An Ode to Birth Moms

December 16, 2013

Wooden Stairs Near Lake

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

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1 Kate December 16, 2013 at 9:17 am

I completely agree that this is true of most birth mothers, who at least made the heroic decision to have their child. However, in the experience of some of my siblings, they were taken from their mother who bused them and then she fought their adoption tooth and nail. Sadly, many children (adopted or not) have been wounded forever by their birth parents.

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2 Zoe Saint-Paul December 16, 2013 at 10:52 am

That is a good point, Kate. I tweaked one of the words in my post above just to be more accurate about that. I suppose your point speaks to mine — and is part of the reason there is stigma towards birth parents. This post is meant to honor the many women out there who’ve chosen to relinquish their children, but are often ignored. In most cases, they choose not to parent because they are in the kind of circumstances that would be unfair to a child. Whatever the situation, it is still a difficult decision to make and live with.

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3 Aimee December 16, 2013 at 11:51 am

Thank you for writing about this, Zoe! You read my heart. Although I think my 6 yo daughter vaguely remembers her early years she spent in the orphanage, then with the family who brought her here in the states before she finally came home to us, we somehow taught her to always mention in her or our prayers, (be it before meals or at bedtime,) “our family and friends in the Philippines”. We wanted to not only teach her to pray for the family who brought her into this world, but also maybe to develop our connection more deeply through the spiritual level. One day when or if they will ever get to meet them we hope that she will have an easier way of processing everything. And that our prayers and theirs will meet, too.

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4 Zoe Saint-Paul December 16, 2013 at 1:15 pm

Nicely put, Aimee. I hope the same for my daughters.

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5 Elizabeth December 16, 2013 at 12:02 pm

I wish adoption language had more terms! I think you will find that those of us in public domestic adoptions can have very complex emotions in this area. Our stories often involve significant suffering and, while there are certainly instances in which we feel gratitude, it is very difficult to balance the emotions. On the one hand, we love our children and are profoundly grateful that they are part of our families, but on the other hand, loving our children means acknowledging that they were hurt and that should never have happened. Generally, I wish that we were not called “adoption” because our stories are not beautiful most of the time. Frankly, for many of us in the public sector, we’re outsiders looking in. Our very existence is founded upon neglect, damage, abuse, trauma and suffering and, very often, the pain our children suffer, the pain that we try to help them live with, is the result of their parents. Our stories are not beautiful, they are the stories of broken children and that’s tragic. Our families would willingly sacrifice anything and everything to heal our kids, but often that is not our role in their lives. Our roles involve loving unconditionally and always, often because our children were made secondary concerns, watching as their worlds and their trust shattered around them. We don’t have mothers that made adoption plans for their children. We have mothers that lost parental rights. That is a big difference.

It is very unfortunate that one set of terms and definitions is forced to encompass us all. For you, birth mother is a beautiful thing. For me, it is not. Personally, I am not grateful that my son’s mother neglected him. I am not grateful or thankful for the terror and pain that he was subjected to. My son will never be “better”, he will always inspire me and will always be my delight and joy, but he will never be “fixed” and, because she refused to consider an adoption plan and forced the courts to terminate her rights, my child suffered irreparable damage. Because I honor my son and his daily struggles to succeed despite what happened to him, I cannot and will not excuse how he was broken. To acknowledge his strength means admitting that he had to overcome where he should never have had to and that means acknowledging what happened to him. Just as my son’s story is his to tell, so my son’s mother is his to forgive. If he forgives her, I will, too, because I love him, but it is his decision to make, not mine. I do whatever I can to mitigate her loss and pain because I love my son and want him to know that, because I love him, I respect that she is his mother and that, because I love him, I never ever did anything to alienate her or penalize her. I send letters, photos, notes, school crafts, stories, and Mother’s Day gifts, but the relationship and the respect that I foster has less to do with the person that exists, but the woman that I wish had existed. Maybe this will change, but, the longer I am a parent and the deeper my son’s attachment and love grows, the less I can forgive anyone not having made him the absolute priority he deserved to be.

However, that being said, I do very much wish that I did have those emotions for my son’s mother and I am very happy for those families that do have those relationships. I just wish that adoption language allowed for all of us to exist without having to use the same limited terms.

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6 Zoe Saint-Paul December 16, 2013 at 1:13 pm

Thanks for sharing this, Elizabeth. There can definitely be many mixed emotions about birth parents, depending on the situation. I couldn’t agree more that 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.

No matter what the case, no adoption is solely a happy one or “beautiful.” It is always about loss and suffering, about lemonade out of lemons and holding conflicting and sometimes diametrically-opposed thoughts and feelings. This is what all adoptions share in common.

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Margaret Cabaniss 7 Margaret Cabaniss December 17, 2013 at 10:08 am

Well said, Zoe. I think this idea plays into a larger theme that we’ve talked about here before — mainly, withholding judgment of other moms, families, and their parenting decisions. For those of us on the outside looking in, you just never know what goes on beneath the surface, the struggle and sacrifice that may have been involved — for both the adoptive parents and the birth parents who give up a child.

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Margaret Cabaniss 8 Margaret Cabaniss December 17, 2013 at 11:46 am

Ha — um, just noticed I used the very phrase (“give up”) that you’re railing against in this post. Ahem. But I truly mean it in the sacrificial sense — as something difficult you do for a higher good, or for the benefit of someone else — not in the disposable sense!

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9 Therese December 18, 2013 at 2:53 pm

I am deeply grateful to my sister’s birthmom, whom I do not know. My sister came home from the hospital when she was only two days old. Abortion was legal in CA then and my sister might easily not have become part of my life. My life would be much different and less rich without her, so I very much appreciate your ode and the warm sentiments that inspire it.

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10 Zoe Saint-Paul December 19, 2013 at 1:29 pm

Thanks, Therese. Happy that you got to enjoy the gift of your sister!

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11 Julie December 20, 2013 at 6:44 pm

Thank you for this post! We cannot say enough about the glorious woman who chose adoption for her (and our) son. We think about our son’s birth mom every day.

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12 Zoe Saint-Paul December 23, 2013 at 9:43 am

I know you are not alone in your love and admiration for your son’s birth mom. Thanks for sharing it.

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13 Ange December 20, 2013 at 11:23 pm

This is a beautiful post. My sister is one of the brave and courageous first moms. When she found herself in a difficult circumstance at 15 years old, she choose a family for her baby. Thank you for honoring her.

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14 Zoe Saint-Paul December 23, 2013 at 9:40 am

Thanks for stopping by and telling me about your sister, Ange!

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15 Lindsay December 22, 2013 at 6:32 pm

Thank you deeply for these words. I am a birth mom in a domestic open adoption and my son has been with his adoptive family since 3 days old. I try very hard not to be quiet about his and my situation but that comes from my desire for his story to feel normal, for his sake. Underneath the activist voice there is very real and bottomless pain that is always with me. I don’t have regrets but to have my pain acknowledged, well, we are all touched by that in life.

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16 Zoe Saint-Paul December 23, 2013 at 9:40 am

You are so right that it helps to have our pain acknowledged. It means a lot that my words touched you because this post was meant for you, and women like you. Thanks for your comment, Lindsay.

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17 Melissa December 23, 2013 at 9:35 am

You have managed to capture the intense love and admiration that we feel for our child’s first mom. It is a love so deep and complex that I have tried myself to write about it many times but never in such eloquent words as you have crafted here. Thank you for writing this and for honoring these women in our lives. They deserve this kind of praise more often!!

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18 Zoe Saint-Paul December 23, 2013 at 9:53 am

Thank you, Melissa! You are right — it is so hard to articulate, and my attempts here fall short, but I felt moved to write *something* about my own feelings about my girls’ first mom, and the many women out there who have been in similar circumstances and have had to make hard choices. I think these women deserve to know how much a part of our lives they are, even when there may be no communication or many miles between us.

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