' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: Was I Destined to be a birth/first mother?

Monday, January 3, 2011

Was I Destined to be a birth/first mother?

"Meet the Twiblings--How four women and one man conspired to make two babies" read the headline in Sunday's New York Times Magazine. Two adorable babies, bright blue eyes, and a  long essay on how to solve upper-middle class infertility: purchase eggs from an adorable young woman, rent two wombs from really nice ladies, mix eggs with husband's sperm. All right, I'm being sarcastic.

I found myself infuriated as I read on, unable to quit, as the writer Melissa Thernstrom takes us through her several failed trials at IVF in her late thirties and ultimately delves into the decision to have babies in a way that her body, at 41, can not. Infuriating because she sees the objections to egg-donor/surrogacy as only a reaction to the fact that it is a new way to create children:
"I read articles and court decisions and took notes on the arguments, but in the end they mainly seemed to boil down to the fact that it is new. Because of the central social importance of the family, changes that affect it are often initially condemned as strange, unnatural, evil or dangerous. Using anesthesia in childbirth was controversial after anesthesia's invention. Had not God condemned Eve to bring forth children in pain? Birth control was once condemned, but it is now widely accepted. Once outlawed, abortion is now legal and supported by a majority of Americans within certain limits." 
Thernstrom goes on to talk about how reproductive technology fills an important need for gay couples and the women who suffer from upper-middle class infertility, or eight percent of the women between 40 and 44 who identify themselves as involuntarily childless.

But what is different about actually making people who will have a different relationship to their personal history (or lack of) than the rest of us made the old-fashioned, time-tested way, and the means that prevents those people from being born. Because, you see, creating babies from someone's eggs and someone else's sperm (in this case, that of her husband) is different, quite different from NOT creating a human being at all. Reproductive technology is creating humans who will be related to their past less fully than the rest of us, and we have no way of knowing what this means for the future world order. This is science fiction played out today. I kept thinking of Gattaca, that movie in which Ethan Hawke, a genetically inferior man, assumes the identity of a superior one in order to pursue his lifelong dream of space travel.

Yet deep into the essay she hits upon something that I have been thinking about a lot lately: destiny. Was I, along with all the other first mothers in the world who grieve for their lost children, destined to have babies that were meant for other people to raise? Were those people destined from the beginning to be their parents? For first/birth mothers, this is an appalling thought. What kind of karma destined us to be gestational carriers of our own flesh and blood for someone else? And yet, that is where we have ended up. Thernstrom says this:
"The brain’s ability to rewrite — to destinize, as it were — the birth story and turn a barn into a manger is so powerful that Plan B, all its unsexiness notwithstanding, became the best plan, because Plan B created the children that we have and are convinced we had to have."
BirthmarkYears ago, when I first became involved in working to change adoption as we know it today, to work to repeal every single law that closed us off from our children after we relinquished them, I felt that it was my destiny to be just that person. To write, for instance, Birthmark, published in 1979, the first memoir to tell a birth mother's story, and subject myself to the kinds of slings and arrows that came my way, and they were plenty. I remember hearing how the movie director Ben Gazarra pounded the table in anger and rage when Birthmark came up at a dinner party at which he, and friends of mine, were present. I remember the people like Larry King who wouldn't even discuss the subject of a first mother out of the closet because, as they explained to the publisher's publicist, they were "adoptive parents." Case closed. I remember when another writer at a party told me quietly that he knew people who would like to kill me--his neighbors, "adoptive parents." Of course, he expected I would understand.  And I remember reading newspaper headlines about myself--that woman who wrote "that book"--that made me wince. 

And was all this my destiny? I said to myself: This happened, I can write about this and let people know how we feel, and I can take this grief (that's not actually the word I said in my mind), this is my destiny. But today, no matter how I get my mind around that, no matter how many intellectual trails I go down, I am having an harder time with that idea. This is where I have ended up, and it has become my fate to be this person. Now I have to try to fill the shoes of the person I want to be. Sometimes I'd like to walk away and pull the metaphorical blanket over my eyes and forget the rest. Yet here I am.

I think it would be easier if I believed, if I had a strong belief, in a God. Gaia. Hera. The Mayan Sun God. God the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, like I learned in Catholic school.

But I don't.

I don't believe in a concept of a God sitting up there in a big chair directing traffic, and deciding this is the Plan for sinners like me, and yet I do believe in certain things: synchronicity, the confluence of events and circumstances that are way more than mere chance because sometimes, sometimes, they pile up like leaves in the fall. I feel that way about my relationship with the daughter of my first love, Jennifer, because there are so many connections and similarities and names and places that a reasonable way to accommodate them is not sufficient without thinking that surely there is some method to this madness. The similarities between my daughter and myself, and my granddaughters and myself, are expected and do not surprise me, they are the result of our shared DNA.

It's the ones that are not expected that have led to me to question that there is sort of order in this world of ours.  Astrology and the I-Ching holds some appeal for me. Both are like religion, in many ways, because you either believe there is something to them, or you write it off as hogwash. Your choice.

But destiny: is it our minds, like Thernstrom says, that wrap themselves around Plan B (I am a woman who gave up a child for adoption, a woman who works for adoption reform) that makes us feel as if we are living out our destiny? Given my druthers, I'd go back and rewrite mine in a minute, if I could. I'd have married the boy from the next town and had a daughter or a son whom we kept. I'd be Jennifer's real mother, not her alternative universe mother, only she wouldn't be quite the same Jennifer. Of course, that's not what happened, I did not marry her father. Instead, I've been married to a good man for three decades now and he and I look upon the twists and turns of our lives that occurred for us to be in the same room at the same time and ready for a lasting relationship...and that seems like destiny too.

It's when we hear adoptive parents say they feel the children they adopt were "meant for them" in some cosmic way that internally we blow a gasket. NO! We think, that baby was meant for me! And only terrible circumstance channeled him or her to you! But don't you dare say that baby was "meant for you." It's why we all felt so much rage at Scott Simon's careless title: Baby, We Were Meant for Each Other. No, we think, it was sheer chance that gave you the children from China you have; sheer chance that gave any of our babies to the people, good and bad, who ended up raising them; sheer chance.

And thinking about that brings us back to our own roles in this scenario of babies and mothers. We mothers of the lost children did have sex; sex at an inopportune (or opportune, depending on your point of view) time of the month; and we did get pregnant; we were not able or willing at the time to keep our babies; and all of us have had to live with that sorrowful twist of fate. Destiny? Or sheer meaningless chance, like the way, standing in front of a display case in grocery store, we choose one carton of eggs over another?

I'm just rambling here today. No big conclusions about destiny or how Plan B became our fate, our karma, our destiny. Certainly I can not fathom the final, conclusive answer that satisfies our need to make sense of our lives. What's coming to mind now is that trite saying about making lemonade from the lemons handed us.

Trite though it may be, but maybe there's something there. All I know is that tonight working for adoption reform, working until every last f*&!ing state in the Union, in the world, does not have closed records for adoptees or birth/first mothers feels like my destiny, whether I like it or not. It is what is. --lorraine


  1. Found that story very disturbing too and blogged on it.The detail of the beginnings of the children's lives seemed so intrusive, exposing and somehow rather unhealthy.I still don't understand why they used egg donors and surrogates. What have I missed here?
    Love the Thernstrom's quote.
    Activism which comes from strong conviction can never be avoided, it becomes our destiny because we have strong principles we believe in and a sense of injustice that must be righted.Some will never know that dedication, conviction and commitment, the love of justice and what is moral and right.We're the lucky ones! Rock on!

  2. No, I do not think anything is destiny. It is what it is and what we do with it is what sets the scene for the rest of our lives. I was NEVER meant to lose a child. It happened. Destiny is crap. And I am a person with a faith. I have never felt God directs traffic or any of that crap. We have always had free will; to do with our lives what we will. Sadly the actions of some people have dire reactions for others... like adoption. Perfect example of that actually.

    I disagree there is anything valid in what this woman has to say based on what I have seen so far. She seems to be reaching for excuses to get people to accept the very gross thing she is doing to get waht she wants. Manipulating Nature. Another example of greed, materialism, lust and outright entitlement. With no thoughts of the people she is bringing into this world.

    And as for destiny, well I tend to feel that people who believe in destiny do so because they have to believe in something. For me, there is no destiny. There is my Life and despite the crap that comes my way, I still can take back my power and try to redirect it in a direction I am more comfortable with.

    Losing my daughter was no destiny. It was as a result of other people doing what they want and taking what they want. Not rocket sicence. And no destiny involved!

  3. "Was I, along with all the other first mothers in the world who grieve for their lost children, destined to have babies that were meant for other people to raise?"

    You'd be surprised at what people can think of.

    Hell, I've had people tell me I must have been a horrible person in a past life and my soul subconsciously decided to redeem itself by being adopted.

    Or even that my adoptive parents were my natural parents in a previous life and I had been separated from them in a traumatic way, so my soul "chose" to be reborn to them in this life through adoption.

  4. Oh man, what a whackster. Woo upon woo.
    I shall *definitely* not be reading (would be willing to pay good money not to) "The Pain Chronicles: Cures, Myths, Mysteries, Prayers, Diaries, Brainscans, Healing and the Science of Suffering.”


  5. "Fate is like a strange, unpopular restaurant, filled with odd waiters who bring you things you never asked for and don't always like."

    from Lemony Snicket.

    I don't know Lorraine, I've been pondering the same things as you lately and I've got no answers. I know how I feel sometimes, but feelings are just that and not necessarily the reality.


  6. In no way do I think I was born destined to lose a child to adoption. The God that I know is a loving God, and has no part in what we call adoption today.

    To believe in destiny also takes away the meaning of free will...

  7. No destiny, "shit happens", good and bad, then people try to impose meaning on meaningless events. Nice that you connected with your ex boyfriend's daughter, Lo, but would you really have been happy being a small town 60's housewife? Any of us can drive ourselves nuts over what might have been.

    Could not stand to read through Melissa Thurstom's narcissistic article, maybe later after more coffee, but the concept is revolting. Poor kids if they do not measure up to the standards of how much effort and money they cost to create. What if they split up, as such marriages often do, and they are really his kids, not hers? There is nothing but selfishness in this tale. And no regard for the kids as human beings in their own right.

  8. FYI maryanne:

    My boyfriend and I had no intention of staying in Michigan. I always intended to have a career and keep my name, and he knew that.

    Making assumptions based on lack on information leads to erroneous conclusions.

  9. It bothers me that at the same time that she recognizes that destiny is the name that people often retrospectively give to consequences, she's buying into (as well as selling) the idea of it as being something both real and mystical.
    I wonder how the children who are the result of all this remarkably byzantine adult cooperative project will feel when they are old enough to think about it for themselves.
    The sugary fairy story meant to explain it all to them made me want to fwow up.
    But then I always preferred Grimms to Disney anyway.


  10. I know that FMF's Jane has written that her relinquished daughter, Megan, believes that her adoption was meant to be and that she was raised in the "right" family. This is certainly a more comforting way to look at it. It is certainly uglier and more painful to look at it as if you were simply born at the wrong time and were part of a social experiment. Unfortunately, this is how I see it.

  11. Yo, I certainly don't feel my daughter was raised in the "right" family. Putting it that way makes us feel like there is certainly something wrong with us and that our children are so glad they weren't raised by us, their mothers, first and foremost, biological and genetic.

  12. @Lorraine,
    I don't think I was raised in the right family, but my APs do. And I remember reading that Megan believed she was raised in the "right" family.

  13. I wish my son had been raised in the"right" family, even if it were not mine. By that I mean a better family than he got. I do not honestly know if he would have been better off with me, I do not think the kids I raised got any prize mom. Nothing horrid, just mediocre. My son's mom was a lot worse than me, but his Dad was ok and encouraged him in all he did. And all my kids are ok, I guess whatever upbringing they all got was good enough:-)

    In any event, all of us have to live with what actually happened, not what we imagine or wish had happened. That goes for mothers and adoptees as well. No destiny, just life goes on.

  14. Twibles hit the Brits. Your basic tabloid precis:


  15. As Maryanne said "no destiny but shit happens".

    Actually that is also bullshit... the thing is us first/natural/birth/biological mothers whatever you want to call us, our life changed when the decision to place/relinquish our child to adoption took place.

    It was the fact that we placed/relinquished our child which has mapped out our future.. so we was not "born" to be (sorry to used the term) birth mothers... whatever situations we had in our life that brought us to that decision was nothing compared to what followed.

    To say that we were born to be birth mothers is just so wrong and I know Lorraine was just bringing up something we all have been thinking at one stage or another.

    On the other hand... I think I'm one of the lucky ones, unlike Mei Ling I have NEVER been told I was horrible to place my son for adoption... in my case I am constantly told that I was brave...did the right thing etc etc...

  16. You remember well, Robin,

    Megan told me and others that she was raised in the family in which she belonged, that her adoption was God's plan, and that she was glad she was adopted. Obviously painful to hear.

    I wrote Megan once that her adoption was a result of a failed social experiment which victimized both of us; that did not go over well.

    From reading memoirs of women adopted as infants, I've concluded that some adoptees want to believe their adoption was ordained by a higher power. This allows them to avoid having to think about who they might have been.

    In Megan's case, instead of being a Mormon and a Republican, she would have been a non-believer and a Democrat. Query: Why did God spare Megan but allow my other three daughters to become non-believing Democrats?

    I also believe that in spite of her religious and political beliefs which are clearly a result of nurture, Megan is, at the core, the same person she would have been if I raised her.

  17. "In Megan's case, instead of being a Mormon and a Republican, she would have been a non-believer and a Democrat. "

    It would be more accurate to say Megan would have been raised an unbeliever and a Democrat. What religious and political path she chose as an adult would still be up to her. Many people go against their parent's religious and political beliefs. I fear some of my sons may be Republicans, but we do not discuss politics. They are all agnostics, my husband is an atheist raised strict Orthodox Jewish, and I am a very liberal Catholic. We all get along:-)

    I don't really see how my surrendered son would be different if I had raised him, as he seems to just be himself as he should be. I can't see where being raised by me would have made him much different, but he is a very strong person and his own man.

    I know this is not true for everyone, especially where there were extreme differences between the birth and adoptive families. In my case the adoptive parents were much like my parents, with the added unfortunate circumstance that the adoptive mother was crazy,
    But economically, socially, religious and politically they were much the same.

  18. The "D-word" always strikes me as a really uninspired version of a "rainbow fart". A very simple, trite, self serving explanation for those who want what they want when they want it, and the hell with the consequences to the lives and feelings of others.

    Actually, it's a senseless argument, and at odds with itself on so many levels. Destiny is commonly defined as a predetermined course of events considered as something beyond power or human control. Wow, doesn't sound anything like adoption to me. Adoption is ALL about power and human control. Humans walked into my mom's home and took her 6 week old baby out of her arms. Humans placed me in foster care. Humans beat a 14 year old girls will down for a year and coerced her into relinquishing her baby. Humans went to court and altered my documentation and the course of my life. Humans alone are responsible for that alteration that is my life and that of natural parents of adoption loss and their children. (Human doesn't necessarily equal humane in most cases either, certainly not on the level you might expect from a "deity")

    If I could find any element of "destiny" in adoption, it would be this: I have witnessed in parent's and children of adoption loss a measure of grace, compassion, courage and strength in direct proportion to the horrendous, tragic, unjustified and painful events that were inflicted upon them. Somehow, we were given or developed the tools to stand up, time and again, and keep fighting. Or maybe, we were given those things by each other. Hell if I know...but the "d-word" screams mindf*ck to most of us.

    Thanks Lorraine, got me thinking again.



  19. I am behind on my NYT times reading and sorted through this Sunday's paper just a half an hour ago. I saw the cover story for the magazine and hoped that FMF would take it on.

    I have not read it yet; I need to take an antiemetic first.

    How people can be proud of creating Byzantine social networks that children must negotiate--and often without help--I cannot understand.

    I hate that this idea of "one big happy family" is so appealing to people, but it's usually most palatable for people who fail to think about what it means to the children.

    I don't think God's Will means much in cases like this except for entitled human hopefulness to justify some rather idiotic ideas.

    I am not at all a believer in predestination: I was born to be with my aparents, by hook or by crook, and my nmother was only a happy handmaiden, joyously providing a "gift" for someone else? Vomit inducing. Sorry to be graphic.

    I came to where I am through a series of Unfortunate Events, to borrow the Lemony Snicket reference. It's not that I can't find some good in some of my experiences, or that I am needlessly maudlin and stuck over something that never happened, like Miss Havisham.

    As Lorraine replied to one of my comments to another post, it's very complicated. And in this "Twibling" thing, it's shades of Brave New World. Ugh.

    I will attempt to read the article now, and probably throw the magazine across the room with anger and annoyance. Hopefully avoiding the heads of nice china and loved ones.

  20. Great comments to read. Thanks everybody.

  21. Just when I thought I was going in circles with the same self destructive destiny and fate thoughts you wrote about Lorraine; along came Tamara W's "rainbow fart" comparison which really brought me out of my funk. Thank you Lorraine and Tamara W. The only way I've been able to wrap my mind around the whole adoption/surrogates mess is to look at who is profiting from these messes - the co-consiprators - the agencies and their buyers.

  22. No, it is not destiny. Because, at every point in our life, we have a choice. Even when we don't have choices, as in the case of adoption, we are forced to make a choice. Therefore, destiny is not possible. Adoption is the consequence of the poisoning of the land, women's bodies, and the racist classist system that feeds off of narcissism and greed.

  23. Interesting concept, destiny, and the link it has to faith. I wonder what percentage of first mothers are like me, agnostic or athiest and whether the percentage is higher than average for first mothers than it is in the wider population? Personally I admire the comfort that some people seem to derive from having a strong faith conviction, but I still can't find it within myself. I've often wondered how much my lack of faith ties into my earlier life experiences, including being a first mother; I imagine the hypocrisy and intentional human intervention we witnessed as first mothers wouldn't leave very many people with faith in society or its institutions.

  24. @Anon 1:19,
    This may be because many first mothers turned to their religion for help with their crisis pregnancy and only got help/support/pressure/coercion to give the baby up for adoption. With no other options presented or considered possible. As an adoptee, it is hard to believe a loving Higher Power wanted me to be separated from my own mother and the rest of my kin.

  25. It's troubling, but true, that we who are vulnerable tend to doubt ourselves when words of another are put into nice, perfect little sentences that form beautifully written paragraphs that become compelling stories. It's sadder still that we walk away from God because our churches demand perfection when He already provided for our range of sin, and, in fact, erased it for those whom are willing to accept His son.

    Saddest of all, sadder than first mother like you, for whom my heart breaks as for my own mother [whom I'll likely never meet, being born in North Carolina to a mother from Maryland who told no one but a certainly now-deceased grandmother about me], sadder than forgotten/discarded/never-to-be truly understood adoptee, but SADDEST OF ALL, must truly be God, about whom David wrote in Psalms 139:13 - "For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb."

    No, Lorraine, you were not destined to lose YOUR daughter. But, I am grateful that you are fighting for her rights, and mine, and the rights of us all. I'm truly sorry that this is even an issue that exists in our world.



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