Adoption guilt, safe kid gratitude and birth father surprises (a Mama C mixed bag)

Last week I read a very moving post about adoption guilt at See Theo Run. I have been thinking about the post since then, and returned to the site to leave this response:

I’ve been thinking about this post for some time. I feel both inspired and eased by your honesty. Guilt is perhaps not the word I would embrace for me. Perhaps the word has some limitations. Let’s come up with another? A word that can capture all this guilt: about having our family come together in direct relation to another family coming apart. Our-this is my family guilt–built on a world where there is no social justice if a woman/man must choose for a certain handful of reasons (economic based often–and not always by any means) that she does not have the support to be able to parent. Guilt that the child we have chosen to parent had no choice in his or her story being written this way. Guilt that we are not allowed to ever forget that these two factors collide so that we could realize our deep and unwavering desire and longing to love and parent this child for the next fifty or so years.

For me there is also a constant fear/second guess and frustration that I am not, and will never have given the open adoption the energy, skills, room it needed to flourish from the very beginning. Guilt that I am never doing it right, or enough. And then finally the ridiculous guilt that feeling guilty is just a terrible pleasure on some messed up plane that I indulge myself in, and accomplishes nothing.

And having a safe space to say all of this is so profoundly necessary and helpful.

And now to work on moving through all of this, and realizing that I am doing my level headed best, and so are you and you and you and you. And that we’re creating space to figure out how to do it even better is worthy of compassion and acknowledgement and gratitude.

Maybe it is not guilt. Maybe it is just adoption and all of its incredible layers. To embrace them all is to become better and better adoptive parents, and to create more and more space into which our children can arrive with grace, strength and wildly open and resilient hearts.

I am reposting my comments here–because I realize I sometimes “use” the comment section of other blogs-to test and explore feelings in a slightly less public forum (her blog instead of mine) before I am ready to share them here. Somehow that feels a little cowardly. Or maybe it is just part of the process too.

And since Harriet and I share some readers and not others, I thought it would be a good opportunity to remind many of you about her insightful and brave blog too.


On a lighter side, Marcel met his inner Speed Racer self last night, and we are all here to tell about it. Leaving basketball “practice” (a pre organized team clinic of sorts for the under 5 set–which he is surprisingly LOVING) Marcel was the first to the car.  Then he was the first in the car. Then he was the first one in the front seat releasing the emergency break, and the clutch. Did I mention the car was parked on a hill? Did I mention the thirty or so feet of open road in front of him? Did I mention that the front seat was locked?

My friend Charlie was at the practice too. Unlike me, he had his game on, and thought to actually get in front of the moving car and stop it, rather than try to open a locked door with shaking fingers over and over again. So Marcel was rescued from the wild bronco (he was sitting on the little storage thing between the two front seats-missing only a lasso) and the bumper of the car now ten feet in front of us, was spared the holidays in the body shop at my expense.


Out of nowhere I decided it was time to make a photo book for Sam’s birth father. For my longtime readers this may be a strange development.  I never talk about Reese* here because the story is a complicated one. What I can say is that I believe that it was my decision to cut off contact with him at one point a long time ago. I can tell you that I went back to the vault, and reread the limited correspondences we had at that time. I can understand fully why I did that, and see now that I reacted out of fear. We are all in a different place now I hope.  So this is my attempt to offer a chance for a connection and to see what happens. My fear was not based on anything other than preconceived ideas of what a birth father should say or do, when contacted by an adoptive parent.  When he was his own person, and shared his own experience of the legal/judicial system and how disenfranchising it was too him, I froze. When he shared how confusing and angry he was, I fled. Now I see once again (refer to guilt  above) how I wish I could have handled that moment and so many others a little differently. I also see that I handled every situation to the best of my ability.

When Sam admitted how hard it is that Marcel knows his donor, and his birth father does not know anything about him, I decided it was time to get back on the saddle and try to tame this fear of mine. Better for me to reach out now, then for Sam to reach out on his own, without my knowledge or support via FB or some other means in a few years.


I’d love to hear about your guilts, gratitudes and surprises too. What you got? What is inspiring you to action these days?


*Not his real name.


  1. I’m not sure that I would say I feel guilt. I feel sadness sometimes realizing the potential for my children’s sadness in the future. Questions with no answers in my older son’s case and all sorts of adoption related queries for both, why didn’t they keep me? Was there something wrong with me? That is a very sad thing to have to ask. I think to feel guilt I would have to feel that I have done something wrong, and I don’t. Now I know I understand things with an adult brain, things are what they are, things happened for a variety of reasons, I wanted to parent and the birth parents were unable to or were sick or something, all explainable on some level but that will be little comfort to a child or adolescent trying to come to terms with all this. But someday they will have adult brains. I hope that somehow we will muddle through being honest, talking openly as we go about fears, disappointments, rejection, happy times and sad times. Hopefully if I’ve done things right their adult brain will sort it all out and understand all the complexities of this thing called adoption. I fully expect some rough patches and I’m sure I’ll make mistakes but we must realize we are only human after all, right?

    • Sadness, adult brain, and muddle. Yes, yes and yes. I agree that guilt is limited in that it implies wrong doing, or supposed wrong doing. So what word combines muddle, sadness, adult brain, and gross negligent failure on the part of most of the world to support mothers/fathers/extended family in parenting their offspring if that is what they desire to do? Then wrap that word up, and hold it and add to it, that the opportunity to parent our children is the world to us. You know? Gratitude for holding all of it I suppose.

      • I’ve had a whole lot of jumbled thoughts going through my head since your last post, a little bothered by the “failure of society to support bm’s and families who want to keep their children.”(paraphrased) The idea of the word etc.. I’ll see if I can make sense of what is in my head.

        I’ve been thinking about the word obsessed, not necessarily in a bad way. I think when we adopt we feel a great deal of pressure coming from all sources. Some brought on by the critical masses who either don’t understand it at all or continually question the validity of us as parents and as a family. We spend a lot of time feeling that we need to defend ourselves and our children. So it’s a constant in our lives, we think about everything more than those that have their children biologically in a two parent household (I might add), which is of course what most people consider “normal”.

        Then there is the overwhelming “I must do this right!” In my case with my second adoption, an open adoption, I do feel a great responsibility that extends beyond me as a parent. I can’t let him down and I can’t let his birth parents down. Not that most parents don’t want to do everything they can for their children but we often have more people we feel accountable to. With my oldest I feel, I brought him home, away from his home country Ethiopia. I’ve been given the privilege to parent them both, each a unique situation. This accountability causes us to obsess over everything and second guess ourselves constantly. I think in some ways this is a good thing. We are super aware parents, often more educated in the psychological aspects of child development. Attachment for instance, which I have found many parents don’t even know what it means.

        You are right, adoption has many layers. In both our cases we have race differences which is a huge layer as well as being single moms. Maybe all the layers of complexity gives us so many more opportunities to fail, real or perceived.

        I was going to say something about the financial aspects of giving up a child but honestly I can’t sort it out in my head yet. Meanwhile, I’m going to try to do everything in my power to give these boys advantages they may not have had otherwise. Like you said adoption is about one family coming together as another falls apart, difficult stuff.


    • I know this is a late reply but I totally get where you are coming from. The weird thing for me now is how much I worry about the birthmom – way more than I worry about my son. I believe he will be fine. I have bizarre confidence in that. I want her to be at peace with her decision to place him for adoption. I know she isn’t there yet and it’s painful for everyone involved (just as clarification, it’s not that she wants to parent him or “take him back,” it’s just *HARD*.)

  2. Oh thanks so much for this post. You hit the nail on the head for me and I haven’t even gone to the original posting yet. I feel an overwhelming guilt whenever I think of T’s birth family, especially his brother and sister, so very far away. And although, we have what might pass as an “open” adoption in the international adoption world, it falls way too short of the perfect situation in my mind.

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