An Open Letter to the Creator of "U Are a Gift"
My friend Lori stumbled upon “U Are a Gift” and posted the link on her Facebook wall. I also shared the link on my blog’s Facebook wall, so if you saw the link from there before reading this post, the contents of the website that I will address here will not come as a surprise. For the rest of you, you may want to at least take a glance at the website before reading this post as my writing presumes my readers have seen the site. Fair warning: This may be a fairly long post.
To Carol Brymm:
I’m aware that you’re gearing your site toward teenagers that find themselves pregnant, and so your site title uses “text speak” as a way to speak the “language” of teenagers. It’s been a long time since I was a teenager, but I don’t believe shortening the word “you” down to a letter does anything but make you appear like you have no idea what you’re talking about. Most of my experience with teenagers tells me that they want to be treated like adults, and to talk down to them doesn’t accomplish that at all.
My take on your website comes from the point of view of a birth mom. I’m in my late 30s now, and I was in my 30s when I relinquished my daughter to an open adoption. Though I’m aware that there seems to be an increasing number of teenagers getting pregnant, not all women who eventually make an adoption decision are teenagers. In fact statistics support that the younger a woman is, the less likely she is to make an adoption decision unless her parents force her to relinquish.
When my friend Lori first stumbled on your site and showed it to her Twitter followers and her Facebook followers, she thought as I did that your website may not be directly affiliated with an adoption agency, but you are trying to “sell” adoption anyway. I still believe that your website does everything to tout the “benefits” of open adoption and does absolutely nothing to talk about the realities of relinquishment and the emotional damage it does to a woman who makes an adoption decision. It is of paramount importance that any website that sells adoption as yours does is also realistic as well. This is why I believe that even with the prevalence of open adoption today that we still have way too many women that deeply regret their adoption decision because they weren’t even slightly prepared for the negative repercussions of their decision. I believe as you do that adoption, especially open adoption, can be a great decision. But I never assume that just because it was an appropriate decision for me and because my daughter’s birth family and adoptive family are well-matched that it will work that way for everyone.
Women who get pregnant and consider adoption are not a gift to the infertile community. Children are gifts, yes. But a pregnant woman is not a gift. She is that child’s mother and it is her responsibility to make the best decisions for that child and his or her well-being, including relinquishment to adoption if that is appropriate. When I relinquished my daughter to adoption, I did not do it to be a gift to her adoptive parents. I gave her the gift of parents that were more prepared to parent her than I was. I’m aware that a large number of people who struggle with infertility turn to adoption to complete their families, my daughter’s adoptive parents included. There were several people who discussed your site on Twitter after Lori, a mother through adoption, originally posted the link, some people who are struggling with infertility or have struggled with it among them. The universal sentiment from them is that though a woman gave them a huge gift of the privilege of parenthood when she chose them to be her child’s adoptive parents, they don’t think of her as a gift. To call her that minimizes her continuing importance in her child’s life and reduces her to a “vessel” to put her child where he or she is really “supposed to be.” In other words, it turns women into a uterus and takes away the fact that they’re human beings as well.
Your use of Steve Jobs is a prime example of that line of thought. No one on earth, including Jobs himself when he was alive, has any knowledge that he wouldn’t have done the same thing with his life even if his birth parents hadn’t relinquished him. Nurture is powerful and important in a child’s life. However, I believe biology heavily controls who a person is and becomes. There are no guarantees in anyone’s life. Simply because we have hopes and dreams for our children doesn’t mean they’ll fulfill those hopes and dreams. They will fulfill their own hopes and dreams. Who’s to say that Steve Jobs wouldn’t have had the same capacity to fulfill those dreams he had for himself even if he hadn’t grown up with the parents he had? To me, that’s like saying a parent controls how a child turns out instead of supporting that child’s growth in whatever way he or she grows and nurturing it as a parent should.
In your list of why open adoption is cool, you say that if a mother relinquishes to open adoption she will never lose contact with her child. That’s not true. I do know birth moms in working open adoptions that have been working for many years. I include myself in that group. But I also know of a far greater number of adoptions that started out open and have been closed by the adoptive parents, usually with no reason given. I know birth moms that were promised a great relationship before relinquishment, and after the documents were signed and the adoptions were finalized, the adoptive parents “took the baby and ran.” The moms that have had that happen feel greatly used by the adoptive parents and feel the relationships they thought they had were a complete lie the adoptive parents told in words and actions to get the babies they wanted. Open adoption takes a great deal of work from both the birth parent and adoptive parent sides to succeed. The benefits for the child most of all, but both sets of parents too, are monumental. However you cannot and shouldn’t be telling women that are pregnant that it’s a guarantee that they won’t lose contact with their child and their child’s adoptive parents. Relationships of all types (professional, friendship, romantic) can break apart. Open adoption relationships are no exception to that. Relationships in general take commitment, and if an open adoption relationship doesn’t have the same level of commitment from both the birth and adoptive parents, it will fail.
Addressing number three on your list of why open adoption is cool: I have never met another birth mom, myself included, who calls herself a hero or thinks of herself in that way. In fact to think of ourselves that way usually makes us shudder with revulsion. We are all normal people living normal lives who made the best decisions we could for our children that we could with the information we had at the time. The Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines hero as:
- a: a mythological or legendary figure often of divine descent endowed with great strength or ability
- b: an illustrious warrior
- c: a man admired for his achievements and noble qualities
- d: one who shows great courage
I suppose out of all those definitions of the word, “d” is the most appropriate. It is a courageous act to place your child with essentially perfect strangers and trust that what they say about themselves is true. It takes courage to face a lifetime of grief over the decision to relinquish and to continually tell yourself that you made the best decision you could. But that doesn’t take away from my point that I’ve never met a birth mom that thinks of herself, or likes to think of herself, as a hero.
I offer my own list now of why open adoption is a good thing for all involved, especially the child.
- The child involved will have access to his or her whole identity, including both biological and nurtured parts.
- The child will not feel as if he or she is betraying his or her adoptive parents when the natural curiosity about biological history develops.
- The adoptive parents will have the benefit of seeing where their child gets his or her looks and/or behaviors that don’t match the adoptive parents or their families. My daughter’s mom says that’s one of their favorite things about a relationship with us: they get to see through an actual relationship with their daughter’s birth father and I where their daughter gets her “quirks.”
- A continuing relationship with her child allows a birth mom to get at least some resolution to her grief. The grief never goes away. But there have been many studies done on birth moms in closed adoptions that say the hardest thing about a closed adoption is not being able to see whether they made a good decision or not.
- Though the relationship is different than it would be if the mom was raising her child instead of relinquishing him or her to adoption, the ability to have an ongoing relationship with that child is good for the mother’s emotional well-being.
I believe that your intention is to bring out the good parts of adoption and to say that open adoption can be a wonderful choice. The yahoo article I read about your goals, Carol, says that you want to help women understand the option of open adoption when faced with an unplanned pregnancy. That is a fabulous and necessary goal and is why I speak out as much as I do on my blog and other events about my belief that open and ethical adoptions should be the only option if a mother chooses to relinquish her child. However, as a mother through open adoption said on the link to your website on my blog’s Facebook page, your website leans toward turning something life-changing into something cheery. I think that because your website focuses on being cheery that it minimizes the enormity of the decision a woman facing an unplanned pregnancy has to make, and I also think your website borders on being patronizing to those women.
I realize it’s easy for me to be critical of your website because of the information and firsthand knowledge of open adoption that I have. I hope that my critiques have given you another point of view to consider as you further develop your website and public voice.