The path to motherhood is different for every woman. The arduous task of procreation can be daunting, and yet we seem all too willing to try! Young girls are rightly told to keep their innocence in-tact for as long as possible, even advised in some circles to wait until their actual wedding night before indulging in one of life’s most basic recreational activities. Sex. Let’s be frank, here. The average age for a woman to loose her virginity is far lower than I, as the mother of a beautiful little 6-year-old girl, would care to imagine. Are they even women yet, really? I was only 16, but I approached the task with an academic interest, reading library books and various other publications prior to attempting the act with my boyfriend/best friend, who seemed like the perfect candidate. And still I felt woefully unprepared to handle the emotional and physical ramifications of how a sexually active lifestyle can alter the path we take. For some, it is an immediate and unexpected path directly to motherhood. Whether they choose to parent, or not, is a different issue entirely.
That’s the clincher, as I discovered when I found myself in an unplanned pregnancy at the age of 19. I chose not to parent, for a long list of reasons, but only one that really mattered. I felt deeply in my heart that I was not meant to be this child’s parent. I loved him from the moment I knew he was in there, long before I knew he was a “him.” But love and parenting are not the same thing. A mother’s love is present in almost a spiritual way. You could no more deny the color of your skin, than deny a mother’s love for her child. Mothers come in a variety of forms, and their paths may differ dramatically, but to become a mother is to change one’s entire outlook on life, itself. Motherhood is a game changer.
It’s almost Mother’s Day. And Birthmother’s Day, too! For those who may not be familiar with it, Birthmother’s Day falls on the Saturday before Mother’s Day, and it’s probably the most special day of the year, for me. I am a Birthmother, and that one word defines my path to motherhood. Stating the difference between mothers and parents might not seem like an obvious distinction to some people, but for me it is the underlying theme of who I am today. I didn’t become a parent until I started a family with my husband, and our 3 incredible children are proof that we must be doing some things right. I became a Mother, by comparison, at the moment that I created new life.
On a deeply biological and instinctual level, we know that one of our jobs in life is to bring forth the next generation, or else risk the decline of our species. Logic, however, tells us to limit family size, plan according to financial means and geographic stability, etc. All these and more may be critical factors in the choice to procreate, with one glaringly obvious problem – sex is not always intended as procreation. Yet once that effect has been achieved, it’s impossible to go back in time and proceed as if it hadn’t. The “change” occurs gradually for some, like a trickling waterfall of emotions. Or it could happen all at once in a giant riptide of hormonal saturation. For me, becoming a Mother included a change in how I viewed sex altogether, specifically a disappointing decline in the fun-factor (it’s more of a serious responsibility than I had realized)! Also, motherhood drastically altered the extent to which I might go to achieve certain goals. I think nature has programmed us this way, by “intelligent design,” as they say. Granted, the range of emotions and concerns that I experience with my own 3 children is not the same as what I experience with my Birthson, nor would I expect it to be, due to the choices I made 14 years ago and the plan I set into motion for the path his life would take.
As always, I am the Mother of 4 amazing children, the oldest of whom I do not parent. He has his own amazing family, including an older brother and a younger sister, an awesome Mom, a hard-working Dad, and now even a step-Mom and step-sister that none of us could have foreseen 10 years ago. Life is full of unexpected turns, so clearly it’s best to assume that there will be more ahead. We are often called into parenting relationships in unforeseen moments of loss, persecution, or community aid. A parent may come in the form of a student host for an exchange program; a shelter director; a legal spouse; a school Principal; or a family friend who steps in. But a Mother may be a woman who experiences repeated miscarriages, unable to bring a baby to term. She could be a young prostitute who can’t afford an abortion, or a high-society debutant who can. The bottom line is that creating life and caring for children are two totally separate things that are sometimes but not always mutually exclusive. One does not have to indicate the other.
Fortunately for me, I get to experience both the joy of being a mother and the rewards of parenting, with two holidays to celebrate, instead of one! On this Birthmother’s Day, I’ll remember the women who are Mothers even without a family to show for it. They are Mothers in their hearts, even if not by typical standards. Does a Mother who’s child has died ever stop being a mother? In the absence of parenting, a person who has been a mother, if only for a moment, still knows the deep ache of love for her child. These mothers walk among us everywhere, unacknowledged at times, yet no less important to the role that we mothers have played since the origins of human existence. We are the life bringers. Parents will always be the educators, while Mothers can’t help but serve as the truest definition to that seemingly undefinable quality: LOVE.
A child, he knows and understands
While watching grown-ups make their plans,
With expectations and demands.
Still, he trusts the strength of these two hands–
Faith’s hold that over all else spans.
The start of a new school year brings both old and new friends back into our lives, and children’s activities commence with a bang. My daughter is now in Kindergarten and has joined the Daisy Scouts, which, for the record, is adorable. At their first Troop Meeting the mothers milled around and got to know each other briefly while the girls made colorful name tags and practiced the Girl Scout Pledge. At the adult table, conversation turned to our younger children, and who had how many kids, etc. This is the point at which I usually insert a reference to my Birth Son, Devin, and the fact that I’m a Birthmother, but on that occasion it was another Mom who changed the tone of the conversation when she began speaking about her 2-year-old son and his genetic heart defect. Having been born with only half the heart he needs to survive, her child has already endured many life-saving surgical procedures in his short time here on earth, but ultimately he will need a heart transplant for any long-term prognosis to be positive. I mention this conversation mostly because it struck a chord with me when I perceived her bravery at being able to talk about such a personal subject, which obviously encompasses so much raw fear and emotion. I commend her for being able to share her experiences with a group of strangers, and it got me thinking about the many ways that FEAR drives people, both personally and culturally.
It’s terrible but true that I can’t remember this other Mom’s name, but I realized while listening to her talk that some people (including myself) were having a similar reaction to her story as to what I have witnessed in my own random conversations with strangers regarding my adoption experience. At first, people are noticeably surprised to hear topics like adoption, abortion, and childhood illness being discussed candidly. It seems almost like profanity, or a subject that should be discussed only in whispered tones, and certainly not appropriate for all settings. As they continue to listen, however, shock is usually replaced by compassion, and most people either express condolences or offer encouragement, depending on the circumstances. Ultimately, these first two stages of ‘surprise’ and ‘compassion’ are just as normal and valid as the third stage I often witness: FEAR. As you progress towards ‘acceptance,’ it’s a natural human tendency to try and mentally put yourself in the other person’s shoes, a challenge which can sometimes prove overwhelming to our delicate imaginations. Even dreams can only extend as far as the subconscious fabrications are willing to stretch. It’s the reason why people often tell me how much they respect my decision, but that they could never do it, themselves. I think what they’re really saying is: ‘I can’t imagine myself in that situation, and I don’t know how I would handle it if I was.’ To these people I say: you just need a properly motivating fear factor, and it’s pretty amazing what you can be capable of.
If the suggestion of fear as a motivating factor seems strange to you, then here’s an explanation in layman’s terms, from me to you. If you’re generally uninterested in the science portion, then don’t worry – these are just the basics. Fear is categorized as a chemical response that occurs in the brain when hormones are released into the blood stream by glands located throughout your body. We’ve all seen or heard stories of people who performed seemingly impossible feats of strength or bravery when faced with a life threatening situation, so I think we can easily accept the fact that these hormones have the ability to force a reaction even from the most sedentary individual. Thrill seeking has also become a huge industry because many people enjoy and desire the rush associated with the release of hormones, especially adrenaline. Haunted houses at Halloween time, scary movies in a dark theatre, and activities like Bunge Jumping are all designed to give the participant their desired sensation of – FEAR. But beyond the biological aspect, there is a deep-seeded component of fear underlining all human societies, because without the basic fear of retribution for law breaking, there would be anarchy. Fear of persecution is the motivating factor that keeps many people in line, from a sociological perspective. That’s not to mention the individual fears and pressures that are forced on us by our cultures and religions, as well as fears we place on ourselves not to fail in our own personal goals. Of course, there are also people who knowingly put themselves in harm’s way every single day for the sake of protecting their families, countries or beliefs, and for them thrill seeking has nothing to do with it. Take a moment to think of all the ways that fear has motivated your own actions or decisions, and I think it becomes glaringly obvious what a prevalent emotion it is in our lives.
The bottom line is: FEAR is real. It drives us in ways we are not even aware of each and every day. But that old clichéd statement about “conquering your fears” is just about as healthy an approach to fear management as fad diets are for losing weight (NOT at all). Fears exist, and it seems much more rational to acknowledge the fears that you know you have, and then make a conscious choice not to let those fears stand in your way of achieving goals and doing what you feel is right. Instead, channel the energy into will power. It’s an active lifestyle choice, and coming from me, a self-proclaimed ‘control freak,’ that’s not easy to admit. So how, you might ask, was I able to relinquish all parental rights and give up control of the beautiful baby boy I had spent 9 months nurturing while he grew inside of me? It was a decision not made without fear… I’m human, after all. I feared my family’s reactions to my adoption choice, limited social acceptance among peers, my ability to cope with the emotional and physical loss of relinquishing a child, and yet somehow I still managed to put all my trust in the family I chose, that they would uphold their end of the bargain by allowing me to be a part of my Birthson’s life. I made a clear and conscious choice to put my faith in them, and in the decisions I had made leading up to the day when I watched as they took him home from the hospital. I had already laid the foundation, and at that point all I could do was to keep moving forward and not let my fear dictate the course of events. The same statement can be made to the parents of any ailing child, when limited medical options are available, and hope is the only thing that keeps fear from halting their positive momentum.
How did I cope with my loss at first? It’s a question I seldom get asked, though everyone’s curious to know the answer, and I don’t blame them. ‘Ups and downs’ is a phrase that comes to mind, but I’ve never stopped moving forward in my desire to improve the relationship I have with my Birthson. If there is a man or woman who can see the future and thereby avoid unexpected events, then more power to them. For the rest of us it’s a daily process of decision making and faith in the unknown. I tell my kids all the time that our choices have the power to propel us in whichever direction we desire, but you’ll never really know what you’re capable of until you make the all-important choice NOT to let FEAR stand in your way. To the mother at our Daisy Scouts meeting (sorry I don’t know your name), thanks for exhibiting the courage to openly share your story of strength in the face of fear, and for reminding us that sometimes all we can do is just keep moving forward.
— I remember these days like they were yesterday, and yet it’s been eight long years, already! My birth-son, Devin, is in the middle, surrounded by his older brother & younger sister, and they were all adopted through OPEN ADOPTIONS!! Now these kids are practically teenagers, and instead it’s my own children who are at the tender ages of 3, 5 & 7. Amazing how time flies — Happy Independence Day!!
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.