By: Shannell Stewart // Birth Mother
I vividly remember the fall of 2017, about a month before I placed my daughter for adoption. Hardly anyone knew I was pregnant and planning on adoption. At that time I was mentally preparing for the backlash of negativity coming once it was no longer under wraps. In my mind, the opinions of others, the judgement and disapproval of my decision were inevitably coming. I knew I was making the right choice and I was confident in that, but I now had to ready myself to defend it publicly as I decided to share my story.
My method of preparation was to root myself in my reasons why. I just knew if I explained my “why’s” I could make anyone understand. I believed so heavily that my decision was the obvious best choice. I also understood that it wasn’t so obvious to others right away. However, I was convinced once someone knew my reasons they would immediately get it. I shared my first blog post a week post placement.
The first surprise was the amount of positive feedback and support I received. The second surprise was the lack of disapproval I expected to have, which was such a relief but very shocking. I had questions from people but none that I felt came form a place of disagreement. If anything it was simple curiosity which I was happy to face instead.
Fast forward to today. I have recently faced the opposition in my decision that I expected to have in 2017. I have gained so much peace in sharing my story over the past 18 months and I accepted that society really is gracious just in time to realize it is not always going to be that way. I finally felt that weight of disapproval. I have faced feelings of inadequacy I hadn’t faced as a birth mom, until recently, almost as if I deserved less in my life for choosing to place. The opinions of others were really impacting what I believed about myself, that I deserve to be in a happy marriage to some wonderful person and the chance to raise more children in my future. I had moments of doubt that I was tainted and second rate because I had had an unplanned pregnancy.
After feeling that pain for the first time, I decided to talk about the stereotypes that come with being a birth mother and a few things I did to restore my self worth. Luckily, the adoption community has grown and expanded so many minds so these stereotypes are much less common, but they are out there. Even years after placement these stereotypes may effect birth moms. Self-esteem, relationships, your healing process, etc. all may be effected.
I have accepted that I cannot change someone’s opinion. I cannot make them understand me and my choice but I can choose to look beyond their lack of understanding of the bigger picture.
Here are some of the most common misconceptions about birth mothers:
- We are all teen moms. Actually I was 24, divorced and already a mother to a 3 year old. Many other birth mothers I know personally are in their 30’s and even 40’s when they chose to place. You can still decide that you are not equipped to parent even if you aren’t 16 years old. We are allowed to know our limitations at any age. If anything it may be more difficult as you can see loopholes in where you may feel ready to parent so that black and white line is much more watered down. People expect you to parent at an older age. I had the question many time, “You already have a daughter, why wouldn’t you choose to parent your second?” I have written about that more in depth in previous posts, so I will spare details, but I knew my limitations at that time. I couldn’t romanticize parenting and having a new little baby in my circumstances. I knew what it took and I am glad I had that self awareness to say no, I cannot provide what I know she deserves right now.
- We are addicts. Umm… no. Drug addiction only makes up a very small portion of reasons mother place their babies instead of parenting. Some are addicts, yes, but most are not. That is true of people in general. To me, if that is the case, then why aren’t we applauding the small percentage that are and want better for their babies?
- We are uneducated. In fact, more that half of birth mothers have an Associate’s Degree and much more than that have their high school diploma. Studies show that women who choose to place pursue higher education and finish school with a degree.
- We sleep around. This is a big one for me. I was irresponsible with birth control regularity. I wasn’t moonlighting at the local bordello. My unplanned pregnancy happened while in a committed relationship and yes, I own the fact that that is still not a reason to neglect birth control, but when people hear the phrase “birth mother” they think we must be sleeping around. More birth mothers are the product of unprotected sex in a committed relationship as opposed to one night stands.
- We just don’t want the baby. Also false and probably one of the most hurtful. That is why some women abort. They don’t want the inconvenience of pregnancy. For a birth mom to go through 9 months of pregnancy and everything that comes with it just to have empty arms at the end is exactly the opposite. Birth moms want their babies, but they want them in the right circumstances and that is much more selfless than choosing to parent knowing you cannot provide what someone else can. I say this a lot but I know my limitations. I know I am a single mom already facing all that comes with even one child and her dad. I would be lying to myself if I told myself I could have done that again at that time. I feel deep sadness when I hear “How could she take it out on that poor baby,” or that I am selfish for not “bucking up and parenting.” Guess what? I did buck up. I fulfilled my role in her life and I am so blessed to be able to see that confirmation daily that I did the right thing. It wasn’t the “easy way out.” Birth mothers take on physical and emotional stresses to bring these babies to the world. There is so much unwelcome vulnerability and pain associated with this process. Before you point a finger in judgement, put yourself in the shoes of a scared mother looking for the best choice for her precious baby.
There are probably more stereotypes that I didn’t mention and as sad as it is that this is still an issue, with all that goes on in the world, I am happy to say that there is support and genuine respect for your decision as a birth mom. So many incredible families are brought together through your sacrifice. For me, the prejudices have hit close to home and I have a few ways I have been combating them. I have written them down so that I may help a fellow birth mom out there.
First I go back to “My Why’s.” I reread words I wrote when I made my decision. I look at all it takes to be there emotionally, financially and physically for a baby and remember what my limitations were at the time.
Second, I reach out to those who I know supported me then and support me now. They remind me that there is understanding and open minds we can lean on. You are not alone in these times of doubt. My open adoption is a huge anchor for me as well as my agency and friends.
Third and most important, I pray to understand those who judge me. I sincerely learn to hope they can let go of the biases and disapproval and realize that my decision wan MINE. It does not help me to feel anger towards those who don’t understand. It does not serve me to wallow in those opinions. I am a birth mom. Plain and simple. I know what it means to me and that is all that matters! Feeling like I needed to explain myself to particular people with judgement only robbed me of my peace in my decision. We don’t owe anyone any explanation, especially if they approach it negatively.
Fourth and final, I try to use social media carefully. Anyone with eyes and a laptop can criticize you online. Do not put yourself out there if you allow those faceless comments to affect you. Just don’t go there. Network validation is pretty empty if it is all you have to rely on. Be okay with yourself and your decision first and then you may be ready to share your incredible, unique story. If you are struggling at any stage in your motherhood, just be aware of online risks and rewards. You are more than a blanket stereotype! Remember that!
Your families love you, your babies love and revere you, I love you and I am very proud to be among this community of strong women.