I had never met a woman who has given a child up for adoption. Or had I? It’s very possible that I had, and it simply wasn’t something she would ever have brought up or discussed. Why is that? Why do birth moms cover up and set aside one of the most significant experiences of their lives? Why do they live in silent shame over their sacrifice?
There is, of course, a certain level of privacy and anonymity often required within an adoption. “Tread carefully” are the words that come to mind when you consider the many legal twists and turns of shifting a child from its biological parent to virtual strangers. Realistically though, especially as adoption becomes something more open, acknowledged, and accepted worldwide, one can hardly blame the silence of birth moms on legal restrictions. Their stories don’t have to include details of who or where their child is now.
Adoption agencies and adoptive parents alike talk constantly of how birth moms are heroes. Choosing to give your child a chance at life, going through the physical and emotional pain of a pregnancy and delivery so that this new human being can exist in the arms of another, accepting that someone else will be able to provide a better life for your child than you could at this time… it’s definitely not an easy experience. Heroic is not an over-dramatic word to describe these strong and sacrificial women, even more so when you consider how widely accepted and easy to attain abortions are. Yet instead of being open about and proud of the decision they have made, birth moms so often bury that part of their life and avoid discussing it, as though it is something to be ashamed of.
I made my decision to give my child to an adoptive family very shortly after discovering I was pregnant, although it wasn’t until near my third trimester that I finally fully accepted my own decision and began to pursue the adoptive process. It was a natural choice for me – I had never wanted to be pregnant and had little desire to give birth to my own children at any point in my life, being far more passionate about international adoption myself. Though I realized that I was fully capable of providing a child with their physical needs, financially supporting a child, and taking care of a baby, I feared that I lacked some essential emotional needs for parenting. I was afraid that if I gave up my immediate dreams and goals and habits to dedicate myself to motherhood in the way I should, I would end up with feelings of bitterness and resentment which could be projected onto the child. I wasn’t comfortable with the knowledge that in order to raise my child, I would have to place her in daycare or with a nanny for the majority of her young life. There were many logical reasons that parenting was not the best idea for me right now, but ultimately, it all came down to emotional preparedness. I didn’t know if I would be capable of loving a child the way a mother should, and I was unwilling to take on a lifetime of a bound-to-be-challenging motherhood with that unknown hanging in the air. I wanted to guarantee loving, supportive, wonderful parents for my child, and that meant choosing someone other than me to raise her.
From the very start, I wanted to be open about my adoption decision. I included that information each time I initially broke the news of my pregnancy to family and close friends. Later on, I didn’t hesitate to tell coworkers and acquaintances if the topic came up. Granted, my policy on sharing about my pregnancy as a whole was always “Not shouting it from the mountaintops, nor hiding it under a barrel.” I certainly didn’t want to garner the constant questions and comments that were bound to come if I shared my nine-month journey on social media, but I had no problem with discussing the experience in person with anyone who was interested.
The responses I got were, perhaps, surprising. In this entire time, through every single person I told about my adoption plan, the only truly negative response I ever got was from the child’s father. Everywhere else, the reaction was interest, curiosity, support, encouragement, positivity, and even straight-up joy. A complete stranger whom I had shared some of my story with while pinning her wedding gown at work hugged me with tears in her eyes before leaving, telling me how moved she was by the decision I was making. Coworkers wanted to know how the process worked, hesitantly asking questions until I assured them I had no problem discussing it. Even family members – who often have the most unhappy response to an adoption – ranged from silent on the subject to fully supportive. The most interesting thing to me in this is that most of these people did not know or never asked about my reasons for letting someone else raise my child. Without any explanation as to why I didn’t find myself ready for motherhood, they all assumed I was making the best possible choice for my baby and encouraged me for doing so.
I attended a birth moms’ support group once towards the end of my pregnancy and learned of some very different experiences. I was greatly saddened to hear from several of the women that three or more years out from their delivery, they still had family members – often their own mothers- who did not know they had ever given birth. One woman told about how she recently had to hide her biological daughter’s pictures and coach her son not to talk about her due to an upcoming visit from her mom. How sad and uncomfortable it must be to be living with such a secret. Granted, I’m not sure what would have gone down between me and my mother if she were still alive, so I can hardly stand to judge the fear these women have of being open with their families.
However, it still saddens me greatly that anyone is under the burden of this secret. That anyone feels they have to hide this part of their life. That anyone is afraid to be judged for their decision. Birth moms are heroes, and they should never fear shame for the sacrifice they have made. I can only hope that I am able to use my own experience to encourage more birth moms to stand up for themselves and be proud of what they have done.
I like to be ridiculously realistic and honest at all times, and sometimes, that means saying the things that don’t make me look good. So here’s some honesty: I never really felt connected to my baby throughout my entire pregnancy. I tried not to think about her as often as possible, and when I did, it was difficult to really wrap my head around her existence as a human being. Perhaps, I was making an active choice not to bond, knowing that I would be handing her to another in the end. Perhaps, it simply did not happen for me. The moments right after birth, when I held her on my chest, were an amazing experience, but I didn’t connect then either. I didn’t fall in love with her. Again, it was difficult to really understand that this person had just come out of me and was and will forever be connected to me by blood. She was just a baby, precious and delicate, but just a baby. I didn’t cry when her parents took her home a few hours later. I was glad that I could take a nap.
And I still can’t say that I truly love her. I don’t know what it would look like or feel like for me to love her.
For that reason, I feel so blessed and pleased with my choice to place her in the arms of her adoptive parents. While I’m sitting here trying to figure out how to love a tiny human being in the first place, they had already fallen in love with her from the moment we called them with the news. They didn’t need to carry her for nine months or feel her kicking or hear her heartbeat every week to love her. They just needed to know she was theirs.
The only expression of love I know how to make for my daughter is to let someone else love her.
I am a birth mother, and I am proud of that accomplishment.