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.