' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: Birthmothers of the World Unite! You Have Nothing to Lose But Your Shame

Monday, December 14, 2009

Birthmothers of the World Unite! You Have Nothing to Lose But Your Shame

“A JOURNEY OF A THOUSAND MILES BEGINS WITH A SINGLE STEP.” I read these words, engraved on a wooden panel above the door to the assembly hall, every day at Chicago’s Hyde Park High School. My 50th reunion is coming up next year. It’s time I begin stepping up to end unnecessary adoptions and keep families together.

I’ve been involved in lots of causes over the years, end the war, keep abortion safe and legal, encouraging Oregon’s governors to appoint more women to top positions. Other than appearing in an ad in 1998 for Oregon’s Measure 58 which gave adult adoptees the right to obtain their original birth certificates, I’ve stayed away from being publicly involved in reforming adoption laws. Standing up in front of strangers, confessing my birthmotherhood, has just seemed too hard. But now at age 67, I know I’m running out of time.

For the next few years and perhaps more, I’m committing myself to trying to change Oregon’s surrender law. This law allows a woman to sign an irrevocable consent for the adoption of her newborn immediately after she leaves the delivery room, exhausted from the delivery, experiencing hormonal changes, and likely still under the influence pain killers. The prospective adoptive parents may have been in the delivery room and she is under pressure not to disappoint them. Although the law requires that she be informed that the surrender is irrevocable, the explanation is usually provided by an employee of the adoption agency and may be couched in terms of the necessity of irrevocability to keep the baby from going into foster care.

While women considering adoption are entitled to three counseling sessions before birth at the prospective adoptive parents’ expense, the law does not specify any particular information be imparted The counseling as a practical matter may be directed to helping the mother deal with her loss rather than giving her the power to prevent the loss.

Oregon is one of the worse states in terms of protecting mothers’ rights but other states have joined the race to the bottom. Legislators across the country have accepted as true the adoption industry’s claim that giving up a child needs to be made “simpler.” As Prof. Elizabeth Samuels points out in a 2005 Tennessee Law Review article "Time to Decide," “Many state laws appear to value an increase in infant adoptions over the goal of encouraging careful deliberation.” Heck, even President Barack Obama in his Notre Dame speech said adoption should be “more available.”

Participating in this blog gave me the push I needed. Lorraine and I wrote an article for the Oregon State Bar Bulletin, responding to a glowing article about an adoption attorney who represented birthmothers. The attorney’s duties include obtaining his client’s signature on a surrender document and delivering her newborn child to the adoptive parents. The Bulletin refused to print our article (which we posted here) but it did print a shorter version in the letters to the editor.

Last month, a politically-experienced attorney who had represented a woman challenging the adoption of her infant son saw our letter and contacted me about working to change Oregon's surrender law.

Birthmother Delores Teller and I met with the attorney, who has brought about legislative reform on two other tough issues, and his good friend, a professional lobbyist. “What are your organizations? Who are your supporters?” they asked. “Surely women who have been victimized as you have would have banded together and demanded change.”

“Well, yes, sort of,” we responded. “There is CUB and Origins, and folks from Ethica are supportive, perhaps AAC would get on board. Maybe some adoptee groups.” “How many people are we talking about in Oregon?” they asked. “Not many we admitted.”

Ah, there’s the rub. We could have the best of bills, the best of logic, but if we did not have the numbers, we would get nowhere. Surely, if, as we claimed, thousands of women in the US were suffering from the loss of their children, they would have banded together and demanded reform. If they’re not telling their stories, politicians assume they don’t have stories to tell.

“It’s not that simple”, I whimpered. “Women are shamed into silence. We don’t have heroines. Feminists, who should see us as the victims of the patriarchy, are too busy adopting to care.”

As I drove home, the French National Anthem popped into my head. “Aux armes citoyens!” If we are going to storm the Bastille, we have to come out of the closet.

Here’s a challenge to our readers. Find out the time periods for surrender in your state and post them here. Your state statutes are probably on your state’s legislative website and you can access the information under “adoption”. And if you can’t find it, contact your state legislator or state senator and ask for help. Not only will he get you the information but you may be commencing the process of educating him about an injustice.


  1. I think this is an excellent idea.

  2. Jane,
    I too hope more birthmoms will speak up about their experiences. My older sister will still not speak to me about relenquishing her first daughter. It's hard for me to understand when I've been so open to her. I know that many private adoptions during the 50's and 60's were about secrets and lies but I wonder sometimes if these older birthmom's are trying to keep their righteousness about them so as to not appear as dupes! Yeah, I think we were all duped! But we don't have to continue to be so. We can speak to our own individual mistreatments. I only hope it doesn't take another decade.

  3. Ok, where do I sign up and do you need people who will speak about this nightmare?

  4. Just want to comment that perhaps if you lost the term "birth" mothers, more mothers would want to unite with you. I for one have no shame that I am a mother who has a daughter lost to adoption but never for a moment will I wear that awful term promoted by pro adoption 'specialists'. I am a mother. Pure and simple. I do not need my motherhood defined with a pre-fix. Had I lost my child to death, I would still bear the title mother. So if you are looking for more mothers, perhaps drop the pre-fix.


  5. Lori,

    If you're in Oregon or surrendered in Oregon, come on in. Send me an email, jane_edwards@comcast.net

    Adoption laws, are rapidly being tilted towards the adoptive parents in all states, however. If you're not an Oregonian, check out your state's laws. You don't need to be a lawyer to do it. Go to your state's legislative website and enter "child adoption" or something similar. Talk to other birthmothers and ask them about the laws in your state.

  6. Myst,

    I agree with you. I don't like the term "birthmother" either. I'm especially upset when the adoption industry uses it to refer to a woman who is considering adoption for her unborn child.

    Lorraine and I use birthmother on the blog because it makes it more likely that our stories will be picked up. The more circulation we get, the more we can effect change.

    I use the term as one word, the way Lee Campbell who founded Concerned United Birthmothers (CUB)coined it.

    I'm on the board of Origins-USA which does not use the term.

  7. Jane, I will, since I live in Wisconsin, see what is going on here. My current community is Catholic in the majority and have a "family planning" deal with the local charities. Which makes my teeth hurt.

    However, I have not joined Origins-USA. I don't know much about them.

    I do know a lot about adoption in AZ since that is my "home", so to speak.

    I am not a birth mother - I am a mother. I don't need to even think about the other, very distateful term. However, you are correct in that more people would look at my blog when it was labeled with that term.

    Let me know about Origins-USA and I will see what the deal is here.

    I still think that we need to put as much fact work into anything as possible. There are thousands of mothers that were in foster care - the ratio of mothers from the 70's through the last decade that were young women in foster care and the states just take the babies.

    Also, there are thousands that have found that their children were dead, either from natural causes or at the hands of their adopters (note - not adoptive parents - adopters). Most of the time those deaths are not even recognized as a problem. The same goes for children in foster care.

    We need to put out there the harsh truth - not just our stories, but numbers, women and men willing to stand up there and tell the way it really is.

    Just my thoughts.

  8. Lori,

    Yes, we are mothers.

    To learn about Origins, go to its web page, www.origins-usa.org.

  9. Incidentally, blog followers will notice I use first or birth mother as two words. Adoptive mothers are not adoptivemothers, now are they?

    But since we disagree on this, we both use it the way we prefer. And for newbies to find us on the net, we gotta use birth mother...though I get away from it as much as possible.

  10. I don't want to start an argument, but I agree with Myst in that I don't get involved with anything that invites me as a 'birthmother.' Because, the way I see it, the term excludes me as I am still a mother to the child I lost to adoption. We know that the industry-created term "birth mother" means a non-mother, a former mother. Lee Campbell did not coin it as a term, all she did was to remove a space in the middle -- it still means the same thing, space or no space.

    I don't even use the term "first mother" because that's been picked up by the industry to mean "former mother," sequentially, like "first wife" and "second wife."

    So, I stick with mother or natural mother.

    So, Jane and Lorraine, this is a good campaign, but I think we can see the divisions even between us here. The adoption industry is a very political issue, and so are many of the issues the industry forces us into: must we deny our motherhood in order to get results? CUB was also told that back in 1975 or so, that if they wanted to play in the game they had to use either "birth" or "biological." :(

  11. I don't think not talking about a trauma has anything to do with keeping one's "Righteouness". I could be wrong but I really don't think it is to do with that.

    We rarely speak of our experiences because the responses we often get are so negative. That or then we are seen as only a woman who gave her baby away. We become reduced to one thing rather than a person who is multi layered and doing many things in life.

    Just the fact that someone referred to me as a "sacred first mother" once while we were in conflict. Not saying it was her fault or my fault it does not matter. What shocked me was that I was seen as a first mother first and a human being second or not at all. I am not only a mother, I have my own business, am an artist, a sister, a wife, a dog owner, a daughter and a migrant....

    I also think just using the word MOTHER is more powerful. Birth mother tends to make people think you chose to do this. You wanted to do this. It puts you in a negative box. Mother is powerful and is something most people have a strong connection to.

    Even using the term - Mother who relinquished to adoption is more powerful than BIRTHMOTHER.

    I agree that it's imporant for mothers to speak out.

    How do we do this?

    Why don't you ask mothers to write to you? You are a trusted person and one of us. Then you can have all the numbers together in one book or in one file of letters, you can send them in a big mass of words and women.

    I cannot help you because I am not American.

    I love your writing and admire your courage. I respect your skills as a spokeswoman and appreciate this forum very much.

    Thank you.

  12. KimKim asked about getting our stories out. One way is to post them on the Origins-USA website (www.origins-usa.org). The media can pick up the stories for local features on adoption.

    The more stories, the less we can be ignored.

  13. As an adoptee I am glad to see so many mothers speaking out about their experiences. As you said, the more people hear these stories, the harder it is to ignore them.

    You asked what the waiting period is in various states. Here in Illinois I believe it's 72 hours.

    The adoption industry continues to disenfranchise mothers specifically in order to keep them from uniting and expressing their truths. I applaud you for not putting up with it and I hope more mothers can take heart from your examples.

    A quick aside, which I know you have mentioned before but I wanted to put out there as someone with experience in search engine marketing. I agree that the terminology of "birth mother" or "birthmother" or however it's phrased needs to be changed. But, as you said, "birth mother" and its permutations are still the commonly used terms. If the message is going to get out, those terms have to appear in posts like Chicago voting: early and often. It's why I use "birth mother" when posting on my blog even though I believe "mother" should be the preferable term. It's not intended to demean mothers who surrender but simply to guide the search engines. So I would encourage any of you who have blogs or web sites to use those terms in your keywords even if you personally find them objectionable... if only so that others can learn why you find them so. As usual, just my $0.02!

  14. "but I think we can see the divisions even between us here."
    I think it's more like a difference of opinion than evidence of division.

    Little Snowdrop



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