I am a wife of ten years, and stay-at-home mother to three little ones under eight. From an outsider’s perspective, I appear to be just an average Christian church-going, minivan-driving, play date-attending mom. But on the inside I have a secret.
It’s not the kind of thing I can share at mom’s group or in PTA meetings. People at church and in prayer circles don’t really want to hear about it. Even most of my family either doesn’t know about it or tries to pretend it never happened.
I am a birth mother.
I stand by the choice I made as a scared, unmarried college student long ago. I believe that the life of that baby boy and my own are better than what they would have been if I hadn’t placed him for adoption.
Because of that choice, I got to hand-pick his family, sign the papers, go back to my babyless life, finish college and grow up. And he got a loving, married mom and dad and a big sister that wanted him and had the means to take care of him.
But years later, when life has moved on, I am married and have my “real” children; it has become almost socially unacceptable to talk about him. After all, he’s not my child. He is just some ghostly shadow that lurks in my past. Always there, but not really there.
I remember as he grew inside me, but I don’t get to raise him. His birth is in my medical record, but his laughter is not in my home. He has my eyes, my face, my hair, but I don’t get to look at them each day. I am his birth mother, but not his mom.
And yet, life just goes on, with this secret I can never escape. The gaping shock, the silent judgment and awkward pause after someone finds out. “Can you believe it?” and “She seemed so normal!” are usually whispered behind my back.
Sometimes there is genuine awe or respect. Adoptive families admire and revere the choice I made and well-meaning others are curious about the details. But when time goes on, my secret is forgotten by all except me. A piece of me lives far away somewhere; a memory of a babe long gone. An inescapable feeling of loss and failure at the one thing I was supposed to do as a woman; be a mother. Yes, I have three other beautiful children who are all mine, but like a death, the pain of my firstborn’s loss never fully heals.
And so I live my life half in the reality of who I am now and half in the lurking shadow of my past, trying to find a balance between the two. How can I be completely honest and transparent while also protecting my birth child and my family’s innocence from the pain caused by knowing the truth? Will there ever be wholeness or perfect healing? Probably not. Will there always be some lingering consequences from this decision in my past? Possibly yes.
Adoption is selfless and beautiful, bridging the gap between lost souls in different, heartbreaking places. But no matter how confident the birth mom is in her resolve, how smooth the process goes, how well the adoptive parents raise the child or how old he/she is when placed, it is not without some pain. Adoption is still messy for all parties involved and will always carry some feelings of loss, abandonment and possessiveness among those it touches. And just like any wound, it leaves scars.
So, here I am; fifteen years after my own adoption experience, and still broken and trying to heal. Attempting to live a life with a scarred past and hoping for a better future. I may not ever be able to break free from the stigma that comes with the label of ‘birth mother.’ There may never be complete wholeness for anyone affected by my decision, and that will always be my cross to bear. However, it is the story I have to tell and it is my offering to give, so that one boy out there has a better life and so that countless women all over the world who share similar stories can feel understood and hopefully find healing of their own.
***This post originally appeared on the Portland Mom’s Blog in May 2015.