Last week I met with the outreach coordinator at the agency to discuss our birthmother outreach. She gave me pointers on the draft I’d started for our letter, helped me pick out the best accompanying pictures, and showed me some examples of final products for design inspiration. But beyond all of that, she gave me a little insight into a bithmother’s thoughts.
You see, the outreach coordinator is the first person a potential birthmother speaks to at the agency. She calls, scared, unsure of what to do next. Some options are explained to her, and she’s counseled on what it all means. Maybe she chooses adoption as the best future for her baby and herself. The coordinator talks to her about her situation. Is the father in the picture? Has she seen a doctor? Has she done drugs since she’s been pregnant? She’s asked what she’d like in an adoptive family for her child. She’s still scared. That’s when the coordinator pulls a handful of Dear Birthmother letters from her pool of currently waiting families and sends the birthmother a packet. She reads the letters, looks at the pictures, and imagines her baby with these parents. She calls the coordinator back. Just a little of her fear is now replaced with relief. “You mean all these people want my baby?”
It turns out the most common fear birthmothers’ have is one of rejection. The idea hadn’t even crossed my mind. There’s a waiting list of people who are scrambling for each adoptable baby. But birthmothers are often afraid that no one will want theirs. Maybe they’ve had a few drinks during their pregnancy, or they haven’t been to the doctor. Maybe they grew up in a family where they didn’t feel wanted themselves. Or maybe they’re so used to having things go wrong in their life that they can’t imagine this being any different. She isn’t just looking for parents who will love her child, she’s looking for parents who want her child!
For the first time I felt a bit of kinship with the imaginary birthmother that I picture reading our letter. We are both women who are craving something we fear we won’t find. We’re both looking for a life that we’re not sure is possible. She wants it for her child, I want it with that child.
This week I went to synagogue. I’m not an incredibly religious person, but it was the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, one of the two holidays a year that gets me to a gathering of formal prayer. Each year as I read the same words in the prayer-book I find different meaning in them depending on where I am in my life. A few years ago we joined a new group to pray with. The service is somewhat informal, with no Rabi leading things, and in strict Jewish tradition there are no musical instruments. Different members of the congregation take turns leading the prayers, and everyone joins in with the simple melodies. Different voices from all corners of the room join together, and as the verses repeat the voices gain confidence and get louder. The leader thumps on the podium as her body rocks to the beat. Fingers around the room start to drum on prayer books, hands begin to beat on the wooden pews. The prayer gets faster. There’s an electricity in the room that can’t be ignored. Voices get louder and feet pound the wooden floor. I found myself swaying with the energy in the room and a thought occurred to me. It’s not a matter of “if”, it’s a matter of “when”.
It was said to us at the first orientation we went to as we began to explore adoption. The meaning I was finding in the prayers this year are not for myself, but for our future birthmother, whoever and wherever she may be. Because she’s not imaginary, she’s very, very real. We just don’t know who she is. She may not even be pregnant yet. But she’s out there. I can’t help but wonder, will this be the year we become parents to her child? Will this be the year that she picks us?