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They Call us Birthmothers


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Family Journal, July 1981

Published in: Education
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They Call us Birthmothers

  1. 1. They call us birth mothers. We are women who have given up our children for adoption. Weare also called biological mothers. Still oth- ers call us "natural mothers"- ~ although for many this term is an affront to the role of an adoptive mother. I suggest to you that women who surrender children to adoption are simply mothers. In her article "The Inevitable: Question" (Vol. I, No.2), Susan Kli- banoff points out that an adopted child has a need to know his or her past, genetic history, and roots. I would like to add that just as the adopted child is naturally curious and seeks answers to fill the voids in his or her past, so, too, is the child's original mother. Women who surrender children to adoption, according to Ms. Kliban- off, generally do so to provide them with a better home than the women themselves can offer. This is a very self-sacrificing picture of the mother. It is also true that there aTe many women who do not sur- render their children voluntarily. Some mothers who feel that they are quite able to provide a good home are pressured into relinquish- ing their children by social workers, parents, and adoption agencies. Whatever the reason for giving up their children, however, most mothers long to know that their children are all right and are curious about their circumstances. And in attempting to satisfy this curiosity, mothers who have surrendered childn for adoption are defeated They Call Us !Birth Mothers by laws set up to keep adopted children and their birth parents in complete ignorance of one another. These laws were originally in- tended to protect the anonymity of mothers who had surrendered their children, and it was assumed that once a mother signs relinquishment papers she never again would want any knowledge of the child. This is a cruel and foolish assumption. No birth mother 1 have ever met wanted to get her child back or steal it away from his or her adoptive parents. But a birth mother does have a curiosity and a desire for assurance that her child is well. Recently there has been much publicity about adopted children's right to know their "biological" par- ents. I can foresee the day when the law will be changed so as to no longer deny adult adoptees access to information about their heritage. i It is my hope that the same relaxa- i tion in the law will benefit mothers i who have seen fit to relinquish i their children at birth, but who i need the reassurance of knowing i their whereabouts and condition. i Here in New Jersey, within the, past year, four women, who had surrendered children to adoption many years earlier, were able to dis- cover their children's new identities and whereabouts. These women received no help or guidance from anyone other than each other. They were even ostracized by such groups as ALMA (Adoptees Liberty Movement Association). ALMA has a strong "over 18" rule-that is,' parents should not contact children until the child is over 18. Yet these four women located their children during early adolescence. Each had to decide whether or not to wait until her child reached 18 or to pursue her desire at this time. Each .woman followed her own instincts, doing things that were considered radical even to each other. Each made difficult decisions, often against the advice of family, friends, and clergy. Among the four there were three different paths taken: two wrote letters to the adoptive parents, one telephoned her child directly, and one went right to the door of the child's house. It is interesting to note that in each case the mother's instincts proved to be right. The mother who telephoned, did so because she felt that her daugh- ter, though only 14, could handle it. Both the daughter and her parents have accepted it so well that a visit will take place this summer. The one who went directly to the door did so because she had always had very strong feelings that something was drastically wrong. Her fears were not unfounded. Her child had been sent away to a boarding school and was not in contact with his par- ents. Of the two who wrote letters to the adoptive parents neither sensed anything wrong; however, each also did not feel that every- thing was fine. They were cautious, and they found their caution to have been necessary. In both cases the adoptive parents were recep- --------. JULY lQ81 tive. However, in the first case the child did not know that he was adopted. In the other, while the child knew, she felt uncomfortable with her adoptive status, and would leave the room at the mention of the word. Again the decision was clearly correct to contact the par- ents and not the child Tome these cases clearly indicate that maternal instincts had to be still present to guide these women. It is also interesting to note that the success rate of these contacts is much higher than the success rate, given by ALMA and other groups, who propose waiting until the child: is 18. Just as many adoptees long to know the truth of their origins, ! whether they ask or not (for so i many fear hurting their adoptive' parents with questions), so too does a birth mother long to know that her child is all right, whether or not she actively searches for him or her. Far from wanting to disrupt the lives of their children, women'-are realizing that to wait or to do nothing is not always the best solu- tion. Those who have had their worst fears confirmed are the best able to testify to the fact that had they not followed their instincts ! and acted against all of the tradi- i tional taboos, their children's wel- i fare would have suffered, and they i would never had been able to for- give themselves for having waited. . Marsha Riben . OLD6R'.<"E.NEWJERSEY