Adoption, Loss, and Life

A few weeks ago I wrote a post called Why Adoption Feels Harder than Abortion. My intention with the post was to help people like me–people who have not ever experienced an unplanned pregnancy, people who have never faced the fear and stress and sadness of a choice between keeping a child you can’t afford (emotionally or financially), aborting that fetus, or giving that child up for adoption. Hearing Angie Weszley speak had helped me to understand some of the emotional, physical, and psychological dimensions of choosing to carry through with an unplanned pregnancy and then relinquish a child to another parent. So my intention was to challenge any assumption that adoption is an “obvious” answer to an unplanned pregnancy and to demonstrate the complexities of the situation. But I’m not sure I achieved that goal.

More than one woman with far more intimate knowledge of adoption wrote me a personal email to explain that in my post I seemed to assume I knew what it felt like to be in the position of a birth mother or an adoptive mother, when of course I don’t know. Moreover, a vehement comment thread brought up the potential problems of coercion within adoption–whether domestic or international–greater detail of the emotional and physical strain on women who face the prospect of carrying an unplanned pregnancy to term, gratitude from adoptive parents for their children, and the ways in which adoption and abortion implicate domestic policy within the United States.

To quote a few of the comments:

Adoption does nothing to care for a woman that is unable to care for herself or her unborn child *before* birth. No one can ensure that a child is cared for in utero but that child’s biological mother. And while other people can offer support, no one else can assume the biological mother’s physical pain or the risks to her life, health and job that come with pregnancy and childbirth. If we wish to reduce abortion and increase adoption, we have to take the problems and risks of pregnancy itself seriously and care for and about, not just the child, but the mother before birth…

Yes. a few who have abortions dwell on what the fetus might have grown to be, but with adoption there is no doubt or fantasy about the fact that you gave away a real live child of yours…

I would say that in most cases losing a child to adoption is an act of desperation not bravery…

Adoption, like abortion, should be safe, legal, and rare. Comprehensive health care for women, including access to birth control, would go a long way towards achieving both goals. Comprehensive support for women who want to parent would go the rest of the way – and yes, I do mean government programs that provide money, medical care, child care, food, shelter and education without demeaning, belittling or abusing the recipients of that support. And yes, that means wealthy women like me might end up without children – and that’s a outcome I am willing to accept, because it’s not about me…

There’s a part of me that wishes I had never waded into these murky waters, and another part of me that is so grateful that some readers of this blog helped me to understand that in trying to demonstrate complexity, I really had no idea what I was talking about! Instead of trying to speak, again, on behalf of women in whose shoes I have not walked, I have asked a few women to offer their personal perspectives on adoption. Later today and tomorrow, I will offer posts from a woman who was adopted domestically and a woman who gave her child up for adoption. Next week, I will offer the perspective of a woman who was adopted internationally and a women who adopted a child. I wish I could say that their words offer triumphant stories of hope. There are glimpses of hope and joy and light. But more than anything else, their words will attest to the loss that accompanies every adoption, and my longing that both women and children will receive the care they need in this broken world.

About Amy Julia Becker

Amy Julia Becker writes and speaks about family, faith, disability, and culture. A graduate of Princeton University and Princeton Theological Seminary, she is the author of Penelope Ayers: A Memoir, A Good and Perfect Gift (Bethany House), and Why I Am Both Spiritual and Religious (Patheos Press).


  1. 25 years ago I married a widower with 2 children ages 10 and 12. 4 months later I adopted them so I would be able to take care of medical or legal emergencies as well as provide stability for them should their father die. Our son killed himself in a drunk driving accident at age 19, not on purpose, an accident but he never really cared for me. It was nice that I cleaned house, washed clothes, cooked food and drove him places but that was it. Our daughter and I got along fairly well during her teenage years until she went to college, then I became the wicked stepmother. I am still the wicked stepmother even though I am the legal mother and have been here for 25 years. She had a daughter last November. I am not allowed in their house although she does bring Evie over once a month for about 90 minutes. I am disabled, I had polio at 3 months old and walked useing crutches until 5 years ago. I am now in an electric scooter. I understand her grieving (my father died shortly after I was diagnosed with polio) but I do not understand the desperation of her anger towards me. My husband was 45 when we married and did not want more children. I was 36, would have liked children of my own but acquiesed to his request. Now, I’m very sorry, I would like children who love me and whom I know would take care of me as I decline physically. Just one story.
    marcie in colorado

  2. I would strongly suggest “terminate parental rights” or “place for adoption” instead of “give up for adoption.”

    • Amy Julia Becker says:

      Holly, Thanks so much for your comment. I care deeply about the language I use and yet again I am demonstrating my ignorance about issues surrounding adoption. I will seek to change my words in the future to reflect the realities your words suggest.

  3. Birth Mama says:

    I am now 34 years old. Almost 17 years ago, I gave birth to a beautiful baby girl who I loved with all of my heart from the day that I first knew she existed. When she was 3 days old, I left the hospital without her… her new parents came to get her and take her home. Making that decision (and following through with it) is easily the hardest one I have ever made and while it was the right decision for my child, it has not been an easy on for me to live with. Not a single day has passed during the last 17 years that I have not missed her desperately. The love that blossomed within me FOR her during those 9 months of carrying her has never lessened and has never wavered. I have counted the days until I get the chance to hold her again….and have treasured each and every picture that has been sent to me throughout the years, giving me glimpses of the little girl (now a young woman) that I brought into this world and the life that I gave her by letting her go.
    The choices I made were not by any means easy. They have taken a huge emotional toll. However, I don’t believe that aborting her would have been any easier of a decision to live with… fact, I think that at least in my case, it would have been harder. Its truly a miracle that I made it through the Hell of darkness and pain that I walked through during the first several years of her life. I’m positive that I could have never made it through had I been responsible for ending her life. Its a comfort to me that, while I might have been unable to provide her with a mother AND father who love her and can provide a stable home with everything her heart desires myself, she has been given that life that I dreamed of for her.
    The day that I signed the papers which terminated my parental rights was not the end of our story. Having an abortion would have been.

    • Jawilliams13 says:

      As an adoptive mother of a 19 yr old daughter, I thank you for your sacrifice of love. God will bless you!

    • Wow, you are such a strong person! God bless you for seeing beyond your own selfishness to what was best for your daughter! I wasn’t as brave as you. I got pregnant at age 17, had an abortion. That’s led to almost 2 decades of regrets, self-recrimination, 14 years of wondering what my child would have been if I’d let him or her live and put that child before myself. The most selfish act I ever committed, I murdered another human because of the embarrassment I thought I would have felt. I’ve forgiven myself because God has forgiven me, but I will never forget the wrong I have done.

  4. regular joe says:

    per the quoted comment “safe legal and rare” is an absurd spin for abortion, and pro-abortion advocates know it. In the USA abortion is the dominant form of killing humans, 200 times the homicide rate. It is anything but rare. Look, I am sure there and numerous nuanced aspects to adoption and its trauma to explore usefully, but that doesn’t make the choice versus abortion any less clear. The world is full of complexity and pain, and many of those problems could be solved or greatly lessened by the death of another person, but that is a ‘solution’ we simply won’t tolerate no matter how sympathetic the case or real the problem addressed.
    Abortion doesn’t make you unpregnant, it makes you the mother of a dead baby, period.