Birth mothers find support in shared experience

Mary Sharon Monaco always hoped that one day a son she had given birth to as a teenager would come knocking at her door.

“There were times when I would get up and think, ‘I’m not going to wear this. If he comes to the door I want to look a little nicer,’” she said. “It was that real.”

Monaco, an active member of Saint Stephen Parish in Pennsauken, has always lived in the same house where she grew up. She became pregnant in 1972 as an 18-year-old senior in high school and was sent to a Catholic home for unwed mothers for the duration of the pregnancy. There she met Joan McCarthy, another 18-year-old mother, and the two became lifelong friends.

While they “adored” the sisters who cared for them at the home, the cultural shame associated with unwed pregnancies was pervasive. The girls were given false identities the moment they walked through the doors, never allowed to reveal their real last names, towns or high schools.

Once they returned home, the pregnancy and adoption was never discussed again. Neither remembers being offered counseling before or after giving their children for adoption. They had only each other for support.

“We were told that we would get on with our lives,” Monaco said. “That this was behind us; to move on.”

Monaco later married her husband of 40 years and had two more children. McCarthy also married and had a son. But for both of them, the child they had parted with continued to play a large role in their thoughts.

“There are no words to describe how that piece of our story affected the rest of our lives,” Monaco said of herself and McCarthy. “As blessed as our lives are, not raising that firstborn child affects everything.”

It was only natural that some 40 years later when they decided to take steps to find their children they decided to do it together. They went to Catholic Charities and began the process of counseling sessions and research.

“It was a leap of faith for us, but we trusted in God to see us through,” McCarthy said.

The outcomes of their searches illustrate the complicated scenarios that can occur when either party in an adoption seeks a reunion.

McCarthy did reunite with her daughter, but the two have since fallen out of touch. Monaco learned that her son had died tragically as a teen.

Today the two are forming a support group for birth mothers with other mothers they’ve met online that they’re calling “First Mother Family.” They hope the group can help fill the void of support available to birth mothers.

“Now our focus is on reaching out to other birth mothers, just for the comfort and support that we had all these years,” Monaco said.

The group is open to all birth mothers, and those interested in joining can contact Monaco at FirstMotherFamily@gmail.com.

Beginning in January 2017, adoptees will gain access to their full original birth certificates, due to a new law signed by Gov. Chris Christie in May 2014. Adoptees will be able to receive, if they request it, information on their original birth certificates, like their birth parents’ names, but also their medical history.

Birth parents who do not wish to have this information disclosed can fill out a contact preference form, where they can indicate if and how they wish to be contacted by an adoptee. There are three options: direct contact, contact through an intermediary (which can be a relative, friend or agency appointed by the birth parent), or no contact.

By contrast, birth mothers who placed their children for adoption in New Jersey before Aug. 1, 2015 and wish to remain anonymous have until Dec. 31, 2016 to file a redaction form if they want their names removed from their children’s birth certificates and any other documents being released to the adoptee or relative who is searching.

Both Monaco and McCarthy were in favor of the law granting adoptees increased access to their birth certificates.

“I think everybody has a right to their own story. And their story begins with their birth mother,” Monaco said. “That in itself I think is a right to have a copy of your birth certificate.”

“We never wanted to be protected from our children,” she continued. “My heart goes out to a mother who still has to keep that secret.”

Adoption redaction requests, contact preferences, and social/cultural/medical history forms can be submitted via mail or electronically. They are available online at AdoptionRecords.nj.gov. The New Jersey Catholic Conference has instituted a helpline that anyone can call to get more information about the changes to the law: 609-989-4809. More information is also available on the group’s website: www.njcathconf.com

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