In its Summer, 2009 newsletter, Open Adoption and Family Services, Inc., an adoption agency in Portland, Oregon reported on its “Lifegivers” retreats held in Eugene, Oregon and Seattle May 30th.
There were no retreats in my day, the not-always swinging Sixties. I left home in shame and returned pretending my pregnancy and surrender did not happen. I hid in a small room in a shabby hotel in the Tenderloin district of San Francisco, a city where I knew no one. When I left San Francisco sans my heart two months after my first daughter Megan was born, I worked mightily to forget why I had been there.
Years later, I attended support groups led by birthmothers where we told of our sorrow and regret. A prime villain in our discussions was the adoption agency social worker.
It’s different today. We were The Girls Who Went Away; today there is a new breed of birthmothers, The Girls Who Came Back. They return each year to attend an adoption agency sponsored retreat led by a social worker (“counselor”), the purpose of which is to “nurture and honor birthmothers.” The mothers “talk about their adoption journey” and are counseled on “transitioning to the role of a birthmother and developing a healthy relationship with their child’s adoptive family.” The women “shared words of wisdom, empowered one another to be honest with their child's adoptive family, and encouraged one another to live life fully."
Participants had chair massages, painted pottery or made beaded bracelets, and ate pizza. They received gifts including cheeses, flowers, candy, soap products, and gift certificates donated by local businesses and adoptive parents. The Seattle women also had a visit from The Heartsparkle Players, a theatre troupe that practices Playback Theatre where members of the audience share their stories and the actors improvise a short piece reflecting the themes from their story.
In spite of the praise and the pizza, the tears flowed. “During these moments, the air filled with incredible empathy and compassion as they passed the tissue boxes from one side of the circle to the other.” The truth is that whether you’re a lifegiver, firstmother, birthmother, natural mother, real mother, or just a mother, adoption is always painful.
I wonder about the counselors who lead these events, seeing women who had recently given birth and placed their infant in the arms of a stranger join older mothers who return year after year. (“The most recent ‘placement’ had been two weeks prior to the retreat, and the longest was nearly 24 years ago.”) What do these counselors feel as they face women whom they caused to lose their child? Can these counselors reconcile their contention that these mothers whom they describe as “beautiful, insightful, and loving” are incapable of mothering their own child?
There is something twisted, even Machiavellian, about a group of birth/first mothers convinced that their value is in “developing a healthy relationship with their child’s adoptive family.” My cynical side thinks the agency has an ulterior motive in these retreats: keep the mothers happy so that they don't cause trouble for the adoptive parents, or bad-mouth the agency to other women considering adoption. The agency social workers who created these events might think they are “servicing” their clients, but it would be better for everyone if they turned their attention to diminishing their client base in the first place. When we post at FirstMotherForum, sometimes an ad pops from Spence-Chapin agency of New York like this:
Adopt a Baby
Loving Families Needed. Domestic & Intl programs
Knowing what we know about the dearth of adoptable healthy infants in this country, their “birthmother” events strike me as specious. As do the “lifegiver” retreats in Seattle and Eugene.