A birthmother is someone who has relinquished her parental rights to her child. She has either done so through her own education, or perhaps, unfortunately through some means of coercion from outside sources. This decision, like all the other parenting decisions out there, is a life long choice that will continuously follow her throughout her life. It is a decision that will have great impact on her in many ways; emotionally, sometimes physically, occasionally mentally, and in how she parents or doesn’t parent her future children.
Birthmothers, however, are not heroes. In placing a birthmother on this pedestal, we raise them to a standard that is almost akin to worship. The commentary that is often associated with this supposedly positive rhetoric is not necessarily meaningful, and in fact can often demean the individual behind the choice. Adoption is not a heroic choice, nor is it a selfless choice; it is, like abortion or parenting, a choice that is made when an unexpected pregnancy is in the balance. Painting birthmothers as heroes can be viewed as condescending and displaces the actual reality of what relinquishment can mean, even for mothers in the best of adoption scenarios.
Being a birthmother means that you will struggle with a plethora of issues, including grief. Even when a woman has made this choice with good intents and without outside manipulation, it can be difficult to swim through the deep waters of grief that surround this sort of loss. When these women are placed on this pedestal of heroism, it makes it nearly impossible for them to be able to deal with the overwhelming grief and other emotions that often accompany this sort of loss. When you are expected to play the part of the dutiful, happy mother who lost her child, it can mean that there is no room for your own feelings to take place. It can lead to guilt for feeling the sadness that is associated with adoption, and definitely sets an expectation that you are only ever supposed to feel gratitude, and braveness for your decision (or lack of).
When speaking of a birthmother, try not to compare her decision to anything other than a choice. Is it a difficult and life changing choice? Absolutely. However, the generic compliments that come with this label are nothing more than phrases that don’t generally sum up how birthmothers feel about their decision to relinquish. Every woman has had a different reason for doing so, and it can be bluntly said that none of them were likely to believe that heroism was part of the reason they did so. When you are faced with a life altering situation such as an unexpected pregnancy, your choices are limited, and hopefully you are guided to pick the choice that is best suited for your life, and ultimately, best for the child.
This isn’t to say that relinquishing a baby is not a big deal. It most certainly is one of the toughest events any woman may be faced with, but when we discredit the pain, grief or regret that can be intertwined in this decision, we force these women to feel like they are alone in their feelings, rather than feeling what is altogether normal in the face of a loss. Often people will chalk those feelings up to a “bad experience” and that is hardly the case. The normality of the grief that a mother will feel even years into the adoption process is completely normal, and does not indicate necessarily that her experience was bad. She can feel regret and pain without it having to negate the good that can exist in adoption when ethics are involved accordingly. The very idea of selflessness and heroism erases the pain that birthmothers feel throughout their life, and does not serve to paint the entire picture of what adoption is truly like for all sides.
In short, while some may feel deep gratitude to those women who did relinquish their rights, the utmost respect should be given when speaking of their experience. This means that we don’t speak in ultimatums that serve to corner or force them into a label that may not fit their experience. The best thing that those of us who are not birthmothers can do is listen, hear and support them, no matter what their feelings are regarding their adoption story. None of this is harmful to anyone, and it helps to bring further awareness that adoption is not without its issues.
Birthmothers, quite simply, are women. They are women who may have chosen adoption because they wanted it. Maybe they chose it because they felt they had no other option, perhaps they weren’t given any other option. However, none of them are heroes. They did what they had to do in a situation that most of us would never wish to be faced with. Their choice was not rooted in heroism. They are like any other woman who has been faced with a loss, except that they are bombarded with cliché statements that serve to degrade their grief, and struggle should they be on the opposite side of the spectrum.
A birthmother is just another version of mother; there is no need to attach any other describing words other than that.
Credits: Danielle Barnsley-Cervo
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Note: Our authors are dedicated to honest, engaged, informed, intelligent, and open conversation about adoption. The opinions expressed here may not reflect the views of Adoption.com.