Looking back over more than twenty years I still vividly recall my first Mother’s Day. My infant son had been lovingly adopted months earlier with an amazing family and I could not help but wonder about their day of celebration. Eight months later I was still finding it difficult to embrace my new title of birthmother. Observing others joyfully recognize their mothers that day didn’t help.
With all good intentions, my parents gave me a Mother’s Day card and this action sent me into a dark hole of angst. I struggled to explain that while I appreciated their intent I did not want to be acknowledged as a mother on Mother’s Day. This was a breakthrough moment for me. I began to understand that I needed to define my role as Birthmother, find my place and my peace with it.
Placing a child for adoption is one of the most difficult decisions a person can make. Putting the needs of my child above the wants of my heart while my physical body longed to nurture my baby was not something easily managed or denied. Grief and loss brings almost unendurable pain that is difficult to discuss with others unless they have had a similar experience of profound loss.
Birthmothers often have difficulty finding understanding, sympathy and validation as they grieve a loss without regret for their decision. How can birthmothers be sad while comfortable with their decision? And how can they possibly ever achieve joy in their life journey? Most people cannot understand what appear to be counter intuitive emotions. This lack of acceptance and understanding may be the root cause for a prevailing negative attitude toward adoption as an option for an unplanned pregnancy. Unfortunately there is still a widespread belief that, for the birthmother and the birthfather, it is a difficult journey with few if any rewards.
So, how do we overcome the myths and misconceptions in order to build positive community acceptance for choices made by birthmothers and birthfathers thereby making adoption a valued decision? I believe it is through the personal stories of the love, commitment, empowerment and hope that come from making an informed adoption plan for their child.
Here are some of the life lessons that I have learned throughout my birthmother journey. If you are a birthmother or a birthfather you should know that:
- You are stronger than you realize and will not let the judgment or ignorance of others define who you are. Trust your decisions and love who you are. Be patient with others and respectfully educate and inform. Utilize a healthy support system. Stay focused and motivated to achieve your goals and you will inspire others. One day your birth child will know you as a person who overcame life-altering circumstances to make a life of fulfillment and your child will be proud.
- Show love, kindness and respect for yourself and everyone in the adoption circle, respecting each person’s role. Be thankful for and respect the parenting role of the adoptive parents. Support their style, decisions and the goals they set for their child.
- Be proud of your story. It is unique and so are you. You choose with whom and when you share it. Recognize that it is also the story of your child and his or her parents so be mindful of this, respecting their rights to privacy and respect.
- Celebrate your birthmother role on Birthmother’s Day—always the day before Mother’s Day as a symbol of being our child’s first mother.
- You are not alone. Countless women have experienced an unintended pregnancy and made a choice that is right for them and for their child. While every story is unique, adoption has a long history. Your story can make a difference in helping to remove the words shame and blame within the context of an adoption decision. It can also encourage others.
During a radio interview I recall my birth son’s mom being asked if there was any resentment toward me as the one who gave birth to her son. Her gracious response was, “no, Sheryl has been through a challenging time and our journeys have brought our families together through shared loss, grief and ultimately the love of a child. I respect her and I appreciate her.” Wow, that is open adoption.
Fast forward twenty-seven years and meet my birth son who is an amazing young man. Gentle, grounded, humble, intelligent-----yep, I am proud. His strong, caring and hardworking family provided a stable and loving home with the direction and support we all need for a fulfilling life. Today, he calls me “mom.” Initially feeling uncomfortable with this, I confided in my birth son’s mom. I explained that I did not feel that I had earned this coveted title—she had and I did not wish to diminish her role. Wisely, she explained that we are both “moms” with two distinct roles. Neither takes away from the other. Both roles are equally respected, different and special. It was important to him that he demonstrated this truth by addressing us both as Mom. And, let’s face it, it is just easier in trying to introduce the connection. This was my AHA moment….the learning keeps happening and I love it!
If you are part of a birth family we invite you to share your personal experience.
*photo c/o my good friend Robb Thompson photography