Breaking the Silence: On Living Pro-Lifers' Choice for Women

by Shaker Anonymous

Hey, Shakers, Liss has graciously allowed me to yell in her forum. Many thanks, Liss. I have no other outlet for what I'm about to say. I want to tell you first: at least one of you knows me in person. What I'm about to say is something you do not know about me. If it's not you, then one of your friends might be like me.

I'm the birth mother of an adopted child, vehemently pro-choice, non-Christian, very unsuited to motherhood, and after over a decade, have got some things to tell the world about adoption. It's been stewing since I heard about the recent rash of pre-abortion ultrasound legislation. While I am touched that so many men in such various states are so deeply worried about women possibly being all sad from having an abortion, I wish to point out to these compassionately bleeding hearts that the alternatives are not exactly without their own emotional consequences.

Keep in mind, this is from over a decade ago, and maybe things have changed - but I did four quick searches and found one site that says it's for birthmothers, and it turns out, it's to show them how easy it is to find a good family for your baby. It's a placement site; they don't care about anything but babies. I didn't find a single one for birthmothers who have already given up their kids. I'm sure they're out there. Somewhere. No need to go google for a half hour just to find me one site, okay. If you do, you've proved my point.

I have given a baby up for adoption, and I have had an abortion, and while anecdotes are not evidence, I can assert that abortions may or may not cause depression - it certainly did not in me, apart from briefly mourning the path not taken - but adoption? That is an entirely different matter. I don't doubt that there are women who were fine after adoption, and there is emphatically nothing wrong with that or with them; but I want to point out that if we're going to have a seemingly neverending discussion about the sorrow and remorse caused by abortion, then it is about goddamn time that we hear from birth mothers too.

Believe me when I say that of the two choices, it was adoption that nearly destroyed me - and it never ends. The only comparison I have is the death of a loved one. The pain retreats, maybe fades, but it comes right back if I poke at it. Writing this has taken me nearly two weeks. Normally, I can write this amount in about thirty minutes, with bathroom breaks. I started to type, and stopped only to reread, then go wail into my pillow. There is no such thing as "over" with this.

Birth mothers are a demographic seldom heard from, and then generally only in the context of how soon they want to "replace" their lost child. This is a huge WTF to me. I went into a self-destructive tailspin for over a decade, and never once thought that maybe a new doll would do the trick. Yet every support group, every online forum, every possible resource I found, all zeroed in on this one-size-fits-all panacea. I didn't want a new baby. I never wanted any babies in the first place. I also didn't want an abortion, and I don't see how any of my reasons for any of this are anyone's business, either. It was my choice to make, and that is that.

What I didn't realize at the time - because not one person in my whole life had ever seen fit to mention the possibility, including the pre-adoption counselors - was that I'd spend so long hovering on the edge of suicide, desperately trying to find some way to deal with an all-consuming pain I had no idea even existed. I had never needed help so badly, and I doubt I ever will again. I've known a lot of birth mothers, and I consider myself lucky; I'm less broken than many of them, somehow. Maybe it's because I never did get any kind of therapy. I couldn't find any that didn't make me feel inhuman.

I don't know what the post-adoption counseling is like now, but in my day, it was through the adoption agencies or religion. In my case, the adoption agency was Catholic, lots and lots of Catholicism, so no help there; I was also extremely upset that they provided psychiatric, drug-assisted help, but not mention that it was possible you'd have need for it until after it was too late. This is the kind of thing you really need to know before you make the decision, if only to brace yourself. No, until the baby was gone, it was all paperwork and offering to put me into a nice Catholic household where I could go to church with the family, watch wholesome programs on TV. I'm not Catholic. I'm not even Christian. The idea of church revolted me, as much as it would revolt others to have to follow a religious or non-religious lifestyle that they don't share. Also it was mentioned that I'd have to go along with all the Catholicism, because if I didn't, my host family could have me removed. To where? That question was never answered. Also, I don't watch TV, not that anyone asked.

So I handled it myself, which wasn't easy, but at least, I could pee in the middle of the night without someone I barely knew hovering outside the door. I'm not sure what mattered more, privacy or freedom, but they were both necessary.

Then the baby came, and soon I realized that it had fucked me up considerably to give it away. When I did, I went looking for help. The adoption agency I went through was so Catholic that my fillings hurt. So, I looked around. I kept looking for ten years. I never found counseling or therapy or any kind of help whatsoever that wasn't about self-hatred.

Post-adoption counseling turned out to be focused on getting yourself together enough to make yourself a new Christian baby so you could be a good Christian wife and mother. I kept getting the same thing. What if you don't want to have a New Baby (tm), or can't? Or you're not religious? And why the fuck are actual babies so disposable that you're expected to get over it after a suitable period of mourning (i.e., till you get a good Christian husband) in the case of adoption? It's odd how this does not apply in the case of aborting a blastocyst, when you're expected to wall yourself into a tomb away from decent society and gnaw on the bitter bones of your own despicable evil. Bad woman. BAD.

Where did this all-too-common idea that the only normal reaction is "longing for replacement motherhood" come from? I think that it at least partially comes from the roles women are assigned in society. Sometimes it seems like the only acceptable choice we have is when to become a mother, not if. I had my tubes tied without having any more babies, and all of a sudden everyone viewed me as an alien life form. Maybe, just maybe, if we had less "make BABIES!1!" pressure in this world, we'd have fewer stories such as Susan Smith and Andrea Yates. There's nothing wrong with wanting to have kids. There's a hell of a lot wrong with making people feel like monsters if they don't.

I'd also like to point out that every time I mention the adoption in public (including the Net), one of these things invariably happens:

1: metaphorical pat on the head: "you did the right thing", which helped at first, but rapidly came to sound amazingly condescending. Nobody asked me if I was doing okay or anything like that, ever, even though I quite spectacularly wasn't.

2: "what kind of a woman gives up her BABIES?!" - this is always said by exactly the kind of people I don't want to be having a conversation with in the first place.

3: "don't worry, you can have another one" - would people say this to a parent whose child had just died? That's what giving one up feels like.

4: a lecture on the evils of abortion, which seems grotesquely out of place in this context, and inevitably makes me turn extremely vicious in real life. I can pretty much guarantee that talking about the downside of being a birth mother on the Net will bring out at least one, regardless of where on the Net it's posted. I can also safely assume that any such commenter will not have read this far, but just in case, I want that commenter to know one thing: your deep concern for pregnancy (in a thread about adoption) sounds more like the self-righteous squawking of someone so deeply disturbed over their own lack of bone-deep ethics that they're compelled to spend their days lecturing the rest of us. Address your own issues. I suggest volunteer work, but I don't recommend any kind of personal contact; you lack empathy. Many cities, even small ones, have beautification programs involving cleanup and planting trees, which might do for a start. You will be enriching the lives of others, improving your own health, you can proudly point out "your" trees, and you'll feel self-righteous with damn good reason for a change.

Back to my topic, which was:

Adoption fucked up my head far worse than abortion. I've googled over the years about the psychological aftereffects of giving up a baby, and what little I found is astonishing. Depression and suicide rates ridiculously high, comparable to PTSD - and beyond a shadow of a doubt, there is no way you can cook any post-abortion trauma study to come anywhere near post-adoption trauma levels. Strange how peer-reviewed studies on this are damn near non-existent; strange how nobody mentions any of this when it's not just your mind on the line, but also that of your kid or kids (more on that later). Strange how this is never on the radar when these stupid obstructionist anti-abortion rules are proposed by retrofuckwits.

They're always blatting on about how concerned they are for us, apparently because women aren't capable of making decisions without the gently guiding hand of all-knowing patriarchy, lest we irreparably damage our emotions and drown in a whirlpool of remorseful tears. They care ever so deeply about the long-term psychological effects of not having at least 10 months to consider whether or not to terminate a pregnancy, but no mention is ever made about women who actually do give up the baby. Seems to me that anyone who actually does so is lauded far and wide for Doing the Right Thing, but is simultaneously despised for being an unnatural uterus-bearing mechanism which has horribly malfunctioned. Where the fuck did that narrative come from, and why does everyone buy into it at some level?

Nobody ever seems to address this stuff.

Nor do the pro-lifers (or the media, or anyone outside of pro-choice circles) ever address the stats on adopted kids having lifelong issues with having been given away. I freely admit that I don't know what adoptees go through, so I'm going to let others do the talking on that topic (I really hope you do; I only know my side, and I fret and worry and freak out about my child). Again, though, you never see pro-lifers worrying about anything besides forcing a birth. I never see pro-lifers doing anything constructive about adoptees of any age.

Emotional fallout only matters to them as a political talking point, in a conversation that includes space only for what is convenient to their preexisting narratives. There's no space to talk about, for example, how, to give a baby up for adoption, you've got to get the father's signature on the papers, or else face legal hell (now, or later). I was raped, by a so-called friend; I had to go through legal hell to get a signature anyway. It was pretty damn adversarial.

Men are generally left out of the conversation altogether, and when men talk about losing a child, it is most frequently on various men's rights forums getting worked up about having their kids taken away in divorce, as if that's comparable. I am looking forward to a man wisely explaining to me how this is not at all the same thing as what he's been through, because his is worse, because it's his money, for 18 years, and he didn't want the kid in the first place, and she was a bitch anyway, and men have no rights and it is so unfair. And when MRAs aren't busily whining about losing their children in a custody battle, they're whining about how they should have some say in whether a woman is allowed to get an abortion, even when they don't want the child and want it put up for adoption. I can't even imagine the psychological ramifications of being forced into adoption, when it's indescribably hard after a decision made of one's free will.

To wind this down: one size fits all doesn't apply to adoption, any more than it does to abortion. If there's going to be discussion about mental issues arising from abortion, then there had damn well better start being just as much - if not more - discussion about mental issues arising from adoption. I cannot say that I'd be surprised to find out that any concern on the part of pro-lifers about birth mothers ended the second she signed the papers; I will scream "Hypocrisy!" as loud as I can if they try to pass off their latest brainfarts as such. You've seen this already: they also argue about the sanctity of a fetus' life, but I see no legislation addressing the quality of life of adoptees.

None of which matters to the kind of people who picket clinics. Not me, not the kid, nothing. All they care about is whether or not they win.


UPDATE March 19: I've been following this online, and I've seen several themes in comments and blogs which I wish to address.

First, and the most important: I never wanted to make adoptive parents, or their children, feel awful. Never blame yourselves for what someone else has done. Parents, this birthmother thanks you for doing what she could not. Children, you were not given away because of something wrong with you. Please, honor us by trying to love yourselves and each other. There is so much pain in this world; we all have an obligation to try to lessen it, whether or not our efforts ever benefit us personally.

Second: People are speculating wildly on various scenarios that they think might explain my story, maybe trying to find mitigating factors that they can fix, perhaps trying to relate this to something they've seen and can fit into their personal framework of references. I quite purposefully didn't include many personal details, because I wanted this to be as universal as possible. Nobody makes a choice in a vacuum; no two situations are alike. If I had given details, someone would've found a way to use them for their own purposes. My purpose was simple: I want everyone to know that giving up a child can hurt (and hurts me) like nothing else. My details don't matter, because they'll be different from everyone else's.

Third: I've spotted some pro-lifers out there picking this up. To those of you who said, "wow, never thought of that" - thank you. You got it. I wasn't trying to say that abortion is better, I was saying that the adoption thing has some problems. You people give me hope that someday we can make the world a better place. However, there were those who judged me based on your own ideas of my situation (and where on earth did you get some of them, anyway?!). Look, all I asked was that you hear me. Some of you clearly didn't read the whole post; you ran into something that offended you, and that was the end of the discussion as far as you were concerned. Hilariously, some decided to get huffy about abortion, and thereby proved my point about not reading the whole piece - which I addressed in the part about the four things that people say when I mention I've given up a child to adoption. I'm much obliged to you for providing such a textbook example of what I meant. Please, go plant some trees.

Fourth: To every single person who's commented here, linked to my post, or in any other way has said something nice: I can't begin to thank you enough. I was terrified when I sent this in, certain I'd get either a comment thread veering off into the hinterlands, or worse, the usual nasty treatment. Instead, I got unwavering love, nonjudgemental support - gifts beyond price and measure. All of you, everywhere, have made this worth the effort. I keep re-reading the comments, and I'm simultaneously so proud and so overwhelmed and so thoroughly startled that I don't know what to say. I've been crying a lot since my post went up, but it's relief, not pain. I can't thank you enough. The links are fantastic, the support is fantastic, I'm not alone any more. You changed my life. Thank you.

Finally, there have been people asking to quote. If it's a paraphrase of an idea, go ahead. If it's a direct quote and you link back to the original post, then quote away - just not the whole thing (nobody has, as of this writing). If someone wishes to use this in a national publication, likewise, you have my permission to do so - IF, and only IF, you speak to Melissa about payment. I wish to donate any possible monetary benefits from quoting my piece to her, because she made this possible.

Shakesville is run as a safe space. First-time commenters: Please read Shakesville's Commenting Policy and Feminism 101 Section before commenting. We also do lots of in-thread moderation, so we ask that everyone read the entirety of any thread before commenting, to ensure compliance with any in-thread moderation. Thank you.

blog comments powered by Disqus