Archive for the ‘pregnancy’ Category

Where Are You From? or How I Chose Adoption as Career

November 18, 2011

I went to a writing workshop last week.  The topic was “Where are you from?”  I wrote that I am from the flat West Texas plains; I am from the salt of the earth, and I carry the saltiness of rebellion; that I come from listening audiences and the spotlight of a stage. And it went on (3 or 4 handwritten pages) from childhood to adulthood, ending with I am from the longing of parents who cannot make a baby and I am also from the loss of women who find themselves pregnant with a child they cannot keep, as well as from the seeking of roots by children who want to know their origins.

When I started to sketch out how I wanted to illustrate this ‘place’ from whence I come, I drew a flat horizon line, with rows of irrigated crops in one-point perspective. My intent was to add clouds to the sky and give them a silver lining. Then I picked up a Phoenix Garden magazine and immediately found a photograph of some fields near Casa Grande with reflected sky in rows of irrigation — at the EXACT ANGLE AND SCALE I had sketched.  There were other photos that I wove in:  a magician, plants, and in a segment at the back called “options for infertility” that was illustrated with newborn baby’s feet cradled in an adult hand. Pink feet became clouds in the sky and strings of silver sequins were the silver lining.

In the same magazine there was also an interview with local Radio Personality Beth McDonald of Beth and Bill, about continuing her program [now known as Beth & Friends] after Bill’s death from cancer. One of the interviewer’s questions was printed: “Death can remind us of our need to live.  What things do you still want to accomplish?” So I cut that out and placed it on the page because I, too, had a Bill in my life whose passing made me know I need to write and distribute my books on adoption. This is now in a journal book that will become part of a project for the Scottsdale Arts.

First Mother’s Day

May 7, 2010

Mommy, what was it like on the day I was born? Oh, Little One, the sun was shining and the flowers were in bloom! The world was crisp and new!

Mommy, what was it like on the day they told you I would never be normal? The clouds gathered, Little One, and blocked the sun from my tear-filled eyes. For awhile, I thought the sun would never shine again!

El Paso, Texas. Mother’s Day. The newborn baby would remain in the hospital for another two weeks while tests were done. The New Daddy was determined to not be like other daddies – anxious and worried — so he took the car and went to Juarez with friends. Defiant, The New Mother took a short-cut through the scrub desert, down the steep sides of a sandy arroyo and up the other side, to stand on the veranda of the Army hospital and peer through the nursery window at the tiny baby girl. The New Mother’s arms ached to hold the baby she had not yet touched – if you don’t count cradling with her insides for nine months of pregnancy!

How strange it must have been to be on the inside of the hospital, looking out at this chubby woman in a pink tent dress, her only dress that fit. It might have made someone uncomfortable to see the tears rolling down the cheeks of The New Mother, but no one offered a word of solace or advice. The New Mother peered in at the baby, sleeping with an IV needle in her freshly-shaved scalp, the needle pumping in medication to control the seizures that started shortly after delivery. Whenever the baby moved a smidgen, The New Mother tilted her head like any new parent, to glimpse a nose, an ear, and identify whose looks the baby inherited.

An hour was all the time allotted to The New Mother to observe her child on this Mother’s Day. Then, it was home again, through the sand, with grit accumulating between her toes in the pink, open-toed sandals that matched the tent dress.

Such emptiness. Such utter loneliness. The New Mother wailed her misery. She cried in anger and frustration. “IT’S NOT FAIR!” In self-loathing, the New Mother pulled scissors from her sewing basket. What would she do? Without looking in the mirror, she cocked her head sideways and whacked off her shoulder-length hair below her ears. More wails. Now what had she done!

A knock came at the door — the door with the ill-fitting frame inside the 18” thick adobe walls, where the wind let in the sand. The door made a scraping sound as The New Mother opened it. There on the threshold stood a wizened Old Crone – the only words to describe this hunched-over dark woman with a shawl over her head and shoulders. She spoke not a word of English, but consoled The New Mother in soft Spanish. The New Mother was at last soothed and relieved. Closing the door, saying adios to the only person who came forth to say she cared on this, her First Mother’s Day.

Blog for Choice

January 23, 2010

In my thirty years as a pregnancy counselor at adoption agencies, I met many women who had been forced (by social convention, by family members, by partners) to place their babies for adoption. Because of their stories, I developed a renewed support for keeping abortion a legal option for women.

Before Roe V Wade came along there were maternity homes, and a general attitude of forget-this-happened-you’ll-have-other-babies-who-will-take-his-place. (For a great read about those days, see The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe v. Wade by Ann Fessler. )

My own interactions with birth mothers from the years before Roe V Wade:

1. One day in about 1981, a hesitant voice on the phone said: “Ten years ago I gave up a baby for adoption through this agency . . .” When she didn’t continue I said, “Yes, how can I help you?” “You mean you’re going to talk to me? I expected you to slam the phone down!” Tears of relief flowed as she realized she was going to be listened to.

2. A woman who called from Florida on her child’s 21st birthday, said that she didn’t know if she’d had a boy or a girl, so she and her family always spoke of “the baby.” “It feels weird to say ‘The Baby’ turns 21 today,” she said. I asked her if she would like to know the first name of that baby, and she was amazed that I offered to tell her. I took her phone number, looked up the information and called her back to let her know it was Linda who turned 21 that day. “You don’t know what a gift you’ve given me!” she said.

3. About six years later a woman called and said that fourteen years earlier she had placed a baby for adoption through the agency. The day she signed papers, when he was only three days old, her worker told her they didn’t have a family for her baby because he was mixed race. “I’ve never forgotten him and I have worked hard to better myself, and if my child is still in foster care, I could take him back now.” I was startled; for one thing, it wouldn’t be that easy, but I wanted to give her some information. I took her phone number and went to the files. Her baby had been placed in a loving adoptive home the next day after she signed relinquishments, but no one had told her this. I called and apologized profusely for the lack of courtesy that she had been subjected to. “I thank you for letting me know that he has a good home,” came her response. I invited the birth mother to write a letter to be placed in the file in case her child contacted the agency. I don’t know if she did, or if he did, but I hope so.

As soon as Roe v Wade was announced in January of 1973, the adoption rate dropped dramatically. If they opted not to terminate the pregnancy but to give their child life, these pregnant women were faced with another decision: whether to raise the child or to make an adoption plan. None of their options was easy to take, but being in control of their lives and their bodies, made a difference to their psyche. They had an active role: to choose their outcome. And having the power to make the choice made all the difference in the world about their feelings when they chose adoption!

And that’s why I don’t want to return to the days when abortion was an illegal and criminal act and adoption felt like a punishment to mother and child.

The Client

January 16, 2010

Most of you know that I did pregnancy counseling for many years before I started my private practice. Let me tell you this story of The Client.

It was unusual for a married woman to ask for a pregnancy counseling session, but then this was not a typical pregnant woman. Overwhelmed and just a few weeks away from delivery of her second child, The Client had come in for help in handling the burdens of her life. She had decided to work right up to the last minute before the due date because it kept her mind occupied. Otherwise she said she would worry that this second baby would be like her firstborn, a profoundly retarded blind child who at 3 ½ years was unable to sit alone, feed herself or be potty-trained. If the second baby was handicapped, what would it do to the shaky marriage she was barely holding together? Her husband had never accepted that there was something wrong with their daughter who took Dilantin-in-suspension to control seizures. The medicine didn’t mix well – more seizures at the top of the bottle and by the bottom of the bottle their daughter was sluggish and slept all the time. The husband was in denial, preferring to believe it was the medicine that caused the problem.

Yes, The Client desperately needed someone to talk to about her fears and concerns. She couldn’t afford to pay for counseling but she couldn’t afford to go without counseling! Finally she found an agency with a sliding scale payment system, something she could afford.

Her counseling had a good outcome. She got a referral to a day program for her firstborn – an ‘Infant Stimulation’ class; a state van picked her firstborn up every morning and took her to a classroom where she learned to eat for someone other than just her Mommy. The new baby arrived and thankfully was born without problems. The Client welcomed joy back into her life as she prepared to guide her ‘normal daughter’ to be an intelligent and creative child who loves life. With a little encouragement from her counselor, she enrolled in graduate school, and earned her Master’s degree.

And so, every year when United Way makes its annual appeal, I am the first to sign up, designating my donation to agencies that provide low cost counseling. Yes, I was The Client who needed counseling and emotional support to help me through a rough time in my life. And just maybe it had something to do with my becoming a pregnancy counselor.

Exploring A New E-Book @ Tapestry

February 27, 2009

Tapestry Books sent out an announcement that they have an e-book, “A Birth Mother Perspective on Open Adoption” available on its website.   Actually, it is a Two-in-one of first person accounts by birth mothers Patricia Dischler and Melissa Nilsen.  It’s good to for an adoption-focused site to give space to birth mothers, the often silent side of adoption. For a limited time, this is downloadable for free. Take advantage of the offer and connect to these two articulate women and their personal stories.   Included are links to each author’s blogs.  Take a look.

Reviewing: “Without a Map, a Memoir” by Meredith Hall

January 13, 2009

The year was 1965; the place was a small town in New Hampshire. A 16 year old high school student with plans to go to college finds herself pregnant after a brief summer liaison. The ensuing unraveling of her life begins with the admission to school staff that indeed, she is pregnant. The swift reaction of her parents, her family, her church, her community is unexpected. She finds herself shunned, sent away and given no option but adoption for her baby. A casualty of “pretend it never happened,” Meredith Hall spent the next 21 years a lost and wandering soul. Although she never uses the word “forgiveness,”  she does recount the years of rebuilding her life. 

This intense memoir tells in poignant prose the extent to which an erasure of those nine months of her life affected who she became. And who she became is a strong female writer, a voice of that era caught in the cusp of social transition. It’s as if one of Anne Fessler’s interviewees in “The Girls Who Went Away” published in 2007 stepped out of the book to tell her personal story.

Halfway through reading this book, I did the math. Meredith Hall was 16 in 1965; so was my little sister, who also got pregnant that year.

My parents — with Sis in tow — appeared unannounced at the office to take me to lunch. Overjoyed to see them, but wary because they had never driven 50 miles to meet me for lunch, I drove the family car off the lot of the business where I worked as a secretary. In the backseat, my mother burst into tears. “Your sister has to get married.” “Be careful,” said my dad, “she’s driving.” (Like I couldn’t see this coming, I thought to myself.) My sister piped up: “But we wanted to get married anyway. This way, we just hurried it up a little.”

My mother was mortified. Raised on ‘what will people think,’ a generation of girls had come to put our parents’ reputation first — their standing in the community. “What must her mother think” my mother would say every time another peer got married and had an eight pound premature baby less than nine months later. “Her Mother!” I would silently think to myself. “What about HER!”

It’s hard to remember the binding morality of those days. Teenagers today hardly believe those seering days of control by image, although as I did private interviews of prospective adoptive parents through the years I would hear them say, “I never misbehaved. I wouldn’t have dared to; it would have killed my mother!”

So, are we better off as a society without that crushing burden of protecting our families’ reputation? Is the trend of pride about being a parent at 16, at 15, even younger — a healthier attitude? What about the fatherless boys and girls growing up wondering what they did to drive away an absent parent?  When I started doing pregnancy counseling in 1979, in my mind the student had four options: marriage, abortion, adoption, single parenthood. “I’m too young to get married,” my startled students would say, realizing the magnitude of sustaining a relationship over the years. Why didn’t they also think, “I’m too young to be a parent”? But they didn’t. These young women would blythly step into parenthood, more often than not to be disappointed by the friends who promised to ‘help’ them. I began to suggest to my clients: Ask them How will they help? Will they provide a ride to the 24 hr pharmacy to pick up ear-ache medicine at 3 AM? Will they buy formula for your baby? Will they provide diapers? Shoes?

The teen pregnancy recidivism rate is high; I pressed onward, informing the students of their options. Maybe in a few years one would say to me, “I remember you. You came to my school with a panel of teens who had placed their babies for adoption. I didn’t want to listen to you then.” And she would drop her eyes to her hands in her lap and say, “I never thought I would be where I am today.” She would explain how deserted and alone she felt with the decision of what to do with a second, a third or a later baby. All their ‘helpers’ were going on with their lives; had new boyfriends, were going away to school — these young women had learned that ‘helping’ meant ‘come and talk to me when you’re blue.’

The decision of adoption is still a lonely path. Getting to know other women who have made the same choice somewhat eases the pain, but it’s still an isolating event. In my new career as counselor to people with adoption-related issues, I listen as women in their 30s, 40s and even older — recall the baby they never met. As they prepare to search, as they wonder if they have the audacity to interrupt a life they said goodbye to years ago, I encourage them to open the door and seek the child, now grown. I have a new quote for them, from Meredith Hall:  “He looked for me.  I didn’t realize I should have been the one looking for him. He needed to know I loved him at least that much!”

And onward we travel that path, finding a few friends along the way to share the journey.

One Good Reason to Keep Roe v Wade

November 21, 2008

As an adoption worker who worked as a pregnancy counselor with women experiencing an unplanned pregnancy, I have a strong opinion about keeping abortion a legal option for women.

Because two of the agencies where I worked have been in business for many, many years — including those days of secrecy in adoption before the social upheavals of the 60s and 70s — I also got to know birth mothers from the days of maternity homes and forget-this-happened-you’ll-have-other-babies-who-will-take-his-place.  (For a great read about those days, see The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the DecadesBefore Roe v. Wade by Ann Fessler. )

My own interactions with birth mothers from that era include:

1.  One day in about 1981, a hesitant voice on the phone said:  “Ten years ago I gave up a baby for adoption through this agency . . .”  When she didn’t continue I said, “Yes, how can I help you?”  “You mean you’re going to talk to me?  I expected you to slam the phone down!”  Tears of relief flowed as she realized she was going to be listened to. 

2.  A woman who called from Florida on her child’s 21st birthday, said that she didn’t know if she’d had a boy or a girl, so she and her family always spoke of “the baby.”  “It feels weird to say ‘The Baby’ turns 21 today,” she said.  I asked her if she would like to know the first name of that baby, and she was amazed that I offered to tell her.  I took her phone number, looked up the information and called her back to let her know it was Linda who turned 21 that day.  “You don’t know what a gift you’ve given me!” she said.
3.  About six years later a woman called and said that fourteen years earlier she had placed a baby for adoption through the agency.  The day she signed papers, when he was only three days old, her worker told her they didn’t have a family for her baby because he was mixed race.  “I’ve never forgotten him and I have worked hard to better myself, and if my child is still in foster care, I could take him back now.”  I was startled; for one thing, it wouldn’t be that easy, but I wanted to give her some information.  I took her phone number and went to the files.  Her baby had been placed in a loving adoptive home the next day after she signed relinquishments, but no one had told her this.  I called and apologized profusely for the lack of courtesy that she had been subjected to.  “I thank you for letting me know that he has a good home,” came her response.  I invited the birth mother to write a letter to be placed in the file in case her child contacted the agency.  I don’t know if she did, or if he did, but I hope so.

We started a Birth Parent Support Group in 1983.  As these older birth moms called, I invited them to attend.  A few came once or twice, but it was a poor fit for them.  Their grief was not alleviated by the positive descriptions they heard from women of current times who had choices.  Unmarried women in the 50s, 60s and into the 70s felt they had no choice; society made the choice for them, and that choice was adoption.  Because they were unwed, they would be ostracized if they kept their babies.  And abortion in those days meant a trip out of the country or to a back alley in a seedy part of town.

As soon as Roe v Wade was announced in January of 1973, there was a new element of choice in the equation.  If they opted not to terminate the pregnancy, they were making a choice to give their baby life.  Then they could also choose to parent or to release for adoption.  None of these options were easy to take, but being in control of their lives and their bodies, made a difference in their world and to their psyche. 

We’ve learned a lot since 1973, and the sudden swing from adoption to not-adoption —  did they parent?  did they get married to keep the baby?  did they abort?  — we don’t know for sure, but they had a choice.

And that’s why I don’t want to return to the days when abortion was illegal and a criminal act.

Beth Kozan, Phoenix, Arizona

Surely some one out there wants to Talk Me Down.  Bring it on. 

Who Is She?

October 14, 2008

I’ve been keeping statistics for the programs where I worked for thirty years.  Let me outline the statistics on birth mothers in these programs in Arizona.

Her age:  In those beginning days of my adoptions work, it was common for the woman who placed her baby to be as young as 15 or 16, but more frequently between 18 and 21.  The baby was usually her first born.  Today women who place their babies for adoption tend to be in their late 20s or in their 30s (confirmed by workers from other states whom I’ve spoken with at National conferences).  A few teens still make a placement plan as do a few women in their 40s, but more commonly she is a woman in her 20s or 30s who already had children, whether they were raising them or being raised within the birth family. 

Her marital status:  Though most are single, about 10% are married; about 2% are divorced.

Ethnicity:  When I started working as a pregnancy counselor in Tucson in 1979, my supervisor, who handled the adoption side of the agency, explained we needed Hispanic and Black families as prospective adoptive families because pregnancy clients who were Caucasian whose baby was bi-racial (the baby’s fathers were Hispanic or Black) would place, but pregnancy clients who were themselves Hispanic or Black did not place.  That was pretty much the case (with some exceptions) for the early 80s, but things changed, including the politically correct terminology.  These days the ethnicity of the birth mothers tend to reflect the makeup of the community.  In Phoenix that has meant that the birth mothers for the last few years have been about 55% Caucasian, 40% Hispanic, 2% African American and 3% Native American.  In our State we seldom see Asian birth mothers, unless they were themselves adopted.

Reasons for adoption:  In fact, familiarity with adoption is one of the reasons cited by women who carry through their adoption plan.  If she is adopted, or if she has an adopted sibling or if one of her parents or grandparents is adopted, she has seen first hand the benefits for a child, and she may consider adoption even if her peers do not. 

In recent years as high as 17% of the placements have been from drop-in birth mothers.  It is preferable, from the agency standpoint, for a pregnancy client to come to the agency by the sixth month of her pregnancy. 

Birth Fathers:  Having a few months before delivery gives the pregnancy counselor time to work with her client to contact the father of the baby, for in almost every state, it is necessary for him to be made aware of his rights.  It’s sad but true that adoption is the only one of her options where a pregnant woman must notify the father of the baby about the pregnancy and her decision.  She can terminate the pregnancy without his knowledge; she can even parent the child without telling him of the pregnancy — but if adoption is the plan, he must be notified and given an opportunity to participate in the plan for the child’s future.  In Arizona, he has thirty days after the notification in which to step forward and file a petition for paternity if he wants to halt an adoption plan for his child. 

Moms don’t always like to hear this.  They may say, “He left me!  He doesn’t deserve to be involved in this child’s life!”  The goal of the pregnancy counselor is to gently shift the focus to the child.  Making the adoption plan safe by having his rights dealt with prior to the delivery is much preferred to waiting for his notification to take place after the baby is born.  Under Arizona law, if she doesn’t know how to find him, the agency must show the Court they made ‘due diligence’ to find him, which may mean hiring a private detective to locate him.  If he cannot be found, then publication of the notice — which has her name and address in it — must appear in a newspaper. 

Seeing the adoption from the child’s side also helps her understand the benefits to the child of the father’s involvement, even if it is minimal.  The child will grow up with medical histories from both sides of his family, as well as a social history.  One adoptive mom wrote a letter to the previously uninvolved birth father requesting information.  She wrote, “We’d like to know if we have the potential for a budding musician or a little Jay Leno that we can help to develop to his potential.” 

I’ll expand on the role of the birth father in subsequent posts.  The next post, however, will review Dear Birthmother by Kathleen Silber and Phyllis Speedlin.  This classic, first published in 1982, introduced the idea of open adoption.

(If I failed to adequately explain something, or used terminology that is unfamiliar, please write a comment, and I’ll address those issues.)

Beth Kozan, Phoenix, AZ

Bibliotherapy in the World of Adoption

October 10, 2008

It is my intent to blog about adoption from the viewpoint of the adoption professional.  After almost 30 years in infant adoptions, mostly in Arizona,  I have observed many changes in the adoption community.  The bulk of my experience has been in working with birth parents: women and their partners who have placed infants and toddlers for adoption through private adoption agencies. 

When I began to work in adoption in 1979 in Tucson, I realized it was a field in which I was not well versed.  There are no ‘adoption classes’ taught in any formal learning environments, i.e., grad schools of social work or counseling.  Many people who come to adoption as a profession are participants: people who have adopted a child or adopted persons all grown up, who have a desire to help others in a field close to their hearts.  Fewer professionals are birth parents because it is still hard to admit one’s role as birth parent; therefore many birth parents are still ‘in the closet.”  However, the movement toward open adoption has brought the cleanser of sunshine to adoption, and with it, a lessening of the stigma of being a birth parent. 

So in 1979 I went to the Tucson library to check out books on adoption; there were three:  Orphan Voyage, The Adoption Triangle and Shared Fate.  Today, there are LOTS of books on adoption.  Most of them are written to the audience of adoptive parents (how-to books, mostly) and adoptees (picture books for children to help them understand adoption, and search-for-self for adult adoptees who wonder about searching for the original parents who are by-and-large unknown to them).  Fewer books are available for birth parents.  That is the area that I intend to address, over the next few months, in this blog.   But first, a little more about how I got here.

Orphan Voyage  was written in the 1950s.  The author, (as I recall; this book is out of print now) was the wife of an adoptee who wanted to talk to other adoptees, but in the fifties adoption was a shameful topic seldom discussed.  The author put ads in big city newspapers inviting contact from individuals who were adopted, to tell their stories of growing up adopted.  Many people had not been told they were adopted and only learned after the death of their parents, or were told but in a negative way and cautioned by their parents to keep it a secret.  Adoptees who had told their friends were ridiculed and socially exiled.  I experienced a flash back to a childhood memory. 

Two new kids who rode the school bus from our country community were living with their grandmother because their daddy, a soldier, had been sent overseas and their mother had to work full time.  Diana was my age; we were in the same second grade classroom.  Her brother Donnie was in first grade.  One day I overheard my mother exclaiming to my dad that an older ‘busybody’ neighbor had cornered Diana and asked her if her grandmother with whom she lived ‘treated her the same as her brother.’  She wondered because, after all, her daddy (the grandmother’s son) wasn’t really her daddy, like he was the daddy of her brother, and she was just wondering if her dad and his mother treated her as if she was loved the same way that Donnie was loved.  Diana’s grandmother had been in tears as she told my mother what the busybody had said: that Diana was adopted and this raised the question of ‘equal love.’

The Adoption Triangle was written in 1961 and is a ground-breaking and still-revered book about adoption.  Written by Reuben Panner and Annette Baran, two social workers from Vista del Mar, an adoption agency in the Los Angeles area, brought to the fore the issue of sealed records and the adoptee’s right to information about who they are and where they come from.  That edition that I checked out of the library identified Arizona as an “open records state” which meant that the original birth certificate was available to an adoptee when he/she reached majority.  I hadn’t worked in adoptions long, but I knew that Arizona was no longer (by 1979) an open records state.  What I learned was that the law had been changed and applied retroactively, because in just a few years we started getting calls from adoptive parents who had been telling their children “when you turn 18 we’ll get your original birth certificate and we’ll find her to get answers to your questions.”  These adoptive parents felt they had been lied to, and passed that lie on to their children because the lawmakers closed the records that they felt their children had a right to.

Shared Fate by H David Kirk read as if it was a doctoral dissertation (perhaps it was) written by an adoptive father who worked to help his children and other adoptees and adoptive parents to see their lives as interwoven, with the suggestion that the adoptive parent should help the adoptee understand Self.  He went on to write other books on adoption. 

It is my belief that people learn a lot from books, and that the current market of self-published and small press books have brought an awareness of adoption issues.  However, unlike when there were fewer books, it’s seldom these days that a book on adoption is advertised.  There are websites like Tapestry Books and Perspectives Press and EMK Press that showcase books in this niche market.  In each upcoming blog I will discuss books on adoption. 

I welcome your feedback and comments.

Beth Kozan – Phoenix, AZ