Up until recently, I was, what I like to call an “in the closet” Birth mom. I, at one time was an open adoption birthmom. That changed ten years ago, when my sons adoptive parents closed the adoption with no warning. I had always been fairly open about being a birthmom, and about my open adoption, but what I mean by “in the closet” was that, I pretended a lot. On the outside, I spoke the “isn’t adoption wonderful” rhetoric as I was groomed to. But inside I was dying. I felt guilty for not feeling “grateful”, or “happy” that my son was being raised by another set of parents. See here’s the thing, I have a far-reaching perspective on adoption. My family has in some way been affected by adoption for close to 100 years. I’m the third generation.
Let me explain a moment because this is my first post, and my whole story is not up yet. My grandmother(on my dad’s side) was adopted. She was adopted in a time when adoptions didn’t happen often, and when public opinion on adoption was not favorable. Children who were adopted back then (1900-1925) were viewed as “undesirable” because they may be “tainted” by their genetics. In my grandmothers case, this was overlooked because her mother, my great-grandmother, had died in childbirth. Or so the story went. My grandmother was then adopted by a doctor and his wife, who were unable to have children.
She grew up with all the right words. She never failed to mention how “grateful” she was to have the life she did, and how she “got everything she ever needed or wanted” growing up. She was brought up in a time when it was “disrespectful” to go in search of ones roots, and that the parents you had were the only parents you would ever have. Her and I had many conversations about her adoption. I found it interesting that she had what we call these days a “semi open” adoption. Which means that, letters were exchanged between the adoptive parents and natural parents. She always knew her birth fathers name, and when her parents passed away, she did go in search of him, and found him happy to meet with her. She also found that she had a half-brother and two half sisters from her birthfather’s second marriage. When she met her birthfather for the first time, He looked at her and said in a choked up voice, “you look just like your mother.” I don’t know if she ever saw him again, but I do know that his wife and my grandmother did sent cards in the mail for holidays.
My great grandfather’s words echo in my head now and then. “you look just like your mother.” I’ll tell you why. I will never know what my great-grandmother looked like, but I have an idea. I see her face when I look in the mirror everyday. My grandmother looked like her mother, my dad is the spitting image of my grandmother, I am the spitting image of my dad, and my son is the spitting image of me. Four generations of my family have a very distinct look. Most predominantly in the eyes. We all have the same eyes. It’s a family trait, passed through all this time, and I will never know where it comes from. I identify with adoptees when they say they don’t know “who” they look like. I wasn’t adopted, no, but on my dad’s side of the family, because of adoption, I will never know “who” I look like either.
My grandmother was a wonderful lady. I appreciate her more and more as I grow older, and I have so many things I wish I had asked her. Shortly before my grandmother passed, when I was pregnant with my second child, I started to search for her birthfather. She had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s by that time, so time was of the essence. I got as much info as I could, and after a few “false starts” I was able to find his marriage records, his death record and also, my great grandmothers death record. I had always been told that she had died in childbirth, but her death happened 2 months AFTER my grandmother was born. She didn’t die IN childbirth as we had been told. I dug deeper.
I was able to get a medical certificate of death, and her death was listed as, in layman’s terms, an infection from childbirth resulting in septicemia. Antibiotics (which weren’t around then) would have been the difference between my grandmother being adopted and staying with her family. Something so commonplace now, is the reason my family was separated by adoption. The agony my great grandmother must have felt, being sick and fighting to stay alive so she could raise her daughter. I started to wonder why no one from their respective families came forward to take my grandmother in, but I will never know now. Everyone who was around then has passed away, and I am left with the mystery. That’s the thing with adoption, it always leaves more questions than answers, like the tombstone. More on that later.
In the late 60’s a 15yr old girl found herself pregnant. This piece in time was called the “baby scoop era”. This was when, between the ravages of WW2, and the era of “free love” many women found themselves pregnant. There was a boom in the adoption industry at this time, and word on the street was being pregnant outside of marriage was shameful and had to be kept a secret. My mother’s pregnancy was a secret….and she was wisked away to a Salvation Army maternity home (also called an unwed mothers home) to give birth just two weeks after her 16th birthday. Her baby, my older half sister was adopted out and the adoption was closed. Mothers of that era were told not to look for their children, as to “not disrupt” their lives. Some mothers were even made to sign papers saying they promised never to look. She never did look. She was told to go home and to “forget” it had ever happened. A peculiar thing happened while she was in the hospital, but I didn’t hear the story until I was in the hospital relinquishing my own son. A nurse had been sympathetic to my mother, and before she left the hospital, she gave my mother a gift. It was a brandy snifter. On it’s own it wouldn’t seem like much, but the symbolism now doesn’t escape me. You see, When you are a birthmother in a closed adoption, you don’t know if your child is alive or dead, happy or sad and that wears on you. It eats at your heart and your soul, that nagging pain that never, ever lets up. It’s made worse when you can’t tell anyone that you have a secret, a secret that’s shameful. My mother went on to marry my dad and have two more children. I was the oldest (or so I thought), and I have a younger sister. That also makes me the first “kept” child after an adoption. Stay tuned on that, it’s very significant. I have lots to say on that.
The point is, that all this adoption stuff happened BEFORE I was born and yet, it seeps into every facet of my being. Adoption is a muti-generational curse. Like a ripple in a pond, it affects generation after generation whether they are aware of it or not. There are branches of my family tree that are incomplete. I have no medical knowledge from that side of the family. It makes me really, really sad. It also fuels me. It fuels my need to know, to keep looking, to somehow in my lifetime right these wrongs. I am the chain breaker, I am the one who will find all the pieces and put my family back together. If I can help it, Adoption will never happen in my family again.
Even though I had known that I had all this adoption history in my family, I didn’t really think about it. That is, until I became a birthmom myself almost 20 yrs ago. I started to think about it because when I had my son, and was filling out his family history, the birthfather side of his family tree was blank. Not because I didn’t know his father well, I did. It’s just that, his birthfather is an adoptee in a closed adoption. My sons birthfather, as of yet, has still chosen not to search. I know he wants to, he has told me so. Underlying his need to know though, is his fear. Fear of what kind of Pandora’s box he may open by looking. He was never told he was adopted. He found out quite by accident when he found his adoption papers. He was 11 yrs old. When he asked his parents about it, he was told that his birthparents didn’t want him, and so they adopted him when he was 11 days old. This led to a deep self loathing, and a fear of knowing who he “really” was. He felt thrown away, like trash he said. This conversation has shaped the rest of his life. There’s much more on that later too.
My son and I had a open adoption. He has always known he was adopted. The reason I went with open adoption is because I wanted my son and I to be able to have a relationship. I never wanted to go through what my own mother went through in a closed adoption, not knowing, and after seeing what my sons birthfather went through questioning his very existence, I wanted my son to always know me, and to always know just how very much I love him.
I was very unprepared for the absolute agony I would be in after losing my son to adoption. I had been told that it would be hard for awhile, and sometimes I would feel sad, but it was all a sham. Losing my son to adoption killed a piece of me. That piece is not there anymore, I know because I’ve spent almost 20 yrs looking for it. I know that I felt “more whole” although not completely, when I was able to hold my son, to hug him, to smell his hair and kiss his little cheeks. The thing with open adoptions is that they can be closed at anytime, with no warning. Openness agreements, where I’m from are not legally binding. This means that his adoptive parents could close the adoption whenever they wanted, and they didn’t have to give me a reason. Even though we had a contract which had been almost followed (meaning parts of of our contract had been dropped by them as time went on) for ten years, there was no telling if or when his adoptive parents may change their minds about the visits I had with him. That had me walking on eggshells. I had to be the “perfect” birthmom, and I always had to agree with them. I could not ever speak up if I didn’t agree with something. The balance of power was always in their favor. When my daughter was a few months old, she and I were visiting my son. His adoptive mother sat me down and told me that “we’re closing the adoption, you’ve had another child now and you don’t need to see him anymore.” Just like that. I was asked to pack up my stuff and to go wait outside for a cab. I wasn’t able to even say goodbye to my son. There are no words to describe how I felt that day. Nothing touches the pain I was in, and still am in today.
I kept telling myself for years that he would be 19 one day. I had fantasies that on his birthday he would just show up on my doorstep, call me mom, and tell me how much he’s missed me. I knew on some level that it would never happen that way, but that fantasy kept me going, one foot in front of the other when I had nothing but hope to hang on to. How do you lose your child not once but twice? When that day came and went, I became very sick. Unresolved trauma affects every level of every system you have running in your body. I have a lot to write on that as well, but later. I knew if I didn’t do something quick, that nothing ever was going to bring me back and I would be lost forever. I knew, if I didn’t reach out, Adoption would be the end of me.
I had been silent about my feelings on adoption as it related to me. I didn’t know any other birthmothers. I was alone. I started to look online, and I found the site that saved my life. http://www.adoptionbirthmothers.com/ I found a woman, who like me, is a birthmother. I started to read through her posts, and I cried and cried and cried. For the first time in my life, I felt validated. that I wasn’t alone in my feelings. Even as I write this now, the tears are streaming. Every.single.word. I could have written. I had come home. Thanks to Claudia, I have now found a massive group of birthmoms online that I speak to everyday. Every day I feel stronger. Every day, I am grateful I have found this amazing group of ladies in which my tattered, aching soul has found a soft place to land. If you are affected by adoption as I have been, I am here for you. I invite you to reach out to me. YOU ARE NOT ALONE.
My life feels like it’s coming together. I’m finally writing, like I’ve always wanted to do. I thank the ladies I have met online for the encouragement to do so. I never thought I would be writing on adoption, but I’ve come to realize that my experiences, thoughts and feelings have an impact. When I really sat down to think about just how much adoption has affected my life, I just knew I had found my calling. This is the first post of many, and it lays the groundwork for my blog. Welcome to my life.