These are the stories of two women, Mary and Marlena. Both of these women share the same name: “birth mother.” However, the similarities end there.
* * *
Mary’s first child is due any day. She is very excited, as any new mother would be, but Mary is also grieved. She has made the decision to place her child for adoption.
When Mary was five months pregnant she made the choice of adoption. She looked at all her options, and felt that placing her baby with another family of her choosing would be best for her child.
Soon Mary was looking at new families for her child. It was a heartbreaking experience: looking at the faces of the childless women before her. Who would be her child’s new mother?
She sat searching for some sign from God about which family would raise her baby. She looked over letters that boasted of high incomes and fancy homes, but Mary was looking for character, not material possessions.
A photo caught her eye. It was of an older couple eating peanut butter sandwiches at their kitchen table. Mary smiled for the first time in days. She read their profile and knew in her heart that this was the couple. Her heart was the one making the decisions lately.
* * *
Marlena’s first baby is also due any day. She is not anticipating what is to come. Actually, she feels quite the opposite. She has hidden her pregnancy from family and friends for months now. Marlena is convinced she can continue to do so for a few more weeks.
She continues her daily habits of getting high and drinking alcohol. Her mother taught her that. Marlena can’t see any point in changing her life for this “parasite.” After all, if she acts as if she isn’t pregnant, maybe, just maybe, she won’t be.
* * *
Mary is in her bedroom alone. She is sitting on her pink bedspread writing a letter to her soon-to-be-born daughter. She has chosen a name for her daughter after hours of searching through baby name books. That name is Isabel, which means ‘Oath of God’.
My Dearest Isabel,
My love for you has never wavered. My heart bleeds your name. I have chosen adoption because I love you. You deserve the best, my precious child.
I have picked out a new mommy and daddy for you. They are wonderful! We have all decided an open adoption is best for all of us, especially you! We are so excited to meet you!
I will always be there for you, even if I seem far away. I pray that you forgive me. Know always that I love you, Isabel. You are my only reason.
* * *
Marlena writes no letter of love for her child. Marlena hasn’t named her child. Marlena just goes on about life as if nothing has changed. Soon, it will be forever changed.
* * *
Both women go into labor on October 17th.
* * *
Mary is surrounded by friends and family, including the adoptive parents she has chosen, in the labor room.
The adoptive mother, Anna, and Mary pass the time by walking the halls of the Maternity Unit. They talk about their families and the future of their daughter. They look at the tiny bundles nestled in the nursery. Mary feels good about her choice.
* * *
Marlena is in her basement alone. Her mother is passed out drunk upstairs and her father is once again out of town on a “business trip.” She tries not to panic. Marlena can’t just tell her parents now! It is too late. She knows what she must do.
The contractions are coming very quick and hard. She shoves a towel in her mouth to stifle her screams as she pushes with all of her strength.
Marlena gives birth to a tiny baby boy on the cold cement floor of her basement.
* * *
After 24 hours of labor, finally, Isabel is here! Mary is the first to hold her tiny daughter. Tears fill her eyes as she gazes upon her pink newborn daughter.
Mary looks over at Anna’s face. It is just as radiant as Mary’s. “Come and meet your new daughter” Mary says to her.
Ever so gently Mary places the child into her new Mother’s arms. “She is yours,” Mary says, fighting back tears. “No,” Anna says, “she is ours.”
Flowers in hand, Anna’s husband, Tom, walks in, smiling ear to ear. He walks right to Mary and kisses her glistening forehead. “Want to hold her, Tom?” Anna asks. “You bet!” Tom replies as his wife hands him the baby. “God has heard our cry and granted our petition, for this we are thankful.” Tom proclaims.
Together they all celebrate their daughter’s new life.
* * *
Marlena cuts the child’s cord with a razor from an old leg shaver she found in the bathroom. She is thankful he is so quiet. Quickly, she wraps her son in a white towel.
Marlena cleans up the blood and throws her soiled clothes into the washing machine. She dresses into fresh clothes and picks up the towel with the child inside. She creeps slowly upstairs and out the back door.
The night air is unseasonably warm. She runs over to the dark grocery store across the street. Marlena prays no one sees her.
With caution she walks up to the dumpster, the child still in the bloody towel. Marlena is numb as she places the wheezing boy into the trash. She places an old newspaper on top of her still son. Without any emotion, she turns to leave.
* * *
Bob is relaxing by the television. Suddenly, he is disturbed when he swears he hears a baby crying outside his window.
Finally, he investigates. Bob is surprised to find a baby wrapped in a bloodied towel in the trash. “May God have mercy,” he mutters. “Joyce, call 911!”
* * *
Two months later Mary is visiting Isabel and her new adoptive family. She is welcomed in their home and hearts by family and friends of the adoptive couple. Mary giggles as Isabel’s new dad shows Mary how he can change a diaper with only one hand.
When she gets home she looks at some pictures and grieves over the child she placed lovingly for adoption. Her tears are bittersweet. Mary is mourning her loss, but she is rejoicing in her child’s gain.
* * *
Two months later, Marlena is standing trial for the abandonment of her child. She gets probation for five years and is forced to go to counseling. Marlena’s mother tells her she is disgusting.
Marlena just wants it to go back to the way it was before she was pregnant. That is all Marlena has ever wanted.
* * *
Marlena and Mary both are called “birthmothers” by society. To me, and many other birthmothers as well, this is an insult to the sacrifice and the very love it took to make the choice to place our children for adoption.
You can see the love Mary had for her child. To ensure her child’s best interest, Mary made what she felt was the best choice.
You can also see the lack of love Marlena had for her child and herself. She didn’t put either of their best interests into consideration.
I have asked myself time and time again why some still look down on me for my decision to place my daughter. Could it be they do not see me, but instead they only see the latest news story of the “birthmother” who dumped her helpless newborn in a trash can?
I feel I should not have to share the same label as these women. We certainly do not share the same love for our children. Why should we share the same name?
I placed my child for adoption. I did not “place” my child into a trashcan. I did not “place” my child in intensive care so that the State had to step in. I literally “placed” my daughter in the arms of her new mother.
When I think back to the time when I was pregnant with my daughter and all that I went through to ensure her future … when I think of the tears I have shed and the brokenness I have felt … why shouldn’t I be enraged when I am put in the same box with women who leave their babies for dead?
You may be wondering what the solution could possibly be. I am wondering the same thing myself.
I choose to make a distinction by referring to myself as a “Birthmother,” not “birth mother” in my writing. “Birth mother” says to me “Label,” while “Birthmother” says to me “Title.”
Look closely at the term “birth mother.” It is made up by TWO words: “Birth” and “Mother.” Birth is one of life’s most beautiful events. “Mother” is one of life’s most beautiful roles. Separated from each other only draws attention to the fact that not every woman can give birth, and not every woman that does is a “mother.”
But put them together and what do you see? Birthmother: an honorable title for the woman who gave birth to a baby that she loved so much that she did everything she could to ensure her baby would have the best life possible.
Birthmother and fellow Themestream Contributor Jennifer said this to me on this subject:
“Eric is a precious, healthy, pleasant, and adorable baby. Greg and Michelle are the wonderful, loving, honest, and caring parents I gave to him in an open adoption. When I return from a visit and stare at his beautiful photographs, I want to be able to run to the nearest mountain top and share the pride and joy I feel in the family that I helped create.
“Fear, however, keeps me silenced. Because I fear that the loving, heart-wrenching, and selfless decisions I have made will quickly be overlooked and be replaced by a stereotype. A stereotype that labels me as an irresponsible, immoral, dirty, or scandalous person.
“Worst of all, I fear that people will think I don’t love him: that I ‘gave him away.’ So, for now, I will stay quiet. And when society is ready to praise my title as a ‘Birthmother,’ then I will climb to that mountain top and spread my good news of love, beauty, pride, and joy!”
Ultimately there is no one thing we can do to change society as a whole. Keep in mind that what makes up a society are the people, one by one. What makes up people are their hearts and minds, which somebody can reach, one by one.
My ultimate goal for this article and each article I write is to educate, to break the stereotypes, and to tear down the walls of silence and shame.
Let us know what you think about the stereotyping of birthmothers and how we can change society’s view of them.
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[Author's disclaimer: The women, Mary and Marlena, that I featured in this story are completely fictional, yet many have walked paths similar to these two women's.
I am certainly not judging the women who find themselves in a crisis pregnancy and make the wrong choice and abandon their child in various places. It is not my place to judge.
I also commend the women who realize they are hurting their children and release them to be adopted. This takes guts. I also commend the people who adopt these children and allow an open adoption. That takes guts as well.]