To many, the idea of adopting a child evokes the promise of new beginnings. Adoption creates new families; it connects adults who want to be parents and children who need parents. It appears to be an unambiguously positive experience for all involved.
As someone who works in the adoption world, I have shared in the joys of new families created through adoption, as well as experienced the joy adoption can bring in my own family. I also realize that what is often overlooked is the inherent loss in every domestic adoption: that for every happy family's beginning there is a story of a woman's loss. A woman who is making the seemingly impossible decision between raising a child she wasn't prepared for and trusting other people be the child's parents. Most people in the US have some connection to adoption, whether we have adoption in our own family or we have a friend who does. While I support us all sharing in the happiness adoption can create, I believe it's also important we all make an effort to understand and empathize with all sides of adoption, the adopting parents' perspective, the adopted child's perspective, as well as the birth parents' perspective.
Given the current dearth of information available on birth parents' perspectives, I was happy to read Amy Seek's new memoir, God and Jetfire: Confessions of a Birth Mother, which is a lyrical work of love and loss that gives voice to the oft-silenced birthmother experience. It follows Seek's journey from her pregnancy through 12 years of what an open adoption with her son and his adoptive parents has looked like. The book begins when Seek is in college and first finds out that she is pregnant. She desperately wants to avoid poverty, and begins to think about adoption as a way to simultaneously provide a better life for her child and also ensure that she is able to achieve the life she envisioned for herself -- one that didn't include having a child at her age.
Seek eloquently describes the evolving nature of her thoughts throughout her pregnancy and the self-doubt and difficulty of choosing the family who would be charged with raising her baby, "If I wasn't fit to parent, was I fit to select parents for my child?" Seek observes with great clarity the many struggles and doubts that plague her decision, as well as the many opinions (and freely-given unsolicited advice) of those around her.
After many months of deliberation, Seek and her boyfriend at the time choose Paula and Erik, a theology-loving graduate-student couple, to raise their son. Together, the four of them learn the steps to an intricate dance of a life now bound together by the thread of their shared son. In the final days before the adoption papers are signed, Seek and Paula empathetically feel for one another's pains, "Paula said she didn't want to take my son away from me. One afternoon we sat together on my futon and cried, knowing we were crying for own own exclusive concerns, and out of compassion for each other. We were tragically enmeshed; each the source of the other's pain, each the threshold of the other's future."
Seek's grief and loss of her son are felt in rolling waves throughout the ensuing 12 years. Seek's story provides a model for what open adoption can look like, but gives no illusions to the difficulties encountered along the way. There are so many contradictions to deal with -- now that she is without her son, is she still a mother? ("I couldn't deny my motherhood, and I couldn't claim it honestly.") Is she allowed to be sad, since the adoption was her decision? (The answer is yes, and in fact, "the hardest thing about it was that it had been my decision.") How do you reconcile the fact that you are doing something so "selfless" for your child with the fact that it was partially motivated by a selfish desire to reach your goals? While Seek doesn't have all of the answers, God and Jetfire is an important step toward better understanding the loving agony of a birth mother -- of doing the most motherly and "unthinkable" act of giving up your child to allow him or her a better quality of life.
At times canonized and villainized, the birthmother's experience is still relatively unknown. Seek's perspective is a much-needed one, and I encourage more women who have faced this situation to share their stories so other women can learn from them. There are few unbiased resources for all options available to pregnant woman. Recognizing this, Binti is in the process of creating objective and helpful resources for expecting parents who are exploring placing their child for adoption, parenting their child, or terminating the pregnancy. If you have previously faced this decision or are currently deciding what to do, feel free to reach out to us to give input and feedback on online resources that can be helpful for others in your shoes.