Bringing your baby home for the first time is supposed to be a magical experience. Your dreams of becoming a parent are finally true, and you’re ready to settle into this next stage of your life.

But, when you adopt a child, you’ll find a lot of confusing emotions are rolled up into one during this time. One moment you may be overjoyed at the little one in your arms; another moment you may feel sad and overwhelmed that adoption was the way you built your family.

So, what gives?

If you’re struggling with difficult emotions like guilt and grief after an adoption placement, know that you’re not alone. In fact, this is so common that we’ve created this blog post. Here, find answers to your most commonly asked questions on this subject — and suggestions for moving forward with a positive outlook and appreciation for your unique family-building journey.

Is It Normal to Feel Sad and Guilty after Receiving an Adoption Placement?

Yes. In fact, these emotions are a sign that you feel empathy and respect for a birth parent and their choice to place with you. It means that you are invested in their well-being and that you are already empathizing with your child’s unique adoptee experience.

If you’re like most adoptive parents, you’ve had the chance to get to know and develop a relationship with the prospective birth parents. You see them for the amazing people they are, and you’ve seen the love they have for their child. It’s this love that made the adoption possible, and it’s normal to feel like you’ve been given a gift you can never repay.

You’ll likely have these emotions for the rest of your life, but they can hit you especially hard when you’ve brought a newborn home. Think about it: Your whole life has changed. Your daily schedule involves far more crying (and far less sleep) than it used to, and that’s enough to fray anyone’s nerves. It’s no wonder that adoptive parents can experience postpartum depression, just like those parents who have given birth.

And, while feelings of “adoption guilt” come from a very real place, they’re nothing to be ashamed of. They’re just one of the many complex emotions associated with the adoption process.

Why Do I Feel Sad and Guilty After Placement?

If you’ve made it this far in the adoption process, you recognize one major fact about adoption: that it inherently involves loss. At this time, you’re empathizing with the loss of the birth parents, but your feelings could also be wrapped up in your own infertility loss or your child’s loss of their birth family. And, with the craziness of the hospital stay, consent and placement, it’s normal for those emotions to be delayed until you return home with your child.

As mentioned above, feeling guilty or sad about a birth parent’s decision is not a sign that you’re a bad parent. On the contrary, it shows you care about the birth parent’s struggle and understand the intense bravery it took to make their decision.

Take it from adoptive mom Jenna, who was surprised at the intensity of guilt and grief she felt when her child was placed in her arms for the first time:

“[It] was for sure, hands down, the craziest emotion I have ever felt, in a good and a bad way, and the most conflicting emotion I’ve ever felt,” she says. “You’re so happy and you’re so joyous that this is actually happening and you’re standing in front of the woman who is actually making it possible for you… That feeling of guilt and heart-wrench for this other woman is hard to explain.”

Ultimately, adoptive parent guilt comes from attempts to reconcile two very different feelings — joy at becoming a parent, but sadness that it occurs because of someone else’s loss and grief.

Healthy Ways to Cope with Difficult Post-Placement Feelings

It’s normal to want to bury these emotions and instead focus on the joy and love adoption has brought into your life. But, as we tell all of our adoptive families, adoption is a lifelong journey. Ignoring these feelings now will just cause more heartache and grief in the long run, especially when your child develops a relationship with their birth family.

So, what can you do right now to help alleviate any feelings of guilt and sadness?

  • Maintain post-placement adoption contact: Remember that, whatever difficult feelings you’re coping with, a birth parent is dealing with even more grief and sadness over their placement. You can respect and celebrate their decision by continuing the open adoption contact you established prior to placement. Reaching out and showing that you care will reassure the birth parents that they made the right choice, and it may make you feel less “guilty” about taking over the parenting role.
  • Continue to educate yourself: Your adoption education doesn’t stop when you receive a placement. Your lifelong adoption journey will be unique, and there will be questions and concerns you’ll need to address in the years to come. The best way to honor a birth parent’s decision to place with you is by ensuring you raise your child in an adoption-positive home. Reading about adoptees’ experiences is a great way to start.
  • Recognize the normalcy in your emotions: As mentioned above, it’s important that you address these emotions here and now, rather than burying them for later. Your child deserves parents who are proud of and positive about adoption, and your inner feelings about adoption (conscious or not) will be noticed by your child in the years to come. Take the time now to sit with your emotions and acknowledge them. If you need a good cry or a vent session, make it happen.
  • Reach out for help: Sometimes, feelings of guilt and sadness after adoption are indicators of a larger issue, like post-adoption depression. Remember that your adoption specialist is always here to answer your questions about adoption, but if you are experiencing other unusual symptoms (like insomnia, changes in appetite or mood swings), reach out to your doctor. Postpartum is serious, even in adoptive parents, and you deserve the support you need to be the best parent possible for your child.

When you work with American Adoptions, your adoption specialist will always be there to support you, even in the years to come. Reach out anytime at 1-800-ADOPTION for answers to your questions and concerns.