Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Wanted: Birthmothers to Say a Few Words


maryanne’s comment on our recent post O Lord how long must birth mothers be punished about the need to tell our stories through books and postings on Origins-USA reminded of an anecdote about Abraham Lincoln. When he met Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Lincoln said “So you are the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war.”

It is axiomatic in the world of charitable fund raising – tell potential donors about a million children starving and their eyes glaze over. Show them a picture of one child with a distended stomach and they rush to open their wallets.

We need a picture of birthmothers that is so bold, so true, that it cannot be ignored. In addition to books and Origins posts, perhaps someone could create an internet Pain Poster where birthmothers can describe their experience in a few words. More about that later.

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At our tri-annual Family Reunion in 2002, my niece Janice approached me. Her fifteen year old daughter Beth was pregnant. Would I tell Beth about the benefits of placing her child for adoption?

“No”, I said. “Adoption is pain, grief for both mother and child.” Taken aback, Janice countered “You’re the only person I’ve ever heard say that. I know several women who have given up a child. None of them ever said it was painful. You’ve done fine. You’re married, have other children, a good career. How can you say you’ve suffered?”

I talked with Beth the next day. She was troubled, confused. She wanted it all to go away but she did not want an abortion. She could not comprehend that giving up the baby “did not make it all go away.”

To my sorrow Megan, my surrendered daughter, joined the pro-adoption chorus, telling Janice and Beth that she was raised in the family in which she belonged. (This, I suspect, was her Mormon faith kicking in; Megan believed her adoption had been God’s plan.) I note the irony of Janice and Megan conspiring at a family reunion to exile the newest family member.

When I returned home, I sent Janice a VHS tape of the film made from Carol Schafer’s The Other Mother. Proof, I thought, that losing a child to adoption was painful.

The Other Mother : A True StoryJanice called me: “Okay so it’s not just you; there is one other birthmother who found giving up her child painful.

Janice and I talked back and forth over the next several months. (She would not allow me to contact Beth.) Janice repeated over and over, Beth doesn’t want to be a mother. If she keeps her baby, her life will be hard. If she gives up the baby, she will go on to great things.

I repeated over and over. “Beth will be a mother whether she keeps her baby or not. The sorrow of losing a baby to adoption lasts a lifetime. Many single mothers do fine. If I had kept Megan, my life would have been immeasurably better.

I need to point out that Janice had the resources to help Beth. Janice did not work outside the home. Her second husband, Beth’s step father, was a successful professional. He did not oppose Beth bringing the baby home. Other family members offered to help.

My arguments went nowhere so I changed course. “If Beth gives up her baby, make sure it’s an open adoption.”

“No way” responded Janice. “Beth needs a clean break. The adoption must be closed. Beth can start over as though it never happened.”

Beth gave up her son in January, 2003. She has not seen him.

I did not go to the 2005 Family Reunion because I was so angry with Janice.

Since I was responsible for putting on the 2008 reunion, I could not avoid attending. My anger had turned to disgust which made seeing Janice tolerable. I managed to spend a few minutes alone with Beth. She looked down, never making eye contact. I gave her my card and asked to call me when she got home. She has not done so.

On a happier note, another niece became pregnant a few years later. Recently separated from her husband and having little money, she considered adoption. Recalling my words over the years, she decided to keep her daughter and, of course, has never regretted it.

Those of us who have lived with adoption loss for many years may find it hard to believe that anyone would doubt that losing a baby was painful. Yet, I think Janice spoke truthfully when she said she had never heard that.

There are hundreds of thousands of birthmothers in the US. If just a fraction of these women, perhaps, 10,000, posted just a few words on a wall of remembrance website, Americans would learn the truth. More women would keep their babies. And perhaps, just perhaps, Linda’s sister Judasina, Lorraine’s neighbor Yvonne, and my niece Janice might finally get it.

21 comments :

  1. I just don't get how anyone can think giving a child up for adoption can think it's not painful. However, I do run into people with that same thought process.. So sad.

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  2. I posted my story on Origins-USA and I'll certainly post something on a wall of remembrance website if it means preventing another mother from going through what we went through. It's amazing to me that some women don't get what it means to lose a child. Some just don't get it til they go through it.

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  3. "A clean break." Hahahahhhahaaahhaaa. Laughing so I don't cry.

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  4. We definitely need more natural mothers to speak out. But unfortunately I am skeptical that we can/will make a huge difference when we have baby brokers all over the place (and federally-funded gov't programs such as the Infant Adoption Awareness Program) which give out the sole message that any "sadness" is temporary, at best and that adoption is invariably a "positive" experience for exiled mothers.

    Just an example: look at the blatant lies on just this one agency's page

    - "Adoption in general does not cause long-term grief for the birth mother"

    - "research has shown that mothers who choose adoption have an overall greater satisfaction and are less likely to suffer from depression."

    - "Sadness ... will become less intense as time passes"

    - "Adoption ... gives you the freedom to pursue your dreams of college and career."

    unless we take organized action against such crap and get it out into the media and lobby for legislation reining-in the baby brokers, i'm afraid that few people are going to hear what we have to say. :(

    For decades, since the early 1980s, there have been plenty of studies showing long-term damage to mothers. And these studies (like Winkler and Van Keppel, etc.) have got good exposure. But society listens to the baby brokers, not to us, and not to people outside of the industry even if they are respected PhD-level researchers.

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  5. Having said that, we DO need more natural mothers to speak out about their experiences. Two other sites besides OUSA are the Exiledmothers.com site and Origins Canada, both of which have collections of mothers stories. But we also need to challenge the brokers' lies in the political and legal arenas as well.

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  6. I'm in - I think that our single voice, alone, is not enough. We need to be seen as we really are - thousands of voices!

    Tell me when and where!

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  7. Every bit of getting our stories out there helps. Sorry about your niece, Jane. That has to be difficult.

    A web page with brief stories would be helpful, but I would not call it the wall of pain or anything like that. Yes, we will be talking about pain, but making it too garish and in your face might scare people like your niece off from even reading it.

    Maybe "True Stories of Mothers who Surrendered" or something like that, and it would be good to have a mix of recent and long-ago surrenders, to show the passage of time and how it does not go away.

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  8. Last night I saw the film "Mother and Child" with my friend Ann. My friend who insisted she wanted to see this with me, is a former nun, never married professor - someone I had met in the infusion room during my chemo treatments for breast cancer.

    Ann has been one of my most ardent and compassionate supporters regarding my first mother experience, surprisingly to me.

    We discussed the film in depth afterward and Bening's excellent depiction of a mother of adoption loss's pain. She mentioned how little she has seen about this underside of adoption - the pain involved for mothers (and adoptees), but especially mothers.

    I reminded her of how little interest there is in the public to our plight. Most of the public chooses to glorify adoption and adopters for taking in someone else's child.

    I looked up some of the reviews when I got home and noticed that while there were lots of accolates for the acting skills, a couple of people mentioned how they didn't find the character Bening played "likeable", therefore they couldn't empathise. They didn't like Watt's adoptee character either; and of course some didn't like what they thought was a predictable ending....

    ...but what got to me was this perception that this beemommy should have been a sweeter and kinder character and then maybe these reviewers might have had more compassion. Damn right, we're a bit cranky! I've been told numerous times I should have held my tongue in life...


    But, when we speak up about our indignation and how it affected everything in our lives after losing our child to adoption, it makes people uncomfortable. They assume it's not *normal* to still be grieving this loss and we should have gotten over it.
    I totally understood and related Bening's bitterness - so much of what she says in this film was me - is me.

    Just musing here and I certainly don't have any answers about what more we can do to make the public aware - I'll post my story anywhere that it might be seen, but who really wants to read it but us? Not even our found children want to read about our pain and how we shut down on so many levels. I get the feeling most people wish we would just be good girls and "suck it up and get over it"....

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  9. I suggest that you put Janice up for adoption.

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  10. That is so sad about Beth.

    My heart goes out to her.

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  11. This started as stories rather than statistics, especially questionable ones. If we had impeccable, scientifically valid statistics, that would help as well, but I think our issues are more in the realm of human rights and personal grief than things easily quantifiable and measured statistically.

    People did read "The Girls Who Went Away" because it was so well written and edited and credible. "The Other Mother" also got lots of publicity for us. No, the whole world is not interested in our cause because it is rather minor give the scale of human problems and tragedies. I do not think there is a "magic bullet" way to get our voices heard, but just continuous work in good writing, good art, journalism, film, mixed media, that tells our individual and collective saga with talent and grace. It is not just a matter of getting ANYTHING out there, especially the most extreme and sensational, but of getting quality stuff that people can identify with and care about.

    Coming back again to the Canadian documentary linked on O Solo Mama's page:
    http://osolomama.wordpress.com/2010/07/06/one-heckuva-canadian-doc-about-first-moms-get-it-here/

    This can only be seen in Canada now but it would be great to get it to the USA as well.

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  12. Piggybacking on Carol's thoughts on Mother and Child, I'm sharing my thoughts because it's so much easier to talk about the movie than the unbelievably, inexplicably cruel behavior my daughter exhibited toward me at my nephew's wedding (no acknowledgement whatsoever, yet she was thick as thieves with her aunt, my sister Judasina, and I was the familiar stranger among my own family).

    I managed to remain detached for most of the film, this birthmother wasn't me (14 when she relinquished, bitter [yes, I can be] and a loner [not me]). The couple aching to adopt (or at least the wife was aching) were typical of the parents I've encountered in support groups and online blogs. I liked the young single mother considering adoption for her unborn child--Lorraine will especially like the way her story ends--she was feisty, strong, called the shots, she was no Juno. And the movie didn't have a win/win for everyone, which pleased me because, well, that's how life works. The broken hearted prospective adoptive parent screams, "adoption is so unnatural!" Um, yeah, those of us living with it for the past 30, 40 or more years have learned that's true. I liked this statement from the NY Times review, which Lorraine had posted on the FMF home page: "The notion that adoption is something close to a catastrophe — a tear in the fabric of the natural order — may baffle or alienate viewers whose experience suggests otherwise.:" But that's the reality of adoption. I was satisfied with the ending, it accurately (I thought) portrayed the cosmic connection that adopition can be for so many people. To sum it up, I sat there with tears rolling down my face while the credits rolled as I sat alone in the nearly empty theater.

    When I went into the ladies' room to fix my face my eyes were puffy and I loked a fright under the fluorescent lights. A woman who might have been slightly older than me asked me what I saw (she saw Toy Story 3); I told her. She said she had just read the synopsis of the film that afternoon, wasn't familiar with it. She asked what I thought and I simply said, "The story of my life." So she asked if I was an adoptive parent or adoptee. "Neither," I replied. She had a confused look on her face and I said, "I'm a birthmother." I went into a stall and she proceeded to tell me how her friend is starting to search for her two children lost to adoption, now 19 and 16 (in my head I'm screaming 2?! One was more than enough!!) I told her the 19 year old might, might be ready, but it was too soon to search for the 16 year old. And the woman commended me on my strength and I just rolled my eyes behind the locked stall door. She asked if I had searched, I explained my daughter found me ten years ago, hasn't spoken to me or seen me for the past five years, but our paths would be crossing at a wedding this weekend. And this woman offered that she's been divorced for seven years, her daughter is 24, still harbors resentment over the divorce, and they have had long periods without contact. So I responded that while I was sad for her, I took comfort in the fact that raised children also cut their parents out of their lives, adn the woman said that's why she shared. Reality can be so messy...

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  13. Jane,

    My OWN mother is just finally coming around my son is 44 years old reunited since 93!

    NO ONE can understand until they have walked in our shoes.

    Deplorable that your relative didn't listen to you. When she see's her daughter suffering till reunion she might get it but sounds pretty ignorant on adoption after being told to her face...by you.

    I have had a real rocky relationship with my mom since reuniting it just brought it all back..I really have some feelings that run to my core about adoption and its cruelty to moms and babies..

    Then throw in happy bmoms, and those who have lost from our era still living in denial..give the younger happy moms 20 plus years..then they can share just how happy they are. The older moms I just don't know brains washed to
    think they can't find or search or feel..just absurd. All the others wtf..they are just others...excluding adoptees of course most know some pain I think except the happy adoptee's who are in their cocoon of adoption..wake up

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  14. Cat here;

    I got people to listen by filing a complaint to the UN Human Rights Commission. I managed to get some other mothers as well. The UN have posted a summary of our complaint on their official UN Human Rights site. It can be found in the archives. A copy of this report was sent to all member countries.

    UN Economic and Social Council
    Commission on Human Rights
    "Violence Against Women"
    14 Jan. 2003
    59th Session

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  15. Wow, this post and comments took me all over the map, emotionally. All I can say is: while I'm skeptical (like Cedar) that anyone cares or will listen to us, up against the adoption industry, I believe we still have to try. Get the word out somehow. Bombard them with stories! How and where, I don't know. But I'll help, I'll write, I'll spread the word.

    Hugs to all, and mostly to Linda after her weekend...

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  16. Linda,

    I'm appalled at your daughter's behavior.

    I feel so badly for you.

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  17. Wow...After I wrote Birthmark, I remember getting a letter from a pregnant young woman asking what she should do...well, as you can imagine I did not urge her to give up her baby. But I got a second letter back saying she felt she had no options. No options usually translates into No Money. Prospective adoptive parents like to brush away that thought when they are out shopping for a child.

    As Jane said we need to keep on talking and talking and talking about the lifelong grief. I thank god--and I thank the whatever for very little--that so far there have been no "give aways" other than my daughter's in my family. I can not imagine the sorrow I would feel if I had a niece give up a child.

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  18. I've been reading this blog for a while and have tremendous admiration for first/birth mothers. You are a brave and incredible group of women. I am in awe of you all.

    Until I began research for my novel (currently with an editor in New York) I knew nothing about adoption and birth/first mothers. But I learned, and learned fast, that this is a huge, heart-rending subject and if I'm lucky enough to get this novel published, I hope it helps educate those who think it's easy to give up a child and move on.

    Jane ... Lorraine ... you are doing a fabulous job here. No matter what happens with my novel, I shall keep spreading the word about the pain of losing a child to adoption.

    I have children and grandchildren and I cannot begin to imagine what it would've been like to give one of them up. Nobody can ... unless they've walked a mile in the same shoes.

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  19. I've been lurking here for a while and I just wanted to thank you for sharing your stories. I am not a part of an adoption triad, but I did have 2 close childhood friends who were adopted and I saw the pain that adoption caused them. When people talk about how children are better off being adopted by an older married couple I think of my friends, and how both sets of parents got divorced shortly after the adoptions. I think about the emotional and physical abuse that my friends suffered at the hands of their a-parents. I think about the accusations that they were ungrateful for being "chosen".

    I got pregnant at 19 and shortly thereafter I miscarried. I feel like I really dodged a bullet. I don't know what I would have done had the pregnancy continued. I know that if I had chosen to relinquish my life would be an open wound. Especially since several years after that pregnancy I married the father and had a child with him.

    I started researching adoption after I watched that horrible "16 & Pregnant" episode on MTV with that sweet young couple who chose to relinquish. I was literally physically ill watching the show and it seemed like the agency rep. was so callus and unethical. Your blog was one of the resources that I found during that search. I was shocked at what I learned, both about domestic and international adoption.

    I have since blogged about what I've learned and directed people to your blog as well as other resources, in the hopes that no more women will have to suffer your pain.

    Please don't feel that you are writing in vain. If nothing else, you have made me aware of the trauma of adoption, and should my daughter find herself unexpectedly pregnant, I will do everything in my power to help her parent.

    Thanks,

    Limor

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  20. 25 years ago i "surrendered" my son for adoption. i was 23 years old. 4 years ago he came back into my life. the process of carrying and surrendering my son was extremely difficult and painful. there was little support for my decision, or for the ensuing grief over my profound loss.
    that said, it was MY decision. i did not want to raise a child. i went on to travel extensively, and have many amazing experiences. eventually, i married and had 2 more children. meanwhile, my son, had a wonderful, warm and loving family, who were able to provide for him in every way. he is an exceptionally bright, compassionate , well-loved young man.
    there is pain and uncertainty no matter how one handles an unexpected pregnancy. i would never suggest to a woman she "should" abort, or she "should" adopt or she "should" raise the child herself. nor would i suggest that she "shouldn't" choose any of those options. each circumstance is unique. all of the choices are painful, difficult choices. all of them can have positive or negative outcomes.
    i think one of the reasons that my particular situation was so positive, is because it truly was my choice. granted, much of that choice was informed by the bigger world around me, but i was old enough that no one was "making " me do something i didnt want to do.
    what i would like to see is MORE support for women choosing adoption. NOT in this, "you'll move on, it won't be a big deal" way, but honest support for the grief and the loss that their decision will create for them.
    in my instance, i know with 100% certainty that choosing to have my son adopted was the best thing for him, and the best thing for me.

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  21. I just posted a comment on a rosa-colored website on which nice-looking presumed birthmothers write about their bitter-sweet experiences with relinquishing their newborn child for adoption. In the Netherlands we have had two organisations for birthmothers. The last one, a foundation, existed from 1994 until 2007. We had difficulty finding funds and boardmembers but throughout these years we got a lot of publicity in the media. Birthmothers told the public about the emotional pain they suffered. Our "outcoming" helped prevent legalization of commercial surrogate mothering which was propagated by homosexual men and their organisations. They were supported by "Opzij" a widely read feminist magazine which is opposed to sexual exploitation of women but advocates procreative exploitation of women to achieve gender equality. Christian political parties in the Netherlands tend to favor relinquishment for adoption over abortion but they do get little support. Our birthmother foundation had a few hundred members. I never heard one of them say that relinquishing your child for adoption is a bittersweet experience after which you can happily live on.
    Denmark also has or had an organisation for birthmothers.

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