Category Archives: Uncategorized

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.

 

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. 

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.

Horace and Pete and Downton Abbey

UnknownI’m not much of a TV watcher or a movie goer these days. I missed the boat that left for Game of Thrones and it seems like I’d just be late to the party–or regatta–if I want to avoid mixing metaphors. I’ve tried to get into Big Bang Theory, Burn Notice, the Family Guy, and Modern Family, and while I’ve enjoyed these shows I don’t need to watch them.

In fact, I’d grown weary of the upper crust goings on at Downton Abbey until Edith got pregnant and had to keep it a secret after her beau disappeared without a trace. That’s all it took to reel me back in. Will Edith manage to keep her secret? Will she pine away grieving for the loss of little Marigold while the local tenant farmer and his family pass the child off as their own? For those of you who are not in the know, Edith gave the baby up and suffered profoundly from the separation, eventually “adopting” her daughter as a ward and bringing the child to live as her own amidst all the upper crust splendor that is Downton. The Marigold plot continues to captivate me this season. Edith’s parents know Marigold’s true origins, but Edith’s uppity sister, Lady Mary, does not…yet. I’m guessing the secret will be revealed to Mary in the next episode.

Last week I watched the first episode of comedian Louis C.K’s new show, Horace and Pete. It’s set in a bar (I love bars), Alan Alda is in it (I love Alan Alda), and it’s staged more like a play than a TV show (I love the theatre), so I had to give it a try even though I couldn’t figure out how to stream it on my TV since the show comes directly from Louis C.K.’s website and not through Amazon or Hulu or Netflix.

The show is both comic and tragic, very nicely written and performed. And I’m hooked. The big reveal toward the end of the premiere episode: three supposed siblings find out that one of them is not like the others. He’s not a sibling at all. He’s a cousin. “I don’t like kids,” the Allan Alda character says as he justifies why he gave his son to his brother to raise. He goes on to reveal that his son’s mother died when the boy was two. The siblings are all well into middle age now, and this revelation is a bomb dropped in their midst, shattering the foundation of what they believed to be the basic truth of their family

So the secret is out in Horace and Pete, while at Downton Abbey the secret is still under wraps. Either way it makes for compelling drama.

This is the world of adoption. And even in the usual modern version of adoption, wherein the adoptee knows he/she is adopted, unless the adoptee can meet and speak, and hopefully get to know  the biological parents, that cloak of secrecy is a weighty thing to drag through life.Unknown

Mothering Through the Darkness

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I have an essay in this anthology about postpartum depression just out from She Writes Press. Postpartum depression was my personal sequel to adoption loss. If you know someone who has recently had a baby and things don’t seem quite right, help that person get help. You’ll be helping a mother and a baby. Maybe even a whole family. Talk about it. Do something. The book   would be a great conversation starter and a fine resource.

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.

Me and Bobby McGee…well, no…Me and Kate Mulgrew

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Me, just a few months after giving up my son.

The actress Kate Mulgrew and I were born in Dubuque, Iowa. She went to New York to become a successful actress. I went to L.A. to act with less success. The both of us Catholic girls, our lives were unhinged by our pregnancies. Hers, not so secret at 20 in 1977; mine, buried in secrecy at 17 in 1970. We both searched and found the children we relinquished for adoption–her daughter at 22. My son at 21. We both wrote memoirs. I plan to read hers, Born With Teeth. If you’d like to read mine, you can find it here.

Years ago when I was struggling to make ends meet in Los Angeles, my mother would frequently advise me to contact Kate. Not that our families new one another. My family moved out of Dubuque to a smaller town. And Kate was, after all, in New York, not L.A. Still, my mom knew that she was famous and I wasn’t. I scoffed every time my mother mentioned her name. I wasn’t a soap opera fan and never saw a single episode of Ryan’s Hope. If I had watched it, maybe I would have tried to contact her. Her pregnancy was written into the script. She returned to the set just a few days after relinquishing her daughter while her character on the show was raising a baby. On her first day back on the show, Mulgrew had to hold a stunt baby and deliver a monologue about how she’d love the child until the day she died. If I had witnessed that, I might have hitched a ride (cue the music: “Bobby thumbed a diesel down, just before it rained…”) to New York. Given what I’d already been through, it might have been me who’d given her advice.