In Loving Memory of Gwendolyn Archard

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.”

-Gwendolyn Archard

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“I Gave Her Loss” – Day One: NAAM

Today starts the first day of a dreadful month in my life. Wait, back up. I can’t say it’s entirely dreadful as it is the birth month of one of the most precious gifts – my child. However, I’m not entirely sure if I even have the right to call her my child. My heart says yes but adoption says no. That’s neither here nor there. Today is the first month of the onslaught of images, stories, and propaganda that will be coming across my news feed on Facebook, television set, radio, and pretty much every other outlet you can think of. The onslaught of adoption. The onslaught of how everyone should love adoption and be so grateful and thankful for it. It’s enough to drive a person insane.

I will watch while people “celebrate” that children could not remain with their families, for whatever reason. I will watch as they rejoice that some other mother wasn’t able to keep her child with her. I will watch as they ignore the reasons for adoption and the pain it has caused so many people. When you point it out most will acknowledge that it’s sad but then follow up with “But look how wonderful this family turned out! What a great gift that was given to this couple!” This negate’s my feelings and sends the message that we aren’t allowed to feel our pain or complain because, well, we wouldn’t want to taint some other people’s great gain of a child by reminding them of our tremendous loss.

the-giver-book-cover“I gave her the memory of a child, a child taken from her mother. I gave her loss. Too soon. The light went from her eyes. The next morning, without telling me, she went to the Chief Elder and asked to be released.”

-The Giver (2014 film)

Anyone who has read, “The Giver” or seen the film knows the pre-text of this quote. Let me clarify for those who don’t. The Giver gives his memories to a receiver in order to be carried on since we all live in a “perfect” and “orderly” society now. A society where women are selected to be “birthmothers” and the babies they bear are handed off to the family the elders find fit for them. The first receiver only lasted five weeks after the memory, above, was given to her.

This hits the nail on the head. If anyone truly had to live through this, had this memory, this feeling, passed onto them, it isn’t something they would be celebrating.

I’m reminded of another quote:

“Another woman’s child calls me mom. The magnitude of that tragedy and the depth of that privilege are not lost on me.”

This is an adoptive mother who gets it.

The fact is, NAAM (National Adoption Awareness Month) was not created for people to celebrate adoption. It was created to raise awareness to the thousands of kids who are sitting in the foster care system without families. It was not intended to be what it is today. Even those “orphans” in the system probably wouldn’t appreciate the loss of their family, no matter the reason, being celebrated. They may appreciate that they are in a loving family now, but you cannot celebrate one without ignoring the other. Ignoring why adoption was possible is wrong. We need to focus on ways to ensure that there are no losses, that families can stay together and that parents have the resources and tools they need to successfully and safely parent their children.

Today is day one of a month I have to endure. I wish that I could sit here and contemplate the birth of my fourth child without all this static and fuzz called NAAM. I wish I could think about those stolen moments we had together the first few weeks of her life. I wish I could cry when I needed to cry, smile when I needed to smile, and not have to have how “great” my loss is rubbed in my face at every click of my mouse or push of the button on my TV.

Before you go celebrating how great adoption has been in your life, remember our loss.

“I gave her the memory of a child, a child taken from her mother. I gave her loss. Too soon. The light went from her eyes.”

Behind the Curtain: Jessalynn Bills Speight

There’s an article going around from the Huffington Post. It’s entitled, “How Do Women Feel After Placing Their Baby For Adoption?”  The article was written by  who is the co-founder and CEO of an organization called Binti which claims it “uses technology to improve the adoption process and encourage empathy and understanding among members of the adoption triad.”

In this article, Curcuru interviews two first moms who have written a book called, “Birthparent’s Guide to Grief: A 12-Step Process.”  This book was written by Jessalynn Bills Speight and Alysia Foote. I’ve seen the article circulating in some adoption communities and support groups. Each time it pops up I cringe.

I’ve read the article. In my opinion, 90% of it is absolute garbage and is not applicable to the majority of first moms more than 5 years into an adoption. There was a lot the article left out, as far as a background on Jessalynn, a background that many don’t know about but that I’ve heard from friends who have had personal run-ins with this woman. We’ll get to that in a moment.

Jessalynn starts the article by sharing her story. This isn’t the first time Jessalynn has made her way into major media outlets touting her “birthmother rainbows.” In March of 2014 she was featured in an article in Cosmopolitan. For the subject of this post, we’ll focus on the HuffPost article.

The biggest red flag was when Jessalynn was asked about the father of the child she relinquished. She states that he and his family were against the adoption and there is no other mention of him after this. No, “He eventually came around and realized it was what was best.” No, “He was a very bad man and his rights were involuntarily terminated.” The fact remains that the LDS church has a long history of ignoring the rights of fathers when it comes to adoption. They will conceal, deceive, and lie, if needed, to facilitate an adoption. Utah, the state that has the highest population of LDS believers, even has the most horrible laws for adoption, especially for fathers. Women who are planning an adoption, where the father opposes, are often times sent to live in Utah, paid for by the adoption agency, to supersede the rights of the father as he would be problematic if the mother remained in her home state and the adoption would be threatened. So, when Jessalynn made no other mention of the father of her child, other than how he opposed the adoption, many questions came to mind. I do not know her story and it may be that everything was done ethically when it comes to the father. However, it does seem odd that no other information is given. One can’t help but wonder how that all went down.

The second thing I took issue with is this statement: “My birthdaughter calls me Jessa. She knows I’m not her Mom.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Adoption does not erase the fact that you are someone’s mother. You may not be their active parent, but you are still their mother. DNA doesn’t lie.

There is another quote that makes me, literally, ill. “I see so many birthparents who struggle to move forward because they are still thinking ‘I’m the parent’ and then they see the adoptive parent is using a certain brand of diapers and that bothers them. They can get hung up on different decisions adoptive parents make. They may still call themselves ‘Mom’ to the child.” I am the mom to my child. I wonder why Jessalynn spends so much time making sure that moms who relinquished understand they aren’t a mom anymore.

And again: “You are no longer the Mom. You are the birth mom.”

Thou doth protest too much.

The scariest statement in that article? “Jessa is also a Binti Birthmother Advisor, where she is a mentor to expectant women considering placing their child for adoption and other birthmothers.” You may wonder why. It’s terrifying to think of Jessalynn advising or counseling anyone considering adoption.

When I began to get involved in the adoption community, I slowly became aware that there was a “queen bee” in the LDS adoption world. Her name was Jessalynn and those who would cross her would pay dearly. Her power was contained, mostly, to moms who had relinquished in the LDS community. She had formed strong alliances with powerful adoptive parents and made sure to fully invest herself into the lives of these first moms. Under the guise of “helping” she would obtain contact information about their children’s adoptive parents and often be a “go-between” for the parties to come to a mutual understanding to facilitate openness. All of this sounds good, right? Well, for one, Jessalynn’s way of facilitating, as its been told to me, was to put the first mom in her place. She renders her powerless and totally at the will of the adoptive parents, no matter what promises had been made. Then there is the more pervasive side to Jessalynn.

I’ve had three first moms share their stories of Jessalynn. The variation in each mother’s story is minor. For the most part, it is pretty much the same story. Often times first moms need to vent their frustrations, their struggles, their insecurities. Sometimes this involves being mad at adoptive parents and sometimes with good cause. Not because they “don’t like the brand of diapers they’re using” as Jessalynn claims. Sometimes the need to vent is because contact is being withheld because the adoptive parents don’t like that the birthmom has come out of the closet as lesbian/transgender/transexual. Sometimes the venting is because a certain level of openness was promised and the adoptive parents are not keeping up their end of the deal. So, yes, justified anger. So, we have these women venting in these private groups sometimes. We have Jessalynn, with contact information of adoptive parents. Then we have open adoptions slamming shut in first mom’s faces because Jessalynn feels the need to run back and share screen shots from these private groups with these adoptive mothers. Yes, you read that right. As it’s been told to me, Jessalynn’s favorite pastime is finding negative comments by first moms and then finding out who their child’s adoptive parents are so she can send it to them and damage the relationship. I even caught her, under an assumed and fake name, in a group I admin, a while back, doing this same thing. Of course she denied it wholeheartedly.

I wonder if she feels it’s her duty to put every first mom in her place. I wonder where this passive-aggressive deceitful behavior comes from. Then I remember that all the rainbows and glitter she keeps showering on herself has not allowed for the truth to be present in her life. Maybe that’s why. I know of at least 3 first moms who have had their openness with their children greatly diminished or cut off altogether as a direct result of Jessalynn’s meddling. It’s truly vile.

When I see these articles featuring the “great birthmom” Jessalynn, I can’t help but puke a little in my mouth knowing the damage she has done in so many people’s lives. Advising expectant mothers? She says in the article. “Every woman has the right to choose. I am pro-informed choice. I believe every woman needs to be fully informed on all her choices: abortion, adoption, single parenting, and married parenting. Our job as citizens of the world is not to decide for them. You can say, ‘I know about this topic, here was my experience,’ but don’t force a decision or judgement on us. I know lots of birthmothers who had people from their communities try to influence their decisions.” Oh how I laughed. Jessalynn is a master of coercion. Reportedly she is a master at finding babies for prospective adoptive parents and actively farms them for people. Choice? Informed choice? Seriously?

The adoption community has remained silent about this woman for too long. Jessalynn Bills Speight is dangerous. She will be sunshine and rainbows to your face until you threaten the adoption machine that she is running. The machine now includes royalties for interviews, money from her organization, Tied at the Heart, and now a book. The book should be entitled, “12 Steps to Stay in Your Place So I Don’t Show Your Child’s Adoptive Parents That You’re Not Being a Good Little BeeMommy.”  Jessalynn is now profiting off adoption. Behind the scenes who knows what is going on. We do know, supposedly, as its been told to me, for some twisted reason, she destroys open adoptions, and helps find babies for people who are looking. We know she’s written a book. We know she does interviews for fancy magazines and newspapers. We can assume some things given that.

I fully expect to receive backlash from Jessalynn and her cronies after publishing this. Jessalynn isn’t the sparkling, squeaky clean, beemommy she portrays herself to be. Her hands are dirty. Don’t let her fool you. She is cunning, deceitful, and full of it. And she certainly doesn’t speak for me or the majority of first moms out there.

Top 5 Things Not To Say To A Birthmother

Here we go again. Another blog post about what NOT to say to a birth/first/natural mother. Right? Wrong. I’ve seen them done a few times. The lists. What not to say to an adoptive mother. What not to say to a birthmother. What not to say to an adoptee. I can’t speak for others in the adoption community, but I can speak from a personal place as a first mom. While some things on these lists ring true with me, there just wasn’t one that truly felt all-encompassing or “complete.” Some even had things included that just grossed me out. So, in true Letterman style, here is my top FIVE list of things NOT to say or do to a first mom.

Avoiding Talking About the Child She Has Lost to Adoption Altogether.

Okay, so maybe this isn’t what not to say but it sure is what not to do. Some people truly don’t know how to approach the subject and don’t want to say the wrong thing. Instead they choose to not say anything at all. Even though we have been through a tremendous loss, we still want you to acknowledge our child. We want you to ask questions about them. Even if we have no information, whatsoever, we want to be asked. “Have you received any new pictures of [insert child’s name here]? How are you doing this time of the year without [insert child’s name here]? What do you think [insert child’s name here] looks like now?” It’s really quite simple. Living in a world where you are the only one who acknowledges your child’s existence can be miserable and lonely. Just because they are out of sight does not mean they are out of mind. In fact, it’s the exact opposite. It’s an ambiguous loss for us. There really is no closure. By asking us questions about our child, you acknowledge our pain, acknowledge our child, and open the door for further conversation if we feel up to it. If you don’t know what to say, just say so! “I’m not really sure what to say, but I was wondering if you wanted to talk about [insert child’s name here].” Even if the answer is, “I’m not really ready to talk about that” we will be over the moon that you asked. Really, we will. When people bring up our children in casual conversation it affirms to us that they do exist. They are real. We didn’t dream it up. Sometimes those are the only things that get us through the night.  Furthermore, for some women, it was a shameful thing to have a baby that was then lost to adoption. Many were ridiculed, sent away to be hidden and give birth, and chastised. Talking about their child, as a normal, positive, everyday thing, helps them to break those barriers they have battled their whole lives. It helps them to see themselves through a different set of eyes. Not the eyes that passed judgement and condemnation. Yes, talk about our children. Please do.

Don’t Withhold Personal Stories of Grief For Fear of Making Her Feel Bad

No one likes to be tiptoed around. Sometimes people can be super aware of the “adoption situation” and feel bad sharing their own loss stories. Sometimes their personal loss, they think, can pale in comparison to the first mom’s loss. This may be true sometimes but, as human beings, one thing we are great at is empathizing with each other. Sharing stories of personal loss with one another will sometimes find you at the beginning of a road called “healing.” Sometimes others are further in their journey and can offer some great advice or encouraging words. And sometimes being able to be the one to offer the encouraging words assists in your own personal journey of healing. Don’t be afraid of her grief (shoot, don’t be afraid of yours). Know it is a normal part of life when there is a loss. Know that tremendous learning can be gained from it as well as compassion, empathy, kindness, and understanding. Don’t rob each other of these opportunities. Open the door of grief together. Explore what’s inside and walk with each other on that path.

Avoid the Cliche Comments

“You can always have more children.”

“It was part of God’s plan.”

“What you did was brave and selfless.”

You know, all the things you’ll see pouring out of rainbow-colored lips on every “feel-good” adoption story you’ll ever read online. But here’s the deal. 1) Some women can’t always have more children. It’s called secondary infertility and it’s prominent among first moms. Even if she can have more, it doesn’t take away the pain of the one she lost. 2) You aren’t God and you don’t know His plan. And even if it was part of His plan (which I wholeheartedly believe 99% of domestic infant adoptions, done the way they are in America, are not) does that make her pain less? 3) It’s really not that brave when you have no other choice. Imagine standing at the edge of a cliff. The drop is 200 feet. Someone pushes you. You survive the fall. Someone tells you that you were brave to choose to jump off that cliff. Huh? You didn’t choose to jump, you had no choice, someone pushed you. That’s kind of how adoption works. Anyone who truly had any choice, at all, would have parented their child. No one wants to give away their child and go through this grief. They had NO CHOICE. And selfless? Well, it’s a horse a piece. It can’t be selfless because that means parenting a baby is selfish. Still….does this make her grief go away? Do not invalidate a mother’s grief from her adoption loss by throwing out the cliché statements that run a muck in the adoption world. It doesn’t help. Instead say, “I’m sorry you are hurting. No one will ever be able to replace [insert child’s name here] and I am sorry for that. Your circumstances were really crappy and that really sucks.” Validate their grief. Give them permission to have these feelings by affirming it to them. It DOES suck. It WAS crappy. And you ARE sorry they are hurting, right?

Who?

This one probably irks me the most. “Who?” When you openly say something about your child such as, “[Insert child’s name here] started horseback riding lessons last month! He’s doing really well!” If a first mom is talking to you in this context, about her child, it is going to be assumed that you know of the child she is talking about. Your response of, “Who?” says to her that you don’t care enough to remember her child’s name just because she isn’t parenting them. This will also make her less likely to openly discuss her child with you in the future (see my first list entry). Whenever I get this response I have to then say, “you know, the child I gave up for adoption.” Saying those words cuts like a knife. Usually it’s the only way I can make people understand who I’m talking about. Then I become a little angry at them. Come on, really? You don’t care enough to know who I’m talking about? I know I don’t bring her up much, but how long have we known each other? Please….at least remember her child’s name.

You Gave Him/Her a Better Life

You don’t know that. No one knows that unless they own a crystal ball or can time travel. The outcome of one’s life compared to the potential outcome of a potentially different life is something we, as mere humans, are not privy to. Even if that weren’t true, would you like me to tell you that you should have given your children up for adoption so they would have had a better life than what you’re giving them? Maybe they would have been better off with someone making $200,000 a year instead of the measly $70,000 you’re pulling in. Are you divorced? Your children would have been better off if you had given them up for adoption. Then they would have had a two-parent household. Oh! I know! It’s never too late! You should give your children up for adoption so they can have a better life. Do you see how asinine that sounds? Saying “You gave your child a better life” is probably the most cruel things you can say to a first mom. It reaffirms, to her, all the things the industry told her. She wasn’t good enough and her child is better off without her. In most situations, this simply isn’t true. Instead of saying, “You gave your child a better life” how about just not saying anything at all.

#ShoutYourAdoption