Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Birth Mothers

Bitch, Ph.D has posted Adoption: Birth Mothers Are People, Too concerning the book The Girls Who Went Away, about birth mothers who gave their children up for adoption in the days before Roe v. Wade. It's a perspective that most of us don't think about very deeply. The argument is there for women who are considering an abortion, that they can choose to give birth and adopt the baby out. But what we don't really think about is what it is like to have adopted a baby out.

For two years one of my parenting clients was a young woman who had given her younger child up for adoption because she was afraid of his father. The police were unable to offer her help. She believed that the only thing she could do to get this man completely out of her life and keep her children safe was to hide the existence of the baby from him. To give him up for adoption.

She first came to me after she had given the child up and returned to town. She came to see me once a week for two years, and she never came once that she didn't cry. She ached for her child. It was supposed to be an open adoption, but Alaska doesn't enforce the open adoption agreement if the adoptive parents decide they don't want the birth mother involved.* She gave her child to this couple. She was supposed to get pictures and letters and be able to see him at least once a year. She never got a single picture or letter. All of her letters and the letters of her lawyer were returned unopened.

I have never worked with a parent I was less able to help. I have never known a young woman who I wanted to fight for more. I will never know if she could have trusted her baby's father. But I do know that I have never known a woman to regret an abortion the way that young woman regretted that adoption. It left her wounded to the soul.

Adoption is not a choice normally made by the Tlingits in this area. The tribes do not give up children, and if the mother or parents can't raise the child, extended family members will take it in until circumstances change. I worked with many grandmothers who were raising their grandkids, and even two great-grandmothers.

In those cases where there is no extended family to step in, pregnant teens and their children may end up in the foster care system. There is a woman who fosters young, pregnant, Tlingit girls and their babies. She continues to foster both mother and child while the mother finishes school. The foster mom wants the young mother to have a good start as a mother and as near a normal life as a teen as possible. The young mother goes to the prom and football games as well as learning about child development. She grows as a maturing teen and as a mother. If she "ages out**" of the foster system, the foster mom keeps her without money from the state for her care and works with her until she is ready to take her child and go out on her own. And the foster mom is there to support her in many ways for years. Many of the young mothers she has helped still drop in and visit on a weekly basis. Like any daughter would.

I know that the circumstances between my young client and these young mothers are different, and this superb foster mother would not have been there for my client in any case. But I also know that if there were more women like this foster mom, there would be fewer young women who would have to make either choice about a baby. More intact families. And what a blessing that would be.

* To the best of my knowledge, no state does.
** Becomes 18, when the state stops paying for her care and expects her to go out on her own.

Photo: Ashes to Blessing


lilalia said...

Coincidently, the New York Times has a blog about adoption, and today's post is from a birth mother who more or less says what you say: that the wounds a deep and eternal. You would hope that the mother's son would search her out eventually. Or, does that happen less than we think? Do you think that such foster mothers could be single woman who never had children of their own? Many of my friends, unfortunately, were not able to have children.

J at said...

I don't know how anyone has the strength to give up a baby, to give that baby a better life, and to go through life without knowing whether that child actually had a better life without them. I don't think I could ever do it.

Maya's Granny said...

I don't think you have to have children of your own to be a good foster mother. It takes a willingness to be in it for the long haul. And an awareness that what might seem best for the young girl, giving up her child, might be worst over her lifetime.

Rain said...

I have known too many adoptive parents who were not good parents, who maybe should never have been parents to believe automatically an adoptive parent means a loving one. And yes, I have known a lot of very loving, wonderful adoptive parent but it's not a guaranteed result. Nobody should make that decision for the mother except the mother. It's not simple

Gurukarm said...

I am a birth mother who experienced that hole in my heart, having given up a baby born when I was 18.

Truth? I didn't want him at the time; I didn't want to be pregnant; my story was pathetic and banal, not sweetly, sadly, romantic. Giving him up was the very best thing for both him and for me.

But, he left a hole behind that I hardly knew I had - until I was blessed to be reunited with him five years ago, and that hole was filled. I am so glad and grateful for his existence in this world, and the blessing of the Internet which helped us to find each other.

And yes, it's a much longer story, but not worth boring you with here. Thanks for bringing up the topic, though.