Having, and losing, a child creates a bond like no other. It quickly becomes clear (if the relationship wasn’t already a reason for making an adoption plan) whether a couple can face the weight of that loss AND their new roles as birthparents together, or not.
I am one of a very few birthmothers I know who is still in a relationship with my daughter’s birthfather (you can learn more about that in my personal adoption story).
He was a big part of my life when I learned I was pregnant, and has stayed that way long after the adoption papers were signed. I’m constantly grateful to have a partner on this unique and painful journey, but sharing the bond of placement comes with its own special complications.
In the few years we have been together (which now feels like decades!), I’ve come to face some hard, but helpful, truths about our relationship as a birthparent couple:
1. Learning to grieve with a birthparent partner is a painful process
There is no set formula or cycle to follow when mourning a loss. We often go through stages of grief, but they can happen at any time, in any order. Within a relationship, grief can also look different for each partner.
I am an external processor, which means lots of sobbing over photos and heart pangs when I see happy families at the mall. For my partner, grief is internal and not so obvious in his daily life. In more painful moments, he seems apathetic.
It takes a lot of heart-to-heart talks and therapy to accept that processing differently does not mean we feel less (never underestimate the power of couple’s therapy). To avoid that sense of loneliness and resentment, we try to take time to remember our daughter together.
Sometimes, though, grieving as a couple is too hard.
There are days when my partner is a reminder of what we have lost, and being around him makes it difficult to process loss in a healthy way. I have learned to take some alone time, or seek out other birthparents and friends who can support me without triggering my grief.
2. Birthparents still have responsible roles to fill, even if we don’t raise our child
Openness in adoption comes with a lot of responsibility as a birthparent couple:
- My partner and I are tasked with seeking and maintaining a relationship with our daughter and her family.
- We also provide a link to her history and extended family.
- Finally, we are responsible for being good role models, individually and as a couple.
Easier said than done, right?
As the active birthparent, I communicate more with our adoptive family than my partner does. But it is easy for me to feel overwhelmed and under-supported. No one wants face an adoption like a “single parent” when you have a partner to help you.
Sharing the responsibility of “birthparenting” is important because it allows us both to feel involved in the adoption, and work together as we navigate the cycles of joy and grief.
3. The decision to stay together (or not) is more complicated after placement
Once we’ve “made it” past the placement as a couple, as birthparents, can move past the event that consumed all our time and energy, and focus on where we’re going next.
Sharing the bond of adoption creates a certain amount of dependence because there is no one else who really understands what we’ve been through. My partner now seems like that one friend who knows my secret handshake.
This can make breakups even more difficult after placement, along with the realization that changes in the relationship could affect the adoption dynamics. Making that decision can be harder once the bond of adoption is in place, but if it is in the best interests of the birthparents, it can hopefully be beneficial to the adoptive family and child in the long run.
4. Facing the adoption placement as a birthparent couple has been simultaneously the greatest blessing and the greatest struggle in my relationship
But no matter how bad the grief gets, I’m always thankful to have someone in my corner who I can watch our daughter grow up with, together.