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.
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.
Janice 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.