Birth Mother's Day
Natural mothers, or simply mothers, represent a diversity of individuals, a few of whom were given real choice to raise or not to raise their babies, but the vast majority of whom were either not presented with real options or were offered untenable alternatives. Therefore, in the context of no choice or unviable choice, they did not 'give' their babies away.
Whether or not there was 'choice' in the adoption of their children, the pain and grief they suffer as a result of this loss is often the dominant expression of their experience. This is not something to celebrate.
To understand this context, one must review the powerful social dynamics operating during the time of surrendering babies to adoption, whether this occurred during the dark ages of the 1920s to early 1970s, or later during the great lifting of the veil of secrecy and shame which slowly began in recent decades, albeit with great difficulty and irregularity.
It used to be assumed that adoption was a win-win-win situation for the natural mother, baby and adoptive parents. There were two prevailing opinions of the social context, the 'enlightened' opinion held by the professionals-social workers, doctors, clergy, etc.-and the 'unenlightened' opinion which operated generally throughout society, that, putting it mildly, 'birth mothers' or 'unwed mothers,' as they called us, were wanton individuals of low moral fibre and hence deserved no choice at all.
Natural mothers were deeply influenced by both opinions, a situation which framed their 'choices.'
Both positions, the professional and the lay, effectively presented only one option for an unsupported, unmarried, pregnant girl or woman-adoption. From the point of view of the 'enlightened,' this was the best solution for everybody. The natural mother was given an opportunity to get on with her life, put the past behind her and start her 'own' family at another time.
There was never any recognition that this child (labeled 'illegitimate') was actually part of a family prior to adoption.
The babies would be raised in their adoptive families 'as if born to' and it was assumed they would never question their biological roots. They would never have any need for updated health information about the many genetic diseases now known to modern medicine. They would certainly never have any identity issues arising from their adoption and lack of knowledge about their first families. If they did, it was assumed that either they were deviant or their adoptive parents had failed in raising them properly.
The Adoptive Parents
Significantly, the adoptive parents 'won' because they got to raise the baby they didn't conceive. It can't be overlooked that the profession of social work won too because a source of employment for many adoption workers was established. It also saved the public purse the presumed burden of single parent families in need of social assistance.
Therefore, three dynamics preceded surrender: the social context of shame, the solution offered by professionals, and the concern there would be a cost to society from unsupported mothers and their children. That the system worked effectively to preserve itself is evidenced by the fact that millions of women in the world surrendered their babies born 'out of wedlock.'
Secrecy and Shame
After surrender, the dominant idea became that these babies were abandoned and unwanted by their natural mothers. The mothers were deemed unwilling or unable to provide for them.
This served to maintain the shame of natural mothers. The prevalent social logic would be that, since these mothers didn't 'choose' to raise their babies, they abandoned them (as opposed to losing them in a psychological context of fear, trauma, lack of support and diminished self-worth). Hence the overwhelming impact of this created shame maintained the secrecy of closed adoption and silenced many thousands of natural mothers. It is by no mean coincidence that it serves the interests of the professionals and the adoptive parents, many of whom are still invested in concealing their own shame of infertility while living out the illusion that the children they adopted are 'as if born to' them.
This brief history is intended to describe the social and psychological context of natural mothers during their pregnancies and long after surrender. It is an artificial construct to imagine that most natural mothers 'gave' their children away having been offered proper alternatives: financial support, social acceptance, legal, spiritual and psychological counselling. Surely some must have received this, but the great majority received none of it. Surrender, not 'relinquishment,' for most of us was affected in a milieu of guilt, shame, punishment, and coercion.
Even today, counselling for mothers who lose their children usually extends only until they have agreed to the loss of their baby.
Either counselling is not available to them after they have signed the surrender papers, or the trauma that accompanies losing their child leads them to numbness, denying their emotions and denying that there is a need for counselling. Yet the detrimental effects on natural mothers of losing their children increases with time; it does not diminish. This is nothing to celebrate.
Birth Mother's Day perpetuates the marginalization and dehumanization of natural mothers. It magnifies natural mothers' diminished status as 'mother' and continues to deny their right to motherhood. Birth Mother's Day is an appointed celebration of natural mothers' trauma, grief and loss
They endure not only the loss of their children and the loss of their right to raise their children, but also in the majority of cases the loss of knowledge of, contact with, and accountability for what has become of their children. In no other area of society would we tolerate what the institution of adoption does to mothers and their children.
In no other circumstance are parents denied knowledge of their children when they have committed no crime or injustice to those children. Birth Mother's Day testifies to the continuing self-image that natural mothers are 'not their child's real mother.'
The fact is that the person who was adopted has two mothers, both equally real. As such, both natural mothers and adoptive mothers are equally entitled to claim the real Mother's Day as their own. To relinquish that day as belonging more rightfully to the adoptive mother, instead of claiming it as our own as well, does nothing to promote our rights. It merely continues and reinforces the shame created for us to carry.
We want to promote pride in our membership. We do not want to turn the pain and grief of our loss into the false premise that we did something noble by surrendering our child to adoption. We are survivors who looked horror and grief squarely in the face and have reclaimed our lives and, with varying degrees of success, our sons and daughters lost to adoption.
The Canadian Council of Natural Mothers therefore does not support Birth Mother's Day.
14 May 2002
© The Canadian Council of Natural Mothers, May 2002. This document is the property of the Canadian Council of Natural Mothers, www.ccnm-mothers.ca. You may copy and distribute this page provided that you copy it in its entirety.