May 12, 2009

What's in a Name? More than we Know.

Birthmother's Day observed by women who had to give children up for
by Laura Johnston/Plain Dealer Reporter
May 10, 2009

It was a day to share memories, make wishes
for their children and comfort each other, as birth mothers Kathy Bregar,
left, of Madison, and Sylvia Mauser of Richmond Heights did during
Birthmother' s Day ceremonies honoring women who have placed or lost a child
to adoption.

On this day, birth mothers formed the center of the circle.

The two dozen women read poetry and shared memories, cried and made wishes
for their children, many of whom they've never known. They honored their own
day, the day before Mother's Day, to recognize their role in their
children's lives.

Because often birth mothers go unseen.

Birth mothers tend to keep their choices private. (For every adopted child
you know, do you know a parent who has given up a child for adoption?) They
experience Mother's Day without hand-picked bouquets or goopy, crayoned
cards. And in the triad of adoption -- child, adoptive parent, birth parent
-- they're the ones left out.

"They brought a child into this world who they're not parenting," said
Betsie Norris, executive director of Adoption Network
"It's not something they've forgotten about. But that type of motherhood
isn't acknowledged on Mother's Day. For birth mothers, it's very
bittersweet. "

So since 1993, Adoption Network has hosted Birthmother' s Day, a tradition
created by a group of Seattle women.

Throughout the ceremony, punctuated by sniffles and tears wiped behind
eyeglasses, the birth mothers spoke of loss and secrecy, grief and
reconciliation. One at a time, they stepped forward, lighted a candle,
closed their eyes as they whispered their child's name and sprinkled gold
dust into a bowl of water. Then they returned to their circle of seats and
lighted the candles of those surrounding them, family and friends, adoptive
parents and adoptees who came to give them support.

About 125,000 children are adopted each year in the United States, about 40
percent through public-welfare agencies, research shows. In the vast
majority of adoptions today, the birth mother has some contact with the
adoptive parents. For most of the 20th century, though, adoptions were
Tracy Boulian/The Plain DealerAnne Mueller of Rocky River, right, hugs
Shavaunta Dukes of Akron after a Birthmother' s Day ceremony Saturday.

Forty-one years ago, April Martin of Wooster had to wear a wig and take a
fake name in the months she waited for her son's birth.

She was 19, working as a secretary and living with her parents in Akron when
she got pregnant.

Her boyfriend wouldn't marry her. So her parents sent her to the Florence
Crittenton Home, telling her family -- even her brother and sister -- she
had gone to work at the Pentagon. She even funneled mail through a
Crittenton home in Washington, D.C, so she could send home postcards about
her new life.

When she gave birth in February 1968, the nurse told her she had a son. Her
parents refused to let her keep the baby, and her mother never spoke of it

"That was the end of the story," said Martin, 62. "I was supposed to go on
and forget I had given birth."

Martin married twice and had two daughters. And after her mother died last
year, she began to search for her son.

Adoption Network helped her find three addresses in Florida, all of which
she's sent letters to. She has also sent him a message on Facebook.

But she's heard nothing back.

Saturday was her first Birthmother' s Day experience.

"I am a mother," Martin said. "I don't like that term, birth mother. But I
am a birth mother. And for the first time in a long time, I'm going to be
able to celebrate the birth of my son."

Martin said that searching for her son has made her address long-dormant
hurt. Other birth mothers also talk of pain.

"The grief is so great you don't want to go there much," said Sylvia Mauser,
48, of Richmond Heights. "I kind of keep it stored away in a box at the back
of my head."

But the ceremony addresses that. Its purpose, birth mother Jeanne Hood read
in her welcome statement, is to recognize "a loss that is never fully

"It's kind of exposing our hearts and our pain," said Mauser, who reunited
with her daughter in 2003.

Mauser's daughter, Sarah, now a law student at Cleveland State University,
sat in an outside circle Saturday. Sarah's birth father (who lived for years
in the same Arizona town as Sarah) couldn't make it, though he and Mauser
have reunited, too, after 20 years.

Other birth mothers brought their mothers, fathers, sisters and fiances to
recognize Mother's Day.

"Although the rest of the world doesn't know, you know what the anniversary
means to you and how important it is," said one mother, a 31-year-old
graduating from medical school. "To have everybody there to respect you as a
mother, whether or not you're raising a child, it's incredibly powerful."

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