A Hole in One’s Heart
I’ve been missing in action for the last few months, focused on spreading the word about my memoir, The Land of Sunshine and Hell, A Memoir of a ‘60’s Unwed Mother. It has caused me to do further research into the hidden world of adoption and relinquishment. The results have taken my breath away with the raw emotion that is expressed on sites that help people find their adopted children, or for adoptees who seek their birth parents.
Initially, I went directly to the Adoptees’ Liberty Movement Association (ALMA) Facebook page, figuring that these members were the most directly affected group that would be interested in knowing about my book. I was right. There was a viral response from members seeking answers to some of their burning questions, or simply a story that they could relate to.
Reading through many of the responses, I was astounded. I thought it was just my generation that felt the pain of giving a child up for adoption during a period when we had little choices: no abortion, a ban on unmarried women receiving birth control, a Victorian morality that caused us to be hidden from view until the child was born, and then to be told to “get on with life and just proceed normally” as if it had never happened. There was the Vietnam War looming over young men’s heads. There was no counseling to help us through the emotional roller coaster of giving up a child. Meanwhile, we secretly explored our sexuality, hidden from parents who did nothing to educate us about the perils of our exploration.
What did I find? As late as into the ‘80’s, regardless of Roe v. Wade in 1973, women were still giving up children in a clandestine manner. In some cases, it was families who couldn’t care for more children and decided to give up one or two of their most recently born in order to care for the others. How difficult to discover that they kept your brothers and sisters, but decided to give you up? In other cases, it was simply an unplanned pregnancy where the mother was on her own or the couple were not married, and the man was not ready to commit and raise a child.
How was this discovered? Back when I was hoping to meet my daughter, all I had was ALMA; now there are numerous DNA search organizations (Ancestry.com, 23andme, etc.) to start the search for matches. What I learned is that many participants discover cousins, aunts and grandparents first which then leads to their birth parents who may not have registered. The heartbreak comes when the adoptee discovers their birth parents are deceased and/or had kept it a secret. In many cases, the adoptee continues the search to build the family tree, sometimes to the shock of those they find.
For many, it is the search for someone who looks like them. They have grown up in a family that has been loving, in most cases, but does not resemble them. It is one of the missing links for an adoptee. There is always the question of why? Why did you give me up? It probably was easier back in the 50’s – 70’s to explain it based on the morals of the times. What becomes a little more difficult is when it was a choice to “cull the family pack” or go to full term and give a child up due to financial pressures when there were support systems in place to keep the child, no matter what the situation. Until the last decade or two, however, we were still a society that passed judgement on those who chose to keep their children without being married.
I discovered that the common language of pain that I used in my memoir recurs in the comments from birth parents on these sites, talking about “a hole in my heart,” or the expressed uncontrollable emotion that suddenly appears out of nowhere upon seeing a movie with the birth of a child. It is hard to explain how deep-seated the pain is and how it reappears when least expected. Lying takes on a whole new dimension over years in order to avoid a discussion about a missing child for a birth parent or an adoptee talking about being adopted when someone innocently comments about how much the adoptee looks like their parent. The ramifications go on and on.
There is the pain of rejection, after finding a birth parent who has kept it all a secret and can’t undo the lie, deciding to reject the adoptee rather than reveal the truth to spouses, children and others. What a painful result of a search. There is also the pain of discovering a birth parent who is a blight on society through addiction, lifestyle or crime. These discoveries are the risk an adoptee takes when choosing to conduct a search.
Upon researching abortion support groups, I was astounded to read this quote:
It’s normal to grieve a pregnancy loss, including the loss of a child by abortion. It can form a hole in one’s heart, a hole so deep that sometimes it seems nothing can fill the emptiness.
The hole in one’s heart appears regardless of how it got there.The question remains: which is more difficult on the birth mother: adoption or abortion? I don’t pretend to have answers. I only know from experience how it felt. What I do know is that there are self help groups for women who have had abortions too. They explain the trauma post abortion as both emotional and medical. The impact of giving up a child is also both emotional and medical as a woman’s body reacts to post pregnancy. What do you think about this dilemma for women? These are tough choices. How do we reconcile them?