Category Archives: birthmother

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.

 

The Ties That Bind

It’s strange how a common experience can bind us to another human being. Even someone very different. Ex Manson follower Susan Atkins died on Thursday. http://www.cnn.com/2009/CRIME/09/25/california.manson.atkins/index.html?eref=igoogle_cnn

It was this quote from the story that made me feel connected to a self-confessed convicted killer.

Atkins gave birth to a son while living at Spahn Ranch, an old movie set, with other members of the Manson family. While she was on death row, she wrote, he was legally taken from her because no one in her family was willing to raise him.

“His name and identity have been changed and sealed, so I have no idea where he is or how he is doing,” she wrote. “I have since been told his name was changed to Paul, and whether or not that is true I like it. … My continuing separation from my son, even after all these years, remains an incredibly poignant and enduring loss.”

What You Get When You Google “Birthmother”

I find the list troubling.  Most of the links go to sites whose primary focus is adoption.  The site called Birthmom Buds is especially unnerving.  Founded by two birthmothers, they offer mentoring by birthmothers who have relinquished.  If they are as unbiased as they say

(“although you may be making an adoption plan, you are not actually a birthmom, until you sign relinquishment papers. Until then, you are simply an expectant mother preparing for her child’s future! Our biggest piece of advice to you is to research both the options of parenting and adoption. You truly can not make an informed decision unless you have educated yourself on both options. Take this time to explore both of those options and then make a final decision!” ) 
maybe they should offer mentoring by women who decided not to relinquish.   There are all kinds of subtle and not so subtle messages on this sight that point towards giving up the baby.
Birthmother.org is geared toward adoption, too and BirthmothersUnite has a vibe that is part religious and part Hallmark card, though to give them their due, they do seem to understand the drive for search and reunion.
AdoptionOpen purports to offer birthmother support, but they are also promoting adoption. BirthmotherResources was created by an adoption agency.
I’d like to see some real birthmother presence on the web.  But I’m guessing all the possible  domain names have been purchased by adoption agencies.
I’m going to work on creating a list of blogs.

A Word About Words

I’ve been looking at other adoption/birthmother blogs and general adoption sites on the internet.

There is no consensus among birthmothers about what we want to be called.  Some of us think the word “birthmother” is derogatory and implies being used as a breeder.  The word birthmother is sometimes a hyphenate, sometimes a compound word.  I like the word birthmother in its run-on one word fashion. There’s something headlong about it that describes my personal experience–the I can’t believe this is happening, but it is happening and there’s no way I can stop it or change it. Birthmother seems appropriate for other reasons, too. I gave birth to my son. I’m his mother–even if he has an adoptive mother whom he thinks of as more-his-mother than me. The other terms out there include bio-mother or biological mother, first mother, exiled mother. I desire no squabble with any woman who has had a child and relinquished it for adoption–let her call herself by the name she prefers and let us not divide ourselves from one another.
The word “relinquish” interests me.  It was the word used by my social worker in 1970 as I prepared to give up my son and it’s in common parlance today as well. I use it, but I would like to break myself of the habit.
Relinquish according to Webster means to withdraw from, to retreat from, leave behind or give up–and here’s the part that pisses me off.  It “usually does not imply strong feeling but may suggest some regret, reluctance, or weakness.”  I wonder if adoption professionals got together and handpicked this word.  I find it far more insulting than “birthmother” or any of its alternatives.

The Best Advice I’ve Ever Read About Grief

This comes from Anne Lamott’s book, Traveling Mercies:

All those years I fell for the great palace lie that grief should be gotten over as quickly as possible and as privately. But what I’ve discovered since is that the lifelong fear of grief keeps us in a barren, isolated place and that only grieving can heal grief; the passage of time will lessen the acuteness, but time alone, without the direct experience of grief, will not heal it.  
Like many birthmothers, I gave birth to my baby in secret. Secret losses can only be grieved privately, without support, and that’s more like denial than grieving. More like the desert than the necessary sea. 


The Wall

A poster similar to this hung on the wall of my social worker’s office.  Its message struck my 17-year-old self as profound.  I understood it to mean that I should live in the present, forget about the past and the baby I couldn’t keep.  Go forward. These ideas were routinely espoused by adoption professionals in the 1970s. Birthmothers were assured we’d forget the babies we gave away.  That the other children we’d have later would fill the emptiness.  For me, it was the opposite that occurred.