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The Verdict

February 21, 2014

So yesterday my four week long jury duty finally finished.

It wasn’t the best experience, there were a lot of delays, a lot of days spent wasting time. I’m glad it is over.

Yesterday was the day of deliberations. I knew it wouldn’t go well. I knew that I felt strongly about my opinion. I knew at least two of the other jurors felt differently. And I knew everyone on the jury were already four weeks into this case and no one wanted our part of it to last very long.

What I didn’t know as I entered the courtroom dreading what was to come was that we didn’t all have to agree. We only had to be 5 out of 6 jurors to decide (apparently that is the rules of civil court). We went into the jury room, I gave my opinion, the two others who were outspoken the other way gave theirs and then the last three jurors slowly sided with the other two. I said “Okay, I guess that’s it, we’re done?” and two of the other jurors (not the outspoken ones) began to ask me why I felt the way I did. I explained and they didn’t say much. I kept say “If you are sure about your answer we can stop deliberating, we have a 5 out of 6 consensus which is all we need”. But they kept poking me to keep talking.  Finally after 15 minutes where I kept trying to explain my opinion but didn’t understand why I said “we have our answer, if everyone is sure let’s just sign and be done.” and we did.

Less than a half an hour later walking out of the courthouse I was walking to the train with those two jurors. As we sat on the train they both kept saying, “Maybe we should have deliberated more” and “I feel bad about this.” Now it was a civil case, no one went to jail. Our decision was against the plantiff, so she didn’t receive any settlement and I guess there is something to feel bad about there, but only if they actually believed that she suffered because of someone else, to me it seemed if they were sure of their answer then they shouldn’t feel bad.

And then I suddenly realized why they had been asking me to keep talking. They had wanted me to convince others in that room that I was right because they didn’t want to be the reason the deliberations were held up. If they changed their answer then we would have been stuck until more people changed opinions. They would be the reason we were not going home quickly. If I had talked someone else into changing their mind then they wouldn’t have been the bad guy. But I didn’t, and they never spoke up, even if they had said that they weren’t 100% and would like to talk it through I would have been happy to keep talking, but at the time I just saw a room of 5 people who seemed to be saying that they believed something and there was no reason to convince them otherwise. But their silence means they have to live with feeling bad about this. That feeling might only have lasted yesterday afternoon, maybe they forgot about it by the time they went to bed, then again maybe they didn’t.

It reminded me of all the conversations I’ve had with birthmothers about relinquishment. Women who talk about the subtle feelings of obligation, those that come with a pre-birth match when suddenly deciding to parent starts to feel like taking something away from someone else. How by the time they meet their child and really understand all they have agreed to, they also feel the pressure to continue on the path, to not complicate things, to not make anyone else’s life harder.

The pressure a woman may feel to relinquish doesn’t have to be the agency or the potential adoptive parents telling them that them deciding to parent would have a negative impact on them. Expectant Moms are aware of the stakes for the others involved, even if it’s not vocalized. And those stakes create pressure on them, no matter if people are telling them what to do or not.

On jury duty, for three weeks the two women who were siding for the defense were vocal about their opinion, and by the last days in court they were vocal about how they felt like it was a straightforward case and deliberations better be done in 15 minutes. The pressure to agree with them, even if they never expressed it once we were in deliberations was there all along.  I believe in many ways that things like birth mother expenses or pre-birth matching have a purpose that does indeed assist a birth mother, but it also puts an unspoken pressure on the expectant Mom to go along with the plan. It creates stakes that can feel overwhelming.

Yesterday when I entered court I knew my opinion would not be swayed just because changing my opinion would be convenient to others. When I heard the reasoning others had for their opinion I was even more definitive about my own, realizing their thoughts seemed to be based on irrelevant facts. But until I found out that we would only need 5 people to agree to decide as a jury, I also knew that standing behind my decision wouldn’t be an easy thing to do. The other five jurors would be pissed as hell if I cause them to deliberate for multiple days, they would be angry if I wouldn’t just go along with them.

I believe that if at the time of relinquishment that I suddenly realized parenting was a possibility for me that I would have been able to stand my ground then. I think I would have, but I also know how difficult it would have been. My agency wasn’t telling me I shouldn’t parent, in fact they did everything they could to protect me from feeling pressured by M&P including telling them to somewhat keep their distance and to not think of J as theirs until he was actually theirs.  And M&P made it clear all along that J was mine, that the decision wasn’t made until I signed papers. They asked permission to hold him in the hospital, and thanked me profusely when I asked if they wanted to feed him for giving them the opportunity, heck they didn’t buy any baby stuff until the evening before J went home with them. And even with them being super aware of overstepping, it still would have been a decision that I know would have hurt M&P, these two men I was coming to know and like.

I am one of the most stubborn person I know, I don’t give into peer pressure easily and I have an independent streak a mile wide. So yeah, I do think if I could have parented I wouldn’t have let the worry about changing my mind and the impact it would have on others be the thing to dissuade me. But I also understand why others might let the pressure get the best of them. And for those women whose agency doesn’t lecture the PAP at length about not becoming too invested, and remind them daily that this isn’t their child until the papers are signed, that pressure would be so much more. If I felt like M&P were seeing my son as theirs as soon as he was born (or even before) the pressure to not hurt them would have been profound.

So before you find yourself thinking birth mothers “chose this” and “didn’t have a gun to their heads” or similar, realize how often humans give into what seems easier and how if you were at your most vulnerable and were told how selfless doing something was even though it was against every fiber of what you wanted, that maybe you wouldn’t be strong enough to stand tall against such overwhelming pressure. So instead of telling birth mothers no one was stopping them from parenting and it was their own decision, please recognize how human it was to give into what was happening and how that moment of weakness will be with them the rest of their lives, the rest of their children’s lives and will impact generations to come.

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