A birth mother friend and I had an honest discussion about topics such as adoptive parents, imperfections, validation, and responsibility. We’d like to share this discussion with the hopes that you can take something from it.
Just to keep everyone up to speed:
I (Skye) am a birth mother in a very open adoption. My daughter, Emily, is four. My open adoption has its ups and downs, but it is going quite well.
Monique is a recent birth mother to an eight-week-old daughter in an open adoption. She is also facing concerns about her relationship with her daughter’s adoptive mother.
Skye: Monique, how do you feel about birth mothers validating the adoptive mothers of their children? By validation, I mean writing or saying statements like “John looks so happy; you are a good mother.” Or to nurture the relationship. My adoption caseworker never mentioned anything to me about validating my daughter’s mother. She only mentioned Beth validating me. I find this interesting. Your thoughts?
Monique: I have done all of the things that the counselor suggested from the beginning. I know my daughter’s mother needs validation. I guess my fear is that I will be so concerned about her feelings that I will neglect my own. I did that all through my pregnancy and after the birth.
When my daughter’s mother does call, I use that opportunity to validate her in the hope of deepening our relationship and becoming a more natural part of each other’s lives. I feel that I need to overcome my fears if I want to develop the relationship for which I’m hoping. I validate her AND let her know how I’m feeling. I don’t blame her, get angry with her, or demand that she do things my way. But I do remind her that we are both hurting and that we both have needs at this point.
Skye: Recently, I became upset at my daughter’s adoptive mom. Why? Well, the short of it was…I knew I had to confront her, again, about something I was feeling off about. I was angry because I had to be the one to say something. I did not want to, but I knew for the sake of the relationship, I had to. I felt upset because I then had to step out of my comfort zone and take a risk. I thought she needed to do her share stepping out her comfort zone! (I am sure she has). I am glad I did. I had to realize that she was, indeed, not a mind reader– and I had to put a voice my needs in order for them to be known.
Monique: I feel like birth mothers are always expected to be the strong, sacrificial ones. This feeling is only reinforced by the fact that adoptive parents can very easily break off contact altogether. Birth mothers have the most to lose, so out of fear, they have to navigate the emotional ups and downs on all three sides of the triad. If my daughter’s mother says something I don’t like, I will still accept her phone calls and letters because it is my only way to know how my daughter is doing. If I say something my daughter’s mother doesn’t like, she loses nothing by breaking off contact with me.
Skye: I hear what you are saying. I got tired of being the “sacrificial” one too. Then it dawned on me that the day I placed my daughter wasn’t the only day that I was to put my heart on the line for her sake; rather, with our open adoption, I would continuously do so over the years. For me, in reaching out to her mother in order to better our relationship, in turn, I am reaching out to my daughter.
You also said the adoptive mom loses nothing if she breaks off contact. I understand what you are saying, but remember, she does in fact have something precious to lose. She just does not see it, and may not see it until your daughter is asking those tough questions– the ones only you can answer. I believe there comes a moment when an adoptive mother realizes that she is irreplaceable … and so is the birth mother.
For some, it hits them going into the adoption, like my daughter’s mother. She has always treated me like I am irreplaceable, because I am. Others, it takes them a bit longer. Sadly, a few never come to that understanding. Your daughter’s adoptive mom is missing out on the truth that you bring something special into the relationship. A person should not tear down another’s value in order to gain value themselves. You should be loved, not just for what you have done (giving them a child to raise), but loved for who you are, and what you and only you can bring into your daughter’s life.
Monique: I thought it was so funny that you said what you did. As I wrote that post and said that the adoptive mom has nothing to lose, the little voices in my head were telling me just what you said– that she does have something to lose, but she just doesn’t realize it. I almost added it, but I thought I had done enough philosophizing about what’s best for my daughter and wanted to stick to the here and now. The fact is my daughter’s mom is not convinced that open adoption is a good thing, and she may never be. So I have to act in that reality. I do suck it up and accept that I may have to do more, but it still makes me angry sometimes.
Skye: And you have every right to feel angry! Anger isn’t a bad thing. It can be a powerful motivator. Angry people propose life-saving laws. Angry people speak out for those without a voice. Angry people get up and fight for the rights of others. The only time anger is a problem is when we stay there and dwell in it.
Monique: I just think things need to be more balanced. Both sides have very real fears, and both sides have a responsibility to honor each other’s fears and do all they can to validate each other. That responsibility allows the possibility for the relationship to flourish because, in the end, the child wins.
Skye: And you are right– there needs to be more balance in the relationship between the adoptive mother and the birth mother. However, the reality is that not everyone understands that. What do you do when you have an adoptive Mom who struggles with her own validation and insecurities? Say, “That’s her problem, I have my own worries”? Yes, you most certainly must watch out for yourself, but for the sake of your child, reach out. Go beyond, and a bit above, the responsibility you hold in the relationship. That is what love does to us– it causes us to become better people.
Sometimes it stinks. Yep. But there are times when life calls for stinky moments. There are those who rise above, to do what ought to be done, in spite of those moments. When your daughter is older, you can tell her with confidence that you did all that you could. Not for your own comfort, not for her mother’s– but for hers.
I remember when I was in my late teens and my relationship with my dad was not going too well. It seemed as if I was always the one to reach out and call him. After some time of this, I became angry that I had to be “the bigger person.” After all, isn’t a relationship supposed to be two-sided? So I stopped calling. I’d like to say my dad started to call me right away, but he didn’t. He let me down. I became even more angry.
Then God showed me what life would be like if my dad passed away. I knew then that I’d give anything just to be able to call him again! I never want to live in that kind of regret. So, I cast off my self-pity and pride and reached out to him. Gradually, he started to call me. Now, years later, we see each other weekly. Even now, tears form in my eyes because my dad is such an awesome role- model to my son, which means a lot to me as a single mom. I know now that if I hadn’t pressed on, my son would not have the relationship he does with his beloved “Papa” now.
Monique: It was also funny because my daughter’s mother and I had that exact conversation. We weren’t talking about our situation, just about life in general. I was telling her about a book I bought that I decided not to read after a few pages because the author was so angry at her mother for failing as a parent. The mother ended up in a mental institution and, at nineteen, the author physically assaulted her mother. She felt justified hurting her mother because her mother had caused her so much pain. I couldn’t stand the thought of reading advice from someone with this attitude. I told my daughter’s mother that I had thought about my own family on the way up.
Neither of my parents ever parented me, and my father still keeps his distance from the family. He will never be what a father “should” be. I could remain bitter and angry the rest of my life. I could cut them both out of my life for failing me as parents. Instead, I need to ask myself what the real problem is. The truth is I’m upset because I want a mom and dad. If I cut them out of my life, I still don’t have a mom and dad. But if I can accept that they will never be the parents I want them to be, then I get what I wanted all along. My dad still doesn’t call me, and when I call him, there’s still a good chance he won’t want to see me. But when he does, I get what I’ve wanted all along– a day with my dad. I have to accept him for what he is in order to get what I want– even if that means doing extra.
Skye: Exactly! It takes a lot of guts and maturity to accept people where they are at, especially those we love.
Monique: I think it is the same thing with my daughter’s mom. I suck it up, as you said, and do extra because I want us to have a good relationship, even if it means I make the sacrifice. At the same time, though, I will do whatever I can to try to balance things out, which means to me that I need to let her know how I feel. I can’t complain that she isn’t meeting my needs if she doesn’t know what those needs are.
Skye: Back to the adoptive parents. Many times, our children’s adoptive parents let us down and get human on us. I know many birth mothers hold a belief in their minds that the adoptive parents somehow are better than us. After all, they are the ones we looked to give our children a “better life.” They should have it all together, right? Wrong. They are learning right along with us. I am not offering that as an excuse but as a possible reason.
Monique: Lately, I’ve found myself getting very angry because of this. My anger is not directed at adoptive parents … as you said, they are learning with us. My anger is because they shouldn’t be learning with us. Yes, there are some things that no one can be prepared for, but I think there are lots of things that can be prepared for. I think the agencies and social workers and laws are failing everybody by not insisting that the adoptive parents educate themselves before they adopt.
I find it absolutely appalling that with all the information out there, things have barely changed. I also feel like the adoptive parents should shoulder more responsibility. I did not plan to get pregnant. I had only nine months to prepare. With all the strain that pregnancy already places on a woman, we are also expected to become fully informed and make all the right choices. Adoptive parents have years of waiting during which they can educate themselves.
Skye: Excellent point! Birth mother Heather Lowe touches on this subject in her article, A Birth Mother’s View of Adoption: Suggestions for Reform. She writes, ”Perhaps I seem to be hard on adoptive parents. This is not because I dislike them, but because they have all the power in adoptive relationships, and therefore far greater responsibilities. The child has no say in what happens to him, and the [birth parents] lose all rights once the papers are signed. Adoptive parents function as the gods in the adoption triad, and like the gods of mythology they can be either benevolent or terrible.”
I wish I could give you a clear-cut answer on why this is. I believe to get one, you’d have to talk to each and every adopting/adoptive parent. Many of them do not have as much time as you would think to prepare to become adoptive parents. My daughter’s parents had five weeks.
In the meantime, we can shift our focus to the adoption agencies. Personally, I am a bit untrusting of them– from my own bad experiences from two– and from what I have heard over the years on the net. I think a huge conversation about adoption agencies should be saved for another article, but I will say this– I do not trust anyone who profits from the adoption of children.
When money is involved, sometimes people do things they normally wouldn’t do. For example, *some* agencies convince the adopting parents that the unborn child is already “their” child. When the truth is the child is not theirs until/if the potential birth mother signs the termination papers. What happens if the potential birth mother decides to raise her child, which she has every legal and moral right to do? A very brokenhearted adopting couple is left in the wake trying to pick up the pieces. The adoption agencies that do this need to take responsibility for their practices.
Back to validation …
Monique: I think everyone needs to be sensitive to each other’s feelings. I agree that the adoptive mother needs validation, but I also think that there needs to be some sense of responsibility. I don’t want my daughter’s mother to call me only out of a sense of obligation. If, on the other hand, I wait for her to call simply because she wants to, I may be waiting forever. Particularly in the beginning of the relationship, both parties stay involved either out of obligation or because they think it is good for the child or them. Relationships take time to build, and the relationship between adoptive mothers and birth mothers is especially difficult.
Skye: Very true! Just recently I had to face my own “fantasy” about my daughter’s adoptive parents. When faced with their imperfections, I felt almost betrayed by them. Like, “How dare you be human!” When I pulled back all my layers of my own denial and hopeful wishes, I saw the ugly truth. When they failed, I saw it as my failure. After all, I am the one who chose them, right? When they made mistakes, I felt that my choice was a mistake, and that scared me to my core.
What did I do about it? I felt sorry for myself for a few days. Then, I got angry and closed myself off for a few more days. Then, I slowly began to understand. My choice to place my daughter for adoption had nothing to do with them at all. The foundation of my choice stood on the love I have for my daughter. I chose adoption long before I chose them. I know now that my choice to relinquish my daughter is not tainted by their imperfections, nor my own.
I had to face the fact that people are not perfect! Adoptive parents are people before they are anything else. They let you down. They say the wrong thing. They sometimes do more talking when they should do more doing. They get afraid. They act on their fears. They make promises with their emotions. They get territorial. They get overwhelmed. They make excuses. They sometimes forget the important days. They hold resentments. They are…human, after all. I certainly am no more perfect than they are!
Monique: I am angry with myself and have trouble feeling like my choice was based solely on love. It is my imperfection that led me to place my daughter for adoption. I felt guilty for being pregnant. I feel guilty because I know how difficult parenting is, and I feel like I have neglected my responsibility. I feel guilty for wanting to be in my daughter’s life even though I chose not to raise her. I hate myself for not being there when my daughter is in pain. I feel like I abandoned her, and it tears me up. I should have done more. Even though I think I made the right choice, there is no comfort in that. Admitting I made the right choice is admitting that I could not take care of her.
Skye: I said above that my choice was founded on the love for my daughter. My love for her was the foundation. That being said, there were other reasons “built” onto that foundation, like my own personal fears of my parenting ability, my own guilt and feelings of unworthiness. However, when it is all said and done, I know it was a choice made out of love, not fear.
Your wounds are still so fresh. As I read the last few sentences of your last paragraph, I long to find some sort of answer or words to comfort you with. The truth is, this is your own personal journey. Although there are many, and I am one of them, who will stand behind you, shoulder your tears, and give you some direction, your own path you must find. Know that you are not alone. There have been many that have gone before you, and many that shall follow. I find solace in knowing that by telling my story and lending my voice, I may help others who are hurting. I find my own ‘purpose’ in that.
I will leave you with this. When about to give birth to my son, I was worried that I would not be a good mother. After all, the message I made when placing my daughter was that I was not a good mother, right? Wrong. A good mother sacrifices for her children, regardless of the hurt the sacrifices bring to her own heart. When I placed Emily, it was because at that given time in my life, I wasn’t ready to be a parent. My adoption choice did not announce, “I am forever claiming to be a bad mother!”
It was then that I realized I would be, and already was, a “good mother” to my son. I knew that I had already done the best for Emily, and for my son … for the both of us, I was doing the best as well.
Monique: We do lots of things in life that are uncomfortable because we think it is the right thing to do. Sometimes the gains are immediate, sometimes the gains may never be known, but we do them because we feel that it is the right thing to do. I believe honoring the birth mother is one of those things.
Skye: I could not agree more. To love a child is to love all of that child. We cannot pick and choose which parts to love and which ones to dismiss. Who are we to make that kind of a choice? To embrace my child is to embrace a part of me. To honor my child is to honor where she came from. You cannot divorce children. Who would want to? I placed my daughter because I could not provide better for her, not because I could not love her. My daughter’s parents have welcomed me into their lives, not out of obligation, but because they realize I have just as much love to give Emily as they do. Love does not know titles such as “birth mother” or “adoptive mother” …all love knows to do is give, and give freely.
Skye Hardwick © 2002
Do not use without author’s permission.