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.

My Soul is a Tree in a Hurricane

Dear Ms. Feverfew:

Perhaps you don’t know the significance of today in our life together apart. Perhaps you do. Perhaps your parents have told you. Perhaps they haven’t. If they haven’t, I won’t do so now, not here, not in this medium. Perhaps someday I will, if you don’t already know.

Just know these three things:

  1. You were loved and wanted from the moment I found out I was pregnant with you.
  2. You have never been anything but a joy to this mother.
  3. I am sorry.

Much love,

M.

On the 20th Anniversary of a Daughter’s Passing From a Mother’s Life and Into Adoption

It was Wednesday, March 17, 1993. Not more than two months before, all 50 states celebrated Martin Luther King, Jr. Day for the first time and then inaugurated one of the youngest Presidents in its history, Bill Clinton. In Los Angeles, four of the five officers accused of beating Rodney King were on trial for the second time.  Whitney Houston’s version of Dolly Parton’s country classic “I Will Always Love You” had just finished a 14-week run in the number one spot on the Billboard Hot 100 playlist.

waco_fig06aThe siege at Waco, Texas was 18 days old. On February 28, a gun battle had erupted between the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) and the Branch Davidians, a Seventh Day Adventist splinter group. Four BATF agents and eight Davidians died during the initial raid. FBI authorities had been in negotiations with them for nearly three weeks but the leader of the sect, David Koresh, and his followers at the Mount Carmel Center showed no signs of backing down. The news reporters said there were women and children in the compound – Koresh had asked for milk for them.

I watched the events unfold on the nightly news, riveted to the story that gripped the nation. Perhaps it was because I could imagine what those mothers must be going through, under siege and trapped within a religious community that values conformity more than compassion.

~

I am ashamed to admit I don’t remember with any extreme precision what words were exchanged that night in Bishop F.’s office.

In fact, for many years I have struggled to remember if I even have the date correct. Was it March 16th or March 17th? Tuesday or Wednesday night? Or another date entirely? A deep shame rises up from the seat of my soul. How does a mother not remember with unyielding certainty the exact date she last held her daughter in her arms? Intellectually I understand the psyche’s need to repress such events and I have worked tirelessly to forgive myself for this all too human reaction to the trauma of losing a child, but still…the question lingers.

I have carried a heavy burden knowing I may never be able to pinpoint the exact moment in time I last saw her, what she was wearing, or how she physically got from my arms to G.’s. Did she crawl to her? Did I hand her to her soon-to-be adoptive mother? What did I say to her as I stood to leave? What did I say to my daughter? I know what I felt as I am feeling it all again at the moment I write this, but what did I do? Did I place my lips to the downy soft curls on the crown of her nine-month old head and bestow upon a Judas-kiss? What did I do in those last moments with her?

Dear God, what did I do?

As I try to write about my last hour with my daughter there in Bishop F.’s office, I can find very few landmarks to help me recall the order of how things unfolded.  Those minutes have stretched into an eternity and are a vast and empty desert, the salt flats of my life. Memories struggle to put down roots in the alkaline soil.   For the past two decades, I have not allowed myself to linger in this parched and blinding landscape. This is where the bones of my motherhood were picked clean and left to bleach white under the intense heat of the Great Basin sun.

Bonneville Salt Flats 3When I do visit, I am like a driver at the Bonneville Speedway. I only catch brief flashes of landmarks as I race onward at the speed of sound. The color of the thread in the hem of my pants – orange against a weathered blue.  The small scrap of paper that has fallen underneath the edge of Bishop F.’s desk. The dusty leaves of the artificial plant on the shelf just behind him.  The dense weave of the Prussian-blue fabric on the chairs.  The small hairline crack in the cover for the electrical outlet to my left.  The smudge of a hand print on the dark brown door frame. The unimportant and trivial visual minutia surrounding me that night are the things I remember.

It is strange what the human mind will do to ensure our survival, and stranger yet is what trauma across the decades does to a person’s mind, how it distorts and plays with patterns, colors, sights, sounds and memories. Clearly, the thread in the hem of my pants, the dust on the leaves, and the weave of the fabric posed no threat to my psyche. However, those are the things my brain paid attention to that night.  The fact I remember those things but cannot remember the vital events – the more threatening event of discussing the plans to hand my daughter to these strangers – is because my amygdala took over, a residual survival trait left over from tens of thousands of years of ancestral women living in fear of annihilation. This phenomenon is a testament to the extreme amounts of stress under which I functioned that chilly March night.

I can not remember leaving. My mind will not allow me to go there, even two decades later. My memory always skips ahead to five miles to when I am in the parking lot of the LDS chapel where Carolyn’s funeral was held three and 1/2 years before.

I sit slumped over the steering wheel, sobbing in deep guttural gasps while the windshield wipers struggle to push away the late winter rain, thick with the chill of the Rockies in March.

~

Today, on this perhaps-anniversary of that day, I am fasting. I am fasting that I might finally allow myself to be in that moment of exquisite vulnerability when we were last together. I am fasting to have that moment revealed to me with mindfulness, clarity, and most of all, compassion. I am fasting for the ability to attend and befriend the deep and hidden grief of that evening. I am fasting for wisdom to know how best to take action to offer up some recompense to the world for my wrongs.

Most of all though, I am fasting for my once-upon-a-time daughter, that she may find support and healing on her own path through this social experiment called adoption.

“Choice” and The Proverbial Loaded Gun

Dear Ms. Feverfew –

As many natural mothers can attest, one of the common arguments used against us in our effort to process and heal from adoption loss is, “No one held a gun to your head and made you sign the papers. You did that all by yourself.” This line is usually delivered dripping in disdain and with a sneer curling up around the corners of the mouth of the person speaking it.

As many natural mothers can also attest, they are technically correct. For most of us, no one was standing beside us in the judge’s chambers or in the hospital or wherever it is we signed the paperwork. We were all alone. There wasn’t someone with a .45 cocked and pointed at our temple.

Or was there?

I came across this quote over Christmas and have been ruminating about it ever since.

“An overwhelming preponderance of evidence on either side would make our choice as meaningless as would a loaded gun pointed at our heads.” ~ Terryl Givens, 2012 (The God Who Weeps: How Mormonism Makes Sense of Life, p. 7)

An overwhelming preponderance of evidence. A loaded gun. A choice rendered meaningless (but with lasting consequences, I might add), as if a gun was pointed at my head.

Sound familiar? This is EXACTLY what Latter-Day Saints Family Services (AKA LDSFS), the NCFA, Bethany, and all of those other adoption “advocates” do when presenting the adoption “option.” They present a preponderance of evidence of why adoption is such a “gift,” why “it’s all about love,” yet they rarely discuss – and certainly not with any great form or substance – the potential for horrific side effects to a mother’s and her relinquished child’s psyche.

Do they ever give the expectant mother the research articles about how adoption will affect her? Her child? Her future children? Her future relationships? Her ability to trust others? Her ability to trust herself? Do they ever give her statistics about neonates and how they respond to their mother’s voice, scent, movement? How they recognize and prefer their mother’s breast milk and body odor? How their heart rate and blood pressure normalizes when they hear their natural mother’s voice? How their brain lights up to the sound of her talking to them? (This research is out there, BTW. It has been for decades and simply because adoption agencies or social workers don’t acknowledge it or talk about it doesn’t render the studies invalid.)

It is true, some agencies do give a head nod to negative outcomes in the form of offering FREE LIFETIME COUNSELING for relinquishing mothers, but it is highly unusual for a social worker to go into any great detail why that mother might actually need counseling services until she is old and wrinkled. Frankly, many expectant mothers who are in a position to be considering adoption are not in the frame of mind to ask the question, “Why would this agency be offering me FREE LIFETIME COUNSELING if I give my baby away to someone they’ve have decided is more qualified than me?” Most expectant mothers considering adoption never consider the reality that agencies offer FREE LIFETIME COUNSELING to relinquishing mothers because agencies and the people who work in them know the mother will need counseling for the rest of her life.

Let me repeat that again, just to make sure I am clear: adoption agencies and the social workers in their employ, such as the ones at LDSFS, know, and have known for decades, adoption will damage a mother so badly she will need to utilize mental health services for the rest of her life. They know, and have known for decades, she will not get over her lost child. They know, and have known for decades, she will not move on, at least not in the clean and sanitized way they would like her too and tell her she must – within a year. They know these things yet they do not tell her this explicitly. They simply tell her “if she needs them” the services are there. In doing so, agencies do not provide balanced, truthful information to the expectant mother about the long-term outcome of adoption.

Agencies such as LDSFS and organizations like NCFA present information and have single expectant mothers engage in exercises that research has shown will be most likely to convince a woman to give her baby to strangers. They shove information at her on a weekly basis to remind her of what she lacks, of her deficits and shortcomings as a human being and a mother. If this doesn’t work, they call her on the phone and they keep in constant contact with her via text or email. They encourage her to meet the people who will be de-mothering her, to build a relationship with them so she will feel guilty if she backs out because she doesn’t want to hurt this perfect, qualified couple who so desperately wants her baby. The information and tactics used by LDSFS and NCFA supports their best interests, financial, sociological, or otherwise (i.e., securing a commodity to be traded to the “qualified” couple willing to pony up the money at the appropriate time).

In total, the practices and actions of LDSFS, the social workers in its employ, church leaders, and the LDS adoption culture leads to the preponderance of evidence Givens spoke of in his book. If he is correct in saying that presenting an overwhelming preponderance of evidence on only one side is no different than holding a loaded gun to a person’s head when they are trying to make a choice, then I guess I did have a loaded gun pointed at my head.

Like I have said before when quoting Woodie Gurthrie, “Some people rob you with a six-gun, some with a fountain pen.” It just so happened to be the fountain pen was in the hands of church leaders and my culture at large.

Take care –

M.

People Say the Darndest Things: What Some People **Really** Think About Women Who Place a Child For Adoption

Dear Ms. Feverfew –

A while back, there was an article in a paper about an open adoption that for all intents and purposes, seems to be “working” (whatever that means). These are some of the comments left by readers about the birthmother (her choice of words, not mine) who believes she made a “loving” decision to voluntarily terminate her parental rights because she was single, and for no other reason. Mind you, these aren’t the things people say directly to a woman who has lost a child to adoption (which are hurtful enough as it is), but behind her back and under the cloak of anonymity on the Internet.

I stopped collecting comments after the first day or so – I didn’t have the stomach to pursue it further at the time. But now…now I do. So, if you don’t mind, I think I will keep adding more of these little gems as I encounter them, and not necessarily from the original story. I will even start including screen captures and links back to the original content when possible. Nothing like full attribution to shine the light of day on this kind of stuff, eh?  I’m sure there are enough similar published-in-public-spaces-sentiments to fill an entire book.  A large one, maybe even a multi-volume set.

Take care –

M.

” Any moron with a working set of reproductive organs can create, carry, and birth a child… Squeezing out a baby doesn’t make you a mother any more than putting together a bookshelf from Ikea makes you a master furniture builder.” ~ Guy Incognito

“birth mothers aren’t the type of people who should be around little kids regardless of their genetic relationship” ~ El Conejo

“There’s nothing wrong with having an open adoption and then closing it…” ~ Ron W., adoptive father

I wouldn’t even consider an open adoption.  Maybe I’m wrong, but I just don’t think it’s in the child’s best interest.  Furthermore, it really rubs me the wrong way that the birth mother gets to outsource all of the responsibility but be there for the happy moments. ~ EdDebevic

Sorry, but the mothers who took responsibility didn’t give their kids away. They sacrificed and raised them. This kind of dump or responsibility is slap in the face to real parents.…Shes married now and I’m willing to bet she has another child… which is weird to me, if you can be a mom a few years after your first one, what was really the dilemma in the first place? Simply not being married? Its a cop out, and yes, she is just getting the best of both worlds. ~ macciatos

Giving up your child… is a complete cop out. You give up all of your responsibilities, basically dump your child off on someone else so that you don’t have to make the sacrifices. It isn’t brave and I don’t feel like it is something that should be cherished or encouraged. ~ macciatos

what a selfish arangement [sic]. ~ fudgemonkey1

I personally don’t think a contract would have been helpful in my situation. If the contract had forced visits or emails on me, I think that may have pushed me to insanity! (HA!) ~ adoptive mother

A Letter I Wish I’d Gotten

Dear Ms. Feverfew –

I came across this letter this morning, written by Coco over at “Grown in My Heart.” It comes too late for us, but maybe it will reach some mother who might be considering making an adoption plan irrevocable mistake because she has been convinced by her culture and religious leaders that she will never be a good enough mother to her child.

http://www.growninmyheart.com/a-letter-i-wish-id-gotten

Much love,

M.

http://www.growninmyheart.com/a-letter-i-wish-id-gotten

“Some people rob you with a six-gun…”

“…and some with a fountain pen.” (Woody Guthry)

Dear Ms. Feverfew –

I got word early this morning that my friend’s adoption has now been slammed shut by the adoptive couple because she has the temerity to speak out about her pain of losing [her little son]. There is no legal recourse for her…and what is worse, she has to live with the knowledge for the rest of her life that she chose these people to parent her son. On the upside, the adoptive parents told [my friend] that if she can “be happy” about the adoption and “learn to handle her pain” then they might allow some form of contact. Might.

I am sure [my friend] is much like me (at least prior to this latest stunt that [this little boy’s] adoptive parents have pulled). I am sure that her problems with adoption are NOT with the adoptive parents. Our chief complaint is with the institution of womb-fresh, still wet with their mother’s amniotic fluid infant adoption and with the culture that supports and condones this type of treatment of women who would make exceptional mothers.

Lest anyone think that the cultural attitudes and norms of the Baby Scoop Era are a relic of the past, they are not. They are alive and well in Utah and the LDS adoption scene.

I keep wondering what is going through that woman’s mind right now, the woman who is now holding [this little boy] hostage, using him as a bargaining tool to force [my friend’s] compliance with the culturally mandated norm of  a  “good LDS bee-mommy.” You know the kind I am talking about, the birth mothers who go around “advocating for adoption” because it is such a “miracle and a blessing” in their lives and they feel so “privileged” and “lucky” to give their babies to complete strangers. It makes me wonder how many of those women are just going through the motions, regurgitating the party-line so they are not cut off from their child’s life forever by their adopters.

A person doesn’t always have to have a gun pointed at their head, locked and loaded, in order to be forced into complicity.

And then I get to thinking of how this could be handled differently. Since we know that [his] adoptive parents have now claimed total and utter ownership of him, of course they are well within their “rights” to do whatever they please. We also know they would never in a million years consider giving [him] back to his mother because he was bought and paid for, signed, sealed and delivered and is now theirs forever and ever amen.

But what if, instead of acting like a petulant 5-year old little girl who is angry at someone because they dared play with her dolly, what if this woman were to suck it up and be the mature person she claims to be? What if she were to call [my friend] and say, “I know you are hurting. I know this isn’t what any of us thought it would be. It is what it is so we have to find a way through this. What can we do together to make this the best for all of us?” We all know the best possible thing for [him] is to have his mother in his life. If this adoption was REALLY about [this little boy] and his needs and NOT about his adoptive mother and HER NEEDS, then she would say a prayer, suck it up, and do what is needed to ensure that [he] has his mother in his life. Period. That includes setting aside her prideful need to exert ownership over this precious child.

And then I get to thinking about [this little boy] and how this will affect him. He is being raised by people who detest his mother enough to intentionally cut her out of his life. This is no longer the era of closed adoption. They cannot claim ignorance or innocence about their behavior. They will be fully responsible for the fallout of this in [his] life. They will have NO ONE to blame but themselves for what happens when he discovers how poorly they have treated his mother. And make no mistake about it – he will find out.

There are many other things I have been thinking but for now, I need to get back to my writing for my dissertation. I have 22 more days before I need to have it in the hands of my committee and I am starting to get a wee bit anxious.

Much love,

M.

_______________________________________________________

P.S. I had to edit this post and the comments tonight to remove identifying information of my friend and  her son. Things have gone from bad to impossible and I don’t want provide the adoptive mother any more ammunition to use against my friend. Any changes to the post or comments are [bracketed]. I *hate* having to do this, but I don’t know any other way to protect her yet tell her story at the same time. My apologies to those whose comments had to be redacted.   03/10/9:37 p.m.

I Double-Dog Dare You, Brother and Sister Arnell

Dear Ms. Feverfew –

I have a friend, a newly formed first mother who is still in the tender, fragile first year of post-relinquishment. Over on her blog “My Story”,  an uber-helpful man in her life, “Brother Arnell,”  has posted several comments to which I simply had to respond. I really should be writing my dissertation, but this just keeps getting stuck in my brain and I am afraid if I don’t write about it, it will continue to block my progress on what I should be doing. So here is the comment that I have had a hard time digesting:

I didn’t realize that as a man, husband and father of six I might be so clueless about parenthood as some of the respondents seem to think, so I asked my wife who has (among all our children) 52 years of 24/7, one-on-one, day-and-night mothering experience (not to mention pregnancy, labor, delivery and miscarriages) and who, for what it’s worth, knows something of the heartache of broken families. Her response: “Conception, nine months of pregnancy and 3-36 hours of labor do not a mother make – motherhood requires a lifetime of service.” (Brother Arnell, Feb 21, 2011;emphasis mine)

I would like to issue a challenge to Brother Arnell and his wife: I challenge them to look into the eyes of the mother of a child that was stillborn, the mother of a child who died in early infancy, the mother of a child lost to a miscarriage and I DARE them to tell that woman she is NOT a mother because she did not serve her child for a lifetime. I challenge them to look at that mother in the eyes and speak those same words they just said to Kara: “Conception, nine months of pregnancy, and 3-36 hours of labor do not a mother make – motherhood requires a lifetime of service. In fact, I issue this challenge to ANY PERSON who thinks the ONLY requirement for motherhood is serving a child for a lifetime.

I challenge them to look into the eyes of Abby’s mother and tell her she is NOT a mother because Abby passed within hours of being born. (Be prepare and have lots of Kleenex on hand if you follow that link….). I challenge them to look into the eyes of my friend here on base, who lost her lovely 9-month old daughter to a tragic illness two years ago this month. I DARE them to tell her she does not qualify to be called MOTHER because she did not serve her sweet daughter for a lifetime. I challenge them to send Curtis’s mother an email telling her that since she did not spend a lifetime serving him as he was stillborn at 40 weeks gestation, that she is NOT a mother. I dare them to look into my sister-in-law’s eyes and tell her that because my sweet nephew, her only son, died at 5 months gestation and she did not get the chance to serve him “for a lifetime” that she is NOT his mother. (Just do not do it while my brother is around or they might end up in a headlock with 190 lbs of angry on top of them).

I think you would agree that treating these mothers of loss this way would be absurd and I doubt you would find one single person who would take me up on that challenge (but maybe Brother Arnell would like to try it anyway?).

So why is it that mothers of loss (to adoption) are treated soooooooooooooo differently? Why is it the public assumes that we do not grieve, that we do not suffer, that we do not ache to hold our lost child just one more time as much as these women? Why is it that my friend, even two years later, is still having people bring her meals around the anniversary of her daughter’s passing and people still stop and hug her at the mailboxes and wipe her tears away? Why is she afforded that but I am not? Why am I told I should just get over you? I know it has been longer than two years for us, but I highly doubt that in 16 more years, my friend is going to have anyone say to her, “It was so long ago, just forget about her and move on already, will you? You have other children – stop crying about the one you lost.”

One of the things I find the most perplexing in this whole adoption transaction is that it is presumably  based on the deep and abiding love a birth mother has for her child. We (I) love our child so much that we gave her (you)  “more.” However, once the adoption is final, that deep and abiding love that moved us to make such a “selfless choice” no longer matters and some people feel that it no longer  (or should not) even exist.

And then you get people like Brother Arnell and his lovely wife who state that because I did not spend a lifetime serving you, I am neither a mother nor do I deserve the status of “motherhood” decreed up on me.

So if I am not a mother, then what am I Brother and Sister Arnell?

Much love,

M.