At twenty years old, I found myself pregnant: living thousands of miles from family and friends, no money, and abandoned by my on-again, off-again boyfriend. Nine months later, I placed my son for adoption and entered the most painful chapter in my life. But as Lois Lowry writes, “The worst part of holding the memories is not the pain. It’s the loneliness of it. Memories need to be shared.” Here are the lessons I learned from my experience as a birthmother.
- Adoption is the Last Resort
While others wrapped gifts and drank spiced eggnog upstairs, I discovered I was pregnant in a basement bathroom while home for Christmas break. I returned to the other side of the country to start another semester, but my roommate bailed and I couldn’t afford rent on my own. Over the next month, I slept on couches and attempted to talk to the baby’s father over public payphones in sub-zero weather. I weighed my miserably few options: adoption, abortion, or keep the baby. Abortion would haunt me. My mother told me on I was on my own if I kept the baby. I was single, jobless, a transient student. Adoption was the compassionate choice; the only decision I could make for my son.
- A Birth Mother Always Questions Her Decision
For nine months, I questioned if I was doing the right thing. My uncertainty undermined my decision to place him for adoption but then my uncertainty clouded daydreams of raising the baby. Uncertainty cast a long shadow over me every single day. As the sun rose one late August morning, I fell in love for the first time. The nurse placed Samuel in my arms and all the extraneous issues stalking me for nine months evaporated as I embraced my fuzzy haired son. He was the first person I loved and the first person I lost. The self-blame, the grief, the what-ifs, the waves of uncertainty never wholly subside.
- Money Trumps Good Intentions
When Samuel was conceived, I was alone in a big city, carried only a high school degree, lived off student loans, and worked two jobs while in university. I didn’t want to bring up my son in a life which left him wanting. Guaranteed the first years of his life would be void of a father figure and money, rife with stress and uncertainty. And there was no guarantee there would be any change as he grew up with me. Sam was adopted via an open adoption by a professional couple whom I discovered through a friend. By the time Sam entered kindergarten, he knew nothing but the consistent love of a mother and a father. He vacationed in exotic locales like Hawaii, Austria, and India. He knew how to swim; he joined soccer and hockey teams; he played with friends his own age in a quiet cul-de-sac in his neighborhood. Despite my best intentions, if I had kept Sam, instability and few opportunities would have underscored his formative years.
- I Deserved Better
I messed up. I had unprotected sex with someone I was casually dating. But that didn’t mean my whole world had to end. Two weeks after the adoptive parents left the hospital with my son but a week before I signed the papers officially granting them permission to adopt, I was in my friend’s car as we drove around my hometown in rural Canada. Crying, I told him I planned on renting a car seat at the local YMCA, borrowing my brother’s car, and go get my baby. We stopped at a red light and my friend turned to look at me. “One thing I noticed with the single moms around here is that they never get ahead’. And in that moment, out of that one sentence, my universe shifted creating a mental metamorphosis. I wanted to get ahead. I had ambition. Raising my son on welfare, recreating the world of conflict and financial stress wasn’t part of my plan. I wanted to break the cycle.
- Birth Mothers Go Crazy with Grief.
You grieve for someone who isn’t dead but is lost to you forever. Even if it’s an open adoption, you may never experience the day when you clear the air with your biological child; you may go to your grave never having the chance to express your love. The first two days of Sam’s life, he lay in a bassinet next to me in the hospital room. In the last few hours we were together, he lay quietly next to me on the bed cradled into the crook of my stomach, his eyes following me, his toes trailing my skin, the tick-tock of our separation approaching. My eyes swollen from crying, I lay on my side studying him, watching the world tipped on its edge. Hospital blinds racing downwards, late summer flowers a dark blue horizon. And I felt like I was drowning in one inch of water, unable to save myself if I wanted to save my child.
When I left the hospital, life stopped. I lay as though a dying woman, abandoned on a harried city street, as people jousted, pushed along the sidewalk to work and church, opening and closing the doors to their houses, drinking, smiling, sitting, sleeping, celebrating life. And I don’t remember taking a breath. I worried if Sam cried it was because he missed my smell, my touch, his instinct recognizing abandonment. As my breasts leaked milk, I stared into the rawness, my heart irreparably cracked.
- Painfully Ignorant People Frustrate the Situation
This is the proverbial salt in the wound. Some reactions are sympathetic, some are strange. As Sam was washed and wrapped in a blanket immediately after birth, the delivery doctor handed me a prescription for birth control pills. “And don’t forget to take them so you don’t end up here again.” The boy I loved for nine months, pushed from my body was referred to as my mistake. A month later, a man from my mother’s church asked me where the baby was and when I told him, he turned and walked away from me without a word. Months after I signed the papers, an aunt told me I should have kept Sam. Years later, a friend at university likened my situation to something he’d watch on Jerry Springer. And just a few months ago, I heard a woman denounce our children’s school permission slip allowing children’s images on the website. “I have to be careful. His birth mother could find him online and stalk us.” Flippant remarks are the norm. It’s like explaining a colloquial English phrase to a foreigner. Sometimes words aren’t enough; only firsthand experience suffices.
- Loss Comes in Many Forms
I didn’t lose just my son. While pregnant, I was reminded daily no one would help me if I kept the baby. After Sam was born, my parents attached themselves to the adoptive family. Framed photos of my son peppered my parent’s mantel piece, side-tables, and bedroom dressers. Regular visits and phone calls, trips to shower him with gifts, my pleas for space and time to heal ignored. Silence, reason, arguments, nothing works with ignorant people who exploit situations to fulfill their own needs. For many years, I lost my trust in others and I lost the chance to heal in my own time.
- A Shrink is Imperative
Twelve years passed before I discovered how beautiful a moment it is when the reasoned logic of a psychiatrist could steer the course of frustrations into calmer waters. Once a week for two years, I sat in the sanctuary of his office, emotions drifting upwards from the bedrock, unconscious thoughts emerging from encrusted shells, words bumping and gliding across the room towards the kind doctor. His quiet demeanor filled me with a sense of solitude as though floating in a dory on a calm ocean, a world away from the hectic, roaring streets of life. And after two years of talking to someone paid to listen, I left his office one spring morning, a sense of benediction in the air and a newfound joy in my step.
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