Ask AF: Talking About a Birth Parent’s Death

One adoptive mother wonders how to have a difficult conversation with her daughter about her birth mother's death.

Q: My daughter’s birth mother died two weeks after giving birth. We don’t know why yet (our daughter is eight months old, and we are still waiting for the autopsy). How can I talk about this with my daughter? I don’t have a religious faith, but I don’t have a problem saying her mother is in heaven if that is a good way to talk about it. I just don’t know when and how to begin the conversation.

A: If your family does not practice a faith, I wouldn’t talk about heaven unless you believe there is one. You might talk to a children’s librarian about books for a child whose parent has died, and change “mother/father/parent” to “birth mother” when you read it. I would incorporate this from the beginning and not wait until you think your daughter can understand. She is obviously too young right now to understand any of her story, but you could practice telling her. For example, “You had a birth mother who gave you life. She wanted you to be adopted by us and you are staying here. Something sad happened. She died. It was not your fault, or our fault, or your birth mother’s fault. She got very sick and the doctors couldn’t help her.” If you have a picture of her you could frame it and display it with other family pictures around the house.

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