Regret from a Birth Father

Why I relinquished a son to adoption,
and why I never would again
~ Ridghaus

Today’s blog is thanks to a sharing by Amber Moore Jimerson. You can read the full, original story there. I have edited and condensed it for this blog.

One of the biggest mistakes I ever made was relinquishing my son to an adoptive couple. I would not find the words for the feelings surrounding my decision, until I experienced more life, had other children, left Evangelicalism, and discovered my own adoption story.

I had taken a job working for a Christian church in a neighboring state. Then, I received a phone call from Angie, my ex-fiancé’s best friend: “Becky is pregnant.” So, I left the job and returned to Becky in Kansas with hopes of reconciliation. Growing up in an abusive, alcoholic family, I wanted something better than I had, something more stable. I wanted to give our child a chance at the happiness neither of us had growing up. Despite a sincere effort, I couldn’t stay in the relationship, even for the benefit of this unborn child. After a month, we broke up again.

Back at my home church, the youth pastor’s wife contacted us to say that her sister, Colleen, and husband Brian, were looking to adopt. Colleen brought a hopefulness edged with caution; she’d experienced several miscarriages and a couple of adoption attempts which fell through. That first meeting and subsequent meetings went well, and we felt moderately comfortable about them raising our child.

I chose adoption because God could redeem our “sin” as joy for this stable couple. I chose adoption because they paid the medical bills. I chose adoption for a clean slate. Except, over time, I learned there is no clean slate. A couple wants to experience parenthood, and they will look into the eyes of the crisis couple and convince them to relinquish their child because parenting is tough. “Please give your child to us because we want one, and it will be too difficult for you.” Separation creates trauma, and trauma rewires the brain.

Brian left Christian ministry and the family when his adopted son Zach turned 11. A stable family is only a momentary snapshot. Brian leaving couldn’t be anticipated, but nevertheless that negated a reason I chose to give him up.

The clincher – when Zach turned sixteen, I found out that I had been adopted. It turned out to be unexpectedly important to meet my own biological family. My mother’s voice sounded like a song I’d always known and never heard. Watching my father shift tools easily from right to left and back to right handedness brought to mind a moment when I was 11 and my adoptive father asked, “how do you do that?” I had no idea that what I’d done was unusual.

I was reminded of a line from Ron Nydam’s book “Adoptees Come of Age” – “Adoptees are always re-creating the circumstances of their relinquishment.” My biological identity is a part of my identity, one part among others, and its importance to me took place by affirming that I came from somewhere, from someone, who did things kinda like I did them and who looked a bit like me.

Early spring 2011 when Zach turned 21, I asked him, “If you’ve ever wondered the question as to whether I’d do it again, I wouldn’t.” Zach replied, “I think I’ve always wanted to know, but I couldn’t find the words to ask.”

I chose to relinquish my first son into adoption over temporary pressures, largely financial, some cultural, Christian mindsets and expectations, and a general concern I wouldn’t be able to escape the poor parenting models I received. The backward glance has greater clarity.

I have told my children that if any of them were ever in my previous situation of facing an unplanned pregnancy, I’d want them to come to me. He had relinquished a son at age 19, and then later, at the age of 35, learned that he himself had been relinquished and adopted. He would want his children to tell him. He would tell them that they have his complete support and that he’d never let them adopt away one of their own children.

Actually Birth Mother Fits

Me and my Sons in 2009

I’ve been thinking about writing on this topic recently and having learned that today is National Sons Day, I decided it was appropriate for me to just go ahead and write about my thoughts.

In adoption circles, “birth mother” is no longer the preferred term for a woman who gives up her child to be adopted by strangers never to see that child again. These women increasingly prefer first or natural mother for their role in their birthed children’s lives. For many, some kind of reunion takes place after the child has reached an age of maturity. Such reunions are becoming common place. Some are happy and others are heart-breaking.

When I embarked on my journey to discover my own genetic roots back in 2017, I really didn’t know much about adoption. In fact, it was the most natural thing in the world for me and my sisters because both of our parents were adopted. They really had almost no idea of where they came from and varied from one to the other regarding how they felt about the situation. Now I know what my parents didn’t know the day they died, I know who their parents were and a bit about each one of them.

Back in 1998, when my husband and I celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary, he surprised me with the announcement that he wanted to become a father after all. I had become a mother in 1973 within my first marriage. He had always been glad I had been there, done that, no pressure on him. Now he was instigating the unthinkable and it proved to be almost undoable as well. We tried all of the advice and used ovulation predictors but could not achieve success. A nurse practitioner in my GPs office referred me to her own OBGYN who delivered the good and bad news to us. I had an egg developing that would prove to be my very last. He gave me a shot of something or other to give it a boost but to no avail. At that same initial meeting he told us there was another way for us to become parents – donor eggs.

We found our donor and everything was simply agreements between the three of us. The first son was the only successful pregnancy out of 4 that the doctor tried to assist that year. We had no idea he had so little experience. We also never anticipated that inexpensive DNA testing would come along or prove so popular and accessible. While still in the maternity ward, recovering from a necessary c-section due to me being positive for hepC to prevent transmission to my baby, my husband was already saying – “Let’s do it again.” We had some leftover embryos and tried that but it failed.

We weren’t certain our previous donor would agree to “do it again” but to our undying gratitude she did and we were by then at a very experienced clinic in Las Vegas with a doctor who’s reputation for success was very reassuring and we did – succeed. We now have two sons that are fully genetic and biological siblings and they are wonderfully close and appreciative of each other. Each one has some of my husband’s traits but each one is also very individualistic. The older one has an artist’s soul and has gifted us with many dvds starring himself and his brother as reminders of their childhood days. The younger one turns out to have a genius IQ and a natural aptitude for composing music and takes to all things computer oriented like a fish in water.

Thankfully, we never hid the boys method of conception from them but we never made a big deal about it either. We have visited with the donor on more than one occasion but distance and financial constraints have prevented us from getting together for quite a few years now. Enter Facebook. Thanks to social media I remain in contact with her and the events that take place with her and my son’s half siblings born to her. I show my sons photos of them when appropriate.

One day, I discovered she was doing 23 and Me. I had also done that DNA testing as had my daughter and my nephew and assorted relatives from my original grandparents that I have since made contact with. So that year, I gifted my husband with a 23 and Me kit. Then with the older son turning 18, I gifted him with a kit and decided to go ahead and gift the younger one as well, so that all was reconnected on a genetic basis. This also allowed us to reiterate the boy’s conception stories to them now that they were mature enough to understand them fully.

So, this brings a unique circumstance into all of our lives. At 23 and Me, the egg donor is shown as the boys “mother”. Neither myself nor my daughter nor any other genetic relatives of mine are shown as related to my sons. Only the younger one has expressed any sadness that we are not genetically related but the truth is, they simply would not exist nor be who they are any other way and they have a happy life as near as I am able to judge that. We have a happy family as well. Generally, I’m not very public about this because I don’t want people to be cruel to my sons but it is the truth and I am able and willing to face that. The egg donor is available now to each boy privately via the messaging system at 23 and Me, if the boys want that, and I’ve told them both she is willing to receive any contact they wish to initiate. She has always shown a caring perspective about them, while understanding with phenomenal clarity about her limited role in their lives.

So where does that leave me as their mother ? Birth mother fits pretty well because by golly I carried each boy in my womb for 9 months and they each nursed at my breast for just over a year. We have never been separated as mother and child such as occurs in adoption. I am the only “mother” they have ever known and I love hearing them refer to me as “mom”. We are very close, I do believe, though the older one is now 20 and forging a bit of independence. We did not fully foresee all of the ramifications of our decision to conceive them at the time we made that decision – we were not inclined to adopt someone else’s baby – and so, we used the only method available to us and I am grateful we were successful because from what I know only about half of all couples who try this method are successful.

While I may not have been fully aware of all the effects of our decision, having these two boys has been a tremendous gift. When my genetic, biological daughter was only 3 years old, I was forced by financial hardship to allow her to be raised by her dad, who subsequently remarried a woman with a daughter and together they had yet another daughter. My daughter has half and step siblings in a yours mine and ours family. I was unable to give her a family life during her childhood and by the time I married this husband she was well along into high school. Never-the-less we are as close as most mothers and daughters may be but without very much childhood history, which I recognize I have lost and can never regain.

I considered myself a failure as a mother and though I’ve done a lot of soul searching over the years, I still do feel that way in regard to my lack of mothering her. I failed her and the effects have been somewhat similar to what adoptees experience within her own life. I am grateful she doesn’t hate me for it. She seems to understand the situation I found myself in at the time. What these boys have given me is proof that I am not a failure as a mother and for that I will always be grateful. It is my hope my sons will always be grateful for the life they have. Some donor conceived persons struggle with their reality. I understand this now, though I didn’t know then what I know now about so many of the messy complications of life.

The Correct Terminology

My mom was adopted.  She referred to my maternal grandmother as her “birth mother”.  My mom died in September of 2015, but if she were still alive, I would not have attempted to correct her own terminology. There is no way for me to second guess the meaning an adoptee or a such a mother may place on the role of that event in their lives.  I am not either one.

Certainly, a woman who has given up a child for adoption is going to have a preference.   How she might be identified by others would matter to her.  After I began learning who my genetically related grandparents actually were (both of my parents were adoptees), I soon learned that in the mature adoption community “birth” mother is no longer considered the best choice when referring to any woman who gives up her child for adoption.

An adoptee might refer to her own self as a “surrendered daughter” but never as the “birth daughter”.  Many times, her mother will have had other children subsequently, who she did raise.  That mother would not call those children her “birth” daughter or son.  When an adoptee goes into a reunion with the woman who gave birth to her – to that woman – she is the mom, though one who lost one of her children for a little while and now has her child back in her life.  I understand such a sentiment.  I lost (physical custody of but never legal custody of) my daughter for a little while during her childhood.  I am grateful she is still in my life and accepts me.  Very often, the adoptee (and this was true for my own daughter as well) will be expected by BOTH mothers to refer to them the same way, ie “Mom”.  My daughter did not call her other mother “step-mom”.  The adoptee (or my daughter for that matter) has no difficulty in keeping the two of them separate in her own mind.

I believe such issues are the truth for every person who’s family dynamics are complicated.  Everyone who has been a part of that person’s life is “real” to them.  My relatives due to the adoption of my parents – the grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins – were always “real” to me.  Duh.  Hello?  They live and breathe (or did, if now deceased).  No one is more or less real than anyone else is.  Everyone who was involved in an adoptee’s existence and their nurturing on this earth is “real” I do not refer to the people I now know were my grandparents (deceased) or the still living aunt or cousins (who I have been fortunate enough to locate and meet) as “real”.  But they are my genetic, biological relatives and the adoptive ones are not.  This is a fact of DNA.

What the terminology I am highlighting here is intended to be focused upon is referred to as person-first language–a way of speaking about others that puts them first.  In this regard, how we refer to someone else is informed by following their cues or asking them how they identify.  This is being considerate or respectful.

So I did learn new terms when it came to referring to the people I am in community with in an adoption related group (all aspects).  I now refer to parents who adopted children as “adoptive parents.”  And so, now I call the people who raised my parents (who I viewed as my grandparents for over 60 years of my life) as the adoptive grandparents.  I call parents who have surrendered children “original parents” – or the “original mother” or “original father” – the people who were the ones who conceived and gave birth to my parents, for example.  “Adoptive” and “original” are the terms that make the most sense to me.  I feel they are the most accurate in general and totally clear as to their reason and meaning.

The truth is that “birth parent” is still the most commonly recognized term for those not steeped in the issues around adoption.  Too often, adoption places an overwhelming importance on the role of original mothers for their reproductive ability because this enabled someone, usually an infertile couple, to have a child to raise.

I believe that ALL original mothers matter to their sons and daughters. I am a feminist who has become aware of the stereotypes and issues of gender and class when it comes to the practices of adoption.  Therefore, I have grown uncomfortable using the “birth” label in discussing adoption.

I believe all women should be valued by society; and sadly, too often they are not.  Women are not here on this planet to simply give “birth” more human beings.  A woman’s value is greater than her ability to reproduce.  All of this is an explanation regarding why the label of “birth” has fallen out of favor with those in the adoption community to whom it matters the most.

 

 

Lying About The Family Relationship

It is hard to believe but it happens.  Siblings will be raised in proximity to one another without knowing they are siblings.

In one such story, an adoptive parent had her child spending time with that child’s biological siblings who had been adopted by another family member but these children are not informed that they are siblings.

In another story, though not related to an adoption – a woman grew up playing with her sister as a child but not knowing that she was related to her.  That reality was kept from her.

She goes on to share – “the anger and resentment I have toward my dad and her mom for trying to keep us apart for literally no reason than their own selfishness. I had to sneak and lie and use the pay phone at school to call her and pretend to be a friend of a friend to be able to talk to her to start building our relationship. I was 14 and she was 11. We are each other’s only sisters.”

These LIES bring anger and trauma when the truth finally comes out and in these modern times, it is easier than ever for that eventuality to occur.  It really is hard imagine what these children will feel one day, knowing their parents had them play together as cousins, when they were really siblings.

Some adoptive parents take the perspective that they are the legitimate parent now, and the other kinship parents involved are the other kids parents now.  They will each parent them the way they want. My parents were both adopted and I know that my dad’s way of coping with all of his unknowns was to sever any attachment to the original parents.  As far as he was concerned, once adopted, you no longer belong to the original family.  I have never agreed with his opinion about that but maybe it simply made things easier for him as two of his grandchildren (one with each of my two sisters) were surrendered to adoption.  Hard to believe but true.

Those of us who understand with better clarity must keep planting seeds of awareness …. and keep trying …. and continue educating.

Misunderstood

Suddenly, friends and family have discovered what I have been writing about daily for over a year and they are understandably confused.  I would not have understood before about two years ago myself.  Both of my parents were adopted and so adoption was the most natural thing in the world to me.  Both of my sisters gave up children to adoption.  What I can say is that ignorance is bliss.

But for adoption I would not exist and I never forget that.  But for adoption my mother would have grown up in abject poverty instead of the privileges of wealth as the child of a banker and socialite.  My husband has said that my story could be viewed as pro-adoption and that is the truth.

Even so, I cannot ignore the many voices of adoptees and the original mothers who have suffered because adoption carries with it inherent wounds and that is what I tend to try and explain in this blog.

Even so, today I read a heartwarming story.  I am sympathetic to the pain of infertility.  I do believe that couples who have struggled with that really DO need to seek counseling before adopting any child.

Back to that heartwarming story.  A couple was traveling on an airplane with their 8 day old adopted daughter.  The mother have given birth in Colorado.  It had been nine long years of fertility treatments, miscarriages and adoption stress for this couple.

A flight attendant announced that he’d be passing out napkins and pens for anyone who wanted to jot down a message for the new parents. The cabin erupted into cheers and applause. A steady stream of people came by to coo and congratulate the couple.

One of the napkins read: “I was adopted 64 years ago. Thank you for giving this child a loving family to be part of. Us adopted kids need a little extra love. Congratulations.”  YES, some adoptees are truly grateful and I do not doubt that but I pause on that thought “adopted kids need a little extra love.”  Hmmmm.

The flight attendants explained to the couple that they are married, and a fellow flight attendant had done this for them while they were on their honeymoon. They wanted to pay it forward.

The new father shared, “Adoption is wild with uncertainty.  You wonder, is this birth mother going to choose us? What happens if she changes her mind, if she backs out?”  The overwhelming support the couple felt during that plane trip was also a time when they were worried that their daughter might somehow be stigmatized.

Southwest Airlines released a statement saying, in part, that the crew showed “kindness and heart” on that flight.  Common kindness always matters.  I actually do care about every part of the adoption triad.  Just saying.

They Were Real People

Growing up, I didn’t know these people existed.  I accepted my adoptive grandparents as though they had come into my life naturally.  I thought my parents were orphans and that their original parents had died because I did know they had both been adopted.

It may be that I know about as much about them now, as many people know about their extended family, as many families do not live in easy proximity of each other and even sometimes issues and resentments keep them separated.

Learning about the people who were my parents original parents has made them real to me now.  In fact, even though I had no lifelong history with them, they are who I think of first.  I still love that the people who grandparented me loved me as well.  Cousins from those relationships are still cousins to me but happily I now have some new cousins who I know share the blood that runs in my veins.  I like to say I am whole + now.

The natural mother should be given some say
about who parents her baby.
For the baby’s sake, she should be encouraged
to maintain some post-adoption contact,
even if painful for her.
If her physical presence isn’t possible,
letters, cards, photographs and up-dated history
would be some continuing connection.
It is important for the child’s development
that it’s birth parents are real,
that the genetic history is available
and the relationship is as free of confusion as possible.
~ The Primal Wound by Nancy Newton Verrier