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.
What is the cost of healthcare for those who have been the victims of abortion? Whether you are aware of the consequences going into it, or not, I still use the term ‘victim’ because it is my belief that people who have experienced this tragedy, either personally or indirectly, are forever changed in some way, and not for the better. For starters, it is a physical procedure that has to leave some kind of scar tissue, even if performed by the most highly skilled surgeon in the field. There are also the emotional scars, of course, that come with the living knowledge that you are responsible for the death of another individual – a human being in essence, with all the building blocks in place for becoming an amazing person. How many people end up in therapy or suicidal because they have taken the easy route and chosen abortion over adoption?
I’m sure there are women and families with similar emotional wounds as a result of adoptions gone awry, sometimes having been forced on the birthmother by disapproving senior family members. There are no assurances in open adoption except for one – the child will survive. No legal document exists, to my knowledge, that can bind a birthmother who has agreed to maintain contact in an open adoption, nor are the adoptive parents obligated, or even the child, himself, once he is old enough to make the choice. Likewise, plenty of hopeful adoptive parents have been heartbroken when a birthmother decided that she would actually like to parent, after all. It’s not a decision to make lightly, and to break such a promise gives birthmothers everywhere a bad name. The system can’t work if people don’t have faith that it will be to everyone’s benefit, in the end. Fear is still a powerful motivating factor, and trust is often difficult for people.
Is that worse than the damage that is currently being inflicted on children who are the product of parents who didn’t really want to be parents, but weren’t aware of their alternatives at the time? Foster children everywhere might have considered it a blessing to be placed in a family that was ready to embrace the responsibilities of parenthood. The idea that you could actually give “your baby” a financially and emotionally stable home and family environment, while still getting to maintain some level of contact, seems absolutely ideal. It is like having your cake and eating it too, especially when you consider that everyone gets what they want, including the birthmother, even if it’s hard to recognize in those first few, childless months when your body senses that something is missing. It can feel, at times, almost like a phantom limb for those who have experienced an amputation, and often the grief is overwhelming.
But when you see the photos or have a visit, it’s easy to appreciate the love that surrounds a child in an open adoption. And at the end of the day, a birthmother is free to explore the possibilities that may present themselves, being less tied down than a new mother could ever be. All this freedom comes packaged without one minute of suffering from the guilt that results when you know you have made the wrong choice. It doesn’t often matter what the reasons are for rationalizing a decision like abortion, because the result is always the same, and always will be.
There need to be more people who are aware of the connection that exists between a birthmother and the child that she has placed for adoption. It seems like it would be a natural conclusion for most people that she should, inevitably, love the life inside of her, for how could you not? For me, I knew in that very moment when I became aware of my pregnancy, that I loved my baby. And he is as much “my baby” today as he was then, since I will never give up that connection in my heart, even though I did relinquish the legal and emotional title of “Mom.”
Devin is eleven years old now, and the relationship we have is completely our own, existing independently of the bond I’ve formed with both of his parents, who I had the privilege of personally choosing. I have never interfered with the parenting methods they’ve used over the years, nor will I, because I am not his parent – I am his birthparent, and that role has responsibilities and privileges that no other role could ever fulfill.
For example, I recently received an evening phone call from Devin as he worked on a school assignment that required some knowledge of the students’ cultural heredity and ancestral background. Devin called me because he assumed that the teacher would prefer to know about his genetic history, rather than that of his adopted family. I thought it was prudent to remind him how lucky he is to have the option, and that his adopted family ancestry is just as important as any information that I could provide him with, but he still chose to use my knowledge to complete the project, and truthfully I felt extremely honored that he did.
So how is it possible that there are still people who seem surprised that a birthmother would want to continue that special relationship with “her baby,” when there is no one else who can truly fill the same role? It is not intended to diminish the child’s relationship with their own parents, but rather to enhance the life of a child who now has more people loving them than they might know what to do with! I wonder why it is not more commonly known that a woman who finds herself in an unplanned, yet still valued, pregnancy can assuredly keep “her baby” always in her heart, even if she chooses not to parent. Adoptions can be open or closed, but when they are open it is usually because of an abundance of love for the baby in question. And why should it not always be so?
Why is this not yet the norm in modern American societies, rather than the impersonal closed, agency adoptions that leave an ever gaping hole in the birthmother’s heart as large as that of any other pregnancy loss? Open adoption could be the cure for women who believe that they must abort their unborn babies, for fear of suffering the inevitable persecution from society. But that could only happen if open adoption is accepted as the best possible solution for all parties involved. Babies, parents and birthparents alike could surely all approve of a choice that benefits everyone. There are so many women who have never even known it as one of their options, and all because our society is not yet ready to fully embrace the issue of saving lives through open adoption.