About Me

My photo
I placed my daughter in an open adoption in 2002. I started this blog in 2004 as a place to journal and eventually I became part of a community. The community has moved on, but I have decided to come back.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

I Am a Birthmother: On Judgment and Choice

I made the recommended list on Daily Kos.

Because I wrote about adoption, I thought I'd link to it here.

The text: 

I am a birthmother.

Quick, what pops in your head?

A teenager? Lost, unsure. Barely able to take care of herself? 

 A drug user, maybe? A runaway? Uneducated, definitely. You're wrong. 

I was 25 when I gave birth to my daughter. A schoolteacher even. Oh, well you're different you say. I'm not different. I'm the rule. 

 Oh, and I have an open adoption. 

 What's that?you wonder. I get to see my daughter. In person. Sometimes her parents even leave me alone with her! 

 Oh, well you're different,you say. 

But I shouldn't be, I counter. 

And you scoff at the audacity of suggesting that all birthmothers be allowed to see their children. It will confuse the children. The birthmother might try to kidnap the baby. You made your choice- now walk away. And I sigh. I used to think the same thing. 

We judge. 

We judge women who have multiple births.We judge women who have abortions and dare to feel relieved.We judge women who choose to remain childless. We judge women who have children. We judge infertile couples. We judge women who get welfare. We judge the highly religious or those of other religions. We judge those who aren't religious.

The fights get ugly. I've seen them and I cringe. I cringe because I see people I respect lashing out against women's choices as if somehow they are the only reasonable voices. 

And I cringe because I know about judgment and choice. 

I knew about my pregnancy early. I conceived at a man's apartment in Germany. While I tried to blame my fatigue on jet lag, I knew it wasn't. Three weeks after I came home, I went to the walk-in to get the official word. And I cried. I told the doctor I was going to have an abortion. He didn't judge me, but he did let me know that I had plenty of time to make my choice. He suggested I wait a month before deciding. He caught me on the way out and gave me the name of an obstetrician in case I changed my mind. I threw it out. 

I was 24, single, living alone- and my baby's father was a German national who had never even visited the United States. I wanted no part of being a parent. I didn't tell anyone right away. I've been around enough to know that plenty of people are pro-choice only as long as it isn't someone they know having an abortion. I've also been around long enough to know how hard it is for people to get in someone else's shoes. I love that abortion is a private decision. No one had to know. 

But the doctor had planted a seed.I did think about it. I was given my guilt: how dare I consider abortion when there are so many people who want children but can't get pregnant? How could it be fair that I could get pregnant so easily when I didn't even want children? 

A week later, on my way home from graduate school, I made my choice. I was going to place my daughter for adoption. I was about eight weeks pregnant. Adoption is a funny thing. You can't go far without seeing a sticker that says, "Adoption is a Loving Choice." Adoption has a sugary-sweet reputation. People love hearing stories about desperate couples getting the babies they deserve. 

People don't love hearing stories about the women who bore those babies. I didn't know. I was naïve. I chose life, right? Nobody told me about adoption's other side. Nobody told me how I would be judged. Nobody told me that my daughter would become a skeleton in my closet. But mostly, no one told me that even a woman who doesn't want children can't escape the primal urge to protect her offspring at all costs. 

I had my first doctor's visit around ten weeks.I was tiny so I had a chance to hear my baby's heartbeat. It was amazing. As soon as I got home I called my friends and family to share the news. The reaction? So what.You're not keeping your baby so why are you so excited about the heartbeat? I was in shock.  I didn't understand.  How could I not care about the heartbeat? I chose life, right? I wanted this baby. I may not be parenting her, but I wanted her. To me she was a miracle- a little slice of international good will- a chance to pass along my genes. 

I wondered aloud what she'd be like. Would she be a soccer player like her father and I? Would she get my family's theater genes? Would she get his blue eyes? My thick, dark hair? Would she be smart? A math whiz like her mom? An athlete like her dad? Would she be healthy? How can I protect her from the stress I'm feeling?Am I eating the right foods? Will she know how much I love her? Will she understand why? Yet I was placing her for adoption.  

For most people, that was all they saw.During my entire pregnancy, the only person who shared my enthusiasm for my daughter's life was the woman who would become her mother. My family, people who had known me my entire life, my boss, all assumed that because I planned to place her for adoption that I didn't love her. They assumed that I was indifferent about my pregnancy, that I couldn't possibly care about her, that "giving her up" was the most severe form of rejection. I was told I was selfish, that I was trying to get money, that I was heartless, that I was irresponsible and cruel. I sat at family functions where my pregnancy was ignored and I was treated to stories about how brave and strong and selfless my sister was for raising five children alone and I thought,What does that make me?I learned quickly to hang my head in shame, to avoid eye contact for fear that someone would ask about my shameful condition, to keep quiet about my hopes and dreams for my daughter. 

Right now there are still some of you who still think that I am the exception. It is hard to believe that a woman who is planning to place her child for adoption can possibly feel the same about pregnancy as a woman who is planning to parent her child.There are too many "experts" out there about birthmothers and adoption. There are too many news stories that focus on the tiny percentage of adoptions that are disrupted. Even though liberals can dismiss plenty of other myth-based stories, adoption is still such an unknown. And birthmothers like me have been shamed into silence so that the public may never know. 

I had a friend who was very kind to me during my pregnancy.She offered me a place to stay and a ride to meet my daughter's prospective parents.She helped me research adoption and assured me that my daughter would be okay. I called her from the hospital after my daughter was born healthy and beautiful.I shared the news of the birth. Her reaction: so what? Even this friend who had supported me during my pregnancy couldn't fathom that I would be excited about her birth. After all, I didn't want her. 

I joined an online support group for birthmothers and adoptive mothers after my daughter was born. There I found people who understood my grief and my choice. I also met women who were being judged because of infertility. Married couples who chose to place and faced the judgment of ignorant doctors and thoughtless relatives. Younger women who were pressured by parents and clergy to place. Christian woman who gave birth to babies who they knew would die at birth. Women who became single parents after becoming birthmothers. Single parents who became birthparents. 

I learned not to judge. I learned that you really can't know. I learned just how valuable choice is- choice to parent or not to parent. Choice to give birth to six implanted embryos or just three. Choice to give birth to six separate babies.I learned about shame as well. I learned about compassion even for those women who had babies taken from them or who did drugs during pregnancy.I learned that there are plenty of people willing to weigh in and offer judgment but very few willing to offer their home or cash or even just a shoulder to cry on for a woman faced with choices.

I thought this place was different. I thought people here were tolerant. I thought this was the party of tolerance. 

We can understand how job loss and medical crises and alcoholism and depression can affect a person's abilities and are quick to offer encouragement for these kinds of life changes, yet when it comes to parenting choices, we offer criticism. 

My employer was very upset about my decision to place my daughter for adoption- so much so that I was forced out of my job because of it. Right before I left, I told the girls the truth about my choice.Of everyone I have encountered, they were the most understanding. Having been there through my pregnancy, they had seen firsthand how much I loved that life inside me. They were still young enough to have their own opinions. They saw their own lives as precious and respected my choice to place. They also knew life was hard and respected my decision not to parent. Most of all, they were relieved that my adoption was open. They knew of their own love for parents who were abusive or absent or just unable to care for them and believed in their bones that no one should permanently separate a mother from her child.

I think those girls could teach us a lot.

1 comment:

Kel said...

I think you are incredible, and I hope you are feeling better and more stable. You have opened my eyes to an empathy I needed to learn. May God bless you, you are so brave.