BraveLove is excited to share a series of four narratives during the months of October and November! Taken from an article written by adoptive mom, Helen Harris, these four heartfelt narratives will captivate and challenge your perspective as they clarify how individual experience and relationships change over time. The authors include one adoptee, her birth mom and adoptive mom, and her sister. The relationships challenge the adoption stereotypes of good and bad, address the myths that surround reunion, and propose possibilities for children through adoption that values birth families. Join us as we share these narratives in celebration of National Adoption month, and unfold the story of adoption through the lens of first the birth mother, the daughter she raised, the daughter she placed, and finally, the woman she chose to raise her daughter.
I’ve told this story before. To friends. To strangers. To anyone who ever asked how many children I have – I always count Beth. I appreciate the chance to share it with you now.
My story is not so unusual today. I was a teenage mother. My first-born, Caiti, was not yet a year old when I felt the familiar symptoms again: tender breasts, overwhelming nausea and a deep sense of protectiveness within. My reaction, though, was not the same as it had been with Caiti. I was terrified, ashamed, guilt- ridden and overcome with a desire to separate myself from the new life within me. I could not take care of two babies.
Sadly, my first thought was abortion. I had only briefly known and been with this new baby’s father and I was not under any illusion about his ability to support me and two babies. Besides, whatever fugue-state I’d lived in during the three months of what passed for our relationship had dissipated and I wanted nothing to do with him. Nothing. I had money – I worked a good job and was going to nursing school so I could afford a procedure and the medical mechanics did not deter me. However, I didn’t count on the toll such a decision would take on my mother and step-father. When I calmly announced my condition and plans, my mother left the room and my step-father said he would not live with a murderer. He added that if I pursued such a course of action, he would be forced to leave the home we all shared. I was dumbstruck. And I couldn’t go through with it.
I couldn’t think of another thing to do. I couldn’t think beyond getting out of bed every day, watching my body change, knowing that time offered no refuge and how bleak the future appeared to me. I was so angry! I was angry at myself, angry at my step-father, angry at my mother, and angry at that little life depending on me. Unfair as it was, it is honest. I didn’t have a path forward.
One morning over apple juice at the kitchen table, my mother quietly suggested adoption. I don’t know what it took for her to make such a suggestion. My parents decided when I was an adolescent that my siblings and I would live with our father after our parents’ divorce. My mother’s own struggles with parenthood and separation from her children must have made it almost anathema to tell me that a way out lay in giving my baby to strangers. However, a respite to my desperate fear was now visible.
Gone was my anger, shame and fear. I had a new purpose, a mother's purpose.
Adoption. I had not even considered it. I chewed on the word. I took the idea and tasted it, smelled it, touched it to see what would happen. The world did not stop moving. I did something then I’d not done in years: I prayed. I took the word “adoption” and I went to my room alone. I asked God what He thought. At that moment, I experienced the most profound sense of peace I have ever known – before or since. God gave me permission to think about adoption as a concrete solution. God let me know that it would be okay and that this baby I carried would be loved and cherished in a way He knew I was not prepared to do. The search began. I started looking for a resource to help me find the best parents for my child. Gone was my anger, shame and fear – I had a new purpose, a mother’s purpose.
Jennifer (birth mother), Beth, & Helen (adoptive mother)
I will never forget when I came upon the file for Don and Helen [the adoptive parents]. Diane, the adoption social worker I’d found, told me of their recent disappointments with two other adoptions for little girls that had fallen through at the last moment and of their decision to stop trying; she told me about their little son Daniel who only wanted a sister for Christmas. I knew they were right. Diane knew they were perfect.
As the days passed and my time to deliver grew near, I thought frequently about this woman who would raise and love my baby. I thought more about her than I did about the baby. Of course, I did normal pregnant woman things – I nested, I patted my big belly, I picked out a name – but I also wondered about Helen. Was she also picking out names? Was she preparing a room in hopeful anticipation or was she terrified it would fall through yet again? I wanted to help her as much as I wanted to help myself with this process.
Chet (Jennifer’s husband), Jennifer, Beth, Helen, Don (Beth’s Dad)
When Meagan was born (Beth now), I longed to nurse her, to keep her with me all the time, to kiss her little face. But I also tried to create some emotional space and so I did the most unnatural of things – I sent her to the nursery and asked them to keep her there. I remember the nurses calling me every few hours asking if I wanted to nurse my baby. It was the cruelest of moments to say no and hear their silent judgment. I kept having to say, “I’m giving my baby up for adoption.” Such terrible words! Relinquishing Beth to the foster mother while the remaining legal issues were resolved was one of the most difficult experiences of my life but that sense of peace that had enveloped me when I made the decision to adopt found its way to me again, making it possible to not curl up and die of grief.
Over the years, the grief lessened and I lived with the hard knot of it like a bruise in my heart. Mother’s Day was always the hardest as the thoughts I didn’t allow myself during the rest of the year were permitted to fly freely around and I wallowed in my sadness, mourning the loss of raising that little girl with her sister. I grieved for Caiti who didn’t have the sister I had. While I was given “room” to grieve, there was a sense from others that I should be “over it” – perhaps I even felt that myself. I decided to deal with the grief by talking about the experience. I thought it would be like picking at a scab – eventually it stops hurting and a scar forms. I was wrong, of course. It never stops hurting – but talking openly about it did make me stronger in that broken place.
Then came the day I never dared to hope for. Diane found me – on Facebook of all places. Beth wanted to connect with me and Diane was helping her in that search. Nearly an adult, her search for self could not be complete without finding out about her roots – I totally understood that.
1. Mother’s love | 2. Jennifer and her girls, Beth and Caiti | 3.Helen, Beth and Jennifer | 4. Happy tears!
I had to be vetted by Helen, of course. I couldn’t wait to talk to her! The first moment I heard her voice, all I could think was how grateful I was for her shining soul and her giant capacity to love the child of another woman’s womb. I am still in awe of her. Helen decided I wasn’t weird or anything that would be harmful to Beth and so we arranged a time to talk on the phone. Angel songs could not be more beautiful than the first time I heard her voice. No other experience can compare. Then I got to meet them! Holding her in my arms again after 18 years was precious and priceless. Bringing her to be part of our family – meeting Caiti, my sister, my mother – our family was whole in a way we didn’t realize could be possible.
Being a “birth mother” has profoundly changed my life. I deeply understand the power of spirit, the strength that grief can impart even as it drives you to your knees and the refining fire of love that mothers have. Mother love – no matter the adjective used to describe the mother – is a force beyond the ability of words to define. Once I came to understand that my decision to choose another mother for Beth made me a better mother for Caiti, I was no longer afraid or ashamed. I was empowered to be worthy of that title “Mother” and to live up to the challenge of raising Caiti in the best circumstance I could create, knowing Beth had her own mother now to do the same for her.
Update: Today, Jennifer is a happily married grandma working in a great career as a leader in the hospice industry. She finished her masters degree in nursing last year and says she is ever grateful for the experiences in her life which have made her stronger and more resilient.