Book Review: “Lifegivers” by James Gritter

We hope to gather as many different perspectives as we can in our book reviews. Have you read Lifegivers? We hope you will share your thoughts and/or link to a review on your own blog in the comments.

Title: Lifegivers: Framing the Birthparent Experience in Open Adoption
Author: James L. Gritter
Publisher: Child Welfare League of America
Publication Year: 1999

Available online at:  CWLAAmazonPowell’s Books


Lifegivers was aimed at adoption professionals, to help them reframe first parents in their adoption practice and bring them out of the margins of adoptions into a center shared with their children and their children’s adoptive parents.  Longtime social worker and open adoption advocate James Gritter dismantles the unfair concepts of birth parents as The Other, whether that Other is undeserving sinner, unapproachable saint, little more than a baby-maker, or dysfunctional person to be kept at arm’s length (or further) from adoptive families. He shares what he’s heard from years of listening to birth parents talk about their ambivalence, grief and regret and how those intersect with their open adoptions and ebb and flow over time. Finally, he offers up an ideal model of how birth parents can be affirmed and respected as an ongoing part of their children’s lives.

Review from first parent Monika of Monika’s Musings:

I have a heartbreaking confession to make as I write this. I currently cannot find my copy of “Lifegivers: Framing the Birthparent Experience” by James Gritter. My copy is thoroughly dog-eared and has sticky notes stuck in just about every other page highlighting things that I wanted to remember for later. It also has notes written in the back from when I had the honor of going to hear a presentation by Gritter himself. I’m certain it will turn up eventually, but as I need to submit this, you’ll forgive me if some of my impressions and facts are a bit rusty.

Suffice it to say, I love this book. Though I believe the book was mainly geared toward hopeful adoptive parents and adoptive parents alike, I enjoyed reading (and re-reading!) it from a birth parent perspective. He easily puts into words so many of the things with which we as birth parents struggle. One thing in particular that he stated really made an impression. He said when referencing birth parent regret that we as humans in general rarely make even the best decisions without some regret. He goes on to talk about the fact that just because we regret something doesn’t mean we will change it. I adore that whole concept as sometimes I feel as though I shouldn’t express regret because I’m at peace with the decision I made to relinquish my daughter to an open adoption three years ago.

I did (and do) cringe a bit at his reference to expectant mothers considering adoption as “birth moms,” but I have to remember that there wasn’t the movement there is now to stop usage of that term prior to placement. I personally have no problem with being called a birth mom now, but calling a woman merely considering adoption for her unborn child by that term is simply not what she is and is coercive as well. Anyway, that’s my only real “beef” with the book, and in the whole scheme of things really isn’t that huge. I’m certain that any person who has done much research online about adoption before picking up this book to read it would be able to correct the usage of that term in their heads as I did while reading it.

In closing, I highly recommend this book for anyone who has anything to do with adoption. I’d venture a guess that it will be as enlightening for you as it was for me.

Review from adoptive parent Meg of God Will Fill This Nest:

Birthparents do not turn to adoption lightly…None of them grew up with the dream that some day they would find themselves unexpectedly pregnant…and promptly pass their child to other “more prepared” persons. Hardly. Adoption is contemplated because something in that birthmother’s circumstances requires its consideration (Lifegivers p. 77)

In preparation for our adoption process, our agency had us read six books. To be honest, four were good, one was boring, one was terrible. When I started reading Lifegivers I wished that this would have been something we were required to read before adopting. (It is actually now being added to their required reading.)

My biggest hurdle in this adoption process was understanding why the adoption would be occurring. We heard the standard answers of “she is making a better choice” or “he is so lucky to have you guys as parents.” For me, all of that negated the experience and thorough processes of my son’s birthmother. This book, from my perspective, focused and defined my picture of a “birthparent.” It answered many questions, which my son’s shy birthmother has not verbalized to us yet. It gives me guidance for our open adoption in the future, as we are only several months in. Gritter does a fantastic job of honoring birth parents, of proposing how agencies should approach open adoption, and of setting forth a course for the relationship throughout a child’s life. I love his explanation of different types of relationships, while not labeling any as “wrong” or “bad.” I particularly like his attack on the common misconception that all birth parents are “dysfunctional.” Circumstances make them place their children, and that does not mean they are dysfunctional individuals. His respect for their role is utmost.

I would highly recommend this book to any family thinking of open adoption. I hope it continues to replace some of the older literature.

What are your thoughts on Lifegivers?


3 thoughts on “Book Review: “Lifegivers” by James Gritter

  1. I too cannot find my copy of Lifegivers…butI feel it should be required reading for all adults in adoption situations. I appreciated how Gritter explicitly defines what each adult needs to deal with…and how he helps everyone find ways to be more understanding and compassionate towards each other. His 2nd book – Spirit of Open Adoption is fabulous and his latest book, in 2009, with the ungainly title of Hospitious Adoption is quite good too. The latter is about being hospitable in adoption. It is very helpful as family relationships ripen. I like his take on how important it is to have an open house, to be a good host…to be hospitable towards everyone in an open adoption. Its basic and easily forgotten. Finally, Gritter writes with ease about the spiritual dimension of adoption…not in the ‘God wanted me to raise this child…’ But with the deep understanding that faith traditions can inform and sustain the hard work of open adoption and that there is a spiritual dimension to parenting. Gritter puts all this out there in a way that feels holistic to me rather than preachy.

Comments are closed.