So I am a birthmother, as some of you know. Just thought I would share my story here…
Hi my name is Tara and I’m 25 years old. I am a wife, daughter, sister, aunt, cousin, granddaughter, friend and nurse. I am also a birthmother. I started my journey as a birthmother 5 and a half years ago. I am the proud birthmother to my son Thomas Isaac who was born February 13, 2000.
If you would have told me 6 years ago that I was to place a child for adoption I would have laughed at you. Me become one of those women?! While I held birthmothers in high regard I wondered how could they give their children up and appear to just walk away. I could never do that. “Never say never” and “We don’t know what we’ll do until we are faced with a decision” are now a few of my favorite sayings.
Chad and I were high school sweethearts and starting dating in the spring of 1998 in our final year of high school. We were very much in love and enjoyed taking walks, going to movies, hanging out with our friends and talking. We spent a lot of time talking about our future and where we saw ourselves. We both had high hopes for our future and were planning on attending college in the fall. We both were enrolled in general studies programs and looking forward to starting in our prospective programs the following fall. Chad accounting and me nursing.
Things were going well for us and we were relatively care free until the fall of 1999. That is when I thought I might be pregnant. Chad and I had discussed in the past what we would do if I became pregnant when we weren’t ready and abortion would have been our first choice. I mean I could never give my baby up for adoption. I didn’t want to tell Chad until I knew for sure, but I was sure that I couldn’t be. We were using birth control and I certainly didn’t look pregnant. In mid November I took a pregnancy test and it was positive. I was shocked, devastated and absolutely hysterical. I didn’t know what to do. My first thought was to call my mom. I was living at home at the time and my mom and I had a very close relationship. I knew she would offer me support. My mom was also the nurse manager of an abortion clinic. I immediately called my mom for emotional support and for help in arranging an abortion. I knew instinctively that I could trust my mom to be calm and supportive.
I couldn’t remember my last period and so my mom booked me in to get an ultrasound at her clinic the next day. After my phone call with my mom I told Chad that I was pregnant. He didn’t know what to say. He was also shocked and stunned. After a bit of talking we decided that we would chose abortion. I would go with my mom to work the next day, have an ultrasound to confirm my dates and then have the abortion. I was scared but was at peace and felt a sense of relief that this would soon be over and we could move on with our lives.
Well the ultrasound revealed that I was 28 weeks pregnant and so abortion was no longer possible. When I heard the news I thought “my life is going to end. I cannot have a baby. I cannot be pregnant. I just can’t”. As I mentioned earlier I was always one of those people that said, “Oh I could never do that”. As much as I admired those women who gave up their babies, I also scorned them.
My mom and I came home, we were still in shock. I told Chad that I didn’t have an abortion and that I was 28 weeks pregnant. What would we do now?! We didn’t feel we were ready to be parents at the age of 19 and where would we live? We were both living at home. Would one of us have to quit school to support our family?! I loved children, didn’t feel I was ready to be a mom and I had always planned on being a stay at home mom. While Chad and I were in a committed relationship we both felt that we weren’t ready to commit to marriage. I anticipated a number of stresses that would have had detrimental effects on myself, Chad and our baby, had we rushed into a marriage.
Initially I brushed aside any thoughts of adoption because of the negative views of adoption and birthmothers I held. The only thing I knew about was closed adoption and I think that scared me even more than parenting. I could not picture myself living with a closed adoption. How could you go on the rest of your life without even knowing anything and I knew I just couldn’t do that. The choice I thought I could never make, I realized I would soon have to make. Adoption became our option.
My mom had heard about Adoption Options and open adoption from one of her colleagues. She shared the information with us and the idea of open adoption seemed a bit more hopeful but we were still scared.
I was so scared about going back to college the next day. I was embarrassed. I was embarrassed by the fact that I was pregnant and was so far along. I was a nursing student and my mom was a nurse. How could I let myself get into this situation and not know I was pregnant. I was worried my classmates would judge me – mainly because I was judging myself. My classmates and professors were very supportive and I really had nothing to worry about.
I was very healthy throughout my pregnancy. I think of my pregnancy as being very short, because my full awareness of it did not occur until 28 weeks. In the remaining 12 weeks prior to the birth I experienced a very wide range of emotions with regards to my pregnancy. My initial feelings of deep fear and shame subsided and I began to feel a deep love for the baby I was carrying. These feelings of love were bittersweet in that I was very aware of the impending loss. I loved being pregnant. My feet were swelling but I loved it. I thought “I wish he could just stay in me forever”. I considered myself a mother and became deeply attached to my developing baby. A baby I thought of as a boy. I treasured this time. Part of it was that he was mine. He had to be mine because he was part of me. I thought “This is my time with him, I am a mom for this little period of time. “ I loved him.
So at about 29 weeks or so I called Adoption Options and arranged to meet with Wendy. I remember feeling so overwhelmed after our meeting, but also a sense of hope. We could chose where our baby would go, we could meet the people, we could also remain in contact over the years. We wouldn’t have to hand our baby over to the unknown and walk away. It was then that we solidified our decision to pursue open adoption. Wendy was always willing to talk. I felt I could turn to her with any questions or concerns. She gave me lots of things to read including the book “Dear Birthmother”. Looking back I felt not only an emotional but also a cognitive shift occur in myself while reading this book. I couldn’t read more than two pages of the book without bursting into tears. I thought to myself “this sounds awful. I’m going to be a basket case for the rest of my life” But then I started reading about how the adoptive parents were so grateful for the birthmothers and the children. How happy they were and for the most part the birthmothers had gone on with their lives. But initially I was just baffled by this and overwhelmed, but then I realized that there was hope and this wasn’t the end of my life.
After careful consideration Chad and I chose parents for our baby about a month before the baby was born. Wendy gave us a bunch of Dear Birthmother letters and Jeff and Susan’s were one of the first ones we got. I flagged them as a possibility. We probably had about 15 letters and I was so worried that we would miss someone. Finally we realized that we needed to make a decision on who would parent our baby. We chose Jeff and Susan and their daughter Emma who was 4 years old at the time.
They had already adopted Emma and they had an open adoption with her birthmother and her family. We wanted someone who had been through an open adoption and so we decided on them. I felt that they would be more willing to keep their commitment because they had with another birthmother. I was really worried that once the baby was born that they would cut off contact with us. Somewhere in my head I thought, well they have visits with Emma’s birthmom and they are keeping up with their agreement and that was important.
We also wanted a stay at home mom. Susan had a degree in education but was a stay at home mom. She was able to support herself if needed. They traveled a lot, camped, seemed to love being parents and were the kind of parents that Chad and I hoped to be. We felt sure about our selection of Jeff and Susan after our first meeting and we continued to visit every weekend until the baby was born a month later.
My due date was February 14, 2000 and I went into labor on the morning of February 12, 2000. I labored at home that day and went into the hospital at about 10 pm that night. Jeff, Susan, Chad and my mom were with me. My labor was long and hard and I tried to sleep through it, but we all know that isn’t really possible. Thomas was born at 731 am on February 13, 2000. He was named Thomas Isaac Gray – a name we had all chosen before his birth. He had a bit of difficulty after his birth and after the doctors and nurses worked on him for a bit, I was the first to hold him. I am a very emotional person but I couldn’t cry. I tried but I just couldn’t as I held my son for the first time. Chad cried and that was the first and only time I have seen him cry. He was so beautiful and so small. I started to have second thoughts about the adoption but tried to push them from my mind. I have heard from a few adoption professionals that a birthmother has to reaffirm her decision to place her baby for adoption twice, once when she initially chooses adoption and the second
being after the baby is born. I completely agree.
The rest of that day was spent trying to sleep, holding Thomas, watching him, and playing a balancing act with Jeff and Susan. They were so excited to have witnessed the birth of their son but realized that this was my time to be his mother. They struggled with how involved they should be even though I had made it clear before the birth that I was going to be my son’s mother and take care of him in the hospital. Looking back I have some real ambivalent feelings about having them there at the hospital with us. I felt that I couldn’t fully mother Thomas with them there. I was worried about what they would think if I breastfed for example. I now realize that Jeff and Susan did not have to be physically present at the time of Thomas’ birth. I now feel it would have been more helpful to me if they had been in the background, perhaps offering some support by telephone. This would have allowed me the time and space to say hello and good-bye to my son. I also felt that Jeff and Susan’s presence in the labor and delivery room and the hospital created a subtle sense of obligation to them because they had been through this intensive experience with them. I often have to remind myself that I need to accept the things I cannot change – this being one of them.
I savored the private time I had with Thomas that night after everyone had gone home. It was just him and I and worried about falling asleep and missing a moment with him. I just wanted to watch him and do everything I could for him. I thought maybe if I could stay awake the time would go by slower or something. I wanted to hold him as much as I could. I was exhausted and was dreading the next day when I would hand him over to Jeff and Susan. I wanted the day to last forever; I didn’t want him to go home with them. I didn’t want it to end.
The day after Thomas was born, I signed the relinquishment papers in front of a lawyer, just prior to the entrustment ceremony we had planned. I chose an entrustment ceremony and with the help of a friend I made a programs to help commemorate the day and the experience. The entrustment ceremony was held in the hospital chapel and was very helpful to me, Chad and my family. During the entrustment ceremony Chad and I gave Jeff and Susan permission to parent Thomas. We also physically handed him over to them. I’m glad we did it. It gave me a sense of closure. It gave me permission to grieve and gave them permission to parent.
The next week I was just a mess and I don’t really remember a lot of it. I remember crying and waking up in the middle of the night to the sounds of a phantom baby and my nightie soaked in breast milk. It was awful and I was so lonely despite the fact that I had such good support. I had taken two weeks off of school to recuperate. Jeff and Susan called frequently to check up on me during the following weeks. Chad and I talked a bit about what had happened, but mainly I think he focused on his schoolwork to avoid his feelings. Like most men I think he wished he could make it all better. I know he was feeling a lot of sadness but he didn’t show it. I think he thought he had to be the strong one.
On the 11th day after signing the relinquishment papers my mom, Chad and I went to Calgary to visit Thomas and his family. This first visit was both reassuring and difficult. I was not prepared for the intensity of the pain. It was good to see Thomas but having to leave him again felt like the hospital all over again. It was helpful to see he was growing and doing well. He fit in so well with the family and Jeff and Susan were doing well with him. It gave me a sense of peace to see them as a family and that he was so loved.
While we were getting to know each other prior to the birth we talked about many things regarding our relationship, but we never really talked about the frequency of our future visits. Jeff and Susan often said that whenever we wanted to visit we would visit. Initially we visited a few times a month. It was all too much for both parties. I was having difficulty letting go and Jeff and Susan were feeling overwhelmed. Susan and I met one day and she shared her feelings and I shared mine. We decided to visit every 2 months. Initially I was upset and felt as though they were trying to cut us out of their lives. I was angry but as time progressed I realized that the agreement Susan and I decided upon was for the best.
During the first year of Thomas’ life I experienced a wide range of emotions – I was sad, angry, happy, you name it I felt it. I dealt with these feelings by journaling, leaning on Chad, my mom and my friends. A main support for me was the birthmother’s support group facilitated by Adoption Options. I started attending the group when Thomas was about 5 months old. The group was a safe place for me to turn to for help in dealing with the challenges of an open adoption relationship. I have found many friends in the members of this group. It is a wonderful feeling to know you are not alone and that there are others in the world that know how you feel. I have wonderful friends, who aren’t birthmothers, but they just don’t understand and really they can’t understand. I have found the support group to be a place to understand, accept and process my feelings about what is happening in the adoption. I give myself permission to express my concerns about the adoption in this place where all feelings are accepted.
The transition back to a feeling of normalcy took some time. It was a tough transition – trying to finish my first year of nursing school, keep up with my work as a Girl Guide leader, work and balance my life in general. I experienced another loss the summer of 2000 when my grandmother died. I continued to turn to my family and the agency for support.
We continued to visit Thomas and his family every couple of months and currently visit every three to four months. These visits were positive. Seeing Thomas in a loving family affirmed my decision and gave me a sense of peace. Every visit he seems to be doing something new. In spite of the fact that the visits provided me with a growing confirmation that I had done the right thing, the visits also contained an element of pain related to a sense of loss. The visits continue to have a bittersweet quality in that while it’s wonderful to see the changes in Thomas, the losses are ongoing.
Just before Thomas’ first birthday Jeff, Susan, Chad and I spoke at an education seminar for potential adoptive parents. This was an enlightening experience for both Chad and I and Jeff and Susan. We shared things with the group that we had never shared with each other before. Gaining a better sense of the adoption experience from Jeff and Susan’s perspective was a positive, but emotional experience. I learned a bit about their side of the story.
Overall I feel I made the right decision about the adoption, but I regret that it was a decision I had to make. Despite the fact that we have a positive relationship with Jeff and Susan I have struggled with feelings of not being recognized and valued in their lives. I have never heard from them how important our role in Thomas’ life is. I have battled with not knowing where I stand with Susan especially. I believe that her unresolved infertility issues have made her keep me at a distance. I never know where I stand with her – am I a friend or just Thomas’ birthmother?! I long for a more intimate relationship with Susan, a relationship I thought would develop to a deeper level, but unfortunately it hasn’t. I want to be friends with her, but she’s content with how things are, me being the birthmother and her being the mother. I hope that as time goes on that things will change. I believe that both Susan and I struggle with the limits of our connectedness to Thomas. I used to think and still do that maybe she struggles with her own feelings of inadequacy, that she will never be what I am to Thomas. In the same time, I feel that way about her sometimes. I will never be what she is to him and that’s part of adoption. It’s part of the process, but for Susan it is more comfortable for us to have some distance from me.
At a recent visit with Thomas and his family I asked Jeff if Thomas knew how he came to be. Had he been asking questions about his birth and adoption? Jeff told me that he had been told that he came from my tummy but that Thomas didn’t seem to interested in that story. Instead Thomas wanted to know where the very first person had come from. I thought this was quite funny and had to keep from laughing as Jeff discussed how he explained evolution to an almost five year old. I would like Thomas to be told that Chad and are very loving, hardworking and fun and that the decision to place him was a real struggle for us and that we love him. I occasionally still feel a bit of sadness after visits with Thomas but I try to focus on how well Thomas is doing.
I have continued to experience my circle of nursing friends as supportive to the extent that is possible given they have not lived my experience. I believe that some of them secretly wished that I would have chosen to parent my baby. I believe that they too have experienced losses associated with Thomas’ adoption. My extended family has taken a strong interest in being involved in the open adoption. My mom continues to be involved in Thomas’ life and my grandmother was as well before her death. My dad and step mom try to be involved in Thomas’ life but live in Montana so distance hinders that involvement. I believe my dad and step mom experienced some special losses because they were not involved in the pregnancy, birthing experience and did not see Thomas until he was a year and a half old. The distances that separate them from Thomas continue the experience of loss.
I feel a very strong bond with Thomas. I hope that the relationship will flourish as Thomas continues to grow and develop. I know I will always have a bond with him, that will just be ours and so I really treasure that. I hope, as he grows older that he’s interested in continuing the relationship. I’m so very proud of him. He is a show off, very polite and loves cars and trains. He is in kindergarten.
I have learned much about myself and about forming relationships from my open adoption experience. I view open adoption as a very purposeful relationship, which requires much work. I feel like I can overcome challenges, because I have and I feel like I have shown commitment. I have a stronger sense of relationships and how to foster them, mainly because open adoption relationships are so different, but yet so similar to other relationships. I have learned a lot about communication, honesty and trust. In these situations all one can do is trust what people say. One really is taking a blind leap, trusting things will work out.
I believe the birth of Thomas and the adoption experience has made me more compassionate to others who face personal challenges. I have also drawn from this experience in my nursing practice and I feel I am a much more empathetic as a nurse because of it.
I still occasionally struggle with my decision to place but I attribute these occasional doubts to the ebb and flow of the grieving process and I have learned to accept them. The feelings of jealousy, anger and shame I once experienced so strongly have also subsided and are much more easily managed.
I graduated with my Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree in May of 2003 and am working in the area of palliative care and oncology. Chad and I are still together and are planning our wedding. We were married June 18th 2005. Unfortunately Jeff and Susan decided that it is not in the best interests of their family to attend the wedding. I continue to struggle with their decision but am focusing on making our wedding day as special as possible even though they can’t be there.
I remain active in the birthmother support group and also am active in the many adoption communities online. I have found a lot of support and friendship from both groups.