Welcome back to Blogville, thanks for joining me today. As I write this blog I am sipping a ginger turmeric tea blend, a perfect autumn warmth.
I woke up this morning at my usual time and wondered if there was a storm outside. It was dull, more like early evening, when just days ago the morning sunlight found the careless cracks in the curtains and yelled at me that it was morning. I should have seen it coming when more and more leaves crunched under my feet after having put on their glorious bright wardrobe before they fell. Oh no, it looks like fall is here!
I am captivated by the fact that the magnificent and colourful display and subsequent falling of leaves from their tree branches is called abscission, so close to the word adoption.
It is true! According to my web search “When temperatures drop below freezing, the abscission layer hardens more rapidly, cutting off the leaf's connection to the tree.” (Jim Leser Cedaredge Tree Board 2019.) That quote somehow not only reminds me of children awaiting adoption, but it also reminds me of the treatment of birth mothers, especially in the 1950s and 1960s.
Like the colourful fall leaves on the trees, many birth mothers may have been once warmly admired and even envied by their community for who they were, maybe for their beauty, or their talents, perhaps even envying their bright futures. But when those same youthful girls or women found themselves unmarried and pregnant, the temperature dropped and often they began feeling a distinct separation from their community. Many found themselves abandoned by their own families, the birth fathers, and the birth fathers’ families; talk about a temperature drop. The once beautiful leaf admired by many, dropped to the ground to dry up, often to be walked on, and then suddenly disappearing from the lawn.
I am reminded of what the first frost does to the leaves when the abscission layer separates the leaf from the tree. Suddenly, like those leaves, the birth mother finds herself separated from her support system; the birth father, her friends, family, and community. These women, like fall leaves, are suddenly transitioned from the spectacular autumn colour show to an irritating pile of leaves needing to be removed from the lawn, or left untended to be buried under the coming snow. So, like the fall leaves, a birth mother is either removed from her community to a home for unwed mothers, perhaps even a far away relative, or she remains at home where she is buried by a thick layer of shame in her community. Coincidentally, birth mothers were often referred to as ‘fallen women’.
The truth is that each of us likely has an unwed birth mother in our family tree, though perhaps on a slightly less colourful branch. Perhaps on a branch hidden deep within the tree. In addition to the unfortunately typical reactions to unplanned pregnancies, such as families shipping birth mothers off, or communities shaming them, there were a couple of other options. For example, in the past, many couples who found themselves expecting an unplanned child were hurriedly married before the pregnancy became obvious; noting the many ‘premature’ births in those days. Somehow, if the birth mother married, her unexpected or unplanned pregnancy did not impact on her reputation, as if marriage removed the tarnish. It would appear that nuptials, entered into voluntarily or not, magically negated the community’s view of pre-marital sex.
If a quick wedding was not an option, many families created cover stories. A common cover story was where the actual birth mother became ‘sick’ or she was ‘needed at home’ and her own mother would then pretend to be expecting a child. This resulted in grandmothers raising their grandchildren as their own birth children, while the true birth mother was demoted to the role of sibling. Family birth records and government registries are filled with altered birth certificates and claims of premature births; which reminds me of those earlier mentioned layers of fallen leaves whose colour has faded and they have been buried by the heavy burden of snow.
I feel that the role of the birth father was kind of like the role of chlorophyll as it relates tree leaves. While dating the birth mother, the birth father expended a lot of positive energy, therefore creating a sweetness to the relationship. Like the change in seasons, an unexpected pregnancy often created a drop in temperature and reduced the ‘chlorophyll in the leaves’, so the relationship’s sweetness often started to break down. Finally, though there may not be any obvious signs that chlorophyll once played such an important role, it is clear to all what the leaves have been up to. A significant difference is that while the chlorophyll simply goes temporarily dormant, the brightly coloured leaf is completely removed from the tree.
It is important to note that many birth fathers were never made aware of the pregnancy, therefore not being given a chance to plan for their own infant. In many instances, society and the birth parents’ families often took over the decision making without offering options to, or considering the wishes of, the birth parents. To me, the difference is the unequal burden of responsibility on the birth mother as compared to the birth father, when both were equally involved in the conception. I would like to think that, if given the opportunity, many birth fathers and/or their families would have taken responsibility and raised those unexpected babies with love and acceptance.
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