Feel Left Out of the Mommy Club? Easing the Pain of RTS*

by Elizabeth Hunter on January 14, 2012

(*Red Tent Syndrome)

Have you ever felt like every woman in the world–except you–is pregnant? That as an adoptive mother-to-be you are kind of…invisible?

Does it seem like people make a big fuss over pregnant women, but they get this sort of glazed look in their eyes and a plastered smile on their face when you talk about your adoption? In fact–and you might be imagining this–sometimes it’s like they are downright uncomfortable (do they feel sorry for you?).

While your pregnant friends are busy buying cool maternity clothes; going to prenatal yoga classes; doctor, doula and midwife appointments; taking vitamins; and cooing over sonograms, YOU have the joys of adoption paperwork (a lot like doing your taxes…if you’re  Bernie Madoff!) and an occasional phone call from your adoption agency (just doesn’t spell motherlove to me) to keep you warm.

Sometimes it doesn’t even feel like you’re having a baby at all.

Do you secretly wonder…will I ever feel like a real mother?

Girlfriend, there is nothing wrong with you!  You’ve just got a bad case of RTS, Red Tent Syndrome. I know, I had it for years.

In her book, The Red Tent, Anita Diamant gives the real skinny on some of the women in the Bible. Every month at the new moon, all these women–their periods magically synced up– stop everything and enter this ginormous red tent for the duration.

They spend their days telling stories, sharing secrets, laughing, gossiping, giving birth, and just generally passing down all the deep, ancient, mysterious feminine wisdom ever invented.

Cool, right?  But as I read the book, I kept thinking: “If I, an adoptive mother, tried to get into that red tent– would they slam the flap in my face?

Pain Management

Red Tent Syndrome–feelings of isolation, discouragement, excessive worry, exclusion, resentment, and grief– is actually a normal & healthy adoption rite of passage (ugh!)

Instead of labor pains or morning sickness, we adoptive moms have our own birthing trials to go through.  The pain of RTS comes and goes in waves throughout the adoption process. Just like contractions.

Getting through it is all about pain management.

I’m not licensed to dispense drugs, but here are the top 10 items in my medicine bag to soothe the hurt:

Top 10 Ways to Ease the Pain of Red Tent Syndrome

1. Don’t put a band aid on when you need stitches.  Let’s start by saying what we try hard not to think about: Adoption is a deep wound for everyone concerned (it’s hard to write those words.). For the children.  For the birth mothers. But what about adoptive mothers?

Is there a more profound turning point in a woman’s life than the decision NOT to give birth to her own child?  It challenges our society’s most basic assumptions about what it means to be a woman.

Some adoptive moms are fine with it.  And that’s so cool! (please leave comments at the bottom).  But pretending that you’re fine with it before you have actually authentically arrived at that place is NOT fine.

It’s not a band aid kind of wound.  You usually need stitches. For most of the hundreds of adoptive mothers I’ve spoken with (including me), true healing requires soul surgery.

2. What will you tell your child? Think about your child.  Whether far away, unborn, unknown, or right here.  Think about the abandonment, confusion, loss this child has gone through. What would it be like to take every single thing you know and, presto, have it change in an instant?  Often in the first hours of life!

When this child is old enough, what will you say to comfort them?  Now think about the pain you are going through regarding your adoption.  Know that this pain is one of the first connections you have with your adopted child. You both, to a greater or lesser extent, know what it’s like to be vulnerable in this world.  (fyi, Usually at this point in this exercise I am in tears and have completely forgotten what I was upset about).

3. Repeat after me: “Envy is my friend.” So are grief and anger. The ugliest feelings are often just the medicine you need to move forward.  Gently tiptoe towards these scary beasts and investigate what they’re telling you.  It’s never the same for two different women.  For instance, being jealous of a pregnant friend could mean: 1)There’s some unfinished business here.  Go back & continue pursuing getting pregnant.   2) Get more creative in your life,  or 3) Honor your body more.  It can be tricky to decipher (use 4, 5, 6 and 9 below)  You will know you got it right when the bad feelings lessen or go away entirely.

4. Tell the truth. At least to yourself.  It’s like deep breathing.  It helps with the pain. Yes, it’s nice to be a nice person.   But if you’re a simmering cauldron of resentment, or a frozen tundra of disappointment, maybe you’re paying too high a price for solely focusing on what you think you ‘should’ do or say? Denying real feelings is a huge energy drainer  You need that energy. For adoption.  For becoming a mother. You can probably fake it for a year or two. But if you don’t tell the truth it will eventually take you down.

5. Get Creative. There’s something about turning negative emotions and experiences into ‘art’ that’s pure genius.  For me writing always does it.  Collage. scrapbooking your journey to motherhood, journals. photos. music, crafty things. take a class, calligraphy, there’s a bjillion ways to do it.  Tell your story through your medium. Transform the pain into something tangible outside your body so that it can leave.

Enter the Pink Tent. Forget the Red Tent. Find your own tribe in the Pink Tent! Yes I know this is cheesy. But I like it.  And it’s real.  There’s this unbelievably shiny, beautiful tribe of women who carry their children in their hearts, sometimes for years, where it grows in love every day.  Adoptive moms are special women.  Find them.  Seek them out.  They will help you see what’s beautiful about your life. Stick with positive people with good adoption experiences and an uplifting outlook on life.

(psst.  coming soon,  AG will be hosting the first ever online Pink Tent Adoptive Mother-To-Be Circle. Join this sacred circle for deep connections, true support and to receive wise, step by step mentoring through your adoption process and beyond from experienced, worldchanging adoptive mom goddesses who get you.  Sign up at the bottom of this page to be notified of deets and start date.)

7. Wear your scars proudly.  If you are still playing the perfectionist game, it’s time to get over it.  Whether it’s infertility, miscarriage, divorce, or other life losses, be proud of these scars.  They have everything to do with your strength. Nobody’s life goes exactly according to plan. And if it does, what fun is that?  Get real. Vulnerability is the new strength, didn’t you know? (these days, it’s rarer than gold)

8. Think about ‘destiny.’ You don’t have to believe in ‘meant to be’ or ‘karma’ to check this one off your list.  Just entertain this question:  “What if the children who are mine in this life just happen to be waiting for me someplace outside my body?  What if none of this is a mistake?  Call it destiny.  Call it God’s will.  Call it (Insert phrase that doesn’t upset you here?) Now… doesn’t it all make sense–at least for a minute?!

9. Ask for help. Here’s a scary thought:  When it comes to adoption, people are following your lead. Unfortunately nobody knows how to act around adoption. A generation ago parents didn’t even tell their kids they were adopted!  It was all hush hush.   Just like people used to get all wiggy about somebody being gay.  Now nobody cares.  How did that happen?  Some gays and lesbians stepped up and accepted leadership among their friends and family.

Tell people what you want them to do and how you want them to act around your adoption.   Nobody throwing you a baby shower?  Ask somebody to.  Nobody brings you meals when you get home with your new baby?  Say ouch. Tell friends you would like them to coordinate a meal sign up.  Don’t wait for the light to dawn on other people. People say inappropriate things all the time.  Gently but firmly call them on it. This is your chance to be brave, stand up for yourself and your life, take a risk, weed out who your true friends are. if you do this now your whole life will sparkle with authenticity.

You are gaining the courage to become a mother. The other night, I heard my almost  seven year old daughter crying in her room after bedtime.  I crept in, and she told me she didn’t want to turn seven. She wanted stay a baby, because, “I was a baby too fast.”

It’s true. She had to ‘wake up’ from birth earlier than most newborns due to the disruption of adoption. She lost some time. And I cannot give this time back to her. What could I say?

Sitting with my baby/near seven-year-old in my lap bawling her eyes out, I blessed every single sleepless night my adoptions caused me–every moment I had to do something scary that I thought I couldn’t handle, the deep disappointment that I could not carry a pregnancy to term. Every rejected piece of paperwork. In that moment, I needed each cursed adoption trial to show up for my daughter.

I had learned that sometimes there are no words, no false reassurances that can make something better. Sometimes, when our children are in pain, all we can do is hold them, love them, and help them own this particular chapter of their life story.

As Anita Diamant says, “Why did I not know that birth is the pinnacle where women discover the courage to become mothers?” This is equally true if you substitute the word “birth” with the word “adoption.”

Do you have other medicine to share from your journey to motherhood?  Please dispense wisdom below.

{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

helen January 16, 2012 at 3:30 pm

Thank you for these ideas. There are a couple that made me think and I want to try. I have talked to some people on adoption forums about these exact feelings but mostly everyone complains but doesn’t do anything. It’s kind of hard to talk about, so thanks for bringing it up.


elizabeth hunter January 17, 2012 at 2:08 pm

My pleasure, Helen. I agree with you about most adoption forums. They sometimes become a place that increases anxiety around adoption rather than lessens it. But the forums serve a deep need for a lot of adoptive moms2be. it’s one of the only places to go to break the isolation of adoption. My goal for Adoption Goddess is to serve this need for support & community in a POSITIVE, nurturing way. I’m glad you’re here! xoe


Laura January 16, 2012 at 5:54 pm


It’s helpful to stay away from adoption forums. You’re right: people complain a lot and write about how difficult/frustrating/impossible it all is. Instead, seek out parents who have adopted successfully. We can share your angst, but also give you hope for the future. It will happen–maybe not the way you intended–but adoption is a wonderful and rewarding way to bring children into your life. Adoption was our first and only choice, and has been worth the many headaches.


elizabeth hunter January 17, 2012 at 2:16 pm

Well put, Laura! I could not agree with you more on every point. As I mentioned to Helen re adoption forums: it’s true, they sometimes end up stressing moms2be out more than they help them. But the forums speak to a fundamental need for community among adoptive moms that is totally missing. I found adoption very lonely, especially at first (before I made great friendships like yours:). That’s why I started AG.

(And fyi, you are on my list of adoptive moms goddess experts to call for the Pink Tent Mothers’ Circle & Empowerment Training this Spring. Expect a call soon!) xoe


CC January 17, 2012 at 12:18 am

I really connect with what you’re saying and love the idea of a “pink tent” for adoptive moms to be. Brilliant! I could not have made it through our two failed adoption matches without the loving support of my adoptive moms’ group, especially the moms2be subgroup. I also agree with Laura’s advice to focus on adoption successes: in those dark days, it was so important to have positive reminders that adoption can and does work! It is possible to be smart and informed without being pessimistic. Maybe not easy, but possible. Thanks for a great post that I’ll be sharing with others.


elizabeth hunter January 17, 2012 at 2:21 pm

Great to meet you Celeste! So awesome that you had an adoptive moms group to support you. And I am glad you commented because we mostly don’t hear much from women who have positive attitudes/experiences around adoption. Look forward to hearing from you again! xoe


Susan Whelan January 17, 2012 at 2:14 am

Thank you as always, Elizabeth, for your clear, authentic sharing and beautiful writing. I’m never clear how I belong here. The Feds introduces me to Tim and Elizabeth, and eventually all, a few years ago. Adoption made us family of sorts.
My family adopted twice in 1990 and 92 from Guatemala. We have two bio sons (8 and 10 at the first adoption) and it was a family decision to adopt. My red/pink tent thing was somewhat different. It was generally believed that I suffered secondary infertility. Totally a presumption. While I found the birth experience a grace revelation, the highs and lows are very extreme. My husband and i had always talked of adoption, beginning as hippie college students. Adoption was our first choice when we decided to grow our family.
Many of my friends and acquaintenances at the time were struggling with the desire for “another”. I preached another way but no one joined me and most never satisfied that urge. I believe quite a few of them were jealous of our ability to take that leap of faith.
I was overwhelmed by the “sameness” of the experiences. Other than the purely physical aspect, the emotional and spiritual process is just the same. I swear. And I believe that has all to do with #8 Destiny. You get your children, no doubt about it! I promise!

Hang in there and hang with like-minded others. It’s a beautiful journey you’re on.


elizabeth hunter January 17, 2012 at 2:22 pm

thanks, Susan, for these comments. I IS a beautiful journey, isn’t it????????? xoe


Sue Sullivan January 17, 2012 at 3:38 am

Wow, Elizabeth, I love this post and Susan Whelan I love what you added with your experience of biological and adopted children.

This may sound silly. I don’t have any children, but we just adopted a cat. It was really emotional for me to pick out a being that hopefully will be with us in our every-day experience for at least 15 years. It was also emotional not picking the other really sweet cats. It gave me a tiny glimpse into how intense adopting children must be.


elizabeth hunter January 17, 2012 at 2:24 pm

Thanks for adding this perspective, Sue. Love is love. And parenting–whether human or feline, is intense and complicated. Congrats on your new addition! xoe


Claire January 17, 2012 at 11:52 pm

Great reflection. My favorite part is the point you made about pain being one of the first connections we have with our children. A few years ago my adoption process got interrupted by a twin pregnancy, which ended around 11 weeks. I’ll never forget what a friend pointed out to me: that my loss of my babies and my future baby’s loss of his or her bio parents would be a huge factor in our bonding. I expect that when my son (adopted) is older there will be times when it will hurt him to feel different from his friends who live with their bio families. I’m hoping it will help him if I share my experience of how it hurts to feel different from the “traditional” mothers, although I wouldn’t trade this pain for anything, because without it I wouldn’t have him.


elizabeth hunter January 18, 2012 at 6:16 pm

Claire, your words moved me to tears. It takes so much depth of character to go through something so difficult and hold onto a bigger/broader perspective. Your son is blessed to have you as his mother! xoe


Jaime January 18, 2012 at 3:43 pm

Thank you so much! My husband & I are in the midst of our adoption process – just waiting now for our “match”. And we have 3 bios how are anxiously awaiting it too!) And I seriously thought I was going crazy! Like majorly losing it! But after reading this post & “the grief room” post I feel so much better. I really identified with both of them! Thank you again for your incredible words – they have started to bring back my peace!


elizabeth hunter January 18, 2012 at 6:19 pm

That’s awesome, Jaime. I know, right? Doesn’t adoption make you just nuts?

It is SO important to break the silence and isolation that often accompanies the adoption process and start talking about some of these thorny issues with other women who get us. That’s what motivated me to create Adoption Goddess!

Thanks for reaching out. Look forward to hearing from you again. xoe


Maritza June 9, 2012 at 8:53 pm

This is really inesretting, Kevin. I’m glad you guys were able to attend such an insightful class. I have so many friends that I have adopted, which I think is awesome and amazing. We do have a propensity towards thinking the kid will be ever-so-thrilled that we helped them out, so this is a really good insight into how the child will feel as they grow up. I will enjoy reading about how you guys go through this process and will be praying for you!


Wyllow January 27, 2012 at 10:49 pm

I totally got #8 – I dreamed my daughter around the time she was born, I met her when she was two and a half – and I met her sister (who we also adopted) at age five and a half. Destiny for sure! (NOw we have 3 – all biological, she also has a brother who we met and recieved
at two weeks . A real blessing!

Thanks for sharing your writings. I will be checking it out a lot!


elizabeth hunter January 28, 2012 at 4:56 pm

Thanks Wyllow. You and your family sound awesome. Look forward to getting to know you! xoe


JessicaAnne February 23, 2012 at 3:39 pm

I love your posts! I am new to your blog. PLEASE sign me up for the pink tent. I have been trying to adopt for 4 years and am still childless… I need all the support I can get :-)


elizabeth hunter February 23, 2012 at 7:04 pm

Welcome, Jessica.

To sign up on the first-to-know list for the Pink Tent Mothers’ Circle,
go to this link below, and scroll to the bottom of the Pink Tent description. Fill out name & email. Press submit. Easy peasy:


Look forward to mentoring you! xoelizabeth


Leah April 25, 2013 at 9:36 pm

I am a birth sister and an adoptive-mom-in-waiting. Adoption can be painful and joyous. I’m looking for a community to share the experience.


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