This guest post is by Emily Brunett, a birthmother.
No matter how much you prepare, sometimes you just can’t find all the answers. This was true for me when I chose adoption.
My son Dominic was placed at birth about 15 months ago in an open adoption. When I was pregnant and faced with the adoption decision, I scoured the Internet looking for answers.
Research quickly changed my faint idea of adoption to a more concrete understanding of the options, process and laws.
I exchanged emails and phone calls with adoption professionals from various agencies in three different states.
One of the reasons I chose the agency that eventually handled my adoption was because my social worker/pregnancy counselor was so helpful, patient and forthcoming.
But even though I asked a thousand questions and had a social worker and an agency who bent over backwards to guide me in the most pressure-free environment possible, I did not think to ask everything.
Nor could I have gotten an answer to all my questions, since so many of the unknowns in adoption revolve around the inability to predict the future.
Here are five things I’ve learned since placement that I wish I had been better prepared for.
1. Adoptions are expensive.
The adoption agency I chose is non-profit. For some reason, I thought this meant the agency operated solely on donations and the adoptive parents would not have to pay anything.
Only after the adoption of my son did I find out just how expensive these proceedings are. I was shocked.
According to my conversations with professionals, adoptive parents and birthmothers, most of the money covers court and legal fees, with some portion being used to cover social worker salaries, birthmother expenses (which, in the case of my agency, is collected in a lump sum and distributed to those in need like insurance money), and other miscellaneous items.
The issue of money in adoption is very controversial.
Some agencies and private adoption facilitators gouge adoptive parents, and I think this is something to watch out for.
Exchanging money for the acquisition of a baby has been likened by some to human trafficking. The extreme expense of adoption greatly limits who is financially able to adopt.
My research on the subject is preliminary so I do not have a well-informed opinion yet.
But even if I had known how much adoptive parents are required to pay before making my decision, at this point I do not think it would have it would have had much influence.
2. Birthmothers are sometimes double-crossed.
My first exposure to the unethical and unfair treatment of some birthmothers was at a birthmother retreat last fall.
So many of my birthmother sisters are living in heartbreaking stories of betrayal, deception, manipulation, shame, judgement, antiquated thinking and lack of empathy.
Often these women were told flat-out lies and promised one thing at placement, then given another once the adoption was finalized.
Sometimes, these women tried to change their minds before the adoption was completed, and were talked out of it by family members or adoption agency workers.
Even if I had known pre-placement about these situations, I may not have been able to do anything to avoid falling into the trap; in so many ways, I feel like I just got lucky.
I “got lucky” because the family I chose is honest, loving and empathetic, while my social worker and agency are straightforward and practice integrity.
If anyone had been lying, I don’t know that I would have seen it.
And if I had constantly suspected everyone to the point of belligerent paranoia, I may have permanently scarred my relationship with my son’s parents, Robby and Marie* — the strangers who turned out to be good people.
I chose open adoption because I wanted a say in who Dominic’s parents would be.
My open adoption is very healthy; I had eight visits with Dom and his parents in his first year.
Marie constantly sends me pictures and we speak on the phone every couple of weeks. Dominic and I are both lucky to have them.
3. The “balance of power” shifts to the adoptive parents after placement.
As soon as Robby and Marie left the hospital with Dominic, I felt useless.
In the following days, I cynically wondered if my importance had ended, since the “baby exchange” was complete.
Although the shift in “power” is a no-brainer to anyone looking at adoption objectively, I missed it until it was happening.
The emptying of Dominic from my body cost me not only his presence, but my direct influence on his life. I was not prepared for this.
4. I would spend my son’s first years waiting to find out if he loves me, too.
As Dominic plunges into his toddler stage, his ability to communicate is growing exponentially.
I witnessed first-hand how his preference for people shifted from “no one in particular” to mom and dad.
This hurt my feelings because I want him to love me, too. I hate that he doesn’t understand who I am, that he can’t differentiate me from a friendly stranger.
Because we live far apart, I’m unable to see him regularly enough to establish myself in his short memory as a recurring figure in his life.
I hope that once he is old enough to comprehend my role, he will love me, too. But I didn’t anticipate the wait.
5. Even birthmothers invoke “mother shame” onto each another.
I define “mother shame” as the phenomenon that occurs when a woman displaces her own insecurities about motherhood onto another woman.
As a birthmother, I expect to be shamed for my decision to place — but not by fellow birthmothers.
I was shocked when another birthmother attacked me for my choice. I thought we were all in this together!
But I think that sometimes the overwhelming pain and grief of placement can make it easy to heap those vehement feelings onto someone else.
While no mother should ever be held to the unrealistic standards of a nosy on-looker, I especially hope birthmothers can avoid doing this to one another.
Along my adoption journey, I’m sure I will learn more about what I wish I’d known before I chose adoption.
As each revelation comes, I find myself re-evaluating my choice.
What most gives me pause is my knowledge of how the past year has evolved differently than I anticipated.
I wish I’d had a crystal ball when I was pregnant. But no question, answer or any amount of research would have given me that insight.
So I continue to reassure myself that I did the best I could with the information I had at the time.
And hopefully some of my lessons can help someone else who is facing an enormous adoption decision now.
*For privacy, the names of the adoptive parents have been changed.
Emily Brunett is a writer, dog lover, and wife to an adventurous husband in California. She blogs about birthmotherhood and adoption issues at For The Love of Birthmothers.
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