|Same-size Lorraine and real daughter Jane|
Over at Salon the guy who writes the advice column "Since You Asked" finds himself responding to an I-own-this-remarkable-kid-adoptive-mother who basically asks if her daughter ever need to be told the truth of her origins, and oh,. how she is wrestling with this question. (This issue of truth in identity must be in the air because yesterday's column idea--about daddies--seemed to come to me out of the blue.)
Are you friggen' kidding me? In this day and age?
Why not wait until some truth-telling cousin spills the beans? Or your best friend's daughter who is friends with your daughter, and who has heard her adoption spoken of at home, blurts out the
news when the two fight, even though she's been warned never to tell? Of course she going to spill the beans one day. Of course. It's too juicy a secret to keep.
First, Adoptive Mum talks about how she was at the edge of a nervous breakdown in her awful corporate life before she adopted:
"I was completely washed out, I would be suicidal if that did not require an effort and the ability to feel. And then like a miracle I got my baby. I remember being quite ambivalent when I went to meet her. Yet, something clicked when I held her. I felt a sense of fierce belonging I have never felt before and I know my baby knew me too."Hmm---what is wrong with this mental picture? That "fierce sense of belonging" to someone else's flesh and blood creep you out a bit? Did me.
"Can't We Just Forget About It?" goes on to say that since everyone's teenage years are filled with angst, why should she add to that by telling her adopted daughter the truth? "Can't We" says the child's birth mother can't be traced. (Really? I found myself asking--why not? Was she a drop-off at a hospital after a home birth and there is no original and true birth certificate?) And she kinda implies that maybe she will tell the kid later on, but goodness gracious, how is she going to do that?
"What if knowledge of adoption compounds this angst? Leads to greater estrangement? I am going crazy, Cary, I can’t think straight. Isn’t love enough."Well, no. It will surprise you to learn that Truth is better. Always. You might want to talk to some late-discovery adoptee (LDA) about this. They usually are not, er, thrilled to know their adopters have been lying by omission to them all those years. And the child is probably going to find out eventually one way or another, and then have enough "angst" to put Kafka to shame if Kafka were still alive! More angst than you have ever dreamt about in your craziest freak-out-adopter moments! Her letter ends with the observation that whenever she hears the kids of Tom Cruise or Brangelina being referred to as adopted, she sees red. Her own daughter hasn't started school yet, but she is torn up about this awful and unexpected torment of adoption. Boo Hoo.
Columnist Cary Tennis does start out well enough. He points out that someone else may tell your precious child the truth, and then you can explain it, but he then asks what it would be like if you, Dear Adoptive Mum, learned this about yourself: "That might not be a bad thing. You might acquire a new, more flexible notion of selfhood." That sounds, well, flexible, all right. Like Spandex--and Spandex is a good thing. Right? We need a LDA to set the record straight.
The advice is the smooth Pablum that adopers love to hear: that the adoption issue really won't be that important in the individual's life, that love and a good home will have taken care of any issues that might arise, and that maybe once she learns that she is adopted, it will even be a "gift" to her. Yes, that is what he wrote. I can hear you all gagging all the way to Sag Harbor. I suppose it will be a "gift" if the adopted individual by then hates Adoptive Mum so much that she is ever so glad that she is not related to her in any way shape or fashion, just by the odd circumstance of being in the wrong place at the right time. He does go on to say that his best friend in junior high was adopted, adding:
"...and it bothered him. I don’t think it was the fact that he was adopted. I think it was the way his parents handled it. The being-adopted part of it just stood in for a much larger grievance."Oy vey. He just can't see or doesn't know that adoption is a world-altering piece of information, and not the simple matter he is so intent on ensuring the letter writer Adoptive Mom. Cary admits that myserious origins will be an issue of some degree but cannot help himself, he downplays the magnitude again and again, as if he is reassuring himself:
"Well, there is another mystery that if handled well could be a kind of enlightenment: For who among us can say with any certainty that our origin is not in some way a mystery to us?
"Let’s put it this way: What does it matter whose car we came in? We’re at the party now.
"We step out and there are glittering lights and a carpet and we walk up the steps to be greeted by old friends and new. Whose car did you come to the party in? What does that matter? We’re here. Let’s find the coat check."I'm finding it hard not to be both furious and amused with his unknowing and mindless response--did he do ANY research about what it means to feel abandoned at birth and raised by genetic strangers? Did he not watch one single interview with Walter Isaacson about Steve Jobs and the sense of abandonment that Jobs felt because he was given up for adoption, even though his college-educated mother certainly made a plan because she wanted the adoptive parents to promise they would send her boy to college.
Although we first mothers hate to think that what we did was in any sense abandon our children, when we sat there with the our social workers, hour after hour, spilling out or sorrow as the adoption proceeded, perhaps it is time to revisit how being given up plays in the heart of the adopted. We will better understand them when we are reunited if we accept that no matter how the adoption happened, no matter that we felt society and our parents had a gun to our collective head, no matter what, to the individual given up, adoption registers as abandoned at birth. If we want reality in language, we need to start with ourselves. I don't have to say "I abandoned my daughter," because it doesn't feel like that to me, but I should accept that she must have felt that I did. As I write this I recall the day we were play acting and she put her hands around my neck and shook me, repeating over and over: "Why did you give me up?" --lorraine
A side note: Obfuscation in adoption language and feelings seems to be coming to the forefront. I just finished reading Joan Didion's latest memoir, Blue Nights, and she misses so many distress signals from her daughter about what being adopted meant to her, Quintana. More on that coming soon.
See also: Adopted People Are Not Allowed Ancestry Because It Might Upset Somebody
for first mothers: Writing the first letter
and to read this noxious column: How do I tell my daughter she’s adopted?
If you leave a comment please direct readers over here for www.firstmotherforum.com. Thanks.