I am Philomena


Adam Pertman, adoptive father, author of books such as ‘Adoption Nation’ and ‘Adoption by Lesbians and Gay Men,’ researcher, and president of the Even B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, recently wrote an article for HuffPo about the movie, “Philomena.”  It can be found here: Big Lessons That Transcend the Movie: There Are Philomenas All Around Us

I felt a profound sense of relief when he acknowledged my own reality:

“…the reality is that during the mid-20th century and beyond, severe religious, social and familial stigmas against unwed motherhood were the norm far beyond Ireland. As a consequence, it’s almost certainly true that there are more Philomenas in the United States than in any other country — i.e., women who, given a choice, would have parented their children rather than suffering the anguish of losing them” (Emphasis added.)

He is right. And I am one of them.

Me in 1992, seven months pregnant with my daughter.

I am Philomena.

I am a mother, who without the extreme social, religious, and familial pressures of the LDS church and culture, would have raised my daughter and done a damn fine job of it, too. However, my reality is that unlike most other mothers of loss to adoption, it took eight months and 27 days from my daughter’s birth until I was overwhelmed by the unforgiving social and religious stigmas against unwed mothers in the LDS church.

Like a tide that only flowed in one direction, it seemed a foregone conclusion from the moment I found out I was pregnant that it wasn’t if I would relinquish my oldest daughter, my beloved “Boo Bear,” for adoption, but when. That try as I might, it was God’s will for her to be raised by someone other than me and I should just stop fighting the inevitable outcome and ride the rolling swells out to sea.

My reality is I was peppered with questions and comments reinforcing this idea. When are you finally going to do the ‘right’ thing and place her for adoption?  When are you going to stop thinking of yourself and what you want? Why are you choosing to fly in the face of the prophet’s counsel by raising her on your own? Why are you putting your wants ahead of her need for the sealing ordinance? What are you trying to prove by raising her on your own – don’t you see she deserves a family who loves her? Why are you depriving her of a saving ordinance? If you really loved your daughter, you would let her be adopted by a married couple so she could have the saving ordinance performed. You know Melynda, the likelihood you will ever get married if you keep her is extremely low. Temple worthy men don’t date girls with babies. Doesn’t your daughter deserve so much more than to just be raised by you? If you truly love your daughter, you would place her for adoption with parents that can offer her more.

My reality is my bishop at the time said things to me like, “You know Melynda, it’s never too late to do the ‘right’ thing. I happen to know a wonderful couple looking to add to their family…”

My reality is the more I fought to keep my precious child with me, the more I was told I was being selfish, even cruel. Yes, a person I respected and trusted told me it was CRUEL and un-Godly to “selfishly” raise my daughter as a single mother. I was also told it was abusive to keep her. Not that *I* was abusive, but the mere act of raising a child as a single parent was inherently abusive.

My reality is I didn’t see those comments for their absurdity – I took them as indictments against my personal character and my ability to mother my cherished daughter. Those kinds of comments and questions created a chasm of self-doubt in me, a crippling worry I was going to “ruin” my daughter if I didn’t place her for adoption. Those kinds of comments fostered the thinking that by keeping her, I was damning her to a life of misery and “selfishly impeding her eternal progression.”

My reality is after eight months and 27 days of being a single mother, my faith in my ability to raise my daughter collapsed under this kind of extreme shame-based cultural coercion.  My sense of worth to anyone, God included and certainly my children, was pulverized and crushed to a fine powder during those months. It has yet to fully recover. I’m not sure it will ever make a full recovery in this lifetime.

“First and foremost, shaming or coercing parents into parting with their children…inflicts profound and lasting psychic wounds.”

Mr. Pertman doesn’t make such an assertion lightly – years of research back up his statement. Shame and coercion in adoption inflict “profound and lasting” wounds on birth mothers.  Research wasn’t wrong about that, at least not in my case.

As difficult as Mr. Pertman’s summary of research findings is to read, it is comforting to know a *man*  – an adoptive father, at that! – can understand what many others fail to grasp about losing a child to adoption. One should note I do not sit around nursing these “profound and lasting” wounds 24/7, regardless of what some readers of this blog think (and express in their emails to me). Just as many other Philomena’s have done across the years, I have carved out a great life for myself in the midst of this loss. I have learned to live well in spite of this ambiguous loss and unresolvable grief. I have come to terms that these “profound and lasting psychic wounds” are in my life to stay for some time – perhaps permanently – but they needn’t dictate my relationships with my children or others. Yes, the wounds are still there 20+ years on, but now they are mostly like old curmudgeons reminding me to listen more closely, love more readily, and treat myself and others with greater compassion.

There are other important things Mr. Pertman has to say about the lessons Philomena can teach a broader audience, so please take the time to read his article. There are broader lessons to be learned, if only people will listen and are willing to be taught.

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9 thoughts on “I am Philomena

    • Von – it took many days to write this post because as I wrote it, I could see with clear eyes the cruelty of what happened to me and my daughter, and yes, even the wickedness of some of the people involved. I found myself weeping afresh I know many members of my faith tradition don’t see it as cruel, they see it as God’s will and God’s plan.

      One of the gifts maturity has given me is that I am able to see many key players in the relinquishment of my daughter were simply playing culturally ascribed parts, following a script that is taught to members of the LDS church from the time we are toddlers. They were just as ignorant to the realities of adoption as I was. We we were all sold a bill of goods and I believe that had each of us known the inherent risks and pitfalls, we all would have made very different decisions. I am able to hold them with a large measure of compassion because just as *I* didn’t know better, I do not believe they did either.

  1. I went through a Lutheran agency and I heard basically the same things you did…in 1985. (minus the LDS ideologies) The script was always the same…from one state to another, to another.

    I’m glad it’s finally being recognized and acknowledged that we were duped, plain and simple. I’m going to send Mr. Pertman’s article to my “birth”daughter. I want her to know what I’ve told her about my experience is true, and wide-spread at that. I’m tired of being silent for other people’s benefit.

    Thank you for bringing this to my attention!

    • While disconcerting to know other mothers were vilified in the same way, it is comforting to know I wasn’t alone in how I was treated. Knowing there were others, not in Utah and not LDS, helps validate my experience in some way; it helps me understand the pressure I was under was real and not imagined.

      You are right: the script is the same. We have the NCFA to thank for that. I know both LDSFS and Lutheran Social Services both participate and support that organization.

  2. Reblogged this on Brittany Nicole and commented:
    This post has a lot of insight into the profound psychological issues behind the relinquishment of a child. As well as, outlining the fact that just because we have these wounds, does not mean we cannot go on to actively contribute to society.

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