'Never Judge a Birthmother'

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

That’s one of the lessons a reader, Kelly Robinson, draws from a tragic experience:

Biologically, I could have had children, but I chose to adopt instead. I adopted my beautiful baby girl at birth from a woman in Northern California I had met three months prior, when she was about five months pregnant. She was homeless and had two children, ages 6 and 10. Her boyfriend, whose sister-in-law had already adopted out a child, had influenced the birthmother’s decision to give her baby away. She said it was a case of date rape that had gotten her pregnant, and she feared the biological father might come looking for the baby. She and her boyfriend thought it was in the best interest of the baby to find her another family.

I went to California the day she was born. I fell in love with the woman who handed over this child to me, as I collapsed in the hospital chair overwhelmed with instant love.

She left the hospital and I stayed. I also had to stay in California until my adoption papers went through the intra-state compact for approval to bring my child back to Missouri. The birthmother insisted I stay with her, and over those five days she helped me understand how to care for my baby. My mom had died three months before this wonderful event, leaving me without a mother from which to learn from.

After the adoption, the birthmother and I still kept in touch. She started sounding very depressed. She and her boyfriend had been fighting a lot. It sounded as if she was back on drugs when I would talk to her on the phone. She wasn’t able to get a job or go to school, as she’d enthusiastically talked about before giving birth.

One night she told me that her kids and boyfriend were being mean to her. She said “they don’t realize I am in post-partum depression.” I offered support, but I didn’t know exactly what to do. Post-partum depression is real. It can be devastating. I can only imagine how much worse it is for someone who’s adopted out a child.

But she didn’t change her mind; she still seemed satisfied with her decision to adopt out her daughter, thinking it was best for the baby. As I stated before, I had fallen hard for her as a person, her integrity to her word, her loving ways of handling the adoption in the hospital room and at her house. She’d even asked me if I’d adopt her other two children if anything happened to her.  I said I would.

About three months after our daughter was born, I received a message from someone who’d known the birthmother. She said that our loving, beautiful birthmother had died. She had overdosed on heroin in the bathtub talking to her boyfriend by phone.

That was the saddest day of my life. The sacrifice she’d gone through was huge, and the weight of it immense, without someone there to help her get through it.

All adoption situations are different, but it’s difficult for all the birthmothers. Stand by these wonderful women. Never judge a birthmother. Always know that she sacrificed much to give her child a family.