What’s In A Name

What’s In A Name?

My parents got a new dog. He doesn’t have a name yet. I spoke with them earlier today and they told me a few of their ideas, one in particular. I ran it by my husband.

“I don’t like it. It’s not him.”
“What? I love it.”
“I don’t.”
“How did we name anything?”
“Stickers on cars.”
“Well, and one dog came with a name in place.”

We named our youngest son on the way home from an ultrasound. We wanted him to have a J-middle name, but felt clueless about what his name-name should be. The car in front of us at the light before the courthouse had a sticker with a football and a name.

I read it aloud, followed by our last name. We looked at each other and shrugged.

We owned baby name books. We read them over incessantly with both boys. Ridiculous names. Strong names. Presidential names, whatever that means, Donnie. Irish names. Gaelic names. Names names names. Then we saw that name on the back of a car, and everything felt right.

I later worked with the mother of the child whose name was on the back of that vehicle. She’s a smart lady.

Someday, probably when he is in the process of choosing baby names—or even dog names—our youngest son will question our procedure. But when he arrived and we looked at him, all fresh and new and so different from our older son, he just seemed like him. Now, at almost 10, he is simply himself. He resembles his name. He his who he is.

The adoption agency told me not to give my daughter a name.

“It will cause you to think of her as yours. And she’s not.”


Prior to falling ill at 18 weeks, I toyed with some names. Classic names. Names I had written with young boyfriend’s last names to see what they looked like, as I did with my own. But they told me it wasn’t my job, to name her. So I didn’t. I still can’t tell you what I would have chosen, though some birth mothers can. There are two that sit deep in my soul; maybe they would have combined to her fist and middle names. We’ll never know.

When we named our first dog, we sat in the darkening night and ran through name after name, the old baby book on my lap and a smartphone I hand. I hate that it feels like I put more thought into my dog’s name than my daughter’s name. But no one told me, “You don’t have a right to name your dog.”

Just my daughter.

This is one of those adoption issues I can logically recognize; the adoption industry used my lack of knowledge against me. They knew that mothers who names their babies were more likely to make the—lawful—decision to parent. It’s the same reason why they told me not to breastfeed. But still, I hate that I didn’t see it for what it was. I was so naive, so green, I couldn’t see what they were doing.

Someday, if my daughter ever asks, I will share the two names that sit with me. She might hate them, and knowing her as I do, I’m not sure they fit her. But I will tell her. If she asks. If she lets me back in. If.

I named the baby we lost to miscarriage, Rose. After my great-grandmother, after the roses in my flower garden. We don’t know if she was a girl, but the name fit. She fit, so briefly, in our lives.

I hate my given name. It was the number one name the year I was born and a handful of years on either side. Our youngest, our sticker car baby, has a name in the top ten of his birth year and some surrounding years. Maybe he’ll hate it. Maybe he won’t care. Our older son prefers the shortened version of his name, even though I prefer his given name.

What’s In A Name?

I don’t know what my parents will name their dog. I’ll love him no matter his name, just like I love my children and all of their names. But more so. Because they’re my children.


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Transitioning from the Good Birth Mom to the Bad Birth Mom

How It Feels to Be a Bad Birth Mom

By the time I finish writing this piece, one month and one day will have passed since my daughter blocked me from all forms of communication. I will not argue the validity of such an action. It is hers. I cannot speak to or for it.

I can speak to how I feel.

And I feel so many things.

— __ — __ —

“A child deserves two parents.”

Never mind the fact I could have offered her two parents. Never mind the fact they told me to act as though my now husband wasn’t involved.

“He could leave at any time.”

And, no, I’ll never forgive myself for not realizing what a load of shit that was, how unfair it was to this man who loved me so very much—who loved my daughter simply because she existed. Because she was mine. Because she was.

Some things only God can forgive.

They told me I didn’t have enough to offer. I couldn’t work, due to my illness, so I couldn’t save money. I couldn’t buy the cute clothes. The bedding. The toys. The important stuff, like a car seat. Of course, they didn’t tell me that programs exist to provide car seats for moms in my shoes at that time. They just told me what I couldn’t do. Couldn’t offer. Couldn’t be enough of at the time.

They spoke about what she deserved, what relinquishment would give her. Offer her.

They didn’t mention trauma, for me or for her. And, honestly, if it had just been for me, as I figured and as I assumed for years upon years, I wouldn’t have cared. I mean, I deserved the trauma, didn’t I? I wasn’t “ready” to be a mother despite the fact that I was carrying a beautiful, precious life, so I deserved all the trauma that came with making sure she had a mom who was ready for her. It was my cross to bear for all time. I accepted it. I carried it with me.

I carry it with me.

I read The Primal Wound when she was still a toddler. I had already learned a number of unethical things our agency did to both me and my daughter’s parents, and I was seeking more information about adoption as a whole. Why didn’t I seek more information while pregnant? Level III bed rest means you can shower every third day. I couldn’t drive, couldn’t go to the library. I couldn’t pay for Internet and relied on two week trials of AOL when a disk showed up in my mailbox. (Hi. I just dated myself. #old)

I relied on the information provided to me by the adoption facilitator because why would I doubt them? My “counselor” seemed to care about me. I didn’t actually know she wasn’t a real counselor, not bound by patient confidentiality; she told my daughter’s potential (and eventual) parents everything I said. Later, we recognized this as wrong, but none of us knew what we didn’t know.

Even still, reading about adoption trauma seemed like something long ago and far away. It wasn’t something that happened to us. I wouldn’t acknowledge my own trauma, using that word, for thirteen years. Even still, I made my bed, so I had to lie in it, right? But our daughter? No. She wouldn’t experience trauma.

Because I had been there since day one. We had maintained and worked hard and fought for an open adoption above and beyond what they told us we could have. We broke down barriers. We were an anomaly. We were exempt.

And I? I was the good birth mother.

I was so fucking good.

Sure, I made mistakes. Prior to parenting our oldest son, I got on my high horse once. I didn’t do that again and I still feel guilty about it to this day. Parenting is fucking hard enough. I also canceled a very big visit when she was still very little, but big enough to feel excited about the visit. When my daughter’s mom talked to me about it, I promised not to do it again. I did do it again, but it was under some different circumstances and a lot more communication. I still hated myself for doing it.

But I was a good birth mom.

I was always there. I answered questions. I wrote about it. Some people thought I was too happy, too positive. Others thought I was too negative, too bitter. Really, I was just sharing the truth of our adoption experience. My true joy came from watching my daughter and my sons form a relationship, to learn to love one another. It also didn’t suck that she loved me. When she rushed into my arms as we arrived at any visit, I felt whole, if only for a moment.


Still, I steeled myself for her anger. I kept researching, reading the words of adult (and teen) adoptees. I knew she was going to get angry. My own sons showed both anger and confusion in our many discussions on the topic. I used their emotions as marked lessons for how to handle what I knew was coming.

“Maybe she won’t be angry,” my (beloved, super-smart, great) therapist said.

I never thought that she wouldn’t be angry. I’d argue with my therapist.

“Do you want her to be angry?”
“Well, no. But she’s going to be.”
“You don’t know that.”
“No. I do. I do know that.”

I prepared for her anger. I read the books, the blogs. I listened to podcasts. I asked questions. I had hard conversations. I was always there, even when I wanted to just disappear because, God, it’s hard. I removed people from my life who couldn’t or wouldn’t make room in their heads or hearts for what our version of the mother-daughter relationship looked like. I fought hard for us.

But nothing prepared me for her anger.


To go from being the “good” birth mother to the “bad” birth mother is a really weird feeling. To have poured my whole self into doing this The Best Way Possible only to realize that it didn’t matter, that it was ruined before it began, feels like a punch to the gut. To know I caused this—and there’s so much weight in that little word, this—simply because I chose—again, more weight, chose—relinquishment, is almost too much to carry.

I’ll admit it: I prided myself in being a Good Birth Mom. I did all the right things. I put in the hard work. And for a really, really long time, I could smugly pat myself on the back and say, “See?”

I was open about how open adoption wasn’t a band-aid for pain—for birth mothers. It still sucked on so many levels. I still woke up and went to sleep nearly every day without my daughter under my roof. I had snippets of true joy in which all three of my living children were snuggled under covers in my own home. But the pain always lurked close.

What I couldn’t understand at the time, and what I still can’t speak to fully as it’s not my story, are the many ways we expect open adoption to be a band-aid for adoptees. I prepared myself for her anger, but I still thought, “But I’m here. I’ve always been here. She’ll be mad, but she won’t be as mad as those other adoptees. We’re doing something big and different here. We’re changing the landscape of adoption, of family. We’re different.”


We’re not different. I am not different. I am certainly no fucking better than any other birth mother who has stood in my shoes and realized, oh fuck, I did this. I caused this. I made a choice that changed the course of so many peoples’ lives.

I did this.

I did this.

— __ — __ —

It feels like I’m walking out of the hospital, empty handed, all over again.
Like I’m sitting in the bathroom, looking at that pregnancy test, cold tile walls against my face.
Like the times I hid my belly from nosy family friends.
Holding his hand when he missed her in the hospital; they wouldn’t let me have her the first night.
Looking at the bear ears on her hood as they wheeled me out of the hospital.
Walking out the door into the cold December air; I wore bibs.
Sobbing as milk dripped from my sore, swollen, rock-hard breasts.

— __ — __ —

I thought leaving the hospital without her was the worst part. Thought that beginning my motherhood without my child in my home couldn’t be matched.

To know I caused her pain, her anger, and thus her ultimate rejection?

I don’t know how—or if—I’ll get through this one.

How It Feels to Be a Bad Birth Mom

All I know is that I want her to be okay… and I can’t make that happen for her.