I’ve been thinking a lot about the post at Shakesville that I linked to last week. For those of you with short memories, the post was written anonymously by a birth mother who wanted to talk about the emotional complexities of adoption and abortion. Within 24 hours, the post had scads of comments from other birth mothers, adopted children, prospective adoptive parents, and others. I read through all of the comments, and something about the post and the responses to it really resonated in me.
The issue that the post really highlighted was the fact that in all of the rhetoric about adoption and abortion, people never seem to talk about birth mothers. They also don’t think about them, and the post made me realize that I never really gave a thought to them, even though I read The Girls Who Went Away, which is a book all about the experience of birth mothers in the 1950s and 1960s.
Like many people, my response to being confronted with my own ignorance, or a gap in my logic, is usually to reject the information provided to me, convinced that other people may think like that, but this uncomfortable information or commentary doesn’t really apply to me. Strangely enough, that didn’t happen to me this time. I read through a wide array of comments and responses, and they filled me with the growing realization that there’s a whole side to this equation that I know absolutely nothing about, and that in fact I have kind of ignored because it raises uncomfortable issues about the practice of adoption and how we deal with children.
The next day, I happened to be in the bookstore, and I wandered over to the adoption section to see if there were any books by/about birth mothers. There weren’t. There were lots of lighthearted adoption memoirs, and manuals for prospective parents, and parenting books, but the birth mothers were silent. The anonymous mother was totally right: they are left out of the discussion altogether. Perhaps because many people would be very unhappy with what they have to say.
I’ve thought about adoption before, not as something I am interested in, but as a facet of life and of the pro-choice movement. I’ve always supported adoption as a concept, because I think it’s a choice which should be made available to women struggling with unwanted pregnancies. I’ve even thought to some extent about the issues involved in transcultural/transnational adoption, but somehow, I left birth mothers entirely out of my mental adoption narrative.
Or, when I thought about them, I visualized women who chose adoption because they thought it was a good choice, and I lauded those women for making a good choice. Juno presented a kind of idealized, carefree view of adoption which I thought probably wasn’t quite accurate, but I really did not stop to think about the fact that adoption is a very intense experience for the birth mother, and that it could have long term consequences.
“Adoption fucked up my head far worse than abortion,” the anonymous writer said, and it was a very eye-opening statement for me. In retrospect, my almost wilful blindness about adoption from the perspective of the birth mother seems almost laughable, except that it’s repeated throughout society, on every level.
The anti-choice movement is fond of saying that women who don’t want their babies should “just adopt,” and that there are many childless parents who are desperate for a child, who deserve that child. But, in fact, it’s not “just adopting.” It’s a lot more complicated than that. Adoption and abortion are both extremely difficult choices, and while everyone’s focusing on legislation to make abortion as difficult and emotionally stressful as possible, there’s not a lot of attention to birth mothers. One of the recurrent complaints from birth mothers in the comments was that they were given very inadequate counseling, and that none of them were prepared for the experience. Because all of the focus is on the people who are taking the child in, not the woman who is giving up her child.
If you haven’t read the post and comments, I highly recommend that you do. It’s a very long read, but it was very enlightening. I enjoy opportunities to have my horizons broadened, and to increase my depth of knowledge on subjects I am unfamiliar with, but this post was more than a learning experience: it was a total revelation.