Being at Peace with My Adoption Decision Does NOT Equal Denial

Being at Peace with My Adoption Decision Does NOT Equal Denial

I seriously considered not posting today. It is the last full day of my 2-week trip to NY/NJ, and it’s gonna be a doozy. For one thing, this is my only full day at Book Expo America, perhaps the biggest publishing industry event in the country. And then I get on a plane at 8 a.m. tomorrow (5 a.m. Phoenix time) and fly home. While I’ve treasured every moment I’ve spent out here – I REALLY want to find a way to live out here part-time again, because this is the next best thing to Ireland – I can’t wait to get home to my husband, my dogs, my cat, my bed, and my regular life. Kathy and Bruce have been incredible hosts. Again, I shake my head in surprise and gratitude every time I think about how far we’ve all come from that first meeting at Spence-Chapin all those years ago. But I’m sure they’ll be glad to have their house back to themselves so they can get back to their routine, too.

gillette NJ

So I was thinking of skipping today’s post, mostly because I’m tired, but also because I didn’t have a topic at the ready. Would have loved to have put up one image – but I since I couldn’t find the right one instantly, I scrapped that idea. Then I put “birthmothers” into the google, and found a link to a post titled, “Birthmother Wars; When the Positive Fight the Negative.” This incited me to write…

For one thing, I would never have used those words to describe it. I mean, when used other than literally, the word “war” is almost always hyperbolic. I certainly fall on the side of the positive, however, and I’ve been troubled by so much of the self-loathing that seems encouraged in this closed Facebook group for birthmothers that I belong to. So I was interested in what this birthmom blogger might have to say.

In a very long post that seems to repeat itself, she asks the following questions (in italics):

  • IF you have had a “good” experience and feel “at peace” with your decision, then why does another birthmother with a not as happy story or outlook so greatly threaten your place of comfort? Like why can’t you even listen to her? First, I wouldn’t – couldn’t – have placed my son with his family if I’d felt guilty about it. So I have been at peace since the very beginning. That said, we still had to grow into our lovely outcome. Much of it wasn’t easy, and I had no idea at the start we’d be where we are today. It also troubles me to know that Eric went through some difficult times, emotionally, because of the adoption. But he would have gone through hard times had I raised him, too, albeit probably around different issues. That’s just life – sometimes things get challenging. I really wish he’d talk with me about it, but he hasn’t opted to do that yet. And yet all of us got through it. I do have the benefit of having lived this path for more than 20 years, so I know that things can change for the better. And though I am 100 percent at peace with my decision, I can and will listen to and empathize with another mom who hasn’t had the blessing of a good outcome for her adoption – but only so far. I believe that no matter what happens in our lives, we have to dust ourselves off and make progress, move forward, keep living. My little sister died two years ago, and that was so much more difficult for me to go through than the adoption, probably because my son didn’t die. I knew he was OK and, in a general sense, where he was. I shed a boatload of tears about my sister. I spent a whole year being pretty much angry at the world. And then I stopped crying and stopped being angry. Birthmoms need to heal, too. But they can’t do that when they are encouraged by “support” groups to remain in victim thinking.
  • If you need support then WHY can the support not come from a mom who had a bad experience? Surely a mother who can openly speak of her sadness and loss can provide a well worn shoulder to cry on. I think every birthmother, no matter how positive her adoption experience has been, probably gets down every once in a while. The levels of support “needed” by those birthmoms likely vary from person to person. And I think it makes sense to get support from the people who can best do that for you. In the early days of my adoption, it was other birthmoms – because no one else on earth understands the experience of a giving up a child like another birthmother. Today, 23 years later, I’m in an open adoption and regular contact with my son with the full blessings of his adoptive parents, so I need a lot less support. And when I do need it, I still have birthmom friends from all those years ago to whom I can turn. Joining the Facebook group was a spontaneous decision this year for Birthmothers Day. I’ve thought about leaving the group, but some of the moms are so sincere – whether in “good” or “bad” adoption situations, and I genuinely like them. I also very much appreciate the willingness to tackle some of the hard questions, and the forthrightness of the answers from many of the group members.
  • And if you are so sure and confident, how come it distresses you so much to hear about the realities faced by others?  How can their life or, even their opinion, really alter your reality? I don’t even understand this question. The implication is that a confident person’s self-esteem will be shattered by hearing that others are suffering. WTF? I think this may be projection – because it’s definitely not my reality. I KNOW there are birthmoms who’ve undergone unimaginable heartbreak and loss, and I will gladly listen, hear them out, and offer comfort if I can. Yes, it’s massively distressing to know that we had such a positive experience when so many others have not – but from the posts in this Facebook group, it seems that so many of those who didn’t have good experiences actively choose those outcomes (either consciously or unconsciously), through their beliefs or their actions (believing the shitty message that they weren’t/still aren’t worthy or that God was judging them, or allowing even the idea of Birthmothers Day to trigger them, etc.). That’s what gets exhausting – hearing the same people make the same complaints like broken records, while they appear to make no move toward even trying to get out of that victim thinking and the resulting behavior. Shaming, blaming, and complaining are sure signs that a person is not taking responsibility for their feelings and status in life. These three low-vibration emotions are rampaging all over this group at least occasionally, but sometimes (ahem, Mothers Day weekend) nearly constantly.

I will say that I can’t get near the idea of morally superior birthmothers – another tangent in this gal’s blog post – because I will readily admit that mine was, in part, a selfish decision. I was 27 and had a full-time job and health insurance. I could have parented, but I didn’t want to be a single mom. I’d seen the toll it took on my own mother and my sister, and I wanted no part of it. Yes, I wanted more for my son than what I’d have been able to provide for him on my own, but I also wanted more for myself. I do not apologize for that. I also had full volition in my adoption decision. I deliberately did not tell my parents, so I didn’t have their voices in my head telling me what to do. So who am I to judge any woman who chooses abortion or who decides to keep and parent her baby?

The thing is, I hear where this gal is coming from. No, not everyone had a great experience. And yes, the adoption industry can and does take advantage of unsuspecting birthmothers the world over. Maybe it’s like the #MeToo movement, and birthmothers need to raise their voices in a loud chorus to demand a paradigm shift when it comes to adoption practice. Maybe we need to get over our collective shame so we can start being visible, and take a vocal stand against these abhorrent behaviors – done in the name of “creating families.”

Personally, I feel that in most cases, adoption is preferable to abortion – but I don’t even judge that anymore. Who am I to say, from over here in my cozy corner, what any woman is going through? Is abortion a heart-breaking option? Of course. Is it immoral? I don’t know. What I do know is that the human condition is flawed and complicated and amazing, all at the same time. As a result, our relationships are simultaneously challenging and rewarding. And as long as people continue to have sex, unexpected or ill-timed pregnancies will continue to occur. Should more women be encouraged to keep and parent their babies? Maybe – if they’ve got the financial and people resources to do so. But what if they don’t? What if they’ve given it all the thought they can, and they know – for whatever reason – that they can’t choose the parenting option? Do we force abortion on them? Force them to parent anyway? Or are we glad for that Third Choice? I think you know where I stand.

__________________________
Laura Orsini
 is an author, speaker, and consultant who coaches other authors to make and market exceptional books that change the world for the better. She is birthmother to Eric, who is finishing college in Boston this summer. Their adoption has been open for the better part of Eric’s life. She continues to toy with the idea that these posts will one day become a book. In the meantime, you can learn about her novel in progress, Stan Finds Himself on the Other Side of the World.

You’re Not the Daughter I Thought You’d Be

You’re Not the Daughter I Thought You’d Be

I spent some time yesterday with my dear friend Karen and her daughter, Kelly, the one she placed for adoption 36 years ago. Theirs was a tumultuous adoption experience, yet things between them are good now. Karen was 18 when she learned she was pregnant, a senior at a suburban Delaware high school. It wasn’t uncommon for girls her age in her town to find themselves pregnant – but they all made one of the two other choices: they got married and parented their babies, or they had abortions. No one chose adoption, and Karen was ostracized for her decision.

Her mom didn’t help, insisting that her daughter give up her future plans for college and a career to stay home and raise this baby! Karen selected a new set of parents for her baby girl and placed her daughter with them in spite of her family’s protests.

Here’s the thing: adoptions sometimes go sideways, in spite of the birthmom’s best intentions. In Kelly’s case, her adoptive mom, Patricia, never quite came to terms with the fact that her daughter was not her biological child, so she didn’t take after her in looks OR personality. She was her own person, with different traits and skills and interests. Kelly said she understood very early on exactly what it took to please her mother – and that was pretending to go along with all of her mother’s choices, from clothing to food to hobbies and playmates. Eventually, though, Kelly tired of pretending. She realized the payoff of her mom’s happiness wasn’t enough reward to warrant faking it anymore. So she started to express herself – her real self. That didn’t go over so well. And as she hit her teens and it became apparent that she wasn’t going to look anything like her mother, Patricia lost all interest in parenting her.

Though Kelly didn’t say this, it was almost as though her mother treated her as a doll or a plaything: as soon as she could no longer make the doll do what she wanted it to, she tossed it aside.

Skip forward some years to Karen’s reunion with Kelly. Lo and behold, Kelly is a mini-Karen. She strongly resembles her birthmother in appearance, speaks like her birthmother, has similar interests to her birthmother. Meeting Karen was like coming home. And the mere thought of it devastated Kelly’s adoptive mom. Even though she was never close to her daughter the way she’d envisioned their relationship in her dreams, Patricia would be damned if she’d let this interloper (aka the person who GAVE BIRTH to her child) be the mother she could never be to her daughter. So even though Kelly was a legal adult before she and Karen had their reunion, she’s had to run the gauntlet of guilt trips and psychological terrorism to pursue a relationship with her birthmom.

As she’s gotten older, Kelly’s begun to learn better self-care – and that means fewer interactions with Patricia, regardless of the guilt her mom still tries to heap on her. It means conveniently forgetting to tell her mom when she’s been to visit Karen, or how much she and her half-brother resemble each other. Karen married 17 years ago and has a 13-year-old son with her husband, Henry.

Kelly is involved in politics, working as a grass-roots organizer and campaigner for several local candidates in New Jersey and other Eastern states. During her work on a recent campaign, she met a man a few years younger than she – a man she thinks she might like to marry one day. How to hold a wedding, though, when you have two mothers, one of whom refuses to acknowledge the existence of the other? It sounds like the drama straight out of a Lifetime movie of the week, but these are real people who are dealing with these emotions today, in 2018.

I’ll admit that given my place in the adoption triad, I generally have a natural bias toward the birthmother. But I cannot help but think that even if I had no stake in the adoption arena, I might see this one from Kelly’s and Karen’s perspective. And, if given the opportunity, I might tell Patricia that just because her daughter wasn’t her clone, didn’t fall in line or measure up to her standards, just because their relationship wasn’t what she’d imagined it would be in her pre-adoption fantasies, doesn’t mean her daughter doesn’t love her. It doesn’t mean she failed as a mother. And it doesn’t mean that there’s anything wrong with her. But I would also tell her that it’s not her daughter’s job to make her happy. It’s not her daughter’s job to live up to the fantasy standards she dreamed up before she knew the real person her daughter would become. And it’s not fair to hold any of her shattered dreams against her daughter.

As I’ve written before and will, no doubt, write again, I firmly believe that because of their place in the relationship – older, more experienced, and hopefully more emotionally mature – the parent sets the tone and builds the framework for the relationship with their child. All the child can do is react and respond to whatever raw materials their parent gives them. If the parent gives them love and support, the child will likely give that back, in kind. But if the parent gives her child grief and guilt and emotional blackmail, it’s unlikely – perhaps impossible – for a healthy relationship to develop under those circumstances. The onus for that is on the parent every time.

Only time will tell whether Kelly and Patricia will ever find a bridge to a less combustible relationship. Stranger things have happened, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

__________________________
Laura Orsini
 is an author, speaker, and consultant who coaches other authors to make and market exceptional books that change the world for the better. She is birthmother to Eric, who is finishing college in Boston this summer. Their adoption has been open for the better part of Eric’s life. She continues to toy with the idea that these posts will one day become a book. In the meantime, you can learn about her novel in progress, Stan Finds Himself on the Other Side of the World.

Will You Party with the Grief or Choose to Be Happy?

Will You Party with the Grief or Choose to Be Happy?

I get that I’ve had a near-fairytale experience, as far as my son’s adoption has gone. Kathy wished me Happy MOTHER’s Day on Facebook – emphasizing the word “mother,” which I am blessed to receive as her acceptance of me simply as Eric’s Other Mother. None of the competition, aggression, anger, resentment, antagonism, or other low-vibration feelings that unfortunately so often seem to be a part of the birthmom/adoptive mom relationship – whether they are acknowledged or not.

I get that I don’t have the anger, angst, overwhelming sadness, guilt, anguish, or so many other negative emotions tied up in my feelings about Eric or any aspect of the adoption. OK – I was a little irritated not to hear from him for my birthday (a little over a week ago), but I did get a Happy Mother’s Day text from him that made me smile. Once upon a time, such a text would have made my week. Now, perhaps I’ve become complacent, because while I was grateful for it, it didn’t stop me in my tracks, make my eyes well up, or even really give me pause. Cool. He remembered. And then I moved on with my day. Or maybe it’s because I know I’ll be seeing him in just a few days, as I fly back to New Jersey for the party to celebrate his graduation from Northeastern University. Funny how when I lived out there, so many of my vacations seemed to be coming back here, to Arizona. This will be my second trip back to New Jersey in five months – so we’re in Opposite Land now. Point is – maybe it’s easy for me to be so preachy about the perils of holding on to all of those negative emotions because things have gone so well for me within the adoption space.

That said, I’m also generally not an overly emotional person. My sister’s death hit me harder than anything in my life – including the adoption. But it didn’t cause me to curl up in a ball or want to stop living. When we’ve lost pets, my husband’s grieved for many days. I tend to be OK a bit sooner than he does. We’re all made differently – and what I know about grief is that there’s no right or wrong way to do it. Everyone’s timeline is different. But I’ve been reading a few posts from birthmothers on this Facebook support group, and most of them are so disheartening. I have a difficult time relating to these women who are so beside themselves about Mother’s Day. I empathize, but I cannot relate to their feelings of inadequacy or anger or isolation because of a holiday made up by the greeting card, candy, and flower industries.

The description for the group reads, in part:

This is meant to be an UPLIFTING and SUPPORT group. Any down talking, hate, or trying to project your guilt onto others will not be tolerated.

But what it seems to be is a place to seek collaborators in misery. Or so I was thinking, perched ever so haughtily on my high horse as I considered removing myself from the group. And then I read two posts that broke my heart. One was from a birthmom who’s had regular contact with her daughter, now 6, since the little girl was placed at birth. However, the daughter is having trouble in school, and all evidence points to emotional upset about the adoption, as it seems difficult for her to process her birthmom’s place in her life. So the adoptive parents have decided to sever the contact … “for the time being.” Yeah – that one knocked me soundly off my lofty perch of self-righteousness, because I have no idea what I’d do or how I would feel in her position. I’m not a terribly emotional person, but I welled up as I read my poem “The Birthmother You Know” for our virtual get-together on Birthmothers Day this past Saturday. I couldn’t even tell you why I was emotional – given the generally positive experience I mentioned above. Somewhere, deep inside I suppose, I was still acknowledging the loss. So if Kathy and Bruce had decided, when Eric was 6, to stop sending photos and letters, that probably would have been torturous.

The other gut-wrenching post was from a woman whose daughter is now 12. The woman’s uncle was the girl’s adoptive father – and he passed away from cancer yesterday. The little girl came home from school and could not wake him up. Oh my god! That birthmom is in anguish, not only to have lost her uncle, but to know what a terrible loss her daughter is experiencing – complicated by the fact that she was the one who discovered his lifeless body. So sometimes there’s just loss – and the only answer is grief and tears and sadness. And this group offers these ladies a virtual hug whenever they need it. A place to come and vent. To cry. And, I very much hope, to laugh and share the good moments, too.

I was wondering, as I pondered writing this post, how many of those overwhelming negative feelings – the anger, guilt, shame, blame, and unending grief – come out of a sense of unworthiness. How many of those negative, super-disempowering emotions do we hold onto because we’ve simply convinced ourselves that we don’t deserve to be happy, that we don’t deserve to laugh and experience joy? Those are lies we tell ourselves, though. And birthmoms have a special reason to lie to themselves about their worthiness that most other people don’t have. They can opt for joy and celebrate the fact that they chose life for their children – or they can lay down and party with the grief every day and every night.

Every birthmom – every human – deserves laughter and joy and love and the free feeling of simply being at peace in the world. But those feelings – even for that birthmom who’s temporarily lost contact with her daughter and the one whose uncle just died – are, by and large, a choice. We’ve got to believe that regardless of where we are in this moment, happiness is ours for the taking, or it will be, one day, soon enough. And then we have to do whatever it takes to grab onto that positive emotion and hold it close.

David R. Hawkins wrote a well-discussed book a number of years ago called Power vs. Power v force emotionsForce. In it, he explained this concept of lower- and higher-vibration emotions. The low ones are the negative ones I’ve been naming here, like anger and sadness. The higher ones are things like love and gratitude. You can think about it in terms of how you feel in any given moment. For example, do you have that person in your life who is so high-strung that his or her stress rubs off on everyone they meet? The second they leave the room, the air seems to lighten and everyone else breathes a collective sigh of relief? That’s a person who may be stuck in a low vibration. We’re all made up of energy – the question is whether it’s positive, negative, or neutral energy.

So, yes. These women – and birthmothers everywhere – are entitled to their opinions, feelings, and beliefs. And that means feeling them and expressing them and discussing them and receiving condolences for them for as long as they wish to do so. It is my opinion, however, that the longer they allow themselves to stay mired in the emotional muck related to their adoptions, the less likely they are to have more good days than bad ones. There’s no magic wand to whoosh away the pain. But there is owning it, blessing the people who’ve wronged you, loving your child – and loving yourself enough to move on and find reasons to celebrate again. Every birthmom deserves to be happy, regardless of her past.

deide-to-be-happy

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Laura Orsini is an author, speaker, and consultant who coaches other authors to make and market exceptional books that change the world for the better. She is birthmother to Eric, who is finishing college in Boston this summer. Their adoption has been open for the better part of Eric’s life. She continues to toy with the idea that these posts will one day become a book. In the meantime, you can learn about her novel in progress, Stan Finds Himself on the Other Side of the World.

Birthmothers Day 2018

Birthmothers Day 2018

So we had a little event this evening. And when I say  little, I mean little. We had 4 birthmoms in attendance – 3 of us who spoke, and one who was there but didn’t say anything or contribute. Glad you showed up, Ana’s birthmom!

If you’d like to see the video, please click here to watch it.

I was just poking my head around a birthmom support group on Facebook. Lots of angry rants – and sad ones. Easy to judge, I realize. Hard to relate, though, because I never spent time in that wallowing, victim, poor-me space. I empathize, for certain. But so many of these women’s comments remind me of the comments from those women in  that chatroom all those years ago. I wasn’t in that headspace then, when my son was a toddler; the intervening years have only given me even more time for healing. I worry when I read rants from women whose children are in their 20s. That means they’re well into the double digits of years, still feeling angry and hurt and sorry for themselves. That’s an awful long time to carry around such powerfully negative emotions.

I realize that the grieving process is different for everyone – but the goal should be to move through the grief and get on with life, not suffer with it for the rest of forever. I believe one way to help women exorcise that grief is by normalizing and destigmatizing the birthmother experience. Virtual events like the one we held tonight go a long way toward doing that by taking the birthmother story out in the open where people previously unaware can become more enlightened about the path – and struggle – of the birthmother in any adoption.

One woman in this support group comments, “Why single us out?” She is missing the entire point. It’s not about singling out birthmoms, but rather giving them a day where they don’t feel out of place. Birthmoms who’ve had no subsequent children, who are still keeping the adoption a secret, and/or who don’t consider themselves moms in any true sense tend to shy away from Mothers Day. Birthmothers Day recognizes them, specifically, just as Mothers Day recognizes all moms, not any specific kind of mother.

Many years ago, I wrote the following poem. I no longer have the original, so I don’t know the date. Suffice to say it was sometime between March 1995 and today. It’s called The Birthmother You Know. Please feel free to reprint and/or share it at will, as long as my byline remains attached.

The Birthmother You Know

by LAURA ORSINI

We are women.
We are soul. We are spirit. We are body. We are mind. We are voice.
We are 19. We are 39. We are 79.
We have college degrees. We are dropouts.
We are lesbians. We are hetero.
We are sane. We are institutionalized.
We’ve parented. We’ve aborted. We’ve remained childless.
We are marginalized. We are united.
We feel guilty. We are proud.
We are sickly. We are healthy.
We are married. We are divorced. We are single.
We are grieving. We’ve released our grief.
We are leaders. We are followers.
We are flaky. We are brilliant.
We are beautiful. We are plain.
We are strong. We are weak.
We are passive. We are aggressive.
We are angry. We’ve made peace.
We are shy. We are popular.
We are addicts. We are in recovery. We are drug-free.
We are famous. We are obscure. We are infamous.
We are students. We are teachers.
We are homeless. We are employed.
We have lots of regrets. We have few regrets.
We are sexy. We find sex shameful.
We are spiritual. We are agnostic. We are atheist.
We are spenders. We are savers.
We’ve followed our passions. We’re held hostage by lives we’ve settled for.
We are optimists. We are pessimists.
We are tall. We are short.
We are fat. We are thin.
We are friends. We are enemies.
We are chaotic. We are organized.
We relinquished. We surrendered. We placed.
We are lovers. We are fighters.
We are simple. We are complicated.
We are vegetarians. We eat meat.
We’ve had reunions. We long for reunions. We run from reunions.
We are accomplished. We are struggling.
We are fearless. We fear everything.
We are silent. We are outspoken.
We’ve shared our adoption stories. We’ve told no one about our adoptions.
We are wives, daughters, sisters, aunts, cousins, nieces, grandmothers, granddaughters.
We are mothers who love the children we said goodbye to.
We walk among you.

 

 

Here’s to the Birthmothers

to my other mother

Here’s to the Birthmothers

Today is Birthmothers Day – the day set aside to commemorate and acknowledge women who have placed at least one child for adoption. We don’t really say “Happy Birthmothers Day,” as for some, it is a bittersweet to truly difficult time of year. Instead, we commemorate, recognize, acknowledge, thank, and love the birthmoms in our lives, both known and unknown. Chances are good that someone you know is a birthmother, but she’s never revealed that fact to you.

Please join us for a live virtual spoken word event – the first of its kind for the women participating (and maybe anywhere), where we will come together to share our stories. I’ve written a poem for which the event is named – The Birthmother You Know. Others may share fiction, prose, or just talk about their experiences.

We’ve had many women who were invited opt out of participating – because it’s too difficult, or they expect it will be a maudlin event and they’re just not up for that. In my experience, every birthmothers day event I’ve taken part in has been an uplifting and/or cathartic experience for the birthmoms involved – and an edifying one for the others in attendance.

My friend Beth Kozan, a retired adoption caseworker and my co-host for this event, told me recently that one woman – not a birthmother – was surprised by how “normal” all the birthmothers were at the event she attended.

“What did you expect?” Beth asked her.

“I don’t know – a lot of wailing and tears, I suppose.”

There may be tears – most likely there will be tears. But they won’t necessarily be sad tears – just the tears that come when we acknowledge both the good things and the challenging things life brings.

If you missed us for the live event, you can watch the video at this link on my personal Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/phxazlaura.
Please share this post with anyone else who may have an interest in learning more, understanding more, loving more.

Why a Special Day for Birthmoms?

Why a Special Day for Birthmoms?

Since 1990, Birthmother’s Day has been the day set aside annually to commemorate the birthmother experience – honored on the Saturday before Mother’s Day. I’ve long thought it was such a fitting day, because it’s not tidy like Mother’s Day, which is always the second Sunday in May. Because the Saturday before Mother’s Day can be either the first or second Saturday of May, Birthmother’s Day moves, according to when Mother’s Day falls.

According to my research, Birthmother’s Day is controversial, as many birthmoms either don’t feel they deserve a day (all the more reason they should have one!) or feel that Mother’s Day should cover it for everyone. From personal experience, though, I know that many birthmoms don’t quite consider themselves mothers in the traditional sense – understandably, I think. I’m guessing things get a bit murky for those who have both relinquished a child and raised at least one of their own. I get that Mother is by no means a one-size-fits-all title. My husband and I celebrate Mother’s Day every year with his stepmom, who was much more of a mother to him than his biological mother ever was.

What feels like a VERY long time ago, but was actually only about 21 years ago, I was involved in creating a Birthmother’s Day commemoration at Spence-Chapin, the New York City adoption agency through which I placed Eric with his parents. Since the holiday didn’t pre-date my son by too many years, we weren’t on the cutting edge, in terms of creating a ceremony at our agency, but we were certainly early adopters. I don’t exactly remember who came up with the idea or how it was proposed, but I know it originated with Spence-Chapin’s Birthmother Advisory Board, of which I was a member.

Once we had the green light, we were tasked with planning the event. Five or six of us got together at an Eastern restaurant (the specific cuisine has slipped my mind) in mid-town Manhattan, and banged out a plan that included: the date and time, a rough outline of the program, who would be invited, where the event would take place, the kinds of food and beverages we would serve, and a budget. We each agreed to take on a task or two, and we were off. I remember Judy Green, Soence-Chapun’s birthparent department coordinator, being particularly shocked when we came back a week later with our plan all spelled out on paper. It seems she was used to those meetings where you get together to plan the next meeting wherein you discuss the date and time for the next meeting – and nothing ever gets done.

The event was a solemn occasion – we knew we had a mix of birthmoms, some of whom had had joyful reunions, some who’d had difficult ones, and some who had been unable or unwilling to try to locate their children. We crafted paper flowers that each birthmom “planted” in a container in honor of the children we’d birthed and relinquished to others to raise. A few people read. Some spoke. We made a printed program. Unfortunately, I no longer seem to have a copy of that.

The second year was easier, because we’d been through it before. Instead of flowers, we made leaves that we stuck to a large tree on a wall. If I’m not mistaken, that tree remained on that wall for quite a few years after we originally put it there. I moved back to Arizona before Spence’s third Birthmother’s Day, but the gals all made sure I knew they’d acknowledged my part in creating the original event – and they sent me a copy of that program (lost, along with the original one, it seems).

It was a few years before I realized that I missed my connection with other birthmothers, so I decided to try to create a Birthmother’s Day commemoration here in Phoenix. I reached out to every adoption agency and adoption social worker I could find – remember, this was pre-social media, so this meant going through the phone book and hoping someone would call me back. The only person who did call back was my now good friend, Beth Kozan, who was nearing the end of her long career as an adoption caseworker with Catholic Charities. She thought the event was a great idea and invited all of the birthmothers she knew who she thought might want to attend.

We held our event, which we called The Birthmother You Know – named for a poem I wrote – at a local coffeehouse, and it was packed. I asked a friend to act as emcee for the evening, and we had about a dozen women come and share their stories, through various mediums. Some read poems. Others stories they’d written. One shared the letters she and her daughter had exchanged via email, in advance of their reunion. It was much different from the events I’d helped launch at Spence-Chapin, but wonderful in its own way. One birthmom was there with her daughter and her daughter’s adoptive mom. That was powerful to observe, although I know that Kathy would have attended, had we still been back on the East Coast.

I tried to get the story into the newspaper, to no avail. I remember having recently met a birthmother who was working as a confidential intermediary, helping connect adult adopted children with their birthparents. She told me, woefully, “People want the gossip and the scandal. No one wants to hear a happy birthmother story.” She was one of the most depressed people I’d ever met at the time.

Imagine my surprise – and that lady’s – when the following year, a reporter from The East Valley Tribune called me up in late April. My news release, it seems, had made its way to the features department at this newspaper, and been stuck in a tickler file for stories that might work “someday.” This reporter was new to the paper, and came across my information while looking through her predecessor’s desk. She – and her editor – thought the idea of a Birthmother’s Day commemoration was newsworthy enough to warrant a full two-page spread in the features section on Mother’s Day 2006. This online version contains the words but fails to convey the amazing layout and full impact of the story.

We’re coming up on Birthmother’s Day 2018 – so this year, I proposed something new to Beth. We’re going to see how it goes to hold a virtual commemoration. Participants will all be online together via a Zoom conference call, and then we will broadcast that to the public via Facebook Live.
If you are – or know – a birthmother who might want to participate, please forward this post to her.

Here are our requests for participants:

  • Birthmothers of any age or form of adoption
  • Willing to participate in this event publicly, via Facebook Live
  • Willing to send us a headshot – does not need to be formal
  • Willing to send us any written text they want to share during the event ahead of time so we can display it while they’re reading/talking

Please have them contact me directly at phxazlaura @ gmail.com if they wish to join us, and I will forward the information they’ll need for the Zoom call. If you know people (other than birthmoms) who might just like to join us for the Facebook Live event, they can find details and RSVP here.

Here’s to birthmothers everywhere!

birthmom

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Laura Orsini is an author, speaker, and consultant who coaches other authors to make and market exceptional books that change the world for the better. She is birthmother to Eric, who is finishing college in Boston this summer. Their adoption has been open for the better part of Eric’s life. She continues to toy with the idea that these posts will one day become a book. In the meantime, you can learn about her novel in progress, Stan Finds Himself on the Other Side of the World.

Not Parenting Means Never Having to Say No

Not Parenting Means Never Having to Say No

My parents scrimped and saved every penny they had to send Corina and me to private school, first through twelfth grades. To this day, I still get the occasional odd look when I tell people where I went to high school, as there was a certain aura about most Xavier girls, and I don’t really have it because I was neither a legacy student, nor did I receive a BMW for my 16th birthday. I hated almost every minute of the exclusive, all-girls Catholic school – the cliques and sense of not fitting in at all – but I stuck it out. My sister lasted through her freshman year before she begged reprieve and was allowed to transfer to North High, just four blocks from the house where we grew up. It pained my mother to see her switch, though, because she was no longer able to say, “My daughters go to Xavier.” Losing that “S” on the end – and having just one daughter go to Xavier – didn’t carry quite the same heft when it came to bragging rights.

Having only attended public school at the university level, my knowledge of it comes only from the stories I’ve heard from others – and Hollywood. I imagine my experience would have been different, still. With all this talk about education these days, as teachers in Colorado and my home state of Arizona are on strike, it occurred to me to wonder what I would have done, had I been parenting Eric. Arizona has ranked somewhere near 49th in education for the last 20 years or so – but who knows where I’d have been living, had I chosen to parent Eric, so I cannot really factor that into my hypothetical decision.

The point is that I didn’t have to make that decision. Or any others. Things like circumcision – which, as I mentioned in a prior post, I had no idea was my decision to make at the time of Eric’s birth. Or vaccination. Yep – I’m one of those people who seriously questions all things related to allopathic (traditional Western) medicine, vaccines included. Twenty-three years ago, it wasn’t the great controversy it is today, but I’m pretty sure my sister did not have Samantha vaccinated.

g rated

Big things and small, parents must make decisions about them. I never had to say no to sugary foods or Disneyland or a cell phone before the age of reason. I never had to decide about pets – most likely the answer would have been yes, whether it was a gerbil or a pet monkey, because we were just always animal people. Whether to join Boy Scouts or have sleep-overs or watch this movie or that one. I lost count of the times I would rent movies, only to come home and have Corina ask, “Is it something Sam can watch?” I wasn’t parenting, so it never occurred to me to check the ratings of the films I brought home – I just got what I liked. She also put the kibosh on a couple of books Samantha had to read in school, Roald Dahl’s Witches being the one I best remember. Goodreads describes it as a “children’s dark fantasy novel,” which is probably accurate. But they were reading it when Sam was in fourth grade, and my sister thought it was way too scary for her at the time. So she said no – and Samantha had to deal with the fallout from that, in terms of being teased by her classmates.

I didn’t have to teach Eric right from wrong. I didn’t have to explain why I stopped going to church when he was about 10. I didn’t have to decide between healthy food and convenience because I was too tired to cook on a given night. I never had to tell him there was a limit to the number of after-school activities he could take part in, or that I didn’t care for a particular friend – or that friend’s parents. I never had to say no – or yes – to anything.

have vs get

I heard a while ago that one way to get past procrastination is to switch from viewing them as things we “have to” do to viewing them as things we “get to” do. For example, it changes things considerably to view it as, “I get to make some phone calls to clients this afternoon,” rather than groaning, “I have to make a bunch of client calls today.” The word get implies that the activity is a privilege, while have to makes it feel and sound like a chore. I was deliberate in my use of “have to” versus “get to” in the preceding paragraphs, because in the contemplation that stemmed from those thoughts about the education decision I never made, it occurred to me that I never made any of the rest of those choices, either – because I never had to. When I placed Eric with Kathy and Bruce, I relinquished both the right and the responsibility for making all of those decisions.

And for a moment, it felt like the biggest cop out ever. I took the easy road, rather than the complicated one where I’d have to make hard decisions, sacrifice my personal desires at times, and give a significant amount of my time, effort, and energy to this little person who needed it more than I did. I’m not ashamed of that choice – just aware in a way that I’ve never been before how much work and effort my son’s parents put in, in my stead. And grateful that they were able and willing to do such a phenomenal job of it all.

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Laura Orsini is an author, speaker, and consultant who coaches other authors to make and market exceptional books that change the world for the better. She is birthmother to Eric, who is finishing college in Boston this summer. Their adoption has been open for the better part of Eric’s life. She continues to toy with the idea that these posts will one day become a book. In the meantime, you can learn about her novel in progress, Stan Finds Himself on the Other Side of the World.