Friday, December 24, 2010

A First Mother remembers: My Adopted Daughter's first Christmas gifts

Jane

Christmas has played a role in my relationship with my surrendered daughter Megan since the beginning. When she was born in November, 1966, I could not bear to sever our bonds completely. I left the hospital without signing adoption papers and she went into foster care. A social worker told me she had the perfect family for my daughter but they wanted a child less than a month old.
As the one month deadline approached and prospects for raising my daughter did not magically present themselves, I called the social worker and told her I would sign the papers. I added “I know this sounds silly but I’m worried the baby will not have any Christmas presents.”

On Christmas Day that year I fantasized about the loving couple who had my baby after many sorrowful years of childlessness. I tried to find joy in giving this gift to this couple, so much more deserving of this precious child than I. (After our reunion I learned that Megan’s adoptive parents did not contact the social services office until January and that they already had three children when they adopted Megan. Apparently the social worker made no effort to give Megan a home for the holidays.)

A Christmas CarolI know now that adoption is not a gift but a tribute to ignorance and want.

Shortly before Christmas in 1997, Megan now thirty-one years old, emailed that she wanted to send me a gift, something she had made. Megan and I had connected a few weeks earlier but we had not met. Other than a short conversation with my husband-to-be 29 years earlier, I had not discussed Megan’s existence with anyone. She lived near Chicago and I lived in Oregon.  We planned to meet the following month.

I agonized over how to respond to her email. I was touched by Megan's offer and did not want to offend her. At the same time, I did not want to explain this gift to family members who knew nothing about. I was also curious about what she could have made. No one in my family was artistic. I envisioned a potholder; the kind children make at summer camp, elastic bands stretched across a frame.

I wrote back “I would love to have something you made.” When the package arrived, I put it in the closet.

A day or two after Christmas, I opened the box. Not a pot holder but two jars of fruit jelly and a jar of jalapeƱo jelly. I could not leave them in the closet since having jelly in my closet next to old purses, shoe boxes, and other paraphernalia accumulated in the 20 years we had lived in the house would be hard to explain. I placed the jelly in a kitchen cabinet next to jars of homemade jam my mother-in-law had given us, hiding them in plain sight. Tentative steps out of the closet.

Just before I was to leave for Chicago, I asked two of my raised daughters, Lucy and Julie, who were home for Christmas, to come into the kitchen to talk to me. (My oldest daughter Amy lived in Washington DC). (Telling my family about my daughter--and then going public)  I explained that they had a sister. They were incredulous. Seeking to convince them that I was not delusional and that Megan did in fact exist, I held up a jar of jelly as proof. “Of course you have a sister,” I shouted. “Where do you think this jelly came from?”

The jelly, of course, has long since been eaten. The real gift Megan gave me that year—the gift of knowledge--endures forever.

Lorraine and I wish you a very Merry Christmas and a peaceful and joyous New Year.

23 comments :

  1. Merry Christmas to The Birth Mother, First Mother Blog....I am thankful for you and all of the hard work you are doing for birthmothers and their children's rights.

    I have learned much from your blog and am thankful you are a voice.

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  2. When I read stories like this you being told that "special" couple wanted a baby under one month old. In reality it was the workers way of getting you to sign papers. That is coercion as a lawyer you now know this as a young mom you were worried about your baby.
    I too had my son taken in 66 the worker was my first visitor after a 2 am delivery. I was 17 evidently my minors signature was valid enough as his mother to give them the right to take my umheld and unseen baby from me. They never mentioned foster care or that I had a right to see or even visit him. Coercion was the way they handled
    adoptions then. Nowadays, it is a much slicker way but still involves coercive practices. Disgusting business adoption supplying those who are demanding a baby any baby to he'll with mother and child. As this is the season where we praise Mary the unwed mother for giving birth but we as unweds were treated with harsh and ugly direspect.
    Double standards abound all around us. Those that judged did so for their own reasons.
    Gale

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  3. The story of the jelly made me smile:) Have you ever told her that her little jars of jelly were used to prove her existence?

    Happy holidays to you as well. Have a wonderful 2011!

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  4. I join my voice to Issy's and thank you for providing voices of reason and a place for us to unite in protesting and questioning the many, many things that are wrong with adoption today. Lorraine and Jane, and this blog, always inspire me.

    I can make it through the holidays with you guys behind me!

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  5. I would like to ask a question that is not related to this article but which really puzzles me. Why is it that in any discussion of adoption, APs always mention how loved the adopted child is, as if the APs love for the child is the be all/end all issue of adoption? I do believe that APs love their adopted child and in most cases as much as they would love a bio-child but I am really puzzled as to why they don't get that their love is certainly not enough to mitigate all the problems adoption causes for the mother and child. While it is certainly better that the child be loved rather than not loved (duh) in many adoption issues the AP's love really isn't even that significant at all.

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  6. Thanks, Issy and Mrs. Marginalia...

    It's very very snowy where I am on the East Coast at the end of Long Island, the leftover tail of a blizzard, in fact, and warm wishes from afar make the day a bit warmer.

    And I'm not thinking about adoption things today, going to clean my desk which is overloaded with papers and stuff.

    stay warm, y'all--
    lorraine

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  7. Robin: Adoptive parents feel the need to say that they "love" their children--when yes it is a given they do--because they hope that "love" is enough to deflect or absorb all the insecurities that come with being available to be adopted. Yet, if those parents thought about it for a minute, they would realize that it is not. One thing can not undue the emotional scar inflicted by being relinquished.

    Deep down adoptive parents do understand that their love is not a replacement for the mother and father whose DNA they carry--their first parents, their birth parents--but yet they protest that, hoping that somehow it changes everything.

    It does not.

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  8. @Lorraine,
    Thank you for responding to my question. I haven't been at FMF for very long and I am really enjoying learning new things and getting a different perspective. It has been wonderful to find so many who validate my feelings and viewpoints.

    The more I think about the ubiquitous AP comment "I love my adopted child every bit as much as I'd love a bio-child. Case closed.", it seems very self-centered. It is really the APs perspective and not thinking about the child's experience.

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  9. Ahh the story of the tell-tale jelly! I know it well. ;)


    Joy

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  10. @ Robin, I agree that the idea that "love conquers all" is a romantic fallacy, and I do not subscribe to the idea that love can be a panacea for feelings of abandonment or the loss of family and heritage experienced by an adopted person, regardless of the circumstances that caused the relinquishment. For myself, I have never ever believed "deep down" or otherwise that a-parent love is a replacement for that of the original parents, and I know that there are many other adoptive parents who feel as I do, although they are not to be found among the ubiquitous "protesters".

    However, it needs to be said the word "protest" usually implies dissent from a belief or opinion. So,while I agree with Lorraine that the love brigade are resorting to a kind of magical thinking, I also think that these "protestations" are in part a defensive reaction to the strongly expressed opinion that comes from some quarters, including some of the most vocal first mothers (for example http://www.firstmotherforum.com/2009/09/loving-adopted-child-as-much-as-one-of.html ) that a-parent love and commitment is necessarily "less" and therefore inferior to that of a natural parent.

    Adoptive parents may be surrogates, but the love they feel is not a substitute.

    Haigha (that was Kippa)

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  11. I really like Haigha's point. In thinking about it, it seems like one of those situations you need to flip around. A-parents think of the love going one-way from them to the child and that's all they see. Yes, this love is genuine, not ersatz, even if the situation is substitute. But what a-parents fail to realize is that it's more about what children receive when they receive the love of their biological parents. In other words, it's not about how much a-parents love or whether it's real or not but what adopted kids miss of necessity.

    Took awhile to get into the ol' brain there, but it's a very profound point.

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  12. Maybe this is also part of the AP brainwashing that tells them that as long as you love the child and treat him or her as family then s/he won't have any pain as a result of being abandoned/rejected, not looking anything like the rest of the family, having a different personality, etc.

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  13. As the song says, "what's love got to do with it?" Generally, adoptees love their adoptive parents, and with a few nasty exceptions, their adoptive parents love them. Just like natural parents raising their biological children. Love should not be a "compare and contrast" contest.

    Adoptees are also often curious about their biological heritage, their original family, ethnic group, birth story. That curiousity is simply not connected to whether the adoptee was loved enough or not. It is a separate thing. It does not mean rejection of the adoptive parents' love, nor the belief that natural parents' love will be greater.

    As to adoptees loving the biological parents before meeting them that is just loving an idea,a fantasy. For real love to develop a relationship must first be begun and grow. Some reunions do indeed become loving from both sides, but not all. In some cases, biological relatives, adoption separated or not, just do not like each other.

    Reunion is not about love from or for either set of parents, it is about identity and truth for the adopted person.

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  14. Maryanne wrote"For real love to develop a relationship must first be begun and grow"

    My natural mother would disagree with you on this. She loved me from before I was born and every day thereafter. She didn't need any type or length of relationship to feel that. And yes, her love was real.

    It seems APs are given the message that loving an adopted child enough will get rid of his/her pain. It doesn't.

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  15. "Generally, adoptees love their adoptive parents, and with a few nasty exceptions, their adoptive parents love them."

    Yes.

    I will go a step further with my previous comment about what children receive from bio-parents and say it probably is NOT so much about love as it is this deep belonging. Even when you don't fit in, as many bio-kids feel they don't, you still *belong* without having to put any effort into it. In fact, your differences and the way you play them (ruthlessly so, at times!) with your parents and siblings can become a lively family drama bringing out the most intense feelings of love and relatedness. Because it's always family, this grid you are welded to from which you cannot unstick yourself. That is what I think kids receive from their own bio-parents. The certainty of being with kin.

    Love, on the other hand, is a crapshoot.

    I wrote a post about my GF recently in which I tried to figure out why it wasn't a good thing that she was adopted when her parents were such complete flops (a nice name for them) but perhaps I'm beginning to see what she did gain.

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  16. Sorry I meant to say, "it was a good thing that she wasn't adopted".

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  17. Robin, with respect to this remark: "Maybe this is also part of the AP brainwashing that tells them that as long as you love the child and treat him or her as family then s/he won't have any pain as a result of being abandoned/rejected . . ."

    What's the "this"?

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  18. The phenomenon of APs immediately stating how much they love their adopted child whenever a problem with adoption is mentioned.

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  19. Robin, I was speaking of adoptees' loving biological parents, not natural mothers loving their children. Sorry that was unclear.

    Generally adoptees know nothing about their natural parents, and what they do know might not be true.Some are very disappointed by what they find. Adoptee experience and natural mother experience are very different, despite trying to lump them into "we all have pain and loss."

    Like your mother, I have always loved my son, remembering him as an infant, and what he and his father meant to me. But I could not expect him to love me, or even like me, until he got to know me. I appeared as a complete stranger. It has taken him a long time to begin to accept that I love him.

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  20. More thoughts on loving, liking caring: People often say "I love my (mother, son, daughter, other relative) but don't like them". To me this seems a sort of obligated love; it seems too awful to say you do not love your close relative, yet the feelings you have towards them are at best very ambivalent. I think it more accurate to say you still care about them, wish they did not act the way they did, but sometimes you just can't love everyone, nor should you feel that you have to.

    Often this is with good reason, abuse, neglect, addictions, dishonesty, betrayal. Sometimes it is just about being very different kinds of people with very different goals, beliefs, and lifestyles. For either adoptee or searching parent to find someone very unlike themselves when they expected more similarity and sympathy is hard and disappointing.

    If you do not like the person you find, it is really hard to love them. What makes it harder is no shared history behind you, starting from scratch as adults. Although you are blood relatives, most of us also hope to be friends. When your mother or child is not really the kind of person you admire or could be friends with, it makes a relationship that is already fragile and prone to misunderstanding and hurt feelings even more difficult.

    I think if most of us are honest, we all have some relatives we neither love nor like. If they are close relatives we may feel obligated to them and if they are manipulative they will play the obligation card. We may wish we could love them but sometimes that is not possible.

    I do not believe in "hate the sin but love the sinner" either. If you truly hate something the other person is, for example, gay, or something they do, like have sex when unmarried, you cannot really love that person. Love implies acceptance. There are some people that all of us cannot accept, relatives or not. I do not think love should be an obligation on anyone. If not freely given, it is not love, and certainly is not liking or friendship.

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  21. Maryanne:

    Please do not speak for adoptees.

    Your discription does not fit my experience nor many experiences of adoptees I know.

    If you want to speak about your own experience, great. Please stop the practice of speaking for other's personal experience.

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  22. When I met both my natural parents I recognized them both as mother and father.

    It is not because I had some romantic notions or "ideas". It was 100% contrary to my expectations and I can not say it had a positive impact on our relationship(s).

    I was very young and full of hogwash from people who did not have my experience telling me what I would be experiencing.

    I freaked me out, I felt like subsequently everything else I had been told was a lie, and it caused me to be angry and rejecting esp. of my mother. I wouldn't let her touch me. I remember that very clearly.

    Knowing where you come from is so wrapped up in identity that it can really cause an existential crisis. For me it did, I am not alone, it has happened to others.

    Of course, it depends on a lot of other circumstances as well, the quality of the connection , the perceptiveness and sensitivity of those involved, the emotional support of the individuals in other aspects of their lives.

    Certainly there is no one-size fits all or right way to do this. Perhaps some people find themselves to be as indifferent as they would be with a stranger. I do not know any adoptees who experienced this, but I do not know all adoptees.

    Nevertheless had she been like a stranger to me or a kindly distant relative we would have all been spared a lot of trouble.

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  23. Joy, I was not "speaking for adoptees". I was speaking of my observations of people I know, adoptees, birthmothers, and not related to adoption. I was not speaking for you. You are free to speak for yourself, and have. So am I, even when that speaking includes observations of others. "Speaking about" is not "speaking for."

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