Friday, April 24, 2009

Coming out of the closet as a birthmother: To Tell the Truth...Or Not?


Regular readers of our blog know that I’ve always been candid about my birthmother status. In the initial post-adoption years it was easy for me to tell people I lost a child to adoption, and they were always sympathetic and praised me for my selflessness. As the years went by and I assumed other roles—wife, professional student, employee, aunt—the birthmother role moved to the back of my mind; but it was always there. Later, when I marked the year my daughter turned 18, and a few years later, when most of my work colleagues were her exact age, my birthmother role became more important. I started to talk about it whenever the conversation lent itself to the topic of single motherhood or unplanned pregnancy, and within the year my daughter contacted me and we began the “reunification process.”

Those who were supportive during my pregnancy, relinquishment, and beyond—my sisters, my college friends, my husband—were thrilled; others, not so much. Even though she initiated contact, I was perceived as interfering in her life. The best example, oddly enough, is provided by my estranged sister. Minutes after I spoke to my agency that afternoon in January 2000, I phoned my sister at work and said, “Sarah called.” At first she didn’t understand, but then she was like a parrot, repeating everything I said—my daughter’s “new” name, where she grew up, where she went to school--and she shared the news with one and all. She had just started a new job and became fast friends with the woman who was training her, who often remarked that she felt as though she already knew my sister. Suddenly this woman was avoiding my sister, and my sister had no idea why. A few days later we learned that the woman’s son and my daughter attended the same school; she knew my daughter’s parents well. Within the week my daughter called to tell me that this woman contacted her father (her parents had been divorced for several years) and told him about the drama that had unfolded; thankfully her father was well aware of the reunion and told this woman he thought it was wonderful, but it was apparent she didn’t share his sentiment. My sister finally shared an elevator with her, and all the woman would say was “I’m never going to speak about it again, but these are two of the most loving parents I’ve ever known,” referring to my daughter’s parents. My sister quipped that the woman felt as though she knew her because, in fact, she knew her niece, and the woman couldn’t get out of the elevator fast enough. This woman, who never met me, wasn’t happy that I was reunited with my daughter.

For me, that reaction is typical of women who aren’t members of the adoption triad. The men who know I'm a birthmother see it differently. It’s very black and white to them…I lost a child to adoption, she found me, and now she doesn’t speak to me because I gave her away. She’s angry and hurt, and surely confused.

I interact with more men than women in my work. In the past several years the universe has arranged for me to cross paths with a lot of adoptive fathers. It happened again this past week. I attended a networking event at a chic local restaurant. I was having a wonderful conversation with a man my age, and we got to the subject of kids. I said, “I’m childfree, for many unselfish reasons,” and I could see the puzzled look on his face. So I joked and said, “I rarely bring this up on the first date, but I’m a birthmother. I lost my daughter to adoption 32 years ago, she found me, we had a rocky reunion, and she hasn’t spoken to me in the past four years.” And then I said, “You’re childfree, too?”

He smiled and said he had three children, adopted siblings. I just rolled my eyes and commented that every other man I meet these days is an adopted father. His kids were in and out of foster care, their mother wasn’t a good girl gone bad, more the stereotypical crack whore version of a birthmother. I just told him what I’ve always said, the birthmothers I know are among the most courageous, tenacious, responsible women I have the pleasure to know. He confessed he never met a birthmother before. I laughed, pirouetted and said, “Well, this is what a birthmother looks like. We’re everywhere.”

And it’s true. We ARE everywhere. We’re your neighbors, your colleagues, your best friends. We’re in your book club, your gym, your church. And yet, here in the 21st century, so many of us still harbor a secret life, and haven’t told a soul that they lost their child to adoption. How often have you been lauded for relinquishing your child to adoption? Probably never.

I think the adoptive dad I met this week gets it, but how much would you like to wager that he tells his wife he met a birthmother and she was a woman just like her?

Adoption touched me in another way this week. Last Monday I was perusing the online corporate classifieds at work when I spotted an ad from a woman requesting adoption information. I instantly responded by directing her to NJARCH, the New Jersey Adoption Resource Clearing House, the Heart Gallery, a nationwide, online photo gallery featuring foster children awaiting stable, permanent homes, and the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute. She responded in kind, mentioned she was still reeling from adoption “sticker shock.” I explained that was precisely why I steered her toward the state agencies versus the “boutique” adoption agencies; if she was serious about providing a loving, stable home for a child in need, she could do the most good through these public agencies. And yes, I provided full disclosure, i.e., I let her know I was a birthmother and involved in all things adoption for over 30 years.

When I mentioned it to Lorraine, she said it was a brave and good thing to do. I don’t know about brave, but I do know it was the right thing to do. Even though my adoption odyssey didn’t have a fairy tale ending, I have to believe that contemporary adoptions hold the promise of a win-win, happily ever after ending for one and all.

9 comments :

  1. http://adoptionbirthparentsreunion.wordpress.com/2009/02/21/birthmother-reunion-nightmare-first-meeting-after-30-years/

    u might wanna check that out. i am an adoptee. my birthmother reunion didn't go well. i never spoke to my birthmother for 2 years now since she & i first met.

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  2. Linda, When I don't reveal that I am a birthmother, it's because I don't want to be lauded. I hate that! Usually from adoptive parents, people who know a-parents, and those with no connection to adoption. "Oh, but you did the right thing." Gag me.

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  3. I am an in the closet adoptee, I feel no obligation to reveal private aspects of my life to anyone but the most intimate friends.

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  4. I just found your blog and wanted to thank you for your honesty and openness. I'll be coming back.

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  5. I see no need to share my birth mother status and reunion with anyone except my family.

    Before my reunion I had a long life. It is painful that over the years I have watched friends form negative opinions about other people, and that has given me pause.

    I will not put my son or myself in that position. It is no one's business.

    We are still sorting how this will all work out. Our relationship has been difficult for his amom.

    I will continue to proceed with caution.

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  6. Provocative header. Just sayin'.
    I'm so with Joy and Angelle (though I imagine Joy's closet to be more like a rather airy apartment, possibly with window boxes and a balcony).
    I really don't think it is incumbent on a mother to "tell all" in order to be "out of the closet".
    There's a great deal of information relating to any adoption that belongs first and foremost to those most closely connected to the experience. Their wishes and needs are of primary importance and deserve to be considered with respect.
    I really do believe there are situations where "discretion is the better part of valor".
    Not that I've always managed, of course.
    But I strive.

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  7. I tell some people and don't tell others as the mood strikes me, or if I fear that the person will react negatively, I don't tell.

    During the long period my son was not communicating with me, I was less and less likely to say how many kids I really have, or to talk about being a birthmother. I did not have a happy story to tell and was ashamed of having been rejected. As he has come around a bit, I'm more likely to just tell people, especially right after I hear from him again.

    Like Denise, I HAVE been lauded for giving up a child, often followed by "aren't you wonderful, unselfish, brave.....I could NEVER do that." Gee thanks!:-( Much better to just hear "I'm sorry" or "that must have been hard." Followed of course by happiness that I have found and met him. That is the appropriate response, and sometimes I do get it, much to my relief! But the bad response still makes me shrink up inside and want to disappear.

    I do feel some things are private between the parties involved and close friends, and that each mother must use her own judgment and comfort level on who to tell about the surrender and reunion, and how much.

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  8. Oh you know me so well Kippa, yes my closet is actually a sunny, well-appointed pied-a'-terre with classic fir floors. I am not stuffed between winter coats choking on moth balls.

    It doesn't mean that I can't discuss or have an opinion on all things adopted, experience has taught me though that my story is not for public consumption, at least with the IRL crowd.

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  9. I don't tell people that i'm a birthmother. society is mean. they judge and only i know what birthmother really means and most people just don't get it, so welcome judgement by sharing the truth.

    i love the picture at the front of your blog. it warms my heart.

    ReplyDelete

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