My Capitol Hill experience sharing my birthmother story

Posted on January 17, 2008. Filed under: My Adoption Story | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , |

By Joy A. Kennelly

I wrote this back in 2001 after I’d returned from the International Platform Association Conference. I’m not sure if the group is still around (there was some hairy stuff that came out afterwards which might have affected its continuing – the FBI even got involved!), but it was very prestigious back when I spoke.

In 1999, Blitzer won the International Platform Association’s Lowell Thomas Broadcast Journalism Award for outstanding contributions to broadcast journalism.

Back to adoption though. I forgot the opposition and feedback I received from women who’d placed their children in adoption back in the 60’s when I was sharing my story. Also, those who were so touched by my sharing my story.

Check it out.

A BIRTHMOTHER’S POSITIVE PERSPECTIVE ON ADOPTION

By Joy A. Kennelly

            This past August 2001, I was invited to speak at the Annual International Platform Association Conference (www.internationalplatform.com) held in Washington, DC on Capitol Hill. I had been invited years ago and at the time didn’t have anything I wanted to speak on badly enough to warrant attending, but kept the invite just in case I changed my mind. This year I did.

            See, I am a birthmother, one of the silent majority in the world of Adoption.

            Fortunately, overall, I’ve had a good experience with my open adoption and my desire is to encourage other women in similar situations to mine to consider the third choice, which is rarely presented — Adoption. That is why I wrote a letter to the chairman asking if he’d consider letting me share my story of being a birthmother from a positive perspective.

            Even before he received my bio, he enthusiastically called me to say, “Yes, we’d love to have you.” This was in early May and I began to prepare to attend. I’d been working with a local maternity home, Rose Vista (www.rosevista.org), promoting their services to hospitals, clinics, adoption organizations, and anyone else who came in contact with women in crisis pregnancies.

            Through the course of my phone calls I began to speak to women who had placed back in the early 50’s, 60’s and 70’s and their anger towards what we were doing was quite amazing. I wasn’t aware until then of the rage and unresolved pain so many older birthmoms carried all these years. I spent many hours speaking to some of these women attempting to show them that adoption has really changed since they placed and not all adoptions are bad experiences.

            Some of them were able to wrap their minds around the fact we only want to help women and provide a safe haven for them to live after our conversations, but many wanted there to be no more adoptions whatsoever. It was then I realized that I’m one of the rare birthmoms who is willing to share a positive experience so soon after placing. My son is two and half years old.

            These conversations were very sobering and I began to seek out other sources to support my efforts. Fortunately, Jane Bright, the Director of Rose Vista, attended a Loving and Caring Conference back in Philadelphia, PN which focuses on the birthmother’s experience. She came back with all kinds of resources and contacts and I called one group called Birthmother’s Ministry in Alexandria, VA.

            They were very gracious and connected me with another young birthmother who was willing to open her home to me during my visit. We had wonderful conversations prior to my arriving. I felt very supported and encouraged getting to know her. She had been one of the guest speakers at the annual Birthmother Luncheon Birthmother’s Ministry hosts the day before Mother’s Day and was very secure in her decision.

            It came time and I left for the conference. A girlfriend from Virginia Beach was driving up to hear me speak and another new birthmother was going to attend as my guest from the Birthmother’s Ministry. I was really nervous because it was such an honor to be speaking amongst all the other important guests. I was the youngest speaker to speak.

            The day arrived and I showed up 10 minutes before and my professional bio was read as an introduction prior to my beginning to speak. Everyone was in their late 60’s and I wondered if I’d have anything to say that they’d find of interest, but plunged in anyway. I had brought an 8 x 10 framed picture of my son to add another dimension to my speech which I mounted on the podium for all to see.

            I began with statistics – “Four years ago only six in every 1,000 live births were placed in adoption, or less than 1%.” “Only 2 – 3% of the more than 1 million teenagers who become pregnant this year will place their child for adoption. Over 40% will choose abortion.”

            Then I moved into describing the different types of adoption available – Adoption Agency, Attorney, Closed: with no contact between the adoptee and the birthmother; Semi-Open: Pictures and letters exchanged, oftentimes through an adoption agency; Open: Full visiting privileges, pictures, letters and a real relationship.

            That is what I have (an open adoption.) I told my personal story of what a difficult road this has been, but how worthwhile it is to know that my son is happy, and doing well with his new family. I am writing a book about my experience, which I am shopping around now.

            Then, in closing, I gave my hopes for the future of adoption which includes mandatory counseling for adoptive couples and birthmothers, federal funding to support those who work in adoption, and if people say they are Pro-choice, then let it be for three choices, not just the two that are pushed, keep your child or abort it. That drew a quick round of applause from the crowd.

            I had brought packets of information on adoption which included my story prior to placing, adoption terminology, resources like Rose Vista and Birthmother’s Ministry, and a Tapestry catalog which highlights all the books available on adoption from all the triad’s perspectives, and other information. I held up Rose Vista’s brochure and Birthmother’s Ministry brochure and invited those interested in additional information to contact me afterwards.

            We then opened it up for questions. A woman came forward and shared how she worked with teenage mothers and how she rarely saw any choose adoption. She then asked if I was proposing that we start a national movement for adoption and although I was surprised at her interpretation of my speech, I said, Yes, I am. That got some cheers.

            Then a man came forward and shared how his father had recently confessed to him that he’d raped his mother. He became choked up and said he wished adoption had been an option for his mother back then. He too was for adoption and told me later he was going to help me and would be e-mailing soon.

            As I left the podium to take my seat, an older woman probably in her late 60’s or 70’s came up to me crying and choking on her words. She told me she’d been a birthmother 57 years ago. She was so broken up, I became choked up and could only nod in agreement even though I didn’t understand a word she was saying because of her pain.

            She seemed to need a hug and through my tears I gave her one. It was a surreal experience to me because I hadn’t expected this type of reaction from the gathered crowd.

            Then, a man approached me from the International Platform Association who said he wanted to write an article about me for their monthly publication. He asked if he could have my notes and I gave him my outline. Another older woman was waiting to speak to me and she brushed him away because it was going to be a personal conversation she wanted to share.

            He left and she and I sat down. She began to share her story of having done three adoptions (one open until the adoptive mother couldn’t take it any longer) and the rest were closed. She then had four other children and ended up raising those children. I think she just needed someone to hear her because as soon as she said all that, she thanked me for listening and then got up and left.

            As my friends and I were preparing to leave, another middle-aged woman stopped me and shared her story. She had a daughter she’d adopted after having three miscarriages and she hadn’t told her daughter she was adopted until she was 16 years old. I really don’t think that’s healthy, but it wasn’t my place to tell her something that she couldn’t change anyway.

            Her daughter had acted out from that point forward (who blames her!) and this woman wanted to know the sociological consequences of women raising children alone and the impact of fathers.

            I had to tell her I’m not an expert or trained in that, but the research I had done indicated that a fatherless child really is affected. She took the Tapestry catalog I gave her and when we bumped into each other again, I gave her a full packet of information too.

            Then, my friends and I left to find what fun things might be happening in Georgetown that evening. The next evening, there was a wonderful banquet and various influential media types and a former astronaut entertained us. I was able to give a packet of information to honoree, (then) Fox News Correspondent, Rita Cosby, who assured me she’d read it.

            I heard from her later and she recommended I give it to Bill O’Reilly, from the O’Reilly Factor as well. I knew him through an old boyfriend and promptly sent him a packet of info too. I also passed it out to Senator Warner from Virginia at a later engagement and others.

            On our drive to Virginia Beach, Eileen and I began discussing the possibility of producing a documentary on adoption from an updated perspective. She is a professional researcher and when we returned, she promptly began researching adoption on the internet.

            She discovered numerous bills in Congress that are proposing funding for adoption services, public service announcements, billboards and brochures. I encourage all of you to research this info on the National Council of Adoption’s web-site www. Nac-usa.org I believe.

            I don’t know if I made any difference speaking, but the joy and encouragement it brought me has made me eager to do more. We are also seriously pursuing a documentary on adoption and public service announcements. *Rose Vista continues to march forward with a fund-raiser this October 26, 2001 in Los Angeles, CA and Birthmother’s Ministry hosted one at the end of September.

            I encourage all of you to consider supporting these organizations because they are among the minority in support of birthmothers and really need your help. As for me, I’m going to continue speaking and sharing my story in speeches, writing and film. God bless you all.

*Post note: Rose Vista Maternity Home for women seeking adoption closed it’s doors in 2007.

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4 Responses to “My Capitol Hill experience sharing my birthmother story”

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This post brought up many conflicting feelings for me. I, too, used to promote adoption and speak at panels to reassure adoptive parents. I even planned to adopt from the same agency I placed through at one point.

It took the birth of my son when my relinquished child was 13 to sock me in the stomach about the long-term effects adoption had on my entire family. I’m not anti-adoption. My daughter’s family and I have a wonderful, open relationship.

However, I couldn’t shake these new feelings, and after doing much research and reading, I now support keeping families together whenever possible first, with adoption as a final choice only, after all other possibilities had been exhausted. It took years to come to this place.

I don’t know your personal reasons for adoption, so I can’t comment on that. I’m not judging you or implying that your feelings will change in time to be similar to mine. However, as I read this, I wanted to point out that they may, and also, that your son may not view adoption as 100% positive in his life.

As you’ve already discovered, there are many, many first mothers out there who are struggling with adoption. It comes out in sadness and yes, sometimes in anger. I hope you’ll continue to read these stories, and the stories of adoptees who have experienced long-term issues due to adoption, as well as considering the positive stories, before you endorse adoption for another expectant parent.

Adoption has changed, but not always for the better, and not always as much as pro-adoption lobbies would have you think. The NCFA (National Council for Adoption), for example, encourages adoptive parents to downplay or outright dismiss the place of biological parents in an adopted child’s life in their literature. You don’t have to take my word for it; if you’re interested, I can find the link for you. That is just one example. There are many others out there. Again, I’m not trying to tell you what you believe is wrong. I’m encouraging you to continue to look further.

I’m glad you and your son and his parents have a good and open relationship. Thanks for letting me comment.

Hi Coco, Thanks for such a thoughtful, insightful comment. To be honest I haven’t done much public speaking since that time which was over 7 years ago.

I also am not sure how I feel about my open adoption experience right now because even though I didn’t contact the family at Christmas, they’ve made no effort to inquire as to why which leads me to believe they’re probably happy about it.

I don’t know. I do have conflicting emotions about certain aspects of my adoption, but I think we can have conflicting emotions about a lot of relationships which is why I’m ok with it.

I totally know the National Council for Adoption isn’t supportive at all on open adoption and in fact is for closed adoption. I’m not promoting that organization, just stating facts from the information I have from that time period.

Maybe I should make it more clear that these posts are from 2001, not 2008. I’m not an advocate for adoption right now because I feel this was my choice, but it may not be right for everyone.

What was your take on the movie Juno? Just curious. It does seem to be becoming more popular and your voice is just as valid as all the other rhetoric the adoption organizations put out there.

Please read back a few posts for my current feelings to help you understand where I’m coming from. I feel that when we write about issues, then it helps us clarify our opinions and feelings better.

Again, thank you for commenting. I really think you had a lot of great input.
JOY

Joy,

I apologize for not reading through your post and blog carefully before commenting. It was only after I’d hit “submit” that I realized your son was now about 10 years old, the original post was from 2001, and things may very well have changed in your life already. So thanks for bearing with me!

I haven’t seen Juno yet. My son is still a toddler, so the last time I saw a movie without a cartoon character was about…2 years ago. Someday! I’m not sure if I will see Juno in theaters. I may need to wait for a day alone with the DVD and a box of Kleenex. I’ve read from other first moms that it can be difficult to watch.

And? I’m so sorry your son’s family didn’t ask about you at Christmas. Hope springs eternal for me, so I truly hope it was simply an oversight and they will be in touch soon.

I’m going back to read through some more of your posts. Please drop by and visit me if you like.

Hi Coco, I don’t know how to visit you. What’s your url?

I did see Juno in the theatres and the only time it really hit me was in the hospital scene with her Dad. Very poignant.

Otherwise, it’s all so farfetched in some regards that I just allowed it to be a fictional story. If you don’t think I’m being too nosy, have you ever gone to counseling over your adoption?

It might really help you deal with some of the issues surrounding your adoption if they keep coming up for you so long afterwards. That’s what really helped me.

We’ll see about the family contacting me. I’m tempted to sit it out, but don’t want my son to think I’ve forgotten him. Definitely a present for Valentine’s Day though.

Really appreciate you reading and commenting. Nice to meet a fellow birthmom in cyberspace!


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    Emotions I feel surrounding my adoption, books I read and other experiences in life

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