Monday, March 30, 2009

The Daughter I Never Wanted and other lies about adoption in the media

How do we deal with our reunited children--if we don't like them? Or, how does the media deal with adoption?

The topic is the subject of Dear Prudence, advice columnist at Slate.com, this week (3/26/09). Headline:
"My long-lost daughter is a terror, and I want nothing to do with her." Well, the letter doesn't exactly say that.

The writer seeking advice from the ill-advised Prudence says that she got pregnant at 17, her family was not supportive, she gave the child up, but "never forgot her." The writer adds that she reached out to her daughter through the lawyer who handled the adoption, met the daughter, who also had a child at some young age and was living at home with her adoptive parents and the child. After email and phone contact, they met--what a meeting: the birth mother, her mother, another daughter she had five years later...and the adoptee, her baby, and her adoptive mother. Talk about a recipe for disaster!

The birth mother frankly admits that she did not like her daughter: She wrote that her daughter was "rude and disrespectful to her mom, yells at her baby, dresses like a slob, and was a brat the whole weekend." Ya think the girl might have had some issues? She also criticizes her daughter for not being more grateful for the "great gift" she got her. It ends with this note: "She is in school to join my chosen profession, which I think she will suck at." Signed: --What Should I do About the Daughter I Never Wanted.

There are so many issues here one hardly knows where to begin. But before we get to the writer's disappointment with her daughter, let me deconstruct the way the issue is handled by Slate and Dear ImPrudence, who now is going to join my rapidly growing list of obnoxious people I feel cranky about. Really cranky. Though the birth/first/natural/biological/real mother says she "never forgot" the child she gave up for adoption, yet the letter's signature says...the daughter I never wanted...Give me a break, Slate and Ms. ImPrudent. That is the lovely idea of someone in the editing department, or maybe Prudence herself. Does anyone know if she is an adoptive mother? Might be. Because that's just the kind of idea--that the girl was never wanted--that many today want to believe because that makes it easy for adoptive parents to imply...Your mother never wanted you. Meaning: Be grateful you got me, you lucky bastard.

And as someone involved in the media myself, I know that many professional women waited way past their fecund years to have a child and then found a way to adopt. (Further proof is Sunday's (3/29/09) New York Times' Modern Love story, "My Clock Was Already Ticking. You know how that one ends. After an abortion at 34, the writer [creative person, natch] gets married a "couple of years later," and whadda ya know, she can't get pregnant [now she has to be 36,37, at least], even with expensive IVF treatments over a couple of years. So a birth mother provides a child--no two birth mothers provide two children. I am feeling cranky about this tonight.)

But I digress.

Back to Prudence. Dear ImPrudence, those of us who relinquished our children did not want to get pregnant when we could not keep the child--if that was anybody's goal she needs her head examined--but once we were carrying our babies, once we had them, we sure as hell bonded with them and let them go only under terrible duress and unending sorrow. To make up the "daughter I never wanted" line might be satisfying to adoptive parents, but there is nothing in that letter that would lead to that. Nada. Not liking a daughter in person is not the same as "never wanted.

Furthermore, the birth/biological/first mother/letter writer says she initiated the search! If she "never wanted her" it is not conceivable she that would have searched.

In Prudie's answer, she goes on to tell the writer that a) maybe the girl has issues, and b) notes that one of the issues might be that her biological mother kept a second child, also a daughter. Well, there she has a point, through the rest of the verbiage chides the writers for "disrupting" the girl's life. We also get the smack in the face that of course her "mother is the person who raised her." We know that, Dear Pru, it's been drummed into our heads since the beginning of time. We are just the DNA carriers. And gestational wombs. And then we are supposed to exit, Stage Left, never to return and certainly not for the curtain call.

As a last insult to us natural mothers, the link that shows up at the bottom of my screen says this: I loathe my daughter...Really, did the writer say that? This is yet another example of how the media looks upon us. We loathe our children; we "disrupt" their lives if we find them? Prudie the Ignorant shows not one whit of sympathy for birth mothers. But ain't that the way?

Well, there's more to this story. Fellow blogger Linda, as regular readers know, was found by her daughter, had a wonderful reunion and then the daughter cut her out of her life. But Linda did have some less than laudatory feelings about her daughter. Here's Linda after reading the Dear Prudence column:

I smiled as I read about how obnoxious the adoptee is. I can relate, a little. My daughter was 23 when she contacted me, and as I’ve said before, the honeymoon was short-lived…the daily phone call and the all-day-long e-mail blizzard ceased six weeks into our reunion, and I was…shocked? hurt? dumbfounded? confused? Yep.


People who’ve met my daughter have sympathetically said “It’s how she was raised” to excuse her behavior. She wasn’t bratty, but rather cool, aloof, she grew up in a privileged bubble, the polar opposite of me…if we were cast in Titanic, she would have been Kate Winslett in first class quarters and I would be Leo DeCaprio having a grand old time with the peasants in steerage. She was accustomed to getting her own way 99 percent of the time, and then she met me, who knew what she was thinking before she did, and that really freaked her out. No one was more shocked than I when, having had enough of her bad behavior (that snotty sense of entitlement that was just unacceptable to me), I told her “I love you but sometimes I don’t like you.”


Unlike this writer to Dear Prudence, my daughter was wanted, And yes, unfortunately, my daughter inherited many of my least favorite qualities. That doesn’t make me love her less.


I realize a lot of it, if not all of it, boils down to "you gave me away," even though she understands the circumstances and has told me many times she feels very fortunate to have the advantages she’s enjoyed. And it's not just the abandonment issues, it's so much more, as I've learned from the adoptees who I've met and learned from. I realize she'll be struggling with these issues for years to come, even though she swears (at least the last time we spoke, and apparently tells my sister regularly) that she's a shiny happy adoptee. I didn’t hide my feelings and heartache about relinquishment as well as I should have (too much information isn't necessarily a good thing)…but as I’ve also said, if anyone was prepared for reunion, it was me. It's virtually impossible for anyone to be prepared for the post-reunion Pandora’s box.


Oh, what a friggin’ mess this business of adoption is.

_________________________________________________


PS: We'll find out if Madonna is going to take another child out of Malawi on Friday. I know she is going build a school or some such, but why can't she leave it at that? Every time a celebrity adopts, it sets the thought in motion once again: Gee, how great to adopt. I think I'll adopt. I'll get one of those cute starving kids from India. Nepal. Siberia. And so it goes. More kids are stolen to supply the bull market in babies. No recession here.

11 comments :

  1. You wondered if Prudie was an adopter.
    Interestingly, it has been suggested elsewhere that Prudie might be an adoptee!

    I can't guess to what extent this letter is authentic, but I must say I found this sentence, "The more contact we had, the more I didn't like her " really weird.
    You'd think it would be "the less I liked her."
    The way it's written, it seems to indicate the mother was disillusioned (unrealistic expectations?) from first contact, and almost wilfully built on her dislike.
    The way this thing is presented, they do both sound equally ghastly.

    I totally agree with you about the first IRL meeting.
    It sounds like Bedlam. *What* a recipe for disaster. But presumably mutually decided upon. Wonder how. And why.

    However, as you say, there's so much wrong here one hardly knows where to begin - or whether to take any of it seriously. Rather too much information without any of it being really useful because there's no nuance.
    It's almost like an agony aunt's cautionary tale, not an honestly drawn predicament.

    I think I am going to reach for the salt cellar.

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  2. Congratulations, Lorraine, on injecting some genuinely funny material into a subject that's starting to feel like the proverbial lead balloon: adoption. I finished the post feeling glad I didn't know any of these folks.

    As for Madonna, look on the bright side. That guy from Save the Children got a lot of media exposure, most of it quite positive. He was very reasonable but very firm.

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  3. I'm so grateful for this education I've had at your hands and others. I *get it* so much better now, especially the invalidation of first mothers. We don't agree on everything but there is no need to. Thanks for a great resource.

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  4. Osolomama, your second comment made my heart soar; it was just the affirmation and validation we needed. There have been weeks when we've had nothing to say about the topic of adoption, and then suddenly adoption is all around us, like now, and we have too many topics to discuss.

    You're right, we don't have to agree on everything, but knowing that you and others are getting it makes it all worthwhile.

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  5. Whether Prudence is an adopter, an adoptee or neither, what is sad is that she missed a golden opportunity to talk about how feelings often dictate behavior and how, with a little knowledge, we can look beyond the behavior to the cause.

    While she may have pointed out to the birth mother some possible reasons why the daughter acted as she did, she offered no solid advice to either of them as to how to follow the hurt and begin the healing process.

    She also missed the opportunity to talk about setting the best possible scene for a successful reunion.

    Only in passing did she mentioned the parade of participants, a party of six (one of whom was a small child) thrown together in a strange environment for an entire weekend.

    Prudence failed to point out that before one can determine whether or not one "likes" the other, they would do well to get to know one another. That would include getting to know the baggage each carries and brings into this reunion and what is packed inside those bags, such things as guilt, shame, abandonment issues, and in this case one very large parcel that should never be overlooked, which is labeled "I got pregnant
    too and I didn't give my baby away."

    A reunion is just that -- a RE union or a uniting again, and hopefully, the beginning of a life time commitment to one another. It should be planned carefully. It requires both parties getting out of "search mode" which, in many cases, is furiously going full speed ahead and settling into a slower, more carefully paced "discovery/acceptance mode."

    It takes time and rarely can one accomplish this is one weekend even if phone calls and emails have been exchanged.

    I've often heard comments such as "the honeymoon was over." I understand the concept but a reunion between an adoptee and birth mother is not a marriage. It is, instead, the stitching together of a bond formed long ago, a tapestry, if you will, that was torn apart.

    Some are fortunate as their tapestry gets torn with a nice clean edge and it's easily put back together.

    More often than not, the tapestry is damaged and the repairing of it takes time. Some of the threads are dark and frayed, others are brilliantly colored but when woven back together with care the piece can be whole again. The dark threads then serve to highlight those that shine and dance across the cloth.

    It takes two weavers who are not distracted by others who want to add their own threads too soon.

    Prudence fell flat on her face in her attempt to give some worthy advice. I have no idea what her tapestry looks like but I can only hope she will go home and begin to repair it before she tells others how to repair theirs.

    Peace,
    Aunt Patty

    ReplyDelete
  6. Thank you, Linda. It's weird. Now that my consciousness has been raised, it won't go back.

    I wrote an open letter to Madonna. Didn't come up in the Google news alerts under blogs because I didn't tag it properly.
    http://tiny.cc/Rsf2J

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  7. I do not think that Madonna's latest attempt to adopt is generating positive thoughts about adoption, especially of the international variety. Rather, her piggish behavior and the well-publicized fact that Mercy, the child she wants to purchase, has family who care and do not want her adopted is throwing a spotlight on corruption in adoption practice. Madonna is so slutty, selfish and over the top that the publicity generated is better for our side, for the most part.

    As to the letter to Dear Prudence, it looks like another sad case of unmet unrealistic expectations. This is a spoiler in many reunions. I did not think the advice was that bad, but it certainly could have been a lot better.

    I have found one advantage in being profoundly pessimistic; my son far excedes my expectations, because most of them were more like fears; that he would be in some way profoundly damaged or unable to cope with life. I have to say there is nothing about him that disappoints me, and much that delights that I truly did not expect. He is really finer than I could have imagined.

    Yes, I wish he were not so distant and reluctant to come closer, but that is his choice. Who he is as a man I am proud of and honored to know, even from a distance. I know this is not always the case, and in this I am lucky and blessed.

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  8. From the 'Dear Prudie' letter, " She is in school to join my chosen profession, which I think she will suck at. "

    That's nice.
    Perhaps the daughter will rock at her "chosen profession", and the mother will get to work under her.
    Imagine that.

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  9. I want to thank Aunt Patty for her very insightful comments about the complexties and possibilities of reunion. A tapestry is a beautiful analogy in this context!

    Prudie certaintly missed the boat, but she does what most advice columnists do: offer simplistic solutions with a heavy dose of pop pyschology, topped of with a strong reinforcement of societal assumptions and, VOILA, problem solved. Not!

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  10. On the Madonna adoption topic; one thing I don't understand is why she has to have that particular child? Since that adoption, and the one before, are problematic because there are relatives available who DO want the child, why doesn't the agency just offer her another child, one who really is an orphan with no family that cares? If she just wants a child from Malawi, why does it have to be Mercy? On top of everything else wrong there, that should be a dealbreaker with that agency, if she would not take a different child.

    In the past, people who wanted to adopt usually got the next kid that came down the chute, not a hand-picked one. Why should money talk so loud in this case? Can we all say "Bribe"?

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  11. Mairaine said "Can we all say "Bribe"?"

    Shhh, LOUDLY.

    Madonna's Missing Millions
    http://www.foxnews.com/story/
    0,2933,511737,00.html

    And then there's Willard Manjalo.
    http://ca.askmen.com/celebs/entertainment-news/madonna/madonna-education-payment.html

    ReplyDelete

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