A Birthmother’s Retreat sponsored by Adoption Option

Suited up and ready to face our fears.

Suited up and ready to face our fears at the Ropes Course.

I learned something profound this weekend. I spent it at a northwoods lodge on a lake in Minnesota with twenty-two mothers. It was hosted by Adoption Option an organization dedicated to opening hearts to adoption.  We are called birth mothers because we are not parenting our children, but we are mothers first. When I first walked in the living room and saw all these women sitting on the couches and chairs chit chatting, I was overwhelmed with sadness, as I thought of the collection of pain represented in this room. All had placed their babies for adoption, some as recently as four months ago, one year, three years, all the way up to me, 48 years ago. Placing for adoption is a complex process that comes about after heavy consideration for the best choice. The decision is often muddy. Some of us can’t help but question if we did the right thing as we feel the guilt for not parenting our own children and the grief for not being able to care for and nurture our babies.

But what enlightened my journey with these women as I heard their stories is that there is another option besides closed adoption. My baby was born in 1967 and at that time my story was kept a secret. We told people I had a kidney disease. I went away, and came home recovered and started school in the fall. The complex emotions were tucked away to be dealt with much later in my adult life.

For these women at the retreat, they are dealing in real time with all these emotions. Many had chosen open adoption. This means they are able to pick the parents of their child. They get to watch them grow and thrive with loving parents. I suppose some can’t help but secretly think, I would do it better—this is a mother-thing—but nonetheless, they are a part of their children’s lives.

I love open adoption. It is good for the child who will inevitably have questions about where they came from. Their story is not a big secret but a natural part of their life. And this contact can bring comfort to the adoptive parents too because they can see that the birthmother’s love does not take away from their own relationship and love for their child.

As birthmoms, we don’t always know how to be.

Do you shower love on the child, the love that wants to burst from your heart, or do you hold back and restrain yourself so the grief when you say bye-for-now is not so devastating?

I just finished reading Brene Browns book, Rising Strong, and I learned that when you are vulnerable, you have to experience the middle icky part. The part where there is the most pain. There is no way to “protect” yourself by holding back. Because holding back does not lessen the pain, it just confuses it. And this denied pain and emotion can turn into dysfunction. It will come out in strange places.

At the retreat, I loved hearing the stories. Each one was unique. The baby a result of a long time relationship, a rape, a one night stand, failed contraception. What do you do when you are faced with an unplanned pregnancy? Adoption Option attempts to educate us so we consider adoption as an option to this derailment of our plans.

How great it was for me to see there is another way to handle adoption besides a closed adoption. Nothing about it is easy, but open adoption brings all the emotions, love, and reality to the families. Once this is in the light, I believe it is the healthiest scenario for the child, the parents, and the birth moms.

I loved hearing about the beautiful entrustment ceremonies:

The birth mom hands her child to the adoptive parents amongst a sprinkling of family and friends to celebrate this most unique and sacred start to a babies life.

Minnesota Teens Get New Perspective on Adoption

I was in the news today. Star Tribune did an article about high school visits sponsored by the Adoption Option Council.. It is not affiliated with any religious or political organization but strives to educate high school students about options when faced with an unplanned pregnancy.


In general health class at Park High School in Cottage Grove, Barb LeCuyer of New Prague talked about her experiences as a birth mom .

Students who passed it from desk to desk seemed to handle it with reverence, glancing from the baby pictures to the 33-year-old communications executive standing in front of them.

“That’s my son,” Gillen said. “And his mother and father.”

Gillen is a volunteer with the Adoption Option Council of Minnesota (AOCM), an adoption advocacy nonprofit that sends panels of speakers — birth parents, adoptive parents, adoptees — into high schools. While AOCM has no political or religious affiliation, it does have a goal — to put adoption on the list of choices that young people might contemplate should they experience an unplanned pregnancy.

“Adoption has been mysterious in the past. We want students to see it for what it is today,” said Jenny Eldredge, AOCM executive director and the adoptive mother of two. “If a student or one of their friends would have a pregnancy before they can parent, our hope is they’ll have a realistic idea of what adoption looks like after hearing these stories.”

Getting birth parents to consider adoption is an uphill battle today. With greater access to contraception and abortion and a reduced social stigma for single parenting, fewer babies are available for adoption.

In general health class at Park High School in Cottage Grove, Judy Liautaud, left, Betsy Trondson and Barb LeCuyer caught up with each other about their experiences as birth mothers.

In general health class at Park High School in Cottage Grove, Judy Liautaud, left, Betsy Trondson and Barb LeCuyer caught up with each other about their experiences as birth mothers.

Fifty years ago, 95 percent of unmarried teen mothers placed their children for adoption, according to statistics cited by the Planned Parenthood Federation. Today, just 2 to 3 percent do. In addition, the number of teen births in Minnesota has fallen steadily — and steeply. According to the Minnesota Health Statistics Report, the number of teen pregnancies fell by 40 percent between 1991 and 2010.

“Over a lifetime, adoption touches many people. This effort lays the groundwork for adoption; it normalizes the process,” said Heidi Wiste, director of social work for Lutheran Social Service and Children’s Home Society. The combined agencies have assisted with adoptions for a century and a half. “Today, tomorrow or someday, this information may be relevant.”

Gillen is a frequent speaker for the AOCM, sharing the story of the pregnancy she kept hidden for months and the baby she bore as a college freshman. Through open adoption, Gillen picked the child’s parents, who live on a farm in a rural part of the state.

“We’ve been in touch from the start, and he’s 14 now. We have a few visits a year and exchange pictures and talk on the phone on his birthday and holidays,” she told the class. “He has a close family, and I was able to finish school and pursue my goals.”

The panel that visited Park High provided a living example of how adoption has changed radically in one generation.

A new attitude

Judy Liautaud was seated at the front of the class, next to Gillen. When Liautaud found herself pregnant at 16 in 1966, her family manufactured a fake kidney condition for her and sent her to a maternity home 100 miles away. She never touched the baby girl she delivered there. The baby went straight to adoptive parents.

“She was so beautiful, so perfect,” Liautaud told the class. “I didn’t hold her because I was afraid I’d never let go.”

The daughter was 26 when Liautaud finally met her.

“She’d had a happy life, and I saw I’d done a wonderful thing,” she said. “I had been filled with shame for most of my adult life and I was finally able to heal.”

The modern adoption story that Kim Haugen shared stood in stark contrast to Liautaud’s. After six lost pregnancies, Haugen and her husband pursued adoption.

“The birth parents who chose us went to school right here at Park,” she told the class. “We met the mother for the first time at the Woodbury Applebee’s and it felt like a fit. Twelve days later our son was born.”

The boy is now 2. His adoption was finalized without scandal or secrets.

“We all still hang out with her all the time; we have a picture of all of us together in his room. It’s great,” Haugen said. “She’s the most selfless person I ever met.”

Surprising stories

While the panel varies, the talk is always frank. The narratives invariably start with impulsive sexual encounters, followed by secret pregnancies and anguished decision-making.

Park High senior Emily Fursco sat in the front row, sometimes shaking her head as she listened.

“We need to know about this,” said Fursco, 18. “This was all new to me. I was surprised by the stories.”

Heather Phillips, who teaches in the Family and Consumer Science Department at Minnetonka High School, brings the AOCM volunteers in every semester.

“These people are authentic. They talk about one of the toughest experiences of their lives and disclose it to 30 young strangers. My kids respect that vulnerability,” she said. “You can practically see them thinking about these difficult choices.”

This school year, AOCM panels made presentations at 110 schools in 33 districts. Most are in the Twin Cities, but volunteers have also visited classrooms in Rochester, Mankato, Litchfield and Hudson, Wis. A 33-minute video version is available for districts in outstate Minnesota.

The focus of the panels continues to be on young parents, but it’s not just teens who find themselves with unplanned pregnancies. A report by the Adoption Institute noted that only one-fourth of birth parents choosing adoption today are teenagers; most are in their early 20s. AOCM’s research on Minnesota birth mothers finds their average age at the time of delivery is 23.

“We never know when someone down the line may reflect back on what they’ve heard,” said Eldredge. “We want their eyes wide open.”


Kevyn Burger is a freelance writer and newscaster at BringMeTheNews.com.


Some great reviews on Amazon

ByRonald P. “ithaca4e”on April 17, 2015
What can I say? After reading this book I understood that each one of us has a story to tell and that the sadness, sorrows, and regrets that we all have can be healed. At 66 I am Judy’s contemporary, and although I am a man who was raised Catholic just like her I understand clearly her plight and I have such loving empathy for her. The feelings found in this memoir will remain with me for a long time to come.
ByRebeccaon May 19, 2015
Really in depth story of teen pregnancy and life in the 60’s. Very good story, very honest and heart wrenching. Quite the page turner, I couldn’t stop reading. So well written.
27 of 27 people found the following review helpful
ByJoe Mcnallyon August 16, 2013
This book will be widely read in the coming years. Judy’s book is a rare combination; fine writing, a heart-wrenching story, and a salve for the soul of the sensitive. Everyone takes different things from life…a book read, a movie watched, a news article, a chance meeting, a dream. We act and interpret according to our characters and experiences. Sixty years ago (as I write this), my mother was moving into the last 48 hours of her pregnancy with the first of her eleven sons, me. She bore 4 daughters too, and she lies buried within shouting distance of where I sit. She was 47 when she died; killed, I thought for many years, by her Catholic faith, and its fierce hunger for more Catholics. We, her children were left with our own demons.

What I took from Judy’s book was this: in matters of the heart, of guilt and of shame, of crushing regret, seek not forgiveness from others, turn first to yourself. It is not so much the story of an unwed mother, a teenage pregnancy, a culture of banishing the black sheep lest the neighbours talk (God help us all…how many tears have been shed for the sake of ‘what people might think’?); it is a lesson in how to value yourself, how to heal yourself.

Judy’s long-seeping wound was inflicted by society. To the millions of other Judys of both genders who will read this book, your wounds will not necessarily be from lost children, but, with luck, Judy’s simple solution will help you find peace. Her story takes a long time to tell…she will take you to her childhood bedroom, her school, the Rocky Mountains, Big Sur, her subtly skilful writing carrying you through the years right alongside her. The story is long, but the message is short…forgive yourself.

Thank you, Judy. And good luck. We have never met. But we have.

My Icebreaker Speech- Toastmasters April 23, 2014

I won the Best Speaker Award this night and took it home to put on my office shelf.  The next week, when they gave out the awards they asked, “Does anyone know what happened to the Best Speaker Award?” Busted.  “I thought it was for take-home,” I whined and brought it back the following week. Here is my speech.

Hello my name is Judy Liautaud.

I’ve always considered myself more of a writer than a talker. Writing gives me the time to pull my thoughts together and I love the ever present silent listener. –no one sighing, rolling eyes, or tapping pens in boredom. The thought of which totally freaks me out.

It is time for me to learn a new skill.  Next January I will be speaking to 150 women on the topic of my recently published memoir, Sunlight on My Shadow. It is the story of my secret teen pregnancy: It was 1967, and I was sixteen.  I walked the halls of my all girls catholic school with my uniform skirt tied together with rubber bands so it could accommodate my expanding belly. When the bands could no longer hold, I told my mom and dad. Dad was very angry and wanted me to have an abortion, but it was too late because I was already five months along.

I was sent a hundred miles away to a home for unwed mothers. I gave the baby up for adoption…. and was told to never look back. If you have seen the movie Philomena, my story is similar.

I thought that I could just keep this nightmare in my past, cut it out like a rotten spot in an apple.

But as the years ticked by, I had to know what had happened to the baby I had given up, so I sought her out.  This is the content of my book . It is also the story of how I healed from the shame, regret, and grief in my adult years.

I am the youngest child of five. My mom had me when she was in her mid 40’s. I think I was an accident.  Being a staunch catholic, Mom was using the rhythm method. I think she lost the beat.  The sibling closest to me is Jeff, who is 7 years older so I spent way too much time rattling around the house with just Mom and Dad.

After I came home from the recovery of my “kidney disease”—this was the story we told to cover-up my pregnancy—I went to a few years of college and married my first husband, Dave Rodriguez.  He was a wild, carefree spirit.  A kind of Houdini who liked putting himself in dangerous situations and thriving on the challenge of escape. We back packed through south America for a year and a half and then we started a hang gliding school that we operated for 15 years.

I intended for marriage to be forever…. but eventually our values and interests mixed like oil and water. We ended up divorcing after 28 years. At which point I bought Dave out of the publishing company we started, City Creek Press, so I  have owned and operated that for the past 22 years.

Then I was single for 8 years when a friend who owned a speed dating company, called me up and said, “ Judy I am short on women for an event tonight, could you make it? I thought I’d give it a try. What happened was, I had five minutes to meet with ten men. After each conversation I wrote on a report card Yes or No.  Yes meaning I am interested or no—not so much. Then, at the end of the night , the owner tallied the yes’s and no’s.  If there are two yes’s for a couple, this was a match and you got an email the next morning.

That was the night I met Joe.  He was not what I had in mind for an ideal mate at the time but he interested me.  He asked good questions, he was good looking, energetic, and clever. I tried to ignore the fact that he was a bit overweight and left the event in a giant Ford pickup truck. A hard body in a Beemer or Harley would have been better —or so I thought.

Joe and I got married on March 4, 2006 and I must say that I had no idea a partnership could be so nurturing and fulfilling.  Each night,  I look forward to hearing the garage door open because it means that Joe has come home from a hard day of work at the Federal Reserve Bank. By the way, after we married,  Joe lost a ton of weight…. and he is a runner…. so I now have my hard-body—and he sold the truck.

Which just goes to show: that you can’t judge a book by its cover.

I have two married daughters and six grand children. The day my first grand child, Cora,  was born, I was shocked at how I loved her instantly like I did my own babies.  I can’t get enough of these kids.  Mainly because they live out of state—in Omaha and Gainesville, Florida, but we manage to get together several times a year.

In 1950 my father bought land on Bond Lake in Wisconsin so  I have spent many of my summers up there. I love swimming, skiing, biking, and walks in the woods.

I am excited to have found you my fellow toastmasters in a location close to my home.  I appreciate learning from you and hope it’s not too painful for you to watch me muddle through acquiring this new skill.  I would like to learn how to speak without reading and hope that will come with practice.  I look forward to your support and suggestions. Madam (Mister) Toastmaster.

Next Generation Indie Award Finalist 2014

Sunlight on My Shadow was a finalist in the category Biography/autobiography for the year 2014. There were 5 finalists named for this prestigious award. This is the largest not-for-profit award program for independent publishers.

Getting Rid of Toxic Shame

Sunlight on My Shadow, begged to be written. It sat there for 40 years, this quiet weight on my heart, a story bound in secrecy and obscured by years of neglect.

So about 5 years ago, I started tapping on the keyboard. The words flowed easily but when I thought of anyone reading what I wrote, I cringed and the words dried up. You see, I was paralyzed with shame and regret. So I just wrote it for myself, pretending no one would ever read it. It seemed to be the only way to keep the words flowing onto the page.

Walk In Your Own Shoes

My book, Sunlight on My Shadow, begged to be written. It sat there for years, this quiet weight on my heart. It was a story bound in secrecy that was there yet obscured by years of neglect.

It was oppressive holding this story inside of me.

So about 5 years ago, I started tapping on the keyboard. The words flowed easily but when I thought of anyone reading what I wrote, I cringed and the words dried up. So I just wrote it for myself, pretending no one would ever read it. It seemed the only way to keep the words flowing onto the page and I knew the writing was good for my heart and soul.

Kiona and Tessie Talk About Mom’s Book

Jon Chapman asks Kiona and Tessie how their mom’s book changed things. Kiona says she is just about as excited as her mom about the book launch because she was one of the first people to read the first draft and has been along on the writing journey helping with editing and feedback. Kiona has been a wonderful support of my story and an encouraging light along the way besides for a talented editor.

Tessie cries as she tells about reading that her mom’s mom, Grandma Ethel never had a serious conversation with me after I returned from giving birth and giving my baby up for adoption.My mom never knew the details of my experience. I know it is hard for Tessie to understand that nobody spoke -not mom-not me-not dad-but there was so much shame that it seemed best left in the darkness of secrecy. Tessie goes on to say that she is thankful for the message of the toxicity of secrets and grateful to know me in a deeper way.

The Children They Gave Away by Sarah Karnasiewicz- salon.com

In this article Sarah interviews Ann Fessler, the author of “The Girls Who Went Away.”
“In the decades between World War II and Roe v. Wade, 1.5 million young women were secretly sent to homes for unwed mothers and coerced into giving their babies up for adoption. Now their stories are finally being told.

“Nobody ever asked me if I wanted to keep [my] baby, or explained the options. I went to a maternity home, I was going to have the baby, they were going to take it, and I was going to go home. I was not allowed to keep the baby. I would have been disowned.”

— Joyce

It was the 1960s and Joyce was going to beauty school in Florida when she realized she was pregnant. When her mother found out, Joyce says, she was “dumped” at a Salvation Army Home for Unwed Mothers in Alabama. “It was an old, old, old house with big rooms,” she remembers now. “[And] I had no control … It was like being in a car wreck or something. Once you start skidding, that’s it. [So] I kind of skidded through it.”

Joyce is just one of more than a million and a half women who were sent to maternity homes to surrender their children for adoption in the decades between World War II and the passage of Roe v. Wade in 1973. They were college freshman working their way through school with two jobs. They were tomboys, sorority girls and valedictorians. They were mothers and they were invisible.

But now, artist and writer Ann Fessler has uncovered their hidden stories. The result of years of research and more than one hundred interviews, Fessler’s new book, “The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe v. Wade,” is an astonishing oral history that brings to light the dark undercurrent of life in America’s postwar middle class. Denied adequate sex education, shamed by socially conformist parents and peers, and without legal access to abortion, Fessler’s subjects emerge as the victims of a double standard that labeled them promiscuous while condoning the sexual adventures of their male counterparts.

Brene Brown’s Wholehearted Parenting Manifesto

I just love this message of teaching by example and raising our children so they know they are seen, loved, and belong and that we can share our struggles. Sooo beautiful. This is from Brene Brown’s new book Daring Greatly. Read the whole article here. Judy

    The Wholehearted Parenting Manifesto by Brene Brown

Above all else, I want you to know that you are loved and lovable. You will learn this from my words and actions–the lessons on love are in how I treat you and how I treat myself.

I want you to engage with the world from a place of worthiness. You will learn that you are worthy of love, belonging, and joy every time you see me practice self-compassion and embrace my own imperfections.

We will practice courage in our family by showing up, letting ourselves be seen, and honoring vulnerability. We will share our stories of struggle and strength. There will always be room in our home for both.