On Handling Adoptive Parent Guilt

By Karla Baumann

It was only three weeks from the time we learned we’d been chosen by an expectant mother to the time our son entered the world. When we received the call that our son had arrived, we drove an hour to finally meet the little boy that would make us parents. During that drive, the magnitude of the situation really hit for the first time.  I pondered over and over in my mind that I was becoming a first-time mom through another mom’s loss.

Understanding the Loss in Adoption

Until you meet the woman carrying this beautiful child, you can’t fully understand the true magnitude of everything that is adoption. When you are still a “waiting family,” all you can see is that finish line; the child that you hoped, prayed and cried thousands of tears over. Then you meet her, the woman carrying a precious baby who had reviewed stacks of profile books but still chose you. There she sits, with a swollen belly and sweet smile that also portrays fear, sadness, and uncertainty. As you learn about her story you learn she is human just like you, but unlike you, she is making the hardest decision she will ever make. That’s when you may first feel adoptive parent guilt.

If you’re like me, you want to rescue her. I wanted to tell this expectant mother, “Everything will be okay.” I wanted to bring her home, wrap her in a warm blanket, bake her a batch of cookies and put on a good movie. But I couldn’t. She was essentially a stranger, but one that wanted to make an adoption plan with us as her son’s parents.

Joy and Sadness in the Hospital

When I first met our son, I stood over his bassinet in the hospital and the world seemed to stopped spinning. I was in complete awe. I stared at this beautiful baby that I’d dreamed about for years, all 5 pounds and 10 ounces of him. He was perfect. I cried and thanked God. We held him until it was time for a bottle, and I watched as his birth mom fed him with tears in her eyes. Feelings of sadness and guilt swept over my heart. During the remaining time in the hospital, we continued to bond over this perfect baby boy.

On discharge day, you could practically feel the sadness in the air. After our son’s birth mom signed the adoption papers, we had a placement ceremony inside the tiny church chapel. I felt God’s presence inside that chapel as well as our entire hospital stay. My heart was burdened for our son’s birth mom, yet it also sang with joy that my baby boy was finally here. Those two distinct feelings left me confused, guilty, and thankful all at once. As we left the hospital with our newborn, my heart burst with praise for God’s providence in our lives, yet it also ached with sorrow because I knew the journey of grief that our son’s birth mom would face.

“This is Harder Than I Expected”

Over the months that followed, we melted into a family of three. We were able to see our son’s birth family about once a month which felt like a blessing for everyone. On the first Mother’s Day following the adoption, I was elated to celebrate as a first-time mom, but our son’s birth mother weighed heavily on my heart. I prayed, “God, how do I correctly honor his birth mother, and show her the love we have for her?” We bought her a sweet gift and told her she was loved. On our son’s first birthday, we invited his birth mom and family to attend. At the party, I noticed that his birth mom stood alone in the back of the room with tears rolling down her beautiful face. My heart sunk. Once again, I was flooded with guilt. When I hugged her, she told me the party was a lot harder than she expected. My heart wept at the thought of how broken she felt watching us celebrate.

Later, I thought, “God, I want to fix this. I want to love her through this painful journey but don’t know how? I get to raise her son and now she has to watch from the sidelines.” I prayed and sought counsel with friends as well as our case worker who reminded me that adoption was his birth mom’s choice, and that she had selected me and my husband to raise her child.

Bringing Families Together

I’ve learned that feelings of guilt can sneak up on you anytime during the adoption process.  Open adoption is hard, but it is also beautiful. As adoptive parents, we have to remember that open adoption doesn’t benefit us as much as it does the child. When the time comes and our son has questions, open adoption allows us to give the answers we need or the ability to reach out to his birth mom and ask them. I believe open adoption will give our son a complete picture of how God carefully painted this beautiful picture of adoption. But I’ve had to realize that our family is built on another woman’s heartbreak.  As adoptive parents, we can never forget that fact.

I am thankful for adoption because without it I wouldn’t have my son or a child at all. God has written these beautiful stories of redemption; bringing families together and loving people you might never have crossed paths with.

A Challenge to Adoptive Parents

My challenge to adoptive parents is this: When you feel that guilt sneak up on you, pray harder for your child’s birth family. Thank God for the blessing of loving and raising a sweet child in your home. Hug your child and smother them with kisses.  We were called to walk this road—even during difficult moments. When you enter a season of guilt, remember that you were distinctly chosen to become your child’s adoptive parents. A birth mom looked into your eyes and realized your potential to be amazing parents to her child.

Karla Baumann and her husband are adoptive parents who brought home their son in July 2017. Karla is a stay home home mom who loves educating people on adoption and open adoption.

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