Blood and Water: American Adoption Stories – Brandie Greenlee (1994)

(Some names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.)

Source: Greenlee, Brandie. “Adoption Interview: 1994.” E-mail interview by author. November 20, 2016.           

Full Transcript below.

Ventura, Stephanie J., M.A., and Christine A. Bachrach, Ph.D. “Nonmarital Childbearing in the United States, 1940–99.” Cdc.gov. October 18, 2000. Accessed November 22, 2016. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr48/nvs48_16.pdf.

 

The following interview is a look into the experience of a birth mother in the mid-1990s. This interview explores the factors that lead Brandie Greenlee of Colorado to put her newborn daughter up for adoption in 1994, Ms. Greenlee’s experiences during the adoption process, and how giving her first-born child up for adoption shaped her life. Such elements of Ms. Greenlee’s story reveal contemporary attitudes toward adoption and young, unwed motherhood– especially in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints– of which Ms. Greenlee is a member.  

Ms. Greenlee’s reasons for putting her child up for adoption were mostly economic. Had Ms. Greenlee had more financial support from family, community, or other entities, she would have been able to keep her child– which is what she dreamed of doing.

“It became clear to me that I wouldn’t be able to afford college and maintain a home for [her]. But I didn’t want to work at McDonald’s forever either. I [would have] needed a career in order to support [her]. I didn’t have a family to watch [her], and I wouldn’t be able to afford daycare. It was all a very grim picture at that time!”

As noted above, Ms. Greenlee’s family was not supportive of her potentially keeping her child.

“I was told I would receive no help from them if I kept [my baby]. They sort of kicked me out, and I willingly left when that mandate was brought down. I couldn’t believe that [M]om wouldn’t at least help with babysitting sometimes. Or let us live at home for a year while I worked and saved money.” This withdrawal of familial support was trying, “I was heart broken that my family abandoned me that way,” and was mirrored by a withdrawal of support from Ms. Greenlee’s church and friends. “Of course,” she says, “every ward I went to put pressure on me to adopt out. No one was supportive of girls keeping their babies back then. A lot of my regular friends ditched me during that time. They weren’t allowed to hang out with me. So, I was relatively lonely.”

Ms. Greenlee’s fears that she couldn’t support her child financially were reinforced by her experience having a roommate who was essentially a single mom (she had a dead-beat boyfriend) and had to support her child by working days as a secretary and nights as a stripper. This story within our story telling of another unwed mother reminds historians of the nonuniformity of the experiences of the approximately four million unwed mothers in the United States of America in 1994 (CDC report, 2000).

When Ms. Greenlee started dating a young man who was supportive of her keeping her baby, she began to have hope for “one big happy family,” as she puts it. However, after that relationship ended, she had to once again consider adoption. Brandie eventually received one last push to put her baby up for adoption when she became engaged to another young man who “wouldn’t be able to handle being a parent.” “He couldn’t keep a job for more than a month, so I began to be persuaded to think about adoption,” she says. This point emphasises the societal expectations of the male breadwinner, the two-parent household, and the import of marriage central to twentieth-century American life.

The criticisms that Brandie faced reveal a good deal about the attitude of the American public toward adoption in the final decade of the twentieth century. People expressed anxieties often held today about adoption: feeling like birth-parents are “abandoning” their children, causing adopted children to be damaged because the feel they were “unwanted.”

“They said placing [my baby] for adoption was the easy way out. That I was escaping from the responsibilities.” was another criticism Brandie faced in the wake of her decision to put her child up for adoption. Such hurtful comments that trivialise the heart-wrenching decisions birth mothers have to face in giving up their children did not help Brandie’s situation– especially when she was being pressured not to keep her baby by church and family members (every ward Brandie attended of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints encouraged her strongly to give up her baby).

Brandie’s story shows, though, that putting her baby up for adoption was not the easy way out, as some ‘friends’ of hers put it. Brandie’s story reminds students of history that women who give up babies to be adopted are not exempt from consequences after birth. She said:

“the hardest part of the adoption process for me was the emptiness that I felt. I had so much joy holding [Maddie] and loving on [her] for [those] first 24 hours before we parted ways. I cannot express the gut wrenching feeling I had as they rolled my wheelchair out of the hospital, without [my baby] in my arms. I literally sobbed ugly, loud, hysterical sobs! I felt empty! My arms physically ached for [her]. I would awake several times at night thinking I heard [her] cry… I had to sleep with a bear to fill my aching arms… [I]t was several months before I slept through the night and didn’t spend most of my day crying… When my milk came in, I just sobbed. Not only was it painful, and suppressing it was more painful, but my chest actually ached to nurse [my child].

Brandie now believes that she had PTSD after giving up her child. “I could not stand to drive around town. Everything made me think of [her]! Music, TV shows, everything was hard to enjoy. It’s why I eventually left Redmond in the fall after [she was] born… Every year in May and June, and into July, I suffered crippling depression. Every mother’s day was ruined for me, even after I had [three other children].”

 

The following is a full transcript of the interview:

Question: Did you feel any social pressure to put your child up for adoption? If yes, where did that pressure come from (family, church, friends, boyfriends)?

Answer: My immediate family pushed me to place [my baby]. I was told I would receive no help from them if I kept [her]. They sort of kicked me out, and I willingly left when that mandate was brought down. I couldn’t believe that mom wouldn’t at least help with babysitting sometimes. Or let us live at home for a year while I worked and saved money. I was heart broken that my family abandoned me that way. So there was definite pressure there. Of course, every ward I went to put pressure on me to adopt out. No one was supportive of girls keeping their babies back then. I already told you about the boyfriends. I felt pressure there too. A lot of my regular friends ditched me during that time. They weren’t allowed to hang out with me. So, I was relatively lonely.

Q: What were the main reasons you decided to put your child up for adoption, rather than any other alternative?  

A: The main reasons were morally I did not believe in abortion, for starters. Initially I didn’t want to give [her] up. I had big plans of how I would love and cherish my baby, and she would adore and love me!! It was all a very “romantic” version of single mommyhood!! But as the pregnancy went on, I began to see the more realistic side of raising a child in my own. It wasn’t as rosy as I’d thought it would be. Eventually, I came to realize the best thing for [my baby] was a family that could offer [her] more than I could.

It became clear to me that I wouldn’t be able to afford college and maintain a home for [Maddie]. But I didn’t want to work at McDonald’s forever either. I needed a career in order to support [her]. I didn’t have a family to watch [her], and I wouldn’t be able to afford daycare. It was all a very grim picture at that time! I wanted so badly to give [her] the things that I never had. I would not have been able to achieve that for [her]! I wanted only the best for my baby girl!!!

Q: What were your parent’s, friend’s, church member’s, extended family’s reactions to your decision to put your child up for adoption?

A: My family, ward members, and some of my friends agreed that adoption was the best thing. I had 2 boyfriends during my pregnancy. One encouraged me to keep [the baby]. It was early on, and I was living with him. He rented a room in an apartment with another guy, and a lady and her 4 year old son. I was head over heels for this guy, and there was talk of a big happy family. He worked 2 jobs, and I stayed home in the room with nothing to do, while I was super ill with morning sickness and a skin itching thing I had. The lady there worked nights as a stripper to feed her son. She had a secretary job during the day. Her baby daddy watched the boy during the day, but did a crap job. I watched how she worked so hard to stay afloat. Ken, my boyfriend, was supportive of whatever, but as it seemed the relationship wasn’t working out, he began to push me toward adoption. We broke up. I didn’t date for a while. Towards the end, I dated and was unofficially engaged to Adam. He always knew he wouldn’t be able to handle being a parent so soon. He couldn’t keep a job for more than a month, so I began to be persuaded to think about adoption. My parents had pushed for it all along. I had an Aunt who pushed me to let her sister and brother in law adopt [my baby], but it didn’t feel right. I met them. They were great people, and the promise was there that I could see [my child] whenever I wanted, but I knew that would not work for me. I would have to sever ties in order to move on. it was interesting to me in the end, how many family members were happy I placed [her], and how many weren’t. The division was interesting.

Q: What were the most harsh criticisms, if any, you received in the wake of your decision to put your child up for adoption?

A: The most harsh criticisms I received were from [those not members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints]. People said, “Oh, I could never abandon my child that way!” It was so hard for me to muddle through. People said I’d be damaging [my child] because [she]’d think [she was] unloved and unwanted. These were extremely hard things for me to hear. They were my biggest fears! People also were harsh when they said placing [her] for adoption was the easy way out. That I was escaping from the responsibilities.

Q: What was the hardest part of the adoption process for you?

A: The hardest part of the adoption process for me was the emptiness that I felt. I had so much joy holding [Maddie] and loving on [her] for [those] first 24 hours before we parted ways. I cannot express the gut wrenching feeling I had as they rolled my wheelchair out of the hospital, without [her] in my arms. I literally sobbed ugly, loud, hysterical sobs! I felt empty! My arms physically ached for [my child]. I would awake several times at night thinking I heard [her] cry, but [she] weren’t there. I had to sleep with a bear to fill my aching arms. I slept with [her] picture right next to my bed. Once I got the first photos of [her], that first month. It began to be a bit easier. But it was several months before I slept through the night and didn’t spend most of my day crying. I was very depressed. When my milk came in, I just sobbed. Not only was it painful, and suppressing it was more painful, but my chest actually ached to nurse [my child].

I suffered an actual broken heart for many years. I believe now, after some years of treatment, I had PTSD after giving [my baby] up. I could not stand to drive around town. Everything made me think of [her]! Music, TV shows, everything was hard to enjoy. It’s why I eventually left Redmond in the fall after [she was] born.

Every year in May and June, and into July, I suffered crippling depression. Every mother’s day was ruined for me, even after I had [three other children].

Q: What was your impression of the way LDS Family Services ran things? Anything they did very well? Poorly?

A: I thought LDS social services ran things wonderfully. I was pleased at the level of counseling I received prior to making my decision, and after it was done. Reading packets about couples was a bit overwhelming. Maybe they could have screened them down I bit tighter. Meeting [Maddie’s] parents went smoothly. I like how social services had their “open” adoption laid out. Although it might have been nice to have pictures of [her] every month in that first year. You get some every month at the beginning, but then they store up the pics to give at the one year mark. I wanted to see how [she] grew and changed.

 

Brandie Cribbons is an EMT and mother to three children, two of which currently live in Boise, ID with her (the other is currently serving a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints). Her birth daughter, Maddie, reached out to her in 2012, and the two now enjoy a relationship that has been a blessing to them both.

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2 thoughts on “Blood and Water: American Adoption Stories – Brandie Greenlee (1994)

  1. What a heart breaking account! I think it’s so sad that no matter what decision Ms. Greenlee made, she was wrong. It seemed like half the people she knew were telling her to give her baby up for adoption because it was the right thing to do, and the other half were telling her to keep her baby because it was the right thing to do. What a confusing and difficult situation to be in! No wonder she dealt with depression and PTSD after the fact. I loved the note at the end that mother and daughter now have a relationship with each other, and that it’s been a positive experience. I’m sure that’s helped a lot over the years.

    Like

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