Thoughts on Regret

Thoughts on Regret
Miguel Angel Arroyo Ortega/Creative Commons

“Hindsight is 20/20.”

The saying has never seemed more true than when I think back on my adoption decision. Acknowledging that I could not tell the future was the driving force behind choosing to give Dominic to another family.

A year ago, I did not know how my marriage might heal from the events of the previous year. I did not know how my bipolar would progress. I did not know if the birthfather would come banging on my door to threaten us.

I gathered as much information as I could. I made a list of pros and cons. I prayed.

In the end, I concluded adoption was the best decision given the information I had at the time.

I do not at all regret the family I chose. I do not ridicule myself for choosing adoption, because I know I did it with a loving heart and a level head.

But sometimes, I regret not having my baby with me. Sometimes, I regret forfeiting my chance to parent. In this way, I sometimes regret choosing adoption.

My regrets stem from disappointment in myself for not being in a better situation when I brought a child into the world.

In my email interviews with Madeline, Nicole, Debra and Alixis, the birthmothers expressed different levels of regret. (A previous post discussed the women’s fears.)

Madeline placed her daughter a little more than a year ago.

“I am glad that I gave her up because, looking back on things now, I would have probably been on the street with her,” Madeline said. “My life was going downhill in many different directions…Going into the adoption, I felt like I had a clear head. I did not freak out about it or what my options were. I knew I had to not only think about myself, but think about what was best for my daughter.”

Nicole’s daughter was born 5 weeks early, and she just turned 5. Nicole spent most of her pregnancy in a state of denial, and so did not make an adoption plan. She chose parents for her daughter while she was in the hospital.

“There is nothing I wish I could have done differently,” Nicole said. “I was a terrified teenager that didn’t have the strength to make my adoption plan and some all-knowing being knew that and brought her early so I couldn’t back out. Everything happened the way it did so we all could end up in better situations. I’m glad I didn’t fight my instincts. Of course I wanted to parent her and bring her home, but something inside of me said no, and I’m glad I had enough faith in myself to trust my fast decision.”

Debra placed her daughter, Selma, 10 years ago.

“I don’t think I would have done anything differently,” Debra said. “I believe everything happens for a reason and that my daughter has a good life.”

Madeline, Nicole and Debra all have good relationships with the adoptive parents.

On the other hand, Alixis does not have a good relationship with the adoptive parents, and she expressed a great deal of regret for the way the adoption was handled. Her daughter turns 4 this month.

“My family is LDS [Latter Day Saints] and in that culture, if you get pregnant out of marriage you place the child for adoption, and that’s what I was told I should do,” she said. “After [talking to a friend], I decided that adoption would be the best option for us and I felt lucky that my daughter would go to [another] friend, who I assumed wouldn’t turn against me.

“I’m glad about almost nothing with the adoption. I wish that I had my own legal representation (the adoptive parents’ lawyer told me I didn’t need a lawyer and that she would represent me as well. I found out later that that particular lawyer specializes in “open” adoptions that are less open than the birth mother is led to believe).

“I wish that I had looked at other families instead of choosing one and not looking at any others. I wish that I had known there were agencies that looked out for my best interest and had therapy before and after adoption instead of me going through it on my own.

“I wish that I had taken seriously the information from the social worker at the hospital who told me that I could raise my daughter on my own; she presented me with a lot of financial assistance information that was too overwhelming for me to even consider at the time.

“I wish that I had sat down with the adoptive parents and had a serious conversation about what they were wanting and what I was wanting — 4 years later, and with me repeatedly asking for this conversation, they still haven’t agreed to sit with me. I wish the adoption agreement wasn’t so vague. I wish that the first time I saw the agreement wasn’t in the hospital after I had my daughter.”

Some of Alixis’ regret spills over from the adoption technicalities into her decision to place, but she said she wrestles with it.

“I think I regret placing my daughter for adoption — I think,” she said. “I know that she is in a very supportive home with a mom and a dad who are both around and who both want to take care of her. She wouldn’t have her dad if I had parented her, and I think that her having this stable family unit is important.

“I also feel like there are tons of people who are raised by a single parent who is struggling to make ends meet and they turn out just fine…I feel like I might have done more ‘damage’ by placing her than I would have done by keeping her, if that makes any sense.

“Selfishly, I also appreciate the freedom that her placement has given me to get to the position I’m in now. So I definitely wish I could raise her…and I definitely regret the placement and the circumstances surrounding it, but I also don’t regret it. I like that she has a family. I like that she lives on a farm and has a horse and a brother. She loves her horse and her brother, and at the time I couldn’t give her those things (well, I definitely couldn’t get her the horse but I technically could have gotten her the brother). She loves her parents and I love her, so it’s a hard thing to regret when she’s so happy.”

Once when I was feeling regret and questioning my decision, I talked with my social worker at the adoption agency.

“If you weren’t having these feelings, I would be concerned,” she said. She assured me that birthmothers who are in touch with their feelings and actively grieving often feel regret and wonder if they chose wisely.

I know many birthmothers — those with both good and less-than-desirable relationships with the adoptive families — who feel some measure of regret after placement. Given my social worker’s encouragement, and my own experience, I have come to accept my times of regret as a normal part of my grieving process.

Alixis offered a slightly different perspective.

“I’m not really sure if regret is a normal part of grieving for birth mothers,” she said. “I know some birth mothers who don’t regret placement at all, but I also know others who, like me, wonder if we made the right choice, wonder if we could have handled more than we thought and wonder if we could have parented. I think that not knowing enough about adoption and how it would affect the birth mother and not knowing their rights is a regret of a lot of birth mothers I know. I just think it’s easy to look back when you’re not hormonal and in a difficult situation and think, ‘I totally could have done that differently,’ or, ‘I should have seen the signs.'”

Whatever your post-placement thoughts, my fellow birthmothers, I hope you will extend compassion to yourself.


Forgive yourself for not having the foresight to know what now seems so obvious in hindsight.” — Judy Belmont

2 thoughts on “Thoughts on Regret

  1. I love the phrase… extend compassion to yourself. I hope you do that as well Emily. It is great advice and timely. We all need to do that for ourselves. Allow ourselves to be okay with where we are in the world and what we are facing. It is hard. Your posts regularly remind me that even if the decision is the right one, it isn’t easy. That’s hard in and of itself.

  2. Emily, once more, I thank you for allowing me this window into a world and group that I had not previously known. The candor that you and the other birth mothers whom you’ve quoted is truly illuminating. As Melanie said above, and the ending quote you used reiterates, self-compassion is crucial. Every person, ever one, does the best they can given what they know and what they need.

    Thank you.

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