' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: Why didn't we resist the social pressures?

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Why didn't we resist the social pressures?

Some may ask why we did not resist the social pressure to give up our children, particularly since Lorraine and I were college graduates in our 20's at the time of surrender.

In addition to fearing the stigma which we knew would attach to us and our families as unwed mothers, many in my generation of birthmothers believed that keeping our child would be harmful to the child. Folklore passed to us through parents, clergymen, teen magazines, soap operas, and Ann Landers told us that children of unmarried mothers were always better off adopted by a married couple who had so much love (as well as material goodies) to give.

(The Mormon Church teaches this today. It saddens me that my surrendered daughter, Megan, a worthy church member, believes it.)

The social worker mantra "A child needs a mother (pause) and a father" rang in my ears. The only way Megan could gain a father was to lose me, a woman of no consequence.

I knew the pain of being fatherless. My parents had divorced when I was 15. My father, who died when I was 20, had not been involved in my life in a meaningful way since I was a small child. I envied girls whose fathers came straight home from work and presided at the dinner table, inquiring about their day at school. These fathers took their families on vacations every summer, taught their daughters to drive, and attended father/daughter events at church and school.

If a social worker had said to me: "Jane, being adopted in a closed adoption causes children problems. Your daughter may develop trust issues, she may feel abandoned, she may suffer from being raised by people who don't look or act like her, she is more likely to have behavioral problems and so on,” I would have kept her, no question about it. If the social worker had leveled with me about adoptive parents, that they, like other parents, might divorce, lose their jobs, suffer from alcoholism, or abuse their children, I would have walked out of the hospital with my daughter.

By 1966 when I gave up Megan, substantial research (as well as common sense) documented the many problems adoptees and adoptive families face. Social workers knew about them but didn’t tell us. I can only guess why.

And so, with no information to the contrary, I took as an article of faith that no matter how hard I struggled to raise my daughter, she would be better off, moving seamlessly into the mythical family, superior in every way not only to me but to my entire family. I envisioned her as a teenager screaming at me: "why did you keep me? I could have gone to a fine family and had a better life. You were a mean, selfish woman and I hate you!”


  1. My son was born later, in 1984, but I have often related more to scoop era mothers because I was put under intense pressure by family, and the "therapist" they sent me to, to relinquish my baby. I was younger, though, so threats from my parents of "you can't live with us if you keep your baby" were pretty effective. I was also told it would be better for my baby. My mother kept telling me that he would be damaged if I kept him, and that because his father was a minority, my son would likely be a gang member (wtf, right?). And I was a college-bound white, girl, so they said I wouldn't have a "future" if I kept my baby, I wouldn't go to college or whatever, I'd be on welfare forever. In 1984, it wasn't as much of a social stigma, there were visible teen moms, but since I was white and smart, I was completely considered "fallen," as if I were somehow more pure before I got pregnant, than non-white, non-"gifted" girls. My non-white boyfriend was also "gifted" and was a star athlete, but still he was painted as the monster minority who knocked up the white girl. No one told me I could keep my baby, everyone EVERYONE around me insisted it would be a mistake of epic proportions.

  2. Jane;
    You are right on with this post. I surrendered my son in 1967. I have been able to get copies of the form I signed and the reason I wrote for relinquishing him was, "I want my son to be raised in a family with a mother and a father." I bought the societal pressure hook line and sinker.

    I too would have kept him in a heartbeat if I had been encouraged at all.


  3. Nothing has changed since the 1960's. the 1980's and now.

    The pressure is still the same it's just worded differently. "Not giving you up, giving you more" have you seen that bandied about birth mother pro adoption sites on the internet?

    The social worker sat on my hospital bed and hammered me with how I was taking the easy way out wanting to keep her. That it would get harder and harder and harder if I kept her and easier and easier and easier if I let her go. Those were her exact words.

    My mother told me of a priest who had a group of single mothers at the church. ALL the women who relinquished were flourishing and doing well and all the women who kept were struggling and having a really hard time. Those were her words.

    Letters from my grandmohter telling me to be like Mary who carried Jesus knowing the whole time he wasn't hers....WTF?

    Yeah now it all seems so ridiculous and manipulative but the idiot 18 year old didn't know any better.

    And don't get me started on the more worthy saintly people who waited for years to have a baby, so much more deserving than me, dumb girl who got pregnant.

    Nothing has changed.

    The only thing that has changed is me. I don't like my family anymore and don't hang out with them. Let them feel relinquished by me. If they think it's so good for me to relinquish my daughter then I can relinquish them too. It's only fair.

    It really doesn't matter what happend how or why the mean comments will keep coming. There is no real empathy you have to be strong by yourself or hang with the mothers who went through it to and get it.

    I'm doing ok though, I'm one of the lucky ones. I really am.

  4. I'd like to share this quote, about the impact of emotional/social coercion;

    In "The Mother Machine" by Gena Corea, (Harper & Rowe 1985)

    " Emotional coercion can be every bit as powerful as physical coercion. The law has always recognised that coercion need not involve physical force, as psychiatrist Willard Gaylin points out.

    " 'Economic loss, social ostracism, ridicule, are all recognised by law in varying contexts as coercive forces because in a social animal the need for approval and acceptance will almost always be equated with its very survival', Gaylin wrote. To the unconscious, he continued, death can be seen as isolation, loss of love, rejection from the family group, or social humiliation.

    " People may resist the notion that emotional coercion can be as powerful as physical coercion, Gaylin observed, because it threatens our belief that we are logical, autonomous and in control of our actions."

    Combine this with vastly increased oxytocin ("trust hormone") levels in pregnancy/birth that affected our judgment and made us 'trust' these workers who seemed to care about us and be our only support at times, and we didn't stand a chance.

    Cortisol ("stress hormone" levels 2-3 weeks prior to birth are as high as in people with major depression, so this could also affect our fear/judgement/anxiety about motherhood.

    There is a 5% average decrease in brain size.

    So, why are pregnant mothers not protected from advances from baby brokers who take advantage of these vulnerabilities? :(

    Back in 1940, Ora Pendleton suggested we needed months post-birth in which to make the decision un-rushed. You can see where this advice went to -- down the tubes when mat homes and agencies found out they coudl get more babies surrendered if they worked on *pregnant* moms. :(

    The odds were totally rigged against us if we were white enough, unwed, young, and there was a market demand for our babies. :(

  5. Of course we all bought that line about a two-parent family and how much better that would be than the life we, as single mothers, could give our children. The social pressure to relinquish was enormous, and all kinds of logical-sounding reasons were so "obvious" we hardly needed to hear them.

    But they resounded in our ears day and night: two-parent family, all the advantages of that. I grew up in an intact family and my father was extremely critical figure in my life, and it was obvious that my daughter's father would never be that. Of course, I'm not sure he was that to any of his four other children.

    Too bad Ora Pendleton and his theories were shunted aside in order to supply babies for the women who could not otherwise have them. Adoption is not always a method to supply babies to families who can't have them otherwise, but it so often blurs into that it is often hard to separate what I would call a good "adoption" (fine a home for a needy child) from a bad one (supply baby for parents who want one).

  6. Because this conversation started with the earlier posts about being adopted/being a relinquishing birth mother and it's possible effects that might lead to PTSD...I add this:

    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 (plastic surgery, not a simple clean-out-the-polyps operation) to help with the problem, but I still get sinus infections regularly. I have taken more antibiotics in my lifetime than three or four or five other people ever will. I have used homeopathic medicines and acupuncture as well.

    This birth/first mother has been fighting this sinus infection since the week before Mother's Day when I couldn't stop crying. Then there was the cute Yvonne issue (if you are new to the blog, see previous posts), who hasn't a clue how her "innocent" comment about how she hopes the neighbors adopt, that set me off because supposedly we are good friends; then that uproar leads to a certain lack of sleep trying to put her comment into perspective, what could I say to her, and ... the last few days I have been trying to take care of this incipient infection with herbs and homeopathic medicines, but this morning, I feel like a truck ran over me mentally and physically. And I have a sinus infection.

    This has been the story of my life for more years than I can remember. Does some of this seem to be related to the great loss of my daughter in my life? Who knows? But yeah, probably. I'm just saying, several days after the horribleness of feelings about Mother's Day, after a careless, perverse comment by a neighbor and FORMER close friend, I am physically sick.

    Too bad the social workers didn't add when we were being counseled about relinquishment of our children: Oh yeah, you may be more prone to some chronic illness since giving away your child is such a trauma. And trauma like this lowers your immune system and...that leads to illness.

  7. I was in my 1st year of college when I became pregnant. In addition to the same line of "bull" we were all given; in 1966 I didn't know of one single unmarried woman with a child. While they were working to break my spirit and rip any shred of confidence to buck the system, I honestly couldn't point to anyone as a role model who was raising a child alone and and having it be ok.

    There were no celebrities flaunting single motherhood back then, and the only stories we heard were whispered about such as actress Ingrid Bergman's "bastard, and whom my mother always referred to as "that tramp".

    Funny, that's what she called me when I became pregnant at 18 years old....LOL

    Lorraine, sorry you feel so lousy -sinus infections can be hideously painul.

    But, I do identify with what you say about our experience affecting our immune system. I don't even rule out the possiblity that I got ductal breast cancer due to the milk suppression and emotional turmoil I experienced when I begged to nurse what turned out to be my only child.

  8. KimKim - how true!

    I always wondered why the church ignored the Mary thing about the baby not being Joseph's and how we were all to accept that. Funny how the church won't accept that story from anyone else.

    I remember my very strict Catholic mother on the eve of my wedding.

    She said some terrible things.

    Here is the conversation;

    My mother - Your fiance is a very nice man. You must have lied to get him.

    Me - What do you mean?

    My mother - You must have lied about having a baby. What nice man wants damaged goods like you. You really should have considered the nun option. You can't keep it a secret forever.

    Me - My fiance knows about my baby. He is OK with that. It is not problem for him.

    My mother - *gasp* - What is wrong with him then?! You are damaged goods. You should be kind, call off the wedding and become a nun, it will never last, blah, blah, blah, ...

    Me - *giant sigh*

    I then ignored all the rubbish that spewed out of my mother's mouth from that point onwards.

    I don't talk to my parents anymore.
    It just got worse with time and the conversations always ended up with me being more angry at the end of the conversation than I had been at the beginning.

    Communications pretty much stopped when my mother said that what I went through was nothing. It was all nothing. I was nothing and my son was nothing. I said my final goodbye right after that.

    If my son and I are nothing to them, then I don't see the point in even trying anymore. It just causes more anguish. It has now been many years since that conversation. I have no intention of attending their funeral whenever that may occur.

    BTW - my wonderful husband and I have just celebrated our 30th anniversary and he helped me to find my son. They get along really well.

  9. The Mormon Church may teach that "a child needs a mother a father," but they certainly couldn't be exempt from the alarming statistics of divorced and single-parent homes. My adoptive mother came from a strong Mormon family in Salt Lake. She strayed away from her religious upbringing and married my first adoptive dad...an alcoholic at the time of my birth. It appears that she was trying to keep up with her many Mormon sisters being able give birth naturally that she adopted, even if it was done illegally and would inevitably hurt the lives of innocent children.

    Looking back at my adoptive mother's poor choices, for some reason, she believed that having children/family would help her somehow to fall back into good grace with her religious mother that she loved dearly.

    Regardless, if I had been raised by an abusive adoptive mother with two separate "fathers," this is supposed to be considered healthier and more ethical than if I had grown up with a part of me, my birth mother? When I read your post, I could see more clearly where in society there are way too many contradictions.

    Thanks for sharing!

  10. Lorraine,

    The two parent family is still the baseline, however unfair it may be.

    Are you aware that a majority of crime is due to single parent families?
    When I read or hear about crime in minority neighborhoods, almost invariably the editorializing ends with, "...single parent family."

    It is the predominant reason given for minority children to fall victim to, or resort to crime.
    Not poverty, nor lack of education.
    That would require societal input - taxes, time, effort.

    It is far easier to blame a removed parent for societies ills. If only you had been there for your child, he wouldn't be a (insert crime appellation here).

    It is a myth that needs to be dispelled.
    Post haste.

  11. E,

    I doubt that you can provide one credible source for your assertion that the majority of crime is due to single parent families. At any rate, adoption does not keep a child from being raised in a single parent home. More than half of adoptive parents divorce. Single women and men adopt children.

    Children born to single women are often raised in two parent homes because their mothers marry within a few years after their birth.

    Being adopted does not prevent criminality. Adoptees have committed heinous crimes; some have been mass murders. Some experts contend that these adoptees suffered from "adopted child syndrome" which contributed to criminality.

    Successful people have been raised in single parent home including Pres. Obama whose parents split up with a year or two of his birth, Bill Clinton whose father died before he was born, and Oprah Winfree, Jesse Jackson, and Ethel Waters born to single women.

  12. Jane,
    I'm sorry, you misunderstood me.

    My point was the blame assigned to single parents by society and how it's wrong.
    It's an excuse to blame crime on the lack of a parent, rather than the true underlying reasons - like poverty or the lack of an education.

    And that it would be more difficult for society as a whole - to improve education, to invest in our future has a price that most seem to be unwilling to pay.

    I was agreeing with Lorraine in a very backhanded manner. My apologies for being obtuse about it.

  13. To e and Jane

    Here are some figures that will interest you.

    It seems that having a 2 parent family to an adoptee adopted at birth is no guarantee that the adoptee will be OK - far from it.

    It is a fact that adoptees are over represented in prisons and mental institutions (there is a study about that which I will have to look up - I'll come back to you about that one.)

    It is also a fact that adoptees are over represented in the serial killer population when you look at the FBI figures (Amfor).

    •The FBI estimates 500 serial killers currently in the U.S; about 80 or 16% have been identified as adoptees. Since government stats indicate adoptees represent "only 2-3% (5-10-million) of the general population," 16% that are serial killers is an "over-representation" compared to the general population. http://foia.fbi.gov/foiaindex/serialkiller.htm

    Having 2 adoptive parents didn't do these adoptees any good, did it?

  14. I like e's line of thought here; people like to blame the single parent (an individual) rather than the system. American society worships at the alter of the individual, therefore the standard assumption is that everything that goes right or wrong is always the result of individual action. Sure, plenty of folks are their own worst enemy, but the system is often setup to make it even harder for less privileged individuals to improve their situation.

    I really feel for young/single mothers - they are rountinely blamed for every social ill in existence. What an awful message to be bombarded with on a daily basis.

    To Anon: I'm sorry about your mother's judgment of you. Congrats on finding your son and kudos to your supportve husband.

  15. Thanks for clarifying, E, and my apologies for misunderstanding what you were saying. I am so used to reading and hearing in the right-wing press about how single mothers are responsible for all our social problems that I was too quick on the trigger.

    Interestingly, a new book "Red Families v. Blue Families: Legal Polarization and the Creation of Culture" documents that in red states which promote abstinence and traditional family values, you end up with people marrying at younger ages, not getting college educations and having children early. The lack of education hampers the ability for the husband to find a job that pays enough for the wife to stay at home to raise their children. These marriages are more likely to dissolve.

    In blue states people wait and marry later, after completing college, and have children when they are older. Women in these states have more access to both contraception and abortion. Both men and women are more likely to complete college and have more financial stability.

  16. I wonder if infant adoption rates are higher in blue states: (1) if social stigma against young unwed white mothers is greater thus increasing pressures to surrender, and (2) if infertility rates are higher because couples waited too long to try to conceive.

  17. Cedar: Can't answer your question, but we do know that abortion and adoption rates are NOT related.

  18. Wow, I'm so glad I stumbled upon this blog. As a first mom myself in 1980, I thought so much had changed compared to first moms in the baby scoop era. Yet I completely relate to the pressures and stigma described here (seems it was true then and now), the same issues I felt when I was pregnant with my son. I didn't even allow myself to think of keeping him - in my mind it was so shameful I kept the pregnancy hidden right up to the day he was born, even trying to figure out on the bus to the hospital how I could continue to keep this hidden. Of course the hospital alerted my parents. Then I told my parents, who said they were willing to help me raise him as my own or even raise him as theirs "even though the rest of the family will disown us", that I did not want to do this. At 15, in a dysfunctional family, I couldn't see how I'd get past the shame, and I couldn't see how my family could offer this baby a good home when they couldn't offer it to the two kids (including me) that already lived there. So I told the social workers to send my son away, and I refused to see him more than once. I couldn't accept that I had given birth to him, and I couldn't face the shame that went along with being one of "those girls". So I spent my life trying to prove to myself that I was proper, obtaining a couple of degrees along the way and professional success. What a profound impact internalized shame has on a woman's life.

    Fast forward to today. 4 years in reunion with my son who is now a 30 year old wonderful young man, and it breaks my heart when he tells me it won't be ok for me to be present at his university graduation ceremony, hinting that his adoptive family has issues with me being there. I imagine it will be the same if he gets married, has kids of his own...those occasions have been staked out as being owned by the adoptive family, and I'm to "know my place" and not disturb their equilibrium. At 45, I'm just getting to the place where I know most of the time in my heart that I'm not a shameful person.

    When I get to the place in my life when I've got a bit more patience, I'll volunteer to tell young pregnant girls what they are potentially in for if they give away their babies...in my case a lifetime of denial, followed by relief when I found out my son was doing well, then forced to stay on the sidelines so my son doesn't have to feel the stress of his adoptive parents feeling uncomfortable with my presence.

    Reading over the various stories here helps me know I'm not alone. It also tells me how much intolerance adoptive families have for first moms. At least nowadays the whole triad issue is not quite as hidden as it was in 1980, but there sure is a long way to go. Sometimes I wonder...how much heartbreak does a first mother have to endure? When I signed those papers, why is it that I also seem to have signed on to being considered less of a human, less worthy of respect and acknowledgement?

  19. Anon,


    Welcome to First Mother Forum and thanks for writing. I encourage you to post your story on the website of Origins-USA (www.origins-usa.org).

    Origins is the only birth mother organization working to end uncesessary adoptions. The media looks to the website to find stories by birth mothers in their area to write about.



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