In June of 1990 my husband and I learned that our oldest son had a half biological sibling that was being placed for adoption. We experienced a great deal of emotions learning of the news and making the life altering decision to grow our family when we were not planning for another child at that time. For us, it became the greatest blessing to add this magnificent child to our family. However, having experienced it personally I am familiar with some of the reactions our clients have had over the years when they learn that their child’s birth mother is pregnant again. I have seen reactions spanning from elation to grief. The news sparks something different for every family, but what remains constant is the surprise.
Even when a second pregnancy and adoption occurs and everyone is happy with the plan, I am saddened by the fact that the birth mother has found herself in the same situation again. For those women who choose to parent the second time around, I can’t help but think that the pregnancy was hoped for. In some way, the birth parent may be trying to replace the child she lost through adoption. I have seen women with open and closed adoptions make such decisions. Sometimes a new (and hopefully healthy) relationship (possibly marriage) has occurred in the life of the birth mother and she is more then ready for this planned pregnancy. Other times we must question, “What has changed in your life to make a parenting plan that wasn’t in place when you gave birth and placed for adoption?” These are the more challenging situations. These are the sadder cases when we learn of a new pregnancy within a year or less of the adoptive placement.
A small number of Adoption STAR couples have experienced learning that their child’s birth mother is pregnant again. Each family experienced a broad range of emotions, many had to make difficult decisions or come to terms with choices made by the birth family. In an effort to help others who may one day learn that their child’s birth mother is pregnant again, I asked several of our clients to share their experiences, emotions and advice with us.
Harvey shared: “At the outset, we were thrilled to be able to adopt siblings from the same birth parents. This will certainly give them something in common that many adopted children do not have. I expect this will be especially true as they get older and start being more curious about adoption and about their birth parents and birth siblings. It gives us an experience more like that of parents raising their birth children, such as observing the similarities and differences between siblings of the same birth parents. For us, however, the decision to adopt our son’s sibling was easy because we already decided we wanted a larger family, had already submitted the paperwork, and were so happy with the first child’s 18 months, that it was a “no-brainer” to adopt a second child from the same birth mother. This is not to say we could not respect the decision of adoptive parents declining such an opportunity. Obviously, you have to do what is best for everyone. If the adoptive family is truly not in a position to add a new child, for whatever reason, and doing so would make things worse for the children already adopted, it would be better to decline than to make things worse. Each person must make the right decision for themselves and their families. They should not feel pressured to take in a child they could not care for and love in the way each child deserves.”
Teri responded: “When I first learned that Nicole had given birth to twins- almost 18 months to the day after Gabi was born- I was surprised. I couldn’t imagine that she had gotten pregnant so soon. The only thoughts I had ever indulged in regarding a possible future pregnancy included a fantasy where I pictured Gabi at about 4 years- and Nicole asking us to parent her biological sibling. I had never even imagined (let alone prepared for) the idea that she would choose to parent. I wanted so badly for the things she had told the agency at her initial contact to be true- that she was returning to college, and getting her life back on track. When it started to sink in that she had not only gotten pregnant again, but she was also choosing to parent- so many questions began to form. The most pressing by far; how can I explain to Gabi that out of Nicole’s 6 children, she was the only one that had been placed for adoption? I cried for a few days. I called family and friends for comfort and advice. I posted my feelings on the STAR adoption family message board at Yahoo groups. I also called STAR and talked to our caseworker. I talked. It was the best thing for me. Speaking to others about it allowed me to better understand my feelings. Eventually, I wrote a letter to Nicole. I shared my fears for Gabi with her. This was a HUGE relief. After about two months, I sent gifts for the twins along with our congratulations. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I still have the occasional fantasy of getting that phone call from STAR- where they relay the message to us that Nicole wants to know if we are interested in parenting the twins. My husband and I have even had fantasy conversations of bedroom arrangements and twin parenting. The best advice that I have for those who experience this is to remember that sometimes we create worries and fears for our children. I don’t know what Gabi’s reaction will be as she is able to comprehend her situation. I don’t want to create problems for her by assuming that she should or will feel a certain way. As with all situations, I need to follow her lead- let her grow and develop into the person that she is destined to become. I’ll let her decide what things bother her, and what to roll off of her shoulders. It is my duty to be there for her and love and protect her through whatever comes her way.”
Jennifer wrote: “When we found out our son’s birth mother was pregnant we were surprised to say the least! We were very angry at first. Our first reaction was, “How could she do this to us?” After the reality set in, we started to feel empathy for her parents who were so supportive of her first adoption plan. It was weird because immediately we wanted the entire family to know that we were here if she decided not to parent. Really though, deep down in our hearts no matter how much she tried to convince us, we knew that there was no way she could or would follow through with it. How could she go through such a painful ordeal again? Up until weeks before the delivery we never really felt that butterfly feeling you get when you are going to be a parent again. We had that exciting, nervous feeling when we first learned about Matthew and Bella.”
Yael shared: “When the birthmother of our twins emailed me that she was pregnant and planning to abort the baby, I was so sad. After getting amnio results that her baby boy had Down Syndrome, she was planning an abortion. I wonder to this day why she chose to tell me at all–but especially before she had the abortion. After consulting with our rabbi, I emailed her back and urged her to reconsider, that we would love to adopt her baby. The next email from her said, “The deed is done.” Then, several months later she emailed me that she was pregnant again–this time with the biological father of our twins. I remember feeling very conflicted. On one hand, I assumed that they were back together as a couple and I wondered if they might want more contact with the girls or feel they had made a mistake in placing them. On the other hand, knowing her, I was concerned that she would not be able to bond with her child. Of course, I also wondered if she would want to place him with us–especially if he was not healthy or “perfect”.
As it turned out, he was healthy and perfect. The baby’s father has never visited him and they are not a couple. She brought pictures of her son when she came to visit the girls in the spring. She has sent other photos of him a couple of times. He looks so much like the twins. It is hard to imagine that these kids will not want to connect some day. I wish our birth mother the very best and hope she is enjoying parenting.”
Lynn remembered: “When we got the call about Morgan’s biological sibling being born our feelings spanned from overwhelmed, excited, and not being able to process. We learned about the baby when he was already one month old, so we didn’t have much time to digest the information. I remember saying, “I can’t believe Morgan has a brother.” Rob and I had just assumed that Morgan was going to be an only child. Although we did want other children, we were both okay with raising one. We were lucky to adopt Morgan. We never, in a million years, would have thought that this would have happened. I wasn’t working, so we didn’t know how we could afford the adoption fees, let alone all the extra expenses that went along with raising another child. We had no money saved. We were still paying off the loan for Morgan’s adoption, and didn’t think it was feasible. We couldn’t escape the feeling that we couldn’t let them live separately. Yet how on earth would we come up with that kind of money literally overnight? After speaking with the agency, a lot of our anxieties were soothed. Placing siblings together is regarded highly and a payment plan was discussed. The experience taught us what the true meaning of family is as our family members offered to lend us as much as we needed to adopt again. Ultimately, it wasn’t hard to decide to adopt Aiden. That part was easy. If there was a way, we were going to try to find it.”
Karen responded: “At the initial phone call from Adoption STAR, we were surprised and shocked. It was not something we had ever thought would happen. Our first reaction was “how can we do this again so soon and where do we get the finances, if we decide to adopt this baby?” Then we both thought “how do you say no?” After much talking and praying, the decision was made to move forward with this placement. It took a while to sink in that we were going to bring home another baby. It just didn’t seem possible. We had mixed emotions. We were excited, happy, nervous, (even though this would be baby number 3), and a little scared. We wondered how our other two children would adjust and how we would adjust. We had to do our home study update paperwork over again in a short period of time. It didn’t feel real this time until Justin was placed into our arms. I must admit that it took a while for all of us to adjust to our newest addition. We talked about the baby with our 10 year old so he would be prepared as best as possible. Our 18 month old didn’t understand what was going on. He was not real happy about this tiny intrusion on his life. We allowed him to touch the baby and sit next to us whenever he wanted to. When he was ready to hold the baby, we allowed him to do just that (with our assistance, of course). Our 10 year old was allowed private time in his room when he needed to get away from the ‘babies.” Although, he has been asked to help out a lot and usually does so happily (keeping him involved is so important, he did feel a little displaced this time, just like the last time; although he got over it much quicker. We continued to inform him how much he is loved by both of us. The best advice we could give anyone is to communicate with each other, family, friends, and Adoption STAR about your feelings and emotions.”
L told me via telephone: “Finding out our daughter’s birth mother was pregnant again was a shock to say the least. Our daughter was turning two in a closed adoption. We felt so blessed to have a son by birth and a daughter by adoption that we were afraid to tempt fate. We also had so much else going on that we felt we had to say no. At first we brainstormed who in our family may want to adopt our daughter’s half sibling, but that became too painful for me as I did not want to see that child as a family member only to question whether or not I should have made a different decision. We want to know the new family and keep in touch for the children’s benefit. I feel blessed everyday for our children and know that the decision we made was in the best interest of our family.”
Of the seven responses, we covered adopting your child’s birth sibling, learning the birth mother of your child chose to parent her next child or children, one who chose abortion and another family who chose not to adopt again. These situations clearly show that everyone is different. Each family’s response may have started with “surprise” or shock but each family’s journey took them on different paths. One important piece of the puzzle however is often overlooked. We can more easily relate to the adoptive parent perspective and whether we may want to consider adopting the sibling of the child we already adopted, but have we thought about the birth mother and her situation?
Granted, as mentioned earlier, a pregnancy that occurs within a year of the birth of the child she placed for adoption is hard to deal with – not only for the adoptive parents but for the birth mother herself and for the adoption professionals involved. There have been adoptive families who have told me that they hope to hear that the birth mother is pregnant again so they can adopt again. I respond that it sounds neat, but it actuality it would be very sad if the birth mother found herself pregnant again. One of our “repeat” birth mothers called us almost daily throughout her subsequent pregnancy and had such a hard time overcoming the fact that she got herself in the same situation again. She felt terrible about herself; embarrassed to have the adoptive family find out; and anxious about living through another loss.
If the birth mother selects a parenting plan and allows us to work with her we counsel her to identify why she thinks she has become pregnant again. Was it an unexpected pregnancy or planned? Does she believe by raising this baby that she will fill the void she feels? Does she believe that she can “replace” the baby she placed for adoption? Of course this is not possible and often leads to disappointment and challenges for the birth mother throughout her parenting plan.
On the other hand, if your child’s birth mother is pregnant again and chooses to parent this time, have there been remarkable changes in her life? Was she at first a college student and now she has graduated with a degree and feels more ready for parenthood? Is she engaged to be married or currently married? Is she more mature, responsible and stable? Has she identified additional support from family members or friends that perhaps were not there for her before? It may be hard to accept a woman’s decision to parent when you desire to adopt her child, but it is her right to make the decision to parent, just as it was her right to choose you to adopt the baby she placed for adoption.
For those of us who adopted a birth sibling we recall the moments of learning of the pregnancy and birth and the incredible stress and unbelievable joy that coincided. For those of us who learned that a birth mother parented after placing a child with us beforehand, we can not stop wondering what life would have been like if he or she joined our family and how different his or her life would be today. Both scenarios cause a great deal of emotion that can easily be recalled even if much time has passed. Unexpectedly, my husband and I encountered both these scenarios.
For those who chose to pass on adopting the sibling or half sibling, you may feel similarly, wondering how the child is doing and overwhelm yourself by asking, “Did I make the right decision?” These feelings are typical and expected. Reminding yourself of all the reasons why you made your decision will help you understand that you did make the best decision for your family.
It is important to value the fact that life takes us on many paths and we must find security by accepting the choices that we make for ourselves as well as those made by our children’s birth families. Often these times cause us to feel unsettled, however acknowledging that we do not have all the answers will help us to enjoy our journey even more!