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dear birthmother letters



'birthparents' views on adoption

December 2002

Adoption: The Empty Seat at the Table


At Christmas I think of Mary, the mother of Christ, and her uncomfortable journey on the back of a donkey while heavily pregnant, having been banished in disgrace. Without adequate funds, Mary was forced to travel on the cheapest form of transport available, seeking a safe place for the delivery of a babe whose existence may have been unplanned although clearly not unwanted.

Some aspects of the story regarding the conception of baby Jesus are a bit far fetched, I agree. The virgin impregnation, angels singing, heavenly lights - it does sound more like a hallucinogenic, strobe flashback from an eighties disco, but if Joseph - a pretty decent chap from all accounts, who spent years teaching his step-son the carpentry trade - was willing to go along with such a fabulous charade, then who are we to judge Mary’s reasons for the obvious deception?. Fertility control has always been fraught with difficulty and Mary had limited choices available to her, regarding this unplanned pregnancy. Perhaps she and Joseph had inadvertently eaten suspect mushrooms found by the side of the road during their long and arduous journey, seeking a place where Mary would be tolerated while she gave birth to her illegitimate son. Suffice it to say that had there been an alternative, acceptable explanation for her fall from grace, Mary would have said so. She was in-between a rock and a hard place. She wanted to keep her child. If she practiced a whopping deception to achieve that, who can blame her?.

Plenty of women lie about paternity. Like Mary, many consider it safer to perpetuate the idea that they do not know the identify of their child’s father. Like Mary, some offer the explanation it was someone they met only briefly, or don’t remember at all. They make up a story to protect themselves from adoption social workers, masquerading as wise women or men. Unable to find good people willing to assist her during labor, Mary was turned away from several respectable establishments by superficial individuals too mean minded to offer her floor space on which to give birth. That sounds familiar. The world hasn’t changed much in 2000 years.

There’s a downside to this Christian celebration. Mary has been promoted as the ‘angel’ as compared to those of us who could not match her cover story to claim a virgin birth. The bible contains stories about good women and bad, the angels and the whores, and many Christians choose to translate this quaint old book and smugly apply it’s edicts to modern life. Today’s unwed, pregnant women are still banished to second rate establishments where they are barely tolerated until such time as they give birth after which they are sent on their way, although minus the baby of course. Mary was lucky. She had transport. She kept her wits about her. Because the fertility control of her times was not what it is today there may have been no lines of infertile people queuing up to snatch the baby Jesus. Or perhaps there were and Mary’s strategy was invoke fear of the almighty, turning their superstitions against them. This is the son of God - get back, get back!. How clever of her. You have to admire her sense of survival, her evident self-esteem. What a woman. What a role model. Any mother-to-be threatened with adoption and reading this, should get on her donkey and ride. Or catch a cab, get a bus, hitchhike. But get out of your institution or other oppressive lodgings, and find a friendly stable. Don’t talk to adoption social workers for they are your natural enemies. Refuse their gifts of free advice, or paid birth expenses - adoption is not free. Sign your name to nothing.

I think of Mary as the ‘First Lady’ of first mothers. The world stole Jesus away from her and made him public property. The bible mentions how Mary used to turn up when Jesus was public speaking, and hang around at the back of the crowd, and she is recorded as being nearby at his death and resurrection. While her popular son may have been adopted by crowds of strangers, Mary still felt the need to have contact with him, even if that only meant watching him from a distance, gazing from afar. Women who lose children to adoption and are then brutally abandoned by a cruel, vindictive society, describe how they watch for their lost children on any street, anywhere. They stand outside schools and search children’s faces, looking for their own. And when they are reunited, it is like a rebirthing, more painful the second time around. First mothers experience their own resurrection when they meet their lost child, for their feelings have been telling them that their child is dead.

About 20 years ago a woman knocked on my door, recruiting for a new movement called ‘The Legion of Mary’. She explained how many Catholics believed Mary had being pushed into the background and was being excluded from the story of Christ. Mary was to be reinstated in her rightful place. I was struck by the similarity between a first mother and the mother of Christ. Both were being shoved out of the picture so that others could claim her child themselves without having to acknowledge her existence. To the woman’s delight I joined the legion of Mary, or tried to. The first - and only - meeting of the Legion I attended was presided over by a priest who established I was not a Catholic, not even a lapsed one that he would have accepted with gratitude. Only three people had turned out for Mary that night but he explained that the meeting could not start with a non-Catholic present. Afterwards I thought about religious intolerance and poor Mary and her ejection from her rightful role in the life of her famous son, as well as the inability of her own organization to rustle up enough troops to invoke her reinstatement. Just like first mothers, left out in the cold, ignored by their organization, the so-called feminist groups you might fully expect to fiercely support the right of all women to raise their children themselves. It’s a poor show.

Mary’s son was a multi-talented, gifted boy who grew into an altruistic man who tried to teach people the importance of thinking deeply about human issues, in a vain attempt to stop them from running about being judgmental and recklessly moralistic, and carrying out crude, anti-social acts such as stoning women for their sexuality. Jesus really liked women as evidenced by stuff he did in public, honoring non-virgins and whatnot, setting an example. Sorry to be vague on the details - I seem to have mislaid my Bible. But it is true that Jesus had a healthy respect for women and a powerful, inherited story-telling gene that he obviously got from his mother along with her worthy values. Nature vs. nurture ? No conflict there. He got the best of both.

There is a Polish custom whereby families keep a seat at their Christmas table for the absent Christ who may not be present physically although his presence is felt. I would like to propose extending this custom in honor of every woman who has lost a child to adoption. Just like Mary, there is an empty place in her heart that can only be healed by the missing child come back to life. Let us honor our sisters who have been brutally separated from their first born children by barbaric, forced adoption - that modern, crude equivalent to stoning.

My Christmas wish for first mothers is that your special son or daughter will resurrect and restore themselves to you, taking their rightful place at your table. I don’t believe Jesus returned from the other world to teach us anything. He’d already tried that. I think he came back because he couldn’t stand to see his mother grieve, because she was suffering, missing him so. I wish you a happy reunion on this birth-day of Christ and his mom.


Voices From Exile Copyright © 2003 Joss Shawyer

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