How to celebrate the joy of your new arrival while also dealing with birth parent grief

By Michele Fried, Adoption STAR CEO and Founder.

Adopting Zachary was one of the greatest experiences of our lives.  We can remember it as if it were yesterday.  Early one morning we drove to the hospital to meet his birth mother and the agency social worker and take our baby home… sounds simple but you know it wasn’t.

After having my husband pull over due to my intense cramping from nervousness, we almost never got there.  Arriving at the hospital we learned that the birth mother was so emotional that she couldn’t get dressed to come back to the hospital to sign her surrender papers.  After what seemed like hours, I was convinced that at any moment we would be told to go home without the baby.  We had already experienced many adoption miscarriages and I truly felt that I could not bear another loss.

We eventually were called into a tiny office in the hospital where we were introduced to the birth mother and her mother.  There were hugs, tears and surprisingly some giggles.  She and I caught one another trying to catch a glimpse of the other. I remember holding her hand and hugging her.  I remember truly thinking that it was okay if she took home the baby.  I told myself that I was able to wish her well.  And then this quiet young woman said, “I want them to have the baby.” My husband and I embraced and cried.  How do you thank someone for the greatest gift in the world?

We were permitted to take this beautiful baby home, bundled up so tightly, on that very cold day in November.  All week we had family and friends visit and I found myself constantly thinking about “her.”  So young, beautiful and brave and so very special to me, I wanted to tell everyone about her.   But I had to stop talking about the experience because I would begin to sob.  Rather than share my thoughts aloud, I quietly thought of her as each day went by. I could not think of anything else, as every passing moment I was more in love with this tiny, perfect baby.

The day came that we were nervously waiting for… the day our son’s birth mother was to appear in front of a judge and have her parental rights terminated (state of Pennsylvania.)  Zack had been with us for more than one month already, I had already experienced nightmares that he would be taken from us.  Everyone would have thought the day would be celebratory especially when the call arrived that the court session went well.  After learning the news, I hung up the phone and wept.  My tears were not due to being relieved but rather of sorrow imagining the grief our son’s birth mother must be feeling.  I felt so blessed, so lucky and privileged, but couldn’t let go of, “will she be okay?”

I remember my first few Mother’s Days teetering between absolute joy to true sadness ~ thinking about his birth mother.  Over the years I have come to learn that it is okay not to feel guilty.  It is okay to be thankful without feeling selfish.  It is okay and important to celebrate.

My experiences taught me that the grief and guilt I carried for some time transferring what I felt must be our son’s birth mother’s feelings, should not be a burden for adoptive parents to carry.  Allowing oneself the ability to rejoice while respecting a birth mother’s grief and loss is hard to manage, but it is very much a part of the adoption journey.

Much of what I learned about managing joy versus grief was directly from Zack’s birth mother, seeing her over the years and how she truly viewed us as Zack’s parents was so helpful.  She told me how the transition occurred for her, seeing herself as his “parent” to eventually seeing us as his “parents.”

Every one handles grief and loss differently.  Time does help to heal, as does remembering that as adoptive parents, we are not the birth parent’s counselors, we can not “shake” them out of it, we must respect their process and realize in times of concern or confusion we should reach out to the adoption professionals for assistance or advice.

Becoming a parent to Zack and being “touched” by his birth mother brought me to the place I am today, leading an extraordinary adoption agency dedicated to the welfare of all birth parents and committed to working in the best interests of all children.  So many wonderful Adoption STAR birth parents have taught us that adoptive parents should give themselves permission to love and accept their new role, gifted to them by a birth parent, and to be thankful, but never to feel bad or guilty.

Mother and son
CEO and founder of Adoption STAR, Michele Fried, with her oldest son Zack.