Letters from the Edge of Loss

“Letters are above all useful as a means of expressing the ideal self; and no other method of communication is quite so good for this purpose.  In letters we can reform without practice, beg without humiliation, snip and shape embarrassing experiences to the measure of our own desires… ” ~Elizabeth Hardwick

I dislike the idea of Dear Birthmother letters. Putting aside the fact the verbiage is all wrong (Shouldnt it be Dear Expectant Mother Letters? Calling a woman a birthmom before she has surrendered is a tad bit coercive in my opinion), I dislike advertising for babies, trolling for children, marketing of babies available for adoption, prospective adoptive parents painting themselves as so fabu but so terribly sad they cannot have children, babies for sale on ebay, adoptive parents so happy to take the child of another, etc. It just feels very icky to me.

What I do want to question is the idea of “Dear Adoptive Parent Letters”.

Do they exist?

I am going to guess they do. I dont know.

In my era (mid 80s) adoption wasn’t so commercialized and contact between expectant mothers and prospective adopters was non-existent. I base my assumptions on my own experience. I lived in a home with many expectant moms. I dont recall anyone writing Dear Adoptive Parent letters or having any contact in advance. I received nothing from my daughters adoptive parents prior to abandoning her. I got one silly card six months later that I am not confident was even written by them. (The card said “Babies were blown from the hand of God”. You can imagine how well THAT went over with me.  Can we dehumanize me any more?  Now God birthed my baby via his hand? Maybe his vagina, but I am not so sure about the hand part)

I find myself wondering if expectant mothers were encouraged to write letters, what would they write?

I am thinking of what I would have written (I realize its my 40 year old self looking back with the knowledge so my guess on what I would have written may be slightly skewed).

Would I have been honest and told them the following:

Dear Adoptive Parent:

My name is Suz. I am 17 yo and living in a maternity home. I love my boyfriend and want very much to be with him. I miss him. My parents are embarassed by my pregancy and sent me here to have my baby alone. I havent spoken to my boyfriend or my parents in some time. I am very lonely. My baby kicks every day and I love her. She has hiccups and they told me that means she is ingesting fluid. I also have lots of heartburn and the nurse told me that means she will have hair. I am going to name her Amber. Amber, the stone, represents ever lasting love and eternal bond. I like that. Even if I cannot raise her, I will forever love her. I want to keep her but the agency tells me I cannot. My mother signed a document that the agency said can be used to sue me if I dont give them my baby. I told Colleen, my caseworker, I was thinking about keeping her and she told me I would be sued and my parents would be too. My parents dont have alot of money. I have already caused them enough trouble. I dont have a lawyer. I dont know what to do so I guess I will give my baby to you. I hope you love her as much as I do.

Or would I have given the party line? I was pretty good at pretending back then. Pretending I was okay, fine, cool, managing, mature and really, super, OK. My writings from that period of time are very split and clearly show a young, lost girl, wanting someone to help her keep her baby and a shamed, embarrased girl worried that she has caused all the evil in the world and she must save her child from her own mother and make things okay with her family. She cannot have her family be sued.

If you are a mother who surrendered her chid to adoption, what would you have written? Post your letter here if you are comfortable.

10 Thoughts.

  1. Suz,
    This is the letter my mother wrote to my adoptive parents. It’s mine now. I’m fortunate they didn’t throw it out or burn it. My adad never(neither of them) ever read it. Only my mother did.
    BTW my grandmother also wrote at letter to my adoptive family which is also now mine. It is the reason I knew my name.
    I think if moms were “encouraged” to do anything it was to write to their child, that seems to be much more common than writing to the adoptive parents.
    January 6, 1984
    To you who will be my daughter’ parents- I have a few things I’d like to say-
    The decision to give her up
    was the hardest thing I’ve ever done-
    For the last two days I’ve agonized- my thought have been in such turmoil- In the end as much as I love her and want to keep her- I know, you can give her what I can’t- I can love her- but I don’t think I could provide her with everything she needs- and she needs two parents and a home where she’ll be secure- Please, love her as much as I do- teach her to Love God, respect her country and herself-
    If and when you decide she’s ready please give her the letter I’ve written for her- I’d like you to read it if you want to-
    And please, don’t ever let her think I didn’t want her- make her understand I did what I thought was best- for both of us- I know you’ll love her as much as I do
    Thank you for
    being special people

  2. Dear soon to be Parents to my son,
    You need to love and respect this child as he grows to the moon and back. Knowing genetics, this child will be the most creative and stubborn person you will ever know. Embrace that.
    I don’t ever want to be a mystery to him. Tell him about us, tell him all of the infinite things of love I would want him to know.
    That being said, send pictures and notes regularly so I don’t mourn nearly as hard as my great-grandmother did when she lost her son to adoption.
    Much love,

  3. Jean and MPS – WOW. Way to make a woman cry! Seriously thought, thank you for sharing. Really touched me. Made me ache for all concerned.

  4. I remember who I was on that day I met them oh so well. Key points to my letter that I have since learned from:
    1. note how I refused to acknowledge adoptive parents with the adoptive qualifier. They were his parents as soon as we matched and I self-coerced myself in that way.
    2. The whole not having any qualities that I am looking for in his parents other than love unconditionally.
    3. The complete disregard and lack of knowledge of adoption impact on my son is painfully apparent.
    But that was who I was then and that pretty much summed up the initial meeting I had with his parents.

  5. I am so moved by that beautiful letter Jean and by the fact that your grandmother also wrote one. And by the fact that your parents had the courage to give it to you. And by mps’s letter as well. This is a powerful exercise particularly if you have met your child and know how things turned out.

  6. Here is my stab at what I wuld have written. Since reunion with my son I have been back in my 15 year old mind a lot.
    I am a frightened 15 year old who was sent 1000 miles from home to have my baby. I am expected to go back home and forget this ever happened. I have hurt so many people. I need to make this right.
    I was attending an advanced placement school. The birthfather is a talented musician and he is in the top of his class so please know my baby will be smart and talented. That is all I can give him.
    I need to pretend that everything is ok. I am really good at pretending. My baby kicks a lot and I talk to him. I love him.
    I hope my baby is a boy so he will never have to go through what I am going through now.

  7. To whoever will listen (which is no one),
    I have to give up my baby because my mother said I cannot come home with a baby. She said she will leave us if I do. My brother also has called my baby a bastard.
    I know my baby is perfect, loving, smart, and beautiful. I have chosen a name for him that matches his soul (I know in my heart the baby is a boy). He moves a lot and feels very happy, I am so thrilled to be his mom.
    All I want to do is be his mom and take care of him while he grows.

  8. The letter from Jean says it all! I wrote letters to TA that were never given to Mo to give to her later. I don’t know what I would of said to Mo…I just know that the letter from Jean says it all…although I could of, and still do, love Ta with all my heart and soul…a person can’t live on just love.

  9. Dear agency-recommended couple,
    As you can see I am pregnant and madly in love with my baby, whom I sing to, write poems to, and caress through my skin in my dark room at night.
    I have been told by experts that you are somehow better for my child than I am because you are married and did not sin in having a child out of wedlock. I am naive, and so I believe them.
    I have been told that there is something called a homestudy, also carried out by experts, that assures your house will be safe and full of love. I doubt I could pass such a rigorous exam because I don’t have a real house, just a studio apartment. The experts say this isn’t ideal for my child, and I want her life to be ideal. They ask me to fill in two columns. In one, list what I can give. In the other, list what you say you can give. My column comes up short and I’ve had to use the same word, “love,” over and over and over to compensate for so much lack in other areas. I never thought money would matter more than love … but I find, looking at the two colums, maybe I was wrong.
    Recently, there was a news story about the McMartin preschools. Children were horribly abused there and now daycare, in general, has become suspect. It has horrified me, and I fear leaving my child with strangers during the day. The experts have somehow convinced me that you are not strangers and I have believed them. I thought I felt something when we met and I sobbed in front of you … because I don’t cry in front of just anyone. I wonder if I’m mistaking my unprecedented vulnerability, and your momentary reaction to a bereft young woman, with a sense of “connection.” If so, I won’t know that until its too late.
    There’s so little time. I have been very, very sick during my pregnancy. On bed rest for half of it. Trying to mend my heart in the wake of my boyfriend leaving and my parents writing me off. Trying to find a new place to live. The job interviews. The rejections for govt. assistance because I’m unwilling to lie like some of the girls in line told me to do. (If I had it to do over again, I’d have lied.) In the limited time I have in the midst, I’ve tried to find information about this thing called adoption, but all I’ve found is a book called “Dear Birthmother.” I stopped reading it because it made me feel worthless, like I wasn’t a real mother but just a delivery system. I’m unfamiliar with this word, “birthmother,” but that’s what the experts call me. I figure they know more than I do about such matters. I am smart as a whip about many things, but I’ve never been a mother before … and there’s so much at stake. So I’ve become too trusting, putting too much stock in the opinions of others. This isn’t typical of me, but I’m scared and alone, sick and exhausted to the point where I’ve started to ignore my own instincts.
    Surely when you look at me, you see a capable young woman. A woman who doesn’t use drugs or alcohol or engage in risky behaviors. True enough, you also see a frightened mother, but who wouldn’t be? Surely you see a young mother who, more than anything on earth, wants to keep and raise her child. So I ask you to give me space. I’m unwilling to commit to this thing because I still want to see if there are resources available to mothers like me, to children like my baby. So please do not call me. Do not pressure me. If I say no, respect my word. Do not assume you know what I feel. There is no way you could. Do not later hold a piece of paper up as proof that I am not a mother or that I had a real choice. Surely, when you look into my eyes now, you know that no piece of paper could alter the truth you now see there.
    If you would do one thing, please: Recall the single most vulnerable, alone moment of your life. If you are fortunate enough not to have had such a moment, think ahead to a time when you may be utterly alone and utterly vulnerable. Perhaps you will be so fortunate that such a moment will only come upon old age … or perhaps never. Even so, think about how you’d want to be treated at such a moment. Think about whether such a moment should be a basis for permanent separation from your child forever, your child’s permanent separation from you.
    I ask that you consider that before you come to my hospital bed where I lay bleeding, cramping, exhausted, hormones fluctuating, frightened, beset with huge waves of emotion … including a new brand of expansive love for my child. A love that will too-easily expand to include your needs at a time when my focus should be solely on my child’s.

  10. While the letter I wrote so very long ago was an honest try at telling Jeans parents what my wishes were, you can see by what I wrote just how much denial I was in. How much I bought into the things we were told. Love is all I could offer? That was so wrong, and so not true. But wishes aren’t fishes and I can’t change it now. I wish someone had been honest with me about what would happen after. Been honest about how it would feel. No one did, but then if they were honest women like “us” would not let our children go would we?

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