Sunday, September 12, 2010

Sticky Adoption Thoughts: the Birthmom

Oh my, we've been all obsessed with capes and crafts around here, and still - life continues to whir on with the important things needing attention.
I've been reading some adoption literature lately, and blogs of course, and something's been kind of troubling me. It's sticky and might not come out right, but I'm going to take a shot at giving it words.
The Birthmom.
We adoptive mamas I think feel a collective sigh of gratitude and respect for these women who bore our children and made certain choices that brought these babes into our lives. We talk about Her as selfless and courageous. And, probably? She is.
Here's my concern though (I'll just make this specific to my situation, because this seems like an area where generalizations are not good): She may not be. She might be a true hero - someone who sacrificed a lot of ridicule and stigma to carry her child to term, someone who went to great lengths to leave her child in a safe place, someone who carefully evaluated the kind of life she wanted for her son and whether or not she could give it to him.
But, maybe not. She might be someone who was reckless, who put her child in harm's way to protect her own interests. She might be someone who, attacked on every side by hunger and abuse, wasn't able to truly comprehend the choice she was making for her and her son. She might be someone who was intimidated and threatened into doing something she didn't want to do - relinquish a child she loved. She might not have even had the capacity to really love him, or to make any decisions motivated by love.
I'll never know. 
I do know that regardless of the choices she made or the motivation behind those choices, she is a beautiful child of God, as fiercely loved by her Creator as the child she birthed. I know that she is worthy of respect and dignity. I know that she deserves the benefit of the doubt. I know that God created her for a life of perfect relationship (with Him and with her child) that is impossible every day she walks in this broken world. I know that she is special, smart and beautiful - that much I can see for sure every time I watch my son play or study his gorgeous brown skin.
My concern isn't that we assign gratitude and respect to the birthmom - she certainly deserves it - it's when we connect it to her decision to relinquish her child. In some cases, it might absolutely be connected - her moral character might have been what led her to make her tough decision. But, in some cases her choice may not have been a great one, motivated by integrity and honor.
When I was visiting Adrianne in the spring, we met with a social worker just to chat about attachment and sharing the kids' story with them in an appropriate and healthy way. To tell the truth, she was kind of mean and scary, but on this subject I thought she had some great thoughts. She talked about the danger of connecting the birth mother's love for her son with her choice to relinquish.
She asked us to think ahead to when our kids were 12 and started questioning things and asking the hard questions. If you'd been told your whole life that your birth mom "loved you so much that she relinquished you for adoption," and "I love you so much..." might that not instill fear in a young heart?
I don't intend this to be some kind of soapbox - this is just me processing through how to best be the caretaker of Charlie's story, me trying to stay a step ahead my own tendency to want to give "nice" answers that might not be true.
The same mean scary social worker warned us to talk to our kids about their story much like we might talk to them about sex (she was incorrectly assuming that I'm mature and don't call private parts "hmmm-mmms," but that's another post for another day) - only give age-appropriate information but never, ever lie.
So, in my case, I don't actually know anything about Charlie's birthmom or the choice she made. I need to be careful to not say things like, "She loved you so much that she wanted a better life for you and wanted you to have a mommy and daddy who could do things for you that she couldn't." That may be true, but I don't know that it is. And someday he's going to realize that I don't know that.
Instead, I can say things like, "I don't know Charlie, but I know that God loved her and you so much that even when she was confused, He made sure that you were kept safe until He brought you to us." I can say, "I don't know why your birth mom chose this, but I do know xy and z about poverty in Rwanda, and I can imagine how this may have made her feel scared and uncertain."
I can teach him to love, respect and be thankful for his birth mom, regardless of the choices she made. I can teach him that she is worthy of his honor, not because of the choice she made or in spite of it, but because God created her and only His grace makes any of us "worthy." I can teach him that I have made difficult choices too - some good and some bad, and that he will too, and that all of us need forgiveness and grace as we do the best we can to navigate the brokenness of this world.
Please forgive me if I've gotten it all wrong. What are your thoughts?


In other adoption news, Charlie is doing awesome. He's showing great signs of attachment - clinging to me when new people reach for him, crying when I take him to the nursery, playing independently while repeatedly "checking in" to make sure I'm still there. He's growing and running and laughing. This week, though, there have been some interesting incidents - cuddling with my friend while glaring at me, hitting me when I tell him "no," jumping into the arms of strangers. It's a good reminder that while things are progressing well, it's not over yet. And I'm totally okay with that.


Becky said...

My thoughts:
1. I see that picture of how big Charlie's gotten and I want to eat him up!
2. I think your perspective is a great one to share with Char-Char one day. I love it, in fact.
3. We see the progression of attachment too. But more for R & R, than for him.
4. It's high time for us to see each other again!!!
5. Love you!

Stephanie N. said...

Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts on this emotionally-charged subject. As always, my heart feels drawn to yours, as we each walk down our sometimes-similar, sometimes-different adoption path.
In my situation, with each of my three kids, I have met (and continue to have a relationship with, at least on some level) their birthmoms. I know at that each one chose to make an adoption plan, and a little bit about why they did so. So in some ways, my situation is a little easier.
I just went back to double-check this, and I found it to be true: That in each of my kids’ very-carefully-worded “lifebooks”, my language isn’t, “Your birthmommy loved you so much THAT…” Instead it’s, “Your birthmommy loved you BUT…”
I think that even in your case, you can say with confidence that Charlie’s b-mom loved him, and loves him still if she’s still alive. BUT, something was going on: with her, and/or with her circumstances. That doesn’t answer all your questions, I know. And you may not agree with my wording. Just wanted to share my perspective.
On a related note…All three of my kids’ lifebooks starts the same way. I want them to know in their hearts, as much as possible, that even though their births weren’t planned by their parents, they WERE planned by God. So each one begins:
“A long, long time ago, before the world was even created, God had a thought.
‘I would like to create a boy named [X]. I have thought through every moment of every day of his life. I have very special plans for him.’
That boy was you! And this is the story of how your life began…”

Susie said...

Oh Stephanie, I love it! I've read too much lately I guess that makes the love the reason, which is what I find troublesome, and what I imagine would be troublesome to my son if he were to try to make sense of that. I really appreciate you sharing your story!

waitingarms said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
waitingarms said...

I think Americans really love neat packages and tidy answers. I think when one person comes up with an easy answer, most people follow suit without really thinking through the "answer" (hence the tendancy for most adoption blogs to have the same lingo, and tidy explanations). Most people are not really informed of the culture and legalities of the countries they are adopting from. In most countries abortion is illegal and even if legal, it is not culturally accepted like in the western world where it is viewed as simply another form of birth contro. I am not sure most of the birth moms would have carried the child to term if abortion was legal and easily available. There are a lot backstreet abortion providers and many women hear the horror stories of resultant infertility and death of the mom that occur in these places - it is enough to frighten a fair share of them not to avail themselves of these "services". So maybe the decision to carry their child to term was not really a noble decision, but simply a means of self-preservation.

I agree with you - all too soon, our children will have some pretty deep questions which will not be easily answered with our easy, tidy answers.

Adrianne Thompson said...

love you. love your hard questions and thoughts. love/hate the reminder of the scary lady. love love loooooooove being in this with you.

Cristy said...

Thank you for this Susie. I would have the tendancy to link her love with the act of relinquishment too. This really made me rethink things. I love to what you said about telling our child xy and z about what we do know about poverty but not assuming that this is the case for our child's birthmother.