July 30th, 2007
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Categories: How to..., Support

Oh No! As my readers may know, I’m pretty open about my role as a birth mother even if it takes me awhile to find the comfort level with a person so that I can best share the information. Yet there are relationships that don’t always leave room for deep and heartfelt conversations about things like adoption, debunking myths and how much I love my daughter. Casual relationships at work, friends of friends or family and other inconsequential meetings don’t often leave time, room or need for a lengthy discussion on the topic.

That doesn’t always mean that adoption won’t come up with said people. I experienced it this weekend while talking with a friend of my cousin. In a group of about six or seven people, three or four different conversations were going on, leaving me talking to this one woman with whom I had contact with previously over the week. I had enjoyed her prior conversations and was trying to relish in the last night of discussion on the campgrounds. She was complimenting my maternity dress (I do have impeccable style!) when the conversation turned towards heavier matters.

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Again, it started out innocently enough. She was telling me about her friend who had been pregnant but had worn mostly non-maternity clothes by rolling a waistband of gauchos or stretch pants under her growing belly. I was about to explain that it is often more comfortable to wear a waistband under one’s expanding waistline instead of over it when she said that the mother had “given away” her baby for adoption and, therefore, should have been hiding the pregnancy. She continued on, hitting on various stereotypes, as I nodded, dumbfounded as to how I got involved in this conversation. I tried to alert my cousin to my discomfort but she was engaged in other discussion. I was alone. The woman continued on, stating how it’s appropriate for a mother who is happy to be pregnant, glowing and all, to show off her belly but not appropriate for someone who is just going to “pop out the baby and give it away.”

She went on to discuss some of the reasons the mother placed, all of which she tossed aside as either insignificant or stupid. While I am always one to encourage an expectant mother to remember that certain things like finances can change for the better, I’m not one to berate a birth mother for choices she made that lead to placement because, truth be told, nothing can be changed. To me it sounded as if this mother (and father) had received moral support from anyone, things might have turned out in a different way. (Completely removed from the situation and not knowing either biological parent, I can’t bet on that, of course.)

What got me the most, however, was that this “good” friend of hers was sitting her, dishing her most private of battles without a lick of support in her voice. There was no talk of how even though the mother had been secure in her decision for placement that she might be going through an emotional time. Just judgment and words laced with disdain. My heart broke.

And yet, I found myself speechless. Yes, folks, I couldn’t find the words to defend this mother. I couldn’t find my voice to speak, generally, about the stereotypes that our society still holds near and dear concerning essence of first families. As the hour was past my own bedtime, my mind wasn’t clocking on all cylinders and I got caught in a fear that many birth parents faced with a similar situation feel: how do you defend the honor of birth parents without discussing your own personal loss with people who don’t warrant a need for further explanation.

I dropped the ball on this one. I didn’t attempt to steer her thoughts in a more supportive direction. Instead, I tried to get the conversation back to the wonders of maternity clothes in the year 2007. I kicked myself later. Looking back, with a clear and fully awake mind, I realize there are a few things that I could have said to either halt the conversation or help foster a mind change in this friend.

1. State that no matter the reason, it would be hard to say goodbye to a child you carried in your womb. Without getting personal or involved in your story, try to hit at the essence of how that person would feel if they had to be separated from their child (currently in existence or not) for any reason. Bring up things like the fact that mothers can be bonded to the idea and presence of their child very early in a pregnancy which is why even a very early miscarriage can throw a mother into an unexpected tailspin of emotion.

2. Try to debunk the specific myth being discussed or even play the semantics game. Quite frankly, I could have played the word game with this friend of a birth mother by trying to debase her use of “gave away.” Explaining that children are not something to be handed back and forth between parties and that there are, most often, heavy emotions involved, might create a sense of realization that the biological parents did view the child as more than a thing to be given or received. Familiarize yourself with the normal myths of adoption and be prepared with statistics or other worthy points. (For example, if they’re stating that all birth parents are teenagers and that the mother in question should have been able to parent because she was 20-soemthing, quote the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute’s Birth Parent Study on how the majority of birth parents are in their 20′s.)

3. Ask how the person stating the stereotypes would feel if she was the child in question listening to someone talk about her biological parents in such a manner. (This amazing point came from MagicPointeShoe. I need to store and use this one!) If they’re still refusing to acknowledge that birth parents are human beings who, most often, emotionally affected by the placement of a child, reminding them that children are involved in the equation may cause them to stop and think about how their words sound.

4. Realize that some people aren’t worth the fight. I’d like to make everyone change their mind and realize certain things about the realities of adoption for birth parents (and adoptive parents and adoptees!). The truth remains that certain people will believe certain things. Certain people let their own personal and singular experiences cloud how they view the rest of a group. Learning who is worth fighting with and who is better off arguing with themselves in a corner will save you undue frustration. That doesn’t mean you can’t say something minor like, “Well, personally, my heart goes out to that mother; it must have been a heart-wrenching decision. Would you like some tea?” But engaging in a long, drawn out discussion or verbal altercation won’t always make people realize how judgmental and demeaning their words are when applied to larger groups of people. There are those who feel that birth parents deserve to suffer with whatever emotional conflict they “brought upon themselves.” The best advice I have in dealing with those people is to let them wallow in their own insecurities and issues. Move on to bigger and better things!

No, I didn’t get to use anything that I knew in the back of my mind (or use MagicPointeShoe’s amazing advice because I had never personally thought of it) but, sadly, I’m 100% sure I’ll be in another situation in which adoption is mentioned among a group of people that don’t warrant an explanation of my story. Perhaps, having written this post and thought about where I went wrong the other night, I’ll be better prepared to enlighten others in a respectful way without needing to explain in further personal detail.

If you have any personal advice or stories about handling uncomfortable conversations, please share them with us. We hear, frequently, about the negative things that are said to adoptive parents who don’t always have the “luxury” of deciding whether or not to discuss their place in the triad and so, logically, they have more advice and witty comebacks at the ready as others are always willing to offer their horror stories and advice. If you’d like to help others, give us your witty comebacks, intelligent retorts or general horror stories of uncomfortable conversations.

And, in the end, keep your head up. Remember that your situation is your own. You know your experience. Don’t let the opinions of someone else, touched by adoption or not, shade the way you feel about yourself (good or bad!).

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For more, read:

1. How to Survive the Worst Adoption Days.

2. How to Be a Birth Mother in the Public Eye.

3. Choosing Your Battles.

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Photo Credit.

9 Responses to “Handling Uncomfortable Conversations”

  1. Julia Fuller says:

    Placing a child takes a lot of guts because obviously people will know and judge. You and the bm in the discussion could have chosen abortion and then nobody but yourselves would have been the wiser. Numerous people who know your daughter and the child in the converstation would applaud your bravery for choosing life. We are all found speechless at times. Wait til you hit 40, it gets worse. Chances are if you’ve had previous conversations with her, you’ll get another chance and you’ll be ready. I’m not good at spur of the moment come backs, I always think of the best ones later. Guess that’s why I like writing.

  2. Julia; Many birth parents don’t like being told that they have “guts.” (In fact, Paragraphein just wrote a really thought provoking post on the matter and how it would be nice if people would let us be human.) Many of us, myself included, were scared and clueless about what to do. I, personally, wasn’t thinking about the judgments that would or could follow a placement. I was too overwhelmed with the judgments that were being thrown in my face because I was young, unwed and visibly pregnant.

    I am not brave. I am human. I was a mother in crisis mode and I acted in crisis mode. In my personal opinion, the braver of actions would have been to go against what everyone was telling me and parent my child, showing them all that they were wrong in their assumptions that I wouldn’t make a great mother.

    As a side note: I’d really encourage you not to use the abbreviation of BM on this blog or any birth parent’s blog. I don’t really like being placed in the same thought as a bowel movement. In fact, it is a banned abbreviation (automatically changed to bmom which is really only two letters longer to type) on our forums because so many birth parents find it so offensive.

  3. JudyK says:

    One thing that occurs to me — of course in hindsight, even after reading your post on Chronicles — is saying something like, “Oh, I imagine that must have been incredibly difficult for her,” like your first point.

    The sermon at our church yesterday was about compassion and how our society lacks compassion for those who are struggling, those in need. This person was at a Christian retreat? Was she a part of any of the worship? Part of what our pastor was saying was that people on the outskirts of society — and he included in there unwed pregnant girls — are often shunned by our society but would be embraced by Christ. It’s definitely something worth thinking about at a Christian camp.

  4. Judy; Was she a part of any of the worship? No, not at all. Thankfully, eh? Especially as I was in a Christian setting, I could have definitely taken conversation there, couldn’t I? Gah. The things we realize AFTERWARDS. Bummer.

  5. JudyK says:

    Oh, I always realize things AFTERWARDS. If only there could be do-overs for those moments in our lives when we’re at a loss for words. I have plenty of those, believe me!

  6. Judy? At a loss for words? NEVER?! MUAHAHAHA!

  7. What a terrible night it must have been.

  8. Julia Fuller says:

    Sorry Jenna, I’m clueless.

  9. Abby says:

    During a conversation with one of my friends that is unable to have any more children, adoption came up. She knows great details of my adoption and was around when I adopted my children. She stated that her husband (he has two adopted young sisters) would not be willing to adopted because you cannot love an adopted child like you love a birth child.

    I did remind her who she was talking to (an adoptee and mother to three adopted children). I said all kinds of things that I cannot say here. I do tell her that she should be more concerned about the kind of person her husband was since he is also the (step)father (the child does not know her bio dad) to your child. So what does that say about how he feels about her? I did state that breaks my heart that her daughter does not know the true love of a dad.

    There are times that as an adoptee if I find myself in a conversation (more like someone discussing adoptees or adoption to me) when I do speak up it just opens the door for that person then to start questioning me about my personal birth parents, adoptive parents, and asking rude personal questions. Why would I want to share my personal details with a person that was just trashing adoption or adoptees? Some of time I will tell the person when I am leaving that I am an adoptee. This makes the person uncomfortable, she will start back pedaling fast and I walk way.

    Abby

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