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

44 comments :

  1. Hi Lorraine, thanks for expanding upon this topic. I realize I am probably in the minority here, but not telling my adoptive parents wouldn't have meant keeping my birth mother a secret in my life, because I didn't have a relationship with my adoptive parents anyway. (And if she had wanted to talk to my adoptive parents she would have been welcome to, even if I myself didn't want to. I doubt the reverse would have been true on the part of my a-parents though.) I could easily (and would have readily) have welcomed her openly into my life, introduced her to my friends, etc. So I don't think it's an either/or thing. I agree that secrets are deadly, and I can only imagine how hurtful it must feel for those birth mothers who have been kept a secret from the adoptee's adoptive family. Probably quite similar to how it feels to be an adoptee kept secret from her birth mom's family. Secrets in general drive families apart, in my experience. Like you I have a hard time fathoming how people can fail to understand that the need to know one's parents and the need to know one's offspring are basic and human.

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  2. This is the stuff the baby pimps don't want the ignorant public to know about.

    Adoption is soul torture. The experience of being adopted is a mind trip. The experience of relinquishing a child is a mind trip.

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  3. I very much regret contacting my son's adoptive parents before contacting him. He was a minor at the time, I thought it was the right thing to do, and I was blinded by what I wanted no matter how it affected anyone else. In retrospect I wish I had waited until he was grown and out of there, or even better, until he contacted me.

    As it was, I made things worse for him in an already dysfunctional adoptive home, and took even more control of the situation away from him. I feel I lost years with him because of my actions and involving the adoptive parents.

    The whole thing really should have been between me and him, with himself having the choice whether or not to involve his adoptive family. His choice would have been emphatically NOT.

    Not every reunion is destined to be one big happy family, with everyone getting together for holidays etc. For those that are, that's great, but nobody should expect that, nor push their kid to involve the adoptive parents if he does not want to.

    I honestly do not feel cheated that I now have minimal contact with my son. I never expected to have any at all, and for many years after first contact did not. Now I feel fortunate that I have some connection with him, and that he chooses and controls how much. For the last 15 years he had no contact at all with his adoptive mother, his choice, so I find it hopeful that he chooses to have any contact at all with me. He let me know when he moved. He did not let her know, and she has since passed away.

    No, we will never have jolly holidays together, bet we have something, and that is a blessing.

    A good adoptee friend of mine, who is my age and for many years in a close, loving reunion, chose not to have her adoptive mother and birthmother meet for a long time, although both were willing. For her it was a way of asserting control that was taken away from her when she was surrendered, and when she was found. Eventually they did meet, but it was on her timetable.

    I have heard many other adoptees express similar sentiments. I respect that, and regret that I did not handle my contact differently. As it was, the contact and communication with the adoptive parents further alienated my son rather than bringing him closer to me. I feel it is best to let the adoptee decide how much he wants to tell the adoptive parents, and if he chooses not to tell them, to work around that and enjoy the times you are able to have with your child rather than mourning for a dream that can never be.

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  4. Maryanne:

    I so agree with your last comment--about enjoying what we can have....but it's still a fact that having to work around secrecy is not joyful.

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  5. I'm not sure how many reconnection stories you've heard, but among the hundreds I've heard, there is tremendous variety in the characters of all involved. If an adoptee or birthmother want to keep their biological reconnection a secret, this is their prerogative, and one that is no doubt carefully considered with pre-existing relationships in mind. There are adoptees who have been disowned and birthmothers divorced when a reconnection is divulged. While this is the extreme of the spectrum, many simply feel that it is not in line with familial piety not to suddenly introduce what may be perceived (if even by the adoptee or birthparent) as competing parents or siblings.

    Also, donating gametes does not make you a parent. I'm appalled at how the adoption reform movement continues to wallow in psychological issues such as putative primal wounds and attachment disorders. Adult adoptees deserve their original birth certificates because they are equal as citizens under the law, not because they are allegedly screwed up by adoption.

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  6. Secrecy after reunion. That is a HUGE one for me, as my son was forced to sneak around in order to have coffee or lunch with me. He was not allowed to see me any more than once every few months, or the emotional abuse he would face from his adopters would be dreadful (eventually the police advised him to leave that house). Again, part of their idea that they were his ONLY family.

    I still resent that they forced him to do this, to sneak around.

    Robin Westbrook wrote an excellent article called 'The View From the Back of the Bus.' The line that always remains in my mind is: "We are the women who, when reunited with our adult children, are often treated like 'back-street' mistresses, visited secretly and never spoken of to the adopters." She too was forced by her daughter into this "hidden relationship."

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  7. Lorraine, Jane, and Linda,

    First of all, I enjoy your blog and can identify with many of your posts as I was one of the girls “who went away.” This places me in the baby scoop era which is such an apt name as my baby was literally scooped up. I was forced to surrender and never felt like I was part of the decision-making process.

    I started searching for my child almost immediately. Back then resources were really limited compared to what’s available today and searches were more difficult to do. However, I persevered and not a day passed that I did not think about the welfare of my child. Not knowing, and the thought of perhaps never knowing, created overwhelming pain and sorrow for me and the search became my mission. Finally, the day arrived and my dream came true. I found out where my child was living. I recall that day as one of the happiest moments of my life. Once I settled down from the euphoria, I had to decide what to do with my newly found information. Unfortunately, due to the times and the not yet invented electronic media, I relied on my own judgment. Since my child was a minor, I decided that the best course of action would be to contact the adoptive parents. I hoped that they would be receptive to hearing from me and was totally unprepared for their reaction. They did not see me as my daughter’s first mother, bio mother, natural mother, or any kind of mother. Conversely, they threatened me, filed a lawsuit against me, sent police to my house to have me arrested, and told me that I had “raped their family.” I received a letter which I still have that states, “may God forgive you for what you have done.” The next sentence stated, “ You will be contacted by our attorney in the very near future.”

    So, hindsight being 20/20, I’m not sure what I would do today. Every situation is so different that it’s hard to know what to in the absence of key pieces of information. While open adoption may provide some of the pieces, I’m not sure it’s the answer to closed adoption which I think should be illegal. I did visit the lifegiver’s website and, although there is some good info (e.g. BN is listed as one of their favorite websites), I had an uneasy feeling . I don’t like the term “lifegiver” (I find it offensive); nor do I care for the fact that the get together is termed a “lifegiver festival.” I can’t think of anything festive related to the loss of a child. The founder (?) is a firstmother with a 16 yr. old son named Matthew. I wonder what Matthew has to say? History will speak. I left the site with a feeling that the lifegiver’s festival is a business endeavor. And isn’t the opposite of lifegiver that of a lifetaker?

    gail

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  8. A story of being kept in the 'back street':

    Early in our reunion (in 2000 or 2001), We decided we'd go for coffee early one afternoon, and that we'd meet first at a the public library nearby his house and go from there. I arrived first, and as it was a nice day, I sat down on the lawn outside to relax (It was a tiring 4 to 5 hour trip to get there). He showed up and sat down with me. We were talking and he looked around nervously, to keep an eye out if anyone he knew would see him there. Then, he saw an adoptive sister, Becky, walking down the sidewalk about 60 ft away, and he freaked out. She was not allowed to see me with him. He had not told his adoptive family we were meeting. He was scared of the emotional backlash from them.

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  9. Lorraine,

    Not telling my a-parents wasn't about keeping my mother a secret; it was about preserving my sanity.

    I kept my search from them, not the reunion. Sometimes I wish I hadn't shared the reunion with them, though - after my mom died I told a-mother and she said, "Well, was all that searching worth it?" A wee bit of compassion would have been nice. So, for me it wasn't about hiding my mother, it was about not wanting to deal with other people's weirdness and being put in the position where I felt I had to constantly justify finding my mother and family. It can be, as you already know, very draining.

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  10. Cedar, thank you for sharing Robin's article, I never heard of it until now...and I noted that it's copyrighted 12/2000.

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  11. Anyone remember the movie, "Sneakers?" It wasn't that great a movie (despite the presence of Robert Redford, who always adds a certain je ne sai qua to a movie!), and it wasn't about adoption. But I always think of it when these adoption issues come up. The movie was about the search for the ultimate code-breaker, and the phrases, "Too Many Secrets" and "No More Secrets" played a critical role.

    Now you know why I think of it when I think adoption -- we've operated too long on the premise of "Too Many Secrets" and I wish it could be "No More Secrets."

    I understand why adoptees might want to keep birth parent search and reunion from adoptive parents -- adoptive parents have been taught to fear birth parents, to keep them secret from their adopted kids, to feel like ONLY parents or at least the only REAL parents. And then we learn to use guilt on that issue just like so many other issues with our kids -- why does so much of parenthood look like emotional blackmail?!

    As an adoptive parent I HATE all the secrecy surrounding adoption. Secrecy is POISON to any relationship of trust, and that includes between adoptive parent and child. Adoptive parents need to operate on the "NO MORE SECRETS" premise, which will then allow everyone else to, too.

    P.S. I love that the code word that came up for me is Mulan, since my girls are from China! [How does blogger know that? Too many secrets . . . . )

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  12. "I'm appalled at how the adoption reform movement continues to wallow in psychological issues such as putative primal wounds and attachment disorders."

    I had this conversation with domestic adoptee Joy once. I told her I didn't fully believe in the Primal Wound. Her response?

    "Read up on child psychology, on child development. Read up about pregnancy and childbirth and see what it says about bonding. Do not bring adoption into the equation. Just research pregnancy and child development, and when you've done that, come back and we can have this discussion."

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  13. "And we know that some terrific adoptive parents in closed adoptions actually do the search for their children, and those people I commend."

    And I know from the first mothers side that this is not all about love - it is more about manipulating the relationship. Terrific indeed, after they found me the amom told me just what she thought of me. Yeh! At least I can understand how her judgement of me may be impacting my reunion with my son since she orchestrated the whole thing.

    Praise to the wise adopters! (bows down) Whatever.

    Carol

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  14. " it is more about manipulating the relationship."

    Not always so.

    True, many adoptive parents still want the closed adoption to reinforce the "as if" myth.

    However, I'd hate to think people here are so biased that they simply want to generalize that all adoptive parents really want to do is allow the open adoption so they can manipulate their children.

    That's also assuming the worst - just like when adoptive parents assume the worst of the "birthparents."

    ... blah, I don't even like typing down that label. >.>

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  15. As I tried to make clear, every adoption, every search and reunion is different. But what all this has taught me is that things haven't changed that much in terms of openness and honesty between a great many adoptive parents and their children from when I first got involved in adoption reform.

    And to the person who wondered how many reunion stories I've heard? Hmmm. In the past quarter of a century, quite a few.

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  16. Funny, I've brought up this bogus "bonding" issue with people who either have psychological training or practice They tell me "bonding" was pretty much of an unheard of issue until fairly recently Attachment is one thing, bonding quite another As an unrepentant child/parent hater, I think it's a bunch of BS myself. Babies bond with whoever feed and takes care of them. So shoot me,.

    Nobody ever brings up "primal wound" when discussing kids who's mother dies at birth or when they are young. IMO, it's a product of leisure middle class culture.

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  17. I want to clarify something from a previous comment I made on another thread. My records were never sealed, and I got my obc in 1980.

    I was not into reunion except for informational purposes One set of parents was quite enough, thank you. So, I found Dottie but there was no response until around 1996 or 1997. Since I had basic information I was able to fill in a lot of the blanks. It was very easy (or hard depending on how you look at it) because she and her parents were the only persons in the US with that last name. Seriously! There's a few in the UK with a couple different spellings, and a region an obscure region France with it's own langauge has our name, and that's it.

    I felt no need to share this information with my amom. If I had had contact with Dottie before my mom died in 1989 I would probably have told her. She was always asking if I wanted to know anyway. If I told her I had it and Dottie gave me the bum's rush, I didn't want to fussed over.

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  18. So many different tangled strands here! The mother I know who was associated with the Lifegivers Festival is Brenda Romanchik, and her son is named Matthew but is now in his early-mid 20s. Their adoption has remained open the whole time with generally good relationships on both sides.

    In her years of writing about open adoption I have found Brenda's writing to be realistic and fair. No "rainbow farts":-) She deals with the fact that there is grief and pain even in the best open adoption, and does not push it a panacea. It has worked for her and her son, she tries to help make it work for others, but she also supports helping mothers keep their babies and having real options and informed choice. Brenda is not the enemy, and she does not promote adoption, just tries to help other mothers already in open adoption to keep them open and healthy for all involved.

    Open adoption does work for some people. It is not always a manipulative ploy, although in some cases it is used as such, and some adoptive parents are dishonest about their intentions. I don't see that this invalidates the whole concept of open adoption though, as it seems to for some here.

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  19. Actually that is not true re: the Primal Wound thing.

    They don't call it the "Primal Wound" but yes, children whose parents die present a lot of the same issues as abandoned children, even children in intensive care after birth.

    I can only speak for myself but the bond I share with my mother is far and away more significant than being fed.

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  20. When the government found my son, they made a mess of things. They insisted that he tell his aparents (which he really didn't want to do) and they insisted that he make a decision straight away about meeting me. The government worker phone my son 20 times in one day to demand an answer.

    All of that pressure put him off.

    I also found out that they (the government) had told lies to him about me, such as not knowing who his father was, etc.

    I threatened to sue for libel (and already had a lawyer to hand). The government responded by giving me lots of information on my son - I had everything except a last name.

    I knew that my son was in turmoil over the whole mess, so I gave him a couple of years to let him come to grips with things.

    I then found him via a PI - he had moved to the same place in Europe as myself. He was actually thinking about finding me at that point.

    When I did find him, I told him that all I wanted was for him to listen to my side of things and then I would walk away if that is what he wanted.

    I asked him what he had been told.
    He would say something and I would reply "That's a lie" - he was astonished at how many lies he was told, especially about his father.

    He listened to what I had to say.
    I told him that he could do what he wanted and we would go at the pace he asked for.

    He appreciated that - it took months of e-mails before he felt comfortable enough for a phone call. He decided that he wanted a friendship with me - we had a lot in common. I didn't pressure him to do anything.

    It was a few more months before our face to face.

    He did not tell his aparents until we had been reunited for over 6 months. He wanted control of the situation which I understood.

    His adoptive parents now know but they want nothing to do with me, despite my son's wishes and despite the fact I opened the door to friendship.

    His adoptive parents (to my son's disappointment) have pretty much slammed the door in my face.

    However, that does not stop my son and I from keeping in touch. My son simply divides his time between one or the other so neither will meet. I am happy with that as it takes the pressure off him. His aparents know about it, even if they don't particularly like it. For them, if the reunion makes my (our) son happy, then they will tolerate it.

    For me at least, it is my son's happiness, health and the truth that matters the most.

    Fortunately, my son agrees with that too.

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  21. From an adoptees perspective...if the ADparents are of the controlling variety as opposed to the unconditional love variety not only will the adoptee have to sneak around for their own sanity but (though the adoptee may harbor hope) they may fear that any parent figure such as the natural mom may also be of the non-unconditional love variety. My own feelings were hopeful upon reunion, but since negativity tends to breed negativity...I caught myself thinking I've already had two problems (aparents) why deal with potentially more (I didn't know what unconditional love would even feel like) So...my nat mom had to prove to me she wasn't going to jerk me around...After everything else she had already been through I think she resented it. Now, in reunion the one thing I would suggest to anyone who loves and re-connects is a commitment to getting family counciling (is there anyone qualified and trained for this) for the first few years of to sort out the anger and the expectations. My natural mom's love made my world a bigger place, and though I still had to sneak around, her love made me realize new possibilities in all my other relationships. Always a mother's love to fix things right? Amoms can be real moms too... and to me a bastard is anyone who purposely stabs any well-meaning parent in the heart... key words being well-meaning and purposely... The adoption contracts are really set up to make the child always a bastard to someone. Changing that notion...its all about that unconditional love... If children want a reunion they probably can forgive being adopted but the Natmoms need to forgive the adoptees for then being adopted (such as having another family that they have to fill roles in- breaking the adoption contract on the child's end is probably more unethical (to the child) than sneaking around in a new relationship that they would want to protect from unsafe people anyway. This happened to me...my Nat mom was a secret and I know it was to protect our relationship. All the love in the world wouldn't have straighted out my Aparents values to see that there is enough room for everyone in loving, caring relationships...And because my Aparents were elderly, I could already see that unless they were planning on being immortal, there wouldn't be enough time on this earth for counciling. I've sort of gone on to assume that whatever love I'm feeling is the the same as the love my Nat mom feels. Love just grows and expands. "Control" in any family shows up for Christmas sometimes but sort of sits there sullen and leaves asap. I feel poorly to have to have snuck around... then I Remember to always forgive myself first (my circumstances and thus my compromises are or were valid), really like anything in life. Two moms exist very easily in the heart not so easily in the physical world (like having only one preferred parking spot). An impossible situation for the adoptee to even try to mediate. What would be fair? Trust your kid loves you. All you have to do is not put them in a postion where they would have to hate themselves.

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  22. Celeste BillhartzJuly 31, 2009 at 7:10 PM

    Recently, I read a heart-rending post by an adoptee whose mother refuses to acknowledge her. Of course, I want to shake that mother and scream at her: “You idiot!!! Look what a wonderful daughter you have!! Look at you grandchildren!!”

    Then, I read Lorraine’s post and this familiar account of adoptees who prefer to keep their mothers and themselves in the reunion closet.

    Well, my head is spinning. I want to shake those adoptees and and scream: “Get a f**king backbone!!!! This is your mother!! Look at all the time you are wasting!! Look at all the love/laughter/tears/truths you and she are missing out on!!”

    Sigh ...:)

    Then, I recall my own reunion .... and my fears, my lack of compassion for my mother, my inability/unwillingness to step outside my comfort zone .... to grow a backbone. I found her ... and I kept her at a distance. We wrote letters for many years. I met her, in a Hospice, just before she died. I not only didn’t have a backbone, I lacked a heart, too. Please, be a better daughter/son than I was; be better than I knew how to be.

    I think we owe reunion to each other. I think we/adoptees must make a place in our lives for our mothers ... a separate place, just for the two of us. Yes, invite others, as time permits and if we want to .... but, don’t feel you must include your adoptive mother, or get her permission, or her approval. Certainly, be nice about it, but don’t shove your mother back into the reunion closet just because your adoptive mother has a snit.

    I think our adoptee minds are screwed up by this expression: “She GAVE you up ... to finish school, go to college, give you a better life ....” GAVE you up/away .... imagine, growing up with that expression .... GAVE you up/away .... as though describing a scene in which one smiling woman casually hands an infant to another smiling woman.

    I think we must never say that. Our mothers did not have a choice. We were never gifts from one smiling woman to another. It wasn’t that pretty, that casual, that cooperative. It was a terrible, gut-wrenching, abusive event. Our mothers were taken advantage of. Very rarely, do natural mothers NOT want to take their babies home with them. Instead of helping them to keep us, a whole industry grew to take us from them and to give or sell them to other women who wanted babies but couldn’t have them or whose husband’s couldn’t co-create them.

    I think adoptees must meet their mothers and, if they are comfortable with them/safe with them, get a backbone and make a life with them. Tell your adoptive mother. If she can’t handle the truth, don’t tell her any more, unless she asks. Just .... get a backbone.

    If that seems unfair, consider this: Adopting another woman’s baby and pretending he/she is yours is a silly lie our society endorses. A whole industry is built around a pretense. It is a silly lie we all agree to follow. It’s like .... Santa Claus, and The Easter Bunny for a lifetime. Please, let’s stop the pretense.

    This is not about hurting adoptive mothers. It is about not ignoring our natural mothers. It is about getting a backbone and risking hard feelings, censure, threats, ... to honor the mothers who lost us. WE WERE NEVER GIFTS.

    I can’t stop the business of adopting. It’s too profitable, too beloved, too in-demand. All any of us can do is tell the truth about adopting .... how young mothers are taken advantage of ... and, that we WANT to know our mothers, to make a place for them in our lives, to be part of their lives, to learn who we are.

    Brilliant post, Lorriane ... takes courage to say what you said. Blessings. CB

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  23. The information about 16 year old Matthew came from Brenda's lifegiver website. The website apparently needs to be updated.
    It might be helpful, too, if people could hear Matthew's voice. Potentially, he could have many parents: imagine this: adad, ndad, stepdad, amom, nmom, stepmom and a host of asiblings, nsiblings, stepsiblings. How about the cousins and aunts and uncles!
    On a different note, I can't even fathom thinking of myself as a lifegiver. I am my child's mother - I will never think of myself as her "lifegiver" and attend a festival that even remotely suggests a level of festivity. I find this really offensive and agree totally with Jane's assessment of the situation and the "M" attitude. The mere fact that this festival involves an exchange of money is suggestive of a business endeavor.

    gail

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  24. "Babies bond with whoever feed and takes care of them. So shoot me."

    I'm curious - have you ever been pregnant?

    "I think we owe reunion to each other. I think we/adoptees must make a place in our lives for our mothers."

    How the heck does a TRA do that?

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  25. Great post, Lorraine. Great comment, Celeste.

    Interesting twists from my reunion. My son was estranged from his a-parents when we were reunited (through ISRR) -- in March 1996. On Mother's Day of that year, he attempted to all his a-mom and was told by his a-dad that she had died in March (a couple weeks before he found me). My son said that if he'd known she had died before he signed up with ISRR, he might not have started searching for me, because he might have felt too guilty to look for me. He never told his a-dad, and in fact they never spoke again before the father died a few years later.

    Once we were reunited, I thought i would not tell my parents. They had engineering my son's relinquishment and I believed they would not be happy, would in fact ruin my joy. I did tell them, determined to avoid more secrets and lies, but I was right. It took them more than three years to meet and acknowledge him.

    So many stories, so many secrets...

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  26. Gail,

    Ive met Matthew with Brenda at a conference, he is fine, and does indeed have a relationship with his natural siblings, extended family etc etc. In that case, it really has worked out pretty well for all. It can happen, but takes a lot of work and trust from all parts.

    I would not go to Lifegivers festival because it is not my generation or experience, I did not have an open adoption. I don't find the name offensive though, just too connected with Right to Life as a title. But I feel Brenda has performed a useful service in her writings and groups for younger mothers in open adoptions. Just because it is not for me does not make it wrong for others.

    I don't see getting so hung up and insulted over words....as if a word could change or erase motherhood.It can't. I am my son's mother; it is in the DNA and nothing can erase that. His adoptive mother is also his mother, in the psychological sense, even though in my case she was not a very good mother. It is not about words but about experience. Call me whatever you want. It does not change who I am.

    As far as there being a fee, AAC, CUB, all adoption reform groups charge a fee for their conferences as well. Is that exploitive too?

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  27. I was not speaking of adults who have an attachment to their parents (of any kind) I was speaking of baybees who have no capacity of discernment. I do not subscribe to the ideology of the Victorian sentimental family.

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  28. "I was speaking of baybees who have no capacity of discernment."

    You mean babies aren't intelligent at birth?

    I'm afraid I don't understand your comment.

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  29. Baby brains are not fully developed at birth is what Marley means. Nothing to do with intelligence. Humans have a large head which is why childbirth is so painful and in some cases dangerous for us. Human brains continue to grow and develop for several years after birth, so human infants are helpless compared to infants of some other species.

    I believe there is some research that newborns can recognize their mother by smell, but there is no proof of the ability to form or retain memories at this stage of development. The brain is not organized or developed enough yet. Again, this is not a matter of intelligence but of cognition and development.

    There is no generally recognized scientific proof of primal wound theory or pre-natal or neonatal memory, despite the wishful thinking pseudo-scientific theories floating around out there.

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  30. Right, Maryanne. Baybees just are. Thanks for clarifying my fuzzy (but not warm) comment). LaLaAdoptionLand not to mention "the family" in general is full of 20th century junk science and it's not improved with the new century. Families are the core of social control and oppression, a social construction held together by coercion. Engels wrote about this quite eloquently 150 years ago and much has been added to it since, particularly through feminist scholarship.

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  31. Unlike my friend Marley I do not have anything against the family per se:-) I've been married many years to the same guy, raised three kids, gave birth to 4, reunited, would love to have grandkids.

    But I do get tired of the easy and uncritical acceptance of pseudoscience and mystical ideas about biological bonds that have proliferated in adoption reform land.


    Maybe because I never felt I had a whole lot in common with most of my own relatives other than biology, and loved my Mom but did not feel as emotionally close to her as I did to my best friends. I often wonder how many of us surrendering mothers who expect some instant connection and love from our kids actually had that kind of relationship with our own mothers?

    Biology is important but it is not the only basis of human love and connection.

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  32. Maryanne, about the feeling in common (or lack thereof), I'll second that.

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  33. Wow, so many ideas for new blog posts here!

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  34. "Families are the core of social control and oppression, a social construction held together by coercion."

    It's coercion to keep a family together? O.o (Assuming the family isn't abusive or neglectful and the mother loves her child?)

    I agree that biology isn't always the most important factor - heck, out of my 8 friends in high school, only 2 had stable families.

    I still disagree that abuse/neglect is "meant" to indicate that nature is sometimes wrong.

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  35. Patriarchy = coercion. Without the patriarchial model, the state and its accoutrements and codes could not exist. People would be free to enter into consensual relationships be they personal, commercial or political.

    On a much lower level coercion means families are held together because one is expected to do it. That is, pretend you like people you can't stand. More sentimentlizing of the family.

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  36. Yes Lorraine, there are some blog ideas here. One significant one, in my opinion, would be addressing The Primal Wound by Nancy Newton Verrier. This book is based on the author’s theory or hypothesis about the adopted child. The key word here is “theory.” The author has an “idea” based upon her personal experience. The unfortunate part is that this “idea” and resulting book is often cited as a resource with a seemingly sound scientific foundation. As Maryanne stated in her comment, one needs to question the uncritical acceptance of pseudoscience that continues to pop up in adoptionland. Extending upon Maryanne’s observation, I suggest that such uncritical acceptance may actually be harmful in the sense that it may mask a possible physiological based disorder such as clinical depression.

    Lessons from the past , Copernicus, Galileo and heliocentric theories come to mind, should help frame today’s beliefs. In contemporary terms, a good parallel would be the the “reading is natural” theory which spread across America in the 80’s. The spread of such beliefs, which defy logic, is best understood by looking at memetic theory which is beyond the subject of this blog, but interestingly can be related to gene replication.

    In short, The Primal Wound by NV may not only not lead to an understanding of the Adopted Child which it purports to do, but may actually create/foster additional problems.

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  37. Thanks Gail, for adding some more criticism of Primal Wound theory and some healthy skepticism, which is so seldom seen in our community.

    There are many who love that theory because for adoptees it is a simple explanation for all that ails them, and for mothers it makes them irreplaceable in all ways to their children, so some mothers gravitate to the theory even though it also instills guilt for causing the primal wound by not raising the child.

    To me it is just too simplistic, and based on not much beyond Verrier's personal experience with two babies, a cranky adopted one and a placid biological child. It could just as easily have been the reverse, and then the theory would never had been born. I also agree it can delay looking at things like depression which may be the result of inborn predisposition, not primal wounding.

    This is a great topic, but wait for the fireworks from true believers who see those of us who do not uncritically accept it as heretics who deserve burning. Bring marshmallows!:-)

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  38. No roasting intended but...If the primal wound isn't real I would be surprised...Not everyone (not every baby is of the same temperment) so pretty hard to make a scientific baseline to study..How about observe how great a baby is doing with its mom, Then open your eyes and notice if the baby doesn't seem different and somehow more fussy or whatever with a bottle and a different person. DUH. Are millions of mothers everywhere just fooling themselves that their child knows them, sleeps better with them, etc. etc. Hell, if substitution was really viable even men would be able to care for their child the same as the mother does. What is missing that almost all fathers don't have? (besides the cultural impetus)....And I'm not saying that particular study was scientific, just that WTF there is alot to be angry about if you are an adoptee. Back to primal- if babies are placed with someone who has a similar, validating temperment its going to be a better experience all else being equal, even science can't quantify it. Is laughing a better experience than crying? Would science dare say? Surely you know. Is the primal wound the loss of mother or the substitution of that which is not able to bond as deeply via yet unclear bio-pathways. But give me a break already... I was 3 and freaking out looking for my real mom in every face, no cultural conditioning necessary. Amom was a hoot but NOTHING in common in so many ways. I had instant rapport with Nmom. Or is primal wound separation anger, or lack of any councelling for the big switch-a-rooney and "what you think doesn't matter anyway" anger. One thing that does bug me is my instantly rappor-ing Nmom acting like everything is so superficial in life (she has had plenty of family and isn't surprised we do and like the same things- takes it for granted, I say), BUT I notice she has chosen to use the info that adoptees can be angry to pretend that there is some sort of threat to having me around. (Yes, I realize I do sound like a rager on this post) So anyway, Nmom is acting like I'm not good enough now to know me, because Afamily didn't sing Christmas carols so I didn't come from a good enough family for her to know me. What a blind hypocrite. Of course I'm angry. No doubt my blood ancestors are rolling in their graves. I dealt with some of my anger by getting a DNA test. Expensive but worth it, now I know more than Nmom ever did. I can speculate as far back as 40,000 years, and was able to pinpoint a specific heritage as very dominant. YEA! Score one for me being in control! I love you all running this site...thanks for letting me share my voice too.

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  39. Parisburning, if your natural mom is dismissive of you and makes stupid comments about your upbringing you have absolutely every right to be angry at her. I would be angry too.

    But that anger has nothing to do with any primal wound. Adoptees have many reasons to be angry, to feel abandoned, to feel slighted and kept in perpetual childhood by adoption law. Some have ample reason to be angry at their adoptive parents and the way they were raised, others have ample reason to be angry at their birth family for refusing to meet them, lying to them, playing games after reunion. I am in no way dismissing any of that, or saying adoption or the adoptee experience is just peachy. I know it is not; I know enough bad adoption stories and good reunion stories to have seen it personally as well as theoretically.

    In being skeptical of primal wound theory as a universal I am only questioning the cause of adoptee problems and pain and when they begin, not denying that such problems are widespread and real.

    Also I am not questioning any individual adoptee's belief that their problems go back to infancy and the separation from the birthmother as a remembered happening. If that explains things for you and helps you deal with problems constructively that is fine.

    What I am questioning is the concept of primal wound theory as a proven and universal scientifically verifiable fact that affects all adoptees, as it has been presented in Verrier's book and other venues.

    My "theory", which I think is just as valid, is that the hurt and harm happen not at birth or shortly after, as long as the child has a good, loving and consistent care giver from then on, but at whatever age of cognition where the adoptee begins to understand what being adopted means, that before they were adopted they were abandoned. This could certainly be as early as 3 for some children.

    I agree there are human dimensions outside of the realm of science. That is why we have philosophy, the arts, religion, emotion, all forms of non-scientific creativity. There are things that cannot be quantified. What I object to about primal wound theory is that it is wishful thinking, pseudoscience posing as scientific fact. It is too simplistic an explanation for complex issues.

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  40. Mei-Ling,

    Reading the copious psychological and self-help literature on attachment and bonding does not make the Primal Wound theory true any more than reading creationism literature makes that theory true. I do agree that adopted and other people can experience attachment disorders as a result of many different experiences, including adoption-related experiences. What I don't agree with is that attachment disorder necessarily proceeds from being adopted. That said, I applaud Nancy Verrier (who is a *very* nice lady) for trying to help adoptive parents understand the different psychological and biological makeup of their adopted children. I just don't agree with pronouncements of what that has to be.

    As an adoptee, a school teacher, an erstwhile adoptee-rights leader, an educated "reader", and one who has birthed and raised children, I would like to think that I have sufficient knowledge and experience to evaluate the spectrum of the adoptee and childraising experiences. Yes, adoptees need to be psychologically prepared and supported when attempting and navigating reconnection with biological relatives. It doesn't help them to fill them with self-serving wishful projections such as "all birthmothers really wanted to keep you", nor to pressure them to invite you to Thanksgiving. (NB: My parents invited all my birthrelatives to my wedding. It was fab. Weird, but fab.)

    I am in a relatively stable reunion of almost 20 years. There are many birthmothers whom I love and respect (hi Maryanne!). Like adoptees, they all went through the same experience, but not all of them, nor us, have experienced or processed it the same way.

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  41. What passion about pseudoscience! I'd love to know exactly where science is actually happening these days and just what it works with, what it is doing and knowing about, especially when human development is involved.

    I really mean that.

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  42. Hard science is "happening" in neurology, biology, the study of brain development, genetics etc. It is happening where a hypothesis can be proposed, tested, and proved or disproved. It is a matter of verifiable facts, not opinions or personal anecdotes.

    Pseudoscience is presented as hard science but has not been subjected to this rigorous kind of testing and it is, does not stand up to scrutiny. Much of "alternative medicine" like homeopathy is pseudoscience, as are the attempts to use the language of advanced physics to describe human interactions.

    Somewhere in between are the "soft sciences" of psychology and sociology, which have had some great insights and also some egregious bullshit promoted as "fact".

    Primal wound theory is an interesting metaphor for the adoptee experience of loss, but it is not hard science and should not be presented as such.

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  43. Thanks Maryanne but all you have said is that science is happening where it is happening. What are the results that you are talking about that pertain to the subject at hand? Specifics please.

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