The adoption process can be explained in words and writing, but it’s the emotions that are hard to explain. You can spend hours preparing for adoption — submitting paperwork, cleaning the house, setting up a nursery, researching — but many adoptive parents found themselves completely unprepared for one thing:

The intense and complex emotions of saying “goodbye” to their child’s birth mother at the hospital.

The One Thing Adoptive Parents Are Often Unprepared For

Prospective birth parents know that leaving the hospital without a child in their arms will be one of the most difficult things they’ll ever face. We’ve written countless guides that try to prepare expectant parents for that experience and the grieving process that will follow. So in this guide, we’ll try to prepare hopeful adoptive parents for that “goodbye.”

Adoptive parents often say that they were not prepared for the emotions, good and bad, that they felt when parting ways. Of course, the “goodbye” at the hospital is almost never “goodbye forever.” Open adoption can result in a lifetime of communication and friendship between birth and adoptive parents, but even so, parting at the hospital is a difficult junction in the adoption experience.

Let’s look at some of the thoughts and feelings that birth mothers and adoptive parents feel as they say goodbye at the hospital.

The “Rollercoaster”

If you’ve ever ridden on a rollercoaster, you are familiar with the feeling of being whipped in different directions, seemingly all at once. Even if you’re not a fan of rollercoasters, you can look at it from a distance and see the ups, downs, twists and turns of the ride itself. The ride can be exciting, but also scary and nerve-racking.

You may think that the birth mother will be sad and the adoptive parents will be happy, but the truth is both sides experience all emotions. If adoptive parents are able to spend time with the birth mother during her hospital stay, they will likely laugh together, cry together and maybe attempt to process their emotions together. This rollercoaster can be difficult to navigate because you don’t have control of the steering wheel or the breaks, but it’s good to let the emotions play out and to be honest about how you feel when you part ways.


The birth mother has just placed her child in the arms of his or her forever parents and filled them with joy. Adoptive parents have received the precious gift of a child to love and nurture for a lifetime. This moment, whenever and however it happens, is indescribable because it’s so jam-packed with emotions.

Try to imagine a couple who has struggled to conceive a child or who have chosen to start their family through adoption. When their baby is placed into their arms, it may be hard for them to believe that they are now parents. After a birth mother has experienced the shock and turmoil of an unplanned pregnancy and, nine months later, gets to meet her baby and help couples become parents, it may be hard for her to believe that she created life and placed her baby with his or her perfect parents.

The only way to truly know those indescribable feelings is to experience adoption for yourself. When birth parents and adoptive parents part ways at the hospital, they leave as new people. All experiences help us learn and grow, and the incredible experience of adoption will change your lives forever.

There is a lot of joy at this moment, but it’s far from the only emotion that birth and adoptive parents will feel.


Gratitude through adoption goes both ways. The birth mother is grateful to the adoptive parents for giving her baby love and a forever home. Adoptive parents are grateful to birth mothers for giving them the opportunity to experience the love and joy of raising a child.

When it’s time to say goodbye at the hospital, both birth and adoptive parents may see their futures filled with the satisfaction of having their desires and dreams realized. There may be tears of joy and sadness, and that’s normal, but there is also the confidence and hope that gratitude brings through adoption.

Pain and Guilt

More than anything else, adoptive parents say that they were unprepared for the pain and guilt they’d experience when saying “goodbye” to their child’s birth mother at the hospital. Placing a child for adoption is one of the most difficult experiences that a parent may endure, and bearing witness to that pain — now the pain of someone you’ve come to know and love, is hard.

Many adoptive families express feeling guilty — they’re leaving with joyful hearts and full arms while their child’s birth mother leaves with neither. This is one of the most emotionally complex and conflicting moments you’ll experience in your adoption journey. Lean on your American Adoptions specialist as you all learn to cope with the simultaneous joy and pain of placement.

The best thing you can do to support your child’s birth family during this painful time is to express the following:

Love and Humility

The most important thing adoptive parents can say to birth mothers when parting is, “Thank you, we love you, we’ll be here when you’re ready.”

Last, but certainly not least, is the pure love of adoption. Many adoptive parents are surprised to realize that they form an immediate attachment to their child’s birth mother at the hospital. It’s easy to focus on the baby when preparing for adoption, but many adoptive parents say that their child’s birth mother left a huge impact on their lives and that she substantially humbled them.

Even when adoption paperwork is signed and the legal process of adoption is complete, adoptive parents may find themselves asking, “How can we care for our child’s birth mother and express our love for her?” Expressing your love for your child’s birth mother is important — now and forever. Keeping the lines of communication open can be instrumental in her journey to healing and peace.

Many adoptive parents express genuine happiness to be near their child’s birth mother. Likewise, birth mothers express the joy and peace of mind of seeing their child’s adoptive parents shower their baby with love and affection. Humility comes from realizing that your adoption story, as adoptive parents, is permanently intertwined with the adoption story of your child’s birth mother.

When you go your separate ways at the hospital, it can feel like there’s a hollow place where the birth mother’s smile should be, or for the birth mother it may feel like you need to fill that space with the infectious joy of your child’s adoptive parents. You should know that love is always there when you’re parting ways and even when you’re miles away from each other, the love surrounding your adoption story will never end.