November means lots of things. Up north where I live it’s time for snow (although we’re still waiting to see white stuff…). It’s report card time for my fourth grader. And it’s school projects like handprint turkeys with little feathers glued on for my preschooler.
November is also National Adoption Month. And of course, it’s also Thanksgiving. I like that these two are so closely observed.
When I first placed my son for adoption in 1988, there were still so many unknowns. Open adoption was relatively new. There was no one on the other end (so to speak) who could share their experiences as an adoptee, parent or birthparent in an open adoption.That was frustrating for an information-seeker like me.
There were no books on the subject as there are now. And believe me, I checked. I love books and have always been an avid reader. But I was 17 and had never heard of open adoption before. So when it was presented to me as something to consider, my first stop was the local library. I came up empty-handed. Unless of course you count the dust-covered books on adoption from the 1970s and 1960s that were frightening and so, so sad to read.
And of course, there was no Internet! So I couldn’t just do a Google search of open adoption to read about a birthmother in a similar situation. There was no opportunity to learn about the experiences of adoptees or adoptive parents. And there were no blogs to follow or online communities to join. Yes, I definitely wish the Internet had been around back in 1988.
The first book I remember reading about adoption was the classic, “Dear Birthmother.” It was 1988 and it was about three months before I would give birth. It was given to me by the social worker I was working with and since it was the only book I’d ever seen on the subject, I poured through it. I couldn’t read it fast enough. But as nice as it was, it only presented one side of the adoption equation. The book–as you might imagine–was a series of letters from prospective adoptive parents to birthmothers. I know many birthmoms feel as though they were coerced into adoption. That isn’t true for me; however, I can absolutely see how the language in much of the literature of that time, and certainly in this book, could be perceived as coercive and incomplete.
A few years later in the early 1990s, I discovered a book called “The Other Mother” by Carol Schaefer. I checked it out of the library and devoured it in one sitting. In her memoir, Schaefer tells her story as a birthmother searching for the son she had given up for adoption 18 years earlier. Although her story is vastly different from mine, the book affected me profoundly.
CONFESSION: I tracked down the author, Carol Schaefer, and called her on the phone –LIKE A COMPLETE STALKER! I had read this book about four years after the birth of my son, and I was so taken by it that I wanted to talk to this woman. I wanted to find her and talk to her about what it’s like to be a birthmother. I had never met another birthmother before. Her words gave meaning to all the emotions I had tried to reconcile. So I did what anyone would do in the age before the Internet: I called the publishing company and asked for her number! Thankfully, that didn’t work (can you imagine the privacy issues they would have violated??). So my next step was to read the back cover of the book where it said: “Ms Schaefer lives in Corte Madera, California with her family.” Bingo. I dialed 411, asked for the area code for Corte Madera California, dialed it and asked for Carol Schaefer’s number. AND I GOT IT. I called. She picked up. I introduced myself and told her a bit of my story. There was an awkward silence. And then she graciously thanked me for reading and liking her book and for sharing my story with her. I now follow her on Facebook, where I’m hoping she doesn’t hold this stalker-like move against me. I’m also guessing that her phone number is now unlisted.
I’m grateful that adoption is discussed more openly and honestly today. It’s not always black and white. It’s not always a happy ending. But then again, neither is real life.
And I’m grateful for books like, “The Girls Who Went Away,” by Ann Fessler, although it was a heartbreaking read. It was published in 2007, and I read it the following year. In it, Fessler tells the stories of women who chose, or more than likely were forced into choosing, adoption in the 1950s and ’60s. If you’re interested in learning more about these women, this book will surely move you. The book is also a movie in limited release across the country.
And finally, I’m grateful for the most recent book about open adoption. It’s by an online friend of mine, Lori Holden, and it’s called, “The Open Hearted Way to Open Adoption,” If there was one book I wish had been around when I was making my decision, it is this one.
Looking back, it’s clear that the choice of open adoption was, for me, a leap of faith. And true to the time period, it was a decision that was known within my immediate family, yet cloaked in secrecy for many, many years to extended family and friends. If I have any regrets, it’s the secret-keeping. Eventually I came to realize that this was no longer anyone else’s secret to keep; this was my story to tell. And so, there are no more secrets.
On this Thanksgiving week, I’m especially thankful for my son, and for our shared families. And I’m grateful for the books I’ve discovered on my journey as well as the bloggers whose stories have all helped me realize that I wasn’t alone.
About the author:
Kim is a writer, blogger, wife and mom to two daughters age 9 and 2. She is also a birthmom involved in an open adoption for the last 25 years. She welcomes your thoughts and feedback! Please feel free to email any topic ideas or questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.