Reviewing Shar’s Story
by Beth Kozan
I guess it shouldn’t have surprised me when, in 1993, my supervisor told me she is a birth mother. Three times at that first adoption agency I worked for, I was told by a coworker in a private conversation, “Not many people know this, but years ago I gave up a baby for adoption.”
The old style of adoption – variously called “traditional adoption” or “closed adoption” – was based on the social mores of a different time. Sometimes described as the “baby scoop era,” many unmarried pregnant women were sent away from their families and communities to maternity homes where they gave birth, signed papers, and were expected to never tell anyone about the child who was placed for adoption.
In Shar’s Story: A Mother and Daughter Reunited, author Sharon Shaw Elrod recalls her decision to go to a maternity home and the lack of emotional supports available for herself and others, as well as from nurses during an extended labor. Everyone judged an unwed mother in those days. Shar followed the norm for that time: she did not hold her baby while in the hospital, she was not allowed to take pictures, and she signed relinquishment papers a few days after delivery, while still in the hospital. She was alone when she walked the floors in anticipated labor, she was alone as she gave birth, and she was alone as she left the hospital.
Shar focused on her education, gaining Masters in Social Work and an EdD in Educational Leadership. She married a dear man whose son from a prior relationship called her “Mom.” And she had a full life, professionally and personally.
When her daughter turned 21, Shar left permission for the Iowa adoption agency provide her daughter with identifying information when/if she asked. It would be another 15 years before she heard that her daughter was interested in “someday getting in touch with her.” Sharon describes with perfect anxiety the wait for “someday” to come.
She also describes the unbounded joy when the emails started coming, and how carefully each of them worked to established their roles. Shar prepared her extended family for to meet their new relative by telling her sisters and her aunts and uncles about the daughter she’d had. In the end, it was a rollicking success, as all the family members welcomed Shar’s daughter and her family into the fold.
During my 35-years career in adoption (30 working for adoption agencies and five years in private practice counseling people touched by adoption), I was fortunate to see adoption change from “the old way” to open adoption. Most of the changes were enacted because people who had used our services – birth mothers and fathers, adoptees and adoptive parents – called in, or came in, to tell how they’d fared; all seemed adversely affected by the secrecy surrounding adoption. Developing training for prospective adoptive parents has been the key in making open adoption a success.
You can purchase Shar’s Story, a self-published chronicle, by contacting Sharon at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Beth Kozan is the author of the book Adoption: More Than by Chance and the forthcoming Helping the Birth Mother You Know. Beth worked in adoption for 35 years and retired to write. She has many more books than these titles to write and will emphasize and explore the concept of community in her additional books. “Growing up in a close agriculture-based, rural community in Texas, I felt the comfort and bonds of caring for others which is often missing in our busy lives today. Exploring and building communities for today is my writer’s goal.” Follow Beth on Facebook or visit her website, where she reviews books and films featuring adoption.