(c) Lorraine Dusky, 2009
Our relationships with the adoptive parents, especially the mothers, is fraught right from the first moment of adoption. And if one's child has had a good relationship with her adoptive mother, we are the outsiders looking in on a close bond. How the adoptive mother reacts to us--whether they fear us, are resentful that the adoptee is curious, are angry that a search was completed, and so on--determines to a large degree what kind of relationship the adoptee will maintain with her first mother.
In my last post about my daughter Jane's pulling away from me for well over a year, and it had everything to do with Jane's other mother, to wit:
As I wrote the other day, even after I "apologized" without caveats, Jane kept her distance for several more months--maybe up to another year. And then one day she simply started calling me again and we went on as if a break had not occurred. She did not want to talk about what caused her behavior, and I did not press the issue, but eventually I did understand it.
When one of Jane's brothers (a biological son of her parents) died in a tragic skiing accident when he went off a cliff on a Double Diamond run. Jane called me, still crying, with the news almost as soon as she heard. The memorial service was to be out west, where her brother had lived at a ski resort. Jane and her parents, as well as another biological son, lived in Wisconsin. Initially the parents only wanted their other biological son to go to the memorial service, and offered him and him alone airplane fare. Jane's adopted brother lived near the ski resort and would be there. Jane was understandably very upset, and only after she made this clear to her parents did they invite Jane to come west with them.
At the memorial service, her mother uttered these fateful words about her dead son: He was my favorite.
Now that's tough to hear when you are a biological sibling, but if you are adopted, it brings home how immense the difference is between you and the blood siblings in the hearts and minds of your parents. While books and movies sometimes like to play up the good-for-nothing biological son in contrast to the upright and stalwart adopted son, or son-in-law, who is favored by the patriarch of the family, this is rarely the case in real life. At the service where the unspeakable was spoken, Jane's adopted brother apparently said something unprintable to their mother, and didn't talk to her for about a year. Jane's reaction was to retreat almost completely from me in an effort to prove that she was A Good Daughter, worthy of her adoptive mother's love. There is no way around this harsh reality: Being adopted into a family is not the same as being born into it. DNA counts.
One issue that certainly came into play with my relationship with Jane's adoptive mother is how long Jane and I had our own relationship. Though it had its off times--as well as on--her mother came to deeply resent my continuing presence in Jane's life, especially it seemed, after Jane had a "perfect" daughter who did not have the physical and emotional problems that encumbered Jane. If I had been tolerated before as Jane's other mother, now I was actively disliked. What right had I to be Gramma? Furthermore, she felt angry because the golden granddaughter began living with the adoptive grandparents when she was six as Jane was unable to provide a stable home for her. (Yes, my story is complicated.) So there were reasons for her resentment.
And along the way, Jane's mother instilled a sense of guilt into my granddaughter about our relationship, the same way adoptees have guilt over searching, reunion, a relationship with their first mothers. That seems to be dissipating, but not before it hurt me deeply. I had hoped my granddaughter would be spared that.
But not all adoptive families are the same. Tomorrow Firstmother Forum will have a post from Alison Ward, who, like me, searched for and found a daughter when they were minors. Alison reflects upon the death of her daughter's adoptive mother, with whom she had a different kind of relationship. --lorraine