The Sisterhood of Birthmothers
Last year, a young woman down on her luck explored adoption options at Abrazo while she was pregnant, but after counseling, she decided to try to parent her baby herself. When her baby came, however, a positive drug screen prevented her from fulfilling her dream, so the State stepped in, and her baby ended up being adopted due to reasons not of her choosing.
Did she regret having not pursued her adoption plan at Abrazo? She didn’t say, but recently, when a friend of hers in a similar situation shared her desire to shield her coming baby from the State, she mentioned it to another friend who had placed a baby for adoption through Abrazo, and together, they called Abrazo, seeking help on behalf of their friend.
Meanwhile, across town, another Abrazo birthmom who was a working girl was talking with that same pregnant friend about her options, and within days, these two women also contacted Abrazo to initiate the adoption process for the baby that was due any day.
Abrazo met with the expectant mother to provide counseling and information about her options. She had previously abandoned a baby in a Baby Moses drop just years before, and she spoke openly of her regret at not having known about Abrazo’s services at that time in her life.
“I never forgave myself for just leaving my baby at the hospital,” she said, “but I didn’t know what else to do, and the nurses said ‘just walk away’ but it killed me to do that. I’ll never know what happened to my little girl and I can’t do that again.”
Her lifestyle and her history prohibited her from being able to raise the baby she was presently carrying, she said. She knew that much. But with Abrazo’s open adoption option, she would have the opportunity to handpick her baby’s new mom and dad, to get to know them, and to keep in touch over the years. She found comfort in this, and when her baby came just weeks later, that is exactly the plan that she made for her little one.
And none of it would likely have come about were it not for the three angels who were looking out for her and her baby– those two Abrazo birthmoms and the one who made other plans. They didn’t “get anything” for referring this mom to Abrazo, nor could they, under state laws. Still, they had the courage to mention the adoption option to a friend in need. They had the conscience to send their friend to an adoption agency they knew they could trust. And they had the integrity to lend her their support when she needed it the very most.
They were but a few of the members of a unique group worldwide of people who have helped to change the world– one child at a time. They are part of a secret sorority of women stronger than any others, yet largely hidden from the world for decades– and that is the sisterhood of birthmothers.
The sisterhood of birthmothers has no secret handshake, and there is no special sportswear. They don’t have a big, beautiful sorority house in which to hold meetings or parties. There’s never been a group photo of them all in one place at one time, nor will there ever be.
Yet these women have all been through an initiation of sorts, they have definitely paid costly dues, and for them, Hell Week was likely the day of relinquishment and the grief that followed.
Historically, birthmothers lived in the shadows, afraid to share their experiences in public, except with those they knew could relate or who were likely to be sympathetic. With the advent of the internet and social media, however, birthmothers have been finding each other online, opening a whole new world of validation and empowerment to girls and women who have placed a child for adoption.
Groups such as BirthmomBuds and Brave Love now offer positive support from birthmother to birthmother. Birthmoms Lorraine Dusky and Jane write an insightful blog called First Mother Forum, of interest to not only birthparents but also to anyone who approaches adoption with a conscience. And around the country, there are now birthmother retreats held to unite women who have shared the experience of placing a child for adoption. (Abrazo’s birthmother retreat, called Homecoming, is a biennial opportunity for Abrazo’s birthmoms to get together and share a day of fun, learning and laughter, and nearly 200 moms who have placed through Abrazo participate in a secret Facebook group just for first moms.)
Celebrities as diverse as Joni Mitchell, Roseann Barr, and Kate Mulgrew have “gone public” in recent years, sharing their accounts of having placed their children for adoption. Birthmother Amy Seek’s memoir, God and Jetfire, is a candid examination of the open adoption experience from a birthparent’s perspective. A Life Let Go, by Patricia Florin, recounts five birthmothers’ closed adoption experiences. Janet Ellberby’s Following Tambourine Man explores Ellerby’s journey as a birthmom who placed nearly forty years ago. Their stories are all different, of course, but common to all of these books is each author’s courage in coming forth to share their story, something that would not have been heard of just a few decades ago.
There is strength in numbers, and there’s healing in camaraderie. To be supported by those who have faced the same daunting choices and borne the same sorrows is to find affirmation, and can help lend new insights, promoting growth and resolution for the future.
Mothers of Loss
Yet birthmothers do not just band together or come together to advocate for adoption, either. A number of moms who refer to their experiences as not having “placed children for adoption” but rather, having “lost children to adoption” call themselves not birthmothers nor first moms but “mothers of loss” and devote themselves to sparing others the pain they themselves have endured. Saving Our Sisters is a growing movement of birthmothers whose purpose is to present moms contemplating adoptive placement with encouragement and monetary/material support enabling them to parent, instead. They caution mothers considering adoption about the burdens of birthmotherhood as well as misleading industry practices, as does the site ExiledMothers.com and Origins America. There is also a longstanding organization for birthmothers called CUB (which has had the unfortunate reputation of being an angry group of adoption detractors, due largely to the ravages of the closed adoption practices of yesteryear that were so injurious forced to place in that era.)
Folks are sometimes surprised that an adoption agency like Abrazo shares links to anti-adoption sources such as these, but our point is this: whether or not they “believe in” adoption, birthmothers in America finally have a voice, and that in itself is a good thing– no doubt about it. Those voices may be content or contentious, but the stories they tell all contain wisdom from which we all can learn.
The real power of the sisterhood of birthmothers is not that they all agree or disagree that their adoption experiences were healthy or positive or beneficial.
The power of the birthmother sisterhood is that they all deserve to have their say about their respective experiences, and to truly be heard, not just by each other but by us all.
The sisterhood of birthmothers has the potential to uplift, honor and defend women who have birthed and placed, who have for far too long been expected to suffer in silence, and to help educate and transform the world around them as well– if only we’ll let them?