What Everyone Ought to Know about Birthmothers by guest @jcutlerlopez

Jenny with Sophia and Orion at Great Falls National Park

Jenny with Sophia and Orion at Great Falls National Park

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.

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

Orion and Sophia with their half-brother Nick

Orion and Sophia with their half-brother Nick

About the Author:
jenny 2Jenny is a Canadian living in Virginia with her husband, two kids, and two black cats. Her latest book Who I Am: American Scar Stories launches 2 June 2014.

To find out more information or to join the American Scar Stories community, check out www.jennycutlerlopez.com. You can find quotes, portraits, and scar info at the book’s official Facebook page.

Semi-humorous and informative tweets for readers and writers @jcutlerlopez.

About Rachel Thompson

Rachel Thompson is the author of newly released Broken Places and the award-winning Broken Pieces, as well as two additional humor books, A Walk In The Snark and Mancode: Exposed. Rachel is published and represented by Booktrope where she directs the Gravity imprint helping authors share their stories of trauma and recovery. She owns BadRedhead Media, creating effective social media and book marketing campaigns for authors. For affordable group sessions check out Author Social Media Boot Camp, monthly sessions to help all authors! Her articles appear regularly in The Huffington Post, The San Francisco Book Review (BadRedhead Says…), 12Most.com, bitrebels.com, BookPromotion.com, and Self-Publishers Monthly.

Not just an advocate for sexual abuse survivors, Rachel is the creator and founder of the hashtag phenomenon #MondayBlogs and the live Twitter chat, #SexAbuseChat, co-hosted with certified therapist/survivor, Bobbi Parish.

She hates walks in the rain, running out of coffee, and coconut. She lives in California with her family.


  1. I was adopted when I was three months old. And I just wanted you to know that, as an adoptee, I appreciate the decision my birth mother made. I have no resentment–merely gratitude. I have never felt “second class” by my adoptive family because I am adopted. I have never felt “unwanted.”

    My birthmother wanted me to have a father and a stable home life. I am now a college graduate (master’s degree), author, and PR professional.
    I have never really gone through finding my birthmother because while many people may have great birthmoms like you, it is equally likewise that some may have birthmoms who are not. It is a big bridge to cross, and once done cannot be undone. So I’ve been hesitant.
    But just wanted to give you a thanks from an adoptee.

    • Thanks for reading Dawn. Its great to hear from an adoptee. I wonder how my birth son feels about being adopted. I hope to have that talk with him one day. It sounds like your birth mother wanted the same things for you as I did for my birth son – a dad, a stable home. You’re right – looking and finding a birth mother is a one way trip and the risks can be high.
      I wish you all the best!

  2. joe hefferon says:

    Thanks for this post. We adopted our son and I often wonder about what his mother thinks (endures).

    • Thanks for sharing, Jenny and for your comment, Joe. Nothing about the situation is easy — and I do find it sad that people make such thoughtless comments.

      Regardless, I applaud Jenny’s bravery in sharing her story and offer support and love.

    • Thanks Joe. Its nice to hear from an adoptive parent’s perspective. All the best to you and your son.

  3. What a difficult decision. You are very brave, and you write about this time in your life so well. It’s so sad that people abandoned you when you needed help. My daughter is 27 and single. I’ve told her many times that I hope she doesn’t have a baby until she’s married and finished with her education, but if she should happen to become pregnant, I would move Heaven and Earth to help her.


    • Thank you for reading Janie. Thanks also for your kind words. I feel the same way you do. I hope my kids have their own kids when the time is right but if they ever get in a situation where they need help from me there’s nothing I won’t do for them.

  4. Patrick says:

    Dear Jenny,

    Thank you for your courage in sharing that most traumatic period of your life. You really touched me. As a father of three almost adult children I cannot begin to imagine your pain and sense of loss, but you have helped me to begin to understand. Thank you again.



  5. Jenny, I felt the “ouch” as I read your post. Yes, “ouch” is quite the understatement but I find myself at a loss for words and stumbling over the ones I can come up with. You are a brave woman. I have the utmost respect for you. Deep Peace, Ardee-ann

  6. Thank you for sharing your story, Jenny. It touches my heart. It was a difficult decision to make, but you made it selflessly with your son’s best interests at heart. I was surprised that your parents made so much contact with your son and his adoptive parents.

  7. I adopted my two daughters. They are both my husband’s biological children from his first marriage. We terminated his ex-wife’s rights, but she was in agreement that I should adopt them. I think everyone’s situation is different and so there are different attitudes and emotions involved. We have told our children that they are free to connect with their birth mother after they are 18 and it is completely up to them. They have seen her once or twice over the years and it was a bit awkward, but it will be up to them what they do when they grow up. They know how she is. It’s nice to hear your story, however, and be reminded that adopted children truly matter to the birth parent and how hard it is to give them up. It sounds like you are a great mom who had a child at the wrong time and you really did make the right decision, be assured. We will always have to endure crass comments from humanity, that’s a given, no matter what the situation. Never mind them! I enjoyed your piece and your perspective. :)

    • Thanks so much Cindy. So true. Each situation is different and therefore there is no textbook answer to easily figure out the right thing to do in any one given situation. Thank you for reading and thank you for such a thoughtful response.

  8. Thanks for sharing your story. I could feel your pain … as I’m sure could every mother who read it. Adoption has played a large role in my life as I was adopted as an infant (I’m 68 now and a grandmother) and my husband and I adopted our first son as an infant when I had fertility problems … 10 months later our second son was born! Both our boys are in their mid-thirties now and are wonderful sons and fathers themselves. I always knew I was adopted and it was never an issue. My parents were fabulous and our home was a very happy one. I met my birthmother when I was 43 when I signed into the Birth Registry in Canada wishing to know my medical history. I spent an hour with her and it was fine, not emotional for me, and all I needed or wanted. My son has not felt the need to search. I have always felt the birth mother carried the burden in adoption. You have clearly described the pain and perhaps it is not enough comfort to know that you have given great joy to the adoptive family and made a decision in the very best interests of your son. But I want to assure you the happiness of all those others involved is a direct result of your difficult choice and I applaud you for that. Reading this, I had an intense reaction to your own parents actions which I found incredibly cruel towards you! I’m so happy you have your own family now.

    • Hi Patricia. Thank you so much for your thoughtful reply and kind words. It sounds like you really have had a positive experience with adoption both as a adopted child and as a mother which is so lovely to hear. Thank you again for reading and I wish you all the best.

  9. So sorry to hear of all you went through. You did the best you could for your baby and shouldn’t have to put up with the words and actions of ignorant thoughtless people. The world is full of them. I hope you have you talk with Sam someday. Huggs : )

  10. As a (closed adoption) adoptee who found her biological mother at age 24, I’d like to thank you for sharing your story, Jenny. Not a day went by before I found my biological mother that I didn’t wonder about her, and not a day has gone by since I found her that I am not constantly in awe of the sacrifice she made and what she went through to ensure I had financial stability and two parents to raise me while I was growing up. Biological mothers give so much, and put so much of themselves on the back burner, they deserve to be recognized for the gift of love they give when they make it possible for those who are unable to have children to become parents. I applaud you for your strength, your selflessness and the love you had for your son.

  11. Anne Keeping Parsons says:

    Thanks for your story, Jenny. I can SO relate to all the feelings that you have had up to the birth. My daughter Tracy was born a week before I turned 19. No father that wanted to step up to the plate but one that encouraged me to either give the baby up or abortion. I was clearly a single mom. He had no time to love me or his child. With the help of my parents I kept my baby girl and left her with my parents and nine of my siblings until she was four yrs. of age. While lying in that hospital bed that Sept evening, looking out the window next to my bed, a young man visiting his sick dad, stopped by my bedside congratulating me on my baby girl. As I watched the sun setting that evening my wish was that I had met him before… he might have been a great father. Needless to say I was ashamed to be pregnant and to bring a baby home to my mother. A small NL town kind of frowns on that, lots of gossip etc. I regretfully didn’t go and visit my grandmother because of my shame.Though she made it quite clear to my mother that she wished to see me, and to tell me that it was ok. She died without seeing me before my baby was born. The decisions for me back in 1970 was to give my baby up for adoption or keep him/her. I feared for all of the things that you went through, post birth. I took my chances. My story has a good ending as I am sure yours is, but different. I married the young man that stopped by my bed to visit that evening, and three more siblings were born. Tracy always knew, as the other kids that there was a different man out there that was her “father” nut not her dad. She never did want to meet him but he did twenty years later, when he decided to admit that the baby I had was his had a void in his heart. They met. It made no difference to our lives whatsoever. He was just another man, and was never her dad. So like your Sam, is now, growing up with a family that shares his love. A mom and a dad. What can be better than that? Is that not what we want for our children? Yes, of course it is. And thank God for you, Jenny, another family has been given the love of a child. God bless you Jenny, for sharing your story and for having other children to love. Someday you will meet your Sam.

  12. I am so sorry your experience was so painful. I fear that what you went through is far too common.

    I too am a birth mother. I was a single mom to two toddler boys, and found myself pregnant again. I had already had two abortions and knew that I could not go through that pain again. Unlike you, my experience brought about a healing and peace that I don’t think I would have experienced otherwise. I gave birth to a girl in the presence of her adoptive parents and my friends. I went on to marry and have two more sons.

    But like you, I experienced a great deal of pain in the process too. I was cast out by family, ignored by friends, and judged by church members. I was alone with no one to talk to about my feelings. My mother told me I “should have at least aborted” the baby. People with whom I came into contact could not understand how I could give up something I grew so attached to.

    I gave up nothing. I placed.

    I haven’t yet published any of my experience, but am writing. I hope you continue to grow in peace. The only girl child I would ever have is now 22. I continue to pray that she is happy and well-adjusted, just as I pray that for my sons.


  1. […] I have the greatest respect for Huffpo blogger, author of many books, and social media consultant Rachel Thompson. You really just need to check out her website to see everything she accomplishes as a writer and advocate. This week she posted a story of one chapter in my life. A dark one but one that made me into the person I am today. Entitled: What Everyone Ought to Know about Birthmothers […]

  2. […] choosing life Jenny: "What Everyone Ought to Know about Birthmothers by guest @jcutlerlopez rachelintheoc.com/2014/04/everyo…"— Glen Gaugh (@glengaugh) April 04, […]

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