Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Reproductive Agents!!! Not Mothers. Of any sort.

Hi folks, just when you think there is nothing new under the sun...there is! I have--maybe had is the operative word here-- a good friend named Yvonne. She is 77, comes from an aristocratic French/American family, educated both here and there, and there have been times when she called me her "youngest sister" and I called her "the sister I never had." She is a neighbor who lives three doors down from us. We do all kinds of favors for each other.

But there was always one huge gulf between us: adoption. Yvonne never met an adoption that wasn't happy. Though she knew my granddaughter--who even stayed in her house with my nieces (when ours was overwhelmed with relatives) she always needed to make clear to me that she always sided with the adoptive parents and that...she was not in favor of reunions, searching, every adoptee she knew fit in just perfect with her adoptive family, you name it. I always managed to change the subject ASAP, and I knew she was a woman of adamant opinions that offered little room for negotiation.

When Juno came out, I gave her Birthmark to read, thinking that she might at least see my point of view. She did, for about fifteen minutes, apparently. She does know one adoptee who searched, found and became good friends with her mother. According to Yvonne, that is all right. That is the only thing that is all right. But birth mothers' searching: Non, nyet, no, nien!

Sunday, I stopped by her house for a late afternoon visit. On her coffee table is a new book from the point of view of the adoptive father, The Brotherhood of Joseph (the original Biblical adopter), by Brooks Hansen, the son of her old boarding school chum and who lives, as fate would have it, only a few blocks away from us both. You get the picture. Aristocratic also--Brooks? He couldn't have kids with wife (don't know the ages at which they got around to thinking about that) so they adopted a child from Siberia, and a second from Kazakhstan. Which Mirah Riben devotes a small section to in The Stork Market.

Here is a snippet of the description on amazon:

Brooks Hansen vividly captures the emotional turmoil he and his wife, Elizabeth, endured as they tried to concieve, (sic) the years their lives were put on hold, and the excruciating sense of loss. He writes too of the couple’s journey through the bewildering world of adoption—a path to parenthood fraught with financial, legal, and emotional risks of its own.


I first heard of the first adoption at dinner one night at Yvonne's house and when she was getting dessert from the kitchen, and the adoptive grandfather said his son and wife were adopting from Russia so they wouldn't have to deal with "that birthmother business"--he had no idea he was speaking to one--I thought, what the hell, I'm going to burst his smug bubble, and told him...I'm a birthmother, my daughter has lived with us for summers, worked downtown at the ice cream place one summer, her parents have been great, etc.

Well, frankly that's just what we want to avoid, he said just as Yvonne returned with an apple tart and we changed the subject.

Anyway, maybe Yvonne is in her cups a bit last Sunday--she has poured herself a second tumbler of red wine with ice--but this time she will not quit. Showed me Brooks's book on her coffee table, that maybe it's something I ought to check into later when I have the time (she knows I am writing a memoir about my daughter Jane), and somehow and before I know it, she is yelling at me that ... women like me are wrong, we have no understanding of what it really means to be a mother, we are not mothers...the only feelings that count are those of the adoptive parents, WE HAVE NO RIGHT TO INTERFERE, because...we are nothing more than "reproductive agents." We can only give up our children for whatever reasons and pray for them. That is it. Searching? On our own? NEVER.

I argued for a few more moments but tears just started spurting out of me and I said, I can't talk to you about this. As I ran out for the door, she was grabbing my arm, saying, but I love you, dear, let's have dinner this week.

I was sorry that her opinions were so cemented in hardness. I was sad this friendship had come to this. But there is a point at which we can not be doormats to outmoded opinions.

to be continued....

8 comments :

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  3. My son's adoptive mother is also from an aristocratic French family. I think her views are pretty much the same.

    It's interesting that the parents think only of themselves so much that they are trying to shut any door to their child knowing their heritage. I think it is a very old fashioned view and as I have said before, they thought we would never find our kids but we did.

    I have friends who don't agree with my position but they respect it. Me thinks she doth protest too much that you are wrong. Maybe the person she is trying to convince is herself.

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  4. Reading this, I am conflicted between admiring you ability to have put up with as much as you did...and...angry that you did (asI have).

    I'm sure you thought that patience and time would help her to see you as a "good" person, thus not the bad mother she actually always saw you as and finally let lose from her judgmental lips.

    As you so well describe, this woman was like a sister to you and you to her. My own blood sister - who had rocked me to sleep when she was just 3 and I newly born (our mother hospitalized) never understood and specifically said that she "identified" with the adoptive parents and thought my efforts at initiating a search were extremely intrusive on THEIR lives. No one in my family of origins - not my mother, father or sister - ever once thought about MY feelings in any of it. I had "made my bed."

    My parents passed within months of my daughter's passing. My sister never sent a condolence card when my daughter died. She said later that she never thought of her as a niece. Again, disregarding me - her ONLY SIBLING - suffering the loss of my daughter!

    After our parents died we became estranged and I was driven to try to hold onto the only living family I had left. I WORKED to repair the broken relationship - for the sake of our kids, and grandkids, if not for ourselves.

    Now..when I go to doctors and they ask for "next of kin" or "who to contact in an emergency" I reply: No One.

    It was very sad losing my sister. But sometimes one must put an end to the constant, albeit subtle, abuse of not being validated for who we are! Friends accept friends, they do not judge them! She was never your friend. She was, like family and some of them can be very hurtful and have to be cut from our lives.

    Mourn the loss.

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  5. I agree. She is not your friend. Running after you as you left, saying "I love you, dear, let's have dinner," showed her selfishness, her need for you and that only. Ending relationships is hard, even when they aren't good for us. But sometimes we have to. Especially when they have no regard for our boundaries and feelings, as your "friend" does not.

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  6. it makes me think of a recent entry in my own blog I wrote...

    a friend had left a message, totally trying to invalidate my feelings (I felt). And, the title of the entry was... "Smack! I love you. Smack!"

    I wrote to her and told her that it was not supportive, and that if anything, the "advice" she gave me completely invalidated her "I love you statements".

    You are a strong woman to be able to stand up to these people and risk that friendship. I wonder what her connection to adoption is?

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  7. I try so hard to be patient with people like that. Three years ago I finally terminated a longtime friendship. Granted I handled it wrong. At least I know that the woman helped her daughter keep her child. Maybe one day she will be happy that I fought for that grandbaby. Her daughter is someone I consider a daughter. I could not sit by and not say anything. She actually told me that she is grateful that her husband and I were not aborted. Her husband and I are about the same age. Abortion was not a viable option as you well know. I wasn't even asking her to abort. But that was the only other option she gave. She was not forcing her son to relinquish his child just her daughter. I flew off the handle big time. I also told her telling me and her husband that we were lucky not to have been aborted was very insulting to both of us. All I know is that my husband got an email announcing the birth of the child.

    I do believe that mothers have the right to search just as adoptees do. I wish mine had searched for me.

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  8. "... we are not mothers...the only feelings that count are those of the adoptive parents, WE HAVE NO RIGHT TO INTERFERE, because...we are nothing more than "reproductive agents.""

    The problem is also that we often shoot ourselves in the foot when we use words that support this POV.

    Reproductive agent, breeder, broodmare, incubator, gene donor, genetic stranger ... we have been called all of these by people determined to reduce us to being "non-mothers" -- by the same people (industry hacks like Marietta Spencer) who promoted the PAL/RAL term "birthmother" to mean exactly this.

    How effective are our protestations that we are still mothers when someone else calls us a "former mother," if we do it to ourselves all the time by using words coined to denote that we have given up the title of "mother"? :(

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