Thursday, June 16, 2011

Life as a Birthmother

I have been a mama, a mommy, a mother, a momma, and most commonly mom, pronounced "MO...UM!!!" emphasis on the MO. When Garrett was little, I called myself Mama, but I didn't really like that spelling, so I changed it to Momma. I can't explain that to you; the Mama just seemed to me a little less noble of a title. Very rarely I have been called Mommy; probably even less Mother. I have never really aspired to that lofty title. And I don't mind being called Mom; I just wish when they called me, they spoke softer. That name of mine is almost never spoken in anything less than a shout.

But before I was that person, I had another title. I was a birthmother. And when I told that part of my life story, when it was appropriate, that is how I often explained it. I WAS a birthmother--past tense, as though at some point in my life I had ceased to be that person. It wasn't so long ago, I realized that explanation was untrue. That role of mine never ended, even after the births of my own children. While I was a mother, mama, mom, etc., I was also still a birthmother. Although that one title did not define me, it was and still is very much a part of the fabric of who I am.

I have never considered myself a tragic figure, especially in regards to that part of my life. While there are still some aspects of my adoption experience that have brought me great sorrow, and even moments relating to that in which I feel like I was wronged, I have not been held back by hurt or grief. I knew the decision I made then was the right one; I never regretted it. I do not regret it. I also feel very strongly that I have been blessed in numerous ways and continue to be blessed by my Heavenly Father because of that decision.

Still, I need you to understand something about being a birthmother. And since most of you are not birthmothers, it may be hard to understand. Sometimes good choices can bring painful consequences. Few things in life can bring that kind of exquisite joy which is cradled in a crushing anguish. Others have said that placing a child for adoption is like tearing a piece of your heart out and handing it to someone else, often a stranger, trusting beyond hope that they will care for it completely. I know in many ways this is true. And I know that while the birthmother's heart beats, there remains an ache where that part is missing, a connection which can never be broken. I think even the women who choose to walk away, who never want any kind of contact from the adoptive family, still cannot completely escape that connection.

As time goes on, life goes on, sometimes it forces you to move forward; sometimes you have to force yourself to move forward. But giving birth to a child and then giving it to someone else to raise, to love, to complete their family, even when you know without a doubt that the child belongs with that family; even then, there is no way a birthmother can move past that part of her life. It doesn't just go away. And social workers, family members, friends or others who believe that a birthmother should just forget and let go of that part of her life just do not understand. I was forced to terminate communication with my birth daughter's family because it was supposed to be for my own good. I still can't believe that even now many who work in the business of adoption adhere to this philosophy. I know in many instances, adoption agencies encourage parents who have adopted to limit communication for the sake of the birthmother. I want you to know, I have met or heard of very, very few women who had chosen an adoption plan, who actually sought limited or no communication. Most of us are jonesing for that little bit of information almost constantly. And yes, that feeling does eventually dissipate, but it never goes away entirely.

Being a birthmother is like being in a bad relationship, like that dumb boy you were in love with in high school. Do you remember that? Like waiting constantly for him to call you, and then when he does it is just to tell you that he is going to hang out with his friends. And he flirts with other girls in front of you. And you think he likes you, but sometimes he is just rude to you. He is not necessarily abusive; he just forgets and even belittles you a lot. And then he does a really nice thing for you, like offer you a ride home when you are all alone, or dance with you and talk only to you all night at the dance. But then the next day he won't even acknowledge your existence. He can make you feel lousy but when he makes you feel good, it feels Oh, so good!

That first month, after I placed Cosette for adoption, I could not get enough information. I could barely function, just waiting and wondering. Her family was very good to me. They even faxed a letter directly to the agency in the first week, so I wouldn't have to wait very long. They sent pictures for the first six months, per agency policy. I admit they weren't the best picture takers. I was jealous of the birth mom friend of mine who received gorgeous full 4x6 inch head shots of her baby boy, compared to the tiny picture of her in her father's lap with his head cut out of the picture. But I was grateful for every descriptive letter I received from them. I could not get enough. That first year of her life was full of anxious moments wondering when the next update would come.

Gradually, the letters became fewer and far between. I knew they were busy. I understood. And I ached. And I wondered. And I worried. One of my biggest fears was that her family would die in some tragic accident and she would be left without them. I had received a very strong spiritual confirmation that these people were meant to be her parents. I had felt a connection with them the moment I met them (just the once--the day they went home with their baby. Sometimes I wish we could have met under different circumstances, because at that point I had already given birth, relinquished custody, and been without her for two days, while they were anxiously waiting to finally meet their new baby girl). I recently reread some old letters and remembered the love and compassion they had then for me.

When it was time for me to let them go, my grief was as great for the loss of them in my life as it was for not being able to know what she was doing.

But I knew I was expected to move on.

I continued life with my own family. I was married when she was a little over a year old. My first son was born three years after her, and then Britt and I continued to add to our family every couple years. I remember one of the counselors at LDS Social Services told me how amazing giving birth to my own child would be, and it was, but I would be lying if I didn't tell you it was a bittersweet joy. Because it brought back all the emotions associated with that first time I gave birth.

I was able to share my testimony of adoption through working with the local FSA (Families Supporting Adoption) group. I spoke in church meetings about the blessings of adoption. I was able to work with some expectant mothers, though most often they were not willing to consider adoption as an option. This was a great part of the healing process for me. I felt like I was doing some good, although it was hard to do much in our rural community. I also always felt badly that I wasn't able to be part of a birthmother support group here, because being a birthmother is just too unique an experience for anyone to be able to relate.

And I never forgot her or her family.

When she was five, I wanted to write to her family again, but it had been almost 4 years since we had communicated. I called the agency in Logan, where I had always sent the correspondence and told them I wanted to write. The person I spoke to--there is no other way to describe it--was very rude. She said I could not write to them, and she said all I could do was contact the state registry for information, which was pointless because those records would be closed for several more years (till she was 18 or 21; I didn't/don't know which). I was devastated. I felt stupid, hurt, and most of all unvalued. I wondered why I was trying to convince other young women to make the same decision I had only so they could be treated that way.

A friend of mine who worked for the local agency here, based out of Farmington, NM, heard that I had tried to contact the agency seeking to correspond with the family. He got on the phone and called the Logan agency and told them they had better take care of me. I am so grateful for him, because I felt like the puppy, running away with my tail between my legs. I didn't want to fight the agency; I didn't want to make life difficult for them. I just wanted to check in with the family again. I missed them.

That was the last time I was able to communicate with them.

Earlier this year, I imagined the time that was coming this month, the day Cosette would turn 18. I pictured myself being something of a basket case. I knew I would try to act normal, but underneath my manufactured calm, I would be anxiously wondering if she were going to try to seek me out. I felt powerless about the whole situation, but also somewhat resigned to the fact that it was highly likely nothing at all would happen. Time would pass, and eventually I would move on to "normal" like I always do. There have been a few years in the past where I didn't get emotional or weird on her birthday, even times I almost forgot about it, but I knew this year would be different. I was even trying to figure out where I could go so I wouldn't be taking out the turmoil of emotions I would be feeling on my family.

But then a crazy, wonderful thing happened. My dear husband began working with the agency in Logan (without my knowledge) to try to orchestrate a surprise reunion. His plan was to establish contact with the family, and then surprise me with a visit to them, a surprise reunion. But he ran into roadblocks when Sandy, the director of the agency told him she didn't have a way to contact the family. Then, when he received a phone call from Sandy, saying she had found the family and spoken to them, and they were open to communicating again, and possibly meeting me, he couldn't keep the secret to himself. He was so excited for me.

And I was afraid to get my hopes up. And I had a hard time even writing the letter. I addressed one letter (it was ridiculously long; trying to make up for lost time, I guess) to the family; and another letter just to her. That was crazy difficult for me. She is not a little girl anymore. How would I talk to her? Would she hate me? Britt and my girls even wrote letters to her. I finally got the package in the mail a month after Britt told me I could write to them. Then I once again began the excruciating waiting game. . .

Then I had to give up the wait while my family went to Mexico. Her birthday would be the last day of our trip, when we were driving home. Britt had hoped we would have heard something by then. He was prepared to get on a plane in Phoenix and fly me to wherever she was, so I could see her on her birthday. I felt that wasn't very realistic, but I appreciated how much he wanted to help me with that. I was discouraged that we hadn't heard anything.

So, Britt called Logan from Mexico last Thursday. He made the expensive phone call because he wanted to be able to tell me something about the status of the whole situation. And when he broke the news to me that they still had my package at the agency in Logan and had never sent it on after the mother called and said they weren't ready to meet, I was useless. I was the terrible, ornery mother that I had hoped my children would not have to be around. I was frustrated, angry, and confused. Why hadn't the agency contacted me? Why didn't they just send the letters on, letting the family know they didn't have to respond if they didn't want to. Why did the family say one thing and then say something else completely?

And I felt so helpless.

This is what I was thinking: Birthmothers are the second-class citizens of the adoption world. We are unappreciated, under-valued, misunderstood, and even feared. I know not everyone thinks so little of birthmothers, but where I was then, that is how I felt. I have also seen it in the experiences of others. I know too many instances where birthmothers have been mistreated and misrepresented. I felt wronged. I didn't like feeling that way. But I still couldn't help but ask "why?!"

This week I came across this post about another birth mom who just met her birth son for the first time. It is an amazing, beautiful, inspiring post. But don't read it yet, you need to read part 1 first. That's where I am now. And when I look at it with that perspective, I see that maybe (and it is a big, HUGE maybe) that might happen some day for me.

The reason I say it is a maybe is because I do know a little more now. I called Sandy today myself. I told her all I had wanted was to be able to write to the family again; I was really okay if they didn't want to meet or even to write back. She explained to me that pretty soon after she spoke to the mother the first time on the phone (which she did by Googling their name), she received a second phone call saying they were just not ready to meet. And all I wanted was to be able to communicate (even anonymously) again, UGH! By the time Sandy received my package in the mail, it had been over a month since she had talked to Cosette's mother. I don't know why she (Sandy) didn't let me know anything then, but I know she said she gets really busy and forgets things. I may as well forgive her; it's not worth worrying about now. At that point, she didn't have an address for them, had misplaced the phone number, and couldn't find ANYTHING when she tried Googling her again. She promised me she will keep trying. And she helped me get the paperwork I need to be registered with LDS Family Services and the State Registry; so if Cosette herself wants to find me, she supposedly can.

Apparently, our reunion is not meant to be after all. Not right now anyway.

One other thing, I know Sandy actually slipped up and gave the mother my real name (at least my first name). So I suppose the mother could actually Google me if she wanted to know more about me before she decides whether or not to let me into their lives. Well, the only problem with that is I have Googled my real name before, and I don't actually have a presence on the internet. You would think with a unique name like that, but no.

Miracles do still sometimes happen. Pray for her family. I'll be okay. . . Just still stuck in this messed-up teenage romance. :/


LisaAnne said...

Such a bittersweet post. Reading this took me on an emotional roller coaster. I cannot even fathom how you must feel.

God bless your husband!!!

I will hope and pray for you and your dear daughter who deserves to know you.

I just cannot understand how parents who are trusted with our children can say, I just don't want a relationship with you yet.

Never once did we say to them, "Let's give this adoption thing a test run. You can keep the baby for a while until I decide if you are a good enough person."

We are expected to have unconditional trust for the family we place our child with. But we have to be gracious and thankful when we get only token attempts at a 'relationship' given back to us (if at all).

Your analogy of the boyfriend in high school is spot on!

A big birthmother hug coming from me to you. And big prayers and hope that your daughter will seek you quickly.

Dawn said...

I love reading your posts, they are real, honest and show so much of your heart.