Originally published in the New York Times, 02/24/13. Written by CLAUDIA CORRIGAN D'ARCY
My mother looked shocked and said, “I can’t raise this baby for you,” but I was ready with my reply.
“You won’t have to,” I said. “I’ll have this baby and give it up for adoption.”
Like some magic answer I plucked from the air, adoption was the solution to all the problems of being unmarried, 19 and six months pregnant. Like most people who are not directly affected by adoption today, I knew nothing about its realities. Media reports, made-for-TV movies and romantic notions filled my head. I envisioned a win-win situation in which I would go on with my teenage life, get back to college, make another family’s dream come true and not let “a baby ruin my life.”
It was 1987 when I became a mother for the first time. Two days later, I somehow managed to place my newborn son in a hospital bassinet and turned away as the nurse took him out of my room, knowing she wasn’t going to bring him back. When my son was five days old, I was on my way home to suburban Long Island to carry on my life as if I had not had a child.
I was now part of a secretive segment of society. I was, and would forever be, a birth mother. I understood my role as I was taught by the new, kind, upscale adoption agency. We give birth, then we go back to our lives with changed bodies, heavy hearts, empty arms and thoughts to console ourselves with.
The pictures came at six months and one year. “Look at how big he is getting!” “They all look so happy!” “He has everything he deserves now.”
Knowing my son was loved and cared for, knowing that I helped create a family, knowing that I completed this one unselfish act, was all I could see with my birth-mother eyes for many years. I carried my head high and hid my thoughts and tears. After a time, I stopped talking to people about my son. People, in general, just don’t understand, and I didn’t want to make them uncomfortable. But it’s hard to keep motherhood a secret even if you aren’t considered a mother by society.
I married and had another boy less than four years later. I was released from the need to deny my motherhood, but my first son could still not be replaced. I remember the day No. 2 said, “I wish I had an older brother,” and the words tore a fissure in my heart. Of course, his older brother existed and was out there, somewhere, but I could not produce him, and so I kept quiet. I, as taught, repeated the mantra: “I would not have the life I have now if I had kept him. It’s better this way. Better. Better.”
They never talked about these feelings during my adoption counseling.
For almost 13 years, I stayed true and behaved as a good birth mother should, quiet and proud, until the rise of the Internet. One day, I typed the word “adoption” into Google’s search bar, and my isolation as a birth mother was over. Still, I kept on my rose-colored glasses and viewed the relinquishment of my son as a noble self-sacrifice made for the betterment of us all.
Parenting, though, is not stagnant. As the children grow and their needs evolve, parents must adapt and morph as well. I have three kids now that I have raised, and the mother I was when they were infants is different than the mother I needed to be for the preschoolers, the tweens and the teenagers. Even as a silent, faraway birth mother, I had to evolve.
I remember exactly what I was typing the day my birth-mother lenses fell off my face and shattered. It was the same thing I’d said again and again in describing my experience, except this time, I said it to my friends who had been adopted: “The adoption of my son was the hardest decision I had ever made, but I don’t regret it.”
It was their collective response that changed it all: “Promise us that if you ever do meet your son that you won’t say that. Don’t say that you don’t regret giving him up. For an adoptee, that means that you didn’t miss him. That it was O.K. not seeing his first step or knowing who he is. Don’t say that. It will hurt him.”
No mother wants to willingly hurt her child, even if it is a child that had only been held for a mere 48 hours over a dozen years past. I never thought about the relinquishment of my son the same way again. For the first time, I looked around, saw things clearly, and it was not though the eyes of a birth mother, but simply as a mother.
Years later, it was the mother in me that searched the Internet ferociously for three days, following every hint until I found my son. It was the mother in me that waited, often not-so-patiently, until I could make contact with him directly on MySpace. It was the mother in me that waited almost three more years, making sure that he was “ready,” before I went to see my son again. It was the mother in me who rejoiced the first time all four of my children were together for a photo.
I might always be considered a birth mother, but I am no longer silent, for I have changed as all parents must do for the good of their children.
I will never regret that.