She came to the agency much like any young woman in her predicament. She didn’t know what else to do. Her family was unable or unwilling to help. She informed her ex-boyfriend, but he wanted nothing to do with her. She was alone, scared and tired. So she did what the nurse at the clinic suggested — she called the agency asking for help. Here, she now sits, pouring out her soul to a counselor— not knowing what to do with the child growing inside her. The whole time, she cries and begs for help. She wants so desperately to keep her unborn baby, even though she knows she has nothing to give this child. No father, no family, no future. The counselor shows her kindness and comfort instead of judgment. After several meetings in which she looks at all her options, she decides to do what she thinks is best for her child. She makes an adoption plan. She knows what it means. She knows the pain it will cause her. But she genuinely believes this is the best outcome for her child. As she thinks about this choice, she lays her hand on her stomach and cries. She cries for herself. She cries for her child. And she prays that some day, the little one will forgive her for what she knows she has to do.
And so she makes her plan. She works with the counselor and chooses the parents for her child. She writes a letter to her unborn child, wishing for her a wonderful life — a life she is unable to provide. She speaks of her love and her deep desire that some day, they will meet again.
The day finally comes and she gives birth. It’s a girl. She holds her all night. Rocking her, and telling her all the things she wants her child to know. She takes in as much as she can; her warmth, her soft skin, her smell. She tells her baby girl how much she loves her, how much she will miss her. She tells her that her life will be so much better with her new mom and dad. How much they will love her and how much they can give her. A life she could not give her.
Her counselor comes in with the paperwork. She tries to think of reasons why she should not sign the papers, but she knows she has no other choice. If she truly loves her child, she will do what she believes is best for her. So she signs the papers. She gives her child one last kiss and with tears in her eyes, she says her final goodbye.
This is a story I have told through my many years of working as a social worker at Holt. This is a story of any birth mother, whether in the U.S. or overseas. Parts of the story would be different in different countries or settings. In China, where there is no legal way to relinquish a child for adoption, the mother would likely place her child in a box where she can be easily found or leave her on the steps at an orphanage. She would have no support, no counseling, no safety net or resources to help her parent her child. She will not choose her daughter’s adoptive parents, but will only have faith that her child will be well cared for. She will stand by, hiding in the distance, waiting until someone picks up her child and takes her in. She will walk away, with tears in her eyes, hoping that her child will know how much she loves her; hoping that her child will know that if things were different, she would have been her mom. But life doesn’t always work out the way we want. So she walks away with hope in her heart that her child will have a better life. Dreaming of a mom and dad that will care for her, love her as she deserves to be loved, giving her the future she could not.
While the circumstances may be different from country to country, the pain, the hopes and the dreams are all the same. I have worked with birth mothers here in the U.S. and I have talked with birth mothers from other countries and they often share the same feelings. They had no other choice. Their hearts broke in two and the only thing that got them through each day was the hope that their child would be placed in a loving home. There was not a day that went by that they did not think of their child and wonder… “What is she doing right now? What does he look like? Is she happy? Does he think of me?”
In my more than 22-year career at Holt, I have primarily worked with birth parents and adoptive parents both domestic and international. Early in my career, I counseled birth mothers who were experiencing an unplanned pregnancy and needed help looking at their options. Some of these women ultimately placed their child for adoption.
Since becoming the Director of Post Adoption Services at Holt, I have heard more from the Adoptee perspective. In these past few years, I have heard the Adoptee voice grow louder and I have become more aware of their thoughts and opinions. I have heard from many Adoptee group organizations and have heard from many Adoptees about what they wish their parents knew before adopting. Likewise, I have heard from many adoptive parents regarding why they adopt, what they need in the way of education and how to help their child have a healthy identity. More and more, we are seeing adult Adoptee groups and adoptive parent groups emerge. We as an agency can learn much from both these groups.
Adult Adoptees have become increasingly vocal through the years, which I applaud and encourage. But as I hear these groups speak out about adoption, I have also become increasingly uncomfortable. Uncomfortable not only because it’s not easy to hear some of what they have to say, but because the one voice that isn’t being heard — that isn’t all that loud — is the birth parent voice. This is a group that no one seems to want to hear from. They are the forgotten voice. Because, after all, “How could anyone give up their child?” This is such a contradiction in our society. We praise adoptive parents for adopting, but we collectively condemn the birth mother for making the extremely difficult decision to place her child for adoption. In some countries, where birth mothers have no other option but to abandon their child, this voice becomes non-existent. Domestically, the birth mother voice is a bit louder. And as birth mothers in the U.S. have become more vocal, open adoptions have become increasingly prevalent. But for birth parents in other countries, this voice is barely audible. It is a whisper, a small voice straining to be heard, but with no energy. This in part is due to the culture of many countries and partly to the guilt a birth parent feels.
As an agency, we have an ethical obligation to help that voice be heard. To work with all members of the adoption community and hear what they each have to say, even when they contradict one another. We must hear, honor and respect all voices. And when that voice is unable to speak, we must step up and speak for them whenever possible.
I tell this story not to diminish the joy of being a parent, but to remind you that someone had to make the sacrifice so you could be a parent. To remind you of the gift that was given you, not by Holt or any other agency, but by a women (and man) who wanted more for their child than they could give — a gift not only to you but to your child.
I share this because it is your child’s story. It is a part of who your child is. It is where they came from. It is their story that needs to be told. Yes it is heartbreaking. But by telling the story, by acknowledging the pain and sacrifice, we honor the loss and in turn, honor your child and where they came from. It is a way to normalize that which does not feel normal. It is important for us all in the adoption community to acknowledge this forgotten voice. Birth parents should have a place in our community because they have a place in your child’s heart.