Several times a day I push open an old wooden gate with my hip and slip through an old fashioned garden, dodging brambles and an antique clothesline pole. I climb a set of stone grey steps and open the white screen door, calling out a greeting to Teresa.
Teresa is in her mid seventies, white haired with bright blue eyes, half her teeth, and a thick Polish accent. She was born on a prosperous farm in Poland just before the Germans arrived. Her family fled when she was a toddler, following a path of Polish refugees from Russia to France to England and evetually to settle here in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Her only sister died during their journey. Her parents died ten years ago. A few years later she was on her way to church and slipped on the icy stone steps behind her house and broke her knee. She moves with difficulty and heavy dependence on a walker these days. She spends a great deal of time sitting still, often with a rosary moving through her fingers.
Teresa loves cheeseburgers, and so several times a week I head down the hill and across the intersection choked with rush hour traffic to fetch her a meal from Wendy’s. This is very good for combating my tendency towards pride, because I am mildly mortified by the thought that my neighbors believe that I deign to eat fast food. I am hardly lacking in vices, and it doesn’t bother me in the least that every clerk in the wine store around the corner knows my daughter’s name, but my organic family farming roots make me cringe as I head into the Wendy’s with the baby for the third day in a row.
Last week I was standing in line engrossed in watching the soap operatic drama of the restaurant staff unfold before me and reeling off the regular order of a small cheeseburger to go. After I’d finished, the cashier automatically asked me if I would be interested in giving a dollar for adoption and getting ten free frosties. I think I narrowed my eyes a little as I silently shook my head no. In my mind, I was thinking: I gave up my first child for adoption. Isn’t that enough?
It wasn’t a rational response at all. It was a deep in the gut, knee jerk reaction. As my husband (who is incredibly supportive of me and of my experience with adoption) pointed out, I was so wrapped up in my own story that I ignored the prospect of ten free frosties, which is a crazy thing to do. He was pretty sad about the lost frosties.
I think it is great that Wendy’s supports adoption, and also great that they are handing out free frosties. The thing about supporting adoption, though, is that the story of the birthmother is so often missing. I was silent, that day. A tall silent woman with a baby in a sling and a handsome husband at home. There was no chance that the cashier at Wendy’s would even consider that the woman standing in front of her had given a daughter up for adoption ten years ago. Placing a child for adoption shapes and shifts your life forever, but leaves no visible scars or signs on the outside of your body.
Ten and a half years ago, I took a train to visit the couple who would become the parents of my child. I stared out the window and bit my lip, racking my brains in an effort to figure out what I wanted to ask them, what I wanted to learn from them. After an hour or two I was struck with the realization that what I really wanted was for them to see me as a person- an intelligent, college educated, passionate, loving person who was a whole lot like them. I wanted to fight the hazy conception of a birth mother that pervaded even my conception of the term. I was afraid that they would assume that because I was placing my child for adoption, I was a failure, or a drug addict, or lacking in love. I wanted them to know that I was like them. I needed them to know this, so that someday they could tell this to my child.
Ten years later, I am at ease with the amazing couple who adopted my child, and with the way that placing my first child for adoption shaped my life. I am not at ease with the way that adoption is often discussed. I believe that the story of the birth mother is one that should be discussed more openly, with a greater complexity and compassion. I have been inspired by the great eloquence and intelligence of bloggers like Adoption in the City, The Happiest Sad, Chronicles of Munchkinland, and Lia-Not Juno, all of who share their stories as birth mothers. I could never write a blog entirely about adoption- I could never write a blog entirely about anything, I’m far too flighty and far flung in my interests- but I do believe that it is important that I share my story, and find my voice as a birth mother. And for now, that will be enough.