Reflections of a Birth Mom

I missed the boat on motherhood.

What does that mean? It means missed opportunity, lost moments never to be reclaimed, chances I will never have.

I lost the opportunity to be the kind of mother who rocks her child back to sleep in the middle of the night, or soothes her when she cries. I cannot kiss a boo-boo to make it feel better, or put a band-aid on an invisible wound. I will never have the Facebook picture of my child beginning her first day of kindergarten, and I missed my chance to promise I would be there after school to pick her up. I cannot insist she eats her broccoli or ensure she gets to bed on time. I relinquished those “rights.” Excuse me: rather, I “placed” those responsibilities and privileges with another family … a family I chose and a family I trusted.

A Birth Mother’s Story – Love is a Journey

I thought I had survived my tumultuous teenage years when I graduated from high school, received a scholarship to college, and moved across the country to begin a fresh, new chapter.  However, less than six weeks into my first semester, and home for a family visit and a doctor’s appointment to complete my immunizations for school, my life turned upside down.


Let. Go. What images do these two words conjure up? 

A red balloon drifting up and away. A dry, golden leaf falling from a tree. A glittery trapeze artist high above a crowd preparing to release the hands of her partner. A bird flying away from it’s open cage door. 

The idea of letting go can have many different definitions depending on the context. To relinquish, release, surrender, and set free or become free from, are all concepts associated with letting go. The implication is that the opposite—a withholding, holding on, or grasping—may be having an undesirable impact. What do we tend to hold on to? Something familiar, stable, and predictable? Something from our past? A relationship, expectations, patterns of thought, beliefs, or behavior? Perhaps stories we’ve been told or assumptions we’ve made? Or something more tangible like a job, a house, our prized possessions, or an old pair of worn and comfy slippers? 

At times letting go may feel liberating. Other times it feels scary and involves considerable risk. It can be associated with fear… fear of the unknown, fear of loss, fear of powerlessness, fear of separation, fear of losing control. Letting go is a challenging skill which requires discernment, courage, and trust. Many of us have experienced holding on in a way that keeps us stuck or feels grasping, striving, and desperate. We may have held on to something at our own expense, to the point we end up exhausted and diminished. What causes us to hold on or hold back, and what might give us the confidence to let go?

Mary Ainsworth, a developmental psychologist and attachment theorist, conducted a famous study in the 1960s where she observed children’s interactions with their mothers in “strange situations.”  Through her research, she determined that children can be either securely attached or insecurely attached.  Security refers to a child’s ability to interact with new people and explore the world (aka “strange situations”) with curiosity, then return to a source of safety and familiarity with confidence in knowing s/he will be met and embraced. Insecurity, on the other hand, happens when as children, we lack a basic sense of safety in our primary relationship, and as a result are unable to explore and experience the outside world in a healthy way. Essentially, when we establish a secure base (or one is established for us) we are better able to let go, to venture out, and to explore the unknown while maintaining connection to a sense of security.

According to the earlier understanding of attachment theory, our sense of security may begin with our earliest and most primal relationship. However, the field of attachment theory has continued to evolve, and more recent research suggests we have many opportunities throughout our lives to reestablish a sense of security in different ways. Cultivating relationships with others, for example can be a tremendously healing process, resulting in new connections in our brain and an enhanced sense of safety in the world. Creating a renewed relationship with ourselves can also promote more authentic self-confidence and the peace of mind that accompanies it. Even nurturing more acceptance and trust beyond ourselves may allow us to operate from a place of security which results in our ability to know what and when to let go. 

We all encounter moments in our lives when we must find a way to let go. We may be forced to relinquish certain people or relationships. We may be challenged to release our expectations, disappointment, resentment, or guilt. We may decide to resign certain narratives or stories entrapping us, and choose to set ourselves free from what no longer fits for us. We may realize it’s time to surrender the thought or behavior patterns which keep us down and hold us back. We may have to let go of what feels familiar and safe and predictable, so we can step into the potential of the unknown.

There is no instruction manual or guidebook for how to let go, though some may try. A concrete right or wrong way for how to let go does not exist. We each reach that point in our own time and have to discover our own way of letting go. However, in order to embark on this process, and to be willing to accept the risks which come with it, we must create our own secure base from which to begin. The security which comes from our relationships with others, our relationship with ourselves, or our relationship with something greater allows us to access the confidence required to truly let go. This secure base, whatever its source, offers a sense of safety that provides us with a profound assurance, acceptance, and trust.

It is said, “We cannot direct the winds, but we can adjust the sails.” Unable to direct the winds, the circumstances, or the decisions of others, we can choose to let go of our futile and ineffective attempts. We can surrender our delusion of control over external variables, relinquish our tight grasp of what feels familiar, and release the thoughts and feelings which may sabotage our process. In letting go, we have the opportunity to strengthen our sense of trust and discover a peaceful place of acceptance. We can adjust the sails of our heart and mind, close our eyes, take a deep breath, open up into the realm of possibility, and let go…

Happy Day to Mothers and Others

“Are you a mother?” asked the grocery store clerk at the check-out counter.  “Are these roses for your mother?” she went on to inquire.  A friendly lady with a genuine smile, I answered her questions briefly but honestly, and then busied myself by bagging the groceries to avoid any further small talk with this stranger about the imminent holiday. 

It is presented as a day of recognition and appreciation for the marvelous relationship between mother and child.  As with every Western holiday, for weeks we are faced with daily reminders though advertisements, specials, and promotions.  We can’t open our email or check social media without being inundated by quotes, pictures and messages to, or about, “mom.”  Every place from flower and greeting card companies, restaurants, department stores, travel agencies, spas, gyms and theaters are touting their products as the perfect way to show “mom” how much you care. It is a day of commercial celebration.  

However, there is another side to the story, one which is equally, if not more, common. Recognizing this extremely complex relationship, Mother’s Day can feel more like reopening a wound or touching a nerve. It may instead represent a day of mourning and missing someone who is no longer in our life, or something we never had. It can serve as painful annual reminder of disappointment, hurt, neglect or abandonment. Some people end up feeling misplaced by the festivities. What do we do if we don’t have a mother to celebrate or are not a mother to be celebrated?    

There is a new comedy coming out called “Bad Moms” which spoofs both the overachieving, perfectionist-oriented modern day mother and the outcast, anything-goes, irresponsible mother who just stops trying.  It brings a refreshing dose of humor to an otherwise sensitive subject, one we are forced to revisit every year at this time.  There is an ambiguous array of emotion that naturally stirs as this day approaches. In essence, Mother’s Day is a way to honor the most primal, secure, dependable, nurturing, tender and profoundly loving relationship we experience from the earliest time of our lives.  And it is an incredibly special and incomparable bond, but one which does not always stay in tact for a variety of reasons.  

Through our own personal process, we may find a way to forgive, forget and move on, or we may discover ways to substitute or supplant to meet our needs.  The bottom line is, no one had the perfect mother and no one is the perfect mother, and we must navigate that truth in our own way. However, this holiday (if it’s one we choose not to ignore) may be a day of reconciliation in the sense that it provides for us an opportunity to recognize all who are affected by this special day.  We may honor women who are mothers but have lost their children, children who have lost their mothers, women who long to be mothers but are unable, children who have mothers but have been harmed by them.  And if we are fortunate enough, we may give tribute to those women (and men) who have provided for us an example of unconditional love, resiliency, courage, selflessness, generosity, strength, tenderness, and possibility. Happy Mother’s Day. 

Adoption: Growing Grace

Part 3:

Growing Grace is a tender story about adoption from the perspective of a girl (almost a grown up, but not quite) who discovers she is going to have a baby. Readers, young and old, are taken on a journey with the young mother as she struggles to do what she believes is best for the baby who is growing inside her. The book addresses the plight of her decision making process, the connection she develops with her baby, and most of all, the love she has and will always hold for her child.

Children learn about the world through imaginative play and story telling. Parents who have adopted children often introduce the concept of adoption and help each child understand their journey through books and stories. Many books on the subject of adoption begin with the adoptive parents’ experience, their journey leading up to the adoption, or the first moment meeting the child. Most of these stories beautifully reiterate how much the children were hoped for and how valued and loved they are from the perspective of the adoptive parents, but do not convey this same sentiment from the perspective of the birth parents.

This missing perspective is an integral part of fully understanding the adoption process. Through the account of one young mother, Growing Grace provides an opportunity to engage in an open, honest, and evolving conversation about each family’s unique experience. Acknowledging the circumstances of the birth mother, and making it part of the dialogue about adoption in the earlier stages may help the family and each individual to comprehensively synthesize their experience in a meaningful way.

An ideal read-to children’s book, this story introduces the perspective of the birth mother framed in love and compassion. Written in simple and appropriate language, Growing Grace provides an opportunity for children as young as preschool-age to navigate and understand, in their own way, how their life may have begun. Inviting the birth mother’s perspective into the conversation allows a unique opportunity for the family to explore this rarely shared aspect of the adoption story. Every family’s situation is different, and this book is intentionally open-ended and inconclusive, as to allow additional opportunity to explore the various possible outcomes.

The story of Grace is a tribute, not only to the child who has been adopted, but also expresses appreciation, honor, and recognition of adoptive parents and biological parents alike. Brought to life by illustrator Layal Idriss, the dynamic images in this book beautifully convey the complexity of emotions involved in the adoption experience. It is intended to spark questions, facilitate communication, and foster an exploration of what each family’s adoption means for them. This book promotes self-discovery and self-actualization, and helps anyone affected by adoption to integrate their own unique experience into their identity with positivity, clarity, and confidence.

To purchase Growing Grace

The Eight Letter Word

Guest Blog by Crystal Gould

ADOPTION: the eight letter word that most people seem to have an opinion about, yet very few truly understand. Those of us in the adoption community know those eight letters are filled with love, loss, hope, joy, sadness, beauty, sacrifice and complication. When birth parents choose to place their child for adoption, there is a void that cannot be filled. When adoptive parents recognize that even love isn’t enough sometimes, there is a feeling of helplessness that cannot be ignored. When an adoptee feels disconnected and lost, there is a sadness that cannot be washed away. In the same breath however, adoption is also filled with tremendous hope. Hope for a child’s future and best wishes for optimum success in life. It is a complicated mixture of love and anticipation. Adoption is complicated and difficult to explain, but crucial to discuss with children (adopted and not) at an early age.

My husband and I have two children who were both adopted from China as toddlers. They have always known they were adopted. Their understanding of that eight letter word has changed over the years and their feelings about it will alter even more as they age, but the foundation for their understanding was set from day one.

It is important for adoptive families to remember that their child’s story begins well before the child joins the family. There are many ways to help an adoptee understand his or her background. Reading children’s books with an adoption theme, watching age appropriate films and videos, and looking at photos are all great ways to help a child understand and be able to discuss adoption. Another very important way to help a child understand his or her complicated life story is for the adoptive parents to create a lifebook for their child. A lifebook is the child’s bridge between the past and present, and can open the door to many valuable questions along the way.  Lifebooks are books made specifically for the adopted child to help piece together his or her birth history. It can include photos, facts about the birth place, or even in some circumstances, letters written to the child from his or her birth parents.

The most valuable thing adoptive families can do is to keep the conversation going. Sometimes there will be hard, difficult to answer questions and often times there will be unknown answers. Avoiding tough questions will just create more questions. In the same breath however, it is also important not to push the topic. If children are not ready to discuss their adoption story, or if they suddenly show a disinterest in their past, it is okay to simply say, “I am here for you when you’re ready.” It is important for adoptees of all ages to know their parents support them and are always willing to discuss their adoption story with them. Sometimes the answers will be easy, and sometimes there will be no answers. Saying “I don’t know” is okay. It is not about having all the answers. It is about being open to navigating the difficult questions together, and in turn, growing together as a family.

Adoption: The Quiet Voice

Part 2:

It’s never been a secret, really. I didn’t hide it. I have always been open and willing to talk about it. Not necessarily something I advertised, but something I’ve come to deeply appreciate and value about my personal life story. Yet, somehow in this moment, it feels inexplicably overwhelming. I worry about making other people uncomfortable by the revelation. I battle with old feelings of uncertainty resurfacing. I recoil at the thought of feeling exposed, raw and vulnerable. In other articles I’ve written, and in the very mission statement of my blog, the message is clear: Empowered Times—Liberate the inner evolution! I strive to encourage everyone to stand boldly in who they are, to embrace their flaws and shortcomings, to honor their scars, and to move fearlessly down the unexplored paths of self-awareness and self-discovery.

And here I stand at a crossroads. On one hand, I am paralyzed by uncertainty and doubt. On the other hand, I am propelled and fueled by a vision which has evolved over the years. I believe, as Michelle Madrid-Branch so eloquently and succinctly frames it, “Adoption Means Love.” We must continue to find new ways to open up conversations about adoption. We must break down the stigma and overcome the taboo associated with adoption. We must encourage people impacted by adoption to share their voice and their experience with others. We must create more connection, more transparency, and more opportunity for dialogue. We must provide more validation and support during the challenges presented through the adoption process. We must empower one another to whole-heartedly integrate our unique experiences into a profound understanding of who we are, where we come from, and where our future endeavors will take us.

With all this said, I will choose to step on to the path of uncertainty and doubt and embrace the risk involved along the way. I will choose to share my voice. This is the voice not often heard in the adoption story. The voice in the shadows. The voice that historically disappeared for nine suspicious months, only to reappear muted and stifled. The voice that often still only whispers its truth behind closed doors or on safe platforms. However, I believe that in concealing this voice, we also arrest the potential for understanding and healing.

Many years ago, “Grace’s” mother asked me to write this story… our story from my perspective. She said she had bought every book she could find on adoption, but none of them offered anything about the birth mother. How could she fully explain to her three-year old daughter how much her birth mother loved her if there was no such character written into any of the storybooks? Children begin to understand life through play and story-telling, but how can they make sense of adoption if things are only vaguely presented to them? Storybooks which do include the birth mother, often do so in a mythical and mysterious way. Not to dismiss the importance of some of the most popular stories on adoption, as they most certainly convey how much the baby was hoped for, prayed for and celebrated after the adoption. However, an important segment is overlooked… how much the baby was loved, longed for, and nurtured prior to the adoption. This is the story I am going to tell.

Adoption: Helping Children Discover Their Story

Part 1:

My first job when I moved to Los Angeles in the year 2000, was working at a residential facility for primarily pregnant and parenting teenagers. I was a counselor and case manager for a group of girls who called themselves “The Survivors.” And they were. They had each come from their own tragic family situation, and many were under the care of Child Protective Services. At the age of 15, 16 or 17, they were either expecting, or in the process of learning how to raise children of their own. Despite their unstable circumstances, these young mothers were resolved to raise their children. At times, Child Protective Services would intervene, and the babies would be removed from the mother’s custody. Regardless of what the authorities determined, it was always evident to me how much the girls loved their children. I developed tremendous respect and tender empathy for these children trying to raise children.

Over the years I have worked with many children in foster care, children who were adopted, and children with extremely complicated parent relationships. I will never forget Lisa, one my first clients in the public school system. She was in the second grade, and lived with her father who had recently been released from prison. Her father was committed to rehabilitate himself so he could provide a decent life for his daughter. There was a restraining order against Lisa’s mother due to excessive drug use and the unpredictable and risky behavior that ensued when she was high, which she often was. Despite the court restriction, Lisa frequently went to visit her mother in the van where she was living in a vacant lot nearby. I worked with Lisa for three years, and though the restraining order against her mother was never lifted, she never gave up trying to see her mother whenever she could. Something within compelled her.

Lisa was about the same age as my own daughter, the daughter I placed for adoption eight years earlier, while still in my teens. In professional terms, we refer to this as counter-transference, and I had to carefully manage the empathy I had for Lisa in her situation, and differentiating that from my own feelings for my daughter. Choosing adoption was the single most difficult decision of my life. One thing I was adamant about, from the moment I first discovered I was pregnant was to make sure this child (we’ll call her Grace) felt loved, cared for, and like the integral part of me she was and would always be.

In some ways, this personal experience informed and set me on my professional path. When I was in graduate school, one of my professors spoke about a book, The Primal Wound by Nancy Verrier, which recognized and explored the complex dynamics for every member in the adoption process. In reference to the book, my professor explored the deep and long-lasting wound among children who are adopted, birth mothers, and adoptive parents. Of course complex dynamics and deep wounds exist in even the healthiest and most functional family relationships.

Every family’s situation is different. With regard to adoption, families will choose what type of adoption feels right for their family. For example, Grace’s adoption was initially meant to be an “open adoption,” but that shifted over the years as the needs of their family changed. However, whether the adoption is open or closed, domestic or international, adoptive children have the right to the truth in a way that is sensitive to age and developmental stage.

My professional experiences have only reiterated for me what I have always known to be true on a personal level. All children should have the opportunity to ask questions, explore possibilities, and understand how their life may have begun. We must support children in their own process of navigating who they are and where they come from, so they can make sense of their unique stories in meaningful and healing ways.

The Powers of Storytelling

When I was a little girl, I was a storyteller, able to weave tales together like a master. I would try to convince others my stories were true, often because the stories felt so true for me. It was an imaginary world, and growing up in a home with one black and white television, at time before internet, my imagination was a critical source of entertainment for me.

The origin of storytelling goes back thousands of millennia, and for our earliest ancestors, had significantly greater purpose than mere entertainment. Sharing stories has been an integral part of our history, human nature, and survival. Storytelling helped to make sense of and provide meaning for life and death, imparted information about potential threats and means of survival, created emotional connection with others, and of course communicated various perspectives and experiences throughout generations. (Watch video)

Telling our own personal stories can also be profoundly healing. In fact there is an entire psychological perspective known as “narrative therapy,” which focuses on the individual’s ability to tell, explore, and understand their stories in a meaningful way. Ultimately, we make sense of our world through our stories, and whether we are aware or not, we have a plethora of stories going through our minds everyday. Saying our stories aloud can be extremely powerful. When there is someone to witness our story (e.g. a therapist, a trusted friend or family member, a support group, or even a larger audience), we have the opportunity to be heard, felt, and understood, allowing us to view our experience from a different perspective.

For those of us who are a bit more discreet and would rather not broadcast our stories, there are also incredible benefits of writing about our experiences. James W. Pennebaker, PhD has researched and published his findings (Opening Up) on the power of reflective writing. He proposed that by exploring our stories with a willingness to openly address how we feel about those experiences, we are able to understand ourselves better, process past traumas, and ultimately, live healthier lives. Dr. Pennebaker found that people who were able to honestly identify and disclose their feelings about specific life events experienced reduction in depression and anxiety, lower stress response, and improved immune function.

Stories are especially important for children. While the brain is in the earlier stages of development, young children are less able to process abstract concepts like the death of a loved one, changing family dynamics with a new baby in the house, or understanding adoption. However, if they read a story about a character (even if it’s a hippopotamus), and they feel they have something in common with the fictional character, they become better equipped to understand and make sense of their own unique and personal story. Stories also offer children an opportunity to ask questions and gain better awareness and empathy for others.

As children, we are primed for stories, when our imaginative mind may be at its height. I realize as I’ve gotten older, other more practical qualities like logic, problem solving, and concrete thinking have become more dominant, and my creative powers of make-believe have fallen by the wayside. There is hope. Like the muscles in our body we may neglect over time, the imaginative areas of our brain have the potential to be revived with a little exercise and practice.

Like a “moth” to the flame, we continue to be drawn to stories through books, television, film, and more recently social media. In the era of reality television, it’s refreshing to know about community clubs and organizations (e.g. The Moth, Toastmasters, This American Life, etc.) which focus on real experiences… raw, uncensored, and honest human stories. Sharing our own personal stories and listening to the stories of others provide us with an incredible opportunity. Storytelling can help us to feel validated through shared experiences with others, facilitate healing, create a sense of connection, and reinforce our commonality as a species. We need this now more than ever!

Mother’s Day: A “Tricky Conundrum”


It’s a “tricky conundrum,” says Ryan Jon in his social media video addressed to his biological mother in recognition of Mother’s Day. The annual reminder to honor, celebrate, and appreciate the women who raised us is often times countered with an emotionally complex tsunami of loss, pain and sense of isolation. A bittersweet holiday, Mother’s Day is one in which I celebrate not only my own mother, but also recognize and honor other women and children who experience this day in extraordinary ways. So this year, I decided to ask women who have been touched by adoption to share what Mother’s Day means to them.

“When I started this journey  Continue reading “Mother’s Day: A “Tricky Conundrum””