Not a day goes by that I don’t think about my daughters’ first mother. I always thought I’d feel a strong connection to the woman who gave birth to my children — whoever she was, whether she were alive or dead — but I didn’t know just how deep and mysterious that connection would be. She is the person in our adoption triad who is the least discussed (in part because we keep the details of our girls’ birth family private, since it’s their story to tell, if they wish), but she is the unsung hero.
This is true of most birth moms — or “biological” moms, or “first” moms…whatever term you wish to use. I use “first” mom a lot because birth mom never seems quite accurate in our case: Our girls’ mother didn’t just give birth to them; she raised them for four years. And she did a remarkable job given her circumstances.
I hear a lot of praise for adoptive parents — for their decision to bind themselves to children who don’t share their genes, for being generous and “doing a great thing” and providing a loving home to children in need. But I never hear much praise for the women (and men) who not only choose to give life to their children but relinquish them to others forever. That decision takes courage. It takes selflessness and love. It takes many of the qualities we consider to be the markers of a good parent — or a good person, for that matter.
That’s why it baffles me that there’s stigma around women who decide not to raise the children they bring into the world. And there is stigma: I’ve had women write to me about it, and I’ve worked in the past with women who found themselves pregnant and in crisis. Consider the language we use: “She gave up her child.” “She is giving up her baby.” There is blame there. (This article, “Americans Need to Adopt a New Attitude Towards Adoption,” speaks about this.)
To my mind, if there’s a responsibility that comes with having made a baby, it’s giving that baby his or her due. And if that is not you as a parent — because you are too young or an addict or ill or impoverished or abused or unsupported in any number of ways — then the least the rest of us can do is admire the courage and sacrifice it takes to give your child to another to parent.
To all the birth and first moms out there — you who were not ready or able to parent, for whatever reason — I want you to know that you are not forgotten. Every day, the women and men raising the children you gave birth to think of you, pray for you, carry you in our hearts. We are connected to you. We feel an extra sense of responsibility in our parenting; we don’t want to let you down. We know that our gain is built on your loss, and it hurts to think about that. We admire you for the choice you made; we grieve that you had to make it; we never forget that we owe the joy we have as parents to you.
P.S. As I say in a response to a comment below, I realize there is a difference between a mother who loses parental rights and a mother who relinquishes her child willingly for adoption. I am speaking of the latter here. This post is meant to honor those birth moms who deserve acknowledgement and understanding — and there are plenty of them out there.
Image: Zoe Saint-Paul