Mary Cassatt, 1906
When I was born, my mother did not know. She had been drugged into unconsciousness. The doctor may have thought it was easier for her that way, but he didn’t give her a choice. It certainly was more convenient for him. My needs were not considered. After all, I was being cared for by the efficient nursing staff at St Joseph Hospital, and soon I would be taken to my forever home by my real parents. That I was wrenched out a week early for non-medical reasons was of no consequence. My birth mother was expected to go away and forget, but mostly just go away.
By qualifying “birth” to “mother” is she lessened in your eyes? Has she been reduced to the incubator, the breeder, only necessary to produce the commodity? Is my adoptive mother superior? It would be my legal mother who named me, fed me, walked me on the sleepless nights. It would be her voice and her scent I longed for, eventually. So what difference does it make if the birth was natural or coerced? Or if my mother held me or not? Fed me or not?
She did eventually get to hold me and feed me (sugar water), for a few hours. By then I was two days old. When she spoke to me, I opened my eyes and stared straight into hers. This did not happen when my adoptive parents took me home. I slept through that. I slept for a long time. I was “good” that way, according to my new mother’s notes. I was probably waiting for my mother to come back but eventually gave up, replacing one mother for another until the first was completely forgotten, except on the most primal level.
I was brought up thinking it was normal for babies to be born surgically, and to feed them formula out of bottles. No one taught me this, it’s just what I saw. Blood and sweat were dirty and needed to be washed away. Nature was insufficient and needed to be supplemented. Maternal instinct was suspect. Doctors knew better.
In giving birth to my first child, I reclaimed my own. There, in my childhood bedroom, with my original mother by my side, I triumphed. We triumphed. My children would never be separated from me, not even for an hour. They would be laid on my chest, held skin-to-skin, in all the bloody glory that is human birth. No bath, no shots, no glass bassinet. My body would respond to theirs, their immunities building on the natural responses that have been in place for thousands of years.
Ironically, my adoptive father was most accepting of my radical ways. He was born on a farm, so trusted the natural process. My in-laws were in disbelief but wisely said nothing within earshot. But my step (3rd) mother was quietly horrified. She was of the opinion that Love was all that was necessary in any situation, no matter how artificial. And she told me so.
Which brings me back to the article “Why Mothers Kiss Their Babies.” This should not be news. It’s like saying fresh air and spring water are better than conditioned air and bottled water. The problem is, the truth makes a lot of people uncomfortable. Adoptees and mothers, if they have not come to terms with their own birth/relinquishment, and those who need to believe that Love is all that is necessary. That Love will make up for any deficiency.
My adoptive mother loved me with her whole heart, and I loved her. But I needed my original mother. My health has never been good; there is a noticeable difference between my half-siblings and myself. We all have either the same mother or father, and we were all raised in good homes, but they were all kept by their natural mother. I was not. They were breastfed, I was not. They knew their family medical history. I did not.
When the word “adoption” is mentioned, the knee-jerk reaction is, “Oh, isn’t that wonderful! You are so lucky!” And yet, mothers and babies who were separated at birth for any reason other than adoption are thought of as unfortunate. You can’t have it both ways. Mother/child separation for any reason is tragic. And replacing one mother with another does not make up the difference.
Elle Cuardaigh is author of The Tangled Red Thread. http://preview.tinyurl.com/lbuxw8c