Let me say this about November: it’s not all pumpkins and relish. Even in Florida, it sneaks up cold and hard, or at least occasionally chilly and hard, and I can’t yet be lured into the joy of the season. I don’t mind the season, exactly – it makes coffee taste better and hot showers feel so good. But it reeks of a reckoning, the kind of spiritual reconciliation we face whenever another end-of-year approaches.
Case in point: November is National Adoption Month. I forgive you if it escaped your notice. It’s also National Fun with Fondue Month, National Peanut Butter Lovers Month, Historic Bridge Awareness Month, and National Impotency Month, so we are all (trying to be?) very busy.
Every month is National Adoption Month for this clan. I think each day about how our family came to be – the waiting, the anxiety, the joyful acclimation to parenthood. I remember the heartache – my own, of course, because me. Lately, though, I’ve been thinking of my children’s birth mothers.
Recently I joined a Facebook group called Adoption: Facing Realities. Many of the women who post are either birth mothers who gave their children up for adoption or lost them to social service organizations, or adult adopted children searching for their biological roots. For the most part, the posters are virulently anti-adoption, and it’s extraordinarily difficult to read of their pain.
At the turn of this current century, when we brought home our kids, the idea of “open adoption” – when an adoptive family maintains a relationship with the birth mother or birth family – was on the cusp of becoming more commonplace. But I couldn’t imagine it. My kids’ mother is me, I thought. I didn’t want to share that moniker. Back then, adoption seemed a like a project to get done. I still cringe when people use present tense to refer to my children’s adoption status – for example, saying they are adopted, as opposed to saying they were adopted. “It’s not a chronic condition, like diabetes,” I’ve said.
I might be wrong. Maybe being any part of the adoption triad (birth mother, adoptive parent, adopted child) is a chronic condition – not like diabetes, but more like…..vitamin deficiency? Something that requires you to continually take stock of who you are, how you’re living your life, and whether you have filled the residual void carved from your being some time ago.
I don’t know. These are just thoughts. But through perusing the Facebook site, I was referred to two websites. The first, called Adoption Surveys, is run by two women, one a birth mother and the other an adoptive mother, both of them involved in open adoptions. They’ve begun conducting informal, nonscientific surveys on topics and issues important to them and women like them. There’s nothing binding in the results – they don’t follow any kind of research protocol. Respondents voluntarily answer questions and offer comments. But man, is it jarring. The most recent survey explored the opinions, well-being, and mental health of birth mothers whose children were in closed adoptions. A sample comment, unedited: “It affected my entire life,nothing felt worth doing,ever.I gave my son away I will never forgive myself.”
The second website belongs to the Donaldson Adoption Institute, an advocacy group dedicated to enabling research and programming that benefit anyone touched by adoption. It recently published its annual report on the state of adoption: Let’s Adopt Reform Report: Adoption in America Today. A few of its findings: a human rights framework is needed; adoption is not a one-time transaction; market forces create a variety of concerns.
Market forces! Yes – because there is of course an economic engine that powers the adoption process, and automatically puts a price tag on infants. That fact alone makes the case for reform.
All of this research refers to adoption in America, and my children were born in other countries. But I suspect the major difference is that no one is asking foreign birth mothers how they feel. It pains me to say so – but I think I might already have an idea.