Category Archives: birthmother

Adoptees and Their Medical History

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Adult adoptees are frequently infantilized by virtue of the fact that they are perpetually regarded as adopted children with, in most U.S. states, no access to their medical histories due to closed adoption records. Imagine going to the doctor and filling out that sheaf of forms by simply scrawling across the top “unknown.”

A few months back the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a statement regarding adoption records.  It’s not unequivocal good news since it contains the caveat “unless specifically denied by the birthparents.” I’m a birthmother, not an adoptee, but I’m pretty sure many adoptees viewed this as only a partial victory. What strikes me is that it was the American Academy of Pediatrics that came forward to voice their (partial) support for open records. My research cannot find a similar policy statement issue by the American Medical Association. Doesn’t their silence perpetuate society’s view of adult adoptees as children? As a person grows older, doesn’t medical history become even more important?

 

On Reading the Piece in the New Yorker on the Death of Poet Edward Hirsch’s Son

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The article in the August 4th issue, “Finding the Words” begins:

            In October, 1988, my friends Janet Landy and Edward Hirsch flew to New Orleans to adopt a boy who was six days old. He was collected from the hospital  by their lawyer, who brought him to the house where they were staying. Waiting for her, they stood in the street in front of the house. For several days, they worried that the mother, overcome by love or by guilt might want the child             back, but she didn’t.

             Later in the piece we learn, “Hirsch had a cousin who was a lawyer in New Orleans, who put him in touch with the woman at his firm who sometimes handled adoptions. In August, 1988….the lawyer called and said that a young woman had approached a colleague.” This is all we are given regarding Gabriel’s birth and his birth mother, fitting perhaps since the story is about Hirsch’s grief and the book-length elegy the grew out of his suffering over the death of his son. But from my perspective as a birth mother, even as I followed the trajectory of Gabriel’s life and of Hirsch’s profound sorrow over the loss of him, a piece of my heart lay lodged in that first paragraph with the woman who had given up her son.

Hirsch describes a section of the work as being extremely important to him:

            I did not know the work of mourning

            Is like carrying a bag of cement

           Up a mountain at night            

                       

           The mountaintop is not in sight

            Because there is no mountaintop

            Poor Sisyphus grief

 

            I did not know I would struggle

            Through a ragged underbrush

            without an upward path

            And continues:

            Look closely and you will see

            Almost everyone carrying bags

            Of cement on their shoulders

          Hirsch’s recognition that never ending grief over the loss of a loved one is a common experience connects the reader with an abiding truth, but I couldn’t help but wonder if he ever thought of the woman who might still imagine her son walking the earth, whole and healthy. She (and the rest of Gabriel’s birth family) has suffered a loss more terrible than his relinquishment, only she doesn’t know it.

I do not mean to say that Hirsch’s grief is any less because his son was adopted. I don’t mean that at all. I just can’t help imagining a mother thinking daily of the boy she gave away, and how, now that he has rounded the corner of official adulthood, it might be a good time to search for him. Perhaps, even though she did not merit a mention in the New Yorker story, Hirsch does give her a nod somewhere in the elegy. I hope so. She has been carrying her bag of cement since Gabriel was six days old.

 

 

 

 

An interesting article re adoption in Australia

“Forced adoptions have been a major issue in Australia. In 2013 their Prime Minister Julia Gillard offered a national apology to those affected by forced adoptions. The Australian Senate Enquiry Report found that babies of unmarried mothers were illegally taken by medical staff, social workers and religious persons, sometimes with the assistance of adoption agencies and other authorities, and adopted out to married couples.
Many of these adoptions occurred after the mothers were sent away by their families due to the social stigma associated with being pregnant and unmarried.
It was found that some women were drugged, others restrained, some forced to sign, signatures faked, no informed consent and few (if any) chose to give their children away.
This went on up to the 1970s. It is recognised that this has resulted in major issues for generations of families and for Australian society. Many mothers have died early due to stress related illnesses or committed suicide. Many who have survived do so suffering complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.”

Read the rest of the piece here.

I’ve often wondered about general life outcomes for birthmothers from the era of secrecy in the  U.S. I’ve picked up small pieces of information here and there as I researched my memoir, but found nothing extensive. Sometimes it seems that we’re still the girls who are supposed to disappear.

Adopted Children More Likely to Live in Highly Educated Home, Census Bureau Reports

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The news has been making the rounds in publications large and small. For me, it was a *smacks self in forehead* moment. When I was trying to finish high school in the spring of 1970 while keeping my secret pregnancy, uh…welll…secret. The last thing I could imagine was somehow keeping my baby and going off to college. Adoptive parents have also been found to have higher incomes. Another forehead smack.

Of course the intent of this report is not to surprise us. It’s to gather data. If you’d like to read more adoption stats, you can see the full report here.

Mostly, I think of the personal angle rather than the statistics  when I see headlines like the one above. I think of a woman reading the paper over her morning coffee. A woman who gave away a child, believing that someone else could provide a better life. I think of the ache she might have in the pit of her stomach or the pull in her heart.

Free Kindle Book: Saying Goodbye

This weekend, in a special promotion, you can get a free Kindle edition of Saying Goodbye, a collection of true stories about how we say goodbye to the people, places & things in our lives with grace, dignity & good humor. http://amzn.to/tcU8PP

My essay about saying goodbye to my newborn son, “Holding Him Softly,” is in it.

Here are a few snippets of reviews about the collection: (and if you like the book, you might consider reviewing it on Amazon.)


Tender perspectives helping readers with their own goodbyes. If you have ever had to deal with loss, read this book. It will make you feel better. — Christina Johns, Midwest Book Review, Oct. 18, 2010 

The stories are about love, really, not sadness. Despite all the sadness and grief that come with saying goodbye, there is love and joy and comedy on the Other Side. — Gretchen Little, Squidoo.com Lens, Oct. 29, 2010 

This book gets to the heart of what I teach in my class on death and dying – that life is filled with loss of all kinds and we can learn from each one and ultimately experience life more fully. The stories in this book do a wonderful job of showing that out of loss there are new beginnings. I recommend it for any teacher of death and dying classes. I also recommend it for anyone who is struggling with a loss – no matter what kind. — Professor Jann Adams, Department of Psychology, College of Idaho, Aug. 25, 2011 

Life is full of goodbyes. Some are painful, but some are downright humorous. Saying Goodbye is an anthology of short (true) stories about people saying goodbye to a variety of people, places and things. The authors vary as much as their subjects, and this collection does a nice job of showcasing how different people have so many different experiences with saying farewell. — Book Nook Club, Nov. 5, 2010 

This is a great book. There are many anthologies out there, lots with great short stories, but Saying Goodbye is about much more. It’s about memories. There are heartfelt memories, humourous memories, some extremely personal memories. Some really made me smile. Others brought tears to my eyes. — UK author Melanie Sherratt, High Heels and Book Deals, Nov. 22, 2010

A Good Age to Be A Mother

“Grandma, did you want to give my daddy away when he was a little baby?” I’m sweeping the floor in preparation for my eight-year-old granddaughter’s birthday party when she asks her question. In a couple of hours the house will be overflowing with pizza and kids and presents, but right now, an emptiness seizes me in the pit of my stomach.
“No,” I say. “I didn’t. It was sad to give him up.”
“Why did you do it then?”
“It’s what girls had to do in those days if they had a baby too young.”
“How old were you?”
“I was sixteen when I got pregnant with him.”
“That’s so old. That’s a good age to be a mommy.” She’s sitting at the table with a glass of milk and a cracker, her eyes wide as she watches me. I must seem ancient to her.
“Not really, I say.” And then I explain about high school and college, and how a baby should probably  have a grown-up mother.
“Bompa and Grammy said that the first time they saw Daddy they knew he was the baby for them!”
“I bet they did,” I said. “Your daddy was a really beautiful baby.”

A couple hours later we’re all singing Happy Birthday together–Bompa, Grammy, and me–along with a the other guests. I’m wearing a black fringed shawl as a gypsy skirt, a scarf wrapped around my hair, borrowed bangles, and silver hoop earrings. It’s a costume birthday party. There are pirates, a witch, an old man, a couple of versions of bat girl, cat woman, and a knight. I think of the first time I met my son’s adoptive parents twenty years earlier. I stood in my hotel room that evening changing into and out of every article of clothing I’d brought on the trip. A costume party might have assuaged some of that nervousness. I’d probably have chosen to be a saint or a nun. Maybe the first woman president or a high-powered executive to disguise the bewildered and shamed teen-age girl that  lived inside me in those days, not far at all from the surface.

After the cake has been devoured, the games played, the princess unwraps her presents. She sits on her chair next to her mom, dutifully reading her birthday cards, one minute in the reality of party thank yous, the next in whatever fantasyland her new toy conveys her to.

At the end of the evening my son’s adoptive father comes up to me to say good-bye. “I’ll bet you haven’t had a hug yet today,” he says.
“Not from a tall person,” I say. He laughs. My son’s mother and I hug, too.

In my perfect fantasy world, I would have kept my son. But in the post-reunion reality that I live in, I can’t imagine things being any better.

My Family Tree Will Amaze You

Caveat re this post: Blogger and iPad are not a happily blended family. They are the Hatfields and the McCoys. I cannot get my links to post. Worse news: I will be in this deadzone of wirelesses for 2 more weeks. I will update this post upon my return to civilization.

There have been two articles in the New York Times recently that I found interesting, given my perspective as a birthmother. The first, which opens with the example of a pair of sisters, one who served as an egg donor for the other’s pregnancy, explores the question of the the child’s multifaceted placement on the family tree. Biologically, she is the daughter of her aunt. In the conventional familial sense, she is the daughter of the mother (the “aunt’s” sister) who is raising her as her own. This complexity is nothing new to a birthmother.

I gave up my son when I was seventeen, but I never stopped thinking of him as my son. While few people in my life knew of his existence until two decades after his birth, and I never spoke of him during those bleak pre-reunion decades, in my own internal monologue the only word I had to describe him was, “son.” Now, at a point in our personal history, when we will soon be reunited for as long as we were apart, I still refer to him simply as, “my son” though I fully acknowledge that I am not the only woman who claims him as such. There is no word in the English language that means, “son who I gave to adoptive parents,later re-united with, and now have a happy relationship with.” It’s probably just as well since the nuances of every birthmother’s story are different. Some might make a case for the term, “birthson,” but it seems awkward to me–a dichotomy perhaps since I am not loathe to employ the much debated term, “birthmother.” To me the difference lies in the fact that my son has two mothers–the mother who raised him and me, while all along, there has been only one of him.

It’s my hope that highly visible articles about these differently formed families make birthparent reunions more acceptable and less often construed as the skeleton in the closet, but in order to accomplish that we need teachers more adventurous and open-minded than the one quoted in the article. If we are not ready to have conversations about egg and sperm donors, about birthmothers and birth fathers, I believe we are doing a disservice to the child. Want the child, but not his or her genetic history? It seems dishonest to me. Why not open our arms to all of it?

I’ve written about my own complicated blended family here: I am happy to explain it to anyone who has an hour and a whiteboard and several colored markers. I grew up loving all my siblings, and none of them seemed any less lovable to me. When I was a little kid, I was confused about us a bit, but once I got it, I loved my family even more.

As for that second New York Times article, check back. It deserves a blog post all it’s own.

We Are Everywhere

“No!” the poet said. I’d caught her by surprise and her eyes were filling with tears. We were at my friend Barbara’s annual Book Brunch, and the poet and I had just introduced ourselves to one another and were standing in the hallway. “What’s your book about?” she asked me. So I told her.
“It’s the story of getting pregnant at 16, giving my son up for adoption, and then reconnecting with him  just before he turned 21.”
“I gave up a daughter,” the poet said. “In New York.” Then she went on to tell me she searched and searched and finally gave up. That she eventually forgave herself for not finding her daughter.
I’m not surprised anymore when I meet another birthmother in this fashion.
I’m just beginning to wonder how many of us there are. How many of us have searched and found–and how many are still looking. And how many have given up. I would like to see us standing shoulder to shoulder in one place, willing to be counted.

In The Shadow of the Twin Spires

I worried about going to hell pretty frequently during my 8 years of Catholic grade school. Girls were warned constantly against impure thoughts, words and deeds. It was hard to measure up against the martyred virginal saints who valued their purity more than their lives.
When I got pregnant  my senior year of high school, I felt marked forever as a sinner.
Nowadays, in my home town, things are different. Young unmarried women don’t have to keep their pregnancies secret and give away their babies. And guess what? The church is still standing. It hasn’t been struck by a bolt of lightening or slid into the river.What I’d once thought of as a narrow-minded main street seems broader now and prettier. Almost fairy-tale lovely–a place where families can live happily ever after.

It’s an over-simplified view. I know that. But still, it’s a different world than the one I grew up in.

Dreamer Rescues Baby from Bridge

Last night, I had this dream.

I was walking in a beautiful city. Cobblestone streets, a stone bridge. There were people carrying packages and bustling here and there. I was alone. Just as I stepped onto the bridge I saw the woman with the two little boys.She was hurrying with one boy, about four years old, by the hand–and a baby boy in her arms.The woman was petite and with shoulder length black hair and the boys had black hair too.They were Asian. Maybe Japanese. The woman had an untidy bundle under one arm and when she got to the middle of the bridge she unfurled it. The partially inflated kiddy pool landed in the water and she turned and held the baby over it.I was beside her by then and I flung my arms around them. “Can I have him?” I asked the woman.

“Take him,” she said. “Here.” Her chest was heaving and her eyes were bright with tears. She handed the baby to me as the pool floated under the bridge and made its way downstream.Then she ran, pulling the older boy behind her.The other people who’d been passing by stopped for a moment, but once I had the baby in my arms, they went on their way, looking backwards just for a moment as I stood on the bridge holding the boy.The baby himself seemed unfazed by the drama.His dark eyes looked right into mine and his hands clutched my shirt.I patted his back.His striped cotton shirt felt soft and clean. Well, I have a baby, I thought.The light was draining from the day and the streetlights began to flicker on. I walked across the bridge in the same direction the mother had gone. I listened for sirens, watched for police officers that might approach me.I was prepared to explain what had happened. It was obvious the boy wasn’t mine. I was white and sliver-haired, far too old for a baby that age. The boy was Asian with spiky black hair that stood up straight from the crown of his head. But the police never arrived.

The baby was easy to carry. He was maybe ten months or a year old but not heavy, not squirmy.I carried him into a fancy boutique and set him down for a moment on a satiny pink bench. I straightened my jacket, adjusted my purse and picked the boy up again. He looked worried now—as if he might cry.“Don’t worry,” I told him. “I’ll take care of you.I’m your new mommy.”He nodded and clutched my shirt tighter. I knew then I didn’t want to call the authorities. The boy had lost his mother and if I called the police and reported what had happened, he’d lose me too.

My own past real-life history didn’t enter in to the dream. I wasn’t a woman who had walked away from her own little boy. I was a heroine who’d rescued a baby who had nearly been thrown from a bridge. We stepped out into the fresh night air and I phoned my daughter.“I found a little boy,” I told her.“Can you go out and buy a box of diapers?”

“What size?” she asked.

“I think he’s about a year old,” I said, “but he’s small.Just make a guess,” I said.She grumbled a little. “I found him,” I repeated. I don’t know how old he is.”

“Right on,” she said.

The anxiety flooded in after I stuffed my phone back into my purse. I was taking home a baby that didn’t belong to me. What would the guy I was dating say?He was Asian, too, and I hoped that might make him like the idea of the baby a little more.But we frequently sighed with relief at the fact that we’d both made it through parenthood and that our kids were grown. I often spent the night at his place and we liked being alone. Now there was a baby. Poor baby whose mother had nearly murdered him. And what about the baby’s brother? What would happen to him? What had I been thinking?Why hadn’t I offered to take the older boy, too? I tried to reconstruct the moments after I’d lifted the baby from the mother’s arms.Had I seen which way she’d turned after she’d crossed the bridge? Maybe I should walk around the neighborhood and ask everyone I saw if they knew where the Asian woman with two little boys lived. “What’s your name?” I asked the boy as we stood in the atmospheric lighting of the boutique with music playing in the background.

“Anthony,” he said with perfect diction.

“Anthony what?”

“Anthony.”

“Okay,” I said.“How old are you?”

“Six months,” he said.

I laughed.The boy was obviously much older than that. With such perfect speech, he was probably even older than I’d first thought. “You’re not six months old,” I told him, laughing.

“Yes, I am,” he said.

I heard the voices in the hallway then. I pulled the pillow off my head and fumbled for my Blackberry. It was seven-thirty and I was confused. It took me a minute to realize I was waking up in my nephew’s bed. He’d been exiled to the couch and my brother and my mother’s voices were wafting down the hallway from the dining room or the kitchen.

I hadn’t rescued a baby, after all.

I was still just the woman who had given one away.