Thursday, December 25, 2008

"Invisible Veil"

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by Margaret Benshoof-Holler

She could have been any of the veiled Afghani women that have been written about in the U.S. media since September 11. But the woman I stood listening to one Saturday afternoon last fall in Sacramento, California was an American woman whose veil was invisible, whose story had been silenced and hidden.

Her child had been taken away. It was as if it had died. Except there was no funeral, no wailing wall for her to pound her fists on and cry! The woman was expected to just get on with her life and pretend that she hadn't just given her child away.

With thirty-some years of internalized emotion still causing her voice to quake when she recalled signing her name on the relinquishment papers, the fifty-six-year-old woman in Sacramento spoke of the pain and grief of losing her daughter to adoption. As I listened, I was reminded that here in the U.S. we often deal with loss by covering up our emotions. I was also reminded that the U.S. was bombing Afghanistan because we lost over 3,000 very dear people. No one, though, ever went to war for these women whose losses were in the millions of newborn lives.

The exact number of women who gave children up for adoption during the era of the 60s is not readily obtainable. The numbers jumped from “50,000 in 1944” to “175,000 in 1970,” according to one source. Another source estimated the number of women who relinquished children to adoption in the 1960s and 70s reached a peak of 250,000 a year. The stigma associated with getting pregnant out of wedlock then contributed to a need for secrecy. The need to hide these pregnancies meant complete information was not always gathered. Thus the reason for approximates rather than exact figures. Nonetheless, it is unquestionable that a large number of women gave up children for adoption during the 1960s and reached a peak some time in the 70s.

And, if even half of the women who gave their children up for adoption in the 60s had banded together their voices would surely have been heard, but they had not been taught nor encouraged to use their voices. Societal dictates, including puritanical attitudes about sex, women, and pregnancy, silenced the voices of many women for many years.

When one loses a child, mother, father, or husband to death, there is a funeral and a time of mourning. That hasn't been the case for most of the 6,000,000 birthmothers in the U.S. who have lost their children to adoption. Relinquishing her child to adoption is looked upon as a single mother's duty for getting herself into that situation to begin with rather than a deeply painful separation of mother and child. In that respect, not much has changed since the 60s. Societal attitudes towards unwed mothers consider adoption a logical consequence to out-of-wedlock pregnancies.

Guilt and shame kept unwed mothers' voices stifled during the McCarthy and post-McCarthy era of the 60s, but a small group of birthmothers began, in the 1980s, to find the children they gave up for adoption in the 60s. They began to come to terms with their loss. It is only with the advent of the Internet that more birthmothers have begun to come out of the closet. Many still only talk about what happened to them with each other in much the same way that veterans of World War II and Vietnam only talked afterwards with those who understood what they had been through. Post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms effect a number of birthmothers.

When President Bush proclaimed November as National Adoption Month in 2001, he did not mention or honor the large group of American women who have lost their children to adoption. He did not present a plan of prevention for unplanned pregnancies or a way to provide free daycare to help financially-strapped mothers keep, rather than give up their babies to the adoption industry. His strong adoption stance appears to fall closely in line with one of his apparent supporters-the Edna Gladney Home in Fort Worth, Texas, which was one of the biggest contributors to the National Council for Adoption in their effort to keep birth records closed. President Bush didn't address the issue of opening birth records either. Closed birth records cut adoptees off from knowing who they are and do not protect birthmothers because the majority of them want to be found.

Even though U.S. women have progressed since the 60s in the areas of education and upward economic mobility and many single women are raising children on their own today, there is still a stigma about anything related to a woman having a baby outside of the confines of marriage. I see it in the way that stories about single mothers are reported in the media. Young mothers are made to sound like criminals if they want to keep their children.

One-hundred and forty million people in the U.S. have an adoption in their immediate families. Engrained views and practices pertaining to loss, sex, and adoption help keep many, like the birthmother in Sacramento, veiled and hidden. In this respect, the U.S. tends to fall behind every other industrialized country, most of which have stopped separating the natural mother from her child after it is born except in extreme situations.

The woman that I stood listening to in Sacramento was coerced into giving her child up for adoption in the 60s. She was then encouraged to keep the whole thing hidden. Her story stayed that way for over thirty years. It is time that we recognize and honor her motherhood.

"Invisible Veil" © copyright 2002 by Margaret Benshoof-Holler

"Burning of the Marriage Hat is a powerful book that uses the medium of fiction to explore serious social issues." --Cynthia Parkhill, Lake County Record-Bee
Complete Review

Wednesday, December 10, 2008


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How can we find true friendship in this often phony, temporary world?

Friendship involves recognition or familiarity with another's personality. Friends often share likes and dislikes, interests, pursuits, and passion. Genuine friendship involves a shared sense of caring and concern, a desire to see one another grow and develop, and a hope for each other to succeed in all aspects of life. True friendship involves action: doing something for someone else while expecting nothing in return; sharing thoughts and feelings without fear of judgment or negative criticism. Friendship takes time: time to get to know each other, time to build shared memories, time to invest in each other's growth. Trust is essential to true friendship. We all need someone with whom we can share our lives, thoughts, feelings, and frustrations. We need to be able to share our deepest secrets with someone, without worrying that those secrets will end up on the Internet the next day! Failing to be trustworthy with those intimate secrets can destroy a friendship in a hurry. Truth and loyalty are key to true friendship. Without them, we often feel betrayed, left out, and lonely. In true friendship, there is no backbiting, no negative thoughts, no turning away. True friendship requires certain accountability factors. Real friends encourage one another and forgive one another where there has been an offense. Genuine friendship supports during times of struggle. Friends are dependable. In true friendship, unconditional love develops. We love our friends no matter what and we always want the best for our friends.

True Grit

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I have come to the conclusion that I can't take rejection hard or personally. It happens in life. It doesn't mean there is anything wrong with me. It means the person, the job, the situation is not right for ME. Even if I want it to be right…even if I really want that lover, that friend, that job, that house, that apartment, that whatever….doesn't mean it's the right thing for me and maybe they see it clearer than I. Or maybe they don't appreciate me and I don't want that in my life anyway.

It's hard to put yourself out there. It's hard to put the power in someone else's hands. It feels like leading with your chin.

But I can overcome rejection, whether present rejection or long-ago rejection. I just need to keep the positive self-talk going, do my affirmations and know I am worth it and deserve all the good things that life has to offer.

Most of all I deserve to be surrounded by the right people and the right situations where my intrinsic goodness and high value is appreciated. I should give myself my own approval, and give others the right to accept or reject me, I can then bask in the glow of those who accept and value me.

I need to rememer to pay no attention to rejection. It doesn't matter. I will try to stay positive. Stay focused on what I want.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Agreeing to Disagree?

Disagreement is a very useful tool in life
to drive improvement and progress........

Yet disagreement is seen as an unpleasant state of affairs by most people and the media as well and therefor it is often suppressed as much as possible and as long as possible. People rather bite their tongue than to express disagreement and that leads to a lot of unexpressed disagreement that keeps building up steam under the surface.

"Agreeing to Disagree." I think Ayn Rand had it right: the lowest in society seek to enchain the best of us. To pretend that the destruction of freedom is nothing more serious than a difference of opinion is to hand the murderers the gun that will destroy you. "The end does not justify the means. No one's rights can be secured by the violation of the rights of others."

This is why we Senior Mother's are now shedding
our collective suffocating cloaks that we have been enveloped in for decades, the shroud of secrecy and lies, of shame and guilt surrounding the loss of our babies in an era where this was not only condoned but encouraged. We will not be donning our shawls and sitting this one out, rocking in our chairs idling away the hours and days. No siree! Not today, not tomorrow, and not the day after tomorrow. Today we have chosen to speak up for ourselves. This is especially important when considering that our voices are now the voices most closely involved with and affected by adoption loss. The very numbers of us are staggering and not to be kept quite any longer. We have been in the trenches for years and years now dealing with the aftermath of adoption trauma. We not only see the effects in other senior mother's eyes, but we see it in the eyes of our now adult children in our reunions with them. While there has been much adoption rhetoric throughout the history of adoption, it is inescapable to avoid the veil of secrecy, shame, confusion, disconnections, and loss associated with 'this' particular era. During 'our' time adoptions were never to be spoken of and were not meant to be revealed.

Uh oh, too late, the cat appears to be out of the bag.