But she chose not to. And I said something that was well, quite brutal. I've been lambasted at alt.adoption on Facebook by someone who is screaming about "her choice" and more sympathetic but questioning comments have been left at the previous post for not being more understanding to a woman in a difficult situation that I certainly can understand.
Even though the circumstances are far different from my own in 1966 when I was 22 and pregnant outside of marriage, in retrospect I should have pulled back the rhetoric. Julia, whoever she is, is not a demon; she is a sad woman who decided she couldn't raise the child she was carrying. I may hate her reasoning, and god knows she did not seem to look into the effect of adoption on her baby, and I was going to edit it away until commentators started commenting on it, and including the sentence. But readers have made me see that I was self-righteous in condemning her so harshly. Mea culpa. Mea culpa to Julia. Mea culpa to everyone who has made a similar choice.
SHE'S THAT KIND OF GIRL
What is vastly different, however, between the times of yesterday when many of us in closed adoptions gave up our children. Lord, we were the object of derision and shame and whatever else you wanted to sling at us. Our parents screamed at us, then hid us; neighbors gossiped--she's that kind of girl. I can name today the two girls who got pregnant in my Catholic high school in Michigan--one kept her baby, one did not. Some of us ended up in "homes," where the nuns were either kind or cruel; some dropped out of school, moved away, hid our shame. Those who know my story know that I was in a different town from where I grew up and hid out in my own apartment while the baby's father paid the rent and stayed with me throughout the pregnancy.
But nothing in society said that we were doing a "good thing" by giving up our children. We instinctively knew that what we were doing was somehow an act of treason against nature. We loved--or those of us with the normal hormones operating--loved our babies but felt we had no real choice other than to give them up. Remember that 2007 movie, Then She Found Me, with Bette Midler, as the biological mother of an adoptee? The scene that sticks with me is Midler explaining why she didn't keep her daughter, and the daughter (played by Helen Hunt) listens incredulously not knowing quite how to react to the information. As I recall, the Midler-birth mother character tried to keep her daughter, and even had a place to live on her own for a while but she had absolutely no money and no one to help her raise her child--her parents deserted her--and she ultimately gave up and gave in to adoption. That's a story that parallels many of the women who relinquished in the Baby Scoop Era and beyond. It reminds me of the story of many of the women who leave comments here or blog about what happened to them. It's not my story, but it reflected how I felt, and the movie illustrated how difficult it is to explain today--check out the movie poster here, that's the birth mother kneeling asking for forgiveness) why we felt so pressured into giving up our children without the resources of today, and certainly without the resources that Julia has.
DON'T LET ADOPTERS CUT THE CORD
I'm not really going off on a tangent here because what is different today, and was made so clear in the Elle piece by Nina Burleigh, is that Julia became convinced that she was carrying the child for another couple.
Lying in the hospital bed, now finding herself unable to take her eyes off her newborn as he was cleaned and swathed by nurses, she focused on what she’d trained herself to think during her pregnancy whenever she felt the jab of a small foot or glanced down to see her abdomen rippling: He doesn’t belong to me, he doesn’t belong to me. Julia had chosen a couple to adopt the baby, and the wife was there—she cut the cord. Watching the adoptive mother trail out of the room behind the nurse and the baby in his crib, Julia silently repeated another mantra: I’m not what’s best for him, I’m not what’s best for him.I get some of that. Like Julia, I convinced myself that an intact family with a house behind a white picket fence was better for my child, than me--a bad girl, a single mother!--but today I know that was largely a crock that I told myself. My social worker did not say I was unworthy to be my daughter's mother--not once--but society was the constant drumbeat playing in the background that insisted that was so. I had no idea how utterly devastating for a lifetime it would be to give up my infant daughter, and there was no one to tell me. Today that is not true. Ten minutes of searching on the Internet would have landed Julia at one of many birth mother blogs, as well as led to many memoirs on the impact of giving up a child, from both the mother's and child's perspectives.
But the adoption industry has moved forward from my mid-century times. Today the pregnant teenager or young woman meets candidates vying for her baby. She can choose from Column A or Column B. These parents or those. Many pregnant women, like Julia, come to feel obligated not to let them down, that the babies are not really "theirs." They feel they cannot change their minds and keep their babies, no matter what their heart is telling them, just as like Julia's was. The symbolic act of letting an adoptive parent cut the cord further solidifies this in the mother's mind, an act is totally wrong and barbaric. In the Elle story (‘I’m Not What’s Best for My Baby’), the adoptive mother was crying as the baby came out, Julia looked away. Julia by this time has some sort of bond with the parents: she can't let them down and love her baby and keep him.
SENSE OF OBLIGATION IS FALSE WHEN IT INVOLVES A BABY
That is not a good thing. I was among with first to talk about meeting the parents of one's baby--back in '79 I wrote that in Birthmark--and of course it is still true. It is always better to know the parents of the child--to meet them in person, to have their address and phone number, to know their families and where they work. That way they cannot disappear into oblivion as far too many have done.
But that meeting comes with a price. Women entering into adoption plans for their babies (yes, I am using that language here) need to be assured that they are under no obligation no matter what to give up their babies. Of course, I'm not talking about pregnant women out to scam anxious couples who want babies at any cost. I'm talking about normal situations where adoptive parents end up treating the girl like their handmaiden whose job somehow has become supplying the baby to complete their family. The situation is not unlike that of the Biblical story of the slave girl, Hagar, who had a son for Abraham because his wife, Sarah, was infertile. That particular arrangement did not does not work out well for Hagar, because eventually Sarah (like many modern day women who adopt) became pregnant, and lo! gave birth to a son, Isaac. Hagar was then treated like the slave she always was, and was even beaten, before she and her son Ishmael were cast out in the desert to fend for themselves.
It may be different for Julia and the adoptive parents of her son, as the ending of the piece indicates they have warm feelings towards her. What is certainly not different from the old days is how awkward it apparently was for Julia --who does not feel proud enough to use her real name--to find a job afterwards due to the embarrassment of explaining the lapse in her employment. I had the same trouble and awkward doesn't begin to cover it, Only kudos from my previous boss as I was on my way to the interview covered that gap. Yes, lucky me. Though the first mother blogs by Mormon and evangelical women talk about being a "proud" birth mother, happy to be doing a good thing for infertile couples, Julia's difficulty speaks to how society still reacts to giving up a child, "adoption plan" notwithstanding: not a good thing. If we leave this earth with our only work to have made that message loud and clear, it will be enough. In most cases, adoption is not a good thing.
Recently like much of America, I was following Downton Abbey on PBS, and waited anxiously while the fate of a bastard son of a housemaid (fathered by a true bastard of an officer who died in the Great War) was decided. The stuffy upper class grandparents offered take the boy from his lower class mother, and give him all the finer things in life, just as Julia wants for her son, including private school, but the lowly mother can not come with the son to his new and fine life, even as his nursemaid, even promising never to reveal that she is his true mother. She begs, the unfeeling grandfather is adamant. I'm all keyed up now--what will the script writers do--and god bless 'em, the maid walks off with her son saying nothing can ever compete with a mother's love for her child. I cheered. If Julia was watching, I know she was in pain.--lorraine
* Julia is a pseudonym.
PS: Off to the family physician for the last go-round before surgery on Tuesday for a torn rotator cuff.
PREVIOUS POST: The saddest story of all: Opting for adoption today