Category Archives: shame

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


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.

Cold and Sharp as Razors

I’m not surprised anymore when someone surfaces above the murky waters of adoption. Ever since I came out of the closet as a birthmother almost twenty years ago there’s been a parade of conversations where it’s been revealed that someone I know has also given up a child for adoption–or is an adoptee. There’s sometimes a deep and instant connection when we share our stories. And sometimes pain. I’m at a loss when an adoptee tells me he/she has searched for a birthparent, and the parent has refused contact. Usually it’s the birthmother. It’s the shame, I want to tell the adoptee. And the fear of revisiting the grief.

Losing a child through adoption is its own brand of grief. The death of a child, while the profoundest of tragedies, is beyond a mother’s volition. Giving up a child for adoption is a choice–albeit a “Sophie’s Choice” sort of choice. No doubt the death of a child continues to haunt and hurt, but unless the mother was directly responsible, the knowledge that the child is now beyond harm is perhaps some sort of balm.

I could have kept my son. That’s a truth. A truth without emollient. The rough fact that I would not have had my daughters if I had kept my son is a Judas kiss. My lips feel cold and sharp as razors when I think of it.

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.

Every Story Happens in a Particular Place at a Particular Time

This is how my book begins:

    I come from black dirt.
     I come from tee totaling Presbyterians, fallen Catholics, and a small town where nothing is taller than the church steeples. 
     I come from the river and all the muck that lies at the bottom of it.  I come from snow-white cranes on water and the hidden places in the woods that shelter a mushroom so delectable it melts your taste buds like a hot skillet melts butter.  I come from red-winged blackbirds, and the shock of a flash of scarlet as they flutter up from a ditch beside the road.  I come from fields and bare feet watching out for thistles and cow shit.  I come from people who mind their own business and yours, from whispers, party lines and pointing fingers. 
       I come from weather; hail of all sizes, lightning bolts big enough to rip the sky wide open, tornadoes that will turn your town into a pile of sticks, and summer heat that just might last forever.  I come from the relief of a sigh made visible by the cold on a morning when a blizzard blots out the road and school is cancelled. I come from rain that entire counties pray for day and night.  I come from corn, and more corn–fields you can hide in where the shiny leaves are sharp enough to slash your arms; corn on the cob on a butter-soaked paper plate at a barbeque; corn in the feed trough stuck to the shiny wet-black nose of a steer that’s next summer’s steak.
      I come from pitchers of peonies on old oak tables, and a girlhood of hats and gloves.  I come from children should be seen and not heard, and don’t do as I do, do as I say.  I come from mind your manners, and you know that girl was asking for it.  I come from the deer at the side of the road that bolts when your headlights blind him, and the next thing you know his antlers are embedded in your grill, and the rosary hanging from your rearview mirror won’t stop swaying.
      I come from ice-slick bridges, backseats, and beer.  I come from gravel roads, and highways coal-colored even under the full moon.  I come from red barns and hay and sweat that equals money.  I come from mom and pop businesses on a narrow-minded main street where you can see the church steps from the door of every tavern.   I come from the specter of hell and the promise of eternal salvation.  I come from litanies of saints and hog prices.
      I come from the place where a mistake can follow you as close as your shadow and be forever spoken of in the same breath as your name.