My teen pregnancy and subsequent role as a birth mom shrouded me with deep, immovable shame. Behind the ideologies waved on poster boards at rallies and in front of clinics, and strangers shaming and condemning the choices women make, stands a woman or teenager in a scary situation doing the best she can while facing the unimaginable head on and most often alone.
In cases of teen pregnancy, rape and other unintended pregnancies, the guy gets the first choice, and most often he chooses to leave. He gets to make his choice without any public shaming or condemnation. No one will make a sign for him to read, shaming his choice or degrading his character. And no one will try to take his choice away.
He gets to walk away while the woman must continue on and face the life-changing truth of a situation while carrying the weight of strangers judging her, communities ostracizing her, and losing her sense of dignity and belonging no matter what choice she makes or is forced into. She will be judged and ridiculed. Some will even remark and say she should have kept her legs closed, or not worn that outfit, or practiced better discernment. It will be her fault and she will face the consequences.
The guy who left and avoided the decision can continue with his life and maybe even become a lawmaker and decide what other women can or cannot do with their bodies. He can choose for women who are strangers, just like his father did and his grandfather did, while still owning the right to choose for himself – judgement free.
The unintended pregnant woman, if she’s given any options, may have three choices: become a (most often single) parent and raise the baby, place the baby for adoption, or have an abortion if she knows she is pregnant before the six-week mark (in Texas). Most women do not know they are pregnant before six weeks, but let’s not let details get in the way of choices women are able to have. All choices come with ridicule, judgement and shame, and often not a lot of support.
At 16 years old I was lost, confused, and frozen in fear by the time I worked up the courage to tell my mom that I was pregnant. There would be no options for me. My mom was barely making ends meet as a single mom herself, and abortion was against our Southern Baptist values and was not mentioned. I would place my baby for adoption. After hiding my pregnancy from everyone – including my friends and family – I was quietly sent away to an adoption facility where I lived with other pregnant teens and awaited the birth of a baby I would hand over to strangers. No one knew but me and my mom. It was our secret.
There was no therapy. There was no talking about the trauma of adoption or the pain and anguish I would live with afterward, or the pain and loss the baby would live with after experiencing a primal wound, a phrase coined by author Nancy Verrier. There was no emotional or even physical support. There was isolation, shame, and the feeling of getting it over with so life can resume like nothing happened.
The adoption was closed, so there was also no knowing where the baby would be raised. I got to choose her parents from a binder of pictures that sat on a big desk in a cold office. There were binders upon binders of families all wanting an American newborn baby. The waitlist was years deep.
There weren’t a lot of details shared about the parents or their family. They were the heroes and I was the one who got myself into a bad situation; a conduit to a commodity the adoption agency owned. It was understood that they were saving me and my baby and paying for my stay at the adoption center and the delivery by way of the adoption fee.
When I enrolled myself back into high school, my breasts leaking milk meant for the baby I had just delivered days before, there was no follow up or check in. It was understood that I was done with that story and it was time to move on.
I pretended to be fine because there seemed to be no room for my feelings, nor did I really understand the depth of the trauma I had experienced. I felt empty, alone, disconnected from life and far away from belonging. The emotions I was unable to process at the time froze in my body like time standing still. They would be there for me when I was able to process them later. But for now, I needed to move on and trudge forward. This was to be an experience we pretended didn’t happen, so I buttoned up, hid my stretch marks and pretended I had not just given birth to a baby girl.
Later, as I found myself in affluent social circles as an adult and mom to three daughters, I attended a neighbor’s adoption fundraising party for the same agency that had placed my baby. The partygoers, bidding on various posh items like diamond earrings and art, would say things like “oh, the birth moms are just so selfless, they are giving the greatest gift.” I’d heard this before when the topic of adoption would come up around me at mom’s night out dinners and happy hours. The words would burn going into my ears but shame would keep my rage pent up and intact. I longed to be free so I could scream:
BUT HOW DO THE BIRTH MOMS FEEL? HOW DO THE BABIES FEEL? IS ANYONE TALKING TO THEM ABOUT THEIR PAIN?!?
Because my pain was very much still inside of me many years later. What was frozen was beginning to thaw.
I wondered, as I placed a bid on some earrings, what would they do if they knew I was a birth mom. Would they feel sorry for me? Would they see me differently? Would I still fit in? The adoptive parents are known as the heroes and get to speak of adoption with pride, yet birth moms and adoptees keep a much lower profile. We are different. We are the ones that made the adoption possible, yet we are cloaked in otherness. Shame was a consistent silencer. This is what happens when space and support is not given at the time of trauma, it lingers and builds walls around your life.
I couldn’t let anyone know of my dirty secret. I am a birth mom and managed to cross the socio-economic line and now I was bidding on overpriced earrings to benefit the agency where my firstborn was placed.
Adoption is a primal wound even in the most emotionally functional situations.
In a closed adoption managed by an agency, adoption is a tragic loss without the space to grieve what feels like a death and without a support system to hold you in a society that disregards you. The pain doesn’t end when the baby is placed in an adoptive home. That’s just the next chapter. The longing never goes away.
Adoption is not a transaction, it is a wound that needs tending to.
Birth moms and their babies aren’t products, they are human beings with complex feelings and basic needs of belonging and feeling seen and loved through their history and ancestry that often gets dismissed. The wound stays with the birth mom and the baby. No matter how it is glossed over it remains until it is faced. No matter how wonderful the adoptive parents are, there is grief underneath that can not be healed in the dark.
Missed birthdays, holidays, the first day of school, halloween, or when strangers ask how many kids I have, the pain and discomfort emerges. Do I count my firstborn, too? And what about when the adoptee is filling out medical forms- what does she put for her family history when she doesn’t know it?
When the wound is avoided it festers and breeds shame and low self-esteem. The consequence is not faced only by the mother and the baby, we all feel the effects of a human being not living a life full of light, love and acceptance. When self-esteem is dismantled, identity, dreams and goals also fall away. The ripple effect reaches far and wide and is ultimately felt by us all.
Because women experience the consequences of unintended pregnancies, we need to be supported, empowered with choices and have a voice in the policies around them, too.
If women made more decisions in the realm of adoption and reproductive rights, then we’d be out of the dark ages and have better systems of managed care because we know what the experiences feel like. We know in our bones the trauma they cause. For example, I would have loved to give my baby the breast milk my body made for her, but that was never an option.
Therapy, support, and connection would be offered instead of shame, judgement and isolation. The life that is being lived right now would hold more value and informed, educated decisions would be the byproduct of healthy respect for pregnant women.
When we trust women with their bodies we open up a new world of love, respect and honor that translates into real, tangible outcomes built on solid foundations.
When we trust women with their bodies, their decisions and their futures, we love them, and when we love them that love is multiplied. There is no room for love when control is in the equation.
Women and girls need our support. They need to feel empowered at any age. Let’s talk about sex and how human it is. Let’s talk about emotions and how valid they are and how they are our guiding lights. Let’s talk about fragmented families perpetuating fragmented families. Let’s talk about reputation being viewed as more important than the value we place on women’s lives. Let’s talk about the 1 in 3 women who are sexually assaulted. Let’s talk about a society who deems women as unqualified to make choices about their own bodies, futures and lives, yet depends on us to face the consequences. Let’s talk about trauma and how it perpetuates until it is recognized, seen, and healed.
The more we talk about it the more we heal it. The more we expose the truth behind it the more shame will loosen its deadly grip. Women have become so used to suffering silently that we dismiss the power we have to change it.
When we share, we change the narrative.
The kindest, most gentle support I received was after I gave birth when I found my way to a nearby Planned Parenthood. The nurse was gentle with me and saw me as a person, not part of an equation. She suggested I take birth control to stop my aching breasts from engorging because I was miserable and embarrassed. No one else had bothered to tell me any of this so I suffered alone until the kindness of a stranger at Planned Parenthood decided to help me. Yet Planned Parenthood is often villianized for helping women who are unable to get help anywhere else. I had male doctors mock me, belittle me, and dismiss me. I was treated like I was a commodity delivering a precious resource: a white American baby.
My American baby, Grace, grew up and found me. When we reunited we noticed we had matching rings on, though we lived states apart. She has my voice and her energy feels like mine. Our longing for each other never stopped, no matter how much we repressed it.
After we reunited where she grew up, Grace visited me in Texas. I took her to the agency where our story began. A counselor took Grace into her office and asked that I stay in the waiting room. She then told Grace she needed to cut contact with me, though she was over 18 years old, and that her real family raised her and that should be enough. And so my dreams of progress happening in the world of adoption agencies were dashed. We both left feeling dejected like we had been so many years ago and like our love for each other was wrong.
Somewhere, right now there is a scared teenager who just found out she’s pregnant. She’s overwhelmed, unsupported and confused, and she has every right to be. Because as a collective we pity her instead of empower her. As a collective we see her as less than us. She is different. She broke the rules of acceptance and so no matter what she chooses she will not be like us. So she will choose silently. She will hide her story, her grief, and her baby until we decide she doesn’t have to.
As our country and institutions continue to wage war on women’s bodies and our choices, every story matters. Exposing our stories is how we push against what isn’t working, acknowledge what is, and reveal the truth of what’s going on. The women in our lives are being repressed, hurt, and ignored and need to be heard. She is your neighbor, your sister, your cousin, your aunt, your wife, your daughter, your mother and she matters. She is me.