Birth parents are perhaps the most misunderstood members of the adoption triad. The decision to place a child for adoption at birth — or the inability to reunify through foster care — affects a person for the rest of their lives.
And, because only fellow birth parents can understand what this position is like, there are a lot of misunderstandings and harmful comments out there.
In the second part of our three-part series, we’ve gathered 10 things not to say a birth parent, regardless of their personal adoption story.
1. “Why did you give your child up?”
There are two reasons why you should never say this to a birth parent.
First, placing a child for adoption is not “giving up” or “giving away” a child. If a child is placed through domestic infant adoption, a birth parent makes the active decision to do so. They plan their child’s future by selecting their adoptive parents and deciding what post-placement relationship they’ll share. Similarly, if a child was adopted through foster care, their birth parent did not voluntarily “give up” the child; instead, reunification efforts failed after the child was removed from their custody.
Second, it’s never anyone else’s business why a birth parent chooses adoption. Placing a child is such a personal, difficult decision. Birth parents often agonize for months before choosing this path. They don’t owe anyone (except their birth child) an explanation for why they did it.
2. “Did you get paid for adoption?”
Among the many misconceptions there are about infant adoption, this continues to be one of the most prevalent. Birth parents are never “paid” for placing their child for adoption, and it’s incredibly rude to even suggest it.
Birth parents receive financial assistance during pregnancy to protect their health and wellbeing, but these payments never obligate a woman to ultimately choose adoption. A lot goes into that ultimate decision, but the implication of “payment for placement” is not part of it.
3. “Your child would have been better off with you.”
This is an easy blanket statement to make, and you’ll see it frequently from adoption critics. But the fact is that no one knows what’s best for her child except for a prospective birth mother.
No one can understand a birth mother’s position and the reasons why she chose adoption. She may have been financially unprepared to raise a child, or she may have been struggling with substance abuse or an abusive relationship.
With or without knowledge of those reasons, this is a cruel statement to make. It invalidates a birth mother’s choice to do what is best for her own child. Even if you disagree with a birth parent’s decision, you must respect it and their belief that it was the best path for their own and their child’s future.
4. “At least you didn’t choose abortion.”
Just because a woman chooses to place her child for adoption doesn’t mean she didn’t also consider abortion. In fact, many women equally consider their three unplanned pregnancy options before deciding on adoption.
A pregnant woman has the right to make whatever decision is best for her, even if it’s abortion. You may think you’re applauding a woman for choosing adoption instead of abortion, but you don’t know how seriously she may have considered the latter. Abortion may have even been her first choice, whereas adoption was the necessary second option.
Bringing up abortion after the pregnancy and adoption are complete can also bring up lingering feelings of guilt and regret. It’s best to look to the future, not the past, when discussing adoption with a birth parent.
5. “Do you regret your decision?”
Every birth parent experiences some degree of grief and sadness about their adoption decision. For many, it can take years to fully recover and be proud of their decision. Some days are easier than others; it’s normal for birth parents to have conflicting emotions during and after their pregnancy and placement. And, for birth parents whose children are adopted via foster care, it’s an even more complicated bundle of emotions.
Don’t ask this question. Doing so will only bring up those tough emotions that a birth parent has worked hard to overcome.
6. “A pregnancy/child is a gift.”
Not everyone wants to be a parent. This blanket statement won’t apply to every birth parent — and it can make birth parents feel guilty when it doesn’t.
There are many reasons to place a child for adoption, but not wanting to be a parent or have a child is equally as valid as the others. Don’t impose your beliefs on birth parents. Instead, respect their own (including whatever personal details they choose to share with you).
This statement, while well-meaning, can only increase the guilt and sadness a birth parent already feels about their choice.
7. “How could you give away your child to someone else?”
Remember what we’ve said before: Adoption is not “giving up” or “giving away.”
Whether you’re speaking to a birth parent of a private infant adoption or a foster care adoption, be sensitive and don’t pry. You may not understand their personal decision, and that’s OK. But you do have to respect that this decision was theirs to make.
And, again, a birth parent doesn’t have to explain their adoption story to anyone except their birth child.
8. “Adoption was the selfish thing to do.”
In most cases, adoption is actually the most selfless thing a prospective birth parent can do. It involves making the difficult decision to recognize what’s best for their child — even if that is found with another set of parents.
It’s not “the easy way out” to place a child for adoption. It’s a decision that requires months of soul-searching and selfless steps.
By using this phrase or another like it, you invalidate the hardest decision a birth parent has likely made in their life.
9. “You’re not a ‘real’ mom/dad.”
Just like adoptive parents, birth parents can’t catch a break when it comes to qualifying the “realness” of their parenthood. But parents and parent figures come in many different shapes and sizes. Birth parents play a unique role in a child’s life, just as grandparents, aunts and uncles, and family friends do.
A birth parent is just as important as an adoptive parent. They made perhaps the bravest decision a parent ever could. Whether or not they are an active part of their child’s life, they are still just as much a “parent” as the person who raises their child.
10. “Didn’t you want your baby?”
There’s no point in asking this question unless you want to shame or guilt a birth parent. Of course the majority of birth parents would have preferred to parent their child. Placing a child for adoption is not a decision made overnight; a birth parent likely labored for months before choosing this path.
Rather than ask this question (which you know the answer to), you can commend a birth parent on their brave and selfless decision. That’s something they don’t hear every day — even though they should.
Any other comments and questions we missed? Drop them in the comments below.
And check out our first part of the series, “10 Things Never to Say to an Adoptee,” here.