Michelle Thorne, birth mother and pregnancy counselor
I sit on the edge of a hospital bed with a young woman experiencing the most painful time in her life. For reasons only she fully knows, this brave woman has decided adoption is the best choice for her child. She aches. This is an excruciating decision. She will not be able to parent her child.
As tears stream down her face, what is there to say? I sit with her in silence and pain and fight to stay present to what God is doing in all of us at this moment.
The churches I visit are not brick and mortar, they are temples of the Holy Spirit—hearts of women. I sit with women, in their grief and loss, who are choosing to place their child for adoption.
I am present in and to their pain. I am aware of the loneliness of their situation, even if others are in the room. I know what it’s like to prepare to say goodbye to your child, even if there is openness in your adoption plan.
I am a birth mother too.
Seventeen years ago, I faced my own unplanned pregnancy and the shame associated with it. The terror I experienced initially drove me to consider an abortion—not because I didn’t “understand my options,” but because I was afraid of feeling exposed and being judged.
I read a quote about a year ago that said, “I would rather bring my abortion to God than my unplanned pregnancy to my church.” I get that.
Church is hard for me. As a birth mom, I have had moments in church where I felt like the lesser part of the adoption triad.
I have seen meals prepared for adoptive couples and celebrations for babies who are being adopted. I have listened to sermons about adoption that never mentioned birthparents, as though this longed-for child appeared out of thin air. I have sat in a pew as mothers are honored on Mother’s Day wondering if my story is just too messy to acknowledge.
I love the Church dearly. I want to be there and fully experience corporate worship, but I don’t want my reality to be dismissed with a hug and a platitude like “you did what was best.” I want to experience God when I go to church, and I think that Jesus—who was “acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3)—gets me. That is the Good News that changed my life.
To borrow my friend Kyle’s phrase, I have made “ministry out of my misery.” God took my life and my story and made it His.
In 2012, I wrote a book called Delivered: My Harrowing Journey as a Birthmother, and out of that came an opportunity to serve birth moms like me at Bethany Christian Services in Little Rock, Arkansas.
It has been an eye-opening venture, to say the least. I have worked with women ages 13–43 with various ethnicities, socioeconomic statuses, and education levels. But I have yet to meet a birth mom who doesn’t love her child. This puts us all on common ground.
At Bethany, I facilitate a monthly post-placement support group for birth moms. We dig deep and speak freely, and God meets us right where we are.
The sad thing is, most birth moms don’t have this luxury. Most are searching for this kind of acceptance and support. They go to the internet and find coping mechanisms, or forms of spirituality that aren’t God, to get through the pain and loss. I promise you, all of that is bankrupt. The only thing that can move a woman from grief to celebration is Jesus. Period.
We need the Church to be aware of, and present to, birth moms and their specific need. We, the Church, can give them space and freedom to be and heal after placing a child for adoption.
But what would it mean for the Church to step into the lives of these women? How could it happen? What might that look like?
3 ways the Church (that’s you and me) can serve birth moms
Know that she thinks of the child as hers. As a mother, she celebrates her child, and you can too. You can ask about him, comment on how he looks like her, or congratulate her on his birth, graduation, marriage, etc.
Be aware that birth moms experience grief in life stages, like the birth of another child, the death of a parent, birthdays, etc. She will be hurting after placement, and she may also fall apart 16 years later. She needs a safe place to express whatever she’s feeling without being “fixed.”
You don’t need to fix it, or her. Take a lesson from John 8, where Jesus neither condemns nor condones the woman caught in adultery. He gives her what she really needs, an encounter with Christ that compels her to change her life. She needs compassion more than anything else.
If she has indicated that she’s open to talking about her experience, it’s okay to ask questions. Birth mothers generally like to talk about their children; adoptive placement doesn’t diminish their love.
It’s okay to ask what language she prefers. Most birth moms have their own way of talking about their experience. She may prefer “birth mom,” “first mom,” or simply “mom.” She may refer to her child as “the son I placed” rather than “my son.” Some birth mothers do not celebrate Birth mother’s Day (first Sunday in May) and find it offensive; they may celebrate Mother’s Day only. Birth moms hate the term “mistake,” and many are offended when others refer to them “giving up” their child for adoption (although some birth moms do say it). Bethany’s preferred language is “made an adoption plan.”
Continue to ask about her child. Acknowledging her child will help her feel loved and valued.
Deliver meals to birth moms post-placement, not just to biological and adoptive moms. This could be a powerful ministry to these vulnerable women, who are often forgotten once the baby joins their adoptive family.
Bring goodies or send flowers to her at the hospital to show your support and celebrate the life God created.
Donate to Bethany, individually or through your church. Ensuring that birth moms have access to ongoing services like counseling and support groups is a great way to serve women in crisis—now and in the future.
As a birth mom, I needed the Church to help me wade through the rough waters of placing a child for adoption by simply accepting me. My clients do too, and I want them to experience the love and compassion of Jesus.
Let’s come together on this, Church, because I need to feel confident that I can send my clients not just into your brick-and-mortar church but into your communion with Christ.
Although this article speaks specifically about supporting birth mothers, birth fathers also need the Church’s love and support.