The Foundation of a Promise

In honor of November being National Adoption Awareness Month, Portrait of an Adoption is hosting the fifth annual acclaimed series, 30 Adoption Portraits in 30 Days.  Designed to give a voice to the many different perspectives of adoption, this series will feature guest posts by people with widely varying experiences.  

By Astrid Beemom

There wasn’t much of a choice, really. At least that’s what I believed, and that is what was reinforced to me by the professionals. To keep my baby, it appeared, would mean destitution and poverty for the rest of her life. This sentiment was supported and encouraged by the social worker that made her weekly visits for the last few months of my pregnancy.

I didn’t want to give up my baby, not at all. I wanted to keep her and fight for her, but that wasn’t really presented as a viable option that would be in her best interests. And so, with tears smearing the ink of the writing, I signed my name and, in the eyes of the law, became a legal stranger to someone that I had loved and nurtured for the past 9+ months of my life, her beginnings.

The only thing that made this horrible nightmare bearable was the promise of an open relationship; visits, phone calls, updates, and pictures to assure me she was okay and to give us the opportunity to have a relationship, even if not the traditional mother and daughter type.

It is the hope that I held onto and it was the talisman that got me through the darkest of nights those first few months. It is the only reason I was able to put my pen to that paper and seal her fate, our fate, forever.

Without this promise I knew that the person I was, and the person I hoped to be, would cease to exist. Without this promise a piece of my soul would die and leave a scar where hope, faith and the ability to love unconditionally used to reside.

Shortly before her second birthday, and after our second visit in her lifetime, I gave birth to my youngest child. Although I was still in a place of financial instability, it was a much improved situation than it had been two years prior.

Regardless, in a panic, adoption was once again brought to the front of my mind. Relinquishing a second child would be hard but if I could keep my babies together, in the same family, at least they would have each other; sure as anything, full-blooded sisters. My heart was in the right place and my intentions were good.

My heart, however, could not take the pain and trauma of relinquishing another child, as much as I didn’t want to hurt the people who had lovingly became the mother and father to my most precious gift, my daughter.

I still remember the last thing they said to me when they walked out the door, “You’ll never see her again.” Words born from a place of deep hurt, understandably. As much as those words stung, I still felt guilt for the pain I had caused.

That pain, however, would have been nothing compared to the emotional death that would have transpired with becoming a birthmother to not one, but two children.

Words were said, in haste, on both sides. Angry e-mails written by two women who were both passionate about their families and passionate about a little girl they both loved. Eventually, with time, things calmed down and politeness ensued. Updates about the little girl became fewer and far between but, thankfully, never ended.

It seemed as though all was well with the little girl and as long as she was well, I was content. Until she wasn’t okay. Updates started to come more often and questions were asked. “Did you take anything during your pregnancy that you didn’t disclose?” Words such as “defiant,” “oppositional,” and “hyper” were being used to describe the little girl.

I tried not to take offense to the question of any drug or alcohol use because I understood. I tried to explain that it was in her genes. That seemed sufficient, I was thanked, and everyone moved on. Updates became more steady and consistent.

A possible visit was mentioned, after 5 years with none, and I had hope for a little while, until I realized it was something that was probably not going to be brought up again. Five more years passed as they always had.

The little girl was becoming a young woman, and, as promised, I had not seen her again since that day ten years prior. I began to feel that I should just be thankful for what little I was given, never mind the sacred promise that was made between two women, two mothers.

I hid inside of my shell, talked about how great adoption was and how wonderful I was for doing such a “selfless” thing for my child and a couple who wanted to be parents. Something inside of me, however, challenged everything that I had been told was true about adoption.

For two years, I explored these feelings. I realized that I had been faking it all these years. I began to explore emotions I never allowed myself to before, and what I revealed to myself was making me angry.

What is a choice if there are no other options? I had no other options. Not only that, the foundation in which my adoption plan was made on was the promise of a relationship with my child. No awkward reunion or getting to know each other was supposed to transpire. I was just always supposed to be a part of her life.

The shoe dropped with the discovery that her “oppositional” and “defiant” ways had sentenced her to two years away from her home in a behavioral boarding school thousands of miles from where she had lived her whole life. I started to question everything.

Was she having issues with identity? Was it her adoption? How have questions about her adoption been handled between her and her parents? This was not what I wanted for my child at all. Yet, I was helpless to do anything.

I began to have nightmares. Horrible dreams that she was in distress and I couldn’t get to her. I equate these two years of her life with the very first days after I had lost her to adoption. My old friend, panic attack, began to make appearances frequently and I absolutely could not find peace in my heart or my mind.

The only thing that gave me any comfort was being granted permission to write to her by her parents. The first communication I would have with her, even if one-sided, since she was so small. I began to write to her every three months.

I believed that would be sufficient enough for her to get an idea of who I was and what I was like. I didn’t want to write too much because I didn’t want to overwhelm her or make her parents feel like I was stepping on their toes. I wanted to make sure they were still secure in their roles as her parents.

I sent photos once in a while, a picture book once, and made her a Life Book (sort of like a scrap book about an adoptee’s birth family and their birth story). My only comfort was knowing that she was receiving these items and my letters and that in some way I may be able to help her with any identity or adoption issues she may be having.

I encouraged my other two daughters to write to her as well, and they did. My husband, however, felt he had no right and stayed silent. All the while her mother was tender and loving and telling me that she “just wasn’t ready to write back yet, but hopefully one day she will be.”

One glorious day, a package arrived. It contained a handwritten letter to my husband, her birthfather, from our relinquished daughter, a letter from her mother, and some pictures. We cried, cried and cried some more.

To hold something in our hands that she had held was an amazing feeling. Part of me was sad that she had not chosen to write to me but I thought it made sense. My husband had never written to her before and she was asking him to in her letter.

Maybe she was willing to go outside of her comfort zone in hopes she would receive a letter from him as well. She was right. It worked. The last line of her letter is something I read and re-read on nights I’m having a hard time. “I know I don’t know you, but something inside of me loves you anyway.”

For a short time, there was renewed hope. The letter had again mentioned a visit the next time they happened to be in our state. Even if that was a year or two away it was something. Something is definitely better than nothing. This next part will be vague, but you must trust me that these are the facts, even if I cannot reveal how I know they are.

I learned that my daughter had not been getting my letters. I learned that I did not get the one she wrote to me, written long before my husband’s letter. I learned that she thought I had been ignoring her and that there is something she must have done to make me not want to communicate with her.

I learned that people I once trusted were now people that had not only betrayed me, but my daughter’s heart. She was led to believe I had received her letter and then was led to believe I had been ignoring it. I cannot fathom why.

I do not understand, as a parent, why you would put hurt in your child’s heart for the sake of your own insecurities. Again, it felt as if a knife was put into my heart. Betraying me is one thing. Betraying my child is a totally different beast altogether. To think that precious little girl would ever think for one moment that I didn’t love her or want to know her made me weep.

I’m not sure what the long-term plan is here, from their point of view. I wonder if they’ve hidden my letters away to give to her when she’s older. But then I think, “why not tell her that I’ve written but they don’t feel she’s prepared emotionally to read my letters?”

If there was no intention of giving her the letters, I wonder why I was granted permission to write them in the first place. I wonder if there is even a plan at all. I wonder if maybe, initially, everyone was okay with the letter writing but then someone changed their mind and didn’t know how to tell me. I wonder if my letters are simply thrown out with the garbage. I also wonder why my husband’s letter got through and his letter to her. None of it makes sense to me right now.

What I do know is that there is a woman-child out there somewhere who is very much wanting and needing to know where she comes from. I do know that there will come a day that she will decide for herself.

I do know that the best thing for her is that all of her parents, adoptive and biological alike, get along and work together for what’s in her best interests, no matter how old she gets. I still hope and pray that this is possible one day. I hope that she is never put into the position to “choose.” I know, from my side, that will never be the case but, given the history, I cannot say the same about the other.

My experience has taught me many things. Most importantly, the only way to truly influence the fate of your child is to be their parent. I’ve learned that adoptive parents are not perfect. They are often misguided and sometimes react from places of deep insecurity. Not all, but many.

There are certainly a few good ones out there, a few which truly “get it”. I’ve learned that life circumstances can change, for birth parents and for adoptive parents. No one is immune from divorce, financial hardship, or illnesses. Just as no one is immune to success, a lucky break, and the fruits of hard work.

 I’ve learned that it is very rare indeed to find a woman whose sole reason of contemplating adoption is because she just doesn’t want her child. Almost all women want to parent their children. What all women don’t have, however, is a support system to help them do that. Sometimes it’s as simple as someone stepping in saying, “You know, it will be hard, but you can do this.”

There are certainly cases where adoption is the best route. Ask yourself this question, though, is adoption about finding a home for a child who truly needs it, or is it about finding a baby for a family who wants one? If just one person had reached out to me and said, “I believe in you. It will be hard, but you can do it” then I wouldn’t be sharing this story with you today.

Astrid Beemom is a married mother of four parented children and one relinquished daughter. She is currently pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration, and in her free time, she is a search angel, helping to reunite adoptees with their birth families, and vice versa, as well as an adoption reform activist. She is one of the founding members of a grassroots organization called Saving Our Sisters, which is currently awaiting non-profit status. Saving Our Sisters helps give pregnant women considering adoption the resources to successfully parent their children, if they so choose. 

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