Historically, birthmothers have been a population of women who have been bullied into silence. And there were always reasons that at least seemed important at the time. Mostly they were attached to how the community and society would see the woman and her family. Women were supposed to be good and pure and polite. Talking about an unplanned pregnancy at tea time would mostly likely make the older women in the room faint. Even if that pregnancy was the result of rape or incest, there was still shame and fear heaped upon the women in these impossible situations. While today unplanned pregnancies aren’t met with anywhere near the shame and societal pressures they were once met with, somehow, when one is a birthmother, we are still expected to keep silent.
I’ve been thinking about this a good deal of late; mostly because I've gotten more comfortable with telling my friends and co-workers about my son. For a time there I only spoke to family, the small handful of friends I had who knew, and the birthmothers that I met through a support group run by the adoption agency I placed through.
My family didn't know really what to say. My parents were also trying to understand why I had made my decision and what it meant about them. I had to tell them at one point that in the end, this wasn’t about them. This was about me, my boyfriend, and our son. I had to make this decision for the three of us. My parents’ age and health was a factor. But it was not the only, nor the deciding factor. It took us a couple of years before we could get to a point where we could talk to each other about it. For a time there, it was painful on both sides and it was easier at times to just not talk about it.
My friends also didn't really know what to say. I didn't expect them to. I had suddenly apportioned myself off from everyone my age. Anyone I knew who had gotten unexpectedly pregnant before had either terminated the pregnancy, had a miscarriage, or chose to give birth to and parent the child. What I was going through, none of them ever had. No one was sure what to do or what to say to me. In the subsequent years, I have told others. I have found a couple of birthmothers and a few adult adoptees who have helped me and have made me feel less alone. My current circle of friends knows everything there is to know. These friends have been the closest friends that I've had in a while. We've gotten good at reading each other’s tone and each other’s mood. And they know that I am going to my son’s birthday party tomorrow afternoon. And I've been invited to one of the circle’s birthday party tomorrow night. He’s declared that if I don’t feel up to it, he won’t be upset or insulted if I don’t appear at his party. I told him I would let him know one way or the other. Right now, I think I can do it. But this kind of empathy I don’t find with every one of my friends. So I count myself lucky when I do.
The other birthmothers that I have met and have become friends with are the ones who have almost understood everything I am going through and everything that I am saying. Now and again a situation will come up that no one has faced before, but they make me feel less crazy when they say, “Oh honey, I would have no idea what to do either. I’m so sorry.” One birthmother in particular, K, has been a good close friend and a great support to me over the past few years. Her daughter is several years older than my son. Thus things like my sadness over missing the first steps, the first words, and the stake to the heart that is hearing him say “Mama” for the first time to someone who isn't me, were always met with understanding and kindness from her. I saw her for the first time in months last week and it was a relief to speak to her since my son’s birthday was coming up so soon. Hopefully I will be seeing her next month.
I have told my story and talked about being a birthmother in one other venue, and it is almost always to a room that is at least half strangers. I have told stories. I have read poetry. I have called attention to the fact that birthmothers are out there and have stories to tell. We shouldn't be ashamed of what we did and we shouldn't let others make us feel ashamed. There are those who are shocked by my story. There are those who gain a better understanding of me. There are still others, I’m sure, who judge and dismiss me. They wish that people like me, and the other birthmothers I know, would be quiet and keep shameful things like what I did to myself. I’m not ashamed of what I did. Most days I’m at peace with my decision. Some days are harder than others. I know that my son is where he needs to be in order to have the best life that he can.
My hesitance to share my story at times comes solely from my fear of how others will treat me and how they will react to my story. While I know I did the right thing for my child and no one can tell me different, it does still sting when someone tells me that I abandoned my child. It does still burn when they stare at me like a monster who left their kid on some street corner to be picked up by God knows who. And it does make me feel about two inches tall when they tell me that surely with my family and my boyfriend and his family there was a way to make it work. There was. But that way would have been extremely difficult for everyone involved and my boyfriend and I knew better. We knew that our son would suffer. And that was something that we could not allow.
Our stories are stories that need to be told. Our stories are important and should be acknowledged for their importance. All of you have a story to be told and everyone’s is unique. I encourage all of you, tell your story. Write it, talk it, act it out, whatever you have to do, but please, tell your story. Don’t be scared of it or ashamed of it. It’s part of who you are and you should honor it. If people judge you for it, that’s their problem. There will be so many others who will love you for it and still others who will gain bravery and strength from it.