It must be hard to love an adopted child as much as one of your own was the line that raised a lot of hackles in the movie Orphan. The adoptee from the USSR herself said the offending line herself, but a cursory glance at who was doing the most complaining and collecting signatures on a petition reveals it was mostly adoptive parents professing their unfettered love, insisting that there is no difference in their feelings between the adopted and the biological. That same concept--No difference, I loved you as if you were my own--was declared on the deathbed of the dying adoptive mother in Then She Found Me.
I don't buy it. Everything is all well and good when the adoptee is what Florence Fisher called "the good adoptee" who doesn't act up ever, and is the pride and joy of the parents; but it's a different story when the adoptee gets into trouble, is trouble, causes trouble. My daughter was one of those. Then it's--genes. Then it's--not quite the same. Then it's--well, he/she is adopted. Then it's--when the adoption is undone.
My daughter's family was comprised of siblings both adopted and biological sons, and I watched her struggle to be accepted unequivocally, as were the sons. She was not.
How true this was became clear to me when when one of her younger brothers, a natural son of her parents, died out West when he skied off a cliff. He was a genial guy, and a ski bum who worked at ski resorts. Her older brother, adopted, married and a solid citizen, lived nearby and there was no question that he would be at the memorial service. But who would come from the Midwest? Whose airline tickets would the parents buy?
For the natural son back in the Midwest, of course. For Jane, the adopted daughter? Well, maybe...not.
Was she upset? You bet. Did I hear about it? In full. Nothing I could say would make her feel better, and I certainly did not say, Well, you have me, and my family that is also your family, because at that moment, I was not what she needed. She needed to know that her adoptive parents loved her and considered her so much a part of their family that they unthinkingly included in family events. I did not say what I was thinking, what she had to be thinking too: that she was not blood, that she did not count in quite the same way as her brother, their natural son. (At times like this I want to write: real son.) Not until Jane raised a commotion about this unequal treatment did they relent and include her. I knew Jane was wounded, but she stuffed her pride and off she went.
What was said at the memorial service? He was my favorite.
This is difficult enough to deal with in a family all connected by genes, but a body blow to someone who is adopted. Jane came back, we talked about the service, how upset both she and her adopted brother were about this offhand comment. But within a matter of weeks, the easy/ breezy relationship we had just before her brother died evaporated. It was as if I no longer counted for anything, and this was the status quo for more than a year. It was her way of showing her other mother that she, Jane, could be a good daughter, capable of being loved as much as her own son. It did not work.
As regular readers know, Jane had a lot of physical and psychological problems, including serious epilepsy, and she was already exhibiting some of the social and emotional neuroses that often accompany someone who has seizures when I came on the scene when she was fifteen. To her parents' credit, they thought that knowing me--knowing that I was not someone who was institutionalized, which they suspected--might give Jane the ego boost she so sorely needed. Perhaps it did.
But as the years would play out, Jane's behavior made her certainly harder to be around; and as the years wore on, so did her other mother's attitude towards her daughter. A few years later, when Jane and I were back on track, I picked up the phone and heard her sobbing: Tell me that you love me, she demanded. No hello, no, this is Jane, just Tell me that you love me. Her other mother had just told her on the phone that she did not.
As for the other brother, the other real son? He's given his parents a fair share of grief too, which I won't go into here, but how they reacted to him was all very different from how they did to Jane. Jane was the adopted daughter who was harder to love than their own.
Hard truths about adoption are hard realities.
Added on Friday, Sept. 4:
Of course this is only one family situation, and I've known all-biological families in which a mother or a father clearly preferred one child over another, even though the parent loved them all. I think that often has to do with genes--as a certain child will resemble one parent, both physically and psychologically, more than another, and that parent will feel especially close to that person because he/she is most like him/her. Or a child may simply be born at a time when a person gives more to the child. We've often seen this among older fathers; now that they do not have to devote so much time to their careers, they give more to their families--and the new children.
But I have heard enough stories from adopted people (including Florence's own, which she wrote about in her book, The Search for Anna Fisher, about radically different treatment in families when it comes to, say, heirlooms and the like. One time when I was lobbying in Albany for open records, a legislator's assistant must not have grasped the intent of our visit, or who we were, because she launched into a story of how she and other biological kin tried to prevent an adopted daughter from inheriting a good-sized chunk of money from her parents. Of course that would be impossible, if the daughter had been legally adopted, and the family was not questioning this, but what we found amazing as well as repugnant was that she was telling this story as if it were the ordinary course of events and expected that we would not find this offensive. I could go on, but they do not add up to a statistical survey of adoptive families with both biological and adopted children.
So although it is impossible to nail this down with hard data, I am reporting on the sense of what I have heard over the years, and certainly saw in my daughter's family. And I write about it because it so directly impacted my relationship with her. I am sure that my involvement in Jane's life (though I was a thousand miles away physically) did affect her family back in the Midwest, but I can not speculate on what it meant to them. As a final note, I have no idea whether they would have been as welcoming to me if she had not had epilepsy, but she did and they were quickly open to me and Jane reconnecting.
I expect this post to cause a lot of reaction, but it came to mind because over at the New York Times a writer named Anita Tedaldi has posted a column about terminating an adoption because she simply could not handle the son. Blogger Third Mom has also posted about this, and both are recommended reading. On another day I'll have something to say about a mother's love for the child she bears. Love is the right word, but doesn't encompass the need we feel to reconnect (at least most of us) at some basic biological level to our offspring.
Have a good weekend, enjoy the last days of summer. Labor Day. Well, labor--that's another story, isnt' it?--lorraine
And on Saturday, September 5
Though this post does not address the question of "love," those commenting might find this post from 2008 interesting: The comparison of "virtual twins," individuals of the same age raised together but with different genes. This typically happens when a family waiting to adopt finds themselves pregnant with child, and goes ahead with the adoption.