Open to interpretation

One of the things that drives me crazy in blog land is when a comment that I think is relevant and on point with the original blog post gets lost in the crossfire of subsequent comments that zero in on some aspect of the relevant comment that gets under somebody's skin. I'd be surprised if I've never been guilty of doing this myself so this post is not to be critical of anyone but rather to highlight an important comment I came across today. I've been given permission to post it here and if the author wishes to make herself known, she may do so in the comments section here.

The comment was in response to the question What does it mean to be a healthy birth mom?

I've linked to the post because the question as it stands alone does not convey the context in which it's being asked and I think the motive behind asking the question is an important thing to consider when reading the comment I've posted below.

There are many of us who have already lived the majority of our “birthmother lifespan” and have come to very different places 40 or so years after surrender. I know your interest is in open adoptions, but many of us from the closed system are still alive and hope to be for a while, and you may encounter us in your therapy career.

My story is not so typical as those in the excellent book “Girls Who Went Away”, but it is similar to a small subset of activist birthmothers who came out in the 70s and 80s and have remained involved in adoption reform. I was never in denial or really in the closet, and I joined adoption reform search groups as soon as I heard there was such a thing. My child was very young. I searched as soon as the opportunity presented itself. I was furiously angry, radical, hated adoption. I even had an actual “Adoption Sucks” tee shirt.

In those days before the internet, we had in-person groups and lots of phone contact, as well as print newsletters. The peer pressure then was to find and contact your child as soon as possible, There was good reason for this, some found kids in dire circumstances and at least one in our local groups was just given back at age 12 because the adoptive father and stepmom did not want him! Some of these early contacts worked well, but others did not, like mine when my son was 16. This made me doubly angry at the adoption system, adoptive parents, the world, and most of all myself. There is a lot of self-destructive behavior among surrendering mothers, and I was right up there with that.

Then along came internet groups, and a new group of mothers who surrendered who had been in the closet woke up and came out. There was a disconnect between these lists and the earlier groups like CUB, and a lot of reinventing the wheel and ignorance of the history of adoption reform. As you say, there are definite camps with rigid ideology and a lot of peer pressure to conform or get out. On one side are the young “happy birthmothers” who are often shilling for agencies, on the other side, the anti-adoption groups, who see all adoption as one of the world’s greatest evils that needs to be eradicated. A real problem in these groups is the “Pain Olympics” where extreme suffering and pathology after surrender is seen as a virtue and proof that you really love your child. There is now a fad to claim Post traumatic stress disorder as a result of surrender, self-diagnosed and proudly proclaimed. It is way too easy to get stuck in a downward spiral in a lot of these groups that claim to be “empowering” but are actually taking power and healthy response away.

My personal journey I think got stuck in bitterness and anger for too many years, and this was reinforced by the groups I was in or associated with. There is a strong thread of “you can never get over surrender”, even a little, and it is seen as disloyal to your child or in denial if you do experience some healing or joy. Ambivalence? Yes, lots, and that is life-long, but I have also found a bit of peace when my son finally started communicating with me and I knew he was OK. Reunion really did help me a lot, although that is heresy to say in some circles. After so many years I am no longer grieving, the grief went on too long. My son is alive and well, not to be grieved. I will always regret giving him up, but I also take responsibility for my part in surrender. For me that was pivotal, to stop blaming everything on others and step up to the plate about my part. It did not kill me to do this, as some mothers seem to feel, but made me stronger.

In counseling mothers who surrendered, one size does not fit all, despite what some online groups would have you think. Really listen to the details of the individual mother and her story. It may indeed change over a lifetime, and probably that is healthiest, Some of the happy young birthmothers will become unhappy when they look closer, and some of the bitter old birthmothers will become more accepting and at peace as time passes and circumstances change. There is a saying “I have been through hell but don’t have to live there”. I feel I have indeed been through hell as a surrendering mother, but am no longer intent on staying there. I am now regarded as a traitor by some for not being anti-adoption, but would not be welcomed by the “rah rah adoption is great” moms either, because it most definitely has not been for me.

I do believe mothers are very different individuals, and that some truly do not want to parent and are content with the choice to surrender. I do not feel I can know another person’s true feelings or gainsay what they say about how they feel today. But there does need to be an openness to change, in either direction, and a respect for individual rather than lumping us all into a class and branding those who do not fit as “in denial,” “drank the koolaid” etc.


  1. Aren't we all influenced in some way or another how others think/feel/perceive us?

  2. WOW! Now that was a long read! But you are right, this comment did get lost and had a LOT to say. Thank you for pointing it out.

  3. People talk about the lack of counseling resources when it comes to adoption related issues. This comment offers some very insightful information on the way one woman has navigated her way through a life changing event and reminds us how individual our adoption related experiences are and how they must be treated accordingly.

    And that's just one of the reasons why I like it.

  4. Thank you for posting this, Campbell, and for drawing attention to the post, but more important, the comments. It was an incredible discussion.

  5. Thanks for using my comment on your blog:-)There is certainly lots more to discuss about this subject, from many different perspectives.

    I feel every time I hear from my son, it is a small miracle, and I heard from him today, nothing momentous, just normal stuff about what we have been doing between friends or relatives. I think "normal" is what we both want and are most comfortable with, not high drama.

  6. Yayyy @ hearing from him today! I think it's lovely that even just hearing normal everyday stuff is like a small miracle to you : )

    Thank YOU for taking the time to write the comment. It's very enlightening to me as an adopted person as well as being refreshingly honest, and dare I say, brave. I was just going to paste some of the parts of the comment that really resonated with me but I found myself just about reposting the whole thing again.

    I hope people will read it and get what I got out of it.

  7. Recommenting as you suggested Campbell...
    First, I really appreciate this first mom's honest account of her feelings and the pain she went through in surrendering her child. I found the part about the "Pain Olympics" especially intersting. In the Special Needs blogosphere (among moms of children with MILD special needs) the opposite "Olympics" seems to be going on. Maybe we could call it the "Acceptance Olympics"? The "best" and most "healthy" special needs moms are the ones who are "fine" with their child's disability and "wouldn't change a thing." The ones who find "gifts" in their child's quirks and have no need for a "cure". These are the ones who win the prize. Blech.... As moms. whether bio or adoptive, first or second moms, we all love our kids and we shouldn't have to prove it to ANYONE by being in the most pain or being the most accepting of our child's disability. Our feelings are ALL valid.

  8. That is very interesting, Kris. I suspect that in any group of people dealing with a tragic, traumatic, or painful situation, the "pain olympics" dynamic might develop. I have heard something like this happens on infertility groups, and groups dealing with chronic diseases. I can see where this would happen in groups for parents of handicapped children as well.

    I do not think love is dependent on pain, or that being extremely traumatized proves great love. In some cased it just demonstrates narcissism. In the case of acceptance of handicaps, it may indicate unrealistic thinking about the handicap.

    Agreeing that how people feel is how they feel, and there should not be a hierarchy based on extremity of feeling.

  9. I've really enjoyed reading this post and the comments to go with it. I really appreciate Kris' response as well: "whether bio or adoptive, first or second moms, we all love our kids and we shouldn't have to prove it to ANYONE by being in the most pain or being the most accepting of our child's disability. Our feelings are ALL valid."


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