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
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.