Category Archives: birthmothers

The Handmaid’s Tale: Episode 2, Birth Day

Probably you’ve at least heard of it. It seems like everyone is talking about it–the Hulu series about the dystopian future where women with two good ovaries are fated to be surrogates for wives of societal stature who are infertile. For birthmothers this is where the dystopian future meets the dystopia past. Birthmothers have already lived in this world and handed over our children to those that society deemed worthy.

I felt this when I read the book in 1989 (while nursing my youngest child,) but watching it come alive on the screen brought a bitterness that I have not tasted for some time.

In the story it’s customary for all the handmaids in the neighborhood to attend a birth. While the adoptive mother in waiting lies on a white sheet in a stylish living room, moaning though fake labor pains with the other wives coaching her, upstairs the real labor progresses with the handmaid who is lucky enough to have conceived a child in this toxic future world. When the birth is imminent, the handmaid leaves the luxurious marriage  bed  for a birthing chair, the privileged wife sitting behind her as if she too is pushing through the labor pains. When the baby is out, it’s the wife who situates herself in bed and receives the baby. The handmaid, (birthmother) is just a few feet away, empty-handed and anguished, longing to hold her child. A sister handmaid turns her face away from the baby and its new mother. Then the entire room of handmaids converge on her, hovering over her, murmuring their comfort. It’s a wrenching scene, but for those of us who were handmaids of the 60s and 70s, we had no compatriots.

At the moment of my son’s birth, the intern in the delivery room joyfully asked me if this was my first child. Before I had a chance to utter a syllable, the doctor in charge guffawed. “She’s an unwed mother,” he said. My son was wrapped is a blanket and whisked away.

I suspect most of us gave birth that way. No family present. The baby’s father not allowed anywhere near. No murmured comforts anywhere.

 

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

 

What to Say to a Birthmother on Mother’s Day and a Thought or Two on Birthmother’s Day

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There are millions of us. For every adoptee, there is a birthmother. We’re your sisters, your friends, your aunts, your cousins, your teammates, your co-workers, your wives and girlfriends, that person next to you on the plane who’s flying home to see her mom and tells you everything after her 4th rum and coke.

Each of our stories is unique and they’re all the same. What you say to the particular birthmother(s) that you know probably depends on the story. Think about what you know. Step into her shoes. Is she still keeping her secret from others with you being one of the few in her confidence? Is she happily reunited with her son or daughter? Has her child refused to meet her? Is she searching? Does she have other children? Maybe you invite her over for coffee or take her out for a drink. Maybe you tell her you feel enriched by knowing her story, or you give her a card or a take time for a conversation. Maybe you ask her what she thinks of Birthmother’s Day, which is today, by the way, in case you didn’t know.

I don’t exactly hate the idea of Birthmother’s Day, myself. But I don’t really love it either. The phrase Happy Birthmother’s Day pretty much gets stuck in my throat. I’d rather cough up a carving knife than say that, but the idea of commemoration is a good one. We’re here. So, I’m thinking of us and all of our stories.

Why I’m Wearing Black

 

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What I would like to say to everyone who is happily celebrating National Adoption Month is this: You are happy. Good.

But.

Some of us are dying inside. This piece in the Huff Post by Mirah Riben explains it rather succinctly in rant-less fashion.

You might also want to read this.  Tarikuwa Lemma is as eloquent as a poet about her own adoption.

And as if a National Adoption Month and a National Adoption Day are not enough, there’s now 4 million bucks  recently crowd funded for an International Adoption Day (which was yesterday.) Here’s a quote from the article in Forbes just in case you’re too busy eating your Happy Adoption Day cake to read the whole thing:  “The main obstacle to adopting a newborn child is the cost.” Checking out their website, I’m willing to concede that maybe these folks aren’t  dealing exclusively in newborns, but where is the original focus of National Adoption Month?  According to the North American Council on Adoptable Children, there are currently over 100,000 children in foster care who cannot be reunited with their original families. Is this crowd funding effort connecting families with those kids? Maybe, but it looks like international infant adoption is the focus.

So while you’re toasting to your happy family, know that I’m happy for you if you’re all happy. I know that some adoptions are good and necessary and healing adoptions. I’d just like a deep breath, a pause, a nano-second of silence in which  the happy consider the gravity of the loss also associated with adoption.

Now party on.  Festoon your house with balloons. I’m going to change my brightly colored clothes and find something black.

photo credit: New York Times

Pro-Adoption vs. Anti-Adoption

IMG_4396My boyfriend died of lung cancer in June. We’d only been together for five years, so there was a lot I didn’t know about him. Dan had been at Berkeley during the Free Speech Movement, while I was a boy-crazy 8th grader at a Catholic school in Iowa. Even before that, if I have the timeline correct, he’d joined the Freedom Riders and had gone down to Mississippi. An old friend of his told me that while he was down there he was arrested and taken to jail. “Are you black or white?” Dan was asked over and over again as they were preparing lock him up. Dan, a Korean-American, wouldn’t answer the question, but as the questioning got more aggressive, Dan finally went with white. He was jailed anyway. 

I’m telling this story as an introduction.

I do not imagine aligning myself with the folks who call themselves pro-adoption. But then again, I might if the label were dissected and arranged in such a way that it didn’t mean unethical or illegal adoption. I might if it didn’t mean secrets and shame and sealed records. I might if it didn’t mean child trafficking or endangerment or taking children from poor single mothers and giving them to couples with a bigger bank account.

But I don’t really want to be anti-adoption either. I acknowledge that there are children who need to be removed from their biological families. Still, adoption is no guarantee there will not be abuse. I acknowledge that there are children in orphanages and in foster care that need families. Claudia Corrigan D’Arcy elaborates on the anti-adoption label in her ESSAY  from Portrait of an Adoption and pretty much covers everything. So, yes, if I have to choose, I’ll have what she’s having. But only if it’s served up like that.

Reform of the adoption industry is absolutely necessary. But I don’t like the line in the sand. I’m guessing that a lot of the people who label themselves as pro-adoption don’t really want to associate themselves with the corrupt practices present in adoption today. Or at least I hope not. So I wish they wouldn’t say they were pro-adoption without writing an essay defining it.

Strength is something we seek. Taking a stand is admired. Fervent seems like a nice adjective. But maybe we all have to stand together in the middle of the hurt and confusion explaining every little thing to one another, listening as hard as we can.

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.

Teen Birth Rates and Demand for Babies

State Teen Birthrate Dropped to Lowest Level in 20 Years my Los Angeles Times proclaimed earlier this week. Time Magazine ran a similar article a couple of months ago reflecting the same trend nationwide. My heart always takes a little leap when I spot headlines like these. Oh good! some lame portion of my brain concludes. My son and I rode the peak of the adoption wave when he was born and relinquished the summer of 1970. When I read about the decline in teen birthrates I interpret this to mean that there are fewer girls cowering in foster homes hidden in the Iowa countryside, dreading the day of their child’s birth. And while this is most likely true, the demand for babies is still high. The faces and the places have changed, but there are still plenty of  birthmothers walking around with empty arms.

photo credit: gail’sangle.net

New York Times: For Women Under 30, Most Births Occur Outside Marriage

THIS STORY is already a week old, but I can’t stop thinking about it.  For birthmothers my age, there is no more profound contrast between the era in which we gave up our children and today’s regard for single mothers. I don’t think the term, “single mother” existed in 1970.

Birthmothers in Literature

I’ve been fascinated by birthmothers in literature ever since my mother read me Rumplestiltskin. Although the miller’s daughter escaped relinquishing her son in the end, the possibility of separating mother and child was the part of the tale I found most frightening. It was a close call for the miller’s daughter and her son.

 
It was the summer between high school and college that I read Sophocles’s Oedipus Rex–the same summer that I gave up my firstborn son. All of Oedipus’s troubles began because his mother gave him away, I thought. What will happen to my boy? As a theater student, I found more adoption stories in Shakespeare–A Winter’s Tale, Pericles, and Cybeline– and in the novels of Charles Dickens.


Currently I’m reading Nicole Krauss’s new novel, Great House. It’s a complex story with several threads. The character of Lotte is somewhat of a mystery with a tragic past. Her husband does not know how tragic, exactly.
“She struggled with her sadness, but tried to conceal it, to divide it into smaller and smaller parts and scatter these in places she thought no one would find them. But often I did–with time I learned where to look–and tried to fit them together. It pained me that she felt she couldn’t come to me with it, but I knew it would hurt her more to know that I’d uncovered what she hadn’t intended me to find. In some fundamental way I think she objected to being known.”  


Later in the marriage, Lotte develops dementia (she’s about seventy-five by then,) and one day escapes from the nurse who is supposed to be tending her at home. Lotte goes into the courthouse, finds a magistrate, and tells her that she’d like to report a crime.  
“”What is the crime?” she asked. 
“I gave up my child,” Lotte announced.”