Tuesday, July 28, 2009

"Thanking" your birthmother for letting you be adopted


My quarter-of-a-century relationship with my relinquished daughter Jane had its ups and downs, to be sure, but I am so glad that it did not include the words: Thank you for letting me be adopted (by my fantastic parents). Or: I had a great life, thank you.

Would that have hurt? Oh yeah. Because the words really say, as many of you and blogger Jane have noted in the last post: Wow, my life is so much better than it would have been had I had to stay with you.

But I can understand the many adopted people who end up better off, better educated than they would have been had they been raised by their natural parents, and I suppose it's a normal reaction that is usually not meant to drive a knife into the heart of one's first mother. And this "thank god I was adopted" meta-message is often the underlying theme of many an adoptee memoir, as fellow FMF blogger Jane has noted in her posts on adoptee memoirs. I've been on panels with adopted people who shall be unnamed, and I could feel this vibe coming from them, as the light glinted off the three-carat rock one was wearing, or the emphasis on the difference in education that sometimes comes screaming off the page and in their words.

Okay, life is different because you are adopted. Maybe life is materially better, maybe you are better educated than you would have been, maybe whatever. As many of our vocal commenters have noted, words have power, and those words hurt, whether or not the adopted person meant them that way.

But to those first mothers who have been so hurt by such words, let's move on and not let that statement stand in the way of whatever good feelings --for both sides, adopted person and birth mother--can come from reunion. Birth parents need to try to walk in the shoes of their child, raised by other parents, and those children (and we are all someone's children) need to try to understand that for a great many of us who relinquished, the pain is real, the pain is pretty f@#&ing much forever, and at the time of reunion, we are emotionally as ripped open as if we gave birth an hour ago.

What to say back if someone says, Thank you for letting me be adopted? Seems to me that Nancy Verrier's suggestion: I'm sorry you had to be adopted, would work. And no matter what, do not go into a discussion of the culture of times, your hateful parents who forced you into signing the surrender papers, whatever. Just I'm sorry you had to be adopted. Without saying, Hey, that hurts, a simple I'm sorry you had to be adopted would get across that being "thanked" is difficult, even hurtful, to hear, and would go a long way to moving forward to a good reunion.

Some of the commenters from the last post, Telling Your Birthmother She Made the Right Decision is Wrong, noted that reunion is not about the birth parent. Well, that's not accurate, because reunion is about the birth mother as much as it is about the adopted person. Without either one, no reunion. What I hope readers--both birth mothers and adoptees--not yet in reunion can take away from this discussion, it that watching what you say very very carefully is a good idea. Of course, that's always a good idea in any situation, but particularly here, where feelings on both sides are raw, susceptible to hurt and the possibility for misunderstanding is high. Does this mean I'm against "letting it all hang out?" Yeah. Have the thought if you will, but find another way to talk about what happened and how your life turned out.

My daughter Jane and I talked about my raising her once, after about fifteen years of reunion, and when she said, Lorraine, you know it would have been hard for you to raise me, I nodded. She then pointed out that she had, "pretty damn good parents," and I also agreed. To recap: when she was born I was alone, it was 1966, I did not have resources; by the time I met her, when she was fifteen, I did, and I know she had some pretty complicated feelings about not being raised by me and the man I eventually married, whom she came to see as a kind of step-father.

My daughter, as it would turn out, had epilepsy, and needed serious medical care and that she got in the family which adopted her. In her simple statements, she compressed everything we both knew and accepted. It still breaks my heart to write this--and dammit I'm crying now--but what she said was true. That didn't mean we did not love each other like a mother and a daughter, but it did mean time and circumstances were what they were, and that we accepted that, and each other.

And for all her neurosis and the difficulty of being dragged into them, I thank her in my heart (because I can't thank her in life) for being so considerate of my feelings. Oh daughter, we had our good moments and I miss you terribly.--lorraine
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PS: For those commenters who noted that maybe it's not such a big deal to NOT tell your adoptive parents that you are searching or have found your birth parents, and that it's part of growing up and growing apart, thank you for that perspective because that had never occurred to me. But...since the "being relinquished" is such a big part of an adopted person's life--bigger than say, having an affair or having sex the first time--it still seems like omitting that piece of salient information indicates there exists is a huge wall between adopter and adoptee. And it's sad that it has to be that way.

16 comments :

  1. "But...since "being relinquished" is such a big part of an adopted person's life--bigger than say, having an affair or having sex the first time--"

    I'd agree with that. It's fundamentally formative in a way that the other two examples aren't.

    ". . . it still seems like omitting that piece of salient information indicates there exists is a huge wall between adopter and adoptee. And it's sad that it has to be that way."

    I don't think it's that sad, or that it necessarily indicates "a huge wall".
    I believe that in order to become adult, we all need our space, and maybe adoptees particularly so. And, depending on the kind of relationship they have with their a-parents, some perhaps more than others.

    Searching and reunion aren't any part of the a-parent's business.
    If the adoptee wants to tell, all well and good. If they don't want to, ditto.

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  2. Kippa wrote, "Searching and reunion aren't any part of the a-parent's business.
    If the adoptee wants to tell, all well and good. If they don't want to, ditto."

    Kippa, I beg to differ here. I've always believed secrets and lies just beget more secrets and lies. As regular readers know, I was an out of the closet birthmother from day one, everyone knew I had a daughter somewhere out there. The first time we spoke, I encouraged (more accurately, naively insisted) that my daughter tell her parents, who had been divorced for several years,about our reunion. Her father was delighted (he had set the wheels in motion by sending my daughter her adoption records. My daughter reported that when she told her mother her response was, "I always knew you would search. I just wish you asked me for help," and my daughter explained no help was needed, she just called the agency, who contacted me, and we spoke that same evening.

    Even though my daughter terminated our relationship several years ago, I would not have wanted her adoptive parents in the dark about our reunion, but as it turned out, it was just as difficult having a relationship with full disclosure. Perhaps we should have kept it a secret from her adoptive mother and brother...

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  3. In some cases it may be dangerous for an adoptee to tell. I didn't tell my adoptive parents because I knew they would try to stop me or destroy any paper trail; they certainly had the power to do so. I also feared they might know my birth mother somehow and try to bias her against me. (Which turned out to be a fruitless worry, since she didn't want contact anyway, but still...)

    Lorraine, you spoke of your aversion to "letting it all hang out". On the other post we talked about the importance of truth in relationships. How do you walk the line, especially if you are in a situation like I was where your communication is monitored by a governmental intermediary and you only have a brief, limited chance at contact? I'm not sure there's any one answer to this. In my case I tried to speak the truth in a non-hurtful way. I didn't want my mother to think my adoption life was all happy rainbows, because to imply that then have her find out otherwise seemed like betraying her. But on the other hand, I didn't want to burden her with what happened on the adoption side because it wasn't her fault. I suspect she thought I wanted her to be my magic mom in shining armor, when really all I wanted was to make a connection with her. Is it possible to speak truthfully and have it simply taken as a sharing of experience rather than an accusation or expectation?

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  4. Triona:

    Yes, but just be careful.

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  5. Linda-It's NOT WHAT YOU WANT. If a grown adult wants to keep his/her business, meetings, or relationships to his/herself that's his/her right.

    I am so sick of this ownership mentality from both sides of this triad toward adoptees. The judgement is nauseating. Do you realize how much a mind f*ck adoption is for the adoptee? Referring to people as mom and dad, when you know they're not. Having family members make sure that you know that you're adopted and not blood relations. Having kids at school taunt you., etc. etc. etc.

    STOP TREATED ADOPTED PEOPLE AS PERPETUAL CHILDREN WHO MUST COMPLY AND ACT A WAY THAT YOU SEE FIT.

    I'm not going to be the good, grateful adoptee. No one should have to live their life worrying about what other people think of them.

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  6. Yeah, I'm not an advocate of "telling" adopters or anyone about the decision to search. If somebody wants to then go ahead, but it shouldn't be an expectation.

    I didn't share my search with my a-parents cuz I didn't want them trying to control it. No doubt it would have appeared to them as if I were asking their permission, and even if it didn't appear that way, they would have twisted it so did. Yuk adoption. I also felt that my identity had nothing to do with them - I'd lived long enough as the adopted person (their identity), and what I really wanted was to become unadopted - adopters couldn't help with that.

    The last thing I would want to hear from someone is that they agree or disagree with the decision to search - who cares what others think about anybody searching for and finding their parents and family.

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  7. The thing is, I don't consider it 'secret', Linda. Rather more like personal business.
    Obviously, if an adopted adult is confident that their search and/or reunion will be respected by their aps and not be messed with, they are going to be more likely to tell them about it.
    But even then they may not, simply because it may be something that they feel they need to do on their own. Which IMO is their right.

    My relinquished son told his a-mother about me because he respected her and wanted to. But that was his situation and his choice - and I'm heartily glad he felt able to. But I can imagine a variety of situations where it wouldn't be the best idea. For instance, he didn't tell his a-father because the poor man was very ill and near the end of his life. It might have distressed him and that just wasn't necessary.

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  8. "Referring to people as mom and dad, when you know they're not."

    Don't presume to speak for other adoptees. Thanks.

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  9. Oh Mei-Ling, I was speaking FOR MYSELF.

    I know that the sperm from my a-father (monster) did not meet with my a-mother's egg and create me. It's fiction to pretend anything else.

    BTW- I have two Moms and a-mom and a n-mom. But, that's NONE of your business.

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  10. I do feel funny at times searching for information for my daughter, but in int'l adoption the trail can go cold. I'm just the info compiler and she's the searcher, or she will be, if she chooses. That's my role: clerk. If she chooses to share with me later, fine.

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  11. I was going to post more at what was a PS to another subject, but I will take this subject up again in a new post very soon. Stay tuned.

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  12. "Oh Mei-Ling, I was speaking FOR MYSELF."

    Before this becomes hostile, I'd like to apologize for presuming that you were speaking in generalities. 'Tis a dangerous thing, intepretation.

    (I have seen some adoptees who insist on saying things like "How can an adoptee call their adopters 'mom' and 'dad'? It's like pretending they are your parents even though your REAL parents gave birth to you!")

    Btw, I also have a steady belief that all four of my parents are real - even the one who didn't raise me. ;)

    I just thought that if any adoptee who happens to come across here who believes the a-parents are the only "real" parents, then they might become offended. It's dangerous to use generalizations without clarifying that one is merely speaking for onself.

    As demonstrated here.

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  13. My son didn't tell his adoptive parents for 6 months. He wanted control of the reunion without pressure from anyone. I let him set the pace for our reunion which is why I think it has worked for both of us.

    He told his adoptive parents when he was happy with the way things were going for us.

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  14. I have nothing against developing a healthy relationship between adopters and first parents, but I'd not trust an adoption agency to do it. It's in their interest to move product be it by reportable events or word-of-mouth. And without speaking this should be through consent of all parties.

    What I don't like is this "life givers" language. It reeks of anti-abortion propaganda,heroizing women for whom abortion held to interest to start with. It implies that adoption is the alternative/solution to abortion and continues the spurious link between the two.

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  15. The very last words I heard from my birthdaughter(and this was 15 years ago)were "You just gave birth to me" meaning..that is it..you are really nothing to me except the person who gave birth to me. It made me feel like I was just a birthing machine..I wonder how many(adoptees) feel this way.
    A hurtful statement? You bet!
    So you see, Mei-ling giving birth does not really matter.
    In the short year she gave me I DID EVERYTHING POSSIBLE...I wrote for her, I did artwork for her..I spent hours trying to explain..and in the end she left my life anyway.
    I am now right back where I was before I searched for her, not knowing where she is or what her life became.
    I have read in this blog that people feel it is selfish and unmotherly to be a birthmother who does not want to search or be found..but maybe one should try to understand why.
    Why step into the fire!! Why open pandora's box.
    Television shows all the "happy" reunions..but the truth is not all of them are sugar and spice.
    Ann Landers once wrote ----sometimes reunions can lead to a lifetime of grief and pain--she was totally against reunions.I sit here, an example of her advise.

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  16. Oh no, "thank you for allowing me to be adopted" or "I had a great life", those are not words of your children who want to say something to make you feel good about your decisions. they want to say something, anything, that will be sensitive to your situation, to make you feel like you did not ruin their life, whatever they can say to make you stay. Please stay and never go again. What can I say to make you feel like there is no hate or animosity that god won't you please stay. Don't be hurt its the only thing they can think of to make you feel good about you - the alternative is clingly and invasive, too familiar. And your child wants to be all of those things if you let them know its safe, you won't run away if they say they love you and ached for you every day of their lives. Wow, its amazing how Mom's and Dads misinterpret their kids words whether they raise them or not - the communication gap is just freaking universal. And a testament to the fact that you don't have to raise the child to be his only mother and father. Smile your God to you kid.

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