Letter from a Birth Mom: Adoption Realities

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This morning I opened a comment attached to an old post on one of my blogs, which came from a young woman, “Erin.”  Erin is in the middle of a heartbreaking decision, and because she says she reads Catholic websites I wanted to post it here. Erin’s letter reads in part:

I am seven months pregnant and am in the process of putting together my adoption plan as I do not intend to keep my unborn son. I will be a birthmother come April. Through a series of unforeseeable and incomprehensive events (none of them having to do with alcohol or drug abuse, thank you very much, and none of them having to do w/a bad childhood, or rape, or abuse or anything like that) I became pregnant. I graduated from a Jesuit university with 3 degrees in 4 years and a semester in Rome under my belt. After graduating I spent a year volunteering as a kindergarten teacher for underprivileged children in an incredibly impoverished area of California, and then worked in a program for homeless women.

I’m not keeping my child because I want him to have a perfect start with two parents that will be present in his life and who will love him as much as I do but who can afford to provide for him better than I can right now especially because I am not in a romantic relationship with the father.

If you look into it, birthmothers are more likely to have accomplished some degree of higher education while less educated single pregnant women and other women who have dealt with abuse, drugs, alcohol etc. are more likely to keep their children. So please, out of respect for us birth mothers stop making it sound like we’ve been carrying baggage all our lives or that we have consistently made poor choices. Especially because we need to be constantly reassured that giving our child to someone else to raise is the right choice.

Thank you, Erin, for taking time to write.  As you point out, generalities can be dangerous things – perhaps this is especially true in the world of adoption.  No two adoption triads (birth parents/adoptive parents/adoptee along with their respective extended families) are exactly alike.

Because my husband and I foster-adopted, for example, some of what applies to our situation may not apply to yours.  Parents who have their rights involuntarily terminated are not, generally speaking, well adjusted college graduates.  Children damaged from years of institutionalization, abuse, and neglect and are later adopted often have ongoing educational and emotional challenges.  This, too, is reality for our situation, but I trust that because of the choices you are making now it will not apply to your child.

Yes, each birth mother is different.  Some are alone in the world, without visible financial or familial support.  Others have supportive partners and extended families.  I have two friends who made an adoption plan for a second child, knowing they did not have the strength to raise another.  In one of those cases, the judge disrupted the adoption plan and placed the child with his biological father – despite his criminal record.  I have two other friends who chose to parent, and later regretted it because of how the children were treated by the men they later married (neither of whom were the biological fathers).  All we can do is make the best, most informed decision possible at the time, knowing that there are no guarantees in family life –we just do the best we can, one day at a time.

You are absolutely right that not all birth mothers who choose adoption have a history that makes them unfit to parent.  Yours is a good example.  What I think can be safely said about all birth mothers, however, is that there must be some compelling reason to choose relinquishment over parenting.

No mother chooses adoption casually.  Open adoption advocate and birth mother Patricia Dischler writes about this in her wonderful book Because I Loved You.  After nine months of pregnancy, the bond that forms between mother and child makes relinquishment an agonizing choice.  As you point out, some women find this prospect so overwhelming that they choose to parent without realistically assessing whether they are capable of doing so.  When this happens, it is the child who suffers most.

It is also important for birth parents to consider, however, that the factors that lead a couple to pursue adoption can also vary widely.  The wide-eyed smiles and idyllic images on the agency letters are not magic mirrors into the future.  There is no telling what is ahead:  divorce, or disease, or unemployment, or pregnancy.  Like any other family, we cope with the ebbs and flows of ordinary life.  Like any other family, we manage some days better than others.

You see, we are all products of our choices, both good and bad.  And while some choices are objectively good or bad, many others cannot be evaluated fully until much further down the line.  In my darker days, I sometimes wonder if I made the right choice, choosing adoption.  While I love my children just as any mother loves her children, their particular needs can be overwhelming at times.  And like any mother, I’ve learned how to cope with those darker feelings.  The commitment we made to our children was a lifelong commitment – not an idyllic future.  After three years of fostering them, we wanted to offer them a forever family.  Not a perfect family, certainly.  But a loving, safe, and permanent one.

No matter how they come to us, our children pave the way to heaven, showing us where we need to grow in love.  And so, dear Erin, the child you carry is destined to be a source of grace.  I imagine there will be days ahead when you wonder if you made the right choice, something that will be true whether you place your child for adoption or parent him yourself.  It is clear from your letter that you are seeking to place your child’s welfare ahead of your own, and that is something really wonderful.  With that kind of love, you cannot go wrong.

May God bless you, and your child, and his future parents . . . whoever and wherever they may be.

Copyright 2011 Heidi Hess Saxton

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3 Comments

  1. I was sent here by a wonderful friend (who so happens to be Catholic, while I am not and thus would not have landed here). Big high five to Katie out there for the heads up.

    I have to tell you that your response to the comment left on this piece is pretty much, for lack of a better word, awesome. I kind of wish you would have made a bigger separation between domestic, planned adoption and foster adoption which is not-so-planned, but I think for those familiar with the issues the division is evident enough.

    The sticking point of this piece for me, however, is that you paint adoptive parents in a realistic light. I am a birth mother who, like the commenter, is educated, stable and generally well-rounded. I chose adoption, to sum it up quickly, when I was placed on Level 3 bedrest and found myself unable to work and save money for the child I was carrying. I was scared and wanted stability for my daughter. Later, her parents divorced and I was forced to realize one simple fact: There is no perfect family.

    I don’t resent her Mom for leaving her Dad; I would have done the same thing had I been in her shoes. But I work to educate mothers considering relinquishment that no family is perfect. Stability can change in the blink of an eye. (Have you seen the economy? Yikes.) Adoptive parents are not exempt from divorce, drug abuse, cancer, car accidents, death and the pitfalls of a poor economy.

    More over, open adoption is not legally binding in all states, thus allowing adoptive parents to essentially disappear after the adoption is finalized. That’s a scary reality for too many. Sadly, my agency lied to me about that fact. Thankfully, my daughter’s Mom is, in short, amazing.

    I’ve been having a private email dialogue with an adoptive mom about the realities of adoption. We’ve been talking about whether mothers who choose adoption who just so happen to be really cool people are an exception to the rule or whether they’re the silent norm. As I get to know more and more amazing mothers who chose placement, I’m beginning to think that society has painted us inaccurately for far too long. It’s my hope that my blog — and the others like it — continue to change the minds of people who want to believe we’re the evil-doers and our children are in need of saving.

    That’s my long-winded way of saying, “Thank you for acknowledging the commenter, this issue and the core issues involved in relinquishment.”

  2. Dear Jenna: Thank you for taking time to write. I hope that other birthmoms will find your site.

    What I loved most about your comment is your ability to show respect for all sides of the adoption option. Adoption is a painful topic for many people, and people in pain do not always express themselves in a way that makes it easy to listen to them. When I write about adoption, I’ve come to open comments with one eye open, waiting for a blast. Their feelings are often understandable. Just not easy to read. So I’m thankful for your kindness.

    Bottom line: While sex outside marriage is wrong, with very real consequences, God does not send children as a punishment for sin. Neither are children the property of their parents, over which the parents have “rights” of ownership. Children are gifts from God, entrusted to us for a time. Seen in this light, adoption is one way that a GOOD parent, a loving parent, provides for his or her child.

    All of us are children of God by adoption, all of us making our way to heaven despite our flaws, fears, and failures. God created families so we would not be alone on this journey, but have companions on the way.

    It is true that there are no guarantees when a birth parent places his or her child with a particular adoptive family. At the same time, not all risks are equally risky. Life happens, and sometimes terrible things happen even to loving families. But there are many, many good families that have adopted children and have raised them in loving, intact, FOREVER families. And so it would be a mistake to overstate the risk in order to pressure a birth parent to keep her child. It is prudent, on the other hand, to encourage a birth parent not to get so caught up in the image of the perfect family that she is unable to weigh the pros and cons of all her options, and make the choice based not on what makes her feel good, but on what is best for the child she carries.

    Authentic love is, first and foremost, self-donation — putting someone else’s needs ahead of one’s own. When a birth parent chooses an adoptive family, asking the right questions and actively listening can help to minimize the risk. Birthmom and open adoption advocate Patricia Dischler writes about this in her book, “Because I Loved You.” Any woman who is seriously considering adoption should pick up a copy.

    God bless you!

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