Ahead of Her Time


At 6 PM I would leave the chaos and schedules of my young family behind to attend a writers’ critique group at Deb’s house. For a few hours we shared our written and verbal stories as we do today, over twenty years later. I recall relaxing on her off-white couch, sipping tea, and enjoying the large paintings that helped create an atmosphere of peace and calm in her living room. Four cats squeezed between our laps or perched behind us on the back of the sofa. There were no children.

After years of trying to conceive a child — utilizing all that modern medicine had to offer — Deb announced that she and her husband decided to follow a new path. They were seeking open adoption – a term of which I was completely ignorant and skeptical. Back then, this was a new frontier in adoption, and Deb was a pioneer.

Deb and her husband were at the hospital the day each child was born. After delivery, they participated with the birth mother in naming their child. Deb keeps in touch with each birth mother, sending photos, inviting them for birthdays, and keeping them up to date on the activities of their children.

Through her written stories — read aloud at our critique sessions — I learned about the sea of emotions that envelop the birth mother when deciding what to do with an unborn child she cannot support. I was struck by the unselfish love for her baby. Often the stigma of an unwanted pregnancy causes a birth mother to be ashamed of her actions and to hide the fact that she gave a child up for adoption. She often fails to see beyond the guilt at the incredible gift of a precious baby to a couple who could not conceive.

It wasn’t until Deb’s oldest son, Ben, was 15 that the connection with the birth father and his family was made. A large number of his relatives gathered and welcomed Ben, Deb, and family with open arms in a celebration that lasted for days.

The second child Deb adopted, Dan, has a birth mother who flew to Maine to visit for a week in Deb’s home. Deb and family flew over a thousand miles to visit her three times – twice for special events.

“Isn’t it scary — knowing the birth parents?” people ask Deb. She explains that children want to know their birth parents loved them and not feel guilty or think they did something to cause their parents to give them away. Likewise, birth parents always wonder what happened to the child whose custody they couldn’t keep and for whom they wanted the very best. Knowing their child is loved and supported and that they have the option to find out how the child is doing helps ease those worries and feelings of inadequacy or guilt.

Over the years I have witnessed Deb’s joys and frustrations as she met the ordinary challenges of raising her sons. What is extraordinary and receives little recognition is how she works to maintain the relationships between the children and their birth parents. It is an enormous gift.

Today the lovely paintings in Deb’s living room are camouflaged by various teenage toys — a computer, desk, printer, bookshelves crowded with DVDs, other electronics, and board games — squeezed in around the couch. A piano and woodstove vie for space on the periphery – not to mention the drum set in the family room. A unique but joyful family history sits in picture frames on the bookshelves and covers the refrigerator and walls. There are two young cats and a dog.

I am a bit envious of the activity in her life – my grown children now moved out and the house too peaceful and quiet most of the time. Today Deb is happy to leave the chaos and schedules of her teenagers for an evening in the peaceful calm living rooms of the other writers – sipping tea and sharing stories.

by Betsy Hanscom

Originally published in Maine Warmers’ e-Newsletter, Jan. 30, 2009

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