Holidays can be hard for anyone who has experienced a loss. For birth parents, that loss can be an acute one — especially because the person they have lost is still out there, but they may not be able to spend the holidays with them.

Because holidays are all about sharing time with family and loved ones, this period can bring up some complicated emotions when the child you placed for adoption is spending it with their adoptive parents. You can be happy that they are establishing new family holiday traditions while still grieving the fact that they won’t be establishing those traditions with you. Adoption is a beautiful but bittersweet journey, and it’s not unusual for the holidays to make it even harder.

Every birth parent’s situation is different, so it’s important that you think about what you are feeling and what you might do to help cope with your individual emotions. No matter how fresh your grief from your placement is, you should always take the time to care for yourself. Remember, you made one of the most selfless and brave decisions a person could ever make by choosing adoption.

If you’re feeling grief and sadness around the holidays, here are some things you may consider:

1. Talk to your adoption specialist or someone you feel comfortable with.

The heightened emotions of the holidays can be too much for anyone, but you shouldn’t have to cope with these feelings on your own. Remember, your adoption specialist is always available to talk you through what you may be feeling, either to offer advice or just a shoulder to lean on. Don’t be afraid to reach out to those you trust as a support system during this time. While they may not completely understand what you’re going through, they love you enough to be there for you and provide the support you need during this time. You may also wish to reach out to other birth mothers experiencing the same thing through support groups.

2. Make your child a part of your holiday activities.

The child you placed for adoption will always be a part of your life and, if it feels appropriate, it can be important to include them in your holiday traditions. If you have an open adoption and the ability to visit them, take advantage of that, if you feel that this will ease some of your heavy emotions. Most adoptive parents would be happy to connect you with your child during this special time of year, whether through a phone call, a video chat or even an in-person visit.

If you don’t have the chance to involve your child in your holidays physically, find a way to honor them on your own. You might make a special ornament or decoration that you can put up each year, or light a candle for them. You can write your child a holiday letter, whether or not you choose to send it to them each year. You can also buy an ornament each year to send to your child, so they can see their collection grow each holiday season and are reminded of your love for them. You can also involve your other children; let them color pictures to send or pick out a small gift for the child you placed.

Perhaps the worst thing you can do is to not acknowledge your grief, and finding a way to include the child you placed for adoption into your holidays is a wonderful way to both acknowledge your feelings and honor their importance to you.

3. Take time for yourself.

The holidays can be an overwhelming time for anyone and, for birth parents, it can be even more so. You may feel obligated to spend time with family and friends and act happy but, if you’re not feeling like doing so, you don’t have to. Self-care is important, especially when you’re coping with such complicated feelings. If you need time to grieve alone, take that time for yourself. There is no “wrong” way to feel about your adoption around the holidays, so do what you think you need.

Some birth parents choose to journal their feelings. You might also wish to do something that you know will bring you happiness; do something you enjoy, like going to a movie, having lunch with a friend, or treating yourself to a special dinner.

If you’re experiencing overwhelming grief and sadness during this time, please contact your adoption specialist at 1-800-ADOPTION. You have the right to 24/7 counseling and, if necessary, we can help connect you to local resources to help you cope with the difficult emotions you may be feeling.

Please share to help reach birth parents who may be struggling with heightened grief during the holiday season.