Sunday, February 28, 2010

Birthmothers Know It's About LOVE

A couple of things have happened this past week which made me think about birthmothers:

*A comment someone made after hearing that our daughter was adopted.

*A complaint overheard about an adoption agency that “focused too much on birthmothers” rather than on the adoptive applicants

*Hearing an account of a heartbroken birthmother who placed her child with a couple a year ago and has had little or no contact with this couple or the son she placed with them even though the couple and the agency involved promised a semi-open adoption.

I’ll go into each of these examples in a little more detail. If you’re interested in my soapbox, then read on.

*A comment someone made after hearing that our daughter was adopted:

Last week my husband and I had dinner plans with a friend who was in town. Hours before we were to meet for dinner my friend called and asked if it would be alright if she brought a guy along whom she had recently met and started dating. We said that would be fine as long as they didn’t mind us bringing the kids. When my friend and her date met us at the restaurant he immediately started gushing about how cute the kids were (with so much enthusiasm that it actually made us a little uncomfortable), but I’m sure he was just trying extra hard to make a good impression on us since he was dating our friend.

Anyway, before we were seated at our table my friend asked us how our day and weekend had been. We mentioned that just that morning we spoke on a panel to a group of prospective adoptive couples. My friend’s date turned to my husband and asked if he worked with adoptions as part of his profession. My husband explained that we adopted our daughter and that we were asked to share some of our experiences with adoption and foster care with a group of couples who were starting the adoption process with the same agency we went through. He was taken by surprise when he found out that M. was adopted and that the baby wasn’t “ours” but that we were just fostering him, because according to him he thought they both looked like us. Then he turned to us and with a disgusted look on his face he said, “I just don’t understand how people can give up their kids.”

My husband and I didn’t even have to look at each other to sense the rising emotions a statement like that instills into each of us. We may not have always felt so strongly about the subject, but since becoming adoptive parents we have both grown deeply appreciative of birthmothers and at times although we may not always voice our opinion so openly we have become fiercely defensive when we hear people talk down about birthparents for choosing to place their children for adoption.

So, as soon as this guy whom I had just met one minute earlier and who was dating my friend said, “I just don’t understand how people can give up their kids” I immediately thought “What an idiot!” But rather than lecture him on how selfless and difficult a decision it is for birthmothers to place their children for adoption I tried to give him the benefit of the doubt and I calmly explained that our daughter’s birthmother was a single mom with little resources, was not in a relationship with the birthfather, and just wanted to give her baby a better life than she could provide. “She did it out of love” I explained, playing extra emphasis on the word “love”. That was enough for my friend’s date to get the point. He looked a little embarrassed about expressing his opinion so boldly and repeated what I had just said in the form of a question, “So it was out of love?” I nodded in confirmation and thought to myself “When is it NOT about love?" He interjected a second later, “Well, I still just have a really hard time understanding how people can do that.”

My husband immediately piped up in an effort to ease some of the tension and said, “Yeah, I can’t imagine what it would be like to be faced with that situation.”

*A complaint overheard about an adoption agency that “focused too much on birthmothers” rather than on the adoptive applicants:

On Thursday night we went to a required meeting concerning policy changes with LDS Family Services. Let me back up a little and explain some things about LDS Family Services for those who aren’t familiar with the agency: J. and I are LDS (AKA Latter Day Saints/Mormons/members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) and one of the things that attracted us to the social service/adoption agency which is run through our church is the affordability of adoption costs: Those who adopt through LDS Family Services only have to pay 10% of their income. I don’t know of ANY adoption agencies that are as affordable which is GREAT NEWS for Mormon couples wanting to adopt but who don’t necessarily have a bunch of extra money lying around.

The reason the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints has made it so affordable for couples to adopt is that we place such an emphasis on the importance of families, because we believe among other things, that "Children are entitled to birth within the bonds of matrimony, and to be reared by a father and a mother who honor marital vows with complete fidelity. "

The other thing that we have learned to appreciate about LDS Family Services is that they provide counseling and support to expectant parents who are faced with an unplanned pregnancy both during and after pregnancy & placement (or parenting-depending on what the client chooses.)

However, one major setback for adoptive couples going through LDS Family Services is that there are SO MANY adoptive couples going through the agency but not enough birthparents using the agency who place their children for adoption which inevitably means that LDS Family Services cannot actually guarantee that each adoptive applicant can adopt a child. It’s not like how I imagine adoptions in the past were done where the couples who had been waiting the longest were at the “top” of a list and each time a baby was born that baby automatically went to the couple at the top of the list. Rather, birthmothers are the ones who take an active part in deciding which couple they would like to place their child with (which is why it’s so important for adoptive couples to network with others and get the word out about their desire to adopt so that a birthmother can find them!)

So, back to the meeting we attended on Thursday night . . . As we were leaving the building we walked past some prospective adoptive couples and we could overhear them “complaining” to each other about how LDS Family Services “caters” to birthparents rather than to the adoptive couples. Although they have a point I immediately recognized that they are probably new in the adoption process and are feeling a bit overwhelmed.

I’m not perfect so I’ll admit that when I’ve been discouraged about waiting to be picked by a birthmother I’ve had my share of bitter and resentful feelings creep up about having to “compete” with other couples to get a child. But the more I learn about the miracles, inspiration and love that make adoption possible I realize that it’s NOT a competition –it’s about LOVE.

First and foremost there’s the love and sacrifice that birthmothers have for their children- adoption wouldn’t even be possible if it weren’t for that love. It’s a given (or at least it should be) that couples who choose to build their families through adoption do so because they want a child more than anything else and they are filled with an overwhelming sense of love for the children who come into their lives through adoption, especially if they’ve been waiting a particularly long time.

Then there’s love that adoptive couples feel towards birthparents for giving them the gift of being a parent in the first place. And this might sound funny or a little weird but there’s even love (maybe camaraderie & support might be more appropriate terms- but they fall under the category of love) between adoptive parents and other adoptive families. Even now when I hear of a couple who is going through the adoption process or has gone through the adoptive process I feel an automatic kinship with them. I feel an immediate bond and have a desire to “talk adoption” with them and share all of the heartache and joys that are found along the adoption journey. Any feelings of “competing” for a child are washed away and I don’t feel threatened by advocating for their adoption because I know that it’s in the Lord’s hands and that the right baby goes to the right family at the right time.

Ironically, I had to remind myself of the exact same things (not resenting having to “wait” to be picked by someone and that it’s in the Lord’s hands) when I was growing a little antsy this week since we haven’t heard anything about the adoptive grandparent’s decision who are placing their grandson for adoption and considering us as a possible choice.

I found myself complaining, “What’s taking them so long- it’s been almost two weeks since we met with them! Even if they don’t decide to place with us I’d like to know one way or the other!” My wise husband turned to me and said, “Mary, can you imagine what it would be like to have to place our daughter with another family? Wouldn’t you want to be absolutely certain that the family you chose was the best possible one?” Good point. (Granted, I know that example seems extremely hypothetical but for the sake of argument bear with me; my husband was thinking specifically of cases of poverty stricken families in third world countries who literally can’t afford to feed their children- so tragic.)

*Hearing an account of a heartbroken birthmother who placed her child with a couple a year ago and has had little or no contact with this couple or the son she placed with them even though the couple and the agency involved promised a semi-open adoption:

The decision to place a child for adoption would be hard enough in itself, but then having to choose the right couple and family for your child when there are so many out there would seem totally overwhelming to me.

I read about a birthmother (on the r house) who felt strongly about placing her baby boy with a family over a year ago. Although this particular family had agreed before the placement to keep in contact with this birthmother, the birth family has NOT kept their word to the birth mother. 

One final thought about birth mothers (for now at least): If you would like to know what is appropriate to say to birthmothers regarding their decision to place- or rather what NOT to say check out Andee’s post here or Jill's post here. Because who knows better what it’s like to be a birth mother than a birth mother.


Ashley said...

Wow, how you managed to not kill the guy is impressive. You must share your secret. I've had that comment made to me several times and the best response I could come up with was to shrug my shoulders and say, "Well, I guess not everyone is capable of loving someone that much." It takes a minute for the person to realize I'm actually talking about THEM and their inability to understand that placements happen out of love; the deepest love one human being can have for another.

I will admit I felt the same way a little bit (feeling ignored) when we adopted but when I got my head out of my butt I realized it was more important for the birth mothers to be taken care of since a lot of them don't have any form of support. We were fine on that aspect.

As for the birth mother.... I cannot tell you how badly I want to find that adoptive family, with other adoptive moms, and have us all stand in line and kick them in the shins. Makes me furious.

Love this post.

Ashley said...

P.S. I feel the same way regarding my daughter's birth father.

"I should feel like the person who traded a bean for a diamond but instead I feel pity for the immature young man who will never know that the potentially greatest contribution to the world of his life was someone he's never even asked about."

Posted this on our personal blog last night.

StefanieJinelle said...

I personally LOVED this. I was on the edge of my seat, verge of tears, sort of blog post.

If it were me at that table, I would've reached over and punched that guy in the FACE. It's degrading what a birth mother has done for their child, out of LOVE. I could go on a huge rant. But, I'll save it for later for my own blog. ;)

Beautiful blog. Thanks for e-mailing me!

Jill Elizabeth said...

Hi, I found your blog through Stefanie's.
I read the same heartbreaking birth mom story that you did. I doubt very much whether the openness arrangements made were legally binding - as far as I know, it's whatever the adopting couple wants to do. I also know firsthand how hard it can be when you don't get the kind of openness you were promised.
I added your button to the list on my blog. Thank you for your lovely words about birth moms.

Angee said...

Thank you for posting this! I have felt at times that we were kind of lost in the shuffle at LDS Family Services but your post made me feel so much better about it! Those wonderful birth moms deserve all the love and concern that the caseworkers can provide! I had a coworker today ask me why our expectant mom wasn't going to keep her baby. I explained that the circumstances weren't the best but I know that next time I will say first that it was out of love. Some times I don't think they'll understand, but all the more reason to let them know! Thanks again for your post!

Mom Forever said...

Wow! Where do I start? People like the guy you had dinner with really don't bother me because I've just come to realize that most people really don't have a clue about adoption. I'll admit that I really didn't understand either until experiencing the miracle for myself. I'm glad that you were able to calmly explain it to him because that's the only way we can educate them. Good job!

I haven't experienced an adoption agency focusing on the birthparents a lot but being a foster parent it can be very frustrating to see how CYS will bend over backwards to help them. My children's birthparents did not "give up their children" out of love. They were taken from them ultimately because of their own selfishness (drug use, abuse, neglect...etc.) Having said that, I still feel gratitude to them for bringing these beautiful children into this world. Without them, I wouldn't have my children.

The adoptive parents who have not kept their promise of an open adoption are making a big mistake. Our children get to see their biological great-grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. I am actually good friends with many of their biological family members. Their biological mother died of an overdose and their father is just not suitable for them to see but we have allowed Emily to write some letters to him and I have sent pictures and a couple of letters also. I don't do this because I have to and I never made any promise to do it. I do it because it's the right thing to do. Feeling threatened by a relationship with their birth family is understandable but not necessary. The most important thing is to have a great relationship with your children. It's also very interesting how my children really don't see any difference between biological family and adoptive family...we're all just family. My foster daughter's mother and I talk on the phone a couple times a week. It's nice to talk to someone else who loves her and is interested in all the things she is doing. There was a time when open adoption would have scared me but I have absolutely no problem with it now.

Thanks for your post! I really enjoyed reading it!