So, do birth/first mothers who relinquished during the Baby Scoop Era, as I did in 1966, in general feel differently about their decision to do so than mothers who relinquished later on? The discussion going on in the comments at a previous post, No Relinquishment Regrets, indicates that they do. In general. And in reading other blogs (including at adoption.com or was it adoptionvoices?) which kicked me off for having an alternative opinion), it's not been lost on me that younger (birth/first) mothers, mothers who relinquished without the intense societal pressures that those of us who relinquished in the Fifties, Sixties, even the Seventies felt coming at us relentless as the rain do feel differently than we do.
I've poked around looking for research and it's sketchy. We start here with what British adoption researcher John Triseliotis reported in 2005 in The Adoption Triangle Revisited (with Julia Feast and Fiona Kyle):
"Most of the birth mothers featuring in this study gave birth to their child, and parted with them, in the 1950 and 1960s when harsh attitudes, along with same and stigma, surrounded non-marital birth. As a result, and to maintain the secret, many birth mothers and their families built elaborate stories and fictions to disguise the pregnancy and birth, with many of them being sent to mother and baby homes or to another part of the country in order to conceal the pregnancy. It is not surprising, perhaps, that many came to feel that it had not been their decision to part with their child and suggested that it was taken out of their control."[This is a hard nut for me, because on the one hand, I feel this way--that my choice was not really a choice, even if my parents were not directly involved, they were involved--and on the other hand, I feel that taking responsibility for one's act is leads to greater acceptance by one's found/reunited child. In my own situation, in time I was able to say to her that I--not society--gave her up. Simply saying: I'm sorry that you had to be adopted without caveats as in The devil, the times, my parents made me do it, leads to a stronger basis for a reunion of hearts and minds--and forgiveness. Just, I'm sorry you were adopted. I'm sorry I did not keep you.
Those few words eloquently express one's own responsibility for the child you gave up for adoption. Some may disagree, but I think most adoptees would like to hear those words at least once, even. As for forgiveness, we may feel pressures were so inevitable that we do not need forgiveness, but maybe adoptees need to feel they have the power to give it; however, if we say we were not to blame, how can they forgive us?]
To continue with Triseliotis: "A significant minority, however, were clear that the decision had been theirs. Because of the stigma and the absence of emotional support and understanding from the immediate family, or the child's father, and because the decision had been taken out of their hands, the great majority also came to feel lonely, isolated, abandoned, vulnerable, powerless and largely victims. Equally, some of their parents had found themselves torn between the wish to be supportive and the fear of shame. Furthermore, and because the pregnancy had become a taboo subject, it could not be talked about within the family and so no emotional support could be made available either.[Which leads to older-era birth/first mothers not telling their husbands, children, etc., and makes for a difficult transition (or none at all) when the adopted person comes back into one's life. So--if you are reading this and have not told your spouse, your children...just do it. They may be hurt because you kept this secret from them, but in most cases, it will lead to a better understanding and the support you need. Just do it. A group from New York's Unsealed Initiative was back up on Albany lobbying last week, and again, they ran into someone who obviously had knowledge of some birth mother hiding deep in the closet and mentioned, when discussing the bill that would give adoptees their original birth certificates, how birth mothers are "fair game." Indicating that as "game" to be shot, they do not want to be found. When, in fact, most birth/first mothers hope to be rescued from a lifetime of wondering about their offspring.]
Triseliotis: "Some doctors, nurses and other professionals, e.g., moral welfare workers, were said to have shared the parent's and society's censorious attitudes, reinforcing both the shame and concealment of the pregnancy and birth. They, too, were said to without emotional support and saw adoption as resolving all the concerns and also providing the child with a 'good home.' This meant that birth mothers were again deprived of opportunities to express their intense grief and feelings of loss."Hello...Yo, that is that how I felt. I only told one girl friend in Rochester [she drove me to the hospital, hoping I would not deliver in the car], one who was back in Michigan but we did not talk often, and Patrick, my daughter's father. Who saw adoption as the only solution.
But younger women do not approach giving up their child to be adopted with the same pressures, and by and large they do feel relinquishment is a real "choice," and thus are able to take responsibility that it is their own decision, and in making that decision, are genuinely of the mind that they are doing the best by their child. And while that does not change the maternal feelings of loss (that is hormonal, instinctual), it seems to have led to a lessening of the type of deep-seated and unending grief that mothers of my era harbor. From the Evan B. Donaldson 2006 report on birthmothers and their grief:
Current research on birthmothers concludes that being able to choose the adoptive family and having ongoing contact and/or knowledge results in lower levels of grief and greater peace of mind with their adoption decisions.
Women who have the highest grief levels are those who placed their children with the understanding that they would have ongoing information, but the arrangement was cut off. Such contact/information is the most important factor in facilitating birthparents’ adjustment, but only 13 states have laws to enforce post-adoption contact agreements in infant adoptions.And from anecdotal evidence, those 13 states are not doing much to actually enforce the contracts. If an adoptive family changes their phone number and moves away, who is going to find them and haul their asses into court/jail? The local sheriff? And if the adoptive parents are pillars of the community, or otherwise "upstanding" citizens? And the sheriff is going to do exactly what?
Not much. I am taking the women at face value--that is what they are saying, that they are more at peace with their decisions than I was--but yeah, everyone, there is a part of me that has a hard time buying that.
And everyone, no matter when you relinquished, long ago or last week, give yourself a break tomorrow--buy yourself a flower, eat some chocolate, forgive yourself. afor the time being, we'll have to rely on anecdotal data. Stay tuned.
And despite everything, buy yourself a flower, have some chocolate, it's good for the heart. Yes, it's winter but spring can not be far behind.--lorraine