Five years ago if you had asked me to describe a birth mother, I would have said one of two things. The first thing I would have pictured is a drug addict—someone who hooked up with a stranger and didn’t want to deal with the consequences. Maybe she’s on the streets or living off someone else’s dime. She’s certainly not a good mother if she’s not willing to take responsibility for her own child and instead pawns her off to someone else.
The second image is a teenager—the campus slut, probably pregnant at prom. Her parents probably made her go through with the pregnancy and then give the baby up for adoption. What a relief for her—now she’ll carry on like it never happened. Not that she’ll go anywhere in life. Anyone who gets pregnant that young is just going to keep getting pregnant and eventually she’ll end up just living in poverty, nothing special.
I didn’t feel sorry for either of these girls—they made their choices, and they chose to not deal with the consequences. How irresponsible of them for getting pregnant in the first place, and then to just dump off their child to another family? How selfish. I couldn’t understand how anyone could just give away their own flesh and blood. If you don’t want to be a mom, don’t get pregnant.
And then I got pregnant. I wasn’t either of these girls. I didn’t do drugs. I was a good student—I even graduated high school early. I came from a good Christian home, and I had always wanted to be a mom. From my first thought that I might be pregnant, I loved my little baby with all my heart and wanted to take care of her and give her the best life possible.
The problem is, I wasn’t ready. Not in the “Oh I’m just too scared I don’t want to do this” type of way—in the “There is no way I can give her what she needs” type of way. Her father was much older than I was, and he wasn’t very nice. He was angry and lashed out at me regularly. We had a lot of problems that I knew I could not subject her to, and I was not about to let her spend her whole life torn between the two of us. I was only seventeen, I had barely started college and wasn’t making enough to even support myself very well. I loved my little girl with all my heart, so I did what I had to do—I found her a family that could give her everything I couldn’t.
I struggled and fought through all the grief and guilt that came with that. It broke my heart to place her, and I miss her so much. Every day I work so hard to be the kind of person that my birth daughter will be proud of. And I’m doing it—I’m finishing up my college degree, making money, and marrying the man of my dreams in a few short weeks. I am strong and resilient and smart. I’m proud of who I am.
But every day I face the stigma. People project their image of a birth mother on to me, thinking I’m irresponsible, uncaring, and a bad mom. I don’t blame them. I would have done the exact same thing. Our culture has a very stubborn stigma around women who place their children for adoption. So what can we do about it?
The first thing we can do is talk about it. That’s why I’m here. I share my story every day in hopes that I can change the way people look at birth moms. If you are a birth mother, speak up! Everyone has parts of their story that they’re not so proud of. I have a few friends who were struggling with drugs when they got pregnant. But they placed because they knew it was best for their baby, not because they didn’t love them. If that is your story, share it. If you were young and single, share it. If you were married and had circumstances that made adoption better, share that! We need to raise our voices and shout to the world that we LOVE our children and that’s why we did what we did.
You can become a writer like me. You can share your story with close family and friends, or speak at adoption events. You can campaign on social media. However you want to spread the word, just get it out there. There are so many wonderful things about you—one of which is that you are a birth mom. Be the very best you that you can be, and everyone who knows you will start to change the way they see birth mothers.
If you are an adoptive parent, there is so much you can do to change the stigma. People probably ask you often why your child’s birth mother gave them up. You can gently correct their language, explaining that their birth mother lovingly placed their baby into your arms. You don’t need to give every detail of her life out to everyone, but please stand up for her. Help people understand that it was likely her circumstances, not her as a person, that made adoption the right choice.
You can support your child’s birth mother in sharing her story, if she’s okay with that. Even if she isn’t, just love her and help her feel empowered to live her best life. People who know who she is will look to her for an idea of what a birth mother looks like. You can play a big role in how confident she feels about that.
Adoptees, friends and family of birth moms, and everyone else can also make a huge impact. If we are willing to speak up and correct others when they fall prey to believing stereotypes, we can make a difference. We can make or share social media posts that show what a birth mother really is. We can love the birth moms in our lives, and speak positively about them.
The change has been, and will continue to be, slow progress. It happens one at a time. Some people will never change their attitude. But most of them will, if they are educated. We need to be patient and understand that most people just need to learn. If we can lovingly teach them, we can open their hearts and show them that every story is different. Most birth mothers are women who are doing the best they can, just like everyone else.
There is no easy, one-size-fits-all way to change the stigma that all birth mothers are bad people. But if we work together, slowly but surely, we will make a difference.
Annaleece Merrill is a birth mother to the cutest little girl on earth. She loves being an advocate for open adoption by writing, mentoring, and speaking at adoption panels. She attends Utah State University in Logan, Utah.