio parents. Not all adoptions are horror stories. And I never would have done it if it was a closed adoption. I have an entire half of my family tree missing due to a closed adoption. I am thankful my daughter will know where she comes from because I never will.

Lindsay 1 year ago

I am adopted and do not think the birth mother should be involved in the child’s life AT ALL. I had a horrible experience with mine (she tried contacting me on my 18th birthday by asking the greater Grand Rapids area if they knew me on a social media site. It resulted in a restraining order) and in my opinion she is not my mother in any way. My adopted mom raised me and took care of me my whole life and no one could ever take her place. Not even the one who gave birth to me. I never felt a connection or need to see her in any way. Closed adoptions are the way to go.

Sonja 1 year ago

Kudos for doing what you are doing. I don’t think I would be able to pull that off! Hope your little guy will be able to make some sense out of that when he is older.

Heidi Newberg 1 year ago

I adopted 3 through the foster system. My youngsest ones birth mom recently had a new baby. It was very hard and still hard to see her at times take care of this new baby when my son had been left behind. I know he is better off ( the circumstances of his story are not the best) but now we have more chapters to his story to tell him. She deserves a great life. But I hurt for him sometimes.

Kim Noon 1 year ago

Open adoption has been an experience like no other. Because of my daughter’s selfless act, my family expanded. No, I don’t get to be called grandma, but I get the distinct pleasure of watching this little boy grow and learn and play.. I get to watch his mommy and daddy fulfill dreams, theirs and his. I’ve gotten to experience the ultimate heartache my daughter feels, and watch it mold her into being a better person. I am 100% supportive of open adoption. It works.

Heather Gochoel 1 year ago

As an adoptee, I think the very best thing you can do for him is be completely honest. Obviously at an age appropriate level. Thankfully, I never had to go through this. I have found through research on adoption in general that this is very common. As time goes on the contact becomes less and less and tends to stop altogether at some point as the birth mothers get on with their lives. Sadly this leaves the children sad and confused.
Just answer his questions as honestly and completely as you can. And emphasize the love his family has for him. As he works through the loss of contact he’ll need to be reminded that he is very much loved. Validate his feelings of sadness and, probably, rejection. No matter what, we all have those feelings at some point. (Even those that never knew their birth parents) The more support you can give him as he works through them the better.

Amy Lianna 1 year ago

Maybe it’s just best to stick to the old fashioned closed adoptions. Tell kids when they’re older and won’t get confused. They might get mad for awhile, but they’ll know they grew up loved, and ideally they can have a choice in knowing their birth parents later on.

Erin 1 year ago

Two of my children joined our family through adoption and I understand these sentiments so well. Thank you.

Regina Kuhl 1 year ago

I too have a birth mother who has decided after being a part of my son’s life to not be a part of his life and explanations are necessary. Every child that is adopted, regardless of how smoothly the adoption goes carries that burden of feeling rejected on some level by their birth parents, no matter why or how it was done and no matter how much you love them and make them part of your family. To have a birth mother then step out of their lives a second time is another blow and will have to be explained, somehow and in the gentlest terms. My son is 8 and is coming to terms with his birth mother not wanting to be a part of his life, but it is difficult.

Andrea 1 year ago

That’s really hard. I give this family credit for trying to keep the son’s birth mother as a part of their life, but at the same time can understand why the birth mother would want to part ways so that she can focus on the kids that she is able to parent at this point in her life. I, like Katie, above, am also an adopted child and am really happy that I had a closed adoption. This was also in 1982, and I grew up knowing that I was adopted, but only knowing my adoptive parents as my parents. I got to celebrate “Adoption Day” every year just like a second birthday, and in place of the “birth story” that some moms tell their kids on their birthdays, I’ve grown up hearing my adoption story every year on adoption day. And I’ve always known that my birth mom made an amazing and brave choice to give me up and allow me to grow up with a family who had the ability to care for me.

I don’t know much about my birth mother aside from the fact that she was 16 years old and had dreams of going to college. I have no resentment against her at all, and I hope that she was able to grow up and have a family of her own, complete with kids. Now that I’m older and expecting my first, it’s crossed my mind to reach out to the adoption agency and ask some questions. If not to meet her and have a relationship with her, at least to say ‘thank you’ and get a run-down on any medical issues I should be aware of.

Dana Howser 1 year ago

I have to reply to Paige Jax statement. I am adopted and have searched for my bio mom for 18 years. no you don’t have to compensate the birthmother for My Mom who raised me is my mom. But, God blessed me with 2 mothers, One gave me life the other gave me a life. But when that child ask his mom about where he came from and is old enough to understand that is his birth right to know his entire life story. Not just about the loving parents that raised hmi, This is called unconditional love. No need in parents feeling threatened because you will aways be mom. No matter what..

Amanda Shepherd 1 year ago

As an adoptee, I’ve always appreciated my parents being truthful with me, even if the facts aren’t always pleasant. My birthmom is a wonderful woman, but was only 16 when she had me. We had regular visits for a few years, but really, she had a life to attend to. She was -never- presented to me as a mother figure, because that’s not what birthmoms are. They gave that up. My parents told me frankly that she gave me up because she wasn’t ready to be a mommy, and wanted -both- of us to have great lives. She was in and out of my life at various points through high school, and was always like the cool sister who was away at college or something. We did stuff like shopping and sushi when she visited, but I never expected anything. Now we both have younger kids, and are in constant contact. She grew up and became another person, and that person is my friend. It’s their decision later on to figure out what roles they take in each others lives. For now, your role is to be his mommy. You’re his “real mommy”… the only one he has. Be honest and open, and carry on.

Lori Lavender Luz 1 year ago

What a good mom Samantha is to be so attuned to her son and so empathetic with his birth mom. She’s giving her son a beautiful gift already, just with that abiding and with supporting him in his love for his first mom

One thing I’ve learned as an adoptive mom is that things tend not to stay static. How it is now may not be how it is forever. I call this an “open door” adoption — we leave the porch light on for when our guests are ready to come back.

Lori Lavender Luz 1 year ago

What a good mom you are, Samantha, to be so attuned to your son and so empathetic with his birth mom.

I think you’re doing so much just with all that — acknowledging the difficulty in the situation and being present with your son as he processes. And fostering his enduring love.

One thing I’ve learned as an adoptive mom is that things tend not to stay static. How it is now may not be how it is forever. I call this an “open door” adoption — we leave the porch light on for when our guests are ready to come back.

Lori Holden, author of “The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption: Helping Your Child Grow Up Whole” (http://bit.y/open-adoption)

Katie 1 year ago

That’s tough. As an adopted child I’m really super happy that I had a closed adoption. This was in 1982, and I grew up always knowing I was adopted and always knowing just my parents as my parents. They did a great job of making adoption feel awesome, we got a cake on our adoption dat, that said happy A Day! And always knew that our birth patents made an amazing choice to put us up.

Now that I’m older and settled, I might reach out to the agency and make some inquires. I don’t think if feel bad if my birth mother went on to have life with other kids. She was 15-16, so I’ve got nothing but respect for making that choice. Plus, I have very little medical info, and would really like to know if there’s anything I should know about!

Paige Jax 1 year ago

It’s HARD. It’s best in my opinion not to provide him with excuses. Go about you family life as a family. He is your family now. She is not a part of it. She chose not to be. Don’t feel the need to compensate for her. When he’s older and asks questions, answer. But you ARE his mom, not her.

    Jamie Bruner Gardner 1 year ago

    No, You are the example of compassion for the birth mother.. Until you have had to suffer with the heartache of not knowing who and where the bio mom is you will never be able to to say this without bias! You some time have to be the adult.. lord knows I have sent one of my childrens birth mothers scathing letters reminding them of how lucky they are to have a relationship with the kids.. just remember, some times giving up a child takes a part of them that can never be replaced. You have to remind yourself of how grateful you are to have this child, and your child is here because this person brought them into the world.. Remember that one day, your child may choose to have her as an active part of their lives.. It is better for there to be no hard feelings between the adoptive mom and bio mom.. I know this because my birth mother and adoptive mother have had it out in the past and I was stuck in the middle.. I never want this for my children. I want my kids to have her in the palm of their hands. Never an identity crisis, never a negative thought of adoption.. never think that there is something wrong with them because I have a problem with the birth mother. I want them to know I loved the birth mother and considered her my family from day one.. She may not be the Mamma, but she isn’t nothing either. Just the fact that she brought my child into this world means she deserves the utmost respect and consideration.

    Paige Jax 1 year ago

    That’s not the case in all adoptions. And remember not all birth moms gave up their kids willingly. My daughter was seriously abused & neglected. My job is to let her know she has security in a new family now.
    Forcing connections that others don’t want to keep provides undo strain on the child.

Jamie Bruner Gardner 1 year ago

I adopted 2 and fostered 10, you are the mommy and daddy to that child from day one! I have open adoptions and its me constantly begging the bio parents for contact. As an adoptee I know how important it is to know who and where I came from but my Mom will always be the woman who adopted me and my dad will always be the man who adopted me. My bio parents understand.. You just have to work things out to what suits your family the best.. ITs a rocky road full of Drama.. but still totally worth every little bit! If I were in the position to adopt again I totally would and I long for my Foster Children daily.

Christine Ellen 1 year ago

My adoption was closed, but she will know she is adopted (she’s only 2.5). They had no interest in her, thankfully. Could NEVER do this….

Gina Strika 1 year ago

YOU ARE THE PARENTS!!!!!!!!! DONT YOU FEEL LIKE YOU ARE????? THAT IS WHY THEY HAVE CLOSED ADOPTIONS! Sometimes all of this is wayyyyyyyyyyyyy too much for a child. I also adopted a child. Had the child from 5 days old. The Child knows they are adopted , but knows that there father and I are the parents. Just because she gave birth, gives her no right to invade your lives.

    Stephanie Van Herik 1 year ago

    Did you read the article? Your whole “rant” seems directed at things you feel and really has nothing to do with the article. She didn’t “invade” anything – she wants less contact than the adoptive family does…

Linda Neylon 1 year ago

This is why I’m not a fan of open adoption. It is hard enough to parent and to be adopted without having additional loss when you are too young to understand the whole thing. Birthmoms who are in such a position that they feel they need to place their babies generally have some problems (many of them not their fault) which will make it difficult for them to consistently be present in a child’s life. Little children don’t need these complications-they need parents who can raise them. I think it’s also an awful harsh reality for a young child to witness their birthparents choosing to raise their birth siblings.

Len DeAngelis 1 year ago

The absent parent is always relegated to a height because s/he is a mystery, the unknown–for whatever reason the absence exists, it is there, and the child has a void. If the absence is justified rationalizing is easier, but often the absence is a choice and the child learns nothing that child does can change what has been; but, the effort of the child continues. It is natural for the child. However, when supported by love that makes a difference is his/her development because they soon see the strength of that love allowing him/her to live well, have a healthy attitude and not feel s/he is owed anything because of his/her birth circumstances. It is what it is, “so what?” Without love, a chip can get stuck on that absence. Love is the lubrication to adjusting to challenges.


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