Every year on the Saturday before Mother’s Day is a not oft recognized holiday by many families.
On this day we celebrate those who made the choice of adoption for their children. Some willingly, some not so willingly, and others made the choice by force.
On this day we acknowledge and celebrate those mothers who gave up their children to others.
I want to say upfront that adoption can be a truly beautiful thing. However, there are shadows and darkness that also exist surrounding adoption that is all too commonly swept under the rug, and for the first time in 25 years, I’d like to take a breath and take a moment to share my story. To step into my truth, fully and without apology.
A Birthmother Never Forgets
This is my story . . .
I became pregnant at 15. I was a deacon’s daughter, and my family was active in our church and had been since before I was born. The father of my baby already had a child with someone else and while I should have listened to the warnings from others at the time, I didn’t. When my family found out I was pregnant, they kicked me out. Police came to our house and they took me out of my home and to a home for pregnant teens.
I spent exactly one night there before I learned they couldn’t force me to stay and I peaced right on out of there. I bounced around from place to place that next day and eventually found a place to crash in the home of my youth leader from church. I was there a few days before our pastor sought to intercede on my behalf and arranged a meeting between myself and my family.
I didn’t have any expectations about that meeting, all I knew is that I wanted to go home. Home was a house we’d lived in for about a year, having moved from the only home I’d ever known in southern Ohio to Tucson, AZ. I’d never been away from my family. I was in a new town that I didn’t know beyond my travels to and from school and I was scared.
That day I was told that if I wanted to come home I had to give my baby up for adoption. All I wanted was to go home. All I wanted was to have the love and support of my family back. Choose. Your baby or your family. I did the only thing a 15-year-old with no job and no outside support could do. I agreed.
With my verbal agreement made I was allowed to return home. Through a series of phone calls made to our former pastor in Ohio for support and advice for my parents, we were soon connected with a family who was unable to have children of their own who lived in my hometown and were looking to adopt.
At 15 I wasn’t the articulate and assertive woman many know me to be now, so I let my family handle the communication with the adoptive parents to be and trusted that everyone would do what they promised.
I had exactly 1 stipulation for giving my baby to strangers. I MUST have pictures and updates at least once a year. I had a DEEP need to know that my baby was alive and thriving.
I was told that the adoptive family agreed and we proceeded. I would allow them to adopt my baby.
Over the coming months, my parents kept the prospective adoptive family updated on my pregnancy and the health of the baby. They let them know that the baby was a boy.
We met with our attorney and I once again made my one stipulation for this arrangement be known. I must have pictures and an update on my baby at least once a year. The attorney affirmed that the adoptive family agreed, but also informed me that there was no way to legally enforce this stipulation. I trusted that the good Christian people that had been chosen to parent my baby would live up to their word. The plan for adoption proceeded.
A week before Christmas in 1990 I gave birth to a beautiful baby boy. Over the course of my 3 day stay his father and my best friends who had supported me through the pregnancy came to say their hellos and goodbyes.
The day I walked out of that hospital without my baby was the hardest day of my life so far.
The adoptive parents were in town and I was scheduled to sign the adoption papers when I got home later that afternoon, along with papers giving them permission to take the baby back to Ohio.
Later that day through tears I asked my lawyer once again if the stipulation for pictures and an update on my baby at least once a year was in the paperwork I was signing. I was told it was and I signed. I also gave the attorney a letter to the baby from me to be given to the adoptive parents for when he was older.
That day was the second hardest day of my life.
Two weeks later I turned 16, got my driver’s license later that month, and tried to get back to my “normal” life. I tried to go back to school, but there were too many questions I wasn’t prepared to answer so I went to my assistant principal and asked for an extension of my homeschooling for another month.
It was then that the wait began. I waited, and I waited and no updates came. I continued to wait and the depression and darkness of the unknown began to sink in.
After about 6 months I contacted my lawyer and told her I wanted an update. I’d been promised an update. She contacted the adoptive family and eventually, they sent her pictures that she passed along to me, and her bill to my parents. That didn’t go over well and I was told I couldn’t do that anymore, it costs money.
That was the last update I had from the adoptive parents. Ever. Every year I’d wait and every year the darkness would grow a little deeper. As the years passed I’d come to recognize that I’d live in deeper darkness from November – January.
Every year in the months leading up to my son’s birthday I’d remember. I’d wonder. I’d long to know how he was. The simple knowledge of what color his eyes were, something so small and seemingly trivial was torture for me.
I did my best to go on with life. I continued to see his father at least 5 days a week for the next few years. Eventually, we finally parted ways and I became pregnant again at 18, this time by the man who would become my husband.
This time was different though. He had a family that we didn’t hide the news from, a family who was supportive and excited in spite of the circumstances. Once again there was a huge blow-up when my family found out. Once again they kicked me out, and once again I returned home with “conditions”.
This time though I would bring my baby home, to her father’s home with his parents. I would get to keep my baby. I believed this would make everything right in my world. Only it didn’t.
Parenting my daughter with my husband made me miss my son even more. When she started preschool I went to college and bought our first computer. I connected with other birthmothers online and quickly learned I was not alone. There were others. Others who were also made promises that were not kept. Many suffered in darkness, alone.
That year I bucked up my courage and sent the adoptive family a letter, somewhere I still have that letter. I’d reconnected with an old friend from my hometown online and she sent me a page out of a phone book. That page contained an address. That address was where my son and his family lived.
I don’t remember exactly what I said but I knew I had to be balanced. I knew I couldn’t lay my emotions and feelings of betrayal out on their table. They replied, they sent pictures and for a while, it was enough.
Again I tried to buck up and go on with life. I continued to cycle down into darkness each year from November – January but I did my best to move on.
Then in 2008 a family friend came across an article about my son in the local newspaper and sent me the article and accompanying picture. My heart exploded. He was ok, he was successful, he was a singer and had talents that merited an article in the paper!
The article disclosed his school and enough information at the time for my then 15-year-old daughter to find my son on MySpace and FaceBook. Being a child raised on the internet it took her all of 10 minutes. Why didn’t I think of that before?!
I gave her permission to friend request her brother but forbade her to engage him in any way. We’d see what happened and go from there. He approved her friend request and within hours on the screen before me was a treasure trove of updates on his life. Pictures old and new. Documentation that he was ok, that he played football and basketball and ran track and sang and played guitar and so much more.
For a year I silently sat and watched my son grow from a distance. The darkness that year wasn’t as bad, although I longed to know more. To hear his voice, for him to know I never forgot him, for him to know I loved him, that I still loved him deeply.
Then in July of 2009, he posted a message to FaceBook and included his phone number if any of his friends wanted to chat via text. He was 18 now and about to begin his senior year of high school. My daughter came to me and showed me and I told her “I’m ok with you reaching out, but you must make it clear that you are his sister and verify any details he asks so he knows this isn’t a joke.”
She went off to her room and came back a short while later with a huge smile. He was asking for my number. He was wanting to text me. And so began a 24 hour whirlwind of becoming friends on FaceBook and me uploading pictures for him of our family.
Our reunion began that day.
At first, it was just text messages. Then slowly we began to communicate via phone. The first time I heard him say “Goodnight Mamma, I love you” time stood still. That November – to January, there was no darkness. That December on his birthday his sisters and I called him to sing Happy Birthday. I got to send him Christmas presents, and he sent me the most priceless gift he could ever give, photo albums full of pictures from his life.
When he graduated that year his graduation trip was to come to see me. I tried to be strong, I tried not to cry, but when his 6’3” body was wrapped in my arms once again, I lost it. I had to do a lot of prep work before he came in, the first being talking to his biological father. He wanted to meet that side of his family and I had to make that happen and I needed to be sure that he wasn’t going to be rejected.
Years of anger, resentment, and realizations that I’d somehow blocked myself from having psychologically happened in a very short amount of time. I realized that his biological father didn’t know what love is. Years and (many) children later, he still didn’t know what it was like to (allow himself to) be loved or to give love. The anger and resentment I had towards him fell away.
While my son was here we had a great time together. It was fascinating and yet at the same time so strange to discover my son, but as a man. He looks like me, but he has his father’s eyes. He walks just like his father and father’s brothers. He has our combined musical talents. Every second was a new discovery.
When he left It was a mixture of complete joy and panic. I had a panic attack in the parking lot of the airport as we were leaving.
Once again I was being separated from my son, but I knew that this time it was only temporary, that from this point on whenever we could make a visit happen we would. He would text me along the way on his journey home.
He would call me frequently and every time he’d say “Goodbye Mama, love you.”
Six years later we still text, he still calls. I’ve let go of the negativity I held towards his father and I’m mostly at peace. I would be lying if I said I’ve resolved my feelings about the lies from the adoptive parents and lawyer. Those wounds still run deep.
At first, I held them in because my relationship was so new with my son. I still don’t think that I’ve actually spelled out to him just how deeply they hurt me. You see, as a birthmother even when you’ve been reunited the relationship you have with your child is never entirely secure. Feelings of fear of making them mad, hurting them in some way that causes them to make a decision to cut you out of their life is a very real fear.
A few times I tried to engage his adoptive mother via email, but replies were short and curt. I had him now and that’s where I decided to focus my energy.
I absolutely recognize that they gave him a life I never could, and for that I am thankful. As an adult, I fully realize that while I was never given a choice to keep my son, that he wound up in a home and with a family that gave him things I never could. Stability, access to tools to grow his talents and expand his horizons. And love.
I have no doubts about their love for him. I love them for that, but I still hurt.
I still have a lot of resentment from the lies I was told. Lies that taught me I can’t trust others. Lies that taught me that I can rely only on myself because if you can’t trust your parents, the legal system, and good Christian people to keep their word, you really are all alone in this world. No one can take care of me like me. I’m giving myself 100%.
Those life lessons permeated the early years of my (now 25 year) marriage. I didn’t trust my husband for a very long time. Subconsciously I’d push him away to see if he loved me enough to stay, to make sure that he wouldn’t abandon me too. As I look back on those years, it seems like I was on a mission in those early years to prove to myself I wasn’t good enough and he was just lying like everyone else did to get the best of me and move on. Thankfully he stuck around. He weathered those storms by my side. Became my rock. He still is.
I do want to take a moment to acknowledge my son’s adoptive parents. I imagine it may feel like a lot of pressure to take on the care and raising of another person’s child. I imagine if your child doesn’t live up to the perfect ideal you’ve set in your mind that you may feel like a failure in some way, but that applies to all parents really.
Maybe there’s a deeper sense of pressure to “do it right”, similar to what I felt when I took on shaping the future of my second child and trying to dig my way out from under the “teen mom” stigma. There’s no doubt that parenting is hard work. Maybe there is guilt or shame under the surface for them too, I don’t know. But I do try to be understanding as much as I can.
What I can tell you with 100% certainty is that the decisions those adults around me made, whether they felt good, bad or indifferent about them left scars upon my soul that I still carry with me today.
I am not alone.
So today I want to acknowledge the Birthmothers.
I see you.
I hear your silent cries.
I celebrate your sacrifice and I share your tears.
I see your darkness and I lift you into the light. For many birthmothers, things are so very different than they were 10, 15, 20+ years ago.
Adoptive families now have more counseling and guidance on how to navigate open adoptions. Agencies and attorneys are more willing and able to facilitate updates through third-party channels.
Many will not have to suffer in silence the way I did. It still not an easy path to navigate, but no one should ever decide what is best for us. That is a choice we need to make for ourselves.
Birthmothers, I acknowledge you. Today and every day.