Their name is legion, for they are many, and yet no one knows them.
A “legion,” in Biblical terms, was a Roman military platoon of 6,000 men. There are probably more than 6,000 of them in the biggest city near your town. And yet no one knows them.
You can find them if you look carefully each May. They’re lining up babysitters for Mother’s Day — for themselves, so they can survive it without incident.
Somehow, birthmothers — women who relinquished their children for adoption — never get remembered on Mother’s Day. There are no flowers, no cards, no phone calls. We don’t get mentioned in the blessings at church. People would prefer not to know us, frankly. It’s “uncomfortable” to talk about. Your family is ashamed of you and tries to sweep the whole thing under the rug. But it’s not a thing, it’s a child; and it’s your feelings and emotions that get discounted or ignored.
I have lost track of the number of people who have told me I am not a parent, and that I don’t deserve to grieve. It continues to appall me, 18 years down the road. I, too, have lost a child. It is a type of death: the death of dreams, hopes, futures. It has contributed mightily to my chronic major depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. But people think that because I made a “choice” (ask me sometime how much of a choice it really was), I don’t “deserve” to feel the way I do about it.
My son is 18 now. The agency I worked with was required to send a social worker out to observe the new family for six months after placement, and the family was required to provide a photograph for the file.
After a few photos were forwarded to me, since it was a closed adoption that was the last I heard of my son for 12 years. I carried him for nine months, spent 18 ridiculously painful hours of labor to bring him into the world, and have not seen him since he was five days old. Tell me again I don’t deserve to grieve.
Closed adoptions aren’t as common nowadays. When I held a temporary job at Catholic Charities in Milwaukee several years ago, I filled in for someone who worked in the child welfare area. You know what the child welfare area does? Adoptions.
So when I was bored, I would look through the files of couples waiting to adopt a child. Each family put together a booklet about itself, whether a young, childless couple or a family hoping to adopt siblings for a previously adopted child.
There were photos of beautiful homes and friendly, fluffy dogs and big back yards to play in. There was financial data, so the birthmom could be sure she was placing her child with a family who could afford the cost of raising one. There were pictures of grandparents and family picnics and all the wonderful things the child would get if he or she was placed with any number of wonderful families.
I got none of that.
I spent a lot of time in tears on that job.
A “closed” adoption means no one is allowed any identifying information. No names. No towns. I didn’t get to meet the adoptive parents, or pick them out of a booklet. I had to put something down on the original birth certificate, which later was court-sealed, and I couldn’t even know what my son was named, much less where he lived.
The year my son turned 12, I took my first tentative steps in asking for an update from the adoptive parents. Although they didn’t have to comply, they did, and from there on I got an update about once a year. The adoption agency mediated our communication.
In March 2004, I got an e-mail from someone asking me a question that not many people would know enough about my history to ask. It was signed, but I didn’t recognize the name. I was curious, so I wrote back. The e-mail was from my son’s adoptive mother.
Through a couple of clues and some Internet sleuthing, she tracked me down, offered to tell me anything I wanted to know, and sent me current pictures of my son. I immediately had to apologize to God for assuming he’d been ignoring my prayers all those years. I may be apologizing for the rest of my life.
Since then, I’ve developed a positive relationship with my son’s mother — for that’s who she is. I gave him life, and she gave him opportunities. Some birthmoms I know still differentiate between “a-mom” and “b-mom,” but I figure, she raised him and he calls her mom, and so she is.
I now have a photo album covering birth to age 16, courtesy of his mom. I have a roomful of pictures. I even get the occasional e-mail from my son himself.
One would think all of this would have brought me peace. It has — but it hasn’t.
I’m over 40. I’m not married, and I didn’t have more children. On one hand I resent that tremendously. On the other, I know it was a choice, if largely a subconscious one.
I can’t replace my lost child. I know I still have the opportunity to get to know him, but I can’t replace missing the first 18 (and counting) years of his life. And although I know I did the best thing for him, having 12 more kids wouldn’t have healed the crater in my heart that will exist forever.
My son plays five instruments. He has taken flying lessons and has traveled widely. He would not have had a single one of those opportunities had I raised him; I was on welfare as it was during my pregnancy and even today I maintain two jobs to support myself.
I gave him, by all accounts, a joy-filled, fulfilling life. I’m gratified he’s loved and happy and well-adjusted. But you can still find me in a corner with a box of Kleenex on Mother’s Day. And I earned it.
If you are a birthmom and would like to talk, I can be reached at [email protected]