Sunday, January 02, 2011

Letter from a Birth Mother: Adoption Realities

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.


Heidi said...

A social worker once told me that women who choose adoption for children of unplanned pregnancies are actually more emotionally mature than those who don't. The fact that they are able to trust that someone else can raise their child is evidence, apparently.

While there is certainly diversity in everything, I believe the "stereotype" of a college-educated, emotionally healthy person, who just happens to get into a difficult situation, is very common for birthmothers. At least in today's generation.

Heidi Hess Saxton said...

That actually makes a lot of sense, Heidi. As "Erin" pointed out, many younger, less educated women (including teenagers) choose to parent their babies rather than place for adoption. I've read similar studies. Thanks for taking time to write.

Anne Marie said...

"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."

So true, and I would add that in my case my husband is a huge source of blessing, grace, perspective and support for both me and our son when we find ourselves in those darker days.

Dads matter, kids need both parents, and parents need each other.

May God bless Erin and her son.

Mirah Riben said...

Dear Erin,

"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..."

This is very noble of you, Erin.

I have been researching adoption issues for more than 30 years and you need to know that there are no guarantees in adoption. You will no doubt select prospective adoptive parents based on their bios and photos. maybe meet a few before making your final choice.

But Erin, you need to know that nothing is constant but change. The loving, committed married coupe of today is tomorrow's divorcing couple. Your child could very easily wind up raised in a single parent home despite having been adopted. You, who are currently single, may be in a stable marriage at the time theirs dissolves, with no recourse to reclaim your child because adoption is a permanent "solution" for your temporary state. People who are now strong, healthy good providers die, they become incapacitated or jobless. There are no guarantees.

You may or may not have any other children and could be placing the only child you'll ever have as there is a higher rate of secondary infertility among mothers who have relinquished a child for adoption. Again, no guarantees.

As for "proving better" in the short term and materially, yes. No doubt they will be able to afford material advantages for your child that you may not be able to at this point in time. But adoption is also a trade off. Your child may benefit from piano or tennis lessons but will have to live knowing that his mother gave him away - albeit for noble reasons.

Please read this and think very long and hard about what you are considering:

If you decide to continue with adoption, I pray you arrange an open adoption and pray it remains open, as many do not.

God speed.

Tracy C said...

I hope this is fake. Sounds like some Christian pro-adoption rhetoric.
Trading your baby in for a PHD is never the answer to an unplanned pregnancy, and having a 2 parent household doesn't take the place of losing your natural parents.

Heidi Hess Saxton said...

As can be seen here, the subject of adoption can be a surprisingly controversial one, with those on both sides holding views that leave very little room for a cordial difference of opinion.

@Tracy, no this is certainly not a fake.

@Mirah: When a parent feels FOR WHATEVER REASON that she is unable to parent, her decision ought to be respected. While I agree that if she thought she were up to the task, she should do so, I disagree strongly that she should be coerced.

Erin, if you are still reading, please know that there are many people who are praying for you and your son. Thank you so very much for taking time to write!

Mirah Riben said...

No one should be forced or pressured to parent, or not to parent.

The problem that is routinely reported is that once an expectant mom THINKS about adoption and seeks out agencies etc., she hears only positive things about it, how wonderful it is, how noble, how selfless. Well being a mother is selfless and noble too!

I simply want to ensure Erin - and any other mothers considering adoption - know ALL the facts. the good and the bad! it is the only way to make a truly INFORMED CHOICE!

No choice is without what-ifs of having taken a different path, but few choices are so permanent as adoption and few effect the lives of so many people: the mother and father of the child - BTW, wonder if Erin has discussed her decsion with him?

Two sets of grandparents are impacted by her decsion, as well as any future relationships she may ever have...and any subsequent children she may be have.

And of course the child being placed for adoption and the adoptive family. many lives. many rippling effects from one monumental choice!

Thus there is never too much information or being educated too much on the lifelong effects of such a decision.

One needs IMPARTIAL information or information from all sides with all opinions, not just those that glorify adoption!

Elizabeth Olmstead McBride said...

As an adoptive mom I second what Mirah posted. The first choice for any child is with the family of birth, that is the natural order of things. As a Jesuit educated woman I'm sure you studied natural law. Give a great deal of thought and prayer to your decision, and don't make the final decision until you have seen and held your baby.

Heidi Hess Saxton said...

Elizabeth: "Natural law" dictates that a child be born to married parents. This woman is trying to make a rational choice based on what is best for the child. Advising her to wait until she is holding the child in her arms to make the decision, while in her most vulnerable state, is not natural law but coersion. This line of thinking is precisely why so many teenagers and other ill-prepared mothers choose to raise their children even though they are incapable of being good parents.

Mirah, regarding your second post. The only person in this scenario who has ALL the relevant facts is the mother. There may or may not be grandparents or extended family, but ultimately SHE is the one who will have to parent the child. It is easy to stand on the outside and criticize. She is giving the child life ... the most important gift any person can give. Thank God for that!

Elizabeth Olmstead McBride said...

Heidi, your statement shows you are not familiar with natural law. Natural law says nothing about the marital status of parents. Erin states she is Jesuit educated, which means she has studied natural law in both philosophy and theology classes. It goes against natural law to give up one's flesh and blood. Is it sometimes necessary? Yes. Is it natural? No.

As for waiting for the final decision until birth makes sense. Until then the baby isn't real.

Heidi Hess Saxton said...

If we work from the presumption that God is the source of all natural law, then His plan for marriage and family cannot be separated from the natural goods. While family is a natural good, it is but one of many -- and not necessarily the most important(as is life, for example). When you start with an intrinsically disordered act, the "natural" end is not always the most desirable.

Nor can I concede that a baby isn't "real" until after birth. Ask any woman who has miscarried; she will tell you that the child she lost was very real indeed.

In any event, I believe that this line of argument is a luxury that (if she is reading this) Erin may find less than helpful. She needs not philosophy but compassion and prayer.

Mirah, I omitted your last comment because you quoted from a private communication. I trust you can appreciate the difference.

Jen said...

I absolutely love your comment, "Our children pave the way to heaven". Beautifully said. I agree, after fostering eight years, I think the enrichment, surrender, & love & grace that comes from these children are far more beneficial to me than any sacrifice I may make for them.
Bless you,
...because Life IS a Poem!

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