“Once Labeled”- The Grooming of a Birthmother

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“Once labeled a [birthmother], other elements of a [mother’s] character, experiences, knowledge, aspirations, slowly recede into the background, replaced by the language of symptom and syndrome. Inevitably, conversation about the person becomes dominated by the imagery of [adoption] and relationships with the [expectant mother] re-form around such representations.

To the extent that [this] label takes hold, the [expectant mother], through a process of surrender and increasing dependence, becomes the once alien identification….These are not value neutral terms, either. They serve to separate those who suffer these “ailments” from those who do not; a distinction that if not physical (as in hospitalization) is at least moral. Those who are labeled, in ways both subtle and brutish, are degraded–certainly in terms of social regard and status.” (Saleeby, 2009, p. 4)

 When people are labeled, they are degraded. They are separated from the group. They *become* the label. A woman is no longer “M., an expectant mother considering adoption.” She is a birthmother; no longer a mother, but something lesser, something less human not even deserving of a real label, but a manufactured one. She eventually surrenders to this label because it has become the dominant imagery she is associated with by others.  She assumes the role of birthmother because her own character, knowledge, aspirations–her identity–are swallowed up by the label.

The adoption industry understands the dynamics of and power behind labels. Calling an expectant mother a “birthmother” before she has terminated her parental rights is just one of the multiple methods they use to coerce an expectant woman to “voluntarily” part with her child. By calling an expectant mother a “birthmother” before she has even given birth and met her child, adoption counselors, social workers, and other industry advocates are grooming her, exerting subtle (but brutish) coercive persuasion to encourage her to surrender to the role of birthmother, to become the label they have created for her.

If any woman was labeled a “birthmother” by an adoption counselor, attorney, social worker, hopeful adoptive parents, their own parents, friends, or their religious community before she terminated her parental rights, then she experienced a form of adoption-related coercive persuasion. Further, any one who labels an expectant mother a “birthmother” before her rights have been terminated (voluntarily or by the courts) is participating in coercive persuasion, whether they recognize it or acknowledge it as such.

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Saleeby, D. (2009). Introduction: Power in the people. In Saleeby, D. (Ed.), The strengths perspective in social work practice (5th ed., pp. 1-23). Boston, MA: Pearson.

Adoption: An Act of God

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An act of God is a disaster that leaves a path of destruction in its wake. It can be violent and unexpected or slow and insidious. Earthquakes. Hurricanes. Tornadoes. Tsunamis. Floods. Blizzards. Drought. Fires. Famines. Pestilence. Disease. These events are seen as being unpredictable and unreasonably severe. They leave broken families and broken hearts behind.

So, yes. I guess adoption is an act of God.

#flipthescript #familypreservationfirst

Part 1: How Can I Rise?

HowCanIRise

“How Can I Rise?” by  Norbert Shamuyarira

On my way home from Utah this last week, I took the opportunity to visit this sculpture on display at the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. It is part of a permanent installation of Zimbabwean sculptures that can be found between concourses on the pedestrian walkway.

After a particularly disappointing week, “How Can I Rise” spoke to me in a way it never has before. As I stood in front of it, then slowly circled around it, viewing it from every angle, I cried. And I didn’t care who saw me cry. I just let the tears fall.

How can I rise? After 43 years of living, 23 of them as a mother of adoption loss, I cried because I have finally found answers to that question for myself. These might not be the answers for everyone, but they are what has allowed me to engage with life in an authentic and wholehearted way, in spite of the trauma of adoption loss.

And that is a gift.

_____________________________

Not many people know about my non-reunion reunion and fewer know the details of what has transpired over the past years. I haven’t shared much about it over the last five years because I have wanted to protect my daughter from scrutiny and perhaps even unkind judgements by those who don’t think she is acting how she “should.” I am of the opinion her behaviors are perfectly understandable, considering the totality of the situation, and I am thus able to navigate our non-reunion reunion with a great deal of grace and patience because of this belief.

But while the behaviors are understandable, they do at times hurt.

Like this last week. It was The Big Hurt. In the most simple terms, this is what happened: I went to Utah. My daughter and I made plans to meet for the first time since relinquishment in March 1993. Thirty minutes before we were supposed to meet, she texted me that she wasn’t able to make it. I cried. A lot. I cursed. I called my “reunion doula.” I talked with my mom. I survived. I got on a plane and came back home.

How can I rise, especially in the face of what transpired this week?

I rise because I had the courage to show up for her.

I rise because I stayed true to my core values of honesty, integrity, and love.

I rise because I have learned I am worthy and deserving of love and acceptance.

I rise because I have learned how to embrace my own deeply flawed self with radical acceptance.

I rise because I have learned who is worthy of holding my story, who will respond with empathy, and who will not.

I rise because the shame heaped on me by my religious culture no longer holds me hostage.

I rise because I have learned the alchemy of dancing with the dark emotions.

I rise because I have learned not to “move on”, but to move with the grief of adoption loss.

I am not saying I am healed, not by a long shot. Any of you who’ve been in adoption land for more than a few years know there is no “healing” – not in the normal, textbook sense of “healing” from loss. But I am willing to say I have learned to rise again and again and again when adoption trauma plows me over.

A fair number of others have emailed me or asked me privately to share more about how I have developed resiliency on this adoption journey, so over the next few posts, I will try to share what has helped me along the way (and what led me back to graduate school to earn a second Master’s degree, this time in Clinical Social Work.)

Until next time, much love and belief –

M.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Wisdom of Grief

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“Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak whispers the o’er-fraught heart and bids it break.” – William Shakespeare

There are some emotions that render us exquisitely vulnerable. Grief is one of those.

These last few days, the grief that only a mother of adoption loss can know has been my constant companion.  I am left feeling raw and wildly exposed to the vicissitudes of others, unsteady and unsure of what direction to take next. Reunion has a way of doing that to a woman.

Fortunately, grief also brings with it information about ourselves and others, information that can transform us and our relationships. Grief can empower us, if we let it.

And so I am letting it.

 

Grief, infertility, and more [and not adopting]

To all the first mother and adoptee bloggers: Keep speaking, even when others try to silence you. The world needs our words, our stories, our truth. The authority of your lived experience matters.

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Depressed people have difficulty with grief and can have large grief reactions. I can say that is the truth for me. Like many middle-class people in advanced Western societies, I have been sheltered from grief much more than others in the world. I don’t believe I even went to a funeral until I was an adult in my early 30s. And that was for a co-worker. My relatives were far-flung and my parents, well, they didn’t really talk about death. (I was born and raised Jewish. Interestingly, the Hebrew mourning prayer doesn’t even mention “grief,” “mourning” or “death.” It is rather about how God is great.)

I believe the biggest grief reaction I had up to that point was due to my secondary infertility. I had a beautiful daughter at the age of 36. My husband and I tried to have another baby, but no dice. Even though you know it will be harder…

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National Adopton Month 2015 ~ Saving Our Sisters style #NAM2015 #flipthescript

In response to the excessively adoptiveparent-centric calendar created for NAM 2015 by the group “The Adoption Exchange,” I give to you this:

SOS_NAM2015

If you don’t know about the 501c3 organization “Saving Our Sisters,” you should! It is a grassroots network of mothers of adoption loss and family preservation activists helping expectant and new mothers and their babies avoid the trauma of adoption relinquishment. You can read more about it on the Saving Our Sisters Facebook page or make a donation through the CUB website’s donation page (donations are tax deductible).

Welcome, National Adoption Month 2015! #NAM2015

It’s that time of year again when, by Presidential proclomation, we Americans get to “celebrate” the destruction of the natural family National Adoption Month. Yipee and pass the streamers?

Maybe not.

Today, my news feeds on all of my social media sites have been full of blog posts written by adoptees who are working to reclaim their voice and #flipthescript on National Adoption Month. It’s been incredible to read them as they have come across my feeds. There have been many, but here are a few I thought I would share:

From Kevin H. Vollmers’, “Before you wish someone happy National Adoption Awareness Month…

Here’s a PSA to those of you who “celebrate” National Adoption Awareness Month: Remember that many adoptees like me are not so keen on it. Adoption isn’t just about love. It’s not based in altruism. It’s a multibillion dollar business where there’s a clear buyer, seller, and product. It operates within violence, especially violence toward women.

As an institution, adoption has a history of telling lies, like it did to my mother. As an institution, adoption has a history of taking advantage of women in vulnerable situations, like it did with my mother. As an institution, adoption has a history of favoring privileged women at the expense of disadvantage women, like my mother. As an institution, adoption has a history of erasing the lives of women, like my mother who passed away in November of 1985.

From Chelsea Westfall at the blog, “How Does it Feel to Be Adopted?”:

“Being adopted has always been something I’ve had an internal struggle with. The greatest aspect of my struggle to come to terms with being adopted is feeling as if I cannot talk about the fact that a struggle even exists. Adoption is such a wonderful thing for so many individuals, myself included, but that doesn’t mean it is without consequence.”

From the blog No-Name Changeling in a blog post titled “Bad Seed and Split-Feathers: November’s Happy Adoption Month”

“I am close to sixty—I’ve lived more years, than I have years to live before I die. And I know now, I will die without ever seeing my mother’s face or being accepted by my tribe.”

And released just in time for National Adoption Month, a new anthology of adoptee voices, “Flip the Script: Adoptee Anthology Project (The AN-YA Project).” Get it. Read it. Learn from it.

#flipthescript #NAM2015

Behind the Curtain: Jessalynn Bills Speight

Yeah. This woman.

I had the “pleasure” of tangling with her a few years ago. I am one of those her followers decided to “out” as a “bad birth mother” because I don’t spout the dominant cultural rhetoric about LDS adoptions.

Fast forward to a few months ago – she had the temerity to want to connect with me on LinkedIn with her new “professional” profile. The words Whiskey Tango Foxtrot may or may not have escaped my lips.

LinkedIn invitation.

What the…??? Why would she want to connect with me professionally?

As I am intimately familiar with the cult-like brainwashing of the LDS church in regards to single expectant mothers and birth mothers, I am deeply empathetic towards women like Jessa. However, my empathy is stopped up short when they begin to exercise unrighteous dominion and employ their wretched tactics to keep other women “in line.”

Jessa is a “minder,” much like those of Scientology. Her goal and objective is to keep birth mothers mute, deaf, and powerless before the adoption industry and adoptive parents.

Like AstridBeeMom says in her blog post, Jessa doesn’t speak for me. #notyourhandmaid

Musings of a Birthmom

There’s an article going around from the Huffington Post. It’s entitled, “How Do Women Feel After Placing Their Baby For Adoption?”  The article was written by Felicia Curcuru who is the co-founder and CEO of an organization called Binti which claims it “uses technology to improve the adoption process and encourage empathy and understanding among members of the adoption triad.”

In this article, Curcuru interviews two first moms who have written a book called, “Birthparent’s Guide to Grief: A 12-Step Process.”  This book was written by Jessalynn Bills Speight and Alysia Foote. I’ve seen the article circulating in some adoption communities and support groups. Each time it pops up I cringe.

I’ve read the article. In my opinion, 90% of it is absolute garbage and is not applicable to the majority of first moms more than 5 years into an adoption. There was a lot the article left out, as far…

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“Understanding Why Adoptees Are At Higher Risk For Suicide”

It’s National Suicide Prevention Week 2015 here in the US and this is difficult reading for me. Why?

Because I unknowingly put my daughter at a four-fold risk of suicide. What mother in their right mind would do that???? How is THAT supposed to be a blessing, dear LDS church? How is an increased risk for suicide “about love“?

This adoption truth would have been a game changer for me. I would have never relinquished her for adoption. I was promised she would grow up whole and happy because she had the magic elixir of Mormondom – two parents who were sealed in the temple. It was supposed to be the secret sauce that protected her from depression and low self-esteem, among many other things.

But I was lied to.

And she suffered.

So yes, this is difficult, but necessary reading.

Light of Day Stories

Talking about suicide is hard and uncomfortable. Talking about it in connection with adoption–which often has much joy but is more complex than people realize–is challenging. And we need to talk, and keep sharing information and resources.

I am pleased to share with you my article “Understanding Why Adoptees Are At Higher Risk For Suicide,” published today by Forefront, a University of Washington collaboration of the UW School of Social Work, UW Communication, UW School of Nursing, and UW College of Education.

My three main points in the article are these:

Adoption is a trauma.

Adoptees often don’t know their medical histories, which may include depression and other illnesses.

Adoptees don’t want to upset their adoptive parents with concerns about depression or what could be seen as ingratitude.

I know people I love more than words can say who have considered. and attempted, suicide. I do not presume to…

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The Process of Becoming Real

Cover of Brene Brown's books, "Daring Greatly."

“As I look back on what I’ve learned about shame, gender, and worthiness, the greatest lesson is this: If we’re going to find our way out of shame and back to each other, vulnerability is the path and courage is the light. To set down those lists of what we’re supposed to be is brave. To love ourselves and support each other in the process of becoming real is perhaps the greatest single act of daring greatly.”
― Brené Brown, Daring Greatly

Dear Ms. Feverfew –

I don’t write many letters to you lately, but today I echo Dr. Brown’s words: If we are ever to find our way back to each other, past the shame that is the essence of adoption, it is because we support each other in the process of becoming real to each other again.

So today, I set down the list of what a “good” LDS birth mother is supposed to be. I set down the stony expectations of my religion and my culture. They have sought to invalidate our connection, to convince both of us that we are no longer real to each other.

But you are real. Just as Poppy is my real daughter, so are you. You are not a ghost nor a lost daughter. Your presence in this world carries weight and significance.

You are real. You are worthy. You are loved. 

Just as you are.

Know that you are supported in your quest for wholeness, that my love for you is an ever burning blaze, even in your darkest of moments.

You are real. You are worthy. You are loved. 

Just as you are.

M.