The “unknown” birth father

Many have asked me how to approach the topic of not knowing who their child’s birth father is with their adopted child. Well-meaning adoptive parents wonder how to tip toe around this topic or how to dance the perfect dance when this child reaches the age of curiosity about their roots.

Like many topics within parenting, there is not a one size fits all conversation around the unknown birth father. Honesty, though, is always the best policy. Using only positive language about this unknown man that holds a strong bond and tie to the child is also advised. Whether the birth father was simply unaware of the pregnancy, and therefore, absent, or whether he deliberately vanished once learning of the pregnancy, whether the birth mother didn’t want to share his identity, or if the child was orphaned, the possible scenarios are endless. Most of these situations have a negative connotation and likely the child will have internalized this aspect of their story in a subconscious way. It’s important to find the positives within the child’s story – even when the details are sparse, or the story seems bleak. There is positive in every story and it’s up to the parent to find those morsels of good. Attaching the child’s positive attributes and traits to this unknown birth father is a good strategy.

It’s also important to really listen and interpret the question the child is really asking. Are they literally asking “Why couldn’t my birth parents stay together?” Or, are they asking a larger question about abandonment? Are they projecting their own thoughts and fears into that question? Is it possible that hidden inside their question is, “What did I do to deserve to be abandoned by both my birth dad and my birth mom?” or “Are you going to abandon me, too?”

A statement like “None of my friends are adopted, and therefore, they know why they are good at sports and music,” is an open door for a conversation about that child’s specific traits and an opportunity to wonder along with your child about their birthfather, saying something like “You are so great at the guitar! I wouldn’t be surprised if someone within your birthfamily was a guitarist, too!”

The fact that you, as the adoptive parents do not know all of the answers can be a great way to develop and establish trust with your child. The way in which you answer these tough questions – with grace, love and a genuine curiosity will help to answer the question that the child isn’t asking – “Do you love me enough to be confident in having these conversations?” The way that you answer these questions will help the child to have confidence in their own story. The ability to be curious right alongside the child will aid in their security in knowing that you honor their story even though you may not know all of the details.

Personally, I felt a huge sense of validation after meeting my birth mother and my birth father for the first time (in my adulthood) as my parents were equally as curious about them and their story as I was. I felt less isolated and alone traveling across the country to meet these strangers knowing that my parents were sitting next to me on the airplane just as anxious as I was.

Musings of a birthparent

“She is mine in a way that she will never be theirs, yet she is theirs in a way that she will never be mine.”

I’ve spent time working with birthparents during tender moments at the hospital witnessing the handover from birth parent to adoptive parent during the baby’s first moments. After years of searching, I’ve learned more of my own birth mom and birth dad’s story and their decision for adoption. I’ve asked birthparents to speak on panels to adoptive families and most recently experienced my own personal loss in the adoption arena. I’ve gained insight into the feelings of many of the birthparents I’ve worked so closely with. Birthparents endure a deep and fairly invisible loss that not many understand. The general public is quick to speak about the happier side of the equation – the adoptive family and their big hearts, or the adorable child in the middle of it all.

Birthparents love their children. Maybe they chose adoption after showing up at the hospital with unexplainable pains – only to find out they are in labor, or perhaps they’ve chosen to place their 6 month old child after couch surfing with the newborn in tow. Whether the birth parents knew that adoption would be the right choice from the moment they found out they were pregnant, or if they changed their minds several times over the course of their pregnancy, the realization that you’re unable to provide what the child needs is not a choice that comes easily. Whether the child is now a toddler, tween or an adult, birthparents love their children. In modern adoptions, many birth parents get pictures and letter updates of their child a couple times per year, and they may get to visit the child once a year. Those pictures and letters are like gold to the birthparents. The ability to see tangible moments of a happy and well-adjusted child is paramount in a birth parents healing. The visits with the child and their new adoptive family are a mix of poisonous beauty. Both are reminders that while you’ve allowed a family to experience great joys, you suffer silently as you stare at the child you’ve birthed have an attachment with other people, and you listen to the adoptive family share specific details and facts about the child’s bedtime, favorite kind of toothpaste and they explain why the child doesn’t like to be bounced but rather to be rocked. These are details you feel that you should know.

In light of my most recent loss, I write as a “birthparent” in a sense. It’s bitter sweet to see the adoptive parents doing better than what we were able to provide. I feel overjoyed seeing this child happy, thriving and being given opportunities way beyond what I would’ve been able to do, however it pains me to have to continually realize what I couldn’t do. It gives me  joy knowing that this child is the light of someone else’s life, however, simultaneously wishing it were me providing the stable, loving family.

Birthparents bellow silent pleas of forgiveness, asking that someday their child understand their choice for placing them for adoption. Adoptees grow up thankful for a “better” life, but suffer in silence attempting to make sense of being the recipient of an altruistic abandonment. Many adoptees admit to feeling a sense of survivors guilt. Adoptive families reel and bask in the beauty of a child that was thrust upon them through extraordinary circumstances. Such complexity in the name of an unnatural need.  Adoption means that a birthparent has made a difficult and selfless choice, a lifelong choice that throughout life will remain invisible to most.