And Personal Redemption in the Form of Adoption Activism
Thoughts of redemption as it relates to adoption has been banging around in my head for a while now.
For me, the concept of redemption has always been linked to my original relinquishment experience; the act of relinquishing to adoption was what would “fix” my mistake of not just getting pregnant, but of not acting on the pregnancy in time. Adoption was the golden solution to all my faults and yes, I expected it to hurt as I had to “pay” for my sins.
Now, at the time, no one told me I “had to pay for my sins” like they actually did in the earlier Baby Scoop Era. It was 1987 after all, and while “open adoption” was not a known phrase or concept I heard until many years later, I was treated kindly like I was special. Cue in the family building angel music. And to be honest no one directly told me that I would be a horrible mother; in fact I was the opposite. The first words I heard spoken from another about my pregnancy was “a baby will ruin your life,” but it wasn’t done to save me. Even though I was still trying to save myself by getting myself OUT of the dysfunctional family home, it wasn’t that parenting would trap me, but that I could not in good consciousness bring a poor baby into the situation. I like to forget how much I was trying to escape back then, but then I read the letters and I remembers again.
So, I’m not sure how the feeling that I had to suffer was something that came to me. There was not an act of shaming me outside my mother’s point of view, though I was horrified by the thought of people knowing- though not that I was pregnant, but who the father was. I guess it doesn’t matter, because even without knowing where it came from, I did internalize the idea. I just lived it. So it was there and it was real, but I never really understood how it got to be so.
Marketing Adoption as Redemption
I still have trouble reading through both The Missing Piece: Adoption Counseling in Pregnancy Resource Centers and Birthmother, Good Mother; Her Story of Heroic Redemption as I can’t tell if I just fit in so perfectly with what they researched, making me quite so very typical, or because I was trained so well that I just sucked up all those underlying messages, which makes me so very malleable. It is a “which come first; the chicken of the egg?” kind of quandary. It really doesn’t matter, but it does cement that the adoption industry wants to have birthmother believe that adoption does redeem them from the act of being pregnant.
Now, I want to always write “the sin of being pregnant”, however that gave me pause to question if redemption was always connected to religion in some way. So time to examine the actual word Redemption:
Definition of the Word Redemption
So definitely we see the connection to sin, suffering and guilt. Not surprisingly, there is a finical connection as well. As I laugh, I double check and look into the actual verb redeem since that is the root: re·deem [ri-deem] verb (used with object)
- to buy or pay off; clear by payment: to redeem a mortgage.
- to buy back, as after a tax sale or a mortgage foreclosure.
- to recover (something pledged or mortgaged) by payment or other satisfaction: to redeem a pawnedwatch.
- to exchange (bonds, trading stamps, etc.) for money or goods.
- to convert (paper money) into specie.
Again, more connections to money and purchases. Knowing what we know about the goal of adoption often being about driving the profits of the adoption industry rather than the true “best interests” of all involved, I chuckle. It makes perfect sense that a word such as “redemption” would be used as it really does bring in both the true purpose of many current adoption practices in the country while covering up that agenda with religious fervor. I am equally amused by the words choice by the dictionary in regards to the synonyms and antonyms as they ALL also can be considered adoption related!
Synonyms: repurchase. Redeem, ransom both mean to buy back. Redeem is wider in its application than ransomand means to buy back, regain possession of, or exchange for money, goods, etc.: to redeem one’sproperty. To ransom is to redeem a person from captivity by paying a stipulated price, or to redeem from sin by sacrifice: to ransom a kidnapped child. free, liberate, rescue, save. Antonyms: abandon.
The Redeeming Nature of the Birthmother’s Sacrifice
So being that the word is perfect on so many levels, we go back to the adoption industry and how they have chosen to present adoption as an act of redemption.
The following lines come directly from The Missing Piece:
- Keeping their children is one way that responds hope to be able to redeem their characters. This redemption can become more important than what would be best for the children’s welfare.
- For some women, the maternal grounds they vote for refusing to consider adoption are really rationalizations. They mask motivations that are focused on the needs and desires of the women rather than on the welfare of the child. These include the desire to be loved; to think of oneself as a good person; to redeem oneself after a bad mistake; to achieve the respected status of a mother within the family.
- ….illustrate the degree to which the selflessness of adoption enables some women to feel they are rebuilding their character. In planning adoption, these women are able to redeem their characters and begin to see themselves as more stable, mature people who are able to make decisions that are best for their children
- Adoption can be a type of redemption for the mother, by transforming personal failure into triumph as she chooses life for the child and then ensures that the baby has a stable, loving home. Counselors’ feeling about women who choose adoption reveal their feelings about the redeeming nature of the birthmother’s sacrifice.
- Counselors will not be resistant to training in adoption so long as they see adoption as a vital part of the center’s redemptive mission, as an act of grace that serves to redeem the lives of women and children from hardship and suffering. If they see God’s hand in adoption, they will regard women who choose adoption as loving mothers and themselves as faithful and competent for having presented the option.
While these direct quotes come from Birth Mother Good Mother:
- By choosing what is best for their children, birthmothers see themselves as good mothers. Instead of feeling like bad mothers were abandoning their children or “giving them away,” now they begin to see that placing their children with loving couples is what it means for them to be good mothers. They redeem themselves, transforming their mistake into positive outcomes. They see themselves as heroines in their own stories. In their minds they are heroic because they make a supreme sacrifice which in turn makes up for their mistakes.
- In doing what is best for her child, she fulfills her need to see herself as a good mother and accept the pain of relinquishment. In this way, she transforms agony of the entire story into a redemptive experience where she becomes a heroine in her own eyes and in the eyes of others.
- Birthmothers also see redemption and heroism in the help they give to the adoptive parents, who desires so strongly to form a family.
- The most valuable, improved understanding is the finding that the most resolved and confident birthmothers see her choice of adoption as an act of a good mother and that by choosing adoption she redeems herself, transforming her “mistake” into a positive outcome.
I think these examples pretty much prove the point; we are SUPPOSED to see adoption as a redemptive act that restores the good character of the intended birthmother. If we add in what we know about the word, a birthmother must PAY BACK with her baby for her mistakes of becoming pregnant before she should, for having her birth control failed, for being fertile, for having assumed unprotected sex, for “spreading her legs” for hooking up with a loser, for being poor, or whatever it is that is deemed as her own original sin. And yes, I bought into this for years. I completely believe that relinquishment was something I HAD to do to save my child from a life of having a crappy mother like me.
Now, of course, I do not believe that anymore, but sometimes I wonder if the whole concept of redemption has just worked its way deep into my brain.
My Greatest Sin is Now the Adoption & Relinquishment
Now, twenty six years into my post adoption life, my journey is sheered in half perfectly by my overall feelings about adoption. For the first 13 years I tried to be a “good birthmother” and followed the rules. I am a self professed “birthmother Kool-aid drinker” and then I “came out of the fog” and everything changed.
No longer to I see that getting pregnant when I was “too” young and unmarried as something that I nor my child needed to be saved from at all. Ill timed, perhaps, but the pregnancy is not a mistake. Continuing with the pregnancy was not a mistake. The mistake was first plucking the idea of adoption out of thin air and then calling the adoption agency. The mistake was wanting to believe all that the adoption professionals claimed to be true and just going along. The mistake was walking out of the hospital without my baby and then signing the damn relinquishment consent 72 hours later.I have no problem admitting my culpability and clearly stating that relinquishing Max to adoption was the biggest mistake of my life and I have had some doozies!
I do feel the need to preface what I am about to say next with this disclaimer; I really DO adore the life I have right now. I am very happy, thrilled, honored, to be doing this work, but to be honest, I think I am still making up for a mistake. This time, the mistake is the adoption.
Activism as Redemption
Yes, if I am trying to be completely honest and self aware, then I have to admit that some aspect of my motivation to do this work, my obsession with all things adoption, is a form of redemption.I can see that I am making up for the mistake of relinquishment, but I am not 100% sure who I am redeeming myself to.
I think part of it can be attribute to Max himself. Maybe I am overcompensating for all the times I uttered the words “I don’t regret my decision” and proving, by being so loud and public, that I DO regret it. It’s like if I say it enough I can take back all the times I said the opposite. They cancel each other out, though to be equally honest, I didn’t SAY much those first 13 years and certainly not to the degree I speak now, so I am sure I have long made up for it. Plus, based on what he has said, I don’t think Max really holds any grudges anyway.
I’m not really the kind of person who feels the need to prove anything to unknown “someones” so the idea of “redeeming myself to the world” doesn’t feel right either. I just do not care enough about people I don’t know and their thoughts of me.
So then, it really comes down to proving it to myself in some ways. Or somehow being a “redemption addict”? Hello my name is Claud and I am addicted to sacrificing myself to prove that I have made up for a past mistake.”
Now, part me, in seeing this possibility, almost wants to chalk it up to somehow some emotional un-health, but I keep on looking at it and examining this concept, and I am feeling OK with it. Oh course, then I remind myself that I felt “OK” about adoption for a long time, too, so that is kind of unnerving. However, relinquishment I felt I HAD to do and I DO know that this is something I am CHOOSING to do. Even if it feels like a “calling” . Even if I feel compelled. Even if I am quite obsessed. Even if I am still sacrificing my time and effort. I know I could stop, I just do not want to.
And I really do doubt that one day I shall look back on this all and say “Wow, WTF was I doing wasting all my time?” Because it doesn’t FEEL wasted like my wasted motherhood. It feels productive. It feels like somehow I am helping and making a difference. And I do my best to keep it balanced and let myself have down time when I need it, so striving for that healthy aspect. I reckon my method is doing pretty good as I have been this way now for more than 12 years and I have no desire to stop.
But, I think it’s all still an act of redemption, though now, it is on my terms.
Redemption in Adoption and Motivation for Activism
I feel the need to add that I don’t think it’s tied up in forgiveness either.
Like I look back upon myself and I can say rather unemotionally how I came to relinquish and what my role was, how I was failed, and I have nothing but sadness for the actual me that made this mistake. So it’s not even that I am really bashing myself for making the adoption mistake. In fact, I have to remember that when I DO feel even the smallest bit bad about myself that I just need to re-read the Boston Letters again.
I don’t think I am done thinking this through at all. Heck, I’m still not too sure that it even makes sense yet, but at least, written out, it can stop rattling around in my brain. The concept itself probably popped into my head a few months ago, but it has just rolled around. As part of the Birthparent Activist Panel at the St John’s Conference, we were asked about our motivation to being an activist, and I did mention this idea of continued redemption. The idea seemed to resonate with a few others, so I guess it does bare looking into.
So, I ask others who are likewise motivated; why? Why do you do what you do and what are you getting from it? Any redemptive needs in there? What are you making up for? Is it just me?