What Do You Think of My Children’s Birth Mothers?

What Do You Think of My Children’s Birth Mothers?

(An Essay on Adoption Experience, Rachel Murray, 11/25/2011)

Note:  November is Adoption Awareness Month.  For those who are adoptive parents, seeking to adopt, adoptees or anyone who cares about supporting families with adopted members, check out the Ferndale Adoption Network in this story and this story.

I’m going to get a little controversial with this note. I’m going to finally come out and say what I’ve been thinking for almost 5 years now.

With National Adoption Awareness Month drawing to a close soon, I feel I’ve done what I can to promote adoption and advocate for children who need to be adopted and who have been adopted.

But adoption involves a lot of people so I want to refocus the spotlight.  What has been most surprising to me are the questions and comments I get about my kids’ birth families, specifically their birth-mothers.  I’m hoping I can open some of your minds on the topic with this note.

Here’s my first controversial statement: If you think you “could never allow your child to be adopted into another family,” you either are not very empathic or else you don’t love your child as much as the women/ families who have made that very decision.

Let me clarify a little here.  I have had people look at me with agony in their eyes and say, “I can’t imagine having to make that decision.”  These people “get it”.  These people are sympathizing and acknowledging the difficulty and the heroism involved in such a decision.  These people get a pass from me.

It is the people who raise their eyebrows and shake their heads and say, “I could never do that” with an air of superiority, judgment and finality who I want to shake.  These people are really saying “she must be a horrible person.”  These people are saying, “I am a better parent than her.”  And that just makes me crazy because the opposite is true! In many ways, I think these women are better mothers than those who say they ‘would never consider it.’

I have come to realize that I love my children so much that I would make an adoption plan for them if I felt it was best for them.  That is how much I believe in adoption.

Now, maybe it is hard for me to imagine how bad my circumstances would have to get for me to be driven to such a decision.  But, thinking about what those extreme circumstances might help me to understand a little bit better just what factors go into such a decision for the women and families who do make the decision.

And, after watching two women who I came to love struggle with this decision right in front of my face, I know now that a woman who even considers adoption for her child is a stronger mother than many. It is easy to be a mom in convenient circumstances.  It is easy to say “I could never” when you are not struggling in some way. It is the woman who looks at her life and considers the future of her child and whether that child will have the best possible life with someone else, that is a STRONG mother. Especially when she makes her final decision, whatever that might be, in resistance to all of the many strong influences she has pressuring her from every angle.  How can you not respect that?

I want to challenge all of you to bring your assumptions about birth mothers into focus. Do you assume that she “must be young?” Or that “she must be promiscuous?” Or that “she probably did drugs or dropped out of school or has an unsupportive family?”  9 times out of 10, the first question I get about my kids’ birth mothers is, “so she must have been pretty young… how old is she?”  And, even as I feel like this is a judgmental question,I understand that people who ask are trying to understand where this woman must have been coming from. They are trying to build a picture of what a person who makes such a decision looks like.  Well, here’s what I want you to know…

You have met multiple, maybe even many, birthmothers. You probably know at least one or two well.  They are everywhere and they have every different kind of story and circumstance.  How do I know this?  Because they are everywhere I go.  Since we’ve been in the “adoption process” for a cumulative total of almost 3 years and an adoptive family for 4.5 years, adoption is a common topic for us with strangers.  And, what I find is that after talking to women for a while about our experiences and after they have a chance to see how I talk about my children’s birth families, they can see that I am safe and many women have opened up and shared their experiences with me as birth mothers.

In the last 3 months, I have talked to 4 different women who have shared their experiences.  Why don’t you think they share their stories with everyone? I think it is because they feel marginalized by society with all of the assumptions and judgments that people vocalize without a thought to what they are saying or who they might be talking to. Add this to the pain of being separated from their child for many years, and the pain of whatever difficult circumstances caused them to choose adoption in the first place, it’s a burden nobody would want to carry!

Furthermore, think about how these assumptions and flippant comments affect children who have been adopted when said in their presence.  My child is 4.5 years old now and I cringe every time someone asks me questions about him or his new baby brother when he’s around.

“Where’d you get him from?” “How old was she?” “Is she very poor?” “So the father disappeared?”  (This doesn’t even begin to list the questions that aren’t about the birth family but are still completely inappropriate.)

Children are very smart and they pick up on very subtle voice inflections and language choices.  I am sorry to say that I won’t be able to be as patient with these questions as I was when my first child didn’t understand them. From now on, I will need to be a defensive mother for my child and turn the questions back at the interrogator.  Innocent or not, they are damaging questions because of the implied judgments and my first priority will always have to be my children.

So, with this note, I hope that I can inspire you to explore and challenge your own assumptions (and we all have them… let’s face it. Even I had my own when we began our journey. The key is in being open to identifying and challenging them.)

If you think adoption is such a great thing for adoptive families, then you also have to believe that it is a beautiful thing for birth families. Of course it is difficult and there are usually very difficult circumstances that create the necessity for such a decision. But, it is a selfish and weak mother who will never even explore all possibilities because it is too difficult to imagine the personal pain involved.  It is a strong mother who rises to the occasion and makes the best choice for everyone involved with her child being her highest priority.

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