Demons in Adoption

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Sunday, May 30, 2010

A Neighbor Condemns Searching for our Children Lost to Adoption, a friendship ends

How do you educate a neighbor whose own mother more or less abandoned her to the realities of adoption today? In my case, you try, but you end up...where you started.

Some background here: A neighbor I'll call Yvonne is older than I (she is 80) and over the years we have become quite close. We've done countless favors for each other and she has called me her "youngest sister." But there was always this big black cloud in the room on a subject that, hmm, dare not speak its name: adoption. I've written before about what occurred between us, but I'll summarize here.

Although I knew adoption was a subject that I knew one had to tread lightly--Yvonne never met an adoptee who wasn't totally happy to be adopted, completely integrated into the family, etc.--I still did not know that we were a gazillion miles apart on the issue. When the hated movie Juno came out, I gave her a copy of my memoir, Birthmark, to read, hoping that she would understand the point of view of a first/birth mother more than she had seemed willing to in the past.

My POV: That I, a woman who surrendered her daughter to adoption, felt it necessary for my mental health to find that daughter. That I, as her biological/birth/first mother, did not want to interrupt her life with her other, adoptive, family. That I wanted her to be a part of my life too, in some fashion, but that did not mean she would turn away from her adoptive family. That in doing this, everyone recognized that Jane, my/our daughter was an integrated human being with a past that began before adoption.

Jane had been to our house many times for extended stays of several months, but Yvonne and I were not more than nodding acquaintances then, and she had not met Jane until a couple years before she committed suicide; Yvonne knew one of Jane's daughters (one relinquished for adoption, one not) because she had spent several weeks here each summer when she was a child. So, Yvonne had some inkling of how our situation had worked out. She was kind to Jane's daughter.

Anyway, Yvonne said she could not stop reading Birthmark until she finished, wanted to get copies for her children, all now grown, and all of whom I know and like. Incidentally, none of them live nearby--the closest is about a three-to-four-hour drive away, the others several states away or across the country. When Yvonne became ill in the last couple of years, it was my husband and I who were the helpers on the spot, the visitors in the hospital, before anyone else got here. But understand our friendship was a two-way street; she has done many favors for us also. I took care of her cats when Yvonne went away; when we had a dog, she took care of him. We gave her books to read; she's wealthy; she's been generous to us. Her children seemed somewhat relieved that she had a good friend and neighbor a few doors away. It was a reciprocal relationship.  

Yet, adoption lay between us like a roaring brook we all agreed to step around without comment.

But there were times when that became impossible. Yvonne's very good friend from boarding school (who coincidentally lives a few blocks away) became an adoptive grandmother, twice over. Her husband once told me--after I told him I was a birth mother whose daughter had lived her for some summers, worked downtown at the ice cream parlor--that I was "their greatest nightmare." I said nothing.

One day, Yvonne, in a pique generated I think by a small amount of wine in her 110-pound frame, called me..."no more than a reproductive agent." I can only think she heard that phrase from the people who think I am "their greatest nightmare." (Read more here.)

Trouble ensued. Eventually we talked and I brought up how she might feel about her own mother who left Yvonne and her two sisters in the care of their American father in the states while she, the mother, went back to France and continued to be the aristocratic courtesan of the literati and social set there. (Her mother is actually quite well known in France, even today, as much for her sexual exploits and conquests as her writing.) For several years Yvonne did not even see her mother, and when she finally did, after boarding school days were over, I came to understand it was not a warm and loving relationship. Yvonne felt that it would have been different had the three sisters been boys. Though she won't really talk about those feelings, it's clear that her mother did more or less physically abandon the girls; Yvonne's older sister did not even see her mother for 17 years.

Anyway, a whole year passed in which we somehow avoided adoption. Until a few days before Mother's Day when she expressed the hope (by crossing her fingers and widening her eyes) that the couple who live between us, who must be in their late thirties to mid forties, are able to adopt, as she heard they hope to. Maybe it was the timing, maybe I have been quietly seething for the whole last year since her "reproductive agent" eruption (which she denies she ever said such words! The very idea!), maybe it was at last a recognition that we could not really be friends, but I said a few angry semi-incoherent words about how she did not understand anything about me, how international adoption was a hotbed of corruption and child-stealing, and I stormed out. I wouldn't say I had sleepless nights, but more than once when I woke up at three or four, I could not get back to sleep replaying over in my mind what I'd like to say to her. My husband, Tony, had the same reaction.

She called a few days later, as if nothing had happened. One time--on Mother's Day, no less--I was actually talking to adoption-reform pioneer Florence Fisher and took the call before I saw on Caller ID that it was Yvonne. Basically she had a message for Tony which I passed on. He did not call her back. The next time she called did not take the call,--she left a message as if nothing had happened.
One has choices, one usually has choices. This time I decided to try to say in a single-spaced two-page letter what I could never get out if we actually spoke. I also thought it would make more of an impression, she would be able to read and reread what I had to say. A few days later, she wrote back, seemingly not quite accepting what I said. I wrote back again, explaining further. Asked her to watch a few videos that I sent to her email address.

In short, while she agrees there may be the very rare (one) corrupt adoption agency, she can not believe that corruption is rampant. But then she wrote what it at the heart of today's birth-mother dilemma: that while she believes that "if and when a child is old enough it wishes to know its heritage her or she should have easy access to that information," she does not believe "that the birth parent should have the right to disturb and upset my family in search of their child or have a say in the way I bring up MY [her emphasis] child. In my opinion it is a one way street."

She goes on to say that this is the last time we should discuss this adding: "You have a right to your opinion, which by the way I understand, but I also have a right to mine." She ends by adding that one of her daughters and husband is coming for the weekend, and she knows they would love to see us. While I was writing this, she called and I did not answer; her message was: Could we come over for a drink at six?

I give up. Though she knows--and I have reminded her in this last go-round--that I found Jane and was reunited with her when she was fifteen with her adoptive parent's blessing--an action Yvonne condemns, she seems to think we can go on as before. We can not. I feel like while, say, someone freely admits she is say, a racist, she wants to invite me (not of her race) to dine at her table because I am somehow "not like the rest of them."

Her attitude is pervasive in society and more so, here in America, I believe, than elsewhere because we are a culture are tied into the myth that the past is of little consequence, that we can make and remake ourselves into whatever and whomever we want. It's why I feel so hopeless in combating attitudes like hers and that of another "friend" who attacked me over a year ago for searching for Jane. Attitudes about openness have changed on one level, but in many quarters, and by many adoptive parents, not towards us birth/first mothers. We gave the children up; it does not matter that the anonymity was coerced (which I painstakingly explained to Yvonne); we signed the fucking papers and so there it lies. We can live lives of misery and yearning, that's too effing bad--as Yvonne put it, it is a one-way street.

I do know I do not want to be around her anymore. I do not want to be the pariah among her thoughts. Our friendship is over and out. Eventually, I'll stop being upset.

The evening calls. I have a cous-cous salad (healthy and delicious!) to make to take to an afternoon croquet game and barbecue with friends; my husband's nephew by marriage, a tree guy, is coming tonight with his wife and two toddlers to take down a dead tree in the back yard tomorrow, and I'll make them a splendid lunch, with shrimp and clams. Life continues. And the next blog will be about good news from my other granddaughter, Lisa. There is a silver lining.--lorraine

11 comments :

  1. I remember reading somewhere that when two people have sex there are something like four or more other people "in the bedroom" with them. The "ghosts" of parents, former partners, etc.

    It appears to be the same way with adoption, and your (former) friend is no exception. I'm sure her opinion is colored by her own mother's actions, just as my stepmom's opinion (thankfully changed!) was colored by her relationship with her mother.

    Since I'm an adoptee (whose adoption was NEVER acknowledged by my aparents), my stepmom's comments were something like "a child shouldn't be told they're adopted until he/she is old enough to understand" (i.e. when the aparents are ready to tell them) adding that "you could be 100 years old, there's no age that you MUST be told".

    I'm sure, if pushed, those who profess to be okay with adoptees searching would qualify it with "when the adoptee is old enough", maturity being determined by the aparents of course.

    Then there's the former potential friend who told me that my cousin had "no right" to tell me I was adopted if my aparents didn't tell me. My cousin had told me when I was 31.

    I have other friends who could "benefit from my opinions" but the timing isn't right yet. These include someone whose adult cousin is adopted but doesn't know, and someone with a 7 year old niece from China. In both those cases it isn't personal, unlike my former potential friend and your former friend.

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  2. Lorraine, i'm sorry that this friendship couldn't survive this difference of opinion. At her age, well, your neighbor isn't likely to want to see anyone's point of view but her own...some times friendship with older neighbors means giving (A LOT) more than you recieve. I have an older neighbor who is less than pleasant most to the time, but every now and again, she tells me that she appricates me putting up with her. She loves on Emma, however, and that makes me (try to!) over look some of her comments. Your neighbor, however well, I do wish that she hadn't said such harmful things to you. To call a first mother "a human reproducive agent" is inexcuseable. Especially when these types of words can cut like a knife...

    Recently, a very good 'friend' of mine said that i was "lucky" that Emma wouldn't remember her first mother. Lucky? How in the world does that make me lucky? It would be the most amazing thing in the world for me to find Emma's first mother and give the two of them the space and time to know each other. You can't give a child too much love...and to let Emma have the access to ask her birthmother ANY questions that she may have can only cement that relationship.

    Looking forward to your next post!

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  3. Sad when we have to do this but sometimes it's necessary for our personal wellbeing.The space she leaves, is it seems, already filled and the energy that brings will be used well I'm sure!Sometimes people do or say things that are unforgiveable in an unguarded moment which show how they're really thinking.Good wishes....

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  4. Lorraine, I am also sorry that you taking the time to explain to "Yvonne" how her comments were hurtful to you was not respected enough for her to do some personal soul searching. Or maybe she did and is just so set in her ways due to her own experience with her mother and advanced age, that she has lost all sense of empathy.

    It hurts to lose someone who has been an important part of our lives, but you deserve to have your feelings and experience honored. I realize that no one person can be everything to us, but there are some basic courtesies we owe our true friends - and that is if they say something is important to them, that it be treated as such and not marginalized. That's what Yvonne did to you regarding one of the most significant events of your life and one that you openly share has shaped you into the person you are today.

    I gave up two important friendships years ago for the similar reasons. One was my college roommate whom I had lived with when I became pregnant. We later were maids of honor in each other's weddings and I thought shared exactly the same live and let live philosophy.

    However, when I called her the year I found Steve, she showed no joy for me at all, but kept insisting that she didn't remember it bothering me much to have given up my son. I assured her that it had indeed, even though I had kept it bottled up, but she continued to insist that she was shocked that I would disrupt his life when it didn't seem to be a big deal years before! Such an odd response.

    Another friend told me I had no right searching for him - I had signed an agreement to give him up and should honor it. There was no explaining to either one of these "friends" a different point of view, so I just ended the friendships. I didn't even take the time you have taken to explain, because I was so hurt. You have done the right thing.

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  5. Carol, I read your post about your maid of honor and got goosebumps...that is so much more appalling than this friendship dissolving. How that must have hurt.

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  6. Lorraine, I've been following your story of Yvonne, your neighbor, for quite some time now. And frankly, I'm glad you see that the friendship has ended.

    I am sooooo sick of people who haven't even been touched by adoption judging me for reuniting with my son 20 years ago, shortly after his 18th birthday. I am sick of the judgment...always the judgment.

    I was 17 years old when I surrendered my newborn son 38 years ago, the only child I would ever have. I am sick to death of the narrow-mindedness; I am sick to death of still paying every single day of my life for having the audacity of giving birth outside of wedlock...nevermind the fact that my mother wouldn't sign the consent forms to allow me to marry my baby's father.

    My son tried to commit suicide when he was 14 years old...and he very nearly succeeded. He hung himself, and it's an absolute miracle that he survived without brain damage.

    I came back into his life at 18...and thank God or Goddess or Higher Power that I did.

    I'm sure your neighbor would judge me for that....but you know what? Nobody else on this planet gave a damn about that kid -- I certainly didn't see his "parents" looking through all the back allies in town, trying to find their drug-addicted son. I didn't see them saying "enough is enough, and I don't want you to die."

    Thanks for letting me vent...

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  7. legitimatebastardMay 31, 2010 at 10:17 AM

    Thank you for posting this. I, too, have lost friendships because the other non-adopted friend could not understand what it feels like to be adopted. Or, to be a motehr of adoption loss. While the later is not my own experience, I have learned from you and your book years before meeting you. It is people like you who educate others to the horrors of having a child and the incredible saddness of that loss. Having said that, I think of all the mothers of adoption loss I have known and all the adoptees I have known and bring all of you with me when I speak on adoption reform. When new people give their "opinions" (which must be held up as gospel truth!) without hearing the sides of those most involved, I get irritiated for the lack of awareness. When people whom I've known for long periods of time ignore or sideswipe the realities of adoption today, I end the friendship or even family connection. Can't and won't be associated with people who refuse to see the destruction of adoption.

    I grieve for the relationships losts, as you do.

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  8. I am sorry about your neighbor, Lorraine. I can't believe that she doesn't see that there really was no choice for many women who became pregnant. Voluntarily signing a paper to turn over your daughter? How many choices did you have?

    My daughter was wrongly taken away from her mother by the state. The truth of the matter is that once your child is in foster care, unless you are Mother Teresa, you can't get your child back easily. Especially a woman with little skill sets and resources. (Foster care is another source of babies for families who want them -- I have since discovered.) So Nikki terminated her rights with the pre-condition that my husband and I adopt her daughter. What choice did she have?

    It would be nice if adoptive mothers and society as a whole would recognize that. I'm sorry they often don't. For everyone's sake.

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  9. Lorraine, I support your ending your friendship with Yvonne. Life is too short to put up with toxic people. Whether it's about adoption or not. I was glad to see in your subsequent post that you already feel lighter about your decision.

    (((HUGS)))

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  10. This isn't a bad thing. Yvonne may well be as relieved as you are to be shot of the friendship. Life IS too short to have to put up with toxic people - especially if you're already 80, and not likely to have much of it left.
    On the other hand I think she would have good reason to be pissed if she discovered the story of your falling out was plastered all over your blog.
    Hopefully, being an old lady, she isn't internet savvy, and her real friends won't be so cruel as to tell her about it.

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  11. Just a note to repeat what I said elsewhere: "Yvonne" is of course not her real name; she is on the computer but seems to never have googled me; her kids (in their 50s and our friends) are great and sympathetic to me; and I decided to write about this earlier and again because this kind of condemnation occurs often with first/birth/real mothers who are out of the damn closet. And if there were more of us, more people would have to confront the hard truths of adoption.

    The support I've gotten here from the people who left comments (and at Facebook) have made me feel accepted and nurtured by their concern. One of my girlfriends, who is also out, said she had gotten the same reaction when she told people she searched and she just walked away from them. Some of your may remember my earlier run-in with a lawyer friend I called Aston. I write about our being attacked because we are attacked for doing what we needed to do, after being forced to sign documents that went against every timbre in our being.

    One last point: Yvonne's mother is a well-known writer even today in her country (France) and the whole family understands that writers write about what they know. And whom.

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