Sunday, August 23, 2009

Two Mothers, Part 3


As Linda and Lorraine reported, the course of a reunion never does run straight when it comes up against the realities of ”that other family” which is how birth mothers cannot help but see the adoptive family.

In my own case, my surrendered daughter, Rebecca, searched for me for over ten years in order to, as she put it, “solve the mystery of my life.” She found me in 1997 when she was 31. Initially, she told me her adoptive parents, Norma and Nelson French, were “okay” (not thrilled but okay) with our reunion. When Rebecca and I continued to correspond, the “okay” turned to fear. Several months after our reunion, Rebecca traveled from her home in suburban Chicago to spend a week with her adoptive parents in California “to reassure them.”

Rebecca's adoptive parents, particularly Norma, continued to be alarmed by our reunion. According to Rebecca, Norma protested that she “was promised this would never happen.” She asked repeatedly “What’s Jane’s agenda?” The Frenches were politically conservative and members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They knew through Rebecca that I was politically liberal and active in women’s rights. Norma suspected that I continued the relationship with Rebecca in order to convert her to feminism, ignoring the obvious – that love and the pull of my own child might have been a factor.

I admit that I did not want to meet the Frenches at first. Rebecca and I had a special relationship which they rightfully had no part. When she spoke of them, it felt like a knife in my heart. Jealously raged; we were competitors for her soul.

Eventually I began to think that meeting the Frenches would be beneficial for all. Over the next few years, I offered to meet them. Rebecca always shook her head and said “They have no interest in meeting you.”

I told Rebecca about adoptive parents and birthparents I met at conferences of the American Adoption Congress that were friends with or at least accepting of their counterparts. The AAC president at the time, Jane Nast, spoke affectionately about her son’s birthmother and introduced her to the audience at the main dinner at the conference. I met an adoptee whose birth and adoptive parents became such good friends that they “ganged” up on her, pushing her to go to college. Another birthmother told me that she always stayed at her daughter’s adoptive parents’ home when she visited her daughter, and despite problems that came up later, that is what fellow blogger Lorraine (see previous post) always did when she visited her daughter. Rebecca could not grasp these kinds of relationships and didn’t see the value of them. It was as though she thought of adoptive and birth parents as natural enemies.

Norma passed away five years ago so we will never meet. I regret this. While the simple act of meeting (and perhaps exchanging Christmas cards and so on) would not have bonded us, I believe it would have made life easier for Rebecca. At least we would have known who the other was and not depended on Rebecca to fill in blanks. Perhaps, knowing the other family might have helped each of us understand Rebecca better. Although it’s unlikely we would have become pals given the differences in beliefs and values, perhaps the Frenches and I would have begun to see each other as partners, working for the well-being of Rebecca and her children rather than as rivals for her affection.

I have read memoirs by adoptees and met hundreds of triad members at support groups and conferences. I am convinced that integrating adoptive and birth families results in the best outcome for all. This does not happen in most cases I am aware of because of the resentments and jealousies built into adoption, particularly closed adoption. And of course differences in personalities, life styles, education, values, and life experiences also play a part. Counseling for birth and adoptive parents, much like that available for parents getting divorced or parties in open adoptions, would be beneficial for parents brought together when adoptees and birth parents re-unite.

4 comments :

  1. Jane, I can understand exactly what you are saying. When I first looked I used a search angel, I believe my daughter put her info on the adoptions.com site and let it go thinking it was too expensive. The search angel got very friendly with the adoptive parents and told them what she knew about me, including my name (they already had that along with my social security number and the fact that I had been in the Army) and where I currently lived.

    My poor daughter suffered her adoptive mother's wrath as she was faced down at her job and told she was disowned and that she would never get my information. Along with other choice things.

    A lot of the issues my daughter and I have, other than the ones we created ourselves out of personal fear, are from family members and others trying to HELP or GIVE ADVICE.

    I feel strongly that since most searches are done either by an adult child or an parent looking for an adult child that it is no one' business but theirs and that others should respect that boundary. Including family members on both sides.

    Just my thoughts.

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  2. Nice piece, Jane.

    If only everyone in reunion could be sensible rather than emotional and sit down and get to know each other, in some cases with a good counselor experienced in reunion issues. In an ideal world it would be that way, and both sets of parents would put away their own jealousy, resentment, entitlement and fear, and work together as much as possible for the good of the adoptee.

    But in the real world, often one side or the other only sees things their way, and would not take part in counseling suggested by the other party. Unless everyone was mutually searching including the adoptive parents, there is one party at least who does not want to be there at all and does not want to work at making it work. Unless their attitude changes, there is not much the person who searched can do.

    I agree that reunions work best where all parties are open, accepting, willing to compromise and to some degree unselfish and flexible. A rare combination, it does happen, but not often.

    So the rest of us have to make do with imperfect and somewhat one-sided efforts to connect and understand.

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  3. Yikes.

    The birth parents and adoptive parents ganged up on her to go to college scenario.

    That makes my skin crawl, imagining both all of my parents ganging up on me about anything.

    I already feel ganged up upon just by their larger than normal numbers.

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  4. Joy,

    That is precisely why I never felt comfortable getting too chummy with my son's adoptive mother, even though she claimed to be on my side and urging him to call me etc.

    I much later learned he could not stand her, and as soon as he could cut himself off from her totally. I think part of why he also stayed away from me for so long was seeing me as possibly one more of her. He has a very negative concept of mother and did not want another or even worse, two of them ganged up on him.

    As I said in a previous post, in an ideal world and a few ideal reunions, everyone is one big happy family. But the real world is far from ideal, and each of us has to work with our own unique situation. I do think it best that mothers take their cue from the adoptee and the adoptee be the one to decide how much meeting there is between adoptive and birth parents.

    In my case the adoptive mother reaching out to me worked against me having a relationship with my son. There are so many variations, one size never fits all.

    ReplyDelete

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