Birthmother shame and postpartum depression are closely related, I believe. My essay, “My Face in the Darkness” explores the link. This essay will be included in a new anthology called Mothering Through the Darkness.
Somewhere in the timeframe of writing and submitting the essay, I came upon this survey. So I took the survey, realizing anew how completely abysmal my first experience of childbirth was. Mind you, my son was born in 1970, and there has been a fair amount of reform since then, but the survey questions did not evoke a single memory of support or compassion. Every interaction with the nurses and doctors in the hospital before, during, and after my son’s birth was tainted with shaming and judgement. I know that this story is not an unusual one among birthmothers
Women, girls, and shame
Women and girls are subjected to a lot of shaming in our society. Our bodies and our clothing choices are shamed, as are other aspects of our appearance. Everything we do is held up to scrutiny in a way that seems bound to our gender. As a mother of two daughters and grandmother to two granddaughters, I think about shame in the context of their lives. You can read more about shame HERE. Or watch THIS. I’m looking forward to reading the other essays in “Mothering Through the Darkness.” I wouldn’t be surprised if, in some way, shame figures into each and every story.
You might also want to read this. Tarikuwa Lemma is as eloquent as a poet about her own adoption.
Every adoption begins with loss.
Crowd-funding for adoption
And as if a National Adoption Month and a National Adoption Day are not enough, there’s now the 4 million bucks that a pastor recently crowd funded to establish International Adoption Day. 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 from foreign countries… but the pastor did say newborn. Newborns, by the way, have never been the 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. National Adoption Month was created for them. This four million dollar funding effort is not connecting families with those kids. Adoption from foreign countries is a thicket of concerns, even when older children are being placed. The loss that initiates every adoption is compounded in international adoption.
Every adoption begins with loss
So while you’re toasting to your happy family,I’d like a pause–a deep breath, a nano second of silence in which the happy consider the gravity of loss in adoption. Every adoption begins with loss. That loss is like a stone dropped into a pond. It ripples out, and out, and out. Baby loses mother. Mother loses baby. Grandparents lose baby. Aunts. Uncles. Cousins. Sisters. Brothers. On and and on.
When is adoption truly necessary?
I want you to know that I believe some adoptions are good and necessary. BUT family preservation should be the number #1 goal. That said, I question the North American Council on Adopted Children’s statement above. Are there really 100,000 children who cannot be placed with family members? Rephrasing the quote from the pastor in the Forbes article, the main obstacle to family preservation is the cost. Crowd fund that.
Now party on. Festoon your house with balloons. I’m going to change my brightly colored clothes and find something black.
What if I’d taken that path instead of the other? Kate Atkinson’s novel “Life After Life” is a grown-up choose-your-own-adventure book. Atkinson takes the story down one path, then backs up to the fork in the road and chooses another. Ursula, the main character dies at birth, strangled by her umbilical cord. But a few pages later the story re-boots and Ursula lives. Thus, the forward and backward motion of the story gives us a variety of possible outcomes for many of the characters. And what happens to each of them in the different versions of their stories changes the trajectory of the other characters’ lives as well.
Birthmothers ask, “What if…?”
Izzie, a birthmother, enters the narrative like THIS. But in another version of the plot Sylvie, Izzie’s mother, raises the baby. In yet another, the baby is adopted, and Izzie lives a life designed to cover her pain and regret. And other possibilities are played out too.
The structure of this novel is unique, and the exploration of outcomes as they turn on life’s lynchpin moments is powerful and poignant. “What if?” the reader is forced to ask over and over again. As I read this book, I asked that question about my own life too. For me, and maybe for other birthmothers who went on to have other children with someone different from the relinquished child’s father this feels like a Sophie’s Choice. If I’d kept my son, it’s unlikely that I’d met the man who became the father of my daughters. It’s complicated–just like Atkinson’s novel. But, what birthmother hasn’t asked, “What if….?” And adoptees ask the question too. This essay from the Los Angeles Times tackles the question from an adoptee’s point of view.
From the beginning I knew I would search for my son. I never let go of the idea that I would find him, 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 how the search for my son began.
Two young mothers
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, with tears in her eyes, that she had gotten pregnant as a teenager. But she had given that baby up for adoption. I stammered my way through my own confession about giving up my son. 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 she had some 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.
A series of coincidences
I made a new friend two thousand miles from where I’d relinquished my son. She happened to be a birthmother, 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 recently I read this. It has to do with the birth certificates of children of same-sex couples. The Iowa Supreme Court has ruled that both parents in a married same-sex couple must be on a child’s birth certificate.In the past, Iowa’s Department of Public Health has insisted on listing a biological parent on these birth certificates. The court now says that practice is unconstitutional.
I have some personal experience with Iowa’s bureaucracy regarding birth certificates. In 1990 I began to search for the son I had placed 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.I knew this birth certificate would provide no identifying information that would aid in my search for him. However, I viewed it as an empowerment exercise. My son had been taken from me. And they erased the evidence. I wanted someone to acknowledge the wrong. And the erasure of it.
Silenced for two decades by shame, I came out of my closet after the birth of my third child. I wanted the state of Iowa, at the very least, to acknowledge that the birth of my son had taken place. I had my daughters’ birth certificates. And now I wanted my son’s. My name was on it. A legal document. Wasn’t I entitled to it?
The interesting thing here–the thing that relates to the court decision above— is that my son’s biological father’s name did not appear on the birth certificate. The social worker advised me not to name the father of my baby—to protect his reputation. My name, however, would most definitely be on the birth certificate. And so, there you have it. A birth certificate without the names of both parents.
Birth certificate identity crisis
What is a birth certificate exactly? Is it a certificate of ownership? Is it a legal record of birth? A documentation of parentage? What kind of parentage? How many birth certificates can a person have? Can the people whose names are on it have a copy of it?
I did not succeed in obtaining a copy of my son’s original birth certificate even though it has my name on it. Even with the intercession of my doctor and a verifiable need to pass on medical information to my son, the only response from the Iowa Department of Human Services was that “there were no records pertaining to my inquiries.”
And what about these children of same-sex couples? What are their rights regarding knowledge of their biological parentage?
And….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. Because surely they don’t expect birthparents to supply a birth certificate. We know that’s impossible.