Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Chosen Child: Adopted and Special


I stumbled across this reunion story yesterday when I Goggled “Birthmother.” The adoptee, Margaret Harless, is now 54, just two years older than I. She was born to a “poor, unmarried housemaid” on the Air Force base in Germany where her parents, an American soldier and his wife, received their “gift” in a face-to-face meeting arranged through the base chaplain, unusual (I think) for an adoption of that era; it also struck me that it was a harbinger of the international adoption trend.

This following passage jumped out at me: “Throughout her childhood, Harless said her parents balanced their honesty about her adoption with a love that treated her no differently than if she had been theirs by birth. "They always told me, 'You're very special because we picked you out. We didn't have to take you,' “Harless recalls with a laugh. ”I never felt like I was missing anything."

Special. Picked you out. We didn’t have to take you. “Picked out,” like choosing a cake from a bakery display case? Like shopping for a car, selecting the color and preferred options? I pictured the cartoons of my early childhood, prospective parents smiling through a nursery window full of pink and blue bassinettes with a stork standing by, the parents pointing to their selection, the stork wrapping up the bundle of joy and delivering it down a chimney. How would I feel if I heard that from my parents? I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have taken it well at all. And I also thought of the ancient proverb, “Beggars should not be choosers.”

But I read on and this really hit home: “But Harless also wanted to know the person who, according to her parents, had given her up because she couldn't afford to keep her and wanted a better life for her daughter. She didn't pursue this desire during the life of her parents. Though they were outwardly supportive of any attempts to locate her birth mother, Harless said she believed different feelings lay beneath the surface. [Italics mine].

How sadly familiar that previous statement is to so many of us FMF readers; we know those mixed signals all too well, the perpetual elephant in the room of countless adoptee/adoptive parent relationships.

Thankfully, Harless eventually followed her instincts and registered with adoption.com and forgot about it, until she heard from an American woman living in Germany who makes a career of reuniting American adoptees with their Germany birth families (what a great job!). Some missed communication ensued, but eventually there’s the happy ending we all dream of, in thanks to Facebook, which just confirmed my theory from my Facebook Fallout blog of April 3.

Lorraine and I briefly discussed the notion of being “chosen.” She noted that adoptees—especially aware adoptees—aren’t fond of the term. My daughter used that phrase early in our reunion; one day at work a colleague overheard her conversation and he poked his head over the cubicle wall and asked, “Are you a chosen one too?” My daughter’s adoptive father told me the story of how they came to be her parents. They didn’t “choose” my daughter; she fell into their laps. The agency called them the day I signed the relinquishment papers and asked if they were prepared to take on a daughter. No bassinettes full of bundles of joy, no storks.

JANE: Presenting adoption as a "gift" from doesn't sit well with me [me either-Linda]. It’s really just another international adoption story. Couple from US adopt poor child so child can have a better life. In the post-war period many German children went home with American military families. They were open adoptions only in that they may have met and knew each others names but no communication.

Ironically, Germany did well in the post-war period so it is likely that these German mothers could have raised their children, like the Korean mothers who gave up children in the 1960s -1980s.

There is an organization of German born adoptees, Geborener Deutsche, which helps German adoptees search for their original families. Peter Dodds wrote a memoir of his experience of being adopted from Germany by an American military family, >Outer Search/Inner Journey He learned German and found his mother. He is opposed to international adoption.

The positive part of all search/reunion stories is that they help counter two myths--that adoptees are welded to their adoptive families as if born to them and that birthmothers don't want to meet their children. Of course, the downside is that reunions are still news--meaning that the public doesn't expect them to happen.

Adoptee followers of FMF, we'd like to hear from you; tell us how you feel about being called "special" and "chosen."

14 comments :

  1. Bad language. Sentimentalizing adoption and paving over the cracks to minimize the grief. Language and story-telling from another era. "Chosen" cannot change the reality, which is that we are raising other people's children and if circumstances actually allow us to *pick* them, that doesn't mean everyone involved got to choose. Adoption as a gift is equally disturbing language. Kids need to know that you are their parents (and that someone didn't just give you a real cool present) and that somewhere--close by or not--they have another set of parents they are free to search for.

    ReplyDelete
  2. As an adoptee, I have never felt "chosen." I know that I was adopted because my parents were not able to conceive a child naturally, for all intents and purposes I feel like the consolation prize - not what they originally hoped for, but second best. I think what bothers me most about the concept of an adoptee being "chosen" is that it denies the trauma that occurs when a baby is separated from its mother to be adopted. Words like chosen make it seem as though the natural mother "chose" to surrender, when it may have in fact been her only option (not really a choice then, eh?). Likewise, for adoptive parents, (for many) it wasn't as though they could have had children naturally, but they were internally driven to adopt - adoption was their only option in terms of being able to parent. And for the adoptee - did we choose to be adopted? I have asked the question many times - if a person were to ask an infant who is a candidate for adoption, "Would you rather go home with your mommy, or go home with the married couple who has a nice house?" I can tell you the answer would nearly always be mommy. When people do not truly have other options, they do not have a choice, and therefore I do not feel chosen, or that my being surrendered was really a choice.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Great post. Personally I can't stand "chosen". My adoptive parents read "The Chosen Child" to me when I was young and at the time it made sense, but as I became aware of what adoption is I started to despise it. I think "chosen" turns adoptees into mere possessions. It creates an illusion that too many adoptive parents buy into: that adoptees, unlike biological children, can be molded or shaped (or forced) into whatever the adoptive parents want. My adoptive mother was big into catalog shopping and as a teenager I envisioned myself as one of her purchases, except in my case she couldn't return me like she did so many other spur-of-the-moment sprees. "Chosen" sets up expectations that no adoptee could ever fulfill. It also infantilizes us. I think I have mentioned before on this forum how I was meeting with a business colleague and made the mistake of mentioning I'm adopted. His first words were, "Ah, a chosen child!" In that instant I went from thirtysomething business colleague to infant. It's degrading and, like other words such as "grateful", often used as a weapon.

    Anonymous, I have asked that question too. It's one of the reasons I think post-adoption home studies are BS. It's not like an infant can stand up in the cradle and say, "Hey, don't leave me with these jokers, I want my mother!"

    I wonder how some adoptive parents might like it if they were referred to by outsiders as "chosen" parents? "Chosen", to me, smacks of ownership just as much as amended birth certificates do.

    ReplyDelete
  4. ['You're very special because we picked you out. We didn't have to take you']

    Doesn't that statement contradict itself?


    [Though they were outwardly supportive of any attempts to locate her birth mother, Harless said she believed different feelings lay beneath the surface.]

    I was one of the ones who was lucky enough (no pun intended) to sense that there weren't different feelings beyond the surface after hearing that my a-parents would support me in searching.

    I believed I was lucky, special, chosen. But even then, at the time when I was processing what adoption meant, at the age of about 7, I thought:

    "If my adoptive mom chose me, doesn't that mean my biomother UNchose me? And if I'm so lucky and special, then why wasn't I special enough to KEEP?"

    Children are not stupid. They can figure out the contradicting statements underlying the surface of what is meant to placate.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I don't know, my aparents never patronized me with that little gem.

    From my perspective now, it is hard to believe I would have fallen for it. I think I would have just been insulted.

    ReplyDelete
  6. I don’t recall my adoptive mother ever telling me that I was special and/or chosen by her - she always framed it in the context of her faith: that God had chosen me for them - that my joining their family was the Lord’s will. I don’t remember ever buying that, however, and meeting my “birth” mother for the first time last September confirmed that my early and ongoing skepticism regarding religion was definitely the triumph of nature over nurture. I do recall feeling like being adopted was an interesting fact about me, however. This was no doubt in part due to the fact that my two closest grade school friends were also adopted, and the three of us formed our own select society.

    I remember my adoptive mom telling me that “surrendering” me was a difficult and loving sacrifice that my “birth” mom made only because she recognized that she wasn’t in a position to care for me by herself. Which I did feel comforted by, in truth. However, I also remember not being allowed to even wonder “what if she had kept me?” - that that was an absolute non-starter. The result being that I didn’t grow up with fantasies about how my life might have been different/better were I to have remained with my "birth" mother - instead, I fantasized about what my life would have been like had some other family adopted me.

    L in Chicago

    ReplyDelete
  7. Anon,

    You never thought about what it would have been like living with your mom but thought about how it would be living in with another adopted family?

    Never heard that before and have met and talked with many adoptee's

    Forcing a mother into adoption should NEVER happen its cruel and inhumane.

    I have never recovered from the loss of my son. Been reunited almost two decades, never will get over the loss of my baby.

    As a nation we should be ashamed how young women that were pregnant were treated, its wrong so wrong.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Yes, I do feel somewhat singular - I have done a fair amount of reading and research since contact with my "b"mother and haven't found other adoptees with similar experiences.

    Please don't misunderstand me, however, I am in complete agreement with you regarding the sordid and shameful way in which my "b" mother and I were separated. Ann Fessler's book was painfully enlightening.

    L in Chicago

    ReplyDelete
  9. It never ceases to amaze me that in this “Thing of Ours-Adoption” that very few know the meaning of the word “Adopt”. The Triad of Adoption members includes/involves so many with each child that was ‘given up/away for adoption.

    I have found in South Korea that Adoption Agencies, Adoptees, Aparents, Bparents, Government officials, NGO, almost all have absolutely NO Idea what the word means in LATIN. Please note for your information:

    Latin adoptāre : ad-, ad- + optāre, to choose= to add by choice or to take by choice

    Now that we understand where the term “taken by choice” comes from perhaps we can give some understanding on just WHY it is used. DO I agree with it as “Lucky”, or that I should be “grateful”, “thankful to be rescued”, etc.? Both Yes, and No. Every person’s experience, as one who was “taken by choice” or adopted, we who are now called an “Adoptee” should at least understand that the very word means “Taken by Choice”.

    I understand the resentment that some have for the term “chosen” as the ‘one who was chosen’ did not have much ‘choice’ in the matter. I also agree that terms like “you were lucky”, “you must be grateful”, etc. ring hollow, a cliché, even a burden on us. The love from our Adoptive Couple still cannot erase completely the WOUNDING a child feels in their spirit when it is taken/given. Adoptive Parents also suffer from Divorce, death, abuse, all the things that “natural parents” face in life.

    Few out there seem to realize what Psychologists, Psychiatrists, Counselors, Social Workers, Adoptees, have known for a long time. Trauma wounds the soul and spirit of even a day old baby that is no longer with it's mother/father.

    Many comments here are very valid, well expressed and from many different perspectives. I humbly respect everyone's opinion and experience. I also think that we should/must continue to hear from each other with the aim of learning from each other.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Trauma wounds the soul and spirit of even a day old baby that is no longer with his mother/father.

    Thank you, Korean War Baby for that...and your comments.

    Trauma wounds the soul and spirit of every mother, even if the baby is gone in a day.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Mea culpa, Korean War Baby. I admit I was among the ignorant until your explanation of the word origin. Clearly we have much to learn from, and have much to teach, one another.

    ReplyDelete
  12. I don't like "chosen." My parents would say, "You're more special because we got to choose you!" Then, they'd turn around and treat me differently than my brother, and not in a good way.

    ReplyDelete
  13. My parents didn't use the word chosen. They told me from day 1 I was adopted and special (and I was, wasn't I?). I WAS adopted. Fact. And I WAS special, not BECaUsE I was adopted, but because I was ME. I'm sorry, but it takes more than giving birth to be a parent. I'm sorry if that offends some. I am a mother myself. I was infertile too, and resented every 16 year old unmarried woman who CHOSE have sex and get pregnant, when I couldn't. That was my trauma, and I had to go thru IVF. Unfair! And my mom, in 1972, would have done the same thing if that option was available back then. My bmom wants me to be like all of you, feeling that I have had trauma to my soul, but I can't. My parents are my parents, and I love my bmom, and she is a great friend. My heart aches for all of you, but sometimes the adoption stories ARE happy for the adoptee. And sometimes, that's ok. I do believe God chose me for my parents. We don't always know what he intends for us. Everything happens for a reason and it isn't for us to say why. We always have choices. It starts before conception. We all have trauma, on both sides of the fence.

    ReplyDelete
  14. I would never tell my daughter she was "chosen" simply because the word would be untrue, considering how the adoption agency we work with operates.
    We, on the other hand, as her adoptive parents, were in fact chosen by a young woman who researched different agencies, and decided to make her adoption plan for her unborn daughter through the very agency we chose to work with. And she chose it for the same reasons we did: its strict ethics concerning the freewill choice of the "birth" parent.
    Had we chosen a different agency, or said no to her plan to include us (in my eyes impossible to do), she would have chosen another family for her daughter.
    With our next adoption, or potential adoption, we have been waiting 2.5 years now to be chosen. We may, in reality, because of the agency's emphasis on choice, never be chosen. But that's the reality of adoption today, at least with this agency in Chicago.

    ReplyDelete

BOTH JANE AND LORRAINE WILL BE AWAY FROM COMPUTERS FOR EXTENDED PERIODS IN EARLY AUGUST. PLEASE BE PATIENT.

We welcome comments from all, and appreciate letting us know how you relate to adoption when you leave your first comment.


COMMENTS ARE MODERATED. Our blog, our decision whether to publish or not. We are trying to find a way to end the endless anonymous comments, which drive many of us crazy. Pick a name! Any name. Choose the NAME/URL selection. You do not need a URL. Your name does not have to be your name IRL though we appreciate those who do, and we understand due to the sensitive nature of our subject, many will prefer to use a nom de plume. Okay with us, but the endless Anons are tiresome for everyone. If you post as "anonymous" you run the risk of not being posted.

We try to be timely but we do have other lives.

For those coming here from Networked Blogs on Facebook, if it does not allow you to make a comment, click the "x" on the gray "Networked Blogs" tool bar to exit out of that frame and it should then let you comment.