That's from a story in February Elle about Julia,* 30, who decides to give up her child for adoption because: her husband was having an affair. Because she decides to divorce him. Because she did not want to raise a child alone, even though she had the support of her mother, who offered to take her in and help with the baby. And who is Julia?
"Julia [the mother] left the hospital the next day without stopping in the nursery—the baby was in an incubator because he was five weeks early—but a few days later, she took a friend’s advice to visit her son to say goodbye in real life. 'My gut reaction was not to do it, but I drove to the hospital when I knew no one else was going to be there. And I just bawled uncontrollably as he slept. It was the worst thing I’ve done in my entire life.'"
Not an adoptive mother
"Julia was not physically or mentally ill, nor was she poor or very young, unable to make a living, or alone in the world. At the time she gave birth, she was, in fact, a 30-year-old lawyer who’d been thrilled when she conceived the first time she and her husband tried. Yet eight months later, she was intoning to herself, The baby doesn’t belong to me; I’m not what’s best for him."
READING MYSELF INTO THE SADDEST STORY
Why didn't this well educated Julia opt for an abortion? Religion is not mentioned, yet the writer, Nina Burleigh, goes on: "Terminating the pregnancy was 'not an option,' Julia says, because she’d already bonded with her unborn child." Bonded so much she is going forward with adoption in this day and age? When most women of all races and income levels keep their babies? When there would be no shame involved? When half of all babies today are born to unmarried women? When only slightly more than 1.5 percent of all babies born to single women are given up for adoption? I read on, with increasing dread, wanting to scream at Julia, whoever she was: What the fuck is wrong with you? You don't even have to face the scorn of society today, you are 30 years old, you wanted to have a child when you conceived, okay, your husband is a jerk, but get over it! Keep the baby! You have multiple degrees, he's an officer in the military and you will get child support! They will take it out of his pay! Where did you get this idea that is would be better for you to give up your child? I guess I was screaming at myself. At my 22-year-old self in 1966. I didn't have a husband to divorce; the father of my baby was already married and who talked about leaving his marriage "when this is over." And I had no idea what lay ahead.
Julia goes on to have a list that is all too familiar with us mothers who relinquished in the bad old days of closed adoptions, and how we convinced ourselves was the best for our children. Julia's list of qualities she wants for "the" baby [she can't bring herself to call it hers] include a loving marriage, infertility, a mom who stays home, education (at least a bachelor's degree, preferably graduate degrees too), and being "Financially stable, so that my son would have the option, theoretically, of private school, music lessons, summer camp, sports, etc."
Do I need more commentary? Does money and the finer things in life equate a natural mother's love?
Burleigh is aware that giving up a child is something of a catastrophe, and though she remains quite neutral in tone, she thankfully does not let us think that Julia is doing the right thing. Her mother’s mention of abortion leads her to consider adoption. "It just seemed like the only thing to do,” says Julia's friend, Beth. What? The only thing to do? Yes, it will be an open adoption, but....
Julia is adamant that the father will not become a part of the child's life, adding she will do everything in her power to prevent that. "He was not going to take my child to a playground.” She adds that she doesn't want her son to have to deal with a custody battle, as if a baby would know at the time what was going on? The piece does not indicate that the father is party to the "open" adoption, so she also prevents "the baby" from ever knowing his father.
The adoptive parents are at the hospital when the baby is born, and though the birth father (and ex-husband) shows up, he signs away his rights to claim the child. Julia does not see him before he is shipped off to Iraq. Soon after the baby is relinquished, Julia is job hunting and finds it impossible to explain away the gap in her employment, as telling the truth seemed as impossible to her as it did to me in a far, far different time. Or maybe not so different?
I can't imagine too many employers nodding favorably as they hear: I had a child with my scum-bag of a husband, divorced him and gave away the baby...." After one terribly awkward interview in which I could not adequately or convincingly lie about the six-month gap in my employment, I was fortunate in that my previous employer, a kind and understanding city editor in Rochester, New York, gave me next employer a fabulous recommendation the very day I drove to Albany for the interview. The missing months of work were never mentioned; I have no idea how difficult it would have been to get a job with out the help of my previous boss. (What do the "proud" birth mothers do? Say, Hey, I did a great thing when I wasn't working, I had a baby and gave him up for adoption?) Then during the physical for the company health insurance, I lied when asked if I had ever had children, wondering if he could tell otherwise. God, it was an awful, awful time...Back to Julia:
THE CHILDREN ARE ALWAYS EVERYWHERE
Soon she noticed children and families everywhere. “It was hard to see strollers, but it was also hard to see playgrounds, mothers and babies, little boys with their parents, pregnant women, married couples.” A year later, Julia says she’s no longer plagued by sadness—"nor has she regretted the decision, which makes her pretty typical, at least according to the limited data available about modern adoptions." The piece uses the statistics we dissected in our Response to The Adoption Option: Four years later, 78 percent of those who’d given up their babies said they were “very certain” they’d make the same decision again, as did 91 percent of those who didn’t—a slightly higher level of regret that “to some extent is to be expected, as it is unlikely a mother would say she regrets keeping her child,” noted a report from the Donaldson Institute. (There is much more about those stats at the above.) But even Burleigh is not convinced all is well with Julia:
Julia's lack of affect and the rest reminds Burleigh of an observation made by the late Betty Jean Lifton, an adoptee author and psychologist. "'The social worker said it would hurt for a while, and then [the birth mothers] would forget, as if they had experienced nothing more serious than a nine-month stomachache,' Lifton wrote in Lost and Found: The Adoption Experience. 'But they found they could not go back to the life they had left behind because they had become different people in the process of becoming mothers.' [Emphasis added.]
What I found particularly upsetting is that the same psychology regarding giving up a child is at work today as it was in our times. Give up the baby if he is inconvenient; tell yourself that he will have a better life with the possibility of private school and a pony; ask for infertility as a condition so you can imagine what a good thing you are doing for a childless couple. After reading Jane's previous post about advertising for a child on Facebook, I imagine that pregnant women will be using social media to find parents. The eponymous heroine of Juno, after all, found her baby's adopters in a penny-saver. It would be fascinating to see how many infertile couples become pregnant after adoption and "have one of their own," to use the vernacular, and that "only child" business is no more. At a blog (Third Mom) I read recently, an adoptive mother wrote of the horror of hearing from another adoptive parent how they were keeping the father's first name...just in case they "had one of their own." Creepy? Yes.
The head of the adoption agency head that Julia chose, Richard Pearlman, says that it is not all that unusual for women of Julia's age to relinquish their children: “Even though the perception is that it’s teenagers who place children for adoption, they usually don’t...." He says the average age of many of the mothers he works with is 22--and some as old as 40. "That’s because [for them] the decision is a thoughtful decision. If it was just based on emotion, nobody would ever place a child.”
Amen. It is emotion--fed by the love hormone, oxytocin--that binds mothers to their children. It is the way of the world. Only in this cock-eyed modern world do we let our head separate ourselves from our heart. And then we spend the rest of our lives, no matter how well we "adjust," with a hole in our hearts. --lorraine
For the Elle story: ‘I’m Not What’s Best for My Baby’
See also: How the daughter I gave up forever changed my life
Response to The Adoption Option