' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: I was not 'forced' to surrender my child but...

Thursday, May 13, 2010

I was not 'forced' to surrender my child but...

And of course, if a mother willingly surrendered her child -- if indeed the child was unwanted and she did not want to keep it -- she is not going to experience PTSD as it was not done against her will. It would not be a traumatic event for her. 
Whoa, Cedar, beg to differ! I love your blog (Adoption Critique) and usually agree with you, but the comment above, posted as a comment to the previous post here (Does surrender (for the birth/first mother) and adoption (for the child) lead to PTSD?) sure got my notice.

I was not forced by anyone, save circumstance, society, the prevailing culture, to surrender my baby. I think I can say without being contradicted, the same is true for Jane and Linda. My parents did not make me sign the papers. My parents in another state did not even know I was pregnant because at over four months pregnant, I had been able to go home for Christmas and disguise the fact that I was with child! For a number of reasons--such as the father was a married man, he did not get a divorce in time to save our baby--I did not feel that I could keep my child. I live with the fact that I was not strong enough to change the course of my life on the spot and keep my baby. Do I have regrets that I was not stronger? Did I know what a lifelong impact this would have on my life?

Yes, and no.

Did giving up my daughter fuck me up? Oh yeah, big time. After she was born I was so hysterical that I was held down by two nurses and tranquilized--now she was gone, and gone she would be. Yet two or three weeks later, when it continued to be clear that Patrick, my daughter's father, was not going to leave his wife--not that it ever seemed like he would in time--I signed the surrender papers. It was 1966, and the world was a very different place. Women today still give up their babies without guns to their heads, and we read about their sorrow in places like The New York Times, as we did on Sunday, in their special Mother's Day tribute in the Modern Love column. We read it in a zillion other blogs, in memoirs, and now, even see it making its way in the movies.

Was it traumatic that I relinquished my daughter, even though no one had a hatchet over my head? Or for the writer of the column about open adoption, Amy Seek? Absolutely. I could not know how my dramatically relinquishment would affect me, how within six years the scales would fall from my eyes when I read about Florence Fisher and the Adoptees Liberty Movement Association in The New York Times, and set my life on a course to change adoption as it is practiced today.

Do I suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder? PTSD is not like cancer, a disease with damaged cells you can look at through a microscope. PTSD is more like PMS...something on a continuum, and somewhere you reach a point where the lingering effects of the event are so overwhelming you end up with a classification of PTSD. I wouldn't call my current state one of PTSD, in the true medical sense where I need drugs, or alcohol or to be locked up in loony bin, but my surrender of my daughter sure as hell bothers me. A whole lot.

Consider this: If I--and a whole lot of other other women who relinquished their children in all sorts of circumstances for all sorts of reasons--were so damn okay, the week leading up to Mother's Day would not have been such a bitch for so many of us.

Firestorms erupted on other blogs. I walked out on a neighbor when she--knowing I relinquished a child, even having met that child--indicated she hoped the thirty-fortysomething couple who live between us "adopt" because the nice young man of that couple finally found a woman and she's moved in, but it's probably too late for them to have children. And they have told someone adoption is on their minds. I'm thinking, Damn, I'll never be able to walk past that house again without thinking about "adoption," and I've already got that at the other end of the block. I'm thinking: every time I see that kid he or she will remind me that somewhere else, there was a catastrophe in someone's life and that's why the real mother doesn't have her baby.

If my surrender was not traumatic I would not be so upset--racing heart, elevated blood pressure, automatic sweat release--when I listen to people talk about adoption casually.

I would not say, Damn, can't I avoid this? nearly everytime I turn the TV on and there's some new story with an adoption twist. Last week it was Law & Order, the week before it was Law & Order, SVU.

I wouldn't think about a friend's daughter from Guatemala, Hmm, probably one of those stolen kids.

I would not even be pissed off that an adoptive grandfather, told me to my face "you are our worst nightmare" when he learned that my daughter actually lived her with us for lengthy stretches at a time when she was in her teens and after. I would not record programs such as Who Do You Think You Are? and The Locator and keep Kleenex nearby because, of course, I know I am going to weep.

My own PMS serious enough that a doctor eventually classified it as Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder, or PMDD. But do I have PTSD forty-four years after my daughter was born, and relinquished to an unknown world?

Maybe not in the clinical sense. But a variation thereof. If I didn't I would not be writing FirstMotherForum. I'd simply be smelling the roses.--lorraine 
PS: If you are interested in commenting here about how you do not have a lifelong trauma relating to adoption and we who do are the unusual, please go to a blog that is devoted to the great happiness that is adoption for other people. There are several. This is not one. Yes, some of the arguing that goes on in the comments here is best done elsewhere, and what was underway in the last blog made me rethink what we post. I'm laying that out now because I am tired of the bickering that goes on, the accusations that follow--even in snarky comments at other blogs about how I am despicable--when we do not post some comments. It's tiring. I'm done with it.


  1. Hon, I understand where you are coming from, and I think that where we differ is on the *definition* of "forced." Maybe you strictly define it as a person or persons actively forcing us to sign. But coercion can be social, psychological, emotional, financial ... and can also be overt or covert. Shame and the resulting social ostracization is a hugely coercive factor at times, when no-one was there to offer support and say to us, "It's okay, be proud and celebrate your pregnancy -- you will be a fine mother!" as the would have to mothers who were older, married, monied, etc. There is no excuse for discrimination.

    I look at your words: "I was not forced by anyone, save circumstance, society, the prevailing culture, to surrender my baby.. For a number of reasons...I did not feel that I could keep my child"

    And I see a woman who was forced to surrender against her will. And of course this would be traumatic!

    I have met women who were not forced, and they did have the option of keeping their child -- they knew and felt they could. They often were older, married, and had all the resources they needed -- they just had NO interest at all in doing so, no love for that child, no connection what-so-ever. They are the ones we don't hear from, as they walked away as though nothing happened, because for them it didn't. About 2% of us -- about the same percentage in the population of people who have antisocial personality disorder and I wonder if there is a connection.

    I think whether we had 'strength' or not is a moot point at times, given the hormonal and neurological consequences of pregnancy. We didn't stand a chance. We had "baby brain." That's why I suggest that mothers need at least 6 weeks post-birth to recover before making any sort of "adoption decision" (and in fact the 5% shrinkage in cortical size takes ~6 months to revert!). I wish I could find the article again, but back in 1960 an obstetrician observed that birthing women were highly suggestible and vulnerable to external social pressure -- this may have been our downfall as well -- medical and adoption professionals knowing this fact and applying it to their procedures.

    The questions that I find sometimes put our desires into perspective are

    - "Did you love your baby?"
    - "Did you want to keep your baby?"
    - "Did you realize this at any point during pregnancy, birth, or post-birth?"

    Anyway, I'm sorry about the long rambling comment here. I love your blog and I think we agree on many points -- maybe it is just our definitions?

  2. Bravo Lorraine! Thank you for setting healthy guidelines and rules. I grow weary too, of the constant bickering by a handful who anytime a term they are not comfortable with (PW, PTSD, BSE, etc.) is uttered - they immediately jump in to make sure it is known that they don't relate. Your point is well taken and I wonder myself - why come to a blog concerned with the impact of adoption and constantly swim against the flow? The reality is that the world of adoption reform is evolving - more research is made available and more of us are speaking out of our experiences. Books are being written and many of us relate to the topics and theories and recognize our own situations. Why begrudge anyone that?

    I wish everyone could just feel comfortable using whatever terminology they feel most aptly describes their own experience, and know that it won't be marginalized.

    I've never been clinically diagnosed with PTSD either - but I sure know something is very wrong with me and my ability to trust and years of living on an emotional rollercoaster. Most of us know on an intuitive level what happened to us and why.

  3. Abraham-Hicks Daily Posts: Everything is valid and everything is truthful, because Law of Attraction lets everything be. The question is not whether it's right or wrong, whether their approach is right or wrong, or whether my approach is right or wrong. The question is: Does their approach feel good to me? And if it doesn't, then I choose a different approach.

  4. Cedar: I thought you would understand what I was saying...and you did, but those of us who were older and relinquished sometimes feel "less worthy" if that makes any sense, of the feelings of mothers who had a parental gun to their heads. And I wanted to defend our right to be just as screwed up by relinquished our children as those who did (have the gun to their head). Thank you, and thank you CarolC for your comments.

    A woman can get weary sometimes.

  5. It is not unusual for a mother to blame herself, to feel that "I must have asked for it" or "it must've been my choice but i wish I hadn't done it!", because that is the overwhelming message from 'society,' that we were responsible, as society assumes every surrendered child to be unwanted and every natural mother to be an abandoner. Nothing is further from the truth -- the greater majority of us loved and longed to keep our babies.

    Along with self-blame comes shame, guilt, and anger at oneself. But this is similar to what rape victims experience, with the social view that "she asked for it." (Luckily, now changing with public awareness/education.). And guilt/shame/self-blame makes healing from PTSD vastly more challenging.

    Shedding self-blame and laying responsibility at the feet of the perpetrators allows a mother to release ALL the guilt and shame and this helps with healing from trauma. Esp if we remember how we resisted the separation, even in small ways (e,g, how we tried to figure how we could keep our babies; thought about running away with them, told them we loved them, etc.)

    But even some counsellors use the [unethical?] approach of trying to convinced traumatized mothers that it was "their decision." (Would one counsel a rape victim that it was 'only sex' she had and not rape? No.) Trauma is trauma, and the traumatic symptoms we experience are evidence of just how much we did NOT want to surrender our babies, whether the coercion was overt or covert, social, financial, psychological, or emotional.

  6. I have yet to meet a first Mom or adoptee who does NOT suffer from PTSD. It manifests itself in different ways, but it it exists.

    I agree with Cedar- my own first Mom did not have anyone forcing her to sign the papers, but there was coercion involved from day one. She did not want to surrender me, she felt she had no choice, and that is coercion.

    The first things my n siblings said to me was that our Mother's behavior now made sense to them. Finding out about me was their "light bulb moment" as to why our Mother never seemed "normal"- having an overwhelming sense of sadness and guilt, and always said she was "not good enough", etc.

    I have no doubt adoptees have this, too. It's why we do the things we do. These past 2 weeks have been hell on us all. "Civilians" will never understand.

  7. Lorraine-with absolute and postive due respect, don't you think though, that coercion to relenquish existed for Moms like you , just because in 1966 keeping a child born out of wedlock was not socially acceptable? I am not arguing your feelings AT all, I am just asking, so I hope that is okay. People are very much victims of their times, and are terrified of being made to look and feel differant. (And no, don't get me wrong, there is no way in hell I am condoning the Closed Adoption System or how Church Clergy or Adoption Agencies have treated all of us, the vipers) To not be a single Mother, even though this mindset was wrong was a silent pressure placed on every female in America. And since Jane's Father was married to someone else, there is the fear too of his wife finding out which could of turned into a major fiasco, with you being called a "hussy" (even though you were not and are not a hussy at all Lorraine) to those who would side with her, (Jane's Father's wife)and you being emotionally abused by them which you would not of deserved. Fear can be coercive too, I think or it can push us into making wrong or painful descisions. I don't know. Just some thoughts (that could be wrong).

  8. Well, IA, I agree with you but when you read the comments from people being literally "forced," I felt I wanted to stand up for those of us who were simply reacting to the times and the support we had. I was 22, ready to start my career after a very difficult time finishing college (my father did not think I should go, finances were a problem, I paid for everything for the last 3 years of school)...you are right, my daughter's father was married, with three kids, Irish Catholic family (his mother was the bishop's secretary!) and it seemed totally impossible to keep my baby, to be public about it. He wasn't an abuser, in any sense that I would agree with, but the amount of shame I/we felt was palpable and today seems like something from another century--which it was.

    So I thank everyone for understanding,as so many of you have.

  9. Cedar posted:
    Esp if we remember how we resisted the separation, even in small ways (e,g, how we tried to figure how we could keep our babies; thought about running away with them, told them we loved them, etc.)

    Oh that brought some memories back... running away with my baby... I sure thought of that - but WHERE would I go???

    Lorraine - thanks for this wonderful blog of yours!!

  10. Yes, I agree with you Lorraine. And I am glad you addressed that fact and wrote the posts you did. I don't think the manner of coercion matters, whether it be from social losers, Adoption Agencies or one's own parents in your face or from internal pressure one suffers due to social standards. A thorn is a thorn is a thorn and they are found on all different colored roses. I didn't mean to imply that Jane's Father was abusive either-I meant friends of his wife or her family-we all know how people get when they think someone has done something wrong-like wolves on a sheep-I think some Real Mothers may think that Moms like you may have suffered less, because no battleax nun came and ripped Jane from you, but I don't beleive that. I know you have gone through your own kind of hell Lorraine, just like Moms like Ceder. I feel bad for both of you. Pain is pain. And all in all, having to give a baby away no matter what the situation, sucks for any woman, and I think can cause PTSD.

  11. Running somehow across a field--isn't that the image that so many of us had who eventually relinquished our children so they could be taken in by some two-parent perfect family with a white picket fence and a dog?

  12. I don't think I have PTSD. What I do have are chronic sinus infections. No one else in my family has them. I have had a major operation to help with the problem, but I still get them.

    I have been fighting this since the week before Mother's Day...when I couldn't stop crying. Then there was the cute Yvonne issue, who hasn't a clue how her "innocent" comment set me off; then that leads to a certain lack of sleep and ... today I have unquestionably a sinus infection. This has been the story of my life for more years than I can remember.

  13. Try bonding with her (the love of your life) for a whole month before placement day. No way to describe. Glad I got the time with her but didn NOT want to let her go. Spent next two years cropping ohotos and editing dvds of her! I was a lot of fun to be around ! haha. I had over 24 hours of video of us together. We were like one person. Now I don't even know what she sounds like anymore. I miss her voice the most

  14. Cause does any mother really initiate the process of getting up and handing the baby over. It's safe to say, no bmom was jumping the gun when it came to that moment! I'd of sat there forever!

  15. I feel like this is so crucial to be able to talk about. As an adoptee, it means a lot to me to know that my bmom probably had issues, that it wasn't the easiest thing to do. It's not easy to be given up, either, and there is an amazing book called "The Primal Wound" that suggests even the baby can have PTSD. I think I experienced that, as I could never be alone, and screamed the day I found out my mom was going to leave me at school. The book suggests that my subconscious was remembering when I was abandoned as a baby.

    I feel ya!



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