A unique grief
Local woman’s experience as adopted child comes full circle
As a child bouncing between foster families, Beckah Peeples was angry at her mother for not wanting a relationship with her. “When you go through the foster care system, you never actually feel secure in a home,” she said, “so you hate whoever did that to you.”
Peeples is one of 13 siblings—almost all from different fathers—and she was taken out of her home at 4 years old by Child Protective Services due to her mother’s drug abuse. At 7 years old, she was permanently adopted by a family in Paradise. Her adoptive family was a relatively normal, stable unit. She felt loved, but was still resentful: “Why couldn’t she just quit doing drugs and be a better mom so I wouldn’t have had to go through all of that?”
Now 27 years old, Peeples makes a point of chatting up strangers about adoption, despite it being an uncomfortable subject for some people. A couple of years ago, she literally broadcast her personal story to the community during an interview on KZFR 90.1 FM.
However, she stressed that her experience doesn’t represent everyone’s, and that plenty of adopted children have positive feelings toward their birth parents. Her adoption was closed, which means her birth mother’s identity and contact information were sealed; they’ve never met—nor has she met most of her siblings.
Peeples’ somewhat negative view of adoption—and the mother who gave her up—was turned on its head when she decided to put her own child up for adoption years later. That was a different story.
In an open adoption, the birth parents choose to have contact with the adoptive parents and the child, explained Marikathryn Hendrix, co-founder of Adoption Choices of Northern California. That’s become the most common arrangement, but it wasn’t when the nonprofit launched in 1975.
“Closed adoption was standard up until the 1980s,” Hendrix said. “I think it was the norm because society couldn’t handle a woman being pregnant out of wedlock. It was to protect the birth mom. … It was just a really different time and there was much more secrecy and shame.”
Attitudes have changed, thanks in part to organizations like Adoption Choices. The Chico-based agency offers information, counseling, advocacy and support throughout the adoption process, all under the umbrella of Women’s Health Specialists.
More often than not, people are interested in adopting because they are biologically incapable of having children, Hendrix said. They apply for the program, fill out a questionnaire and create a profile packet, then the birth mother considers their information and sets up in-person meetings.
“It’s always a little miracle when strangers meet, form a bond and develop enough trust for the mother to say, ‘Here, have my baby,’” she said.
It’s up to the birth mother whether the adoption is open or closed, Hendrix said, but most prefer ongoing contact and the full exchange of identifying information (i.e., phone numbers and addresses). In most cases, they choose a family that doesn’t live in their immediate community due to the potential emotional difficulty of running into them at a restaurant or the grocery store.
A great misconception is that women who choose adoption are unfit to be mothers or don’t care about their children, she said. In her experience, it’s an informed and purposeful decision women make because they care about their child.
“It’s like any huge loss, but it has different components,” Hendrix said. “Let’s say your mom dies—you’re going to grieve, but you didn’t choose for that death to happen. A birth mom’s grief is really unique.”
Peeples attended high school in Stockton, where she began struggling with the demons that haunted her birth mother. She got addicted to alcohol, prescription painkillers and eventually methamphetamine, she said, and moved back to Butte County when she was 17 years old, hoping to leave her substance abuse issues behind.
She didn’t, though. “I had to learn to actually, like, deal with it myself,” she said.
At 20 years old, she had finally gotten clean—and then she got pregnant. That was confirmed during an appointment at Women’s Health Specialists, which led her to Adoption Choices.
“I think the [clinician] could tell I wasn’t ecstatic about it,” she recalled. “I ended up meeting Marikathryn, and she gave me a couple of profile packets to look through families who wanted to adopt.”
That seemed like the best option. She had a long-term boyfriend, but she was personally unstable, fighting urges to use again. “I was trying to stay off drugs, and I chose to adopt her because I felt she’d be better off with a family that was prepared for it,” she said.
Peeples met a family from Yuba City while she was still pregnant, and felt immediately that it was the right fit. She chose an open adoption and, in the seven years since, she has stayed clean and in close contact with her birth daughter and her adoptive family, experiencing peaks and valleys of emotion throughout. Sometimes, she’s sure it was the right decision; others, she’s more doubtful.
“Mother’s Day is always interesting, but it hits me differently every year, and some years it doesn’t hurt at all,” she said.
Choosing for her daughter to be raised by different parents has given her a new perspective on her own childhood. She isn’t angry at her birth mother anymore.
“A big stigma for birth mothers is that they’re not capable of handling [being a parent],” she said. “It becomes more of a selfish idea than a selfless one, and that’s how I always viewed my birth mother. … Seeing it from the outside put me at ease about my own situation.”