“Be mindful when it comes to your words. A string of some that don’t mean much to you may stick with someone for a lifetime.” Rachael Wolchin
Something we learn as young children is to use our words wisely, and to think before we speak. As adults, we should continue to implement this way of thinking into our lives. For some of us this lesson has fallen by the wayside, and words have been spoken that can’t be taken back. Their impact can last a lifetime.
Being a birth mother and placing a child up for adoption isn’t easy. It doesn’t just last nine months, and then go away after the child is born and welcomed into another home. She remains a birth mother for the rest of her life. Sometimes she gets contact with the child years down the road. Other times not. But, no matter what, she has to live with her choice and carry around the societal stigma and speculations that go with it.
Despite how obvious some words and phrases may seem, following are some of the common statements and questions that should never be said to a birth mother.
“Why are you giving him/her up?”
Another question that goes hand-in-hand with this is: “Didn’t you want him/her?” More to the point, there are three major issues with this question.
First off, a birth mother isn’t “giving up” her baby. Rather, she is choosing to make a plan of adoption for her child. Humbly surrendering to the realization that she cannot give them their best chance in life. It is one of the most beautiful and heart-wrenching decisions a birth mother can make.
Second, implying that the birth mother doesn’t want her child is insulting. Of course she wants to keep her baby. This isn’t a choice she made easily or overnight. It took a great deal of agony and stress.
Third, the question itself is very personal. As in, private. The reasons surrounding why isn’t anyone’s business but her own. If you are a close friend or family member, then she may share with you depending on the strength of your relationship. Otherwise, prying into a deep and difficult decision like adoption is insensitive and inappropriate. Be respectful and never say this to a birth mother.
“Do you think you’ll change your mind?”
Would you? Let’s explore the definition of “selflessness.” It is a situation where someone places someone else’s needs above their own. Now, think about this question. Consider the aforementioned above as well. Choosing adoption, again, is not without heartache, grief, stress and many other emotions.
During the process, a birth mother has plenty of time to war back and forth with herself. It’s an inner battle that’s fought daily, even sometimes after the birth. In some cases, after the paperwork is signed, there is a brief window of opportunity for the birth mother to have one last chance to rethink. By that time, though, she has already carefully weighed all the pros and cons and made her decision. She has chosen a family and the preparations have been solidified.
My birth mother told me that after I was born, she had three days with me in the hospital. Each one of them, she held me and thought about backing out because she wanted to be selfish and keep me. But, then when she thought about it realistically, she knew that she couldn’t be selfish. I needed a life she couldn’t give me.
“I never would have done that.”
In the United States, we have freedom of speech. We reserve the right to have our own opinions and voice them as we see fit. However, that doesn’t mean that we always should. The above statement is one of those instances.
Unfortunately, I’m guilty of this one. I was watching a Hallmark presentation with my birth mother one night. She’d invited me over to watch an adoption-related movie with her, opening up the lines of communication for any questions I might have. This was during the first stage of our getting to know each other. During the movie, I watched the mother in the film made the choice to place her child for adoption, and I remarked that I just couldn’t understand how she was able to do that. It was too late before I realized what I’d said and who I’d said it in front of. Needlesstosay, it cut our evening short and took awhile to build our relationship back up.
Not only does this statement inflict pain, it also passes undo judgement. For this reason, it’s best to keep these words to yourself. Better to never think them at all. They are detestable and full of regret. Definitely never say them to a birth mother.
“You took the easy way out.”
Ok, so…going through the pain of childbirth, being transparent with yourself that you can’t provide the best life for your child, and then undergoing the process of selecting a family for them — that’s the easy way out? Really?
There is nothing easy about adoption. Not for the birth mother, adoptive parents, or adoptee. This statement comes across very cold-hearted and hateful. It’s enough to make a birth mother want to punch you or burst into tears. Have some compassion and respect, and think before you speak. Never say this to a birth mother.
“You can go back to living normally now.”
Because…again, giving birth and going through the adoption process is nothing? Not heart-wrenching or grief-provoking at all, is it? Even if your intentions with this one are good and you are hoping to provide the birth mother with some sort of comfort, this phrase should be avoided. It’s never a good idea to remind someone of their loss, or to imply that she would’ve been a bad mother had she not chosen adoption.
She’s acutely aware that her child isn’t with her. That she isn’t the one who will raise him/her, change their diapers, sing them lullabies and watch them grow up.
Telling a birth mother that she can return to normal life is one of the worst things you could possibly say. So don’t. Ever. Her life will never the same after she gives birth. There is no such thing as “normal” for her anymore.
Be mindful of your words. You may not know the whole story, or understand the reasons behind it. There are struggles and other feelings that are kept beneath the surface. Guilt and shame. Grief and loss. Each and every birth mother has a different story. That said, there are right ways to say certain things, and wrong ways. Want to know how to determine where your thought, question or comment falls on the right/wrong spectrum?
Try this: Think about what you want to say or ask, and consider the impact. Put yourself in the birth mother’s shoes. How would you react if someone asked you that? It’s a fool proof way to know whether or not — and how — to proceed.
“5 Things Not to Say to a Prospective Birth Mother – And What to Say Instead.” American Adoptions – Tennessee Adoption Laws | Adoption Laws in TN, 10 Apr. 2018, www.americanadoptions.com/blog/5-things-not-to-say-to-a-prospective-birth-mother-and-what-to-say-instead/.
“Effects of Adoption on Birth Mother.” Adoption Network, Adoption Network Law Center – Safer Than Adoption Agencies, adoptionnetwork.com/emotional-and-psychological-effects-of-adoption-on-birth-mother.
Tepfenhart, Ossiana. “Things You Should Never Say to a Birthmother.” Families, 10 July 2018, families.media/things-you-should-never-say-to-a-birthmother.
Witt, Nicole. “’Why Don’t You Want Your Baby?’ and Other Things You Should Never Say to a Birth Mom.” Freddy Name Meaning, 10 July 2018, www.sheknows.com/parenting/articles/1082718/things-you-should-never-say-to-a-birth-mom/.