The Experiences of Birthmothers

What are the emotional experiences of Birth mothers?

Recently a national survey of 235 birth mothers conducted in 2011was conducted by On Your Feet Foundation ( to illuminate the emotional experiences of women who have placed a child for adoption. Below are some excerpts from the study. The full study is expected to be published sometime in 2014.

The Birth Mother Profile

Today, most birth mothers are in their twenties, have some college education, and may be parenting other children at the time of the adoption. Contact with the adoptive family is now commonplace, with 83 percent of the women who participated in the survey reporting being involved in some type of open adoption. Nearly 70 percent of the women are Caucasian, yet all major ethnic groups were represented.

Why Women Choose to Place

No surprise here as unplanned pregnancy is the common theme, and while parenting and abortion are options chosen much more frequently than adoption, domestic adoption has become a more empowered choice. A women who places has an awareness of the limitations of her current situation-emotional, physical, familial, financial, or a combination of all of these factors. The survey found that a birth mother’s core motives include love for her child and a genuine desire to provide her child with the best possible circumstances, even if that means conceding her right to parent in a traditional sense.

Hopes for Their Children

Birth mothers want their children to have resources and opportunities, to have a stable home and to be cared for and loved. They also want their children to know that they are loved by their birth parents, that they were not rejected or abandoned. Finally, most birth parents hope to have ongoing contact with their children in some form, realizing that their presence fills a need in the child’s life, as has been demonstrated by adults from the era of closed adoptions.

Compromised Emotional Health

Seventy-five percent of the women surveyed reported that their emotional health was very poor, poor or neutral in the first year after placement. Eighty percent of the women directly attributed one or more of their problems to the loss of their child, and 90 percent reported one or more clinical symptoms or life stressors. Depression, guilt, anxiety, diminished self-esteem and sleep problems were all reported in the year following placement. Taken together, these findings reinforce other research and self-report that the loss of a child through adoption is a serious life stressor which poses a significant risk to a women’s emotional and physical well-being.

What Helps Women Heal

Unmet Needs

Respondents were asked about the kinds of support they needed but did not receive. The three greatest unmet needs were emotional support from family, support from mental health professionals, and financial support. OYFF matches women who find the organization through social media, adoption agencies, professionals and word of mouth with volunteer mentors who work with them to plan and meet goals.

Expectations About Openness

Openness was a significant factor related to a birth mother’s well-being; with women who were in regular, on-going contact with the adoptive family reporting better emotional and physical health than women whose contact was limited or non-existent in the first year post-placement. Perhaps more important than the extent of contact was the degree to which the birth mother’s expectations were met. Survey respondents who had identifying information about the adoptive family, but who had no contact after placement, and those whose contact was limited and later terminated, reported the greatest physical and emotional problems.

Expanding Services

To effectively grieve and heal from the loss, women need understanding, validation and support from those around them, including family and friends. Birth mothers also benefit greatly from contact with other birth mothers to reduce stigma, normalize their experience, and provide an informal network of ongoing support. These findings can be incorporated into our work with birth mothers by providing them with more information about the placement may affect them, immediately and in the long term, by offering more pre and post-placement services, and by educating prospective adoptive parents about the importance of openness and honoring the expectations of future contact.