Between the Extremes; Complexity of a Birth Mother

I have been on this earth for over 45 years now and over half that time, my entire adult life, I have been a birth mother. I will admit that I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I contacted that adoption agency so long ago. I had no idea of the lifelong ramifications for myself, my child and really everyone I would ever come into contact in my life when I signed those papers in some dark office 26 years ago. I had no idea of the social framework that I would try to force myself into for the rest of my days and now that I do, I have to admit, I do not like it at all.

Birth Mothers: Sinners or Saints?

Sometimes, it seems that daily I must battle the confines of extremes.

Either I must kindly say that the act of relinquishing my first born son to adoption was not selfless, nor courageous, nor wise, but rather the act of a fearful, doubtful girl who was trying to escape the realities of life, who trusted the wrong people and who was let down and failed by those around here. There was nothing heroic in letting my son slip away.

Other times, I must speak strongly of the love I had for my baby; proclaim how he was never in danger of me, he was never slated for foster care, neglect or abuse. Adoption did not save him from anything, not offer him a lifetime of “better”, just different. I have to then prove that I was more than capable of being a  “good” mother, even if it is just peering into what might have been and now never will be.

Usually, I don’t feel my words to the contrary are believed.  The opinions of others are so deeply rooted in the culture of adoption beliefs that I am deemed an “exception” or even worse, unable to know my own life and just doubted.  I find myself thinking of this more and more. Why must we view the birth mother as one of the two extremes? Why does it always have to be black and white? Why is it so hard to see a birth mother as a real live person?

Unfairly Limiting the Adoptee Viewpoint

Both of the views, the sinner or saint, the Madonna or whore, the selfless or the abandoner, are just so limiting and neither are real.  Instead, they are parts cast in this play we call “adoption”. They are roles that need to be filled so the story line works out and someplace the main characters might get a happy ending. It’s nothing more than a parroting of the carefully honed adoption marketing message.  It’s the opening prologue that sets the tone of a life for the adoptee.

The way we view the mythological birth mother contributes to the unspoken assumptions and expectations heaped upon  the adoptee.

Of course, the adoptee must either be grateful of the courageous sacrifice made by their birth mother, the family building saint, or they must be grateful that they were not raised in the environment that would have been dictated by their birth to the crack whore slut. Sadly, I hear these very same stereotypes said over and over again even within the adoptee population:

” I just want her to know how grateful I am for choosing life. I had the best childhood.”

” Now I know how lucky I am that I was adopted. I see the life my half siblings had.”

What Role Was Your Birth Mother Playing?

Now, I am not about telling anyone what their personal reality is. I do believe strongly that your life is yours to define, but I ask that you open your thoughts to expanding what roles the birth mother, even your own birth mother, is cast to. Often these are assumptions based on fantasies and stories told. The birth mother remains an unknown shadow in a life and the framework continues to box true reality in.

  • What if she did not lovingly choose an adoption plan, but felt she had no choice?
  • What if she did not want you to have a better life, but was threatened instead by a reality of homelessness and social shunning by family, friends, and employment?
  • What if your placement was not an act of authentic altruism, but a surrender to forces for which she was unprepared and feel victim to?
  • What if this broken life that you have found was not always on this trajectory, but was derailed due to the circumstances surrounding adoption?
  • What if she was capable, if only needing some help, some support?
  • What if the mother she was able to be, the person she was, was relinquished as well and only a pale shadow of herself remained captive in life?
  • What if the existence of you would have been her purpose to achieve more, become better and it was lost with you?
  • What if now her lack of love and affection is instead a wall built to protect herself from falling into a deep abyss of grief?

These are the thoughts I have when I hear an adoptee either speak of their birth mother in glorified saintly terms or when degraded as someone needing to be saved from.

Now granted, I do know that there are mothers who have given birth to children that they really were just incapable of parenting for a multitude of real reasons though I do not personally consider extreme youth or poverty to be true acceptable reasons to relinquish.   There are mothers who already suffered from mental illness or addictions that would have created a truly unhealthy environment for a child. And I do understand there are also those humans in this world that are really already so broken or damaged that they can somehow give birth and emotionally walk away, I just do not believe that the numbers of such are as high as the adoption industry would like us to believe. Alas, the birth mothers that do fall into these categories are, I believe, the real exceptions.

It’s the rest of us that are grouped together here and classified, stereotyped, made extreme.

Yes, it is complex being a birth mother. This one act involves a duality of polar opposites. How can I be a victim of an industry, yet I made a choice? How can I be selfless and selfish at the same time? How I can I be a survivor, yet completely broken? How can I do the unthinkable, and then manage to carry on? How could I have been so weak as to lose my child, to not fight for him, and then so strong as to breath into another day?  It’s because these words, these false labels of pious nobility and damning falsehoods cannot begin to convey all that a human being is.  Every birth mother, before affected by life circumstances and adoption, whether though her own choices of the influence of others, is a person first and foremost.

She is more than a simple role that needs to be played in the adoption story and I do believe that all can benefit from fleshing out her character a bit more. Allow her to be complex and conflicting. Allow for duality of spirit, of confusion, of mixed intentions. Allow her to make mistakes, be broken, be transformed. When we stop limiting the birth mother and free her from labels, I think we free the adoptee from that aspect of forced gratitude.

Free yourself from being born of such odd nobility; allow your birth mother to be human.





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About the Author

Claudia Corrigan DArcy
Claudia Corrigan D’Arcy has been online and involved in the adoption community since early in 2001. Blogging since 2005, her website Musings of the Lame has become a much needed road map for many mothers who relinquished, adoptees who long to be heard, and adoptive parents who seek understanding. She is also an activist and avid supporter of Adoptee Rights and fights for nationwide birth certificate access for all adoptees with the Adoptee Rights Coalition. Besides here on Musings of the Lame, her writings on adoption issue have been published in The New York Times, BlogHer, Divine Caroline, Adoption Today Magazine, Adoption Constellation Magazine,, Lost Mothers, Grown in my Heart, Adoption Voice Magazine, and many others. She has been interviewed by Dan Rather, Montel Williams and appeared on Huffington Post regarding adoption as well as presented at various adoption conferences, other radio and print interviews over the years. She resides in New York’s Hudson Valley with her husband, Rye, children, and various pets.

1 Comment on "Between the Extremes; Complexity of a Birth Mother"

  1. Sometimes the birth mother isn’t given a choice about giving up her child. I was born early in the 1950’s and when I was pregnant as a teenager, I wasn’t given a choice, I was put to sleep as soon as I arrived at the hospital and they kept me asleep for the better part of a week. Even when they brought me the birth certificate to sign, they awakened me for a few minutes to “sign this” but I was not told what I was signing and being under the influence of the anesthesia, I now know that the adoption was not legal. By the time I woke up and found out what had happened, it was too late! My child had already been placed, and my rights as a mother had already been terminated, or so I was told. We didn’t have the internet where we could get the answers we needed. If I had known then what I know now, my child would still be my child!

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