Monthly Archive for November, 2010

Birth Mothers, Adoption, and Art: An interview with Ann & Amanda Angel

Birth mothers are often the forgotten or ignored part of the adoption triad.  Silent Embrace: Perspectives on Birth and Adoption is a collection of personal stories by birth mothers, adoptive mothers, and adoptees. The stories cover a range of topics about adoption, open adoption, birth parent connections, and unification with children after closed adoption, focusing on the relationship with birth mothers. Here, editor of Fertile Source Jessica Powers talks to mother-daughter duo Ann & Amanda Angel, the book’s editors. Ann Angel is an adoptive mother of four. Amanda is an adoptee and also a birth mother. She placed her daughter in an open adoption in 2000.

1. Tell me a little bit about the impetus behind this book. Why did you decide to do it? Why do you think it’s important and what do you hope it achieves?

AMANDA: A few years ago, I was preparing to visit my birth daughter. Previous to that, I had been exchanging letters and pictures, so this was going to be a new experience. She was seven years old and full of questions, according to her mom. So, I wanted to see what resources were out there for birth mothers to help them prepare for such events. As I scoured the internet and library, I realized there was a real deficit of materials for birth mothers. I wanted to know what I could say, could I hug her, how do I answer questions appropriately, was I feeling the way most birth mothers feel in this situation; none of the materials out there even touched upon the birth mother’s perspective. So, I went forward with no rules in place, mentioning to my mom along the way that birth mothers need help too. They need a voice and to be recognized for the experiences they encounter as a birth mother. And from there, the seed had been planted.

ANN: When Amanda mentioned that a book of essays for birth parents would help start the conversation on how to open adoptions in healthy ways, I mentioned that I’d just completed an essay for Catalyst Book Press for a collection of birth stories. This seemed like the ideal press to play an activist role. I also thought the book could help birth mothers connect with adoptive parents because it seems emotionally healthier and more connected in open adoptions if the adoptive parents are supportive enough to step up and be part of the relationships.

2. What was it like working with birth mothers, adoptive mothers, and adoptees to produce a book like this? How did you balance artistic talent with unique voices and the importance of the message?

AMANDA:  I thought it was a beautiful discovery of the complexity of the roles in adoption. Each essay had its unique purpose, all of which helped me continue to shape my view of adoption, both as an adoptee and a birth mother. It made me proud to hold the title of birth mother, among the ranks of such amazing women.

ANN: I find myself humbled whenever I hear their stories because these writers spoke of connection and loss, finding one another in ways that sometimes work and sometimes don’t. Some of the stories were so sad and loss-filled they made me cry. Others made me laugh with the joy of connection. I found almost all of the stories were stories of redemption and they lifted my own spirit. I wish we could have included all the stories we received because it is important that we give all the members of adoption the chance to tell their stories.

3. How do you think American society characterizes birth mothers today? How has this perception developed/grown/changed over time and why is it what it is?

AMANDA:  I think our culture, at times, glamorizes adoption, especially when it comes to Hollywood stars adopting. However, I think we still forget that it is a process that involves more than just the adoptive parents and adopted child. The birth parents are often shuffled aside, whether in Hollywood or not, as just a vehicle to the end result. From personal experience, the stigma is still there. In some cases, people assume that if you are a birth mother, there must be something wrong with you if you don’t want to keep your child. In the past, it was difficult to explain that it’s BECAUSE I love my child that I couldn’t keep her. To give your child a healthy, stable environment in which to live, is a bigger gift than to subject them to an unhealthy, chaotic life. I can say, however, that in the last few years, as I’ve started to share my role, I have received more positive reactions than negative ones. My hope is that this book will “pay it forward.” The stories will help others get the word out that this is an act of true love.

ANN: While our culture encourages open adoption to help ease the adoption issues that can hurt adoptees in adult relationships, I think our culture still places a stigma on birth parents. This book helps birth parents share the truth of their individual stories in a way that I hope encourages other birth parents to come forward in ways that will help their adopted children know their origins. 

4. What is it like to make the decision to place a child for adoption? Why do you think pregnant women make that choice, as opposed to abortion or raising the child themselves? What’s at stake for a birth mother (in the whole adoption process)? For the adoptee? For the adoptive parent?

AMANDA: The decision to place my daughter for adoption will forever be one of the hardest, if not the hardest, choice I will ever have faced. I was 22 years old and ready to be a mom; circumstances had a different plan for me. In being an adoptee, I think I was lucky in seeing firsthand how wonderful the results of placing a baby could be. Even though I knew that this was the best option for my child, there were still times I doubted I could cope.
     A lot of ‘what ifs’ creep up over time. I can say that I’ve noticed an increase in what ifs now that I am surrounded by friends my age who have children and I do not. I never doubt my decision as my daughter is healthy, happy, and has amazing parents. However, I do wonder what life would be like if she were with me.
     I can’t answer why women make the choice for adoption. It’s such a personal decision that each situation is different. My best estimation would be that some women find themselves pregnant and know that this precious life they are carrying can bring so much joy and love to people who have tried and were unable to conceive. It’s a realistic and honest outlook-these birth mothers know they are not capable, at that particular time in their life, to care for their child the way in which a stable family could.
     The birth mother deals with the grief and loss that over time subsides but never completely vanishes. This has become more and more evident as more birth mothers come forward with their stories. Women who feel incomplete even though they may go on to have a family of their own. Reputation is another high stake; being a birth mother, especially in an open adoption, can be confusing to outsiders.
      Personally, I know that in the beginning of a few romantic relationships, it has been something I have shared as it is a part of my life and future. I have been told, in fact, that it is a “deal breaker.” When asked why, the responses I’ve received were usually a big sigh and an uncomfortable stumble over “It’s just different” or “It just makes things more complicated.” In addition to my personal life, I worry it may affect my career. I work as a teacher and sometimes fear that if our school community becomes more aware of my situation, some members may not be comfortable having their students in my classroom because of the “pregnancy before marriage” aspect. Although I understand how that could cause some initial trepidation, I also wish people could recognize that I made a decision that afforded my daughter a great amount of opportunity and happiness.
      For the adoptee, I think not having information of their lineage is at risk. Wondering where certain health conditions, mannerisms, or tendencies come from can be hard for adoptees to cope with. At times, there are identity issues that cannot be resolved if there is no relationship with one of the birthparents. 

ANN: From my perspective, the birth mother will go through life with the knowledge that her child is in the world. She might fear letting others know that she has a child she couldn’t take care of. She might fear how the world perceives her. But women become mothers the minute they conceive. Whether a woman aborts a child, places a child for adoption or raises a child either in a marriage or as a single parent, she lives with the knowledge of her motherhood every day of her life. I’m not saying society judges the mother, I’m saying the mother either lives with grief of loss or raises the child-either way, it’s just always with her. 

5. How can birth mothers recover from the loss? How can adoptive mothers play a role in the grieving process?

AMANDA: Time can heal a lot of the grief. Having an open adoption helped me confirm that I had made the best choice possible for my daughter. For those women that do not have an open adoption with their child’s family, support groups could be another way to work through the emotions they may feel. Our hope is that this book will become a resource of sorts for women who need to know they are not alone.

ANN: Adoptive mothers can help birth mothers through the grieving process by sharing information even in a semi-closed adoption. If the adoption has been opened, I think the adoptive parents can serve as a bridge between the birth mothers and adoptees. In my own experience, sharing photos and connecting on occasion is especially important when an adoptee might back off and need time and space to work relationships out. The relationship is extremely complex and all involved need to be patient and sensitive to one another. I also think adoptive mothers can be supportive if they know an adoptee is searching for birth parents. In those cases, when a birth parent refuses contact, the adoptee will need to heal from loss once again. I can’t imagine being in a position where you feel you have to do that alone while an adoptive parent remains unaware. Given that, it’s also important that the adoptive mom provide a safe environment where an adoptee feels he or she can talk about searching.  

6. What role do you think art & literature can play in the grieving process for all members of the adoption triad (since all parties have usually experienced a loss)? What role has this book played in your understanding(s) of birth, adoption, and motherhood?

 AMANDA: Art and Literature offer a different perspective on our stories. As artists, we have a certain idea on how our work will be perceived; however, people’s interpretations vary based on their own personal experiences. Through this book, I’ve realized that I am not alone in my role as  birth mother. There are many women in the world that share a similar experience and have now put their story into words to help others. This book helped me appreciate my relationship with my birth daughter and her parents even more than I already did. I have been so fortunate to know how my decisions impacted their lives in such a positive way. It’s also given me the confidence to become more public with my role as a birth mother, in hopes of helping others.

 ANN: When we share our stories through art and literature, we share ideas and experiences that can lead to healing. These stories can also lead us to open our hearts to nontraditional ideas of family that enrich the lives of all involved. Working on this book has made me realize even more how important it is for me to encourage open expression of loss and grief and joy. It’s taught me how generous birth parents can be and I think it’s made me communicate more openly about adoption with my adult kids and their non-traditional families.  

7. What are the best resources out there for birth mothers, adoptive parents, and adoptees? What resources are there in particular for adoptees and birth mothers going through the reunification process?

 ANN: In most cases, contemporary adoption agencies encourage open adoption for the sake of the adoptee. Many counselors are trained to work with all in the adoption. But I think it’s imperative, if a family member wants to work through adoption issues with a therapist or counselor, that they make sure to seek help from someone experienced or trained in the complexities of adoption, perhaps touched by the experience themselves.   
  There are resources to help families create open adoptions such as Lois Ruskai Melina’s The Open Adoption Experience – A Complete Guide for Adoptive and Birth Families. David Brodzinsky has also written a landmark book, Being Adopted: The Lifelong Search for Self, that discusses the psychological and educational implications of adoption on a child through adulthood. 

  Our book, Silent Embrace, Perspectives on Birth and Adoption, fills a resource need because it addresses the complex emotional responses of all in adoption. I think it would be especially valuable for those who find their adoption records will remain closed. But the book serves all in an adoption triad because the essays reflect such a broad, intensely personal and honest response to the issue of parents and origins in adoption. Each story can help readers consider what a healthy relationship is and how we can navigate that relationship over time. 

Ann Angel is a professor of writing at Mount Mary College in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The editor of Such a Pretty Face: Short Stories about Beauty (Abrams/Amulet 2007), she is also the author of several biographies for teenagers, including the forthcoming Janis Joplin, Rise Up Singing (Abrams/Amulet 2010). Ann is the adoptive mother of four children, including her daughter Amanda, with whom she edited her most recent collection, Silent Embrace: Perspectives on Birth and Adoption. Please visit her website at

Amanda Angel is an elementary school teacher in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. In 2000, she placed her daughter in an open adoption. Since then, she has become an advocate for both birth mothers and adoption. Although she has written plays including Three Rocking Pigs, a children’s musical produced for Marquette University, Silent Embrace: Perspectives on Birth and Adoption is Amanda’s first book.

21st Birthday

by Antoinette Voûte Roeder

A month late
for my birthday
I come home depleted.

On the dining table stands
without wrapping or ribbon,
a present from
my mom and dad.
Shiny black accents,
pearl grey exterior,
it is a tape recorder,
reel to reel,
latest model.
Flaps on the sides
hold hidden caches
of wires and
a microphone.
The speakers form
the lid whose equal parts
meet in the middle.
My father, quietly proud,
shows me what to plug in where.

I come home empty
having birthed a child
not mine to keep.
Others have received her.

For me there is
a tape recorder.

Antoinette Voûte Roeder has been writing since she was sixteen. In the meantime she has earned two degrees in music, taught piano, reared a couple of children, then studied to become a spiritual director. She has been published in various journals, magazines, and a couple of anthologies. Her first book of poetry, Weaving the Wind, was published in 2006. The second, Still Breathing, came out this spring. Currently Antoinette leads retreats and workshops and mentors people on their life journeys in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Her books are currently available on the websites for Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

An Interview with Antoinette Voûte Roeder: The Poetry of Reunion, Poetry as Communion by Tania Pryputniewicz

In Public

Flash Fiction by Candice Baxter

I board the city bus for a ride to my job interview, since that sorry son of bitch wrecked my car and my credit and my master plan.  He ran off with a Russian stripper, said she made him feel alive.  Across from me a wiry, black woman in a red tank top sits breastfeeding her child-with no cover.  I want to declare she needs to put that thing away in public.  Though I know the baby is quiet and nursing and if interrupted from its meal, it will scream out in ear wrenching cries for more until its stop or my stop, whichever comes first.  The mother’s skin will stretch tout with hundreds of pea shaped milk deposits, unless she can release the pressure of the pure intention of breasts in the first place.  Before they were plastered as sexual attachments of women’s bodies, bared on movies and late night infomercials covered with CENSORED, for men like the creep hanging onto the rail above me to watch, to ogle, to lust after plump ones and perky ones and round ones-when breasts were not even created for the man but for the child.  If used for what they were created for, prolonging creation, they are no longer plump or perky or round. 

Babies draw life from their mothers.  They suck from raw nipples, cracking like chapped lips under perpetual friction, leaking and dripping at the cry of any baby, soaking a mother’s front with milk.  Milk streams down into the under-fold, beading along with the other dripping beads of milk as it gathers in the reservoir of the mother’s belly button, the hole marking her own creation, until the baby can relieve the stretching pressure and suckle once again.  The mother cannot give any more of herself, for the child to suck the nutrients out of her.  I try not to watch.  Where her other nipple falls, a wet spot grows.  Her loose apron flap of midriff skin jiggles when we hit a bump. She switches. 

I keep quiet, turn my head.  I am riding the city bus.  I cannot yell for the woman to put that thing away in public.  The baby cannot cry the hungry cry.  After that sorry son of a bitch wrecked my life, I bought a newspaper and some pantyhose and left my baby at home with my sister.  I borrowed her powder blue suit so I would look innocent like the white pearls around my neck.  Even with a thin bra and sheer button down, the jacket barely closes.  

The baby whimpers.  I try not to feel the tiny eggs breaking inside my shirt. 

Candice Baxter is a creative nonfiction MFA candidate at the University of Memphis, currently writing a memoir of her teenage pregnancy in a small Southern town deep in the heart of the Bible belt. She has published work in The Missouri Review, South Carolina Review, and Photosynthesis.

Please read Editor Jessica Powers’s interview with Candice Baxter, Breasts, Sexual Objects, Flash Fiction, and Teen Pregnancy: an interview with Candice Baxter November 17, 2010 by Jessica Powers


a poem by Janina Karpinska

wakes you gently-a vision in blue nylon,

asks if you’re ready for a cup of tea.

seem to be wearing an invisible helmet,

made of concrete, making it difficult to hear.

takes several attempts, and concerted effort,

short of hydraulics and pulleys, before

manage to lift your head up.


stands by you as you put your finger through the handle,

its fit and weight-testing your strength as you

swivel an articulated arm towards your mouth.

bring the two in alignment-using careful shifts

pauses-like the arm of a fun-fair machine-

over a grapple of prizes.

as it reaches its target-a tiny sip,

dribble of success: mission accomplished.


tilt your head back, and swallow.

hot-the way you like it-almost solid,

a column of heat you can lean on.

Lukewarm wouldn’t have what it takes

support the weight of your head.


glad it’s not dark, or bitter; it’s a comfort,

and familiar, a little like kindness:

collects your tears as they silently fall,

it’s no big deal.


beams approval: you’re doing well; recovering nicely;

traffics past with her trolley-and-smiles.


you holding the plain white cup

by yourself, grateful for its simplicity,

jazzy or fancy; busy or tiring; just

just this-white china, matching saucer.


start to get the hang of it,

to contemplate the choice between

Madeira, or chocolate
biscuit. And,

you raise your cup higher, you notice in the bed opposite,

woman’s head, haloed by white pillows,

a grotto of fruit and flowers.

Janina Karpinska is an artist-poet. She has an M.A. in Creative Writing & Personal Development(with merit) from Sussex University. She runs creative writing workshops in local shops and businesses: confessions / “coming clean” and “airing dirty laundry” @ the local launderette; a tattoo parlor; an aquatic store; an “adult boutique”-the most well attended. She would like to be a writing therapist attached to a general practice or ward. A poem about her father’s death is published in The Works vol 4 by Macmillan’s anthology of verse for children; a poem about her mother’s life-read at her funeral-is in a World Arts Platform publication on the theme of Home; a poem about being a failure has just been published in The Iron Book of New Humorous Verse. She loves experimental writers-and being experimental herself. She has started to “do” performance poetry: “She aspires to be normal / it’s her greatest ambition…”

Check out Janina’s interview, Reflections on Writing: Life, Laundry and Loss with Poet Janina Aza Karpinska, by poetry editor Tania Pryputniewicz.


Fiction by Laure Baudot

When Noreen compliments Alison on her cake, Alison smiles a tiny, hardwood canoe of a smile at odds with her pudgy, optimistic face, the one that used to look on the world as if it were one long drink of water. I recognize this smile from the days before I had Archana, back when people told me that losing my pregnancies was for the best, that it was nature’s way of weeding out ill babies.

“It’s from a mix,” says Alison.

“Still,” adds Sophie, the only blond one here, and the most level-headed.

Sophie is comforting Alison because, although the rest of our kids have been moving around for a while, Alison’s son Malcolm doesn’t even turn over by himself yet. For the past few weeks, we’ve been toning down our talk of our babies’ milestones. But despite our best efforts, and our innate, Canadian politeness, the subject of our babies’ progress keeps resurfacing.  Continue reading ‘Luck’

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