A collection of words left unspoken to our children’s adoptive mothers. From a birth mother’s heart to yours.
A pile of letters lay before me. Each belongs to a couple who remains in waiting. Each contains photographs carefully chosen. Each contains words woven together with hopes of being picked over the thousands. I cannot help but wonder how you’ve poured yourselves into each paragraph. However, profile after profile, I see the same theme: “…looking to make our family complete.”
Left unspoken: Please understand, I am not looking to make your family more complete; I am looking to make my child more complete.
You are suspicious of my reasoning for wishing to see our child yet again. It has only been two weeks since the last visit, and suddenly, you question my intentions. Fear washes over you as you secretly slide my letter into a desk drawer. Doubt begins to cloud your face as you listen to my message on the machine for the third time. You hit the erase button.
Left unspoken: Please understand, in the beginning, I am so unsure of what I have chosen. My mind continuously wonders, “Have I made the right choice?” I call not because I desire to intrude or disrupt– but when I see how loved our child is, I find some peace with what I have chosen.
At our last visit, the tears for my son fall nervously before you. As I tenderly hold him, pain laces my downcast face. In your discomfort, your gaze falls to the floor. You never knew my pain would make you feel this way. You check your watch, stand up, and announce, “Time for Jake’s bedtime.” I slowly stand to my feet, kiss him goodbye, and hand him to you. As you put him to bed, I gather my things and my thoughts.
After an apathetic farewell, I go home. Days later I get a call from my social worker. She informs me you question the benefits of our open adoption agreement. You think it is too hard on me, so maybe we should take a step back.
Left unspoken: Do not think it would be easier on me to cut off contact. When it comes to my child I do not seek the “easy” route, but what is best for him. Please, do not jump to conclusions about my emotions. I am capable of knowing when too much is too much. I cannot help but wonder if your desire to step back had more to do with your uneasiness than mine.
Another Mother’s Day passes without any word from you. Hurt and resentment wells up deep within me. Why did you not send a card, or call, yet again? I say aloud to no one, “She must think I’m not important; otherwise, she would acknowledge my own motherhood to our child.”
Left Unspoken: Please understand that I feel completely forgotten when you do not remember me on this special day. If I hadn’t entrusted my child to you, you may not be celebrating Mother’s Day this year.
Once again, you introduce me to your friends as your “special angel.” Before your guests, I blush. Even though I should be glad you think so highly of me, something deep inside squirms with discomfort.
Left unspoken: Please understand, I know you intend well, and I am truly flattered, but it makes me uncomfortable to be referred to as an angel, saint, hero, or “our birth mom.” I am none of those things. What I am is your child’s birth mother. Those are all hard titles to live up to. I am having a hard enough time as it is just being a birth mother. If you want to introduce me, please call me your child’s birth mother– for that is exactly what I am.
Tonight I went to my usual online support message board for birth mothers. I roll my eyes as I see another “Looking to Adopt” message posted. When you enter this particular message board, there is bolded-red notice that this forum is for birth mothers only. I see a hopeful adoptive mother is offended by all the posts directed to her to find somewhere else to go.
Left unspoken: Please understand, there are literally thousands of places for a hopeful adoptive couple to place their “looking to adopt” posts. And there are only a few good “birth mothers only” support forums. We need our safe place to cry, vent, and support one another. Your presence in our refuge makes us uncomfortable and some of us angry.
Most of us are not against all advertising. We understand sometimes that is how families connect. However, we are grieving our children, and your posts make us feel like former-incubators. The fact that you are willing to ignore bolded-red notices in order to have your petition known is disrespectful to our pain.
If you are just trying to convey advice to a birth mother, please do so on appropriate “triad” message boards, or email her privately. Thank you.
I found a letter from you today in the mailbox. You have sent me another batch of pictures along with a beautifully written letter. You are sure to update me on our daughter’s latest milestones. I smile bitter-sweetly. At the closing of your letter, you write, “Thank you for the gift of Jenny…” For some reason, my eyes keep coming back to the word “gift.” Puzzled, I go inside and plop down on my couch. “…gift….”
Left unspoken: Please understand, back when I was due any day, I did not clutch my swollen belly with great heartache thinking of how I was going to present such a wonderful gift to a childless couple. Do you not see? You are the gift. I gave you as the gift to my child.
I walk towards the mailbox with high hopes. You said that you would write back, but it has been months. Don’t you know what this waiting is doing to me? Finally, a letter! Oh, you say you have been too busy to respond earlier …and here are a few pictures. Hmmmm. The pictures looks a bit out-dated, and in most of the pictures my child has red-eyes or is out of focus. This isn’t what I agreed to in our open adoption agreement!
Left unspoken: Please understand, that a birth mother’s time of waiting may be different than yours. You may be busy, and suddenly two weeks fly by and you still haven’t answered her email. But to her, it feels like months. To those who wait year after year for promised contact, it feels like an eternity. Can you really be too busy to write a letter four months solid?
Another note: Do not be afraid to send the “cute” pictures to me. Trust me, I will not rush out to snag my child from your arms at the first glance of a cute picture. To me, seeing the cute pictures only reassures me that my child is well-loved, happy, and taken care of. So, keep ’em coming!
You tell me that you wish to end the visitation we have with one another. You give me the now-infamous excuse, “I don’t want her to be confused,” but I am not buying it. Finally, you cave and admit to being afraid. Afraid of the future, afraid of the unknown…afraid of me.
Left unspoken: Afraid? You think I do not know about fear? Believe me when I say I know fear all too well. Do not think for one moment that I was not afraid! Fear was a constant companion on my adoption journey, but still, I forged ahead in spite of my fear and found courage. I kept in my heart the knowledge that I was doing what was best for my child– why can’t you do the same?
Open adoption shouldn’t be based on your fluctuating feelings, nor mine. The openness was for our child’s sake. Your fear is a reason, but never an excuse. I could have easily kept my child because I was too afraid. But then, that would not have been beneficial– for I would only be looking at my own interests, not his. When you become a mother, any kind of mother, it stops being about you.
Never, never, never think I was not afraid. As I placed my firstborn bundle into your waiting arms, do not think I was not afraid, for I was terrified! When you think of all that I have asked of you … think for a moment what you have asked of me. My child.
You send me an email telling me that I cannot meet your extended family, yet again. “They are just not ready to accept our open adoption,” you say. I know you try and try to convince them that I am not a threat, but they all have their pre-conceived notions about birth mothers. “Most likely from talk-shows and soap operas,” you say, “is where they have learned about adoption.” However, I can sense you pulling away from me. Is it possible? Are you actually buying into what they are saying?
Left unspoken: Please understand, the choice lies before you to allow others to talk you into fearing me and my involvement. You can listen to those who are not touched by adoption, spout off advice based on their own misconceptions and stereotypes, or you can take hold of your fear and challenge it. Do not let others make choices for you. Take hold of your life and claim your own choices.
While visiting an online adoption-related message board, I see a post by a new member who is an adoptive mother. As I am reading her story, I skim to a particular paragraph. I exhale loudly as I read her words:
“…Others question if I am the real mother, but I tell them I am the one to change the diapers, to kiss boo-boos, wake early, and to buy clothes.”
Left unspoken: Please understand, once and for all, I did not place my child because I could not change a diaper, nor did I place her because you could. For the record, I can change a diaper– even the stinky ones. Like you, I can wake up with morning’s first light. I can tenderly kiss boo-boos and although money is tight, I could also obtain clothing. I did not place my child with you because I wanted you to become the “real” mother.
I placed her with you because you could give her what I could not at that given time. I could give her shelter, but I could not give her direction. I was still struggling to find my own way. I could give her hugs, but I could not give her proper discipline. I am still trying to find order in my own life. I could give her love, oh, I could give her love …but I could not give her the best.
Claiming to be the “real” mother takes from one and gives to another. Do not tear me down and belittle my sacrifices in order to build yourself up. You have sacrificed, and I thank you, but I signed my parental rights away, not my right to love her ..and not my right to be her mother by birth.
Besides, a mother who is secure in the valuable role she has in her child’s life does not feel the need to defend herself, nor does she consider the thought of losing it to anyone else.
“Should I say something?”
“It isn’t my place.”
“What if they cut off contact?”
“I will only look foolish.”
“I don’t want to upset them.”
“If they only knew…”
Words left unspoken. This article was written in hopes of giving other birth mothers a voice. Of course, I can never, nor do I wish to speak for all birth mothers. Each has their own story, and they have a right to tell it. All too often, a birth mother will remain silent, although her heart speaks volumes within her. Questions and doubts battle through her mind as she seeks the courage to speak, or the grace to not.
The title of birth mother, none of us dreamed,
but it is our reality all the same.
Cast down the stereotypes, and gather up your strength.
No longer be ashamed, take what is yours…your dignity reclaimed.
Look for the healing, restoration, and recovery.
Rise up armed with hope– give voice to your pain
To my birth mother sisters, may the truth set us free.