You’re better off (adopted)

teen mom

“Your mother was probably 16 and got pregnant after the prom. You’re better off adopted.”
“Your real parents were still in high school. You’re lucky a married couple raised you.”
“Your mother never would have been able to finish school or get ahead, and she would have dragged you down with her. She gave you up so both of you could have a better life. Be grateful.”

This is what people automatically think when they picture a “birth mother”. A teen mom, like the TV show but with some ABC After School Special sermonizing mixed with made-for Lifetime channel drama. In other words, a train wreck. I have been told in serious tones that my teenage parents had no business even thinking of keeping me — that it was for my own good to be relinquished.

The amazing thing about these statements is that my birth parents were 29 and 30 when I was born. People just assume they must have been “stupid teenagers with raging hormones and no clue as to what birth control was”.

Let me ‘splain something to you.

My birth mother was properly raised in an affluent home, a Christian, and divorced. She had a young daughter (who she was bringing up just fine, thank you), a bachelor’s degree, and career. She was cultured, well-mannered, and intelligent.

My birth father was a happily married father of three, a coach and mentor of youth, had a master’s degree in education, served his country, was smart, driven, and from all accounts, very likeable.

(So how did I “happen”? Read the book.)

My adoptive mother was also well-raised and a Christian. Due to poor health she never finished high school, and went on to work mainly as a waitress, then as a homemaker. She was beautiful and everyone loved her.

My adoptive father was the hardest-working man I’ve ever known. Like his wife, he was raised on a farm during the Depression, so although they were poor they never went hungry. He did moderately well in school, was self-taught as a mechanic and very successful in that profession. They both loved kids.

So let’s look at those assumptions again:

Birth mom: College educated and employed.
Adoptive mom: Did not finish high school and no job.

B-mom: Born-again Christian.
A-mom: Born-again Christian.

B-mom: Divorced, but married again soon after my birth and is still married.
A-mom: Married, but died miserably before I started high school.

B-mom: Three children raised are all law-abiding, successful people.
A-mom: Eldest son was in every group home and prison in Washington State, and the stress ultimately killed her.

If my birth mother had raised me, I would have been the same person, only I would have felt rooted. I would have had the same opportunities, maybe even better ones. I would have grown up with a sister. I would have known my grandparents before they were lost to old age and dementia. I would not have constantly worried that I could be traded in for something better. I would not have grown up afraid to enter my own house, for fear of the violent sociopath I had to live with.

Tell me how I was better off. Even if my mother had not remarried, tell me how my adoptive family was superior.

It’s complicated. Can we start there? Can we have this discussion? Or will you once again tell me about my life?

Elle Cuardaigh is author of The Tangled Red Thread


11 thoughts on “You’re better off (adopted)

  1. Comment: An anonymous email exchange, which demonstrated quite well why this conversation is needed:

    Comment: First off, let me say that anyone that actually said “Your mother was probably 16 and got pregnant after the prom. You’re better off adopted” or the like is a fool and an asshole. My only assumption will be that sometimes you take the second sentence “You’re better off adopted” and infer the first.

    Maybe being rooted would keep you from taking well-meant “You’re better off” to mean any more sinister than a million other positive-yet-naive platitudes people say to each other to show positivity and optimism. You assume what they think and fault them for assuming?

    Without assuming, what I know is your birth parent(s) put you up for adoption (unless the state determined it was in your best interest to remove you from their care) either for their best interests or their presumption of your own. I also that pining to be raised by your birth parent(s) is absolutely useless, like me pining to be born in a well-off household with blue eyes instead of brown. If you don’t think your adoptive parent should have been allowed to adopt, that’s another thing entirely. I wish you the best of luck in your future and hope you find peace with your origin story, which is all most people who say “you were better off” were attempting to convey.

    My reply:

    Without assuming, you assume quite a bit. The entire point of my post was to illuminate the on-going issue of falsehoods put forth by the Adoption Industry and society in general to 1) keep the Adoption Industry in business and 2) salve their own discomfort and/or feelings of guilt regarding unnecessary adoption.

    When people say to me, “You were better off adopted,” “You were lucky you were adopted,” “You should be grateful you were adopted,” (the last one is what I get most, and I have covered this in other blog posts) they are not saying “Best of luck in your future and I hope you find peace with your origin story.” They are telling me what I can and cannot say about my own life. They are deciding the narrative. They *are* assuming, which is what you are doing as well.

    I don’t need to assume what they think, because they tell me what they think. People are very free with their opinion concerning adoptees, because we are thought of as perpetual children. I am in my 50s, a mother of four young adults myself, yet because I am adopted, I may as well be five years old. Things are “splained” to me quite regularly, I assure you. I am also told how I should feel, or how I actually feel. This is all to assuage the ‘splainer’s own discomfort on the subject.

    I was adopted out simply because I was born in the 1960s, during the Baby Scoop Era, and my birth mother had no other real options, as a single woman. It was not because she was not a good and capable mother. It was not because she was not educated or unemployed. It was not because she did not like children. But this is what people *want* to believe. Why? Because it justifies the adoption.

    I am “at peace” with my own story as much as that is possible. That does not mean I am willing to stifle my story to make others comfortable.

    And I never said my adoptive parents should not have been allowed to adopt. They were excellent parents. To suggest I ever implied that is just another distraction from the point: Promoting the lie that birth mothers are perpetual, stupid teen-agers is wrong.

  2. Comment from pammcrea:

    Tell it like it is, Elle. We need to get rid of the idea that if a mother is young, poor, or hasn’t finished her education, she will be a bad mother. We need to get rid of the idea that any married couple is better than a single, biological mother. Being young, poor, or incompletely educated are not permanent conditions. Nor is being single. The myth of the intact, Leave It To Beaver household is long-gone, replaced by realities that often far more complicated. Married couples get divorced. Single moms get married. The idea that a married couple is necessarily superior simply by virtue of being married went out with the 1950s. I don’t see this as regrettable; I see it as liberating. Divorce is traumatic, but it’s far better than being chained to a miserable situation for life. Lots of babies arrive unexpectedly to married couples too, but you don’t see them lining up to offload those kids. Somehow things work out. Things would work out for young, single moms too, if they had an ounce of support to get them through those difficult early months, a time that is challenging for all mothers, married or not.

    • I was just reminded by another email comment similar to this one that my own mother in law got pregnant at 16. She married the father at 17 and went on to have two more children with him. It was not a perfect relationship, in fact I’d call it deeply flawed, but no one ever suggested to her to give up that first child for adoption.

  3. Just what is “better off” anyway?

    My first Mum was nearly 16 when I was born. I was the product of what they called “date rape”, back in the day.

    She didn’t realise she was pregnant until about 6 months in, and it was 1972 … no options there.

    Was I “better off” being adopted by the “deserving married couple”, in their early 30’s, who couldn’t have “children of their own?

    On paper, sure.

    I went to private schools, and travelled to Europe for 2 months, every two years, to visit my afathers family. My amothers family is small but close, so there was a lot of fun with cousins and blah blah. I had a nice, comfortable childhood.

    On the other hand, my afather was an abusive husband and my amother always defended him as “a good provider”.

    I had no siblings, and my amother was epically controlling. If you don’t do it her way, you are wrong. Add into that a huge dose of paranoia that would make todays helicopter parents back away slowly …

    Was I better off?

    I have abandonment issues, tend to fall for domineering men, and privacy issues.

    My aunty fell pregnant a couple of years after I was taken from my first mother. She got to keep her baby, which is something that really did a number on my first mother. My cousin? He’s doing alright. My younger half siblings are doing alright. The only one who isn’t doing alright is me.

  4. My natural parents did not finish high school. Neither did A-mom. I grew up in a 1 bedroom apartment. My natural father owned many houses.

    Mom kept her next child, and he’s fine. He always knew who he was, and has a large supportive natural family. I am an only child, not close to any adoptive relatives.

    The kept child is much better off, in my case.

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