Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Adoption Cycle: Adoptees who have babies they relinquish



Copyright (c) Lorraine Dusky 2009

As I wrote a few days ago, I watched several episodes of The Locator in one evening, and the other one that is worth commenting about hit on a subject near to my heart. The search de jour was initiated by a birth mother who was adopted herself. As some of you know, my daughter Jane also had a daughter whom she relinquished for adoption that I've written about before. From the vantage point of a thousand-plus miles, after a period when we had not been speaking, I could not convince Jane to a) let the father's mother raise the girl, as the woman apparently wanted; or b) enter into an open adoption arrangement. Yes, we have heard about many such "open" arrangements that end up not as promised (and have written about them here), but at least one starts out with a name and an address at the time of the relinquishment and adoption.

No, Jane insisted, she would only have a closed adoption. No names, no contact, no responsibility.

The woman in this episode of The Locator gave up her child in a closed adoption also. Troy Dunn found her son, the reunion was great, and his three siblings were happy to meet him. When he first laid eyes on them, his joy was infectious: You all look like me, was his immediate and surprised comment. Not having been adopted myself, I can't imagine how wonderful that feeling must be. The young man had a band himself, and his siblings were all involved in some sort of music.

How many women of my generation and younger who were adopted had children they also gave up for adoption? When this happened to me (as any birth involves more than the mother, it involves families) I felt as if that no matter what I did, I had failed. It seemed painfully obvious that Jane was determined to repeat history. And then of course, I wondered, what about the generation after that? Could I protect my granddaughters from doing the same?

The occurrence of adopted teenagers and young women having babies they relinquish is one that is referred to in various adoption books, but since there is no adequate way to compile reliable statistics, how common this is no one knows. But those who have been around adoption for many years feel that it is not unusual, particularly in the early days of adoption reform before abortion was legally available. One would go to a conference, and run into an adoptee-birth mother here, another one there, a third one there.

Annette Baran, an adoption social worker and is one of the authors of The Adoption Triangle, confirmed my sense of this. Jean Strauss, whose memoir Birthright is about her own search and reunion, discovered that when she found her mother, she also found an adoptee. Straus later found her grandmother and reunited the two of them, and made a film of the reconnecting of the three of them.

In Being Adopted: The Lifelong Search for Self by David Brodzinsky, Marshall Schechter and Robin Marantz Henig, the authors write of a complicated sexual expression for adopted teenagers: “Adopted teenagers who were born to teenage mothers may feel the cycle repeating itself in their own sexual behavior. Adoptive mothers who agonized over their own infertility may feel jealous and resentful of their daughter’s developing fecundity….Some [adopted teenagers]deliberately become pregnant to undo what they feel to be their birth mother’s mistakes. And some go in the opposite direction, shying away even from healthy sexual experimentation because they are so aware of where that landed their birth mothers.” (Incidentally, Being Adopted is one of my very favorite books explaining the dynamic of what it is like to be adopted.)

Adoptee memoirs came out after abortion became legal often contain include the authors' own abortions, and their rather quick and, all things considered, uncomplicated decisions to have an abortion rather than make a different choice. “I know my birth mother and I are alike in this,” Strauss wrote in Beneath a Tall Tree, “We return home form a hospital, empty and childless. I believe we both wish we could have made different choices, not about adoption or abortion, but about the choice of letting ourselves become pregnant in the first place.” (For me, Strauss's book was one whose insights were delivered without overt rancor.)

Sarah Saffian in Ithaka wrote: “…for me, a mistaken pregnancy myself, having an abortion had been a particular tragedy” though she gives no explanation that this affected her more than any other woman who had not been adopted. A few days later, meeting her boy friend, Saffian is back on track: “Refreshed by a few day’s distance from the experience, I said how relieved I was that it was over, that now we could ‘get on with our lives.’” Neither Strauss nor Saffian wrote that they was particularly distraught over their decision to abort—before or after. (Personally, I had trouble with Saffian's book. I know that it is brutally honest; let's just say that as a birth/first mother, I found it brutal.)

Adopted women having babies who are also adopted: It seems the saddest of all possible outcomes.


13 comments :

  1. I imagine this trend has been perpetuated by these girls' "happy dappy" adoptive parents. Afterall, adoption was a win-win situation to them, right? Infertile couple got what they wanted and "troubled" teen girl got out of her problem. (barf)

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  2. I actually admire adoptees who go on to adopt.

    Not in that sickening "saviour" way, but to understand that they will "get it" even MORESO than mothers who haven't been an adoptee nor relinquished a child.

    OTOH I do not understand adoptees who relinquish.

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  3. I feel the same way about adoptees who go on to adopt...in the right way... I know they "get it."

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  4. When I was pregnant with Megan I talked to a social worker at the Florence Crittenton facility in San Francisco. I did not stay there but went there because it was the only adoption-related place I had heard of.

    Perhaps because I was not a teenager or a client, the social worker was quite candid about the downsides of adoption. (How I wish I had listened to her!) She told me that she saw a high number of adoptees at Florence Crittenton. However, other workers told her it just seemed that way.

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  5. My mother was adopted at age 6 (in 1929), more like fostered. When her father died, her mother walked away from all 9 of her children (some old enough to work and/or marry, one newborn). She kept this a secret from everyone, including my father, me and my siblings. We only found out because her sister (the relinquished newborn) found her and then us.

    When I learned this, I was stunned that she had been so eager (actually insistent) that I give up my son! She knew what it felt like to lose her family of origin. But of course she was also influenced by her shame-ridden Southern Baptist background.

    After I reunited with my son 13 years ago, I learned that he and his first wife had relinquished their two children for adoption (a two-year-old and newborn) when they divorced. He has so many issues with having been given up and yet he did the same thing.

    My family's history of lost parents and children weighs heavily on me. I worry about my granddaughter...

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  6. I would think that adoptee's that adopt would understand the pain and NOT adopt.

    I really don't believe they would be any different than those that adopt after all adoption means its their
    "child"

    I don't believe women who have lost a baby to adoption and then adopt "get it" either.

    They are just replacing their lost child with another woman's therefore placing the pain on another woman.

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  7. I'm rather surprised at the blanket absolution here for adoptees adopting. So are adoptees not walking into the same minefield as other adoptive parents? Are they not bound by the same ethical dilemmas and issues? Just because you are an adoptee, how does that automatically give you insight into every adoptee's story, specifically, the child who might become your child? Wow—so you admire adoptive parents, but only the ones who are adopted themselves. ????

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  8. I have not observed that adoptees who adopt make better adoptive parents across the board. It all depends on how they view their own adoption and why they chose to adopt. Yes, some are more understanding, but others are playing out the adoption drama they grew up with, and are some of the fiercest opponents of openness.

    It must be so painful to know that a surrendered daughter also surrendered a child. I have no daughters so don't really know, but I think this might be a bigger issue for mothers of daughters than mothers of sons. As far as I know I have no grandchildren. Maybe my sons went the opposite way, fear of having kids, including the surrendered one. There do seem to be a fair number of adoptee/birthmothers.

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  9. My daughter always said she wanted three children--two boys and a girl. After her second son was born she learned she had cervical cancer, which dashed her hopes of completing her family as planned.

    This is secondhand information from my sister, but supposedly when she gingerly asked my daughter if she'd consider adoption, her response was a firm, sharp, "NO!" My sister was shocked, and my daughter explained, "I know, I know, that sounds very strange coming from me. But my mother got lucky (meaning I had good prenatal care), nowadays you don't know what you're gonna get [a statement echoed by a friend who spent thousands of dollars before she finally conceived through IVF]. And besides, I wouldn't want to inflict that sort of pain and heartache [i.e., the firstmother's loss of her child] on another woman."

    In our very first telephone conversation, one of the first things my daughter said to me was "I have to tell you something. I had an abortion when I was 19...I didn't have your strength and courage...I just wanted to be a freshman." That confession stands head and shoulders above many she shared with me that have splintered my heart into thousands of shards. If my daughter knew her first mother was 19 when she relinquished her to adoption (and her parents had that info, how I wish they had shared everything they knew of me with my daughter insteading of raising her as though she were their own), would she have been spared that one decision that just about every woman fears she'll be faced with?

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  10. A couple of thoughts, the first for Mei-Ling.
    I think that "getting it" (*whatever* it is) from the perspective of a shared experience (identification) is very different from "getting it" (or any part of "it") through the ability to empathize. Apples and oranges perhaps, and not to be compared.
    I don't think being able to identify with someone else's experience necessarily enhances empathy, though no doubt it helps understanding.


    To Anon. Speaking as a mother who has both relinquished and adopted (the latter twenty years after the former), I can say quite confidently that my first son was and is irreplaceable. No way was I "replacing" him when I adopted our second son.
    As for taking another woman's child and thereby "passing on the pain", I fail to see how that works in the case of children have been left without home or family in which to grow up. I hesitate to use the word "abandoned" because I know it's more complicated than that. However, in practical if not necessarily in emotional terms, that's what it is.
    Perhaps Anon believes that raising such children in institutions would alleviate their mothers' pain.
    If so, I would disagree..

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  11. anonymous: "I would think that adoptee's that adopt would understand the pain and NOT adopt.

    I really don't believe they would be any different than those that adopt after all adoption means its their "child"

    But not all adoptees feel pain.

    osolomama: "Just because you are an adoptee, how does that automatically give you insight into every adoptee's story, specifically, the child who might become your child?"

    It doesn't. But there's more potential to understand what the next-gen adoptee *might* be feeling.

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  12. Kippa: "As for taking another woman's child and thereby "passing on the pain", I fail to see how that works in the case of children have been left without home or family in which to grow up."

    What if the adoptive parent says "I relinquished a child so I know how it would feel to another woman to have lost her child, therefore I fully honor & respect that mother because I have been through it myself"?

    Would the logic indicate to NOT go through with the adoption here? I mean, speaking of very specific cases where the b-parents ARE legally known and want their child... doesn't it make sense to GIVE the child back?

    Or is the (sub)conscious need to parent stronger than the drive to return justice back to those who love and desire to raise their child?

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  13. Mei-Ling: Not what I meant at all. Perhaps I didn't make myself clear.
    I'm talking about situations in which the mother absolutely refuses to see the child after birth and continues to insist upon adoption.

    If at any time before the finalization of the adoption the mother expressed a desire to have her child back, *of course* the right thing - the ONLY right thing - would be to return it.

    However, when a child is left and the mother doesn't change her mind within a given period, the situation has to be resolved somehow.
    If, despite the efforts of social services to get her to consider other alternatives, she remains intractable, something needs to be done to provide the kid with a home.
    I just happen to believe a family is a better place in which to grow up than an institution.

    Should a potential adopter be available who is prepared to commit (at least verbally - maybe even in writing) to returning the child if so requested, within, say, the six month period before an adoption can be finalized, I see nothing wrong with that whatsoever.

    JMO of course.

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