Birth Mothers Amplified Episode 14 features two guests to the show. All four birth mothers talk about adoption holiday traditions and norms.

Birth Mothers Amplified Episode 14: A Holiday Adoption Panel

This episode of Birth Mothers Amplified was about all the feelings and traditions around holidays, and special occasions relating to the birth mother’s adopted child (for instance, birthdays, Christmas, Thanksgiving, the day the adoption was finalized, and so on). It was an emotional episode that had me crying by the end of it. I had never realized just how much grief a birth mother could go through past the initial decision to place a child for adoption. There were four women on this panel, all of them very interesting and engaging. It was nice to hear them discuss these things together and get their varying opinions on holiday traditions. 

What does the holiday season mean to you?

This was the first question posed to all of the women. It made me pause and think about what the holiday season meant to me pre-adoption versus post-adoption. A lot has changed for me, but a lot has stayed the same as well. The common theme for everyone was “family,” even though everyone had a different idea of what that meant. 

“Family… We usually split time between my husband’s family and mine… A lot of close-knit fun.”

“Family, making memories and spending time together”

“Family… this will be the first time I won’t be with my family because I’m getting married so I’ll be with my fiancé’s family.”

“The holidays used to be a weird time for me. We didn’t have big celebrations, gift-giving was rare. As I’ve gotten older I’ve had to create my own traditions.”

The last answer made me sad. She was so nonchalant about it, just matter of fact. I love that she is able to make her own holiday traditions. 

For me, family plays a central role as well in all of my holiday celebrations. Now that we have kids, it feels even more important to incorporate new and old holiday traditions. 

How have your holiday traditions impacted your adopted child’s life?

“Christmas lights have been my thing… When my adoptive family asked about our holiday traditions so they could incorporate them into theirs, I really didn’t have one so I had to think about it and get back to them. Now my big thing is driving around to see the Christmas lights… I don’t care if I have to go by myself. I just love to see them.” 

“The weekend after Thanksgiving we always go out and get your Christmas tree and decorate the tree. In my family, we rotate between siblings for who gets to put the angel on the tree. For my siblings and myself, our first Halloween [costume] was always a pumpkin. Without her even knowing that was our thing his adoptive mom sent me a picture of his first Halloween and I cried when I got the picture. My birth son was a pumpkin for his first Halloween. It was neat how that worked out. I’m sure it’s not all that uncommon but it was special to me” “Thanksgiving… we always watch [the Cowboys football game]… we go to Mass on Christmas Eve. All the kids open the presents from their grandparents [on] Christmas Eve… We don’t have anything that is unique to us as a family.” 

How do you involve your child that you’ve placed for adoption in your holiday traditions?

“Nothing much; I just think about her and her family.”

“We don’t do anything necessarily… I have pictures of my son all over my house so he’s always part of my life and my thoughts, but I don’t do anything specific.” 

“For the holidays specifically we try to do something. For the first New Year’s, we actually spent time with the adoptive family.  I’ve gotten to spend some holidays with them. We spent the Fourth of July together one year. So now…every time I see fireworks, I associate them with my adoption story. That didn’t use to be the case, but now it is.” 

Do you send gifts or write letters?

“I give gifts and send letters. The first Christmas, I wanted to give the family and my daughter gifts. I was reminded of why I placed her: I was struggling to buy a $20 gift for Christmas, and she was going to get this great Christmas with presents and all of these people around her that loved her. It was really neat to have that reaffirmed.” 

“For her birthday, I’ll take time out for myself. For me, it’s a private day for myself. I take time to take care of myself.” The other ladies agreed that yes, sometimes they need to do something for themselves.

“One of the things I do to celebrate is get a birthday cake and celebrate with my family. There are a lot of tears on that day. It’s a fun way to mark that day. Birth Mother’s Day is the day before Mother’s Day. It is a really hard day for me. They are the hardest days for me.” I must confess I had no idea that there was a Birth Mother’s Day, but now that I do I’m wondering if there are cards I could send? 

“Mother’s Day and birthdays are difficult.” Okay, my thoughts here: Mother’s Day for me was always torture pre-ids. I wanted children but didn’t have any, so the displays in the store and ads on tv were something of an eyesore. I cannot begin to fathom how difficult that would be for a mother who doesn’t get to have her child on that day. Mother’s Day can be difficult with unmet expectations as it is. I don’t even want to imagine how hard it is to exist in that space on those days. 

“Placement day is difficult. Those tend to be personal, heavy days.” Adoption day has a heavy feel to it for us some days. Because our kids were removed from their birth family by CPS, they have a lot to work through.  Knowing that there is a day where they became legally ours is a joy, but it is also a burden knowing that their birth family couldn’t heal.

“I usually have a visit in December. We FaceTime. I’m getting married on her birthday this year. There will be mixed emotions. I’ll take that day for myself. Mother’s Day weekend is hard.” I love that this birth mom has an adoptive family that includes her during these hard days. I love that she is able to articulate the mixed emotions.

As humans, we associate senses with memories. I gave birth in the fall and the cold weather can trigger memories. How do you cope?

“I want to touch on how senses bring up memories. The first year there were a lot of memories. The first few years during the holiday season I had something like morning sickness…I don’t know if it was in my head or if it was just my body remembering something. I’d always be home during the holidays. It was hard and triggering, but also comforting because my family was there. I would say it is isolating. Birthday, placement day. It can be a very isolating time. Are people going to think I’m weak or not okay? When she turned 13 I had a very difficult day. Not a lot of people understand.”

I do. I understand. My son is in a treatment facility, and COVID has shut down everything, including visits. He turns 16 this year, and we should be celebrating him learning to drive, getting his license, growing taller and stronger, moving up a grade. All of that belongs to someone else now. All of those celebrations and more get to be someone else’s because his choices made it so he can’t stay at home with us. I hate it. I know he is in the right place but I loath the fact that his place isn’t with us. I’m glad he is getting what he needs, but angry at life that what he needs isn’t here in our home. So, I do understand this, maybe more than some people would. His birthday, his adoption day, holidays, all feel heavier without him here. Phone calls can only do so much to staunch the flow of pain. 

“It is crazy how year 5 is good but 6 is crazy. Silence can be deafening for someone who is grieving.” 

Yes! I feel this deeply. You feel so alone in grief. Then everyone acts weird because they don’t want to make you feel worse, and that makes you feel worse. It is a maddening cycle that can only be broken by speaking out. 

“In reality, it is isolating. Post-adoption, people don’t think about it. I didn’t tell people so no one knew to ask how I was doing. I finally have people who do that and will reach out but it is better to say something than say nothing at all. Things like that have made a huge difference.” I’m so glad she was able to share with her people how she was feeling. That is huge. 

The journey of grief is so different. How do you cope?

“It can feel embarrassing. I expect my husband to read my mind. This last Birth Mother’s Day was the last Birth Mother’s Day of my formal agreement. If you ask me how many kids I have, I say three (even though one has been adopted).” 

“Reaching out and talking about it makes me feel better. I enjoy sharing photos and posting about his birthday on social media. Even if it does cause me to cry, there is nothing wrong with crying.”

“I am very thankful for my family who is considerate and kind. The first Mother’s Day, my family got me a Mother’s Day gift and flowers. It is comforting to know people care about it.”

“ Similarly to Katie I had to learn that my fiancé isn’t a mind reader. He never wanted to bring it up because he didn’t want to make me sad. Now he’ll check in and ask.”

Do any of your birth fathers check in with you? 

There was more or less a resounding “nope” from the group. They acknowledged that they wished the fathers would reach out for their child’s sake. 

“We broke up two days before the first Mother’s Day. After that point, we’d text each other on Father’s Day, Mother’s Day, and her birthday. Last year we stopped communication. It was the healthiest choice. He doesn’t communicate with her family at this point.”

Closing thoughts on holiday traditions (and two of the best quotes I’ve ever heard on dealing with grief)

“I think regardless of where you’re at, however you choose to celebrate, however you’re feeling, it’s ok to feel that way. Don’t be afraid to reach out. There isn’t a wrong way to grieve or a wrong way to be sad.”

There isn’t a wrong way to be sad. What? Why have I never heard this before? Yes. There isn’t a wrong way to be sad. I love it. I want to write it on the wall so I can remind myself. 

“Grief is not linear. It’s ok if it looks different every year. There can be confusion because you are the one who made the decision so you’re partly responsible.”

Yes. This. 1000 times this. Grief is not linear. I can think I am “over” whatever I’m grieving and have it jump out of nowhere because of a memory that was triggered by some smell. Grief is so strange. No one does it the same way. No one responds the exact same way to the same information or situation. I think we would live in a better, more compassionate world if people realized this. 

These ladies were a treat to listen to and I loved hearing their experiences. 

Are you considering adoption and want to give your child the best life possible? Let us help you find an adoptive family that you love. Visit Adoption.org or call 1-800-ADOPT-98.
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Christina Gochnauer

Christina Gochnauer is a foster and adoptive mom of 5. She has a bachelor's degree of Psychology from Letourneau University. She currently resides in Texas with husband of 16 years, her children ages 3, 3.5, 4.5, 11, and 12, and her three dogs. She is passionate about using her voice to speak out for children from "hard places" in her church and community.