Monday, April 26, 2010

Birth Parents: The Hidden Treasure of Adoption

As many of you know, I recently had the distinct pleasure of delivering the keynote address at Parenthood for Me's first annual Family Building Dinner and Silent Auction.

I began my speech by reading 'Moonlight Sonata', a piece I wrote about my kid's birth mothers late one night. That piece is currently under consideration for inclusion in a book, so I can't share it here, but here is the rest of what I said:

My husband and I have adopted twice, and through my work and personal life I've gotten to know many, many birth mothers and some birth fathers. And yet, standing here tonight, I have to admit... I don't understand birth parents.
Honestly, I don't understand making that decision.
I don't understand when birth mothers say they chose adoption out of love for their child.
You chose to walk out of your child's life because you love them?

Tell me you took on two jobs to make ends meet,
tell me you moved back in with your parents,
tell me you signed up for Medicaid and food stamps,
tell me you dropped out of school to work,
tell me you left your kids with your sister for three months so you could get a solid start in rehab,
tell me you made those kinds of sacrifices because you love your child, and that, I'll believe.
But choosing to walk away because you love them so much you'd rather spend the rest of your life without them? It doesn't make any sense.

And yet, I do believe that birth parents love their children,
and I do believe they choose adoption because they want something better for them.
I know that birth parents suffer greatly from their adoption decision, and many never completely heal.
Many never get over the grief and doubt and regret that so often accompany significant loss.

My point is that I believe birth parents love their children,
but I don't believe that's why they choose adoption.
I believe that birth parents choose adoption because it makes the most sense at the time.
I believe that when the initial panic and denial fade, and the fairy tale dissolves, birth parents get real.
Birth mothers in particular get very real, very fast.
They have to.

Every hour that passes brings them closer to the physical reality of their situation.
Every day the baby inside is growing, becoming, needing, demanding more... and more... and more.
More than its first mother can provide (maybe).
More than it first father can provide (maybe).

So they make the best decision available to them.
They choose as well as they can.
And that is what we do for people we love, isn't it?
We choose as well as we can on their behalf.

I believe that birth parents choose adoption not because they love their children, but in spite of how much they love their children.

And that, to me, is the ultimate sacrifice a parent can make.
Placing your child for adoption isn't just a matter of putting the child's needs before your own.
It is a matter of putting your child's needs in place of your own.
Choosing adoption means choosing to meet your child's needs instead of your own.

I know many adoptive parents who are fearful of their children's birth parents, or feel threatened by them, or flat-out don't like them.
That's really sad.
That's a disservice to a child you love.

My husband and I never considered a closed adoption.
Our children's biological families are theirs.
Their origins are theirs.
Their birth parents are among the most important people in my kids' lives, because it's they who chose this life for my children.
Knowing their birth families is knowing part of themselves.

I could never be at peace without contact with my kids' birth families.
I needed to meet their birth mothers,
I needed to hold their hands and look in their eyes and ask them why they chose adoption.
I needed to tell them that it's OK to change their minds,
that it doesn't matter what anyone's expectations are,
it doesn't matter what papers are waiting to be signed,
it doesn't matter how much we want children... this is your baby and you are the mother, and no one else know what's in your heart or head, and if you decide to raise the baby yourself, then that's the right choice.

Because I had those opportunities, I can love my children freely.
I can love without guilt or insecurity about their birth families.
I can give them continuity and inclusion, rather than disconnection and separation.

Children who were adopted need a lot of things.
They need to know they are loved.
They need to know their family is permanent.
They need to know they are living exactly the life they are supposed to be living.
They need to know they are accountable for their decisions.
They need to know why they were adopted.
And they need to be allowed to grow up without illusions about adoption or their birth parents.

The only way to accomplish all of that is for adoptive parents to open themselves to the treasure of birth parents.

If you are an adoptive parent or someone considering adoption, please, for the sake of your children, talk to birth parents.
Browse around birth mother forums and blogs, and spend the most time with the opinions that trouble you most.

Patti is a birth mother who read my book. I'd like to share part of her reaction with you:
"Some parts are hard to read, I'll be honest. I've even had a few knee-jerk reactions that have left me feeling defensive. I'm far enough into my birth motherhood, though, to look for the truth in those moments. And it is always there. One thing I hate about adoption in general is that each member of the triad is constantly challenged, and obligated, to accept and learn from the parts that are yucky. There are always more vegetables to eat."

I agree with Patti that all members of the adoption triad have an obligation to learn from each other, especially the things that are difficult to learn.

But I have found that by truly embracing our children's birth parents - and celebrating them for who and what they are - I have fallen in love with eating vegetables.

Thank you for listening.


I know that many birth parents don't choose adoption at all. It is thrust upon them by people who wield power in their lives, and it is a tragic injustice. Like anyone who speaks or writes about adoption, my words are rooted in my own experience. They represent a small space on the spectrum of adoption experience.


Click here to purchase Sally's , What I Want My Adopted Child to Know: An Adoptive Parent's Perspective.

Sally Bacchetta
The Adoptive Parent
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Von said...

Out of interest what was the 'prize' in the silent auction?
Adopters don't seem to realise the power of advertising and the power of the techniques used by the adoption industry, it ammounts to brainwashing of vulnerable women who sometimes don't know which way to turn.In a consumer society you consume efficently and using all the 'smartest techniques', adoption agencies use them just as any other business does but of course you know that.
If you really want to do something positive set up a system of support, real support for women so they can keep their babies.You might like to see my recent post including a story about a young, relinquishing mother.

michelle said...

Very well put Sally.

Patti said...

Hi! This post kind of upset me, and I started to formulate a comment, but it got long fast, so I actually wrote a post about it. I just wanted to give you a heads up, I thought it was the polite thing to do :)