|Above: an adoptive parent and child participate in a pro-life rally|
[Today’s guest post by Debby Wakeham is part of our paid blogging program.]
I was 27 years old, living in the UK and bringing up two children single handed after my divorce. I was also running a small secular feminist pro-life group called Women for Life, which had enjoyed some media attention (when we could get past the censors who always want to stereotype pro-lifers as male, misogynist religious fanatics!). So it was no real surprise when there was a knock on the door one afternoon and a man stood there, saying he was a journalist sent to interview me by my friend and fellow Women for Life member, Ellen (not her real name). My five-year-old came to the door with me and the man said: “You are lucky to have children, I can’t have any.”
The man introduced himself and seemed quite knowledgeable about the abortion controversy and claimed familiarity with mainstream pro-life groups which, in the opinion of Women for Life, could be counterproductive with their religious underpinning and opposition to contraception. We got on quite well; he said he was Jewish and had been in a concentration camp. He said he had seen some horrible things and I felt sorry for him.
Time passed and evening drew in. We decided to go for a drink – luckily I lived in a flat and babysitters were not hard to come by. He ended up staying for 3 days, during which time he claimed to be fatally ill and I was not to worry if one day he disappeared.
I became increasingly uneasy about him. Though there was no hint of aggression or violence, intuitively I knew something was not quite right – especially when he claimed to be making a telephone call to the Guardian newspaper in Fleet Street. I knew the Guardian was not in Fleet Street.
I was relieved when he went and immediately had the locks changed. I told Ellen about his visit and it turned out that he was not a journalist; he was in fact her current boyfriend and she had not given him my name and address or encouraged him to interview me. She thought he must have stolen it from a letter from me in her handbag. I apologised profusely for what had happened but she realised it was not my fault as I didn’t know; he had lied to me.
I began to wonder what else he had lied about – sterility for instance? I was not in a relationship at the time so I was not taking the pill. Neither did he (being ‘sterile’) offer to use a condom. I had been at the most risky time in my menstrual cycle, so it was a case of Wait and See – or as it turned out, Wait and Not See.
A short while later, I visited the doctor about an infection. My older child was at school but I had to take the younger one with me. I asked the doctor to tell me if I were pregnant as I did not want any treatment that would harm the baby. He examined me and said I was. On learning that the pregnancy was accidental, he said something which made me think he considered me to be naive and solely responsible for the pregnancy. I said: “What – no word of condemnation for the man?” He then said: “I want you in hospital before you are 8 weeks.” I said: “What for?” He replied: “If you’re going to have a termination…” That is as far as he got. I told him in no uncertain terms that I was not and that the child would probably be adopted.
When I got outside the surgery, I felt nauseous – he had made his lethal offer in front of my five-year-old.
I made a list of pros and cons of keeping the child versus adoption. It was not particularly helpful; it came out 50/50. I decided on adoption but resolved to keep the child if s/he were disabled. I was lucky in that I knew about adoption at first hand; I had myself been adopted as a baby and my parents had wisely told me very early on that they had chosen me specially. I remember the day my sister (also adopted, no blood relation) arrived – a tiny baby in a large pram!
The weeks passed; I continued with pro-life activities and my boys went to school. As I began to show, my older son suspected and soon it was time to tell them. I said that some people were very sad when they wanted children but were unable to “grow their own.” I was having a baby and was going to make a couple very happy by giving them the child they so badly wanted. I did not want the boys to feel insecure and that I might one day decide to have them adopted so I explained that because this one was going to be adopted, I would be better able to look after them. They accepted this and the older boy said, approvingly: “That proves you’re pro-life if you’re having an adoption.”
I moved out of the area about half way through the pregnancy and found schools for the boys. I arranged for them to go into temporary foster care when I was due to give birth and they stayed with a very nice family. I was careful not to refer to the growing child as their brother or sister and decided that it would be better if they did not see him or her. I asked the older boy to choose a girl’s name and a boy’s name, and explained that s/he would have to have a name when I registered the birth.
During the pregnancy, I encountered varying reactions to what I was doing: Some people thought I was “wonderful” or “unselfish” – not so. There was a lot of legitimate self-interest. In the circumstances it was best for me and best for the child – and I had prepared the boys well. Other people, even pro-lifers, said: “How could you give up your own child?” My mother thought it was sad that I had to go through pregnancy and have nothing at the end of it; she meant this kindly. I told her it was not sad – it was very positive and someone had had to go through it so that she could have me. Very few, if any, people could handle the fact that I was actually happy about what I was doing.
Women giving children for adoption are always assumed to be under pressure to do something they don’t want to do – and desperately unhappy as a result. I accept that this can happen (though hopefully not so much as it did in the past) and it is totally unacceptable.
I do believe, however, that women have the right not to be mothers, provided this is achieved non-violently – either by preventing conception or, if conception occurs, ensuring the best possible future for the child. I hope my own birth mother made her decision freely – I would rather she had not wanted me than been heartbroken at having to give me up.
I arranged the adoption through the (now defunct) National Children Adoption Association; I chose this organisation because it was secular. I also wanted the child brought up, like me, knowing that s/he was adopted. As s/he was conceived after the passage of the 1967 Abortion Act, I wanted the child to grow up appreciating and affirming the right to life.
The Director described prospective parents to me and said I could choose those I liked the sound of. I was so certain of my adoption decision that I did not want the child fostered beforehand, though this was an option for those who were undecided. I wanted the child to go straight from hospital to new parents. The Director offered me the chance to meet the parents I chose and I said yes. I could change my mind at this point if I wanted, and any time in the ensuing three months, after which the adoption would become legally binding.
The birth was at the due time and was quick, as if the baby wanted to cause me minimal inconvenience. I had decided that I would see the baby but not feed or look after him, in order to minimise bonding. I looked at him and immediately fell in love – but it was not a possessive love, my decision remained unchanged. Just after the birth, a nurse asked me if I was having him adopted because I wasn’t able to get an abortion. She meant well. I told her my reasoning and she respected my decision as it was my “right to choose.” Pleasant though she was, I felt she had somewhat missed the point.
My breasts were bound to dry up the milk. I was in hospital for a week, during which time I saw him often and even fed him once and changed a nappy. It felt strange bottle feeding after having breastfed the others. Many friends came to visit and the time passed quickly. A photographer came and I ordered a picture; the baby was then 4 days old or, as I said when asked, “nine months and four days old.” The picture was beautiful; he had a Buddha-like appearance and a Mona Lisa smile.
There was an unpleasant incident one lunchtime: Some of the other new mothers said: “How could you give up your own child – why didn’t you have a termination?” So I told them, in graphic detail. I think the image of him being “chopped up in bits and thrown into the incinerator” turned their stomachs. They said: “Ugh, can’t we talk about something else?” To which I replied, “I was asked a question and I must answer it.” It was not until years later that I thought I understood how they could be so irrational. They had obviously bonded with their babies and probably perceived me as cruel and heartless for (as they saw it) for abandoning him – utterly unable to see the fatal flaw in their position.
The Director of the adoption society came and we planned that I would meet the baby’s new parents in her office. I would leave him in the hospital when I was discharged and we would all converge at the office the next day.
I arrived wearing a large badge with a picture of an unborn baby surrounded by the words; “Give life a chance” so his parents would be under no illusions as to my ethical framework. They arrived with their older child (also adopted) and the baby was brought in. I said to the little girl: “Have you seen your brother yet?” and she bent over the cot, looking at him with interest. His new mother had bought the most expensive baby milk you can buy and they promised to look after him very well. His father said to me: “Some people make me very angry.” I can’t quite remember the conversation up to that point but I remember feeling certain that he was referring to the tragedy of babies being aborted when they could have lived to be adopted.
I left feeling very happy that he had such a wonderful family who would bring him up with integrity and love. I wished we could have been friends, but confidentiality meant that there would be no direct contact. They said they would keep the name I had chosen as the child’s middle name, just as they had with their daughter. I told them I was adopted and that it had never been a shock to me; I had been brought up knowing – they said they would do the same. Indeed it must be so, as they had involved their older child in the first meeting with her little brother, who was 7 days old. They had said: “We love him already.”
At the postnatal examination, the male doctor (a different one) asked me how the baby was. I said I was sure he was fine; he had been adopted. The rather predictable response was: “Oh, have you accepted it? Couldn’t you get a termination?” to which I replied: “No, I don’t believe in killing.”
I resumed life with my boys, who appeared then (and ever since) to be unscathed by the whole series of events. I was visited by a social worker, a kind of intermediary between me and the child’s new parents. I guessed the 3-month cooling-off period would be agonising for them, so I asked the social worker to assure them that I was not going to change my mind. He said that he would. He was excellent – very professional and we got on really well. In due course the adoption went through and my baby was legally the child of his new parents.
Four months later, I got a beautiful photograph of him sitting in a high chair, with a lovely note from his parents saying he was getting on very well and now sleeping through the night.
I continued with my pro-life activities. His parents had been told that I sometimes appeared on television or had letters/articles published and they were fine with this. I had a letter published in a national newspaper in response to some article on abortion. I wrote of my experience and said that children were not disposable. This prompted one of their journalists to contact me with a view to doing a full page feature. I went to her house for the interview and was also photographed. I was very pleased with the published article; she had not distorted anything I said and reported true, including the fact that I was atheist and pro-life and the sadness of women (like a friend of mine) who have abortions and say: “My child would have been six years old” – and the fact that if women are sad after having babies adopted they can in all probability derive some consolation that they can say: “My child is six years old.”
Six years after the adoption, another journalist whom I knew, Mary Kenny, wrote an article in the Sunday Telegraph entitled “Adoption: Too few babies to meet the demand” in which she told my story. Imagine my delight when she wrote to me to say she had had a letter from my child’s adoptive father. He had read the article and was very moved by it. They wanted her to tell me that the child was getting on very, very well and they were going to keep the article and one day they would show it to him when he was grown up.