I already knew what the doctor was going to say before he came back in to the room. As I sat on the padded metal table in the examining room, I waited for the slim chance that maybe I was wrong. But I wasn’t. Directly after he informed me that my pregnancy test had come back positive, before I even knew exactly what I was saying, I asked if there was somebody in the office who could talk to me about adoption. In a hazy flurry of activity I was ushered out of the room and over to a desk in a corner of the office that I had never really noticed before, where a nurse wrote down the name and number for a couple of lawyers and a local agency. Thus my journey began, and ever since that day I have sought to increase my own understanding of what adoption really means for different people. Unfortunately, the available literature has been substantially disappointing.
I started my search for information in an unsurprising place – the public library. As I recall, the majority of the material I found written by birthmothers was overly depressing and not at all helpful. I had taken the initiative to begin seeing a therapist shortly after discovering my pregnancy, and that relationship provided my with a safe, objective environment in which to openly explore any and all feeling that arose for me throughout the duration of my pregnancy and postpartum months. After a year of therapy, she announced that I no longer needed her services, but she was happy to have helped! So, as it was, all the sappy poetry in the world wasn’t going to bring any enlightenment for me to the emotional depth of relinquishing a baby for adoption. I love poetry, and I love to write it, too, but I have never had the desire to write that kind of poetry. I’m not sure if I would welcome the challenge of putting those exact feelings into words – perhaps some things have to be experienced for themselves to be understood.
Next, I hoped to find some good expository on the subject of open adoption, and here I was slightly more successful. I did find two authors whose work I really enjoyed, because they shared an underlying theme of positivity and strength, instead of weakness and regret. One of them, Brenda Romanchik, also released a variety of workbooks, special memory books, and birthparent resources that I found particularly helpful in documenting each step of my pregnancy, and the years that followed. But on the whole, there was still a surprising lack of literature aimed at educating people about open adoption, and again I was extremely discouraged.
A few years later, when I started working at the public library, I found a whole new category of adoption literature that had fallen exceedingly short of the mark – children’s books. Every time I re-shelved one I felt an appreciation that they existed, but whenever I took the time to flip through the pages or actually read one from cover to cover, I always, without fail, came across some offensive wording. Often I became infuriated by phrases like “your birthparents couldn’t take care of you,” which seems to imply that a birthmother’s choice for adoption is somehow associated with child rearing incompetence. Is there no better way to tell a child that his birthparents made a responsible choice to save his life and find him a family? Other times, while sitting on the floor in the picture book section, I would find myself distraught at a books narrow-minded explanation; the statement, “you do not know them,” is obviously not always true.
Where is the book that can explain to a child of any adoption, open or closed, that his birthparents did not abandon him, but saved him? Where is the poetry that can uplift and inspire an emotional birthmother, giving her the strength and resolve that she needs most? Why is it seen as weak to ask others to share in the responsibilities of raising a child? These and other misrepresentations, I hope to amend soon.
When people in public places ask me how many kids I have, I usually tell them four without thinking, but it’s a misleading answer, at best. Actually, I might call it just the opposite – a leading answer– since I rarely have more than my own three kids with me. But I do so enjoy any opportunity to tell my story to strangers, that I almost can’t help myself. Not the whole story, of course, just an anecdote or two that might feel relevant in the moment. It’s always interesting to see people’s reactions, and sometimes I wonder if I derive some kind of sick pleasure out of this deliberate ousting from the security of their own, ordered worlds.
In the early 2000’s, many people had never heard of ‘open adoption’ before, or at least that was the reaction I tended to get most often from random members of my own community. There is usually more knowledge and understanding of the term within academic circles, including plenty of literature on the subject, but that hardly helps to bring the idea to the masses that can actually benefit from it. Now, twelve years later, I think that it’s starting to permeate our culture, and more people seem comfortable with the idea of ‘open adoption’ as a suitable subject for conversation.
When telling my story, the most common reaction that I’ve gotten from people time, and time again, to the point where I actually cringe to hear the words spoken aloud, is, “I really respect/admire that you chose adoption.” This statement is frequently coupled with the following phrase, “I could never do that.” Why not, I ask?! Do you think I’m somebody special? I can assure you that I am just like you, and that every person has the ability deep within themselves, though they aren’t aware of it, to do great things.
If it’s such a wonderful decision that I made, then why don’t more people make the same choice? In my opinion we just haven’t talked about it enough within the inner circles of our communities for it to have become common knowledge, yet. It can’t just be an elusive subject for academics to study and use to produce more varied pieces of expository literature. No!! Open adoption should be touted from the rooftops, so that every scared young woman cowering in her own confusion can hear the message and be delivered. Every middle-aged mother who has already raised her children and feels entitled to a break needs to know that there is a way for her to give back to her community by helping a hopeful family to grow, without losing self-esteem or experiencing any professional recompense. When will this day finally come?
For my part, I will continue to scare little old ladies right out of their comfort zone by informing them in the checkout lane that my “lovely family” also includes my teenage birth-son, who I placed in an open adoption with a wonderful family over on the other side of town. I will also continue to explain to all people whom I encounter that it was not such a great, selfless sacrifice as they might believe, but rather a shifting of roles and titles, and all done for the simple love of a child. That’s something that I think all people can understand, can’t they? I hope I am not too naïve about human nature to believe that true change can occur with the suggestion that there might be a better way to do things.