' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: Giving Up a Baby Is a Plan of Last Resort

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Giving Up a Baby Is a Plan of Last Resort

Continuation of the story of relinquishing my yet unborn daughter, from A Hole in My Heart (c) Lorraine Dusky, 2009:

At least my social worker at Northaven Terrace, Mrs. Mura, and I spoke straight. We never said I was there to “make an adoption plan,” the genteel language preferred today that obfuscates reality; I was there to arrange giving up my baby. Make an adoption plan? Sounds as if you are choosing a college curriculum: Political Science or Creative Writing. Engineering versus the Humanities. I like the harshness of the words, Give up a baby. It excuses nothing, bares all, tells the painful truth.

I’ve argued with people over these words, because adoptive parents are likely to wince when they hear “give up a baby.” They do not want to imagine that a woman is giving up because she has no other options, that she is surrendering to forces greater than her resources, but that is what she is doing: giving up as surely as if she were drowning in an ocean. I imagine they want to think giving up a child is a decision calmly entered into after considering other viable options. But no mother gives up a child without giving up.

In the large tree-filled backyard of the house where I live now, various birds set up housekeeping every summer, and when there is an attempted poaching of an egg or a fledging, all hell breaks loose. Others of the same species of the baby in the nest hear the crisis calls and fly in from hither and yon to enter the fray. The squawking, the attack, goes on for as long as it takes to send the intruder packing. I’ve seen robins beat back a jay with amazing ferocity and determination. I wish I could have been like that, a fighting robin-mother; but I felt defeated at every turn. I was not strong enough to keep my baby. I failed her. You can say that I did what was best for her, in a time when life was so very different and single mothers were treated like pariahs, that to give her a stable home with two parents was the best for her, but it has never felt that way to me. It has always felt second best.

I accept that I did this, that I did not find a way to keep my baby, and it has been the worst thing I ever did, my greatest failing. It doesn’t matter that social psychologists and cultural historians point out that women in my position did what I did in great numbers, and 1966 seems to have been a plentiful year for out-of-wedlock births, and adoptions. Born in 1966, her adoption finalized the following year, she was one of the 72,800 children adopted that year in the United States by non-relatives. Many of the women who are leaders in the movement to open birth records for adopted people have children born this year, or very near. We got caught in the blur between the onset of the sexual revolution and the era when condoms are carried in women’s wallets.

Today women like myself would have been more astute, recognized the pregnancy earlier, and had an abortion, regardless of the stupid movies coming out of Hollywood that indicate otherwise, or kept the child. Some in that generation had illegal abortions, of course; but those of us who did not by and large did not keep our children. Plain and simple, we signed the papers, we gave them up. Without resources, with the scorn of society, as well as my Catholic upbringing hanging around my neck like a scratchy St. Teresa scapular, having a baby alone and announcing it not only to my family, but to the world, and finding the means of then raising that child, was simply more than I could fathom. It did not seem possible.

Mrs. Mura, and the bureaucracy she represented, may have been making an adoption plan. I was drowning in the zeitgeist. I was giving up.

Giving up a baby is always a plan of last resort. --lorraine


  1. After I signed the paper terminating my brief motherhood, the social worker asked me how I felt. "Terrible," I answered. "I'm abandoning my baby." "No" she corrected, you are making a plan for your baby." I used my last bit of strength and retorted "I'm not making a plan; you are" and walked out.

    I'm sure the social worker was trying to make me feel better. But I could not accept her twisting of reality. I was like a man on the gallows who could do nothing but proclaim his innocence.

  2. I’d like to know something: do you think if you had experienced more control over the situation that it would have been any easier or better? I’m guessing not because if you had experienced more control, you wouldn’t have made that decision. Surely this (the baby-scoop thing generally) is a textbook case of how not to make a decision you can live with--and how not to counsel anyone to make one, for that matter. Basically, you were railroaded.

    The thing is, I think the culture is a part of the grief as well. American culture emphasizes the idea that people must stand on their own two feet or “take a stand”. But sometimes it’s just not possible to take a stand. I say this because I sort of buy into Brian Stuy’s theory that grieving is culturally mediated and in a society like the US where people are lauded for bucking the system and striking out, relinquishing mothers are punished twice--once for giving up their babies and a second time because they didn’t buck the system.

    “I accept that I did this, that I did not find a way to keep my baby, and it has been the worst thing I ever did, my greatest failing,” you said. So it seems like you haven’t forgiven yourself for not bucking the system yet you mentioned once that ANY pregnant woman the news floor would have sent everyone into a tizzy. It just seems like, may I say this. . .you can’t forgive yourself even when the odds were so against you. Like how are you supposed to keep your job? Little historical details that people gloss over at times.

    Whereas in other parts of the world, things like duty, obligation, honour, acceptance of the status quo to some degree free people from the feeling of failure. It was with interest that I noted when Brian interviewed two first mothers from China, both said that they thought of their daughters every day but both did “what they had to do” and wouldn‘t change the decision. I don’t bring this up with any sense of satisfaction that Simone’s first mother is cruising along just fine without her own deeply felt emotions, btw.

    I often don’t know what to say to you when I read excerpts from your book except that I wish you will find peace one day. I wish you could be easier on yourself but I understand the urge to express the depth of the pain which usually involves not letting it go. Hugs

  3. Osolomama, good comments! I surrendered two years after Lorraine and share some of her feelings about surrender being the worst thing I ever did. Also, I'm with Jane on never making an "adoption plan"....if I had had a plan, it would not have been that things go the way they did. Rather than having any sort of plan, to raise my child or surrender, I just sunk under depression and passivity. Yes, perhaps some mothers did and do "make an adoption plan" but a whole lot us did not and the term does not fit the reality.

    For many years I also spent too much time thinking about, writing about, obsessing about my surrender and blaming everyone, including myself. Talking, writing, thinking as a victim did not help, but made things worse for me.

    Unlike Lorraine, I would never write a book about my story, although I am a competent writer.
    For me that would involve too much circling the same drain that only goes one way; down. Plus my story is not really interesting, even to me!

    All of us deal with things differently. For me it has brought more peace, and more forgiveness of myself and others, to realize it does not matter if I forgive myself or not, and it does not help me or my son to hang on to so much negative emotion over something that cannot be undone. Never letting go of the pain hurts me and those around me, and helps nobody. That was a hard lesson it took many years to learn.

    For me, it only reinforced trauma and bad feelings to dwell on every detail of what happened so long ago. In fact, memory being what it is, I do not think any of us can really know for sure why we did what we did. I read a recent study on treatment of PYSD in combat vets that found that some ways of treating the condition by the VA made it worse, including creating by suggestion more traumatic "memories" than the person originally had, and a structure of elegilibilty for help that encouraged never getting well, a kind of permanent victimhood.

    I used to use a lot of the "mother animal" analogies as Lorraine did to feel bad about not fighting to keep my child. But the fact is, our situations were a lot more complex than that of a mother bird, and some of us believed at the time our children would be better off without us.

    Whether my son was better off or worse off, none of it can be changed. Where he is today is a good place, and I take great comfort in that, and try to look forward, not back.

  4. Mairaine, that was really illuminating. I see where you're coming from.

  5. The reason to write the book is to illuminate a 26-year-relationship with my reunited (birth)daughter that had its up and downs, and to further inform prospective adopters that adoption is not as simple or as emotionally uncomplicated as it may seem from the outside...for far too many still act as if a child comes without strings, or ties to a past and a culture that began long before they encountered their infertility, or their desire to help a poor family/child somewhere in the world.

    I know A Hole in my Heart will be controversial--it already is among the adopting set I know, people who are friends and acquaintances and know what I'm writing. Relationships have already been fractured, and I expect to be pelted with criticism.

    Also, I am a writer. This is what I do. Writing is not a parttime hobby.I write both non-fiction about subjects that interest me, and personally about adoption. Finally, yes writing this book is painful because it does cause me to relive much of what happened, but I hope that my words are worthy of my goal: to shed light on adoption's complications and difficulties.

    The current book (Hole in My Heart)covers both the giving up of my daughter in a different way from how I dealt with it in Birthmark, and what happened in the many years after reunion with her. What is posted above is part of the section that deals with relinquishment at the time of the act. It is not the whole picture, and I ask that regular readers keep that in mind.

    You do not walk out of the signing of the papers forgiving yourself.

  6. My two cents, on the matter, is that mother's who had babies taken for adoption in the 60's like I did, didn't have a snowball's chance in hell.

    Our babies were used to feed the business of adoption, it still doesn't give me any solace to know that I didn't have a chance, at keeping my son.

    the wrecker went about her work,,helping me lose my baby so another woman can "have" a baby, MY baby. Period, and thats my take on how we were used, along with our babies.

    NO one can understand NOT even mothers who have lost a child same years,,WE all lost, and those that can write about it are then subject to the interpetation of others, namely adoptive parents,,,and public, who DO not understand, one inkling of pain, or loss of losing a live baby!

    before, attacked, by others or mothers, this is my opinion, NONE of us walked away, willingly, or wanted adoption we were unmanned and had to feed the supply...

  7. OK, Lorraine, see where you're coming from too. . .I for one will be very interested in reading your memoir. I wonder if you think that your book will be "misinterpreted," as Anonymous suggests. I just think that some people, particularly some a-parents and paps, may find its story too bleak to consider as a general insight into adoption. But that would be their loss. As a writer, one always hopes to be able to outline the shape of an emotion or crisis for people. I'm sure you will do that. . .I also think, to contradict Anonymous, that there are many people who grew up in the 50s who experienced their own private hell because of the idea of we-know-better-than-you. And I'm sure those people will be able to understand what you are writing about too. I must say I sort of object to the idea (again by Anon) of a pain so special it can't be understood by someone else. The job of a writer to to bring it home to everyone (Angela's Ashes, anyone). . .which brings me back to my original point. Come to think of it, this is really more writer talk. OK, I'm rambling now.

  8. Lorraine,
    In reading this excerpt from your book I ask myself, what could you have done differently to keep your child? I asked myself this question time and again following reunion with my son 20 years ago. I beat myself up for a decade, thinking that if I had been stronger, or tougher, or smarter, or braver, or more something...I could have kept him, against all odds, and we would have lived happily ever after. I finally realized, thru the help of a friend, that there was absolutley NO way that I would have been allowed to keep him. The laws of the time in Illinois, and many other states made it virtually impossible to keep your child unless your parents or your boyfriend supported it. If we didn't surrender, they would take them anyway.

    I spent the months in the home expecting my boyfriend to come and rescue me. When he did, after our son was born, the Salvation Army had him arrested at the door for trespassing.

    For me, as for most of us, when we entered the door of the social worker's office we were done for. Unless our parents had a change of heart, or we married the fathers, we were toast and our loss was as inevitable as any other disaster.

    I don't feel that I live as a victim, or that I feel unnecessarily put upon, but I am done with beating myself up for something over which I had no control.

    My parents are dead, my grandparents are dead, even the father of my son is dead. I can't discuss with them the ramifications of my loss for me or for my son, but my son is a damaged man, and I have coped.

  9. Ah, Sandy, you have coped, as I have. Life does go on for we birth/first/natural/real mothers. I have many good things in my life, including a 27-year-marriage. I live in a beautiful little village near the ocean. The daffodils are in bloom and my sheets are on the line. I am not beating myself up over my daughter's relinquishment as it felt inevitable, but I also feel I bear some responsibility for the act also. I, perhaps more than you and many other women I have heard from, could have found a different path. But I did not.

    Incidentally, am I correct in remembering that you are one of the 1966 relinquishments? We are legion. Many of us seem to be involved in adoption reform. In Chinese astrology, it is a year of the Fire Horse, which comes only twice a century.

    As for this memoir I'm writing, I meant to say that I feel I have no choice but to write this book. It will put the period on my lengthy involvement in adoption reform. It's likely to anger some people. And I will be very happy/relieved when it is finished. Anyone who writes, of course, is a writer, no matter how they support themselves.

  10. Lorraine, I just want to thank you for expressing yourself so openly about your feelings in your newest book. Mine are very similar. While I don't usually think of myself as a victim anymore, not fighting harder to keep my son is one of the things I am least proud of in my life. Intellectually of course I realize I was given no options, but on a spiritual and physiological level - I knew it was wrong and only wish I had the courage and wisdom to know how to change the outcome.

    I have become weary of having to justify the way I feel. It is what it is and I should not have to listen to people tell me I just need to forgive myself and get over it. I would hope that I am not so insensitive as to tell people how to grieve their losses in life. I respect that we're all on a different journey and sharing our different experiences without judgement is the greatest gift we can give to each other.

    Thank you for sticking to your guns and writing your story the way it happened for you. I am sure your words will be validating to other mothers who don't quite know what to do with their feelings.

    By the way, I lost my son in 1966 as well... it seems an ill wind was blowing that year.

  11. Ah, another 1966er. Karen Vedder of CUB; Jane, fellow blogger on FMF, Joyce Bahr of Unsealed Initiative, you...I run into 1966 women whose lives were upturned that year...someday soon I'll do a blog on the implications of that year in Chinese astrology...

    and CarolC, I agree with all you say. What is it to forgive? We go on with our lives, but forgive? Acceptance, is that the same as forgiveness?

  12. Lorraine, I was checking my bookmarks of blogs and ran across yours and decided to visit...I'm glad I did. Like you, I did not make an 'adoption plan'..I gave away my newborn..I gave up. It was this sentence that so profoundly affected me..""But no mother gives up a child without giving up.""

    And that is exactly what I did..I gave up...not just my daughter, but myself as well. It would take decades to reclaim myself...and I did. Then I was able to commit to a search and I did find my daughter 10 years ago. She has been eternally angry with me, she still is..but that is now her choice to make as a now 44 yr old adult. She surely has never thanked me for 'giving her up'!! I cannot change the past..but the past is very much a part of my life. Like all the experiences of my past..the sum total of did affect me positively and adversely. I don't grieve for me today at the age of 62 nor my 44 yr old daughter. But I will always grieve for the 18yr old young mother and her newborn, we once were. I think those days during my pregnancy and those 3 days in the hospital and for about a year after..were the most lonliest days of my life, no matter family or friends. But life went on..I did marry, I did have 3 more children..but I have never forgotten the 18 yr old mother and her newborn..and I never will, I can't. The young mother was once me, the baby was once mine. I still miss my baby.

    Thank you for sharing your book (and yourself) here and I'm glad that I dropped in this evening.

  13. Chris, thanks for your comment...I just found it today looking over old posts.



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