Author Archives: declemen

New Essay in American Adoption Congress Newsletter

 

Here’s the link.

The target audience for the AAC is mostly adoptees, I think. Some birthparents too.

I wrote the piece with adoptive parents in mind. So if you know some adoptive parents, maybe pass it on.

Thank you.

Nonetheless, I’m grateful to The Beacon for the publication.

Senior Citizen Birthmother

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Senior Citizen Birthmother might seem like a contradiction in terms, but as the linked article points out, women who lost children during the Baby Scoop Era from 1945-1975 are now senior citizens.

I am senior citizen. I am a birthmother. But I am a birthmother, reunited with her child.

I imagine this meeting will probably draw mostly birthmothers (and maybe some birthfathers) who are not reunited.

Senior Citizen Birthmother!  At this weird intersection of respect and disdain, is a parking lot paved with grief. Imagine it. You gave your child up for adoption 40 or 50 or 60 or 70 (!) years ago, and all these years later you are stalled. Still carrying this grief. Lost. Lost to this baby that hasn’t been a baby for decades, and that “baby” is lost to you.

I think this is a new perspective from which to frame the question for young women who are considering relinquishing children today. Forty years from now, do you think you will still long for your child? How about in 50 years? In 60 years? 70? How do you imagine this might impact your life?

The Crux of the Matter

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This news story  brought my own choices in the relinquishment of my son to mind.

It was 1970. I’d recently graduated from  a Catholic high school in my home town–a town so Catholic there was no public high school or public grade school there. Underneath my cap and gown was a well kept secret. So well kept that no one knew that I was pregnant until later that summer–six weeks before the baby was born. I confided in my mother. We told my father and my boyfriend (the father of the baby) and not another soul.

I was fairly certain than I was damned. Yet when it came time to sign the adoption papers, I specified that I wanted my son to be adopted by a Catholic family.

A year or so afterwards I viewed my wishes for a Catholic boyhood for my son as evidence of a sort of Stockholm syndrome. I was a captive of Catholicism, hobbled by the constrained morality of my town and my church so that I could not endure the shame and scandal of raising my son myself, yet I handed him over to be indoctrinated  with the same narrow-mindedness.

While it’s true that my son was adopted into a good and loving home, religion is no guarantee of that. And while there’s a bit more leeway in the Catholic Church these days, it seems that the mother of the child, if she is identified, will be  lucky not to be charged with a crime. A church is not considered a safe place to leave an infant, according to the Minnesota Safe Haven Law .

Certainly I have the same wish that most readers of the story will have. I wish for the baby to be loved, to be safe, to be given the opportunities in live that everyone deserves. But I also think of the woman who felt so trapped by her circumstances, that she (or someone she had implored to help her) had to climb the Cathedral steps that winter night with the almost insurmountable task of leaving that baby behind.

I also wish that the priest had spoken up for the mother. That he’d  beseeched those hearing of the story to put themselves in the mother’s shoes and to ask what the Church has done over the decades  to encourage the throwing of stones at women in circumstances like hers. And that he’d invited her to contact him and offered her the support to help her raise her son.

My Great-Granddaughter is a Robot

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“Meet your great-granddaughter,” my daughter-in-law said, gesturing lackadaisically toward the plastic doll in the infant seat on the coffee table. My 15-year–old granddaughter stood nearby grinning sheepishly as she held her braceleted arm aloft. The bracelet must be swiped across a chip in the doll’s chest when it cries in order to prove that its needs have been tended to. “Talia” cries when she’s hungry, needs to be changed, or wants comforting. My granddaughter’s mothering skills are rated and points are docked for the high school class that puts its trust in this robot touted as a deterrent to teen pregnancy.

I had my doubts from the get-go.

I loved my dolls when I was a girl, wrapped our cat’s kittens in baby blankets, and pretended my brothers were my own. The Besty-Wetsy doll that was my favorite still lies in a cabinet, her soft arms and legs atrophied from age. Everyone in a Catholic community prior to birth control knew that babies were work. When I got pregnant as a 16-year-old, it wasn’t because I was ignorant of the care required of a baby. I got pregnant because I was naïve about the finer points of the actual mechanics of sex, and because no one talked about sex, or desire, or birth control.

In the 1960s in a town of 3000 Catholics where public schools did not exist, one’s expectations for honest and open discourse about sex were low. I think the bar should be higher now. A lot higher. Birth control is readily available. Tens of thousands of women my age have lost babies to adoption and sought to raise our own children in a more open environment. We have decades of data and experience to inform us on the subject of teen pregnancy.

As it turns out, my feelings about Talia the robot and the job she’s purportedly performing have been validated by a recent study, published in the medical journal, Lancet and subsequently reported just about everywhere. Newsweek, citing Lancet, reports, “Over 1,000 girls aged between 13 to 15 years old across 57 schools in Western Australia who took part in the scheme were two times more likely to get pregnant by the age of 20 than those who attended standard sex education classes, Australian scientists found.” The kicker: Teen pregnancy rates are even higher in the U.S. than in Australia.

The good news is that teen birth rates are dropping. The rate in the U.S. is at a record low. The Pew Research Center reports that the reason is “Less sex, use of more effective contraception and more information about pregnancy prevention….Furthermore, among never-married teens who have had sex, 79% of girls and 84% of boys used a contraceptive method the first time they had sex.” In my mind, this is the heart of the matter. Education. Contraception. Preparation. Honest talk instead of noise from a robot.

 

 

It’s National Adoption Month (again)

I have an essay here.  While there’s only one National Adoption Month each year, the topic never goes away and I always have something more to say.  As a birthmother (and a grandmother,) I often feel that respectability and understanding are beyond my reach. People have strong opinions about adoption, strong impressions of what/who they think a birthmother is. Birthmothers and adoptive parents take sides and stand sharply opposed to one another much like we do in the arena of national politics. It’s hard to hold hands and sing kumbaya. Villains are real. Bad things happen. People do things for personal gain without considering the bigger picture. But every story is more complicated than we usually imagine. I respect Carrie Goldman’s efforts to share many points of view in her series 30 Adoption Portraits in 30 Days on the ChicagoNow website.

 

The Adoption Museum Project

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In my morning scroll though Facebook, I stumbled across a post that had to do with The Adoption Museum.  The what? I said. The what? The initial exhibit back in May of 2013 had to do with birthmothers (yes, there was an ensuing controversy about the term) and I had no idea that the project existed or that the event occurred. I missed it.

In 2013 I was still adjusting to my first year as a caregiver. In May I was obsessing over my mother’s CPAP machine.  All of that–my life as a caregiver, living with my mother, weekends with the man who loved me visiting us, doing what I could to support my younger daughter as she worked on her master’s degree–all of that seems so long ago as if the four of us here together in this house was a dream.

I suppose there are plenty of days that the memory of giving birth to my son and then giving him up resides in the background too. But some days the experience lives inside me close to the surface–not just his birth and the subsequent relinquishment or even the two decades of secrecy or the visceral memory of shame and grief. It’s that girl, the girl I was then. She comes to live inside me. I was a different person then. The other big events– the deaths, divorces, estrangements– happened to the person I now know to be me. But that girl. A visit from her is like time travel and space travel rolled into one. She’s an alien and she is me.

Anyway, there are still ways to get involved and a newsletter you can subscribe to. They are open to feedback.

So I’m just shouting it out. And thinking about what feedback I’d like to provide–where to begin, actually. I am nothing but feedback when it comes to adoption.

The Meanness Olympics/Comments on an article about Simone Biles’ biological mother

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Here’s the link to a newspaper article about Simone Biles’ birthmother. I read it twice. And I also read another interview with her in the Huffington Post and in the New York Daily News–all based on an interview with her from TMZ

She said she’s glad she and her daughter are not estranged any longer, but their relationship is still fledgling.

She says that she wished her dad hadn’t thrown her under the bus in a recent interview of his with the press. She said she thought he was insensitive about the way he described her battle with addiction.

She admits that she took the loss of her children very badly. She admits that she yelled at her father and that she was hard-headed, that she didn’t understand then why she couldn’t see her kids but she says she understands it now. She admits that she wan’t able to care for them back then.

She admits that she was an addict and says that she’s been clean for nine years now.

She is raising her two youngest children herself. She has a job.

It seems pretty clear that Shannon Biles’ children were in jeopardy. “In and out of foster care” is not a good thing. It worked out well, probably better than imagined, that Simone’s grandfather and his wife legally adopted Simone and her sister and are now their mom and dad. Hooray for all that. Gold medals all around.

While I understand the hunger of the media for a story and the  curiosity of Olympic viewers and the general public about all this, I don’t understand the hate directed at Shannon Biles in the comments sections.

Shannon Biles was an addict. She lost custody of four children. That’s a clusterfuck of hurt  for a lot of people, including innocent children. It’s personal disaster beyond measure. BUT this woman who lost her children and the respect of her father is now clean. She has turned her life around. In the olympics of her personal life, that’s pretty damn golden too.

Birthmothers/first mothers/bio mothers are human beings deserving of compassion. We did what we did for a million reasons. Put on those shoes, haters. Try a little running and jumping in them and when your feet are bloody, give thanks for your perfect life and your shiny veneer over your hate-filled soul. I have to try a little bit not to wish you ill, but I can do it. I wish you well. I wish for you understanding, and some personal peace, and an inclination for you to share that with the world instead of hate.

 

image at the top of this post is from stargazer-gemini.deviantart.com

 

News from the Homeland

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http://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/news/crime-and-courts/2016/03/11/iowa-supreme-court-denies-alcoholic-woman-seeking-open-adoption-record/81664750/

Here’s a news story that will break your heart. Or maybe just make you swear a blue streak.

Thirty-some years ago I begged the agency that handled my son’s adoption to help me. Begged. And was shown no mercy. I petitioned the court to no avail.

That was then. And sadly,  it’s also very now.

Oh, Iowa. 

Breaking the Silence

 

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The painting, Silence, by Odillon Redon

This story highlights the aspect of secrecy in adoption. A secret weighs heavy on the heart. A secret can be found out. You mind your tongue, look over your shoulder, scan the room for a face with a knowing look. Your heart begs you to lift its burden.

Not long ago I was having lunch with new friends when someone asked the ages of my children.  The answer to this question always elicits raised eyebrows or a comment. “I had my son when I was a teenager,” I said. “He was given up for adoption, but I reconnected with him.” I always keep the answer short, but people want to know more. When I say that I searched for my son and found him, people think that I’m Nancy Drew, or that I’m super courageous, or a ballsy political activist. My answer is just, I had to.

And sometimes we feel we have to tell our stories. Here’s the link to Caitriona Palmer’s book.

10 Things to Say to a Birth Mother on Mother’s Day

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The comfort of shared experience is a good gift for a birthmother on Mother’s Day—Available on Amazon .

1. I know you’re a mother, so I’m thinking of you.

2. Is there a way I can bring some comfort to you today?

3. Wanna talk about it?

4. Would you like to go for a walk, or out for some coffee, or maybe see a movie?

5 .Do you ever think of searching for your child? or  How is your reunion going?

6. How do you think your life would be different if you’d kept your baby?

7. What would you do if your son/daughter contacted you?

8. What’s the hardest thing about Mother’s Day for you?

9. What do you think of Birth Mother’s Day? It seems kind of hard to celebrate, right? And do you even like the term birthmother? Do you prefer natural mother, bio mom, or what?

10. I really appreciate your friendship, and I want you to know I’m here for you.

Sunday is Mother’s Day. And there’s also the controversial Birthmother’s Day, “celebrated” the Saturday before Mother’s Day. This addition to the holiday calendar was initiated by a group of Birthmothers in 1990. Even though its heart is in the right place, It  does not inspire balloons, flowers, cakes, or presents. If you know a woman who lost a child to adoption, reach out to her on Mother’s Day or the day before. Don’t let her spend the weekend unacknowledged.