On August 26, 2016 I heard the news that a dear first mom friend of mine was no longer with us. The previous day, beautiful Gwen had decided that the pain was too much and bowed out of this circus called life. Just before her decision, she deleted dozens of her first mom friends. I am assuming she did not want us to know what had happened. We found out anyway.
Shock, sadness, and despair ripped through our online communities. We searched frantically for an obituary, in the days to come, but none was to be found.
A few days ago, Gwen’s brother, the only family that Gwen really felt she could rely on, posted publicly of her passing. He didn’t indicate any formal funeral, but it was clear other non-traditional arrangements to honor her memory had been made.
Today I write to honor Gwen and her life inside our private world, the world of first moms. Gwen was an activist, a warrior, she dedicated her life to fighting injustices. Gwen had Cerbral Palsy but she didn’t let that stop her. As a practicing criminal defense attorney and disability rights champion, Gwen was thrust into another arena, unexpectedly. And she fought there, too. Side by side, with other first moms, she fought against the injustices and coercion in the world of adoption.
You see, Gwen wanted her son. A beautiful little boy she named Atticus. However, upon his birth, Gwen was threatened with foster care and CPS if she did not relinquish her rights to her child. One particular nurse made it abundantly clear to Gwen that her disability would mean her child being forcibly removed and lingering from foster home to foster home while she fought for her right to parent him.
Because Gwen loved Atticus more than life itself, she was coerced into believing this nurse, and others, and relinquished Atticus for adoption after his birth to spare him the perceived pain of living in foster care.
Gwen believed fighting for her son was not in his best interests because she was not good enough for her son. She was made to believe this.
While Gwen’s case is an extreme, it is the same concept of almost all domestic infant adoptions. It was easy to target Gwen because she had a disability to use against her as an excuse for why she wasn’t good enough. Almost every woman considering adoption has to be made to believe the same thing for a successful adoption to ensue. Maybe they don’t have a visible disability. Maybe they are poor. Maybe they have an anxiety disorder. Maybe they aren’t married. It’s all the same, the message that’s received. You aren’t good enough for your child, they deserve better.
Gwen would have made a fantastic parenting mother. Like everything she did in her life, I imagine she would rock at it. She was an amazing person and the world has suffered a huge loss with her passing. Atticus, her son, has suffered the most tremulous loss.
People say that adoption isn’t trauma. They say it’s a beautiful thing. They don’t recognize the aftermath that can follow for first moms and many adoptees. When presented with stories like Gwen they will say, “See, it’s better her son was adopted. Look what happened. His mom was mentally ill.” To which I say, NO. Nothing in Gwen’s life, prior to the loss of her son, indicates any mental illness. Instead, Gwen’s death can be blamed solely on adoption. She lost her son. A mother LOST HER SON. It’s enough to make anyone not want to live anymore, to throw in the towel, to give up. The pain can be so suffocating, at times, that death seems like the only reprieve.
Atticus last saw his mother as a newborn in the hosptial. Gwen did not get her “open adoption.” She was left to use non-traditional means to get glimpses into his life. I am happy to have been a part of that, to have given her a little bit of comfort in her too short life as a first mom. The pictures brought her great joy, but they also brought her great pain. To see her son, her baby, not living the life she wanted for him, with her. Such is the life of a first mom.
I’m hoping that one day Atticus can find this post and know how much his mother loved him, how hard she fought for him, and how devastated she was without him. I hope he knows how much he was WANTED and loved.
In closing, I will share with you some private thoughts from Gwen that she posted, over the last year or so, in our private group. The admins agreed that Gwen would want this. No one can hurt her anymore so there’s nothing left to lose.
We will be your voice now, Gwen. We will watch over Atticus and make sure he knows your story.
We miss you. We love you. Sleep peacefully and free from the pain of this world.
-Your first mom sisters
“Atticus is 2 today.
The birth announcement I never got to make:
Atticus Kitwana Mulupi, Born July 9, 2013 at 2:51 pm. 4 lb 1 oz, 17′ long. I love you, baby boy.”
“Happy 3rd birthday, Atticus Kitwana Mulupi. I love you more than you will ever know. I am more proud of you every day.”
“I think my issue is that my son’s adoption was very coercive. I “picked” the AP’s, but only because I was told he would risk being taken into foster care if I didn’t have a family for him when I left the hospital. I’ve always sensed that they look down on me because I have a physical disability.”
“I had been threatened with foster care right after birth, simply because I have cerebral palsy. That is the ONLY reason why I got involved with the adoption lawyers in the first place.”
“Been feeling isolated lately. Dealing with crap about how my disability made me feel like I had no right to ask for any help with Atticus….I’ve been to like 4 different counselors since relinquishment and none of them really understand that aspect. I just want to be told I have the same rights as others and that nobody’s judging me for what I can and cannot do. I don’t want to burden anybody but a counselor with this crap. Not sure who else to talk to.”