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10 of the Worst Things to Say to a Birth Mother

By Julianna McKenna

The decision of giving a child up for adoption is no easy feat. It takes a lot of strength and courage on the birth mother’s part, courage that’s often overlooked. Birth mothers are often stigmatized and don’t always receive the respect that they deserve from the rest of society. There are many common and often harmful phrases that are frequently used by people talking to birth mothers. Here are just a few things you should never say when talking to a birth mother.

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1) “I wouldn’t have done that…”

The choice to place a child for adoption is one of the most difficult and selfless acts a birth mother can do for her child. Comments like this, whether intentional or not, can seem condescending, judgmental, and unsupportive. A birth mother is already struggling with her decision even though she knows it is for the best, and comments like this only serve to bring her down. It is important to remember that it is not your choice to decide what is best for the child and that it is your place to remain supportive of the birth mother in her time of grief.

2) “What about the father?”

This is another insensitive topic to ask as it is both an emotional and personal topic for the birth mother. Maybe the birth father is aware of the adoption and is helping the birth mother through it or maybe he is not. Regardless, it isn’t a question you should ask unless the birth mother chooses to share it with you. This question could bring up a lot of painful emotions and is not beneficial to the birth mother’s mental health. It also suggests that you are judging her for her pregnancy in the first place.

3) “Can you see the baby?”

Another complicated question that could bring up a lot of painful emotions for the birth mother. While many of today’s adoptions do have a degree of openness, it is likely still a sensitive topic for the birth mother. It might especially be difficult for a birth mother if she feels like the adoption wasn’t open enough or if the process is painful for her. If this is the case, then this question is just putting salt in the wound.

4) “How much money did you make?”

This is an incredibly problematic question for three reasons:

  1. It is not your business. Asking about money is generally considered insensitive, and will likely be even more insensitive in this context.
  2. They do not make any money. While adoptive parents must help pay for some living and pregnancy expenses for the birth mother, they do not pay them to place their child for adoption.
  3. It assumes that the baby is an object to be bought and sold. This baby is not an object, they are a human life. The baby deserves the same respect and dignity that anyone else would have.

5) “You took the easy way out…”

This is an incredible insensitive and completely innaccurate accusation. There is nothing easy about giving a child up for adoption. It is one of, if not the most difficult decision for a birth mother to make. No mother wants to make this decision, but they do it because they believe that they are doing the right thing for both their children and themselves. It’s also horribly insulting and hurtful to say to someone.

6) “You’re not a ‘real’ mom…”

Birth mothers are in fact ‘real’ moms. They go through the same experiences and feelings that all mothers have, even if they do not get to spend as much time with their child. To suggest that a birth mother is not really a mother is highly insensitive and it demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding about motherhood and the adoption process in general.

7) “Why didn’t you have an abortion?”

It is no one other than the birth mother’s decision about what is best for her child and herself. Nobody is in a position to judge the mother’s decision. There are all kinds of reasons why a birth mother might choose adoption over abortion, but that is nobody else’s business.

8) “How do you think your child will feel?”

Many people think that an adoptee will feel unwanted or harbor negative feelings towards their birth mothers as a result of being placed for adoption. Regardless of whether this will happen or not, asking the birth mother how the child will feel is insensitive. She is making the ultimate sacrifice and is trying to do what is best for her child. No birth mother wants to place her child up for adoption, but circumstances force her to do so.

9) “You gave him or her a better life…”

Many well-intentioned people say this phrase to birth mothers in a way that is meant to be comforting and supportive. In fact, that is probably exactly what the birth mother is thinking. However, telling her this is insinuating that she wouldn’t have been able to give her child the best life. It is damaging to the birth mother’s mental health and it further instills societal stereotypes that unfairly stigmatize single-mothers.

10) “You’re giving a child up for adoption?”

This phrase is never a good thing to say. The terminology “giving up” suggests that she wants to get rid of her child. It is insulting and hurtful to the birth mother to insinuate this. A better phrase would be “you’re placing your child for adoption.”

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