Sunday, March 13, 2011

Are we bitter birth mothers?

Lorraine
Bitter.

It's a word bandied about about birth mothers who are not content with their situation as mothers without children to mother. Call me bitter, and it gives you an excuse to dismiss me, because, y'all know that I haven't accepted reality and made peace with the fact that I relinquished my daughter to an uncertain future.  And we birth mothers who relinquished in the Mesozoic Age of shame, shunning and closed adoptions,
we who have found and reunited with our children only to discover that there is no second act that reverses the first in adoption, that not only is there no going back, there is possibly no healthy going forward, we are neither blissful nor content. We are still birth mothers, biological mothers, mothers but not mothers, mothers who did not raise our children.

I have always accepted the reality that I gave up my daughter for a lot of reasons and I made the choice--as much as anyone had free choice in the Sixties--myself. I was not sixteen, I was not coerced by my parents, I was not "talked" into it--well, the father (married to someone else, and also a father of three others) saw no other option other than adoption once abortion was off the table. But I did it. I did not see options, and I signed the papers. I put my daughter into a life situation with parents who were quite bit NOT like her.

My daughter, Jane
As some of you know, she had other problems stemming from the severe epilepsy that ruled her early school years. The psychological scars she had, she claimed, came almost entirely from that instead of being surrendered for adoption. But...a part of me says, Yeah, well, how do we know that? How could we ever know how much her being surrendered for adoption affected her emotionally? It sure shot the hell out of my life, as much and more than I ever knew it would. 

But because I was devastated, because a part of me will always be devastated, even though I have certainly picked up the pieces and gotten on with my life, but still--does that make me bitter today? Does it make all of us who surrendered in closed adoptions out of touch with adoption today?

During our recent skirmish with another blog that shall be  nameless, a snide comment was that we looked like we would make nice "grandmothers." That's another way of saying we are out of touch with the real world today, we are dinosaurs from another age. Recently a social worker who deals with open adoptions said that the first mothers she deals with--often very young, some still in high school--in open adoptions are relieved not to be parents, and not, you know, that implied, bitter like us.

I get that. Sixteen and Pregnant may sound cool when you're the center of a reality show, but the reality of motherhood and fatherhood at sixteen is pretty daunting. So, I can understand relieved not to be Sixteen and Parenting. But what she was saying also is: They are not like you. They are relieved, ie, content with their situation. The young parents she was talking about were in truly open adoptions, by the way, and sometimes babysit for their children.

Well, yeah, I can see that would make a big difference. If I had known where Jane was, if I had been able to have my life--I always was hell bent on having a career--and see her now and then, babysit and take her to the zoo or the circus, tuck her in some nights and read her stories, I suppose I might be relieved and have a more positive view of the realities of adoption than I do today. But would Jane have been less affected by being adopted? That's the $64,000 dollar question. No answer there.

BirthmarkI don't think I'm bitter about my life. That's a harsh word to pin on anybody. I do think the surrender affected me profoundly and made me a different person than I would have been had I not had a child I gave up. If I had married my first love, we would have had at least one child, he always wanted children and I knew that from the getgo, and today I probably would be involved in some other cause--saving the environment sounds good--but I'd be quite a different person. Coming to grips with all that was why I came so undone when his daughter, just a few months older than my daughter, contacted me over a year ago. Contemplating the simpler life not lived was not easy. If you believe in karma, this was my tao. And I wept. For weeks.

One cannot know how those relieved teenagers in an open adoption with their child will feel about their lives in ten, twenty years hence, or what their relationship with the child they surrendered will be. Or how the adopted individual will feel about their life situation. Life is uncertain. We are all--all, not just those involved in adoption--part of a grand experiment called life. There are no guarantees, there is not ultimate ideal or perfection, and no one has a unfettered shot at happiness. Just do not dismiss my concerns with the epithet bitter.

And you, those young relieved birth mothers who seem blissful and whom I can find if I search hard enough on the web, I won't say you drank the Kool-ade. That is just as dismissive as calling me bitter. Yes, certainly from this side of this complicated equation, it does seem like you may have an easier shot at that thing called happiness.--lorraine

78 comments :

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  2. Thank you, Lorraine, for a very insightful piece that is definitely food for thought. It does seem that there is an us vs. them dynamic between "birthmothers of yesteryear" and many first moms of today, and that grieves me. Every mom who has ever placed has a right to feel what she feels, understanding that her experience is not like anyone else's, ultimately. Birthmoms of the CUB era often found they had to contend not just with the loss of their child to adoption but also with the painful reality that they'd been terribly exploited, and I think that left many scarred in a way that perhaps today's birthmothers cannot easily appreciate? And maybe their ambivalence towards the regrets of the "girls who went away" is what fuels the dismissive "koolaid comments". But as women, whether or not we've placed and how, it behooves us all to honor each other and stand together, as moms and daughters and sisters and grandmothers who want better for all birthmothers, everywhere.

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  3. Instead of bitter, I heard "angry" a lot despite my good fortune at reunion eleven years ago. And in retrospect, I guess I was. In the 23 years that I eagerly awaited reunion, I never imagined that my daughter would not want a relationship with me, would not let her future children know they have three grandmothers (and I'm pretty sure they'd love having me as their cool, young grandmother), and I certainly didn't expect her to bond with my straight-out-of Grimm's-fairytales-younger-sibling like white on rice. I'd say I was more devastated/decimated/hell, annihilated than angry, but, yes, I had some anger after all that.

    But, to use one of my daughter's phrases, that particular window of my life has been nailed shut, the void of her loss a second time filled with new relationships, passions, pursuits. Yet after all that ill will between us, I'd relinquish all I've created for myself since my now six-year exile to have a healthy relationshp with my daughter. Sadly, there are just too many obstacles preventing that (i,.e., a third chance) from happening anytime soon.

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  4. Good post. It will be decades before we hear more about open adoption and the overall affect that it on birthmothers of today. From what I can see it would have made life less scary.

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  5. Those young mothers in open adoption also are not guaranteed by law that the adoption won't be closed. The aparents can close the adoption, move away and she may never know what happened to her child.

    And you're right, just because the mother thinks she's relieved now, there is NO guarantee that the child will be relieved. This situation can turn around and bite that young mother big time...forever.

    P.S. Welcome to the Bitter Club -- we adoptees have been accused of being that many times :)

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  6. I am a birthmother in an open adoption. One of the first fully open.... not only take your kid to the zoo and babysitting... but a real familial relationship between his adoptive family and mine. The birthfather is even involved, and we are friends.

    Sound idyllic?

    Well in many ways it is about as "good" as it gets. Good, however, is a relative term. For two weeks around his birthday I am still a wreck. I can't watch Dumbo without sobbing ("Baby Mine" triggers all kinds of stuff) and there are many times I play the "what if" game. But all this "good" stuff has taken an incredible amount of hard work, deep thought and pain that I cannot fully describe. Relieved was maybe 10% of what I felt at first, but by the time he was 2 years old, that was long gone.

    I cannot speak for a multitude of others, but many of the birthmoms with older children in open adoptions that I know have struggled mightily. It is not the happily ever after, win-win-win that many agencies and "professionals would like to believe. How can it be? Adoption is still separation of mother and child, no matter how pretty you want to dress it up. Mothers lose the ability to mother their babies, and babies lose their all they are familiar with. It is founded on trauma and loss and that trauma and loss rears it's hurtful legacy on and off as life goes on. No matter how open the adoption, that is a reality that is shared by all separated by adoption.

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  7. I clicked on the link to the call you received from Tom's daughter and read the story from start to finish. As I got near the end, I realized I know Jennifer myself!! We met at the (Michigan)State library in Lansing when she came up here just to find my dying brother's natural family for me. She is an angel through and through and so is her hubby!!! Small world. Loved the story!
    Laurie

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  8. Great piece Lorraine and you bring up an excellent point. It is dismissive to accuse mothers who feel they made an adoption plan and an informed choice of drinking the koolaide. It is every bit as insulting to them as the comments to our generation of mothers of adoption loss. There is way too much name calling, finger pointing and posturing as if there is only one way to think in adoption.

    I like what Elizabeth says - every mother who has lost a child to adoption has a right to her own feelings and respect for her decision if it was her choice. Even when a mother chooses to surrender, there is pain and trauma that should be honored.
    I stay out of those debates of us vs them, these days.

    One thing that is said about bitterness is that it is often resentment about a situation that when not worked through, finally hardens a person.

    I don't believe I am bitter. I've had a challenging but interesting life and still manage to find some joy. I no longer feel the need to constantly be kvetching about adoption. There is no doubt it fu*ked my son and me up, but I refuse to let it beat me down forever.


    However, I respect a mother's right to feel however she chooses. I can and do privately think some people would be taken more seriously if they could communicate more calmly and respectfully of others who feel differently but hey, that's their choice.

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  9. Beautiful post Lorraine that is the thing in life, we can never truly know what it feels like to live somebody else’s skin how we will feel about our decisions later after we see how it all played out in the end.

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  12. Viktoria,

    No need to be so snide. I was asking an honest question. Also I'm a newcomer so I'm not familiar with every single thing Lorraine and Jane have written about. I'm glad that they are acknowledging father's rights.

    Furthermore, I think it's sick and disgusting when agencies bring mothers to Utah to avoid the birthfather's laws. We are counseled at my agency not to do that. But I doubt you'd believe that. I can give you a list of all the non LDS agencies in Utah who take advantage of the loose laws. Just because legally a birthfathers' rights can be trampled doesn't mean it's ethical to.

    Which is why I encourage all mothers considering adoption to involve the father because he deserves a voice. I wrote an email to Melynda detailing what we do to ensure father's rights. This what I said because I don't fill like re-tying it.

    If a mother is coming to see me, I ask her if we can contact the birthfather. Then I have to respect her answer. I encourage them over and over again to bring the birthfather in to meet with us as well, if he is willing. The birthfathers who become clients of the agency are just as informed of their rights as the birthmothers. Utah doesn’t have very birthfather friendly laws, but that doesn’t mean I think it’s ethical to trample a birthfather’s rights just because legally I can. And if a birthmother is lying about the birthfather’s involvement and is lying to the birthfather, the onus is on her. LDSFS refuses to high-risk placements where a father has asserted his rights. At that point, we try to mediate the relationship and help the parties establish a working custody agreement.

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  13. Marissa, you do realize that you should talk extremely careful here?

    Your job is likely to single you out as "the enemy", for many people here, including me, if you would like to know, you are likely to be seen as akin to a fence, talking to people whose precious possessions have been stolen.

    That said, it is great that you dare to post here, you are really a valuable addition to this forum, but please, don't expect anybody here to feel they owe you anything, not even common courtesy, in my eyes, and I guess my view is shared to a degree by some, you are just a part of the problem.

    I'll put "Working In Faerieland, With Utah Always On My Mind" on my blog now, just in case you would like to attack me.

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  14. Beautifully written, Lorraine.

    I don't think my birth mother was bitter. Sad and resigned, definitely, but not bitter.

    Big hugs to (((Gretchen))) and everyone.

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  16. Marissa,
    Sadly, I have to say I have read all your comments and I still don't believe you.
    I find your approach very naive and somewhat dismissive.
    A mother who wrote that even though she is in an open adoption, she still has some hurt and regret was dismissed by you on this very thread.
    Perhaps you do not mean to represent yourself this way but that is how I and apparently some others are reading it.
    I am glad you feel you are "on our side" although I wasn't aware there were sides to all of this.
    Perhaps you should spend a little more time here listening instead of preaching.

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  17. I for one am glad that Marissa is here speaking because we can learn from her, just as I feel she must be learning from us. She is inside the system, she is neither birth mother nor adoptee herself, and she clearly represents the kind of adoption social worker that we need more of.

    You are free to express your opinions but be circumspect in your comments, please.

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  18. Marissa, I would LOVE to have a discussion with you about this on my blog. Not on this one. Please, just say that you are sorry to Viktoria, that was all I tried to make clear to you. Don't claim to be on my side before you know where I stand, to be on my side you would have to work hard to make sure that the "birth mothers" of this generation do not happen anymore.

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  19. Some of us are stuck in self pity and blame, some of us are doing the best we can to find a way to have a happy life, some of us are bitter and some of us are angry and some of us are sad. Some of us are doing better than others emotionally because we have a better support system or a more effective way of handling loss.

    I know I have had my bitter years where I was so wound up in anger that I lashed out all over the internet.

    I do think it's easy to use the word bitter as a put down, a way to intimidate or try to gain control when confronted.

    I don't see the writers here as bitter. Sometimes I see a lack of support for each other, real true support. Sometimes I see true friendship too.

    It's hard to be jolly when talking about the loss of one's child. I think it's not healthy to be busy with it every day, day in and day out. I guess whatever makes you feel like you are healing is best.

    Everyone is different. Do you think you are bitter? Only you can answer that question.

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  20. Brenda said: "Adoption is still separation of mother and child, no matter how pretty you want to dress it up. Mothers lose the ability to mother their babies, and babies lose their all they are familiar with. It is founded on trauma and loss and that trauma and loss rears it's hurtful legacy on and off as life goes on. No matter how open the adoption, that is a reality that is shared by all separated by adoption."

    Truthful, powerful stuff, there Brenda.

    I would be so very interested to read/see a study where birth mothers in open adoptions that are 5+ years post-finalization share their true feelings about the situation. I have a feeling the findings would reveal something vastly different than the "the happily ever after, win-win-win" arrangement that is currently being sold to single expectant mothers. I would also be curious to find out how much outwardly blissful birth mothers in open adoptions have to censor their feelings, thoughts, and actions because they are afraid of the adoptive parents closing the open adoption if they don't "toe the party line."

    While open adoption is a step in the right direction, I frequently wonder if it is not just another way of ensuring a birth mother remains quiet and complicit in her loss. After all, I know some will say (have said) what right does she have to speak about her pain when she chose adoption, chose the adoptive couple, and gets to see her child grow up?

    P.S. Try to be a bit nice to Marissa. I believe she's making an honest and sincere effort to learn and understand what it is like for us first mothers who had closed adoptions. She might be on the inside and she might be a Mormon (as am I) but that doesn't mean she isn't working towards change in adoption.

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  23. Are birthmothers bitter? Sure, some are, many with good reason, especially those whose kids were abused, hurt, neglected and in some cases died in their supposed to be better adoptive homes. Those whose children are very damaged adults, or just want nothing to do with their birthmother, ever, have every right to be angry, bitter, depressed. Some of these women surrendered 50 years ago, some surrendered in the last few years.

    What bothers me is the artificial separation into "eras" of surrender, as if that made all the difference, or into open or closed. There were women in the 50s and 60s who freely chose to surrender, and have remained satisfied with that choice. There are women and girls today who have little choice, and who have been lied to and manipulated, whose "open" adoptions close, or are too painful to bear. It is not a matter of what year you surrendered, but who you were dealing with and how much actual choice you had. Nobody is a "more noble" surrendering mother; we all have to live with our own story and actions.

    For every one decent agency or social worker there are ten less than ethical "adoption providers" who are just as cynically making a profit and lying and shaming. Some of these have a religious agenda, some are just in it to make a buck. It is not "all better" for all now, although certainly it is better for some, and that is a good thing, not a reason to hate those women who have it a little easier than we older mothers did.

    I read a heartbreaking blog, "Lianotjuno" of a 20 year old mother who surrendered 3 months ago. It was a free choice, it is a fully open adoption, she really did not feel she could raise a child, but her grief and pain is right up there with what any of us have experienced. People tried to tell her, but she really had no clue how it would feel.

    I see no point in dividing mothers who surrendered, or belittling the real feelings of those who are satisfied, those who are bitter or angry, those who are grief-stricken, or those like me who have made peace with some of the grief after many years and with communication with my son that was not there for a long time.

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  24. As Carolc pointed out, there is way too much name calling, finger pointing and posturing as if there is only one way to think in adoption.” I agree that being called “bitter” is dismissive. However, this action pales in comparison to what happened recently. On adoptee-written blogs that purportedly claim to advocate for adoption reform, deplorable remarks were made about a woman who lost her child during the BSE . She was called an “inhumane asshole,” a “liar,” a “sicko,” a “narcissist” and a “bitch” among other things by some adoptees who have never met the woman in person or online. Such denigration is a form of cyber bullying and the causes of it are varied. My work as a teacher in a public school system involves working with teenagers who are both cyberbully victims and perpetrators. Thus, it is especially regrettable to see such behavior among adults. I believe it interferes with true adoption reform.
    Gail

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  25. Marissa, Melynda asked us to be nice to you, and the universal academical siblinghood makes it my duty to honor the request of my superior ranking sister in Academia, without violating the truth.

    I guess that you have been blessed in that you do not have a serious trauma, which can easily be triggered, thank your God for that, but, please, remember that some of us do bear such a curse, please?

    There was nothing wrong with your posting, it was even good that you did: you are, really, one of the most interesting writers here. That does not mean that everybody will agree with you, but your posts, from your point of view, are interesting.

    I know it's not easy, writing for a new public, with another background, you don't know yet, so let's all try to be a bit more careful, friendly and trusting...

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  26. And why shouldn't the first mothers of yesteryear be bitter? The bottom line is that they did not WANT to give up their children for adoption. I know that Lorraine, Jane, my own first mother and so many others knew with every fiber of their being that they wanted to keep and raise their own child. It was society that wouldn't let them. If you had no parental (grandparent)support, would get fired from your job and have no place to live and the child would be taunted for being a bastard, what options did you have? Social pressure is a very real and powerful thing. I grew up in a much freer time and I have still made bad choices in my life based on social pressure. I think first mothers who never wanted to give their child up have every right to be mad as hell. I don't know if this new crop of birthmothers are drinking the kool-aid or not, only time will tell.

    This is just my personal opinion, but as an adult adoptee I have never been totally enamored with the idea of open adoption. I did not want my first parent(s) to take me to the zoo, I wanted to live with them and have them raise me. What if they would move out of town and start a new family and not see me as much or ever? Open adoption seems to me that it could potentially set the stage for repeated rejections. Just speaking for myself, I suspect I would rather have only been a part of my afamily until the age of 18 when I could decide for myself. The only advantage I can see is knowing who my natural parents were would have been better than having imaginary figures in my head. It seems that children have an innate need to be loved and valued by their natural parents. I'm not sure that open adoption would get rid of the pain of being given away in the first place.

    I have no problem with the things Marissa has been saying. Although since she is neither a first mother or an adoptee, I think it is harder to relate.

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  27. Actually Theodore, I have suffered real trauma in my life. I lost my own mother to pancreatic cancer 3 years ago. She was in every way my role model, my best friend, and my greatest cheerleader. I remember when she died my first thought was, "who is ever going to love me like she did?" For 3 months after she was diagnosed, I got a front row seat to watching my mother being eaten alive by cancer. I got to watch her writhe in pain that was too horrific for morphine to subside. I got to sit there helplessly as my mother begged me to find someone to kill her. And yet none of that was as traumatizing as watching the mortuary director close her casket.

    So I might not know your exact loss, but I do understand on a very personal level grief and loss. As I told Melynda in an email, getting outside of myself and helping single mothers and birth mothers is one of the things that has helped me survive the last 3 years. They call it "the wounded healer" phenomenon.

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  28. I appreciate Marissa's comments and her commitment to honesty and openness in adoption. I was appalled, however, to read that through the Utah Adoption Council, health classes in schools hear presentations by birth mothers about adoption as part of the reproduction curriculum.

    Do the schools also allow Planned Parenthood to make presentations by young women who have had abortions? Do the schools allow young women nurturing their infants to make presentations?

    The schools should explain the biology of reproduction and how to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. It should be up to pregnant young women themselves to decide if they want information on adoption or abortion or neither.

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  29. Jane, the UAC presentations are optional for students but not optional by law for schools (although most schools only participate if they want and there are no consequences if they don’t). Blame our screwy legislature. Seriously, I refer to them as the Utah Taliban.

    Although, if I were 16 and pregnant, I'd want information on all my options. Especially in a state where most parents are not talking to their kids about sex or consequences. And I'd love it if the schools got a Planned Parenthood presentation! Especially since PP does a helluva lot more than provide abortions. A relative of mine is a PA at planned parenthood. Love them and the services they provide.

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  30. Marissa:

    Now I'm intrigued by what you said about panels and such run by birth parents to educate adoptive parents about keeping the adoption open. By an "open" adoption, can I assume that you mean that the adoptive parents and the natural mother know each other and where they live, etc.? I know that some adoptions like that (in any state) can still be slammed shut if the people move and don't leave a forwarding address and have an unlisted number.

    And I'm wondering if in the case of a very young birth mother, she might form a strong bond with the adoptive mother. I would imagine that could happen quite easily, and be good for the well-being of the mother.

    Like Jane, the thought of birth mothers giving presentations about adoption (the benefits of adoption?) in high school is alarming. Is abortion outlawed by LDS, as it is in the Catholic Church?

    There is research on the trauma of surrendering a child--to say nothing of the trauma to the child so surrendered in the first place, and it would be good if this was presented also. Jane and I have written about this and it is posted in one of the permanent pages on the side: the Response to the Center for American Progress's "Adoption Option."

    But again, I have certainly found our discussion enlightening, and am pleased you are here writing to all of us. I hope that one day you have a leadership position in LDS Family Services, and are able to effect policy even more than you do now.

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  31. Oh sorry, I am really sorry, for mentioning that,I was rather thinking of some sort of abuse trauma, (having your baby "stolen" fits in there, but it is not all of it).
    But can you understand that your attitude, your Social Worker way of doing, may trigger defense mechanisms people can have constructed to defend themselves against past abuse? Even if that was not the case with Viktoria, it could very well have been.

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  32. Lorraine,

    Unlike the Catholic church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS) does not ban all abortions. You can read more about the official stance on it here: http://newsroom.lds.org/official-statement/abortion

    I truly appreciate the final statement: "Abortion is a most serious matter and should be considered only after the persons involved have consulted with their local church leaders and feel through personal prayer that their decision is correct."

    @ Marissa - The Utah Taliban. I needed a good chuckle tonight.

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  33. Unfortunately, I think the young girls of today who are labelled "birthmothers" early in pregnancy and embrace this role, who create comittment and entrustment ceremonies choosing the poems and the music etc., and handing over their child - believing all the while that they are in charge...will have a much worse time than us when they realize what they have done...there is a big diffeence between "mothers rage" and "bitterness"...try to take a cub from a mother bear...would you describe her as bitter as she tears you apart? Valerie

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  34. Melynda, what happened to your blog?

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  35. ""there is a big diffeence between "mothers rage" and "bitterness"...try to take a cub from a mother bear...would you describe her as bitter as she tears you apart?
    Valerie""

    @Valerie..Well said and thank you!

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  36. from dictionary.com
    –adjective
    3. hard to bear; grievous; distressful: a bitter sorrow.
    4. causing pain; piercing; stinging: a bitter chill.
    5. characterized by intense antagonism or hostility: bitter hatred.
    6. hard to admit or accept: a bitter lesson.
    7. resentful or cynical: bitter words.

    Bitter seems to me to be an accurate adjective for much of adoption experience. That includes adoptive parents who didn't get the "ideal child". I think expectations are higher when "choice or pseudo-choice" is involved as opposed to life just happening.

    I doubt that picking the adoptive parents makes much difference over the long run. I had a long ago closed adoption. The agency I used was excellent and a model for its time. The parents chosen for my son were exactly who I would have chosen. However, it wasn't a good fit in many ways. There are a million things you don't and can't know and inexperienced girls aren't exactly good pickers. Look at the facts of the situation they are in at the time.

    I could also see an open adoption as a terrible burden and have certainly read about it eating the birthmother, circumscribing her life in every way (education, employment and relationship decisions) with little benefit.

    There are no perfect decisions in life.

    I felt bitter about the results of my decisions until I began to see how many children are poor fits and alienated in their families of birth. I guess it's a crap shoot whether DNA and circumstances/environment/personality will match up for good relationships and outcomes.

    Adoption in the US is horrible because it is largely baby sales dressed up. All parties are poorly served. I dropped out of the adoption scene for 10 years and now find that little has changed in that time.

    PS my son's adoptive parents are active ACLU types against open adoption and he is long an adult. It makes no sense to me.

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  37. fyi - Each state has a unique ACLU chapter and unique people running it so in some states they are actually supportive of adoptee rights. So saying someone is an ACLU parent doesn't have the intended meaning in some states.

    I relinquished in 1990. It was supposedly the open adoption era, but to get help with an agency in NY you had to have a closed adoption. You could pick the parents or not. They said the families agreed to write updates, but then when the adoptive family I gave my son to stopped writing updates, the agency people said they never made such a promise.

    There are no laws that govern open adoptions. No rights and no protections for anyone in the adoption triad leaves plenty of room for confusion and problems. Just as there are problems in closed adoptions.

    I made plenty of choices and the people I know who took the open adoption option say similar words to me. It's not what you think it will be. It's not ideal. It's not painfree or easy to live with.

    I think it's even harder when the choices aren't forced. I often think the girls who lived in group "homes" together had possibly more support because others were with them in the same troubled water.

    I was alone in my choices, in my pregnancy and my post adoption life. I've had about a year of being part of the bigger picture - a member of CUB and AAC. This choice has helped, but I think for me bitter remains a defining word for adoption.

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  38. Lorraine...outstanding post! I had just commented to friends that trying to convince people adoption is better nowadays because it's Open rather than Closed is like telling a mugging victim the crime is better because they were stabbed instead of shot.

    It's a rediculous argument because the legalities (or lack thereof)in OA do not change the fact that adoption represents a loss - and a very painful one - for the first parents involved. (I cannot speak for how adoptees may feel, as I am not one myself.)

    There are plenty of folks out there who'd like to argue otherwise. IMO, they are either unfamiliar with what it is to be a first parent and are therefore understandably ignorant of our situation. Or they have some other motive far less gracious. Divide and conquer comes immediately to mind. It's one of the oldest tactics in the book and works quiet well as evidenced by its continued use.

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  39. After reading so many of the posts on this site I think I have come to the conclusion that it makes no difference the situation or the choice of open or closed when it comes to adoption. It seems that what goes on is that as time goes on we all realize just what our "choice" has done to our lives and the lives of our children.

    They say time heals all but I think adoption is the exception to this rule. We are all still in some form of grief over losing our babies and they over losing us.

    I can only hope that those making the "choice" at the present time learn from the mistakes of those of us who made the "choice" in the past. It is indeed a heavy burden to bear. And I for one am still angry and bitter over 40 years later for no one telling me this.

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  40. "I think it's even harder when the choices aren't forced. I often think the girls who lived in group "homes" together had possibly more support because others were with them in the same troubled water."

    I think I understand what you are trying to say, but I prefer to think of it as a different kind of hard. Perhaps some did, but it is wrong to assume that all "girls who went away" found solace in the companionship of the other girls or took comfort in the fact that they were all there for the same reason. I certainly didn't feel supported. I felt totally isolated. There was no social aspect to my confinement whatsoever. As far as I was concerned, my child, before and after birth, was my sole companion.

    I think the "girls who went away" are probably getting more sympathy now, in part because their experience has been "enshrined" by the book of that name. I should be deeply sorry if such a valuable piece of social history has inadvertently contributed to widening the gulf between older and younger mothers. Basically I agree with Maryanne that the separation of the "eras" is artificial. I also think it is inadequate, unhelpful and too often used to be unkind.

    Personally I'd love to find some way of getting away from the word "choice", which is a massive over-simplification of the process of relinquishment.
    Apart from anything else, it tends to point the finger in one direction only, and as anyone who has given the matter any thought knows, it is much more complicated than that.

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  41. Anonymous,
    I use the term "choice" very loosely. It is definately an over simplified term for a very difficult decision.

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  44. Tryingtoheal said "I use the term "choice" very loosely. It is definately an over simplified term for a very difficult decision."

    I quite agree, which is why I wish there was another term. Relinquishment for adoption in any era happens as the result of conditions and influences that many people aren't even prepared to consider, let alone try to understand.
    Yet when it comes to pointing the finger, the blame too often devolves to just one person - the mother - as if nobody else was involved at all.

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  45. Beth in MT wrote:
    "I made plenty of choices and the people I know who took the open adoption option say similar words to me. It's not what you think it will be. It's not ideal. It's not painfree or easy to live with."

    It worries me that open adoption is used as a lure to get a very reluctant expectant mother to part with her child. And then it does not turn out the way she (or the child) would have wanted and it turns out to have been a big mistake. I prefer family preservation whenever possible rather than the poor substitute of open adoption.


    @Marissa,

    As far as your "one big happy family" idea goes........most children still do not want to be given away by their natural parents.

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  46. “The Girls Who Went Away,” Is one of my favorite adoption-related books because I was able to identify with so many of the stories as I, too, went away (I think maybe Jane and Lorraine did as well although I’m not entirely sure). In my case, however, I did not go to a home as I didn’t even know they existed. Instead, at the age of 18, I left town and lived with a friend for a short time. Following the birth of my child, I returned home by myself to live with my parents as I had no means of support. I remember the overwhelming feelings I had of loneliness and isolation. I cried every single day. Complicating matters even more, my mother was gravely ill from failed brain surgery and she was given the last rites as she was comatose. She did survive, but the quality of her life was significantly diminished and for the next 16 years I helped take care of her. I was at her bedside by myself and held her hand when she died. Several months before her death, she told me how sorry she was that she wasn’t available to help me at a time in my life when I desperately needed help and guidance. This was the first time my mother ever spoke to me about adoption. She also told me that my only aunt had given up a child for adoption back in 1940. This was a family secret that hadn’t been shared. This comment is a bit longer than I intended and I went through a small box of Kleenex typing it so I’ll stop here although the story is much longer as many are. My purpose in sharing here was to add to the discussion about the individuality of each of our stories and to caution others to reserve judgment in the absence of facts and to remember that all of those involved with adoption have experienced a terrible loss.

    Gail

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  47. Even I, who am often the "loyal opposition" here on many issues, am getting a bit tired of this being the "all Marissa all the time" blog. Although I agree with her that open adoption can work, and not all adoptions are bad,and some social workers get it, that cheery social worker persona is a little hard to take in large doses.

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  48. @Lorraine and Jane,
    Congratulations on being named a Top adoption blog. You certainly deserve the honor.

    @Marissa,
    At first I appreciated what you had to say but the more of your comments I read, the more I am reminded that you do make your living off of adoption.

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  49. No, I did not........go away.

    But from the comments here one can see how the lingering effects of the act of the surrender our children still is so fresh that we cry inexplicably and unexpectedly when we visit this experience. I found a blog the other day of a Christian woman in an open adoption and she writes about how everything is how she was told it would be--it is a truly open adoption, she visits the child, the adoptive parents are nice, etc.--but she finds herself crying at the oddest moments, when she least expects it. Valentine's Day, for instance....and she is not crying for the father of her baby.

    The blog is called Amstel Life.

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  50. Marissa, you tell us that you tell the PAP's that the child will mourn, wouldn't telling PRP's prevent more suffering?

    Your "Open" adoption still seems a lot worse than "closed" adoption with enforceable(!) visiting and information rights. ("Closed" in not allowing the mother to decide(!) which couple of PAP's is getting the baby, of course, as that would only discourage her from deciding to raise the baby herself.)

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  51. I embrace the term "bitter".

    Why WOULDN'T you be bitter that you were forced to surrender your babies?

    I used to get upset when people called me a "bitter & angry adoptee". Not anymore.

    I AM bitter and angry when it comes to all that I lost. I lost my Mother. My father. My grandparents, siblings, cousins, culture and my identity- and my Mother lost her child. I am bitter and angry because I, like millions of other adoptees, cannot obtain our OBCs.

    People NEED to know how adoption has affected us all. Others may try to use the bitter label to dismiss us, but they just don't matter. I know what this process has done to me and my first family....and yes, we are ALL a little bit bitter....and we're ok with that.

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  52. @ Marissa who said "In fact, the women and men that I have worked with who have chosen adoption (not had it thrust upon them or didn't have choice based on the culture of the era) are the heroes of my life. They are the bravest women and men I have ever known."

    They would be, wouldn't they?
    I wonder if they feel heroic. Unlikely in the long-term, especially when there are no longer any social workers around to sustain them in that self-image.

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  53. ""Marissa who said "In fact, the women and men that I have worked with who have chosen adoption (not had it thrust upon them or didn't have choice based on the culture of the era) are the heroes of my life. They are the bravest women and men I have ever known.""

    O! God not again! The 'hero', the 'brave', she forgot the 'selfless'.....all slop. Words to seduce/entice a mother to legally separate from her newborn. Then attach that most overused word in Adoption Land..."choice". As much as things change, as much as they remain the same.

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  54. I did go away. I left my home in Fairbanks, Alaska and went to San Francisco where I knew no one. I lived in a rented room near the Tenderloin. (A sailor tried to pick me up when I was eight months pregnant. Either he was desperate or had poor eyesight. When I spurned his advanced, he said "You don't have to be insulting"!)

    I left San Francisco two months after my daughter Megan was born. The song "I left My Heart in San Francisco" always brings back the memories of my time there. I did leave my heart--or at least a part of my soul--in San Francisco.

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  55. As an adult adoptee I did not WANT to be a part of any adoption whether open or closed. The one person who truly gets this and totally agrees is my own first mother.

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  56. Marissa, we were not "heroes" for surrendering our kids, nor are the young people surrendering today. Are those who surrender more "heroic" to you than those who raise their kids? Perhaps you should have a cheap tin medal to pin on their chests in exchange for their child.

    That statement alone blew away so much of your reasonable cheery rhetoric about how things are different today. As someone else said, "same old same old".

    If I had had the courage of a hero, I would have walked out of that hospital with my son and never spoke to another social worker again. It would have saved me and him a lot of suffering.

    Sometimes surrender is sadly the best of some bad options, the lesser evil, but it is never pain-free or heroic.

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  57. The words "bitter" and "angry" are so often thrown into the faces of mothers who surrendered their babies to adoption during the Baby Scoop Era. Like all stereotyping, this serves a purpose....people don't have to take the time to know us, and they don't have to think about the injustices that were done in separating mothers from their children.

    Am I a bitter person in general? No...but I have been bitter and angry from time to time. I was lied to by professional social workers. I was emotionally abandoned by both my parents and by my son's father. I was left alone in my bedroom to rot until my baby was born. I was a teenager who trusted the adults in her life, and I had no idea what bullshit was going down in the BSE.

    My son was abused by his adoptive parents...and if I could tear them apart, I would do so in the blink of an eye. I am outraged that they hurt my little boy, and I am outraged at how much he still suffers, even though he's now 39 years old. Adoption was devastating for him as a child and continues to be so to this day.

    Underneath my anger and rage, though, is unrelenting sadness and grief...and severe depression from time to time. I've been reunited with my son now for 21 years, but it's still incredibly difficult.

    I, for one, do not believe that the Baby Scoop Era ever ended. The young women I've come to know over the past few years remind me so much of myself when I was their age. It wasn't until years after the BSE ended that any of us really knew the extent of what had truly happened to us. None of us even had a name for that era until long after it had ended. It's easy to look back now and see how we were exploited, how we were bullied or shamed into giving up our children simply because we were young or unmarried. But did we really see the reality of what was going down at the time? I don't think so.

    I fear that the same thing will happen 20 years from now...when these young natural mothers reach middle age and find out what really went down. I wonder what they'll call this era then? BSE Act II?

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  58. There has been some discussion here calling first parents "brave". This, IMHO, is the opposite side of the "tramp" coin and does just as much to water down a first parent's humanity as do the personifications of us as criminals.

    Yet our act of relinquishing our children neither classifies us as sinners or as saints.

    We made the hardest of choices at the most difficult of times. That does not make us brave. It makes us human.

    Just like everyone else.

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  59. I have to say the "brave" comment really stuck in my craw too because it indicates a lack of real understanding about how we feel at the time of relinquishment, and "brave" doesn't do it at all. We are defeated. By the "when" of the pregnancy and birth, by our situation, by our own inability to care for our children and boy, "brave" is not how we feel.

    The only "brave" thing about our continuing to live after surrender is that we don't go right out and kill ourselves. I suppose that is "brave" and maybe that is what people somehow "get" when we give up our children and manage to go on with our lives. With that perspective, maybe it is "brave," but only from that perspective. Maybe the people who call us "brave" really do get to the heart of the matter.

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  60. I get "bitter", though try not to feed it.
    I do however have a big problem with those who use their "bitter" experience as an excuse to carelessly fling corrosive acid in other people's
    faces.
    I'm not just talking about a case of the the odd angry outburst here. That is understandable. I mean a sustained vindictive campaign that is being conducted against a mother on a blog primarily intended for mothers. I'm surprised such comments are allowed through.
    It doesn't inspire confidence.

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  62. From Marissa: "In fact, the women and men that I have worked with who have chosen adoption (not had it thrust upon them or didn't have choice based on the culture of the era) are the heroes of my life. The are the bravest women and men I've ever known."

    You did not say that the women who choose to single parent are heroic and brave--it was the ones who "chose" adoption. Please don't think of those who choose adoption as brave; they are making the best decision they think they can but boy, it comes back to haunt you later.

    And Anonymous @9:24 am: Who and what are you talking about? A "sustained vindictive campaign" against a mother? Do tell. Inquiring minds want to know.

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  63. As stated previously on this blog, adoption is a loving option in cases of abuse and/or neglect. And is of course preferable to a child staying in an abusive situation. Though when possible adoption by a bio-family member is preferable.

    I am glad you have no vested financial interest in adoption, Marissa. However, most agencies and adoption attorneys do. Some of your later comments started to sound like they came straight from a pro-adoption PR/Marketing campaign.

    And yes, most people here are venting their hurt, anger and bitterness and not necessarily at you. That is the purpose of this blog. It is designed for those who have had lifelong trauma connected to adoption and want to share their experiences with others of like mind.

    As for a hero, I choose Joseph Democko who was profiled in People Magazine in 2007 and then again in the Feb 14, 2011 issue. His sister was a single mother with a drug addiction who lost custody of her children. Joe stepped up to the plate and petitioned the court to adopt the children. He adamantly did not want the kids to go to strangers since as he said " They're family". Despite not having a high income himself, he was willing to make whatever sacrifices were necessary to keep the children in the family. His sister has even been turning her life around and has contact with her children again. This story sounds like a win-win-win.

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  64. Like Robin, I have ambivalent feelings about what an open adoption would have meant to me. While it would have been wonderful to know who I was born to, and about my first families, I think would have been extremely painful as a child to have my first parents visit and leave, wondering again and again why I couldn't go with them. It will be interesting to see what today's young adoptees have to say about their experiences in open adoptions when they reach adulthood and can speak to it with the distance of maturity.

    I also found Marissa's references to first parent "heroism" troubling. Heroism here is about sacrificing the self for the child, but the problem is, the child is sacrificed, as well. My fmom doesn't consider herself a hero, nor does she think warmly about my relinquishment. It was something that has involved a lifetime of hurt for her. The life I have led was not necessarily better either, just different.

    I have been wondering about the first parent panels run by your agency, Marissa. It sounds like advertisement, especially when you said it was to help PAPs see that adoption isn't "scary." You know, it *is* scary. There are thousands of unknowns, even in open adoptions. Why does the focus have to be about allaying the fears of PAPs? Do your panels include first parents who do not have open adoptions? First parents who aren't altogether pleased with the process? First parents whose adoptions have closed? If not, then isn't it more about grooming PAP clients than showing adoption for what it is, a business wrapped up in loss?

    I am very sorry for your nephew who was burned, Marissa. But being adopted doesn't guarantee a home free of abuse, any more than being with one's natural family does. One would hope adoptive families would be "better" since they're screened, but they're not always so.

    I used to fight the "bitter" label, but now I embrace it. I have a right to be angry for all the lies I have been told, and all the games that the industry has played with me and both my families.

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  66. Re: Birthparent panels orchestrated by "professionals." Not to divert the original post, but this seems to have become a part of the discussion here.

    I was on two such "panels" in the first year after relinquishment. I was naive and believed the rhetoric I was given -- which is to say that I believed I could "educate" people and demonstrate that "birthmothers are real people."

    The actual experience was quite the contrary. Those of us on the panel worked to keep our tears to a minimum. We said what we'd been coached to say (by our pregnancy counselors), not because we were weak or morally flawed but because we were still in various degrees of ... well, something that felt very much like shock and had not yet processed much.

    So early into the loss, we'd not yet found our own voices. Perhaps the "professionals" had good intentions, but they certainly were not giving us a voice. (I find that belief presumptuous and, frankly, laughable at this point.) Rather, they were exploiting our lack of voice, our vulnerability, and our inability to articulate what we had so recently experienced.

    As much as I despise the implications of words like "exploited" (if only because they've been associated, by some, with weakness or victimhood in this context)... the facts remain: these panels typically consist of mothers who have been groomed to carry forth the agency's message. When they move beyond those parameters, they are not called upon to speak. I know this as fact. When I could no longer say what they wanted me to say, they did not want me to speak (not only on a panel but in agency sponsored internet forums,etc).
    When friends and peers could not longer say what their agencies wanted them to say, they were silenced, banned on forums, and told that their presence on panels was no longer "appropriate."

    After speaking on said panels, we mothers privately discussed the experience with one another. The consensus was that we'd served primarily in coaching potential adoptive parents in the hows/and what's to say to pregnant mothers with whom they hoped to soon meet.

    If there is to be a birthparent panel to truly educate, the panel should include women who have "voluntarily" relinquished and those who were coerced and lied to (the latter so the ramifications can be seen). It should include mothers who relinquished, say, three years before and women who relinquished 30 years before.

    While on the subject, a "professionally" orchestrated panel should also include adoptees -- both those who have had positive experiences and those who have had negative experiences.

    And no pregnant mother should ever serve on said panel. I was asked to do so at 8 months pregnant (by my pregnancy counselor whom I'd come to trust, however naively). I agreed in the name of "educating." I mention this because it is still a common practice. First, it is not a pregnant mother's job to educate potential adoptive parents. Second, the predonimant questions asked of me while on the panel consisted of how to best approach a pregnant mother to get her to relinquish. Other mothers I've spoken to who have served on similar panels have described this experience as being the one that first made them feel as if they were carrying a child "meant for" someone else.

    Forgive the long post. It seemed an apropos addition.

    M

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  67. Perhaps this is also an important addition: I was called a hero when I served on the panels as were the other mothers who served with me.

    My child, years later, did not view it that way at all. On the absolute contrary. My child did not see it as a self-sacrificial act on my part, but as abandonment.

    Were my intentions based in love? Absolutely. What gets left out of the discussion at these panels is how the adopted person may well feel down the road (if not at the time). It's imperative information that's intentionally withheld because these panels, in my experience, are focused on soothing potential adoptive parents' fears of open adoption (which is the primary means of U.S. adoption today), not about educating.

    M

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  69. There was a question about the cost to prospective adopters of attending these classes; Marissa has stated that her agency charges the below-industry average for an adoption. That may not answer the question directly, but let us assume these classes do not generate separate fees. Also, we have heard that some LDS agencies run at a deficit and and supported by Church funds.

    Furthermore, Marissa does not speak for all agencies, or even all LDS agencies.

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  70. Thanks Lorraine, as an adult adoptee I have heard the bitter word more than once as well. It's always delivered in a dismissive context.... usually when a point is made that contradicts what the adoption industry and PAP's and AP's would like us all to believe. How dare I not tow the company line, huh? How ungrateful of me.

    My response is usually, yes, I am bitter, and damaged... by my chronic, disenfranchised grief for my mother.

    Marissa, I'm glad you are hear to learn. A suggestion: How about putting a few adult adoptees on your panel? We spend much time on how PAP's should deal with "their" children, but usually nothing is said about the adults they become. We're adults longer than we are children... just a thought.

    Respectfully,

    Tamara

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  72. I certainly didn't feel brave for surrendering my son I felt like a coward and the aftershocks are still rippling through my life and ability to relate to people-some 35 years later. It was a feeling of being out of control- which I have come to understand stems from physically not being in control of my child and psychologically not being in control of my 'child'. I often wonder how those in 'open adoptions' experience this.Just like us older mothers, they also are not in control of their own child. When I found him and compared notes, there were all sorts of strange coincidences which many others have also noticed. It's like a quantum effect- closely related particles that are separated still are aware of and influence each other-even if not consciously.

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  74. Marissa wrote "I know many, many adoptees who are content with being adopted and who have good relationships with their birth families."

    Yes, there are many adoptees who are fine with having been adopted. However, your statement leaves out the fact that there are millions of adoptees from the closed era who do not even know their birth families and have no way of ever finding out who they are. And please do not forget that the child never had a say in the matter. You do no need to point out that that was long ago and things are different now as mothers most certainly still have the option of choosing a closed adoption and adoptive parents close them all the time. Also many first parents from the closed era still deal with guilt and shame and as a result do not welcome their relinquished children into their lives. This situation is certainly still a part of the world of adoption that you want to paint with such a beautiful brush.

    Furthermore, I have certainly read of children in open adoptions who still suffered greatly from having been given up especially when the first parents kept other children. We realize that no experience in adoption (or probably anything else in life ) is 100% the same for everyone. However, adoption is certainly not all sunshine and rainbows for a large percentage of those affected.

    Marissa, I actually think you are brave to have come to this blog and to want to learn how we think and feel about adoption.

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  75. Hey Marissa,

    Some of us here know that some mothers who surrendered really did "make an adoption plan", that some open adoptions work, despite the pain (did you read Brenda Romanchik's post? Her open adoption has gone on for over 25 years.) We are well aware that not all open adoptions close, but some do, and that is fact just as the ones that are successful on some level.

    I for one do not dismiss the feelings of mothers who surrendered who feel differently than I do about their surrender and adoption. Certainly they have a right for their feelings to be taken at face value as stated. Yes, there are some who are satisfied, just as there are some who just did not want the child and don't care. There are some who could not raise a child, due to substance abuse, mental illness, or other dire and chronic problems, and really did make the best choice in surrendering.

    Having said that, adoption always involves pain and loss, even when it is the better choice in a given situation. And many adoptions were and are not necessary, and do not result in a better life for the child. That is what you are seeing here, mothers whose children did not get the promised "better life", nor did they without their child. We are just as real as your satisfied customers, and we are all ages, not just a blast from the past.

    We know there are some mothers who feel otherwise, but your constantly bringing that up does seem to dismiss our experience as not so great, and lives some of our kids got through adoption as not so great either, and tragically unnecessary in many cases.

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  76. I find all these posts by a social worker here abusive and disrespectful to the mothers.

    Having a pro adoption social worker whose job it is to help mothers be separated from their children is distasteful.

    I'm very disappointed in you. The only excuse I can come up with is that you have very low self esteem.

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  77. Marissa,
    I can think of one way to disrespect her. By reducing her to the woman that gave life and feeling that you are entitled to calling her child yours.

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  78. "I also know that just because something is hard, doesn't mean it's not right."

    Well then, how much pain does a birthmother need to be in before we consider adoption isn't necessarily "right" just because "something is hard, doesn't mean it's not right"?

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