Through this year's Interview Project, I had the pleasure of being paired with Suz of writingmywrongs.
Suz is a mother of three children, the first of whom was surrendered to adoption in 1986. Her perspective on adoption has opened my eyes to an experience entirely different from my own. She writes about her position on adoption here.
I really, really appreciated being paired with Suz for this interview project. I learned so much from her story and from our interaction. Thank you, Suz, for writing your story and participating in this interview!
For the sake of our readers' understanding, briefly summarize your adoption story.
Suz: Sure. I got pregnant the summer between high school graduation and starting college. It was the third time I had sex. First two times were protected, third was not. I come from a very conservative Catholic family and sex outside of marriage – never mind pregnancy – was a mortal sin. My parents learned of my pregnancy when I was four months along. I was sent to a maternity home 1000 miles from my home at the suggestion of an adoption agency known as Easter House. I did not want to put my daughter up for adoption but with nowhere to live, no job, and the threat of lawsuit against my parents and I if I did not, I signed the papers. Oh, this all happened in 1986.
Where does your relationship with your oldest child currently stand?
Suz: We are not in contact at her request. I found her when she was 19 although she had actually found me before that herself but did not contact me. We communicated a few times via email. We have never spoken on the phone or met face to face again (not since the third day of her life when I gave her to strangers). There are many reasons for this status (at least from my perspective) but to state why she feels this or that would be inappropriate. All that matters to me is that she has set a boundary and whether I like it or not I am required to honor it. I will admit to crossing that boundary twice a year. I wish her happy birthday on her birthday (via email) I also send her a Merry Christmas during the holidays. I have no idea if she gets these. I could be going to her spam. She never responds. I realize that is crossing a boundary by saying Happy Birthday (and adoptees and others have eviscerated me for it). I continue to hope that some day she will feel differently and that by sending her that twice a year message she knows I am open to it. Oh, she is now 27 years old. So we have been in some sort of a reunion for eight years.
Tell me more about the counseling you do with birthmothers. Have you had any opportunities to counsel women prior to placement (ie, get a chance to provide them the information you were lacking when you went through this)? I would imagine it is hard to get connected with women considering adoption before it happens. (how would they find out about you, etc)
Suz: I don’t do “counseling” per se. I am not qualified to do so. A friend (a real LSW, MSW) once called what I do “providing pastoral care”. As an anti-theist that statement made me laugh but I got his point. I just listen. I help connect mothers to resources. I drive them places if they need a ride. I conduct searches. I run fundraising drives. I sell jewelry and donate all the commissions from sales to various organizations that support single parents.
Yes, I have had the opportunity to interact with expectant mothers considering adoption. I urge them to look at all their options. I suggest talking to adoptees (both young and old from both closed and open adoptions). I suggest they talk to mothers (both those who have no grief over their adoption placement and those that are traumatized by it). I urge them to talk to Planned Parenthood, research Title IX, fathers’ rights and more. The key is to be informed and educated of ALL options. If you are not, there is no such thing as informed consent in my opinion. I caution them to avoid making a permanent decision for a temporary situation. Babies are always expensive, always life changing whether you are single or married, young, old, rich or poor. Those things can change. You cannot get your child back once you have signed a termination of parental rights.
What do you tell a birthmother that has major regrets about her decision? Whether because she felt pressured to make the decision she did or because the family is not involving her like they said they would or a million other reasons... What counsel do you give her?
Suz: Ugh. First I tell her I feel her pain in my own way. If she is with me, we usually end up crying and hugging and talking about it. What else I share largely depends on her. Sometimes all people need is for you to listen to them. They don’t want you to fix anything, they need you to validate what they are feeling is very real. If they press for advice or suggestions I will often refer them to other people, maybe some licensed professionals, good books to read. If it is an online friend, I will offer to talk on the phone, give them my phone number. Each mother and child is different and unique (contrary to adoption myth that you can swap mommies and babies and no one is the wiser). What I do or say varies. Mothers like me, us, we are sort of an enigma. Sure the mainstream media loves to push the beauty of adoption. As such, few people are qualified or willing to talk about the ugliness of it. Mothers in pain have nowhere to turn. Even when we turn to professionals they often tell us we should be happy or consider ourselves lucky. This happened to me. Within a few months of surrendering my daughter, I pondered suicide, could not sleep, would always hear a baby crying (and would not go to sleep because of it). I sought help for myself and a psychiatrist in Chicago told me flat out I “should consider myself lucky that someone took the child born to a girl like me”. Excuse me? Something is very wrong here.
What was your response to reading my blog and learning about my story?
Suz: Honestly I found myself feeling sort of conflicted. I cannot relate to open adoption since my experience was so different. I also am not a supporter of it. My position is that adoption should be the last resort. The fact that open adoption is not enforceable is problematic for me. If it continues, or has to be, I would like to see it as legal co-parenting type of arrangement. Right now, still, it is a carrot to bait too many mothers. It is a ruse. I have two friends (online mainly) that are mothers in open adoptions. Despite how good their situations are, they are still having their own struggles with it. As I mentioned to you, I am anxious to hear what the generations of open adoption adoptees have to say about it for they are the only experts in it. Every other person had a choice. It was done to them.
What does your husband think about your adoption experience?
Would you ever consider adopting in the future? If so, under what terms and conditions?
Suz: Probably not. For some obvious reasons, I am 46. I have no need/desire for more children. That being said, I have considered many times being a foster parent. I believe in reunification of families for children in foster care. If it can happen it should. I would be open to helping a child in crisis and then helping that family reunite. I wish we could find a new paradigm for taking legal custody of a child that does require dismantling the first family. I have an online friend, she goes by Thorn, that is an adoptive mother to children she fostered first. I also have another friend Michelle, doing same. They are both doing their damnedest to keep their adopted children connected with their first family. I really admire these women. If I were to adopt, I would want to be their kind of adoptive mother. More than fostering, I dream of being able to open my home to single mothers, expectant mothers, mothers in need. Sadly I don’t have the room and I don’t even know what legal issues that would pose but I dream of homes that help mothers versus those that imprison them, shame them and then take their babies away.
Thanks again, Suz, for partnering with me! Dear readers, please head on over to writingmywrongs.com to read Suz's interview of me! Also, lots more interviews to read from other folks at Open Adoption Bloggers, or click here.