Thursday, July 30, 2009
A Birth Mother's perspective: When the adoptee keeps the reunion a secret
To tell or not to tell one's adoptive parents about an adoptee's search and reunion generated lively debate when I left a brief PS at a previous post (Thanking your birth mother for letting you be adopted). And fellow blogger and birth mother Linda was roundly dressed down by commenters, most if whom were adopted, for suggesting that the reunion in the dark is not a good idea. While adopted people may have many reasons, and good ones at that, for keeping their search and reunion secret, I'm going to tackle it from the birth mother's perspective...because this is Birth Mother/First Mother Forum.
People, it's different for everyone. If you are an adoptee, and for peace in your family and your peace of mind, you have to keep search and reunion a deep dark secret, so be it. It's sad, it speaks volumes about the depth of your relationship with your parents, but it is your right and choice. No one denies that. What you--the adoptee--decide to do is under your control.
But this means that if there is a reunion--no matter who searches, birth mother or surrendered child--the birth mother and her family will never be able to participate in your life other than surreptitious meetings, say, at a coffee shop or some other out-of-the-way place where adoptive parents are never going to show up. And if you want to go visit your birth mother's family, it will be difficult to explain why, say, you are going to Des Moines or Detroit for the weekend.
It means that when there is a birth, and the natural grandmother wants to visit--ohmygod, at the hospital--that has to be carefully orchestrated, lest the other parents show up the same day. Sacre bleu! It means that if there is a wedding, the natural mother can not be there, or if she is, she is the unknown woman fighting tears and sitting by herself at the back of the church, the woman who slips out unnoticed before someone asks who she is. It means birthdays and bar mitzvahs and graduations and the other high points of a life are off limits to the person who gave you life. It means a limited relationship with a woman who may desperately want to know the all of you, and dammit, be included in your life.
Ouch. Secrecy about her return into your life now will make her feel once again like the dirty dark secret we first mothers were made to feel when we surrendered our children. We will understand one of two things: that our child's other parents cannot deal realistically with their child's origins (and that sucks); and two, that we continue to be the unworthy ones, those who counts less, "lifegivers" who are to be forever shunted aside. Of course I'm talking here about the mothers such as us bloggers three who chose not to keep our first child, for two of us, our only child, a secret, who wanted to make that child a part of our lives as openly and as lovingly as possible.
So for first mothers like us, the secrecy will be eternally depressing. Apparently in a lot of cases of the people who read and write about adoption here and elsewhere, this kind of clandestine affair with the reunited birth parents will be necessary; that we can understand. But accept that for us, it was always be heartrending and hurtful. Not unlike how adopted people feel when their birth mothers/birth fathers do not openly share their existence with their new families. Yeah, that sucks too. We get it.
Personally, I'd like to shake the !@#$ out of those birth parents, including all sperm and egg donors, who will not meet their children. For god's sake, they are your children, people! Many of the people who comment at this blog have been rejected by their birth parents. My own surrendered daughter never met her natural father because he could "not handle it, not just now," he said, "maybe some other day." And then he died.
Every adopted person has the unalterable unassailable right to meet his or her birth parents, mother and father, face to face, at least once. Common decency would seem to dictate that every birth parent has at least that single obligation to her or his offspring. After that, the choice is up to the people involved. And some will keep the reunion secret. I am sympathetic to adopted people who do not tell their parents, but understand it will be a a slap in the heart to the birth mother, if the person seemingly keeps up a good relationship with his adoptive parents.
Times Past...but not forgotten
When I wrote Birthmark a zillion years ago, I heard from friends that there was a lot of table-pounding going on at dinner parties where the subject of the book came up: What gave that woman the #$@!ing right to write that book! Who in the hell does she think she is? Bleep Bleep Bleep, so I was told by friends who were there and were amazed at the hot heads that erupted. To my face, I was attacked by some media people and acquaintances I loosely thought of as friends. Some friends. As regular readers know, I've been attacked in the here and now (Birth Mothers Attacked as Usual, or Maybe I Need New Friends and Living in Interesting Times) if the subject comes up.
What gave me the right to search for my daughter? Who in the fuck ever took it away? The culture? The state that forced the unholy agreement unto me if I wanted their help? They were wrong. My need to know my offspring was as great as any adoptee's need to know their forebears, and no piece of paper can abrogate either. We are talking basics here.
And who gave the adoptive parents the right to pretend that their child is not the offspring of some other woman, some other mother, some other family, some other culture?
As I said earlier, it's different for everyone. I found my daughter when she was a minor and revealed my identity to her adoptive mother on the phone, so secrecy was never an issue. And we know that some terrific adoptive parents in closed adoptions actually do the search for their children, and those people I commend. Barbara Bisantz Raymond (who wrote both a page-turner biography of the woman who shaped modern adoption more than anyone else, The Baby Thief, The Untold Story of Georgia Tann), searched for and found her daughter's first mother. O Solo Mama's comments here and at her eponymous blog, and Malinda's at AdoptionTalk, for example, keep me cheerful and hopeful. Occasionally I am contacted by adoptive parents who want to help their children--usually in their teens or in college--search, and though I do not do searches, I steer them to someone who does.
But secrecy after reunion? Adoptees will do it as they must, but accept that it will limit your relationship with your birth mother. And for women like we like us, the secrecy will always hurt. --lorraine