Wednesday, January 22, 2014

If You Want to Help a Birth Mother

In my local adoption community, I am seen as a success story. Not as any kind of hero or role model, but as a success. I placed my baby for adoption after a brief stint single parenting. I went through the messy grieving process and came out of it a better person. Four years later I have a career of sorts, an apartment, a car, and mental health. I am doing well. I have a good relationship with the child I placed and with her family. I've got 99 problems, but adoption ain't one.

I know way too many birth moms who can't say the same. I have seen open adoptions - and birth mothers - fall apart spectacularly. I am more acutely aware than ever that I hit the jackpot as far as adoption is concerned. I wish everyone could be so lucky. 

I think this is why, in the last three months, I've been asked for advice by adoption caseworkers and their ilk. They all want to know the same thing: why did things work out well for me, and how can they ensure similar successes for the birth moms they work with?

I wish I knew. I am hesitant to give advice because every situation, every adoption is its own little planet. Every person is different and every adoption is different and things can change so quickly. I've never wanted to set myself up as an example of what to do or how to be. That makes me very uncomfortable, particularly when in adoption, two people can do exactly the same thing and end up with vastly different results.

I've tried to explain this, but still I'm asked, "What can we do to help birth mothers?"

I'm expected to have some exclusive insight as a birth mother. But all I can think of is how right after placement, there was almost no help on earth for me - not that there was none offered, but that nothing worked. The only thing that made me happy was seeing my baby girl and how well she was doing. I lived for her and for those moments. Other than that, there was too much going on to be helped by any single entity or program. I had too many different issues.

That's the real gist of it, isn't it? There are always too many things going on in a birth mother's life. We can talk all we want about how there ought to be support and programs to help women who have just placed a child for adoption deal with that issue. And I'm not saying those things aren't important. But what we're forgetting is that so often, an unplanned pregnancy isn't the overarching problem. It's a symptom. When a woman is facing an unplanned pregnancy in the kind of situation where she's considering and choosing adoption, the pregnancy isn't her problem. If you want to help a birth mom, you have to realize that.

Not that there's ever one single underlying issue. There are dozens. Low self-esteem, co-dependence, abuse, depression, anxiety, daddy issues … sometimes it's a combination. But part of what makes placement so gut-wrenching is that you've got the grief of placing a child layered on top of these other issues that were never treated. In my personal experience, if you want to help a birth mom, you have to help restore her sense of self-worth. 

I'm not saying that every single birth mom has made horrible life choices or gotten herself into a bad situation. But the vast majority of those I have met (and I include myself in this number) ended up pregnant because a lot of other things were going on. My pregnancy was a symptom of a much larger problem.

I've always hated the term "crisis pregnancy" because it sounds like some sort of emergency or disaster. My pregnancy wasn't like that. The fact is that it saved my life. I was self-destructing spectacularly before I got pregnant. Roo saved my life. If I hadn't gotten pregnant, there would have been a crisis situation. If you want to help a birth mother, don't look at her pregnancy as a crisis. Look at it as an opportunity to make positive changes in her life.

So, adoption professionals, here's my advice to you. If you want to help a birth mother, stop looking at her as a birth mother. Look at her as a person. She had problems before placement and she's going to have them after. There is no one-size-fits-all help for her. Don't put her in a box. You can do better than that. She deserves better than that.