How to Find the Birth Mother Who is Looking For You: The Win-Win-Win Adoption Triad

by Elizabeth Hunter on April 20, 2012

“He is mine in a way that he will never be hers.                                                                          He is hers in a way that he will never be mine.                                                                       And so together, we are motherhood.” -desha wood

The Photos

I pull out the birth mother photos from a worn, hastily ripped open envelope and wonder who she will be today.  Over the seven years since my oldest daughter was born, I swear there is an entirely different woman waiting for me each time I open the familiar green archival photo box holding the key pieces of paper from Wynne’s adoption. Our first adoption.

As I fumble through the dozen or so instacamera shots from Hilda’s pregnancy through the six months after Wynne was born, it occurs to me that although she and I have never met (I hope to one day), I have a relationship with her photos at least as complicated as any other close relationship in my life.

Hilda’s photos and I got off to a rocky start.  When I was first given them during the adoption, I could barely stand to look into her deep brown almond shaped eyes. I was just so terrified that she would change her mind!   If you pinned me to a wall I probably would have told you I felt jealousy, suspicion, fear, sadness, compassion, pity. Usually all at the same time.

In the years since the adoption was finalized, the photos and I have been on an emotional roller coaster together: at times her image has made me angry (how could she give this beautiful girl up?); at other times I’ve studied the bright application of lipstick and seen a slightly unforgiving look in her face; I’ve decided that she was so no nonsense that she just couldn’t let herself feel the loss that any mother must feel who gives up their child for adoption.

Some days she just looks defeated;  I heard she was tall.  I didn’t see my daughter in her physical features. Then I did;   I’ve imagined her doing laundry day in day out in another woman’s house in a tiny town in Guatemala ruled by big corporate Banana growers. I’ve wondered, could we help her? Would she want contact? (she never checks in with the adoption attorney to see pictures).

Most often I’ve felt protective of my daughter, not wanting her to get hurt. Because I have the sense, although I am not sure, that this woman may not be so welcoming.

Looking at the photos today I see none of this. Rather, I’m simply mowed down by the enormity of the task Hilda and I have undertaken together. To bring this child into the world and to raise her.

Blown away by the power adoption holds over all of us–birth parents, adoptive parents, children. Whether we realize it or not–from the moment we decide to adopt, for the rest of our lives. How the story we each tell about the other can either bless and enhance us or, alternately,  deeply wound us all.

When staying calm is not an option

But what woman sees this when she’s in the process of adopting? During most of our first adoption I was in an almost constant breathless state of panic.  The stakes were so high I couldn’t think straight. I just wanted someone to tell me how to finalize my adoption and bring my baby home. Now.

I’m guessing that’s what you want too.

So I’ll tell you.  The secret  to finalizing your adoption faster, with fewer bumps in the road, and more long term satisfaction? It’s not about finding the perfect adoption agency or doing comprehensive research before signing on the dotted line (although these are important)

It’s about…wait for it…how you feel about the birthmother.

Say what? Feel free to fight me on this. I was skeptical too.   When I first discovered this  technique in the middle of our first adoption,  things immediately started to flow more smoothly & accelerate. I chalked it up to coincidence. I applied it again during our second adoption  Mountains moved. Ditto for #3 and #4.

I’ll tell you the truth.  It isn’t easy.  You will stumble and fail to get it right more than you succeed. But I promise you: if you faithfully practice this tip daily during your adoption, you will see results.

So let’s get started.

3 Steps to telling a story your child’s birthmother wants to hear:

Step one:  Cop to current feelings. Here’s my doozie of a question to you adoptive moms-to-be today… When I say the word ‘birth mother’, how do you feel? Quick.  First thoughts.  Anxious, sad, uncomfortable, happy? Give me the first dozen words that come to mind.

Be honest.  don’t sugar coat it (you have to be honest for this tip to work!)

These words hold the key to the hidden story you are telling yourself about the birth mother. Even if you have never met her. Even if you don’t even know who she is yet or may never know.

These thoughts & emotions show up in your body language, the way you answer a question, the look in your eyes. Your photos, your application, your paperwork all tell a story about you. Just make sure it’s the story you want to tell.

Many of us who adopt have already been through the ringer, we’re beaten up by infertility, or multiple adoption miscarriages (‘failed adoptions’). We may feel like we’ve been waiting so long, been through so much, we can’t handle another setback. We may be silently saying to ourselves, ”This has got to work or I will fall apart. This has got to work or I am a failure.”

This can cause us to fear the birth mother, feel sorry for her, resent her, try to please her, grow impatient with her, try to will her in our minds to sign papers, make a decision. We can set her up on a pedestal as an authority figure, try to read her mind, telepathically beg her to choose us.

So, what’s going on for you and the birth mother? In one or two sentences, tell your hidden story.

okay. got it? If you’re really being honest, your story probably won’t be pretty :).

Now forgive yourself.  I mean it.  Let it go.  Know that it’s natural to feel all sorts of push and pull tensions. Almost all adoptive moms feel some if not all of these things.

Let’s move on to step two…

Step two.  Don’t be a used car salesman. The problem with these stories is not that they’re ‘bad.’  Not at all.

It’s just that the story you tell about the birth mother will either bring her and your child into your life quickly like a magnet or repel them like oil and water.

Here’s a bad and inappropriate analogy,.  think about a sleazy, slightly desperate down-on-his-luck car salesman, where it’s obvious that everything he is doing is designed to get you to buy his car now.  How attractive is that?  This is not woo woo.  It’s just human nature.  You can’t get away from him fast enough.

In the same way, except much nicer, your unintentional neediness and grabbiness (think of the unsavory adoption term ‘gotcha day.’) may be making people turn away from your  adoption application instead of seeing how truly amazing you are.

The problem with most of the feelings we mentioned earlier is that they set the birth mother up as a means to an end.  We may try to gloss over these low brow feelings with compassionate language and good intentions.  But deep down most women adopting feel at least a bit threatened by the birth mother. This results in a subtle undercurrent of ‘me versus you’ that acts as a kind of roadblock in the matching referral process.

Here’s the good news. It’s fairly simple to reframe this story to one that works better for everyone concerned.  An added benefit? Doing this feels SO good. It’s like healing medicine for adoption stress.

Step three:  Insist on a win-win-win adoption triad. Set a strong intention that your adoption be a win win win for everyone concerned–birth parents, adoptive parents, children.

Is this even possible?

There is a cultural belief in our society that says that adoptive children, adoptive parents and birthmothers are by definition damaged. But is this really true?

It’s certainly true that there are challenges and complexities to adoption. And in a perfect world there might be no adoptions at all.  But in the real world, many people from all facets of the adoption triad will tell you: when it’s right, adoption is an answered prayer, a miracle for everyone involved.

Your job is not to settle for anything less.

You don’t need to convince anyone to ‘pick you.’

Sadly, there is no shortage of pregnant women in crisis and turmoil in this world and in this country.  Resolve in your mind right now that you will only draw to you a birth mother for whom adoption is for her highest good.  And the highest good of the child. That by the time she is connected with you she will have explored all other avenues and possibilities and be very clear about choosing adoption.

Do you have to watch The Secret movie to do this?  No. Start by simply remembering a situation in your life where you were just what the doctor ordered.

Where without even trying that hard, you were an angel to another person.  What did it feel like to truly be helpful and of service? Did you feel energized? relaxed? trusting? confident? loving?

Now imagine that you are this same angel for the birth mother. Imagine her looking back at her life and feeling grateful that you showed up when she was in desperate need. Feel how your body relaxes and all neediness fades away?

Conversely, remember what it feels like when you are in a situation where another person is ambivalent about you and sending you mixed messages.  How do you  feel? shaky? nervous? drained?

This week’s homework: practice summoning the feelings of each of these potential birth mother scenarios. If you keep going to the bad place, don’t stress. Just return to the feeling of joy. when you are truly in the right place at the right time.

If you do this for even a minute or two every day, you retrain your mind and body to a ‘new normal.’ Then when you are presented with a situation that is not for your highest good, it will feel totally unpleasant and uncomfortable.

Please share in the comments section how this is working for you.

If you want a step-by-step daily process to do this, plus more information on how to tailor it to your specific situation, Go here and fill out name & email at bottom of course description This puts you on the first-to-know list for the Pink Tent Mother’s Empowerment Circle, starting soon. xoe

{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

Claire April 20, 2012 at 4:20 pm

Beautiful, Elizabeth. Absolutely beautiful. This approach will result in a better adoption experience for all parties involved. And honoring a birthmother this way is one of the greatest gift an adoptive mother can give to her child. By the way, I am so with you on that term “gotcha day”! I don’t mean to offend any of your readers who use that term, but for me it never felt right. We celebrate Family Day (the anniversary of the day my son was first placed with us) and Adoption Day (the day we legally finalized).

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elizabeth hunter April 21, 2012 at 11:08 pm

Thanks, Claire. I agree with you, I think being at peace with the birthmother is possibly the key to our children’s self esteem. xoe

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BCP April 20, 2012 at 7:06 pm

Elizabeth – All I can say is Thank You for writing this. We are 7 months into the waiting part of the process and I have been deeply struggling, yet somehow after reading this it seems like everything just makes sense. Once I am finished with work I am going to go home and read it again and again, but I just wanted you to know that somehow you managed to say EXACTLY what I needed to hear at EXACTLY the right time.

As for the “Gotcha Day” thing, I really never thought about it before, but now that I have it really doesn’t feel good saying it at all! @Claire, I love the idea of using “Adoption Day” and “Family Day” – two beautiful ways to celebrate and on a much deeper level.

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elizabeth hunter April 21, 2012 at 11:19 pm

I’m so glad it resonated for you, Bronwyn. For me, during the waiting period, sometimes these little inner shifts would make all the difference (which is why I write about them!).

My feeling about the ‘Gotcha day’ thing is that hardly anybody who uses that term means it in a negative way. In the same way, when people say inappropriate things to adoptive parents (“are they yours?” ), they probably also don’t mean any harm. But I know for me, especially in the beginning, it really hurt. If we adoptive moms want people to start ‘getting it’ about positive adoption language, we need to walk the walk. And you’re right, “Adoption Day” and “Family Day” are really lovely, deeper alternatives.

Please keep me posted about how your waiting period is going! hugs xoe

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Susan Whelan April 20, 2012 at 9:50 pm

Another great post, Elizabeth! I’m so glad you’re doing this work. It’s important.

Curiously, our first adoptive daughter’s Guatemalan birthmother’s name was Hilda Virginia Lopez. She relinguished the baby at the hospital immediately after birth to the adoption agency. We’ve never seen a picture of her only the (bad) foster mother. Hilda gave the baby her name so all the paperwork says Hilda Virginia Whelan McKibben. So we just gave her an extra first name and kept Hilda Virginia in the middle. She always hated it!

XOXO Susan

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elizabeth hunter April 21, 2012 at 11:22 pm

Well at least you tried, with the middle name lol!

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c April 21, 2012 at 2:16 am

Just a head up, it is best to think of a woman considering adoption as an expectant mother not a birthmother.

Also, it will NEVER be a win/win/win for all concerned.

At best, it will be win(for AP)/best available option(for emom)/best available option (for her baby).

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elizabeth hunter April 21, 2012 at 8:03 pm

Catherine, thanks for commenting. Fyi, in this article and all my writing I use the term ‘birthmother’ to refer to the child’s biological mother. For women considering adoption I use the term ‘expectant adoptive mom’ or adoptive mom-to-be.’

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c April 21, 2012 at 10:41 pm

Sorry, I didn’t phrase it well. If a woman is pregnant with a child and she is considering adoption, she is called an expectant mom. She is not considered a birthmom until after she has relinquished her rights. To call her a birthmother beforehand is making the assumption that she will relinquish her rights. It is better for all parties to consider her an expectant mom because then one can remember that she is a woman making a decision for what she herself feels best for her child which may, in the end, include parenting. Calling her a birthmother before birth makes her sound as if her function is as a provider for a child for adoption.

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c April 21, 2012 at 10:45 pm

Btw when I first saw the title of this as a subject title on adoptionfamilymagazine, I thought it was an article about adoptees finding their birthmothers. Admittedly, I did wonder why an adoptee would need help in finding someone who was looking for them lol.

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elizabeth hunter April 23, 2012 at 3:11 pm

Interesting. Thanks for mentioning this. I see what you’re saying.

Since the whole point of this piece is attracting a woman who has already gotten very clear that adoption is the right decision for her and her baby, I think ‘birthmother’ in this case is the appropriate term. I’m standing behind that.

In general, I think using ‘expectant mom’ for the pregnant woman considering adoption is confusing, because unless everyone reading what you are writing knows the context, it gives you NO information that the pregnant woman is considering adoption.

The generally accepted definition of an ‘expectant mom’ is a pregnant woman, not a pregnant woman considering adoption. I know even reading back your explanation I got confused!

I totally get what you’re saying. I need to think about this some more. It feels like we need another term. Maybe ‘expectant birth mom.”

Thanks for sharing. If you have any further thoughts you’d like to share, please email me personally and we can continue this conversation. All the best, Elizabeth

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Mike April 23, 2012 at 2:03 pm

As a dad who just adopted his baby girl I would also add that even in a perfect world adoption would still exist. To say anything else places adoption as second best, option B. Even from the birth mom or dad’s perspective it can be the perfect option. My wife and I always wanted to adopt, an individual choice we made before we were dating. My daughter is NOT a Plan B for us. Adoption is beautiful and a perfect world would miss the beauty if it wasn’t there.

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elizabeth hunter April 23, 2012 at 3:06 pm

Awesome. Love it! Thanks for saying it so beautifully. xoe

p.s. in my upcoming ebook, I have a whole chapter entitled “Getting to Adoption as Your Number One Choice.” SO important.

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7rin May 22, 2012 at 1:05 pm

Actually, being legally severed from YOUR OWN history is anything BUT “beautiful” – it’s abuse of the highest order.

How do I know? Simples; it’s the abuse I suffered, and continue to suffer from four decades later.

You taking on someone else’s kid *and* legally severing them from their heritage (which is the only bit that’s “adoption”, since raising someone else’s kid is entirely possible without the legal severance) may be “beautiful” for you, but for the kid you’re raising, it means they’ve lost absolutely EVERYTHING. That loss is hideous and scaring and traumatising – certainly not “beautiful”.

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EST May 11, 2012 at 8:42 pm

I echo C’s statement. It is common knowledge that a expectant mom considering adoption is to be called a expectant mom and not a birthmother until after she relinquishes.
I also feel that adoption is never going to be a win win win for all involved. It is a huge loss for the adoptee and the birth mother. This loss impacts them their entire life, to think otherwise as an adoptive mother or prospective adoptive mother is harmful.
A expectant mom does not know how she will feel about relinquishing until the baby actually arrives so until she has terminated her rights she is to be called an expectant mom. Any other term is coercive. I am sure we can agree to not want to coerce women into relinquishing their children right?

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Lara November 27, 2012 at 8:22 pm

Was wondering how you are enjoying Hudson. We are in NYC — thinking of moving — but wanted to know about the diversity in the Hudson Valley? Would you email me and tell me what you think? Thanks so much! Lara

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Lauren February 19, 2013 at 3:35 am

I’m reading this again as I listen to my 9 month old daughter sleep, and I remembered that this article helped bring her to us. I read this when you first posted it last year, and then again the night before we met with her birth parents for the first time at the end of May. I have a very deep respect for birth parents, but this post helped to remind me to think of their perspective. I just wanted to say thank you for sharing your perspective and wisdom with us. You are making a difference!

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elizabeth hunter February 20, 2013 at 6:09 pm

I am So happy to heart it! And SO happy I played a tiny part in such a BIG & Beautiful Miracle!

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Leah April 25, 2013 at 10:17 pm

Thank you for addressing how we feel about our future children’s biological mothers.
My parents placed my older sister for adoption. My whole life the people who I have known in adoption are the hurting birthmoms and the angry adoptees because those are the folks who came to the local support groups we went to. My mom even knows that guy who went on Oprah to tell people to never participate in adoption because of the pain it causes biological mothers and babies.
Now I’m a expecting adoptive mom and it is hard to embrace the joy when I fear hurting someone the way my mom was hurt. What keeps me going is that I know I can love a child who does not come from my body, and I know I can love and respect my child’s birthmom.
I still need to hear stories with happy endings. And not just for the adoptive moms. I have heard of birthmoms who are okay now, but I don’t know any personally, probably because being a birth mom isn’t something a lot of people openly discuss.
Anyway I would love to hear positive birthmom stories if anyone has some.
Thanks!

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