' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: Lifegivers: The Girls Who Came to Stay

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Lifegivers: The Girls Who Came to Stay

In its Summer, 2009 newsletter, Open Adoption and Family Services, Inc., an adoption agency in Portland, Oregon reported on its “Lifegivers” retreats held in Eugene, Oregon and Seattle May 30th.

There were no retreats in my day, the not-always swinging Sixties. I left home in shame and returned pretending my pregnancy and surrender did not happen. I hid in a small room in a shabby hotel in the Tenderloin district of San Francisco, a city where I knew no one. When I left San Francisco sans my heart two months after my first daughter Megan was born, I worked mightily to forget why I had been there.

Years later, I attended support groups led by birthmothers where we told of our sorrow and regret. A prime villain in our discussions was the adoption agency social worker.

It’s different today. We were The Girls Who Went Away; today there is a new breed of birthmothers, The Girls Who Came Back. They return each year to attend an adoption agency sponsored retreat led by a social worker (“counselor”), the purpose of which is to “nurture and honor birthmothers.” The mothers “talk about their adoption journey” and are counseled on “transitioning to the role of a birthmother and developing a healthy relationship with their child’s adoptive family.” The women “shared words of wisdom, empowered one another to be honest with their child's adoptive family, and encouraged one another to live life fully."

Participants had chair massages, painted pottery or made beaded bracelets, and ate pizza. They received gifts including cheeses, flowers, candy, soap products, and gift certificates donated by local businesses and adoptive parents. The Seattle women also had a visit from The Heartsparkle Players, a theatre troupe that practices Playback Theatre where members of the audience share their stories and the actors improvise a short piece reflecting the themes from their story.

In spite of the praise and the pizza, the tears flowed. “During these moments, the air filled with incredible empathy and compassion as they passed the tissue boxes from one side of the circle to the other.” The truth is that whether you’re a lifegiver, firstmother, birthmother, natural mother, real mother, or just a mother, adoption is always painful.

I wonder about the counselors who lead these events, seeing women who had recently given birth and placed their infant in the arms of a stranger join older mothers who return year after year. (“The most recent ‘placement’ had been two weeks prior to the retreat, and the longest was nearly 24 years ago.”) What do these counselors feel as they face women whom they caused to lose their child? Can these counselors reconcile their contention that these mothers whom they describe as “beautiful, insightful, and loving” are incapable of mothering their own child?

There is something twisted, even Machiavellian, about a group of birth/first mothers convinced that their value is in “developing a healthy relationship with their child’s adoptive family.” My cynical side thinks the agency has an ulterior motive in these retreats: keep the mothers happy so that they don't cause trouble for the adoptive parents, or bad-mouth the agency to other women considering adoption. The agency social workers who created these events might think they are “servicing” their clients, but it would be better for everyone if they turned their attention to diminishing their client base in the first place. When we post at FirstMotherForum, sometimes an ad pops from Spence-Chapin agency of New York like this:

Adopt a Baby

Loving Families Needed. Domestic & Intl programs

Knowing what we know about the dearth of adoptable healthy infants in this country, their “birthmother” events strike me as specious. As do the “lifegiver” retreats in Seattle and Eugene.


  1. "My cynical side thinks the agency has an ulterior motive in these retreats: keep the mothers happy so that they don't cause trouble for the adoptive parents, or bad-mouth the agency to other women considering adoption."

    Well of course that is the reason! You are not cynical, you are realistic.

  2. From reading what you have written here, these retreats could be either good or bad. Obviously these are open adoptions that have stayed open, a very different situation from ours.
    If they are really helping these mothers have a relationship with their kids and the adoptive family,and a more productive, positive life, is that so bad?

    Perhaps it is as you assume, a cynical ploy by the adoption agency, but perhaps not. These are all mothers who have surrendered already, and we really do not know how much choice they had or how good their counseling was before surrendering. The fact that some have come back for over 20 years speaks well that they are getting something they need from the program.

    Was our way better, kicked out the door with no counseling, no assistance, nobody to talk to about living with having surrendered a child? Nobody cared if we lived or died, and many of us fell into horrible lifestyles and made awful mistakes after the surrender. Most of us survived anyhow, very wounded and broken. A few did not. Was suicide a better option for mothers?

    I am willing to give this program the benefit of the doubt, if it helps these mothers live happier, more hope-filled lives after surrender, and keeps their open adoptions open. Yes, of course there is always pain in adoption, but women of our generation suffered extra and needless pain by being isolated and often turning to self-destructive behavior.

    Helping mothers in crisis to keep their babies and helping those who choose to surrender to deal with that are two different things and not mutually exclusive.Not every mother who gives birth can, should, or wants to raise the child. Most do, but there are always some for whom adoption is the lesser evil. Do these women deserve to be ignored and scorned as we were?

    I would want to know a lot more about this program before condemning it outright. The "evil social workers" we dealt with are long dead for the most part. The real bad guys today are more often entrepreneurs with no social work background, only in it for the money. Maybe the social workers running these retreats did not "cause them to lose their child". Maybe they are trying to help. Maybe our reality and the experience of these younger mothers in this program is really different. We would need to ask them to know.

  3. There is an upcoming bee mommy retreat in Utah, sponsored by LDS Family Services (surprise, surprise!). I'd love to go and infiltrate the LDS adoption cult.

  4. LDS is a whole other story! That is sure to be a brainwashing fest, no matter what the subject. There are good agencies and bad agencies, and LDS ones are almost always involved in heavily pushing adoption and not offering other options.

  5. Maryanne said ". . . and not offering other options."
    I thought so too. But it seems necessity begs, and they are being forced to keep up with the times. LDS announced in June that it has a new website:
    And they are making a play for open adoption:
    "Today, LDS Family Services offers a range of open and closed adoptions. The level of openness is determined by the birth mother and the adoptive couple. Some level of openness is standard in most domestic adoptions in the United States. Openness is intended to help birth parents, adoptive couples, and children who were adopted. Adoptive couples and birth parents are matched by their desire for the same level of openness at placement. Once a birth mother has chosen an adoptive couple, they will begin to correspond and often meet, sometimes more than once. The goal for these meetings is to help both the adoptive couple and the birth mother to become acquainted and begin to develop a healthy relationship. Many couples fear openness, but once they meet the birth parents of their child, they find great joy."
    They even talk, as per Jane's quote, about creating "a healthy relationship" between families, which of course, isn't a bad thing in itself.

  6. Jane, being a mother of your era, I have to believe that something is better than the nothing that we got, in terms of counseling and support. But I'm not sure this is it... The term "lifegiver" really stuck in my craw.

  7. One has to remember that in most states and provinces, open adoptions are not legally binding.
    These agreements are not worth the paper they are written on.

    If the adoptive parents decide to close the adoption, there is very little the natural mother can do legally to keep the adoption open. There have been cases where the adoptive parents promise to keep the adoption open and then when they get the baby, they move away without notice to the natural mother.

    People are petitioning to make these open adoption agreements legally binding (especially as many are unaware that they will not stand up in court at the moment).

    Here is one such petition for NH.


    People have written books on this too - one such book at Amazon is called Blended Hearts, Broken Promises: An Open Adoption Gone Wrong (Paperback). Amazon have had to order more in, such is the demand. It is a true story.

    In one callous and tragic case, the adoptive mother had no intention of keeping the adoption open. She even wrote a book for other adoptive parents on how to lie to the natural mother, take her child and then close the adoption. The natural mother committed suicide when she realised she had been betrayed this way.

    Susan Burns is the adoptive mother that did this and her book is called "Fast Track Infant Adoption". The review at Amazon says it all - Amazon say they don't know "if or when this item will be back in stock" (unlikely, given the bad reviews and complaints about this book).

    I wonder how many mothers are being duped into believing that these agreements are legally binding when they are not? How many more broken hearts and suicides will there be before the law changes to make these agreements recognised in law?

  8. Lifegiver?

    So now we aren't even mothers anymore? How insulting!

  9. We did a post from a birth mother, Vanessa, who was duped into believing she would have an open adoption...

    or just put the words "Open Adoption" in the search box at the top of the blog. It's a story to break your heart.

    But that someone would write such a book boggles the mind. I'm going to see if I can get a copy.

    July 29, 2009 8:19 PM

  10. Re your postscript. I never told my amother that I had my obc (it was never sealed) or that I'd found Dottie. It was none of her business. Nor what I do is the buiness of my bparents either. My cousin, in another context, advised me a long time ago, neber tell them what you're doing. It's none of their business. Parents need to put up and shut up. From my own observation, parents seek to have lives one they pop out their replicant, except that of the replicant.

  11. Looks like the book is called Fast Track Adoption, not Fast Track Infant Adoption --


    that link will get you to one article. I'm trying to dig up more.

  12. lifegivers are mothers just another spin like b m@#$
    both are demeaning and I would NEVER call my son
    a birthson wtf he is my son born to me.

  13. Re: Fast Track Adoption

    This is horrifying. Even the positive links on Amazon reviews would make your hair curl:


    Here's adoptionblogs.com's take on it: note that most links aren't working:


    Reason I delved into it a little was that on the old ivillage adoption debate board there was a virtual suicide of a first mother back in the '90s (several related characters were also fake and the ruse had gone on for over a year), and I have never trusted anything I've read on the subject since. This appears totally legit, however.

  14. I'd like to attend one of these retreats, to see how the "counselors" help the mothers keep their adoptions open. I'm curious how they reconcile the whole business as they pass the tissues around. Was the mother of the 24 yo attending for the first time or a repeat client?

    Lifegiver is a particularly unfortunate term implying the choice is life or death rather than mothering or not mothering.

  15. Go to Amazon and you'll find oodles of books to help people find short cuts to adopting. "Adopt the Baby You Want"; "Adoption for Dummies"; "The Complete Book of International Adoption" and so on.

    Incidently, Open Adoption & Family Services, Inc is the agency which gave Dan Savage "The Kid." He is speaking at its adoption promo conference for health professionals which OAFS is putting on with Planned Parenthood on October 2.

    By the way, the use of "Life-givers" is not intended to convey an anti-abortion message. OAFS collaborates with Planned Parenthood (adoption the other option) and is supported by ultra liberal Portlandians.

  16. "Lifegivers: Framing the Birthparent Experience in Open Adoption" by Jim Gritter.
    Publisher: Child Welfare League of America Press (November 1999)



  17. osolomama - we are both right.
    The book is known by both names
    (you can check out Amazon if you don't believe me).

  18. This story is true.

    There is a news wire article about it. Here is the link;

    This press release can also be found at the exiled mothers site;

  19. Hugh Jackman, of X-Men fame, is another AP who reneged on an open adoption. He and his wife got the baby in the States, then ran back to Australia, pushing the young mother into a downward spiral leading to her eventual death. Nice folks, eh?

  20. My mistake then, Anon. It's one helluva story, either way you spell it, I guess.

    Incidentally, the person caught out in the lie on the ivillage adoption debate forum in the very late '90s was a hero of the "open adoption" movement and had supposedly a "perfect" relationship with the first mother. Problem is that the story and the characters (I believe this thing went on for years) were fabricated by a troll.

  21. Hi i was wondering if there is any retreats coming up soon that you may know about i'm 15 years old i live in a small town where every knows everybodys business, when i was prgnant i stayed home and did not go to school, i found an adoption angency in san diego call san diego adoption center,this is where i found the family that i wwanted to adopt my baby i had my baby he was born oct. 23, 2009. i really don't have alot of people to talk to and understand, so i've been lookin for a retreat to go to,
    email me please if you know of any



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