The Courage to Choose

by Allan Rosenthal, MFCT (Adoption Counselor and Adoptee)

It is simply amazing what little knowledge and understanding the general public has regarding birth mothers. Unfortunately, this is also true for many of the adoptive couples I work with. Often, there are many assumptions that are made about women who “give up” their children for adoption. Some of these assumptions are true, while many are way off base.

It is not  my intention to comment on any of these assumptions in this article. Rather, I do want to focus on what i consider to be the courage it takes for a woman to choose what to do when she discovers that she is pregnant.

If the woman is married or has a partner, the choice may not be difficult at all. They may have been planning on having a child and the news of the pregnancy is a joy for them and their family. More and more, single women are choosing to become single parents and they rejoice at the news of their being pregnant. But what about the unplanned pregnancy?  When a woman discovers that she is pregnant, and it is an unplanned pregnancy, the ability to choose what to do may become very clouded and painful.

When I see a woman or girl who is contemplating relinquishing her unborn child for adoption, there are several things that I need to remind myself of. First, the person sitting in front of me may still be in “shock” from discovering her pregnancy. Often, “getting pregnant” is the last thing on the minds of many of these women. They just can’t believe that they are really pregnant. When a woman is in this mode of thinking (or denial), it is nearly impossible to make an appropriate decision on the life of their unborn child. There is not enough of that birth mother available in the present to make that kind of decision. Also, many of them have no support system; either family, friends or a partner, to assist them through this important time. If there is a support system, is that system one that will support what is best, (what is the most loving thing to do for both the unborn child and the birth mother), or do they have their own agenda of what they want the birth mother to do?

Usually, it is at this point that there is a tremendous amount of guilt that is experienced (or denied, repressed) by the birth mother. This may have to do with the religious upbringing and/or personal beliefs. The guilt may be associated with the possible choice of terminating the pregnancy. Even if the choice is for adoption, the guilt may be overwhelming. Many of these birth mothers have not experienced much, if any, successes in their lives. They may have come from broken, abusive, alcoholic homes. They may have never graduated from high school.  They may have been out on their own from a very early age learning how to “survive” rather than learning how to “live.”  They may not have very much trust for adults, as adults have often been a source of pain, abuse, betrayal and abandonment. In this light, the reality of being pregnant and not being capable or able (for whatever reason) to be a mother, is often viewed as just another “failure” in their life. Imagine what it must feel like to go into an office, not knowing anyone there, totally confused and  frightened and thinking about “giving up” your unborn child for adoption! What could be more terrifying that this? If this process does not take a tremendous amount of courage, then I don’t know what does!

I always tell the birth mother several times, that I have no vested interest in any particular choice that she may make concerning her unborn child. I let her know that if she chooses to terminate the pregnancy, I will her a referral and support her in that decision. If she chooses to keep her baby, then that is the choice that is supported. And if she chooses adoption, only after going over the other choices in detail, do I fully support that decision. The bottom line is making a choice that the birth mother will be at peace with. When all is said and done, this is the point that she hopefully will arrive at…being at a place of peace.

To participate in a process that forces a woman to look at all aspects of her life, a life she often would choose to forget or relive, is a very humbling experience. I feel such gratitude to these birth mothers for being such powerful teachers for me and everyone who works with, and supports them through this process. The courage that these birth mother have is often beyond words. It can only be experienced to truly know what I am discussing here.

I am reminded of my own birth mother. You see, I, too, am adopted. When I was adopted, closed adoptions were the rule. My adoptive parents knew nothing of my birth parents. However, I grew up not having any interest in finding my birth parents. I felt, and feel, grateful that I have the parents I do. My adoption was not mistake. It was truly a miracle. About 20 months ago, I was reunited with my birth mother. She had been searching for me for approximately 6 years. Upon meeting her and listening to her story, I was once again reminded of what courage it takes for a woman to relinquish her child for adoption. What a blessing it is for all parties involved. She provided a gift to a couple that was unable to have children of their own. No birth mother that I have ever known or worked with, who has placed for adoption, ever forgets that child or his/her birthday…not for as long as they live.

I am constantly surrounded by pregnant women. I can tell you all of the stages, emotionally and physiologically, that a woman goes through during pregnancy. I have participated in many births. But I will never ever know what it is like to carry a child inside of me for 9 months and then go through the birthing experience. Only a mother knows what this experience is like. Imagine what a woman carries within her for her entire life when she chooses to have her child placed for adoption!

The courage to choose is indeed something that we should all remind ourselves whenever dealing with any pregnant woman, especially a woman considering adoption. I consider it a blessing, as well as a joy, to have the opportunity to work in the field of open adoption. To all the birth mothers that I have and will work with, thank you for teaching me what courage truly is. I am forever indebted to you. (Fall/1995)