Transitioning from the Good Birth Mom to the Bad Birth Mom

How It Feels to Be a Bad Birth Mom

By the time I finish writing this piece, one month and one day will have passed since my daughter blocked me from all forms of communication. I will not argue the validity of such an action. It is hers. I cannot speak to or for it.

I can speak to how I feel.

And I feel so many things.

— __ — __ —

“A child deserves two parents.”

Never mind the fact I could have offered her two parents. Never mind the fact they told me to act as though my now husband wasn’t involved.

“He could leave at any time.”

And, no, I’ll never forgive myself for not realizing what a load of shit that was, how unfair it was to this man who loved me so very much—who loved my daughter simply because she existed. Because she was mine. Because she was.

Some things only God can forgive.

They told me I didn’t have enough to offer. I couldn’t work, due to my illness, so I couldn’t save money. I couldn’t buy the cute clothes. The bedding. The toys. The important stuff, like a car seat. Of course, they didn’t tell me that programs exist to provide car seats for moms in my shoes at that time. They just told me what I couldn’t do. Couldn’t offer. Couldn’t be enough of at the time.

They spoke about what she deserved, what relinquishment would give her. Offer her.

They didn’t mention trauma, for me or for her. And, honestly, if it had just been for me, as I figured and as I assumed for years upon years, I wouldn’t have cared. I mean, I deserved the trauma, didn’t I? I wasn’t “ready” to be a mother despite the fact that I was carrying a beautiful, precious life, so I deserved all the trauma that came with making sure she had a mom who was ready for her. It was my cross to bear for all time. I accepted it. I carried it with me.

I carry it with me.

I read The Primal Wound when she was still a toddler. I had already learned a number of unethical things our agency did to both me and my daughter’s parents, and I was seeking more information about adoption as a whole. Why didn’t I seek more information while pregnant? Level III bed rest means you can shower every third day. I couldn’t drive, couldn’t go to the library. I couldn’t pay for Internet and relied on two week trials of AOL when a disk showed up in my mailbox. (Hi. I just dated myself. #old)

I relied on the information provided to me by the adoption facilitator because why would I doubt them? My “counselor” seemed to care about me. I didn’t actually know she wasn’t a real counselor, not bound by patient confidentiality; she told my daughter’s potential (and eventual) parents everything I said. Later, we recognized this as wrong, but none of us knew what we didn’t know.

Even still, reading about adoption trauma seemed like something long ago and far away. It wasn’t something that happened to us. I wouldn’t acknowledge my own trauma, using that word, for thirteen years. Even still, I made my bed, so I had to lie in it, right? But our daughter? No. She wouldn’t experience trauma.

Because I had been there since day one. We had maintained and worked hard and fought for an open adoption above and beyond what they told us we could have. We broke down barriers. We were an anomaly. We were exempt.

And I? I was the good birth mother.

I was so fucking good.

Sure, I made mistakes. Prior to parenting our oldest son, I got on my high horse once. I didn’t do that again and I still feel guilty about it to this day. Parenting is fucking hard enough. I also canceled a very big visit when she was still very little, but big enough to feel excited about the visit. When my daughter’s mom talked to me about it, I promised not to do it again. I did do it again, but it was under some different circumstances and a lot more communication. I still hated myself for doing it.

But I was a good birth mom.

I was always there. I answered questions. I wrote about it. Some people thought I was too happy, too positive. Others thought I was too negative, too bitter. Really, I was just sharing the truth of our adoption experience. My true joy came from watching my daughter and my sons form a relationship, to learn to love one another. It also didn’t suck that she loved me. When she rushed into my arms as we arrived at any visit, I felt whole, if only for a moment.

Still, I steeled myself for her anger. I kept researching, reading the words of adult (and teen) adoptees. I knew she was going to get angry. My own sons showed both anger and confusion in our many discussions on the topic. I used their emotions as marked lessons for how to handle what I knew was coming.

“Maybe she won’t be angry,” my (beloved, super-smart, great) therapist said.

I never thought that she wouldn’t be angry. I’d argue with my therapist.

“Do you want her to be angry?”
“Well, no. But she’s going to be.”
“You don’t know that.”
“No. I do. I do know that.”

I prepared for her anger. I read the books, the blogs. I listened to podcasts. I asked questions. I had hard conversations. I was always there, even when I wanted to just disappear because, God, it’s hard. I removed people from my life who couldn’t or wouldn’t make room in their heads or hearts for what our version of the mother-daughter relationship looked like. I fought hard for us.

But nothing prepared me for her anger.


To go from being the “good” birth mother to the “bad” birth mother is a really weird feeling. To have poured my whole self into doing this The Best Way Possible only to realize that it didn’t matter, that it was ruined before it began, feels like a punch to the gut. To know I caused this—and there’s so much weight in that little word, this—simply because I chose—again, more weight, chose—relinquishment, is almost too much to carry.

I’ll admit it: I prided myself in being a Good Birth Mom. I did all the right things. I put in the hard work. And for a really, really long time, I could smugly pat myself on the back and say, “See?”

I was open about how open adoption wasn’t a band-aid for pain—for birth mothers. It still sucked on so many levels. I still woke up and went to sleep nearly every day without my daughter under my roof. I had snippets of true joy in which all three of my living children were snuggled under covers in my own home. But the pain always lurked close.

What I couldn’t understand at the time, and what I still can’t speak to fully as it’s not my story, are the many ways we expect open adoption to be a band-aid for adoptees. I prepared myself for her anger, but I still thought, “But I’m here. I’ve always been here. She’ll be mad, but she won’t be as mad as those other adoptees. We’re doing something big and different here. We’re changing the landscape of adoption, of family. We’re different.”


We’re not different. I am not different. I am certainly no fucking better than any other birth mother who has stood in my shoes and realized, oh fuck, I did this. I caused this. I made a choice that changed the course of so many peoples’ lives.

I did this.

I did this.

— __ — __ —

It feels like I’m walking out of the hospital, empty handed, all over again.
Like I’m sitting in the bathroom, looking at that pregnancy test, cold tile walls against my face.
Like the times I hid my belly from nosy family friends.
Holding his hand when he missed her in the hospital; they wouldn’t let me have her the first night.
Looking at the bear ears on her hood as they wheeled me out of the hospital.
Walking out the door into the cold December air; I wore bibs.
Sobbing as milk dripped from my sore, swollen, rock-hard breasts.

— __ — __ —

I thought leaving the hospital without her was the worst part. Thought that beginning my motherhood without my child in my home couldn’t be matched.

To know I caused her pain, her anger, and thus her ultimate rejection?

I don’t know how—or if—I’ll get through this one.

How It Feels to Be a Bad Birth Mom

All I know is that I want her to be okay… and I can’t make that happen for her.

Good for Something.

Good for Something

I almost sent the youngest kid in the house to school on Friday. His head felt a little warm, but his temperature only read 99.2. Both boys sleep very “hot,” so I thought he might be fine.

“How do you feel, Bubba?”
“I feel awful.”

I watched him get out of bed, all knees and elbows still and always. He looked a little paler than normal, but the kid is pale every single day. He went off to the bathroom and I took the dogs out. Once back in the kitchen, I looked at him as I got breakfast ready. Something didn’t feel right.

“Bubba, you’re gonna stay home from school today. I’ll call the doctor at eight o’clock. After you eat breakfast, you can go back to bed.”

He finished his breakfast, hit his bed, and was fast asleep before his older brother finished getting ready for school. I got him off to bed and then I did a thing. Originally, I had plans to leave as soon as the boys went to school for Super Early O’Clock Yoga. I don’t know why yoga is Super Early on Fridays, but it is. But since I now had a sick kid, I sent myself back to bed as well.

This year has been a huge adjustment for us as a family. There’s only one morning person among the four of us, and it’s not me. Nor is it my husband. It’s certainly not the youngest child either. Our older son has been a morning person since Day One, so he’s had no problem taking the new middle school schedule in stride.

The younger kid, however, is struggling. 6:52 on the bus means a 6:15 wake up at the latest. He’s exhausted. He goes to bed earlier than last year. He takes naps, sometimes willingly and sometimes unexpectedly in the car on a nine mile drive. His mood has taken a hit and really, he’s just straight up exhausted.

I’m dealing. I get a lot of work done very early in my day now. My 3:15 coffee has moved to 2:45 and is not a maybe but a requirement. Ten o’clock at night is now a struggle. But I’m doing my best. I don’t go back to bed, but this was a special occasion. Or maybe I knew I needed my rest. Either way, I slept hard until almost exactly eight o’clock.


There’s really no worse sound coming from inside a bathroom. Because it means vomit. In the sink. On the floor. The bath mat. His shorts. He started apologizing, and I told him to stop. I took his temp and it had spiked up over 101 in less than an hour. He got ibuprofen and in the shower while I cleaned up the mess.

He was asleep before the nurse called me back at 8:30.

“It’s strep.”
“It could be a virus that’s going around, too. We’ll have you come in.”

I get it. They don’t prescribe antibiotics all willy-nilly like they did back in our childhood days. Superbugs and what not. But I knew it was strep. He gets strep once a year. He starts with a low-grade fever. Complains of a scratchy throat. Then his fever spikes, he vomits, and bam! It’s strep.

We didn’t have our normal pediatrician as she was on hospital rotation. The doctor who saw us was nice enough, but dismissive too. “It could be a virus that’s going around, too.”

No one is shocked that it was strep, right?

The kid got medicine, enjoyed a lunch date with me, and spent the rest of the day sleeping and cuddling with me.

Good for Something - Lunch Date

We thought he was on the mend until last night, almost 36 hours after the initial puking episode. More puke. Everywhere. You guys. I don’t understand. I also don’t know the last time I washed the wall behind the toilet, but it’s clean now. Thanks, kid.

He’s feeling better today. We hope.

I’m just glad I didn’t send him to school on Friday. He really didn’t have any fever, so to speak, but my mommy instinct told me that something wasn’t quite right. The fact that I then listened to that instinct and was, shockingly, right, felt good. I don’t mean that I’m glad my kid had strep, because let’s face it, those germs are pervasive and after getting THISCLOSE to random crevices in the toilet last night, my chances aren’t really great.

I mean that I’m glad I still have some ability to gauge parenting situations appropriately at all. Because ain’t not much of that happening round these parts lately. I’ve been doubting absolutely everything about my motherhing and motherhood. Like, who thought I could do this?

At the very least I can spot strep. I’m good for something. And cuddling.

Good for Something - Cuddling

And cleaning puke.