One of my dearest friends told me today that her friend (who reads this blog, hi!) refers to me as The Unicorn. I laughed because Charlie the Unicorn immediately popped into my head. As my friend explained that the name stems from the fact that birth mothers like me don’t really exist, I got kind of sad. Not with my friend or even with her friend; their realities and dealings with their kids’ birth mothers are very different than dealing with me. I don’t know how Mandi does it sometimes; she’s an amazing mom and human being.
But I’m still not a unicorn.
I am real. I exist. I am not a figment of society’s imagination.
In fact, once a month, I see — face to face — other real mothers like me. We sit in a circle. We share the joys that have happened since our last meeting. We cry and pass the tissue box. We ask questions. We share anger — most of which is directed at a society that dismisses, diminishes and negates our importance or our existence. For two hours every month, we get to look into the eyes of others who not only know we exist but understand — at the core — how that very existence is often painful and daunting and overwhelmingly sad.
I’ve had this discussion in numerous ways with numerous people over the years. It comes about in many ways. Sometimes people think they’re paying me a compliment. “But you’re such a good mom.” Sometimes it’s a legitimate discussion about which voices we hear in the blogosphere regarding birth mother stories and how some of that is related to access and class. Sometimes it’s the stereotypes of what a birth mother should be or look like or act like rearing their ugly heads. “Oh, but you’re not like those other birth mothers. You don’t do drugs. You have a career. You love and care for Munchkin.” Most people mean well and some even have spectacular and important points about the missing voices in the discussion. But every time I hear a sentiment like one of these, I cringe. Not just for myself or for other birth parents — but for our children who will know, all too well, that society doesn’t place any value on their original parents.
I recognize that comments like this often stem from the failed adoption industry that allows all potential adoptive parents to believe that all birth parents are like me; that we are cookie-cutter good girls who got pregnant despite being relatively good human beings and because we’re all pro-life, we chose adoption. If our system was doing right by birth parents, adoptive parents and our children, they would tell the truth that drug use does occur by birth parents and adoptive parents alike, that relationships will be difficult at times in the post-placement years and that we’re all so different — politically, spiritually, emotionally, personality wise, and so on — that no guarantees can be made about anything. But that’s not what the industry wants families to believe; they paint it with rosy colors and claim best case scenario and expect families to not just believe it — hook, line and sinker — but to feel like they are somehow the exception when they find difficulty or failure on their path, so that they don’t turn to the agency and say, “What gives?”
But it doesn’t change the truth: I am not a unicorn.
And no, not every birth mother is like me, like the other amazing women in our group. All of our stories in that group are different; how we came to adoption, how we view our past and our future, how we feel about adoption and policies and politics, how we live our daily lives. But we’re all real, every last one of us. Some may struggle with various life choices. Some of us may struggle with mental health issues and depression. Some of us may struggle to make ends meet. Some of us may be angry — with the system, with people in our lives, with ourselves. Probably we all struggle with various points at various times. And I can say — for myself — that as a birth mother, a mother, a wife, a friend and a human being, sometimes I’m difficult to understand, get along with and maintain a relationship with… but I doubt that there are many people alive, birth mothers or otherwise, who don’t have a time in their life in which they ooze a bit of difficulty.
Perhaps, to make this discussion hit home just a little bit, I’m going to say that Dee is better than all of the other adoptive parents out there. She communicates clearly. She keeps promises. She is fun, smart, and amazing. She doesn’t do drugs and she is a wonderful parent. Is she then a unicorn? No. She’s a human being who has made choices. As am I. As are you. As are your children’s birth parents. As are the rest of us.
And so, while I am kinda cool — according a recent statement by my oldest son, emphasis on the kinda — I am not a unicorn any more than my amazing children, any more than my compassionate husband, any more than my daughter’s wonderful mom. I am an individual with a unique story and a very personal path, but I am not alone. Please don’t count my story as unimportant to adoption because I don’t fit in with your view of a birth mother or your experience. Please don’t dismiss the other birth mothers and birth fathers who live lives that are greatly different from mine. The truth is that no one starts out life with a goal of becoming a birth parent. To become one means that something went horribly wrong and every person deals with crisis and trauma in different ways. I’m not asking parents to dismiss real issues or expose their children to dangerous situations. I am asking parents to remember that people are human.
I wish I was a unicorn — because then the grief that I live with would be imaginary. But I’m real. And this pain is real. And, yes, I deal with it in healthy ways most of the time, but I’m not perfect and we live in an imperfect world. Until you’ve held me as I sob in your arms because the hurt of missing my daughter is so overwhelming, you have no idea how often I put on my brave face for the rest of the world. I’m pretty sure unicorns don’t cry. And if they do, the world makes no sense anyway, does it?
Because who wants to live in a world with crying unicorns any more than they want to live in a world with cookie-cutter people? Not this woman! I like my unicorns happy and my people with their freak flags flying. Otherwise, the world would be a boring place.
No unicorns were harmed during the writing of this post. That I know of, at least.