Empathy has no script. There is no right way or wrong way to do it. It’s simply listening, holding space, withholding judgment, emotionally connecting, and communicating that incredibly healing message of you’re not alone. -Brene Brown
Every birth parent needs empathy from their adoption agency, along with a lifetime of post-placement therapy and education on grief. Prospective birth parents are showing an incredible amount of vulnerability when they reach out to an adoption agency, ready to make an adoption plan. The last thing they need is judgment for their unique situation. Adoption agencies should be a safe place for birth parents to heal, learn, and grow.
Empathy says, “I’m in it with you. I’m not here to fix you. I’m not here to feel it for you. I’m here to feel with you and let you know you’re not alone.”
The loneliest moments of my life all circle around my adoption experience as a birth mother. I never felt loneliness to such a degree until after I placed my baby for adoption. I truly believed, at that time, that no one would ever understand my situation and the choice I made. We need intimate connections and bonds with each other to feel happiness. Loneliness and happiness do not coincide, ever — which is why the four words that every birth parent needs to hear are, “You are not alone!” Adoption professionals are the first encounter in building this bridge between the birth parent and happiness. Adoption agencies can’t give birth parents happiness, that’s not what I am saying, but they have the privilege of being a messenger of hope and a killer to loneliness. Never underestimate the power of empathy!
Grief is like the ocean; it comes in waves, ebbing and flowing. Sometimes the water is calm, and sometimes it is overwhelming. All we can do is learn to swim. -Vicki Harrison
The most detrimental thing about grief, for a birth parent, is the fact that it is disenfranchised grief. Disenfranchised grief can be defined as a person’s experience when they incur a loss that is not or cannot be openly acknowledged, socially sanctioned or publicly mourned. Society doesn’t recognize the grieving process that every birth parent experiences after placement. Recognition and acknowledgment shines a light on shame, and shame drives the ebbs and flows of grief.
Birth parents need adoption agencies to teach them how to swim; swim through layers and years of grief that will follow placing their babies for adoption. They must shine the light on disenfranchised grief! Many birth parents, post-placement, have not been given any education on grief or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
The ocean can be a beautiful experience — we spread our toes into the wet sand, let the water rush up underneath us, and listen to the waves crashing on top of one another. If you decided you wanted to experience more of the ocean or if someone pushed you into the waves before you knew how to swim, how does that change your outlook on the ocean? As birth parents, we make the difficult decision to place our babies for adoption, willingly jumping right into the middle of the ocean, unaware that we don’t know how to swim! The adoption professionals’ job is to reach their hand into the water, pull us out of the water, and say, “You are not alone. Let me show you how to navigate the ocean.” If your adoption professional does one thing, it should be teaching birth parents how to swim before the waves start crashing in.
When adoption agencies start making decisions that serve a system instead of basic human dignity, they have fallen away from an ethical practice. Adoption agencies should be filled with employees who believe in the work they are doing and show empathy to their adoptive couples and birth parents! Every birth parent should be invited into a safe, judgment-free space, where they can learn to swim, grow as individuals, and know they are not alone.
If you are a birth parent or a woman considering adoption, American Adoptions is here for you 24/7. You can call 1-800-ADOPTION at any time to receive free, nonjudgmental support and counseling, no matter where you are in your adoption process.
Growing up in Utah County, unwed pregnancy by age 19, Gina always found herself outside of the Utah cultural box. Shortly after placing her baby girl for adoption in the fall of 2000, she started her own non-profit organization, Birth Mother Baskets. Her goal was to provide hope, support, and courage for birthmothers, post placement.
After fourteen years of running Birth Mother Baskets and being an adoption advocate, Gina stepped away to pursue a corporate job as a Creative Arts Manager.
A severe concussion in 2016 led Gina back to rediscover her true passion for writing. She left the comforts of the corporate paycheck and is now writing a memoir.
Gina still lives in that cultural bubble of Utah County with her husband and three children. She enjoys changing people’s perception of birth mothers and their place in adoption.
You can find her writings at ginacrotts.com or follow her on Instagram at @ginacrottswriter.