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.
I never let go of the idea that I would someday find my son, but I had absolutely no idea how I would do it. At first I imagined myself as Nancy Drew, the girl detective who would sleuth and sleuth and finally break the case. There was very little reality to this scenario since the adoption records were sealed, and I didn’t have a single clue. Some years later I imagined that serendipity or coincidence would allow us to meet. In a way, that’s what happened.
I made friends with a mother of two little girls who were about the same age as my own daughters. One day at a park playgroup when the two of us were sitting away from the rest of the mothers, she told me she had gotten pregnant as a teenager and had given that baby up for adoption. I stammered my way through my own confession. She told me she was going to search for her daughter and invited me to a Concerned United Birthparents support group meeting. At one of those meetings, I met a woman who told me that, through a series of connections, she might be able to make arrangements with someone who could find my son. To this day I have no idea who this mysterious connection was. But he/she found my son two decades after I’d given him up.
I met a woman two thousand miles from where I’d relinquished my son. She happened to be a birth mother, and the two of us happened to connect on that day in the park. She took me to a meeting where I met someone who knew someone who knew someone who knew someone. And that someone found my son.
I’ve been blogging regularly on my Other Blog which is not to say that I do not frequently think of adoption and its myriad issues. I continue to see the world through the eyes of a birthmother, and those eyes popped wide open recently when I read THIS. I have some personal experience with Iowa’s bureaucracy regarding birth certificates. In 1990 when I began to search for the son I had given up for adoption 20 years earlier, I wrote several letters to the Iowa Department of Human services asking them to provide me with the original birth certificate for my son. While I knew the original birth certificate would provide no identifying information that would aid in my search, I viewed it an empowerment exercise. My son had been taken from me, and the evidence of that separation had been erased. Silenced for two decades by shame, I came out of my closet after the birth of my third child brought home to me the fact that my son could not be replaced. At the very least, I wanted the state of Iowa to acknowledge that the birth had taken place. I wanted the piece of paper that held my name and his–although he was listed as merely “baby boy.” It’s probably worth noting here that my son’s biological father’s name did not appear on the original birth certificate since I declined to identify him. Nevertheless, with my own name as the only identifying information, I could not obtain the original birth certificate. On medication for glaucoma at the time and afflicted with a moderately severe case of scoliosis, I had my doctors intercede with the state of Iowa as we attempted to have my medical history passed on to my son. The only communication that I received stated that there were no records pertaining to my inquiries. Until the recent Iowa Supreme decision confirming the rights of same sex couples to have both their names appear on their children’s birth certificates, The Iowa Department of Public Health insisted on listing the biological parents. While gay marriage has been legal in Iowa since 2009, Iowa has the dubious distinction of being the only state in the union to allow gay marriage while refusing to list both spouses on the birth certificate. The irony of that, Iowa, is thicker than a cloud of mosquitos on a humid summer evening. As a postscript, I’ll say that I hope the gay and lesbian couples who are now officially recognized as their children’s parents will not relegate their offspring to the blackout of information that many adult adoptees continue to endure in the state of Iowa. Of course, there is this: Effective July 1, 1999, Iowa law enables adoptees, their “birth parents,” and their blood-related brothers and sisters to find each other if the birth is registered with the State of Iowa. The “Mutual Consent Voluntary Adoption Registry” was established in order to match those persons requesting that their identity be revealed to registrants “matching” information concerning an adult adoptee. All information provided to the registry is confidential and revealed only in the event that an appropriate match is made and the parties have been notified of the match. A $25 fee in U.S. funds and a certified copy of the applicant?s birth certificate must be submitted with each consent application. I’m trusting the instructions are a bit oversimplified. Surely, they don’t expect birthparents to supply a birth certificate…… Readers, have any of you out there used the Iowa Registry? Did reunions result? I’d love to hear about it. photo credit: astoria-rust.blogspot.com
Not long before Christmas I wrote a letter to my son detailing who I was and how I’d come to give him up for adoption. I enclosed a faded color snapshot of his biological father and me dressed in our pastel evening finery at our senior prom. I tried to imagine what my son would think when he saw those two innocent smiles. Would he realize that he was in the photo too? Christmas was just a couple of weeks away, so I wrapped the letter around the photo and put the packet in a red envelope, hoping to pass it off as a Christmas card. If he doesn’t write me back in a couple of weeks, I thought, I’ll call him.
The mail fell in heaps through the slot in our front door during the week before Christmas. I’d hear our dog bark, and I’d race to the entry hall to contemplate the holiday envelopes strewn on the rug. Examining each hand-addressed envelope, I hoped for a return address from Arizona, but there was nothing. At the meetings I’d heard adoptees say that reuniting with a birthparent could make the adoptive parents feel abandoned or threatened. I told myself my son was just taking it slow out of consideration for his family, but even ten days later there was no response.
When I first received information about my son, I learned some basic details. I knew that he lived at home with his parents, that he had a sister, that he worked as an information operator for the phone company. The searcher had given me my son’s phone number and had pointed out that the line was separate from his parents’ line. As I began working up the nerve to call him, I wanted to find out if my son shared his phone line with his sister. One afternoon shortly after New Year’s, while my daughters were napping, I sat on my bedroom floor with the telephone in my lap. Since I had his sister’s name, I would call information to get her number and see if it was the same as his. I dialed information for Mesa, Arizona with my pencil at the ready. “Hello, this is Cory. May I help you?” said the operator. I gasped and slammed down the phone and lay on the cool oak floor of my bedroom. Was it possible that I had just spoken to my son?
I recently met someone who is an adopted mom. She and her son are searching for his birthmother. She’s asked me to re-post what she has posted on Facebook:
I believe my son has a right to know who his birth mother is. He was born in 1977 at Parkview Hospital in Riverside. His birth mother named him Kevin, and she used Parker as a last name on the birth certificate. She would be in her early 50’s now. She once lived in Southern California, and we were told she joined the army not long after his birth. If you know anyone who fits this profile, please contact me.
“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.