MU visiting professor chronicles experiences as birth mother in memoir

Friday, December 16, 2011 | 1:04 p.m. CST

COLUMBIA — At 19 years old, living in a small town two hours outside of Detroit, Ann Breidenbach had to make a decision — one that changed her life.

Now a visiting assistant professor at MU, she is writing about the decision she made almost 30 years ago to put her son up for adoption.

"The bottom line was that I wasn't equipped by myself to raise a baby at that time," Breidenbach said. "I knew if I gave him up for adoption, that he could have a whole lot more opportunities and stability that I as a single mother at 19 wouldn't have been able to give him."

Earlier this month, Breidenbach won the 2012 Michael Steinberg Fellowship for Creative Non-Fiction for the memoir she is composing about her experiences as a birth mother. Pine Manor College in Massachusetts awarded her $1,000 to fund her first semester at the Solstice Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing Program there. 

She has been writing the memoir — untitled at the date of publication — since 2006. She said she hopes to have it finished and ready for publishers to read by early 2014.

What was originally just a way to "jazz up" her dissertation became the idea for a memoir. She was encouraged by Assistant Professor of English Maureen Stanton in her creative non-fiction seminar. 

"Michael Steinberg, the author who supports the fellowship, he was a mentor of hers (Stanton's)," Breidenbach said. "It's like I've been the beneficiary of two generations of mentorship."

The memoir will describe how she came to the decision of putting her child up for adoption, her feelings afterward and how her life has been affected since.

Whether she was reunited with her son will be revealed in the book, Breidenbach said.

This semester, Breidenbach told her students she was a birth mother in her class, Historical Perspectives on Child Welfare, Adoption and the Family. The class is offered through the History and the Women's and Gender Studies Department at MU. 

"When I told the class, I made it very clear that this was part of my life experience," Breidenbach said, "but that my role in the class was as a professor who was going to introduce them to the history of adoption, not just my experience."  

This semester has been the first time Breidenbach has taught the class by herself. In 2008, she taught alongside Associate Professor of History Catherine Rymph, who is on leave this semester.

The class delves into the history of adoption in the U.S., how adoption is connected to poverty, family, gender, race, sexuality and class and recent issues such as international adoptions.

Breidenbach and Rymph are more than just colleagues, however. They are friends who share a common experience. 

"We told them (the students) we were each part of the triad, but we didn't tell them which part," Rymph said. "At the end of the semester, we made them guess."

The triad that Rymph refers to is a three-sided relationship among an adoptive parent, a birth parent and an adopted child. Rymph, too, has gone through the adoption experience as an adoptive parent.

"In this field it's very common for scholars of adoption to also have a personal involvement," Rymph said.

Breidenbach said her hope for her son was just like that of any other parent.

"It hasn't changed from when I made the decision," she said. "That he would be loved and happy, well taken care of and able to live a fulfilling life."

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