‘How many kids do you have?’ For years, this question was a trigger. Like lemon juice in a fresh wound, it stung.’: Birthmother shares adoption grief, making peace with others’ opinions

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Read Raquel’s backstory here.

“‘How many kids do you have?’

Our life is a revolving door of new faces. I suppose anyone can look at life that way, but for families like us, full-time nomads, we feel this sentiment even more intensely than those living the traditional American dream. 

Our in-person community changes often, which means more introductions than one typically encounters living a stationary life. From campgrounds to libraries and everything in between, it’s inevitable that we meet new folks every time we switch scenery. For you that might be a new group meet-up, a new church, a new coffee shop or park acquaintance… but for us, it’s completely new states and towns twice, three, four, five times a year.

Whether stationary or nomadic, I imagine we have this in common. When I meet someone new, they almost always ask: ‘How many kids do you have?’

To be fair, it’s an innocent question. I’d call it common small talk when you share a few moments with a perfect stranger, but it’s not always small talk… is it? I suppose the only people who agonize over how to answer are mothers who’ve experienced loss. Loss feels like such a heavy word. I feel its weight and I don’t use it lightly. I know the grief of loss all too well, both as a mother of miscarriage and a ‘birthmother’ through placing my first daughter for adoption.

Birth mother pregnant with her first child who she gave up for adoption
Courtesy of Raquel McCloud

In our hearts, adoption grief translates to a loss those of us who have lived through know well. Yes, our child is alive and well, which seems to negate that we’ve lost anything, but perhaps that knowledge is what makes it all the more confusing for our bodies to process. Our children are alive, but gone. We’ve lost the opportunity to bond. We’ve lost connection. We’ve lost a lifetime of firsts and lasts. We’re at a loss, but they’re here. Maybe not right here within our grasp, but they’re here, this side of heaven, ya know?

Before I trudge on, to avoid speaking for ALL birthmothers, I’ll use the pronoun ‘I’ instead of ‘we,’ but based on the countless conversations I’ve had, it’s safe to assume this is a universal feeling for most of us.

Mom of two children and one adopted child takes a selfie smiling softly
Courtesy of Raquel McCloud

‘How many kids do you have?’

The hesitation doesn’t lie in what I feel, but rather what I am willing to feel. Let me explain. I know how I feel. Deep in my soul, I know my body counts every child. But when I answer honestly and include my birth daughter in my headcount, it’s not uncommon for there to be more questions that require more explanations.

‘Well, where’s your other one?’

For years, this question was a trigger. Like lemon juice in a fresh wound, it stung. Thus, in meeting new people and engaging in small talk, I’ve always had to assess whether or not I could handle the emotional toll of the conversation and then plan accordingly.

Courtesy of Raquel McCloud

This pain has been exacerbated by cultural conditioning. For decades, we’ve been asked to sit down and shut up. And for the most part, birthmothers have done exactly that. Only recently have birth moms stood up and began sharing their stories. Only recently have professionals been encouraging open adoptions and continued contact with birth families. Only recently have adoptive parents and professionals begun to ask us how we feel. Only recently have some of us begun to move from the shadows and into the light.

‘How many kids do you have?’

I decided to lean into the pain, own my journey, and stop worrying that my truth might make someone else uncomfortable. I decided silence perpetuates ignorance. I decided it will always hurt. I’ve decided I don’t owe anyone a simple answer.

four girls sit in the sand, all of them are smiling
Courtesy of Raquel McCloud

‘How many kids do you have?’

‘Three daughters!’

*notices two kids with me*

‘Wow, all girls! Where’s your other one?’

‘She lives with her parents. I’m a birth mom in an open adoption.’

Mother stands with her three daughters, two live with her one lives with her family through open adoption
Courtesy of Raquel McCloud

Sometimes the conversation ends there. Sometimes it continues. I’ve made peace with both. 

The thing is, aside from the hurt of knowing my daughter isn’t with us, I’ve also had to make peace with other people’s fast formed opinions of me. Ultimately, what others think of me is none of my business. Too much praise can cause me to depend on human approval. Too much criticism can cause me to question my worth. I just share my truth without hesitation or regret and allow the other person an opportunity to hear a new perspective, gain a new depth of understanding, or judge me based on what little information they’ve amassed.

Either way, I’m a mama to three girls, but one of them doesn’t live with me.”

Courtesy Raquel McCloud

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Raquel McCloud. Follow her family journey on Instagram here and her website hereSubmit your own story here and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

Read more from Raquel here:

‘He heard I was a birthmother before I ever got the chance to share. He didn’t assume or judge, he offered empathy.’: Teen birth mom shares appreciation for husband’s compassion

‘Treating mental health is more a PRIVILEGE than a CHOICE.’ Woman battle self worth urges, ‘Your circumstances don’t define you’

‘Curvy women welcome, but ONLY if the curves are in the bust or butt.’ I would wear t-shirts over bathing suits out of fear someone would see my stomach and die of disgust on the spot.’: Mother advocates for body positivity, ‘You are perfectly imperfect’

‘Your birth daughter would like to meet you.’ I stood in disbelief. I was terrified she wouldn’t love me.’: Woman overcomes fear, ‘I wasted too many sleepless nights’

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