Thursday, July 29, 2010

Telling a Stranger What It's Like to be a Birth Mother

Education, education, education is the motto today. Do I talk to strangers about adoption reform? We were visited overnight by one of my husband's college roommates and his wife, who is originally from Long Island, where we live. My husband and his friend had not seen each other for decades. We had no idea what to expect--liberals like us? Do we have anything in common? Are they adoptive grandparents? Trust me, I do not bring up adoption with unknowns like this. After lunch my husband took the initiative when I was asked "What are you working on?" He quickly answered: Lorraine is working on something she is not talking about. I turned to him and mouthed, thank you. Okay, it's a conversation killer, and now they are really curious.

But we have avoided, temporarily, the long discussion about adoption. I personally can not think of another topic that would invariably lead to what is so likely a personal and possibly passionate discussion, except maybe if I were having a sex change operation and writing about that. After nearly 30 years of marriage. To a man.

By dinnertime, when it was clear all was copacetic, and they had talked about their own children and their own ups and downs (no grandchildren, they would like some, neither of their grown children is complying), I took the initiative and fessed up. What became clear over the next twelve hours is how the woman saw me as possibly--maybe probably--unusual in how I had so negatively reacted to having relinquished a child. She did know of a sister of a college friend who "got in trouble" back in the Sixties, but that was the closest connection she had to a birth mother. This is an intelligent women with a PhD whose husband is a retired professor, who have lots of friends in various parts of the country. This is a woman I would be friends with if she did not live a thousand miles away. This is someone I will be glad to see again.

But because she had never met a birth mother who talked freely about what it was like to relinquish a child, she asked, in different ways and a couple of times: 
  • Was I the only woman who gave up a child and "felt like this?" 
  • If my daughter's relationship with her parents had been better--ie, if she had been totally accepted and happy in her family, better adjusted--would it have been easier on me?
  • Might then I have accepted what happened and not been so...hmmm, what to say here..."upset" about having relinquished her? 
  • How did I think the depression after adoption compared with what I might have felt after an abortion? 
  • How had relinquishing my daughter affected my life?
  • But I saw this couple once and they were going to adopt and they were so happy....
  • And there are other women who feel the same way? You're not...unusual? 
Understand, she was not being negative or condemning, she was simply curious, and she did not confront or deny my feelings. She was obviously somewhat surprised, because I was refuting commonly held beliefs about women who give up their children for adoption, ie, that while they are probably sorrowful for a while, they go on and "make new lives" for themselves, the child put away like a vintage hat at the top of the closet of their memory.

I said in no uncertain terms, my life had been irreparably damaged ("fucked up" is what I actually said) after I gave up my child; that some people have compared what happens to us to post-traumatic stress disorder (and let's not go into that discussion all over again, please), that my life was never the same, that buckets of tears over the years followed this decision, that I never forgot and that giving up a child is a continuing source of sorrow, it is not like burying a child (which as some of you know, I have also done), and I explained why. The sorrow is great, but there is an ending to it; adoption grief continues like a song fragment in your mind that plays over and over again.

I explained about sealed records--how they are sealed not upon relinquishment but upon adoption, so there is no pretense of doing this for the "protection and anonymity" of the first/birth mother; about how getting this message across to legislators is like climbing Mount Everest without a sherpa or extra oxygen; about how adoption today has become a cold business and no, it is not the Catholic Church or the abortion foes who are the greatest enemy of ending adoption, but the adoption industry itself; about how the pressure for "product" (that is, infants) for the agencies has produced all kinds of corruption, kidnapping and murder in counties such as India and Guatemala; that despite how happy adoption makes childless couples adoption is not made to make childless people happy, but to give homes to children who need them. If I'd had the UN quote at my lips I would have added that:  

“Regrettably, in many cases, the emphasis has changed from the desire to provide a needy child with a home, to that of providing a needy parent with a child. As a result, a whole industry has grown, generating millions of dollars of revenues each year . . .” United Nations, Commission on Human Rights, 2003.

When they were leaving in the morning, she talked about getting together her outfit for her high school reunion that night, and showed me one of the choices; I told her about the nightmare of finding something to wear as the "birth mother" to my daughter's wedding. It was a nice moment.

And I couldn't help think, after they left, how much educating we mothers must do. I was reminded of Jane's blog recently about trying to convince a relative to not encourage her daughter to give up a child, and how the woman Jane spoke to seemed convinced that Jane was unusual and the only one who felt that way. I don't know how simply talking to my new acquaintance over part of the evening and again at breakfast will change the course of adoption reform in this country. Or how much the demonstration in Louisville on Sunday at the summit meeting of state legislators accomplished. Or if the the many many blogs about the pain of adoption from the viewpoints of the adopted themselves, and their birth/first mothers reach the right eyes.

But they are something, and they do add up. We are no longer silent. Every single person you educate about adoption today is one more than yesterday. Call it climbing a mountain. You do it one step at a time. So the next time the opportunity comes up, don't let it pass by unacknowledged, don't let the person walk away uninformed. --lorraine
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"Mother & Child" has finally come to eastern Long Island, and I'm planning to see it soon, if not tonight. (The link will take you to Jane's review.) I did catch "The Kids Are All Right," (about kids contacting their sperm-donor dad) and will write about that in a day or two. And by the way, Birth Mother/First Mother Forum is now available on Kindle. How about that?

Yep, that's my memoir there. If you are going to order it, please do so through FirstMotherForum. I am trying to find a way to run ads other than those from amazon.com here, but every time I try, ads for adoption agencies appear along with the search firms. I can handle the search firms, but NOT ADS soliciting product for their businesses.

12 comments :

  1. YAHOO! Lorraine, I have to admit, sometimes you are definitely my hero. I will be linking this.

    I take every opportunity to tell people what the reality of adoption is for me and what my daughter explained to me was her reality. I truly believe that the industry can not stand in face of public opinion that changes as the realities become more known!

    WAHOO!

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  2. My father was adopted. It had a huge impact on his life. He never got over it and went to his grave still carrying intense feelings of rejection. I had my first child at 17. Being a young mother was harder than I could ever have anticipated. My son passed away at the age of 20 and I am so thankful that I was there at the beginning and there at the end. It wasn't always easy, but it was certainly worth it. Educate, educate, educate...
    Thank you for sharing & informing.

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  3. I have been stalking your blog for a while now and today I have to comment.
    Today marks 22 years since I became a birth mother. I am 37 years old and finally this past year I have found a friend who I can talk to openly about my feelings. Finally after 22 years I have a voice that has said I am hurt, I am angry and it sucked. There was no beautiful ending and everyday I see my daughter on facebook falling apart because her adoptive parents ended up being the worst choice possible. I have spent countless hours thinking about the what if's until I get a stomach ache. There is nothing I can do about it, I hate it, I regret it and it does FUCK you up! Thank you for being the voice for others who have not found theirs yet. Even though you may never know they are reading, you are representing each of them and I know they are grateful.
    I am and I finally feel like I am not alone.

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  4. One voice, one story at a time, Lorraine. Thank you!

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  5. It's as if otherwise well-meaning people can't get past the idea that we were being brave and willingly doing the "right thing" for our babies.
    when they tell me they can't even imagine what it feels like to have surrendered a child; I always tell the story I heard from someone years ago - "Imagine you took your child to the park and when you briefly weren't paying attention, your child disappeared. You are panicked - you don't know what to do first to find your child - your heart is racing and your heart is in your throat until you find her. Imagine living like that wondering what happened to your child for 20, 30, 40 or more years?"

    Sometimes this drives it home... But then again, they often come back with "well, you're ok now, though, right? Now that you've found your son"?

    What am I going to say "No. I am forever fucked?"

    I am very interested to hear what you think of "Mother and Child"; especially with a similar theme to your story?

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  6. One by one and keep going as long as we can.I'm forever grateful that I experienced reunion when I did and that my mother was able to talk to me about how she had suffered so that I understood.Reunion for her helped enormously but it never undid the damage but then we didn't expect it to.

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  7. Author Elizabeth Stone once said that having a child is to forever have your heart walk about outside of your body.

    I say, that being a First Mother is to have your heart walk about outside of your body, never knowing where your heart is, if it thinks about you, or if you'll ever see it again.

    Sounds like one of the most painful things anyone could ever endure :-(

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  8. I remember waking up in convulsions, having flashbacks, bargaining with God. It's not important to me that people "get" my pain. But it is important to me that people be honest with young women contemplating giving their babies away. So, good for you, Lorraine. I'm sure your words will find their way to receptive hearts and minds.

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  9. @Carolc: Yeah, Suz once stated something like that - it's like you're standing in the middle of a dark field. A train is coming and there is no way to get out of the way in time, so you fling the baby out in the field and hope s/he lands somewhere safely.

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  10. You saw The KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT...I haven't yet...but hope to this weekend. And I'm glad you will have a chance to see Mother and Child.

    And, yes, to telling strangers...

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  11. I posted a few days ago on another post (you probably get a bunch of Anonymous commenters). But all I can say is wow you have hit the nail on the head. I was forced to give up my child after a huge trauma - well actually one trauma after another, and the pain of not knowing what happened and now knowing what happened is unreal. I had 4 beautiful babies in the late 80's. Young mother whose husband had just walked out plus I was trying to rescue a younger sibling of mine. Way too much for a 21 yr old mother of 3 to handle (I was pregnant also).

    I made mistakes and I think I more than paid for those mistakes. These children should not have had to pay the price as well. One child ended up being murdered while in state care, and two more died at home in a tragedy that nearly took my life as well as another child. The state swooped in and took that child.

    You are so right about the pain of the unknown. I kept looking for that child's face in every child I saw. I knew where three of my babies were, I did not where this one was. I was able to somewhat close the three but not the one. It hurt beyond anything ever. Then when we were reunited the stories I was told (which I can believe after what they said and did to me).

    Thank you so much for putting my pain and the pain of so many out there. I wanted my child, I was forced into something instead of helped. I wish I could get someone to listen. But all they see is that the state took my child so I am an awful evil vile woman. I am not and never was. I was a scared and inexperienced young mother trying to do too much.

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  12. Thank you so much for posting this. I am an adoptive mother and I appreciate mothers like you who can share their stories and educate us about a part of the story that most often untold. You are brave and courageous. Please keep up your work and message to society and the adoption community.

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