Tag Archives: social prejudice and birthmothers

What to Say to a Birthmother

Birthmothers, the mothers in the shadows

Do you know a birthmother?

There are millions of us birthmothers. For every adoptee, there is one of us. 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.

Do you know what to say on Mother’s Day?

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.

“Birth Mother” is on audible.com

“Birth Mother” by Denise Emanuel Clemen

My memoir, “Birth Mother,” published last summer by Shebooks is now available on audible.com. I’ve listened to the sample, and while it’s kind of strange for me to hear another voice reading my words, I like the reader’s voice a lot. She sounds, well….kinda like me.

There are other fabulous books by women from Shebooks on Audible too. Check them out.

The Basilica

The Basilica
photo by Sussanne Van Holst from Fine Art America

In the shadow of the basilica

The basilica towers over everything in my town. I worried about going to hell pretty frequently during my eight 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 creek. 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.


Over-simplified?  Yes. I know that. But still, it’s a different world than the one I grew up in.

Sealed Records

Sealed records for adoptees is one of our most poignant examples of the lack of political progress in our current times. I’ve been thinking a lot about social progress vs. political progress.

I saw the movie Milk the other night. A lot has changed for gays since the 70s. Nowadays, many gays & lesbians carry on with their lives without keeping secrets about their sexual orientation. There’s a fair amount of social acceptance for them. But legislated equal rights is another story.  

There are no overt social prejudices against adoptees. Though, I don’t think there’s a high level of discussion about adoption or what the practice of adoption means to adoptees or birth parents. People are not against adoptees, per se. However, most states have yet to pass legislation that will grant adoptees access to their birth records. The fact that those sealed records remain sealed and off limits to adult adoptees is a political wrong.

Donor Intent

Robertson vs. Princeton

Donor intent. What does that mean? Well, what if, some time ago, you made a decision to donate your fortune to a home for unwed mothers?  But  the world changed, and young women started keeping their babies. And then the home closed. 
There’s been a legal case in the news this week. Robertson vs. Princeton. It has to do with the  issue of donor intent–though not regarding a home for unwed mothers.
The Robertson family has been battling for control over the Robertson Foundation. It  was created to prepare students for careers in government service through Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of International Affairs. The family claims Princeton has misused the donation. The problem is that times have changed. The government now outsources this type of work. So the Princeton program has turned into a business degree factory. Not, as the family intended, a training ground for diplomats.


Donors never know what the future will hold.
NPR, in their reporting on this case, cited the example of the 1950s donor and the homes for unwed mothers. When was the last time you heard of one of those places? Social change has rendered that particular donor’s wishes obsolete.

Me vs. myself

I thought I would end up in a home for unwed mothers. But I kept my pregnancy a secret until six weeks before my son was born. So I had to be hustled out of town to the most readily available place. That turned out to be a foster family who had a farm out in the countryside about 60 miles from my hometown. 
Speaking of homes for unwed mothers, I learned an interesting fact about the adoption agency that handled my son’s adoption. It actually began in 1896 as a “home for wayward girls” (so described by the current director of the agency.)  It seems that the mothers and children were housed there together. The “girls” were counseled and attended an industrial training school. The term industrial training school, by the way, was code for reform school. These girls had to be reformed or trained in the eyes of society. The babies were eventually placed for adoption. I would love to know if the mothers were allowed to be with their babies or if they were kept apart. In 1970, when my son was born, babies were whisked away in the delivery room and the mothers were not allowed to see them.
But. I saw my son anyway. That’s a story for another day. Or you can read about it here.