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Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Necessary Losses of Adoption Prove the Humanity of the Unborn Child

“God sent his Son, born of a woman, so that we 
might receive adoption as children.” (Gal 4:4-5)

by Susan Fox 

This is a tale of three hearts challenged by adoption. 

One is the heart of an American mother, Cheryl Mahoney,
author of Love.Bonds.Life, who hoped someday to meet her
daughter she gave up for adoption 28 years ago. Though her daughter has written to her and knows the reasons for her adoption, Cheryl is still waiting for her daughter to walk through the door.

The other heart is that of a son, Alexander, longing to know his Brazilian mother, who gave him up for adoption 21 years ago. His adopted parents are doing everything in the Brazilian courts to find his mother. He wants to thank her for his life. He cherishes her letter to him at birth. 

And the third heart is that of Nancy Verrier, an adoptive mother, who finding her new baby unable to accept her love began research for a  book on adoption.

Though not related, these hearts — beating with the same intensity of love and loss — are experiencing the consequence of adoption. 

The losses were all necessary, but tell that to a new born child and its mother. A deep physic connection forms between the mother and child during its first nine months in the womb. If the baby is removed from the mother after birth — unable to hear the mother’s voice or heart beat — it can have devastating long term emotional effects on both the baby and the mother.

Because human beings are born prematurely in comparison to other mammals, for several months after the physical birth has taken place the infant remains psychologically merged with the mother,” wrote Nancy Verrier, M.A. author of The Primal Wound: Understanding the Adopted Child. “Though the body of the child is already born, the Self is not yet separate from that of the mother, but is contained within her psychologically.” 

Forty weeks in the womb creates a deep bond that can’t be replaced by another caregiver or adopted parent. Children can attach to an adopted parent, but they will always feel their mother’s original abandonment even if they are adopted 5 minutes after birth. 

Real life experiences of bonding between a mother and child during its 40-week stay in the womb are being ignored in our culture, which is  insistent on absolute personal freedom. Though adoption is the second choice (the first choice is to raise the child), our culture often defends the  unthinkable cruelty of abortion as a solution to a crisis pregnancy. 

Kenneth Roth, a top human rights leader, told the U.S. Commission on Unalienable Rights in January, 2020, that abortion is a “fundamental right,” and that arguments about the humanity of the unborn are merely “philosophical,” with no place in policy. But the story of adoption losses proves the humanity of the child in the womb. 

“I started having dreams when I was four years old where I heard her (my mother’s) voice,” Alexander said. “I’ve always wanted to meet her,” Alexander said.To be grateful is a huge virtue,” he added. And he is grateful. Adopted by diplomats in Brazil, he wants his birth mother to know that he is about to graduate from college, that he’s glad to be alive, that “I got to visit the world. I know so many languages. I’ve had all the luxuries I wanted.”  

But “there’s a lot of hurt with this adoption. As an adopted child we are also searching for our identities,” he told me in an interview in my kitchen. Even though he understands his mother’s reasons for putting him up for adoption,  “I’m afraid of being left behind again.” 

This pain is shared by the biological mother. 

“You make all these decisions (for adoption) while you are pregnant. Your real connection will come after you have your baby. The natural course is to have your
Cheryl Mahoney, Author of Love.Bonds.Life
baby and cuddle them in your arms .. then take them home,” wrote Cheryl Mahoney in her book
Love.Bonds.Life. “What you can’t possibly think about is how you will feel when you have your baby and hand them off to another family… you just broke your own heart. I can honestly say I’ve cried for 28 years over my child.”

“If anyone had told me, when we brought home our three-day-old daughter on Christmas Eve, 1969, that rearing an adopted child would be different from rearing one's biological child, I, like many new and enthusiastic adoptive parents, would have laughed at them and said, "Of course it won't be different! What can a tiny baby know? We will love her and give her a wonderful home. My belief was that love would conquer all,” Verrier wrote regarding her own experience with adoption. 

“The initial post natal bonding and imprinting experiences are part of a continuum. There is a natural flow from the in-utero experience of the baby safely contained within the womb to that of the baby secure within the mother’s arms, to the wanderings of the toddler who is then secure in his proximity to her. This security provides the child with a sense of rightness and wholeness of self,” Verrier continued.

If the post-natal bonding experience is prevented from taking place  — if the baby is taken away when the mother is keyed to bring it into her arms and her heart — then a state of grief is felt by both the mother and the child. “What I was not prepared for was that it was easier for us to give her love than it was for her to accept it,” Verrier wrote concerning her adoption experience. 

Cheryl Mahoney chose an open adoption when faced with an unexpected pregnancy at the age of 25. Honourably discharged from the military, she was in college working at Red Lobster.  “Being pregnant and needing help, I went to my parents and they straight out told me that they had already raised kids and they were focusing on their retirement,” she wrote.  She wasn’t eligible for welfare because her student loans counted as income. Her college counsellor asked her if she wanted to drop out of college so she could go on welfare. That literally was her only choice. 

Planned Parenthood talked to her about getting an abortion. Her parents’ inability to help her could have had tragic consequences. But “an abortion is not part of God’s plan,” Cheryl said in an interview over the phone. “My best friend got pregnant when I was 16. She was going to get an abortion. But I showed her pamphlets of what an abortion was and I talked her out of it.” 

Cheryl was determined to find a solution to her crisis pregnancy that didn’t include killing her own child. So she contacted an adoption lawyer and found out “there are waiting lists with couples waiting on average about 10-15 years for a baby.” She filled out paperwork saying what she wanted in adoptive parents right down to the Christmas tree. 

Meeting the adoptive parents was love at first sight. “I connected with her [the adoptive mother] immediately. It felt as if I knew them forever,” Cheryl wrote.  In fact, she became lifelong friends of the family, and until her daughter was four years old, she lived in close proximity and participated in family gatherings. Even after she moved away because of financial necessity she received regular letters and photos from the adoptive mother, who kept her in the loop about all her daughter’s progress and achievements.

And when Red Lobster said she couldn’t work when she was late in her pregnancy, the adoptive parents paid for her food, rent, clothing and expenses. 

But Cheryl had written  a love letter to her daughter that was supposed to be given to her at the age of 18. “I’d been waiting and waiting to see her. But after she turned 18, I sort of had a breakdown because I thought she would come looking for me,” she said. That was 10 years ago. “I had to turn my heartbreak into being grateful. She’s happy, healthy and has a good family. That’s why I chose adoption. It’s about her [not me],” Cheryl said.

Does she regret her choice? Would she have preferred an abortion? “If I had had an abortion we wouldn’t even be talking about this,” Cheryl slammed back, “Adoption is a selfless act.” She consoles herself: “I gave her life and her parents gave her wings.” 

Alexander was blessed with adoptive parents who wanted him to understand where he came from. When he was little, they read books to him about the kangaroo mother who carried children different from herself in her pouch.  Alexander remembers there was a baby duck, a baby fox and a baby alligator. 

The kangaroo pouch was a good concept for Alexander. He realised he didn’t look like his mother. “She’s white and I’m dark skinned,” he said. When he was little, he said, “Mom, why don’t I look like you?”  His parents’ answer was, “You are our son. We love you, but we found you and we took you in,” he recalled, “I was happy I had parents. I was grateful for what I received.”

But the grief he experienced as a newborn continued to plague his life. And he sought to numb his pain with alcohol, drugs and sex. Both his adoptive mother and his biological mother were Catholic and his own mother — in her letter to her son — promised to pray every day three Hail Mary’s for him and his new family. 

Then in 2016, he experienced a big conversion. His uncle talked to him about God and the Virgin Mary. “I laughed in his face,” Alexander said. “I was  18 and I was under the influence of the culture of death.” But the conversation made him curious and “I grabbed a Rosary and tried to pray what I could remember,” telling God, “If you exist, show me.”  

He was getting ready for bed, and the statue of Our Lady of Medjugorje lit up. “She was glowing,” Alexander said, “It was
Queen of Peace, Medjugorje
a sign from God. I received the Holy Spirit for the first time. I experienced Him (while I was ) laughing and crying, laughing and crying. Then I knew I needed to go to Medjugorje [Bosnia and Herzegovina] with my [adoptive] mother.” 

Many people have experienced a conversion at Medjugorje, a place where the Virgin Mary has been appearing as the Queen of Peace for 38 years. The apparition is under investigation by Rome. “I had hit rock bottom. I knew my life would have to change or I would die,” Alexander relates, and at Medjugorje, “I closed my eyes and in the silence of my being I said, ‘God what do you want from me?’” And God the Father spoke to Alexander. You can judge that  tree by its fruits: “I started to strive for virtue. I know there is a God and every sin is trash. I’m still broken, but it helps so much to know that Jesus died for me and God loves me and I’m His child. I can be healed.” 

Alexander knows he has older biological siblings. His mother had been living with his father for some time. He was an electrician and they were poor. So they couldn’t afford any more children. And then his father left her when she was pregnant with Alexander. She was a devout Catholic and told Alexander she refused to commit murder. So she put him up for adoption through the mediation of a Franciscan Monastery. 

Letter from Alexander's Mother
delivered with him from birth. The words
he is pointing to say, "My Son" in
“She had an incredible relationship with God,” he said. All this was related in a letter he got from her at birth written in Portuguese, one of the many languages he speaks. It is a deeply cherished letter, he keeps it close by. 

“I’m a third culture kid,” he said, noting he had lived in Peru, Mexico, Brazil, Belgium, Frankfurt, Paris, the United States, and now Austria. His adopted sister was found in a trash heap in Brazil. His adoptive parents are doing everything to keep both children in touch with their roots and their own identity. So they plan to visit the family that found Alexander’s sister.

Nancy Verrier recalls an experience with her adoptive daughter when she was 14. “My daughter said when she finally allowed herself to feel the loss of her birthmother, ‘I can understand that she had to give me up, Mom, but why doesn’t that make me feel any better?’” 

Nancy told her “that it was the 14-year-old girl who understood the reasons for her relinquishment, but the feelings were those of the newborn baby, who just felt the loss of a mother who never came back. The baby doesn’t care why she did it, the baby just feels abandoned, and that abandoned baby lives inside each and every adoptee all his or her life.” 

“It’s important to understand that the feelings are legitimate and appropriate. Although knowing the reasons for the birthmother relinquishing her child may aid an adoptee’s intellectual understanding, it does not cancel out nor mitigate his feelings,” Nancy explained. 

“T. Berry Brazxelton cautioned us not to ignore the amazing forty weeks in the womb by treating the neonate as if he had ‘sprung full-blown from the head of Zeus,’ because by doing so we are ignoring some important history, a history shared with his biological mother,” Nancy wrote. “I believe this connection, established during the nine months in utero, is a profound connection, and it is my hypothesis that the  severing of that connection between the child and the biological mother causes a primal or narcissistic wound which often manifests in a sense of loss (depression), basic mistrust (anxiety), emotional and /or behavioural problems and difficulties in relationships with significant others.” She added that the original relinquishment affects the adoptee’s self esteem and self worth. 

Yet everyone interviewed here believe this is a necessary loss. These situations do not justify a person’s death. A crisis pregnancy still creates a deep bond between mother and child. After the child’s death, the mother will still feel the bond. And the child will feel the loss immediately when he dies. 

So what happens when mothers chose abortion? I think it could be likened to the story told by Judith Viorst in her book, Necessary Losses,  “A young boy lies in a hospital bed. He is frightened and in pain. Burns cover 40 percent of his small body. Someone has doused him with alcohol and then, unimaginably, has set him on fire. He cries for his mother… His mother has set him on fire.” Nancy Verrier recounts that story, saying we should not keep children with mothers who set them on fire, but we must understand what we are doing when we take him away from that mother. 

Raised by his own mother: Cheryl
Mahoney's step grandson proudly
graduates from kindergarten
Cheryl has not stood by idly and let mothers make that tragic choice. Her step daughter faced a crisis pregnancy in which her own mother told her to get rid of it — choose abortion or adoption. Cheryl rolled up her sleeves and developed a plan of action: She opened her own doors, let her step-daughter live with her and care for the baby full time for the first three months, and then encouraged her to get an apartment and a job. It worked. Cheryl then cared for the child for one year while his mother was working. She earned the undying love and gratitude of her step daughter and grandchild.

I asked Alexander what he would say to the mother considering abortion because she feared the pain of adoption. “Thank you Mom for helping me to help others with my life. Thank you for letting me experience love and to know God. What did Jesus do when He gave up His life on the cross? Wasn’t that the greatest form of love?”

Alexander is right, Cheryl said, “It’s worth it. Sometimes things in life are painful, but if a person has an abortion, how are they going to feel afterwards?” She recommends that people in crisis situations keep the baby if at all possible, but if not choose open adoption because “then you can know where your child is.” 

“I chose adoption for my daughter to have a wonderful life and she does. I do believe that adoption is the loving choice, however, it’s important that we talk about ‘the aftermath’ for the birthmother. She matters too. No matter how many children she goes on to have, someone will always be missing,” Cheryl wrote in Love.Bonds.Life.

Do you wonder why I included this quote Galatians 4:5,“God sent his Son, born of a woman, so that we might receive adoption as children,” to begin this story?  Our adoption as children of God begins when we are baptised — hopefully as infants. But like Alexander we can look at God and say, “Dad, why don’t I look like you?” Keep studying God, follow Him and His actions, and eventually you will be  like Him — you will be transformed into His image and likeness. But the process involves necessary loss and many selfless acts of love. 

Jesus cautioned us about accepting these necessary losses: “He who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.  He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:38-39) 

My advice? 

Embrace the cross daily, one necessary loss at a time. 

A deep physic connection forms between the mother and child during its first nine months in the womb, proving its humanity. Look at the response of the baby in this video. His mother died in childbirth and her heart was donated to the man in the black shirt. Watch the child’s joyful response when he hears his mother’s heartbeat in the man’s chest.

Susan Fox graduated June 8, 2019 Magne Cum Laude with a Master’s in Marriage and Family from a pontifical school, faithful to the Catholic Magisterium, the International Theological Institute in Trumau, Austria. She is a former award winning investigative business reporter for the San Francisco Examiner, The San Diego Union, The Spokesmen Review in Spokane, Wash. and a newswire in Washington, D.C. where she wrote under her maiden name, Susan Burkhardt. 


Music from  Waiting for My Child by Patty Griffin. 

Love.Bonds.Life: The Life Journey of one Birthmother  by Cheryl Mahoney (Lulu Press, Inc. 2017)

Effects of Separation from the Birthmother on Adopted Children by Nancy Verrier, M.A. 

Humanity of Unborn Child Merely “Philosophical,” Human Rights Watch Head Tells Rights Commission by Susan Yoshihara, Ph.D. | January 17, 2020 published by the Friday Fax, C-Fam, Center for Family & Human Rights, New York, Washington, D.C. 

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