Thinking More About the Birthmother Closet

dead birthmothers in the closet

Shame, Hiding, and Fear in Adoption

I jotted this down in the beginning of May right before I did the Blog Talk Radio Show with LeAnne Parsons. We had planned on talking about the mythical “Adoption Closet” and coming out, finding our voice for the show, but then LeAnne asked about the ACTUAL PHYSICAL closet NOT just a mental thing, but what the closest really was if it was a real area in our lives.

So that conversation produced this train of thought:

dead birthmothers in the closet“Who built the closet? What are the walls made of, what is the foundation on? What was is the door made of and who decided to shut it? Is it locked? Who has the key? Does it have to be broken down to let in light?

What’s in it. Skeletons come to mind, but Skeletons are dead and dried up and useless. It mean something died in there and decomposed. Can’t hide the stench. Makes the whole house stink! Everything gets affected.  Do we just get use to that smell and think it is normal?

All the things we never use anymore, get boxed and buried way deep where we do, sometimes, forget about them. Whats in the way back? Do we been NEED what we are saving anymore. And if it is important then WHY is is stuffed in a closet.  Clean it out: Just like real organization tips; three boxes; Give it away ( back to those that gave it to you) Throw away  or USE it. But know what you have. Know what is in there. Know what is preventing you from making use out of it. Can’t get to your Shoes ( happy place) because this big box of crap is in your way! Get organized!

Closest can keep stuff out or keep you in? A prison? A Trap. A very small space where you can only turn around and around bumping into the same four walls and never getting anywhere, tripping over the junk.   Too small a space, no one else fits. Can’t share the space.”

Then we talked on the radio for an hour about it; and I have to say, I found it rather insightful to think about the closet as a real physical space and then even surprised myself by some of the strong metaphors that came out of that thought process. If you missed the babble, you can listen right now, but I got hightlights.

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Building the Adoption Closet

So my first thoughts are IF the closet is a real place to dwell in, then who builds it?

Now in my case, I did help in finding the close and even saying I was willing to occupy it. Maybe I didn’t realize how tight and crapped it would be.  I didn’t realize that once one enters the closest it, not as easy to get out of. If I look back on what I knew of adoption in 1987 when I first “willingly” became a birthmother, I certainly did not think that I would be talking about a adoption for the rest of my days.  I think that is a mistake many of us make, or we are told to expect, the loss and pain that exists in the closet is a temporary place, but we can eventually leave. It surly isn’t as easy as just opening the door and becoming “normal” again.

So some of us willing walked in, some of us were literally thrown into the closet against our will.  So I can say that I walked in, but I certainly did not build the whole place. The foundation is shame and fear and maybe that is my part, I provided the foundation that this birthmother closet could be built on. I know my mother had a wall, Max’s father gave a wall, the agency had a wall, and society had one too. There’s a door, there is a ceiling. So many different ways that this closet can come together. Maybe one wall is made of shame, another of fear, another of doubt?

Grieving for the Mother We Are Not

Sometimes, I literally surprise myself when I say things. I did that while on the show. If you note, I did mention the “skeleton” in the closet in my “before” writing. Rather expected and cliché, I know, but when I took it literally, as a real set of bones, which did mean that something died in the closet; then the visual became, I think, a powerful truth.

If there is a real place called the birthmother Adoption Closet, then what really died inside was the mother we were supposed to be before surrendering.

In one way, SHE is what was locked up and denied the light. Of course, who we are cannot be separated form the mother we become when we give birth, so I wonder how much we stay in the closet just because we cannot be separated!  But still, she dies eventually. The mother I became  when Garin was born at age 23, is different than the mother I would have been to Max at age 19. And that girl/woman/ mother is just as lost as my baby and all the years missed. It’s funny, because I have thought about my 19 year old self and forgiven ER for making this huge mistake and letting adoption into our lives, but never the woman she was SUPPOSED to be. Oh I have wondered about her, the mother I was not ever again, but at one point, I have to say, too much time went by, too much life passed and I changed  too. I cannot go back to get her, I cannot save her. And she died.

So when I came out in our conversation saying we need to honor the loss of the mothers we could have been and bury our dead properly, it was a really powerful realization for me!

What Else I Need to Say about The Adoption Closet

I think I didn’t get to say this part as the time went by very fast. I would double check, but I can’t STAND listening to myself.

Coming out of the closet IS scary. But try to remember it was fear that often had a ton of influence in putting us in there. We were so afraid of the unknown; mothering, that the closet seemed like a better choice?  And now looking back, what we feared certainly wasn’t as bad as the reality.

Like for me; the FEAR of what my family ( and those damn nosey neighbors) would say about having a child at 19 was way worse then what the reality would have been; any “scandal” would have blown over in 6 months and Max would have simply been “my son” as opposed to 26 years later, it’s still a issue. The FEAR that this relationship with his father would have been a big deal, or that he might “think” I was trying to “trap” him or whatever, would have been over sooner enough when I didn’t actually “trap” him! And any FEAR I had of “resenting’ my child would have also, likewise, disappeared, when I wasn’t resentful of being a mother!  Bottom line; the things I feared lead me in the closet and then I think it’s easy to allow more fear to keep us in.

It is safe in the closet, even if we are not truly happy. We know the four walls, we know what lurks in the corners and shadows. But again, the fear  of what lays outside takes on much more power in our minds than I think is matched in reality.

Yes, we worry about what others will say. We worry about how we shall be judged. Wil people change their opinion of us when they hear that we are one of “those women” who can give away our babies. Our families, our children, friends, co-workers; what would they say if they KNEW the truth?

You know what? You won’t know until you try, but my guess is the people that know you and love you will be happy you told them. I can guess that they knew something was up, but just had no idea what that something was. What will they say after,” Why didn’t you tell me?” will probably along the lines of kindness and sympathy especially if you speak truthfully about how hard it was and how hurt you still are. And really, you have probably had to listen to people say really ignorant stuff about adoption for years and bite your tongue; now at least maybe some folks will think twice before they say demeaning stuff towards mothers. Of course, not all will; some folks remain insensitive fools, but why should you stay quiet and take the hit? And again, those folks will be few and far between. Yeah, you get annoyed, but isn’t the occasional headache worth a life of not hiding? A life of being free?

What’s Outside the Adoption Closet?

I don’t think I can describe the freedom from worrying and do it justice. Oh granted, it wasn’t an overnight process and it took time. I did take baby steps telling one person at a time, but it really does get easier. You figure out what to say and how to say it. You get comfortable telling your story. It BECOMES your story as you own it and it feels right.  It stops being this “big huge deal” that you dread bringing up; but just becomes who you are.

And honestly, why continue to try to avoid that? If you are in an adoption closet than adoption is affecting your life all the time as it is and is WHO YOU ARE. Own it.

And after a while, there is no fear anymore, You don’t find your hands shaking after an adoption conversation. It doesn’t matter what the other person really thinks, because their opinion can’t change it anyway. You know  it’s your truth and you speak it without hesitation. And there are no secrets anymore.

I have to say that again –  There are NO SECRETS anymore!

Which also means that NO ONE can hold anything over on you. No more fear of who knows and who doesn’t, who can tell on you and who cannot. When you come out of  the adoption closet you take your power back and you tell your story your way, on your terms. I have to say, it really makes a differnce.

And it feels really really good.

Lord knows, the search for “peace and contentment’ post- relinquishment will be in vain and I certainly do not prescribe to being a “proud birthmother,” but  I am one and nothing can take that away, so hiding it is just allowing the secrets forced upon us to continue.

And then, MOST importantly to me, every time we tell your stories we not only give permission for another to own theirs, but we amplify and support every other voice that has gone ahead of us. It’s actually one of the few true win-wins in adoption. It’s healthy for us, personally to speak our truths and then, it helps pothers before and after.

And  that might be the best we are going to get. For a final does of inspiration, I leave you with this video of a TedTalk; Please stop clutching the birthmother grenade.

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About the Author

Musings of the Lame was started in 2005 primarily as a simple blog recording the feelings of a birthmother as she struggled to understand how the act of relinquishing her first newborn so to adoption in 1987 continued to be a major force in her life. Built from the knowledge gained in the adoption community, it records the search for her son and the adoption reunion as it happened. Since then, it has grown as an adoption forum encompassing the complexity of the adoption industry, the fight to free her sons adoption records and the need for Adoptee Rights, and a growing community of other birthmothers, adoptive parents and adopted persons who are able to see that so much what we want to believe about adoption is wrong.

5 Comments on "Thinking More About the Birthmother Closet"

  1. Laurie Garland Laurie Garland | May 27, 2014 at 11:30 am |

    Life is definitely better on the other side of that closet door! 🙂 Ash Beckham nails it too!

  2. I want to so bad, but I’m so afraid of the pain of being disowned and judged. I have spent years not getting close to people because I suppose I figured if I don’t make friends and don’t fall in love with someone, then it will save me the pain of losing that relationship once I tell them. And I don’t want to tell someone in the beginning because I feel like that’s the only thing three will identify me as, no matter how ‘good of a person’ I seem.
    When and how do you tell a person this?

    • I think you tell the truth when it comes up. Maybe the conversation is adoption, maybe it is children? But when it naturally is part of the conversation, then you own it.

      It CAN be a litmus test, but who wants to be close to a judgmental person and have them in their life? So knowing that straight away before investing time in a relationship CAN be good. But I have to say, that I have almost NEVER had someone say such things to my face. (online is completely different!)

      The FEAR though.. is the real enemy here. Sounds like you are holding yourself back from living a full life because of that fear of judgement. And the fear is worse than the reality.. THAT I promise. Start small.. start with just one persons.. it DOES get easier over time as we see that people don’t dump us like hot potatoes and run screaming into the hills. Most people are not mad that we are birthmothers, but are more hurt that we didn’t trust them with that information and that we feared them and held it back. THAT’S the emotion to expect.

  3. This blog in general, and this posting in particular, has really hit home with me. I gave my baby up in 1985 and have never had a days’ inner peace since then. It was the worst experience of my life. It permanently changed my personality. I lost my ability to trust and connect with people in any meaningful way. I disowned every friend that got pregnant. Not overtly, but I would quietly disappear from their lives. I never tell anyone about being a biological mother. My hands are shaking as I type this. I feel sick when I have to return to my hometown. People were so unkind to me when I was pregnant. My family disowned and shunned me. My own cousin spread viscous rumors. It was, and has never stopped being, the most isolating, devasting experience I will ever have. By objective standards, I have succeeded in life, I have a doctorate, a good job, a nice home. But emotionally I have turned to stone, and I have not cared for my own physical health for 3 decades.

    I met my daughter two years ago. She grew up with developmental delays and seemingly can’t answer a single question on her own without asking her adoptive mother the answer. Ask her if she enjoyed a meal you just shared and she turns to her mother, “Did I enjoy this meal?” It’s maddening. The two are so enmeshed, the dress alike and have the exact same hair cut. I can have no relationship with my daughter at all. Complicating matters, the adoptive mother is a religious, conservative, judgmental, snarky person. She has a lot of rage towards me, it’s barely contained. I took her nasty comments for a while but in the last 6 months I started letting her know it was unacceptable to speak to me the way she was. We ultimately had an argument last week and I think it’s safe to say I’m not going to be seeing my daughter again.

    If I could do this all again, I would have aborted the baby. The experience of giving a baby up for adoption destroyed the next 30 yrs of my life. It is a prison sentence and it has kept my heart and soul locked in a dark closet.

    • Hello Katie…

      I came across this blog, because I am in reunion with the child I placed for adoption in the 1980’s. I can feel the shame coming up again and again, and it has been extremely difficult trying to build a relationship — if that is, in fact, what we are really doing. I have the feeling that I was contacted just for information, but under the guise of his wanting to have an ongoing relationship. But now, since about one month, I think I am in the process of being cut off. Maybe it’s because of unrealized rage towards me, maybe it’s because of pressure from the a-parents. I don’t know. But I do know that the shame is still quite strong, although I have “come out” to my husband, raised children and some friends and they have all been supportive.

      Reading your post, which is only about two months old, really touched me. My heart goes out to you, and it is the first time I have read a birth mother post and wished that I could see that mom face-to-face and give her a hug.

      I am not a therapist, but I want so much to encourage you. You mentioned that if you had it to do over again, you would have aborted your child. I understand how the pain can be so strong that you would feel this. But if you had done that, you don’t know if the pain would have been even worse over these past 30 years.

      I’ve been trying to separate my shame from my decision to place my child for adoption. What I mean is: I think the pain I feel in reunion has been magnified because of how I was treated back then. The shame was so great: I was hidden from relatives and neighbors, and at the end of the pregnancy put in a home for unwed mothers.

      This has greatly affected my degree of comfort during the reunion, and although adoption is an unnatural choice, I do think that if I had been treated with compassion and kindness, and if I had not been hidden, the pain now in reunion would not be as great. The fact is: I became pregnant to a foolish, irresponsible young man. (And of course, I was a foolish, irresponsible young woman!) Looking back now with maturity, I would say that he was borderline criminal, (whereas I was not!). So my point is: I knew that to keep this child and try to parent him with such a young man, in a family that was devastated about the pregnancy, would have been choosing a path of uncertainty and perhaps even danger for myself and also for my child.

      I’m not trying to say that you should fool yourself and deny all of these feelings you are having now, but please remember that when you chose adoption, you did not know that your daughter’s a-mom would be the type of woman that she turned out to be. You made a choice with the best intentions for your child. Based on your circumstances at that time, you did do what you felt was the best for your daughter. None of us can predict the future. We make decisions as best we can in the moment. You were under a lot of stress, and the shame that was heaped on you intensified the stress. You may never see a change in these cruel idiots who hurt you, but you can make a decision to reframe this experience from your past in a way that honors you and in a way that allows you to have compassion for yourself — in spite of those jerks.

      If you could imagine sitting down with “old” you, which is really “young” you (!) What I mean is that you can visualize sitting across from the you of long ago, from 30 years ago, and try to remember realistically the mindset of that young woman, the one who had not yet finished her education and had not yet become a success professionally. Try to remember the strains and stresses she had living in a dysfunctional family and speak to her in a loving and kind way. Try to picture the situation she was in and how she did the very best she could at that time with the resources she had and with her level of maturity and life experiences.

      I sometimes think we suffer in reunion because we forget the us from long ago. We see our child through the eyes of mature, fully grown women and we say, “How could we have chosen adoption?! How in the world could we have handed our babies off to strangers?” But we were not the women we are today. We were young, unsupported, most likely pregnant to a young man who we did not feel comfortable raising a baby with, and we did the very best that we were able to do.

      I hope you see this post, Katie. I don’t want to turn you off (because you said that a-mom is conservative and religious!) but I will say a prayer for you tonight. Know that you are supported, if only by afar and from a total stranger! (Perhaps you can find a support group for birth mothers in your area?)

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