Sunday, August 5, 2012

Adoptive parents say the darnedest things. To their adopted children.

Jane
“What’s Jane’s agenda?” my surrendered daughter, Rebecca, told me her adoptive mother, Norma, had asked. After an eleven year search, Rebecca found me in 1997. In April of 1998, Rebecca let me know she was coming to the west coast from her home near Chicago to visit her adoptive parents who lived near San Francisco. She needed to reassure them, she explained. (No need to fill in what she was reassuring them about.) Would it be okay if she came to my home in Salem, Oregon for a couple of days while she was on the west coast? Of course I was delighted to say “yes.”

I picked her up at the Portland airport. It was a beautiful spring day and I suggested we do a quick tour of Portland before driving to Salem. After we walked around downtown, we stopped for lunch at a popular restaurant on the Willamette River which bisects Portland.


As we looked over our menus, Rebecca mentioned that her adoptive mother, Norma, was uncomfortable that our relationship had continued beyond our initial meeting. Norma had asked her “What’s Jane’s agenda?” I was stunned. Agenda? Agendas are for business meetings, political aspirations, not mother-daughter reunions. I learned much later that Rebecca’s adoptive father, Nelson, had first raised the “agenda” question.

Norma, like other adoptive parents, was well-schooled in adoption lore and held to the fantasy that first mothers pretty much forget their surrendered children and go on with their lives. Rebecca mentioned to me later that Norma had told her when she was growing up that I probably did not think about her. Nelson had, however, assured Rebecca that I likely did think of her, at least on her birthday.

“What’s Jane’s agenda?” I hesitated. Rebecca went on, “She thinks you’re trying to make me a feminist.” Rebecca and I had had heated discussions via email about feminism and she had conveyed these to Norma. I was shocked to learn when I first met Rebecca that she knew little about the women’s equality movement. Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique, the Equal Rights Amendment, Mormon opposition to the ERA, the 1977 National Women’s Conference (which I attended as an alternate delegate)—all these things were unfamiliar to Rebecca. According to one of Rebecca's emails, Norma had told her that "'women's lib' has been another name for sexual promiscuity" and that feminists rationalized that "if men could do it, women should do it to prove they're the same as men....Feminists are dangerous to family values. Feminists mean moms who work full time and let nannies raise their children. Feminists get abortions and don't think twice about it. Feminists thwart men's efforts to be fathers. Feminists hate men and at least half are lesbian."

As I had explained to Rebecca earlier, my interest in feminism had gone beyond the question of rights and opportunity. I was firmly convinced--and still am--that my gender-based powerless had caused me to lose her at birth. You simply could not be a respectable mother in 1966 without a gold ring on your fourth finger, left hand.

I was trying to expose Rebecca to ideas which were, by 1998, very much a part of mainstream culture. I cared about Rebecca and, as a woman who had grown up in the sexist 50's, I believed that learning a different way to think about about gender roles would be beneficial, empowering. Our discussions about feminism, however, were only a small part of a complex relationship.

I drew a breath, kind of smiled, shook my head, and said “well, I’d try to convince any woman—and man for that matter—to be a feminist and support women’s rights, but that’s not why I want to continue to know you.” I didn’t finish. I thought the reason was obvious; love drove my need to have Rebecca as part of my life. She had actually always been a part of my life although I had walked out of the hospital with empty arms over 31 years earlier. Now, I wanted her to be a visible member, not just a phantom hidden in my thoughts.

I don’t know if Rebecca ever told her adoptive parents this. Perhaps she never knew it herself.
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(I referred to this incident in a comment on Lorraine's previous post, Adoptive parents say the darnedest things. To us. but decided to add the details to complete the picture.)
 _____________________________

National Women's Conference

From FMF:
Two Mothers, Part 3
A Letter to Prospective Adoptive Parents

24 comments :

  1. Jane,

    I do hope Rebecca knows your "agenda" now. My son's adoptee told him I didn't want him (after I found) She was desperate. He told her she knew her mom. Made my heart happy to hear this from my son.

    Just because I surrendered didn't mean I loved my son less than any of my other raised kids.

    G

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  2. An agenda that is about love does not try to convert the other person to your belief system, disappointing as it might be to find a relative with opposite religious or political beliefs.

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  3. Agenda's? So when we want to know OUR children, we have an agenda. When adopters lie, tell everyone that will listen that "god willed" the separation of a mother and her child, manipulate their adopted children with guilt when they want to know their biological relatives, that isn't an "agenda"?

    My only agenda in finding my child was being in a life that I should have ALWAYS been in, in the first place. That tie should have never been severed.

    I think we all know the difference between natural mothers "agenda's" and that of those who gain from the separation of a mother and her child...

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  4. Jane's so-called "agenda" wasn't about convincing her daughter to be a feminist (though I am sure she would have liked that) but to expose her to her life and the wider world outside the beliefs of LDS. I read the post and all I got from it was that she wanted to know her daughter--that was her agenda.

    But it must have been hard for both Jane and her daughter to have such opposing world views.

    By "kill babies," Jane, I hope you meant that was how Rebecca's adoptive mother referred to abortion?

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  5. "What's Jane's agenda?"

    This is the type of question that the asker has already invented an answer for.

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  6. Sounds like projection to me. Afterall, why do pap's write "Dear Birthmother" letters? Because THEY have an AGENDA which revolves solely around finding a baby! I know that wasn't Jane's case, but that just occurred to me ;) There is no "agenda" in a mother having a relationship with her child, for pete's sake. Except for the odd few, it is ingrained in us to love our children, and to mourn separation. It's not even a choice, really.

    The worst things my daughter's aparents told her just involved her being with them was "God's plan" and she was right where she was MEANT to be...I'm betting there was much more, but that's all I know of for sure. When I questioned my daughter about how God could have used 2 teen-agers to get pregnant simply so that her aparents could have a baby, she seemed confused and said, "Well, I don't know but that's what's been drilled into my head by them!" I think on some level she knows that's ridiculous and a justification for why she was taken from me, her VERY unwilling young mother.

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  7. It's really strange, but I have heard of and have a child that wants what I can give, not a relationship.... in other words, what's the adopted persons agenda? What do they want? I don't get that at all. I do not understand when someone thinks it has to be about things or cash or whatever.... what's wrong with just being about loving and being loved - sharing life?

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  8. Maybe has hit the nail on the head. What's Jane agenda is a negative question. Daughter searches for mother. Finds mother, they meet. Mother and daughter differ politically, ideologically, and religiously. \ Only a threatened adopter asks about a birth mother's agenda.

    What Jane stated that her daughter heard from her conservative LDS mother is nothing more than what everybody who thought feminism "went too far"--whatever that is--said at the time. Feminists were bra-burning lesbians, does anybody besides me remember?

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  9. Marybeth,

    I remember the feminist movement of the 70's and 80's very well. The truth is that feminists did not burn bras. Feminists did not plot to destroy families by putting children in government-run daycare and other nefarious activities. Feminists did not have more sex than anyone else. They did not hate men, and so on.

    People opposed to women's rights made up this stuff to marginalize feminists and undermine the movement to thwart the goals of equality and opportunity. The term "feminist" became negative resulting in many women saying defensively, "I'm not a feminist, but."

    Thankfully, in spite of all the misinformation promulgated by right-wingers, religious conservatives, and male misogynists and their female allies, I have lived long enough to see the tremendous progress women have made in the past 40 years.

    As someone who worked hard for women's rights, it was difficult to read in my daughter's emails that her adoptive mother believed and repeated the lies about feminists.

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  10. It is difficult to remember that our children were raised by and took on the ideas and thoughts of their adopters. My daughter also has repeated some very unknowledgeable views about life that were gleaned from living with her adopters. She, of course, considers herself very progressive, but I am continually shocked by her narrow attitudes. I am sure that all adopters feel we have an "agenda" around knowing our lost children. After all, we did "abandon" them, so why should we want to know them now? Must be for money, eh?

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  11. Jane and everybody:

    I did not think myself that feminists such as myself--I marched down Fifth Avenue that night--were bra-burning lesbians! But that is the way the nay-sayers who couldn't stop calling their secretaries girls and other conservatives such as Phyllis Schflay and her kind put us down.

    There was a bra-dumping demonstration at one of the events, but that is all. What Rebecca heard from her LDS mother was common currency among those opposed to the very idea of what feminism means--true equality in all things, equal pay for equal work, shared parenting, control of our own bodies. Remember If Men Got Abortions, it would be a sacrement?

    It sounds incredible but the ERA never passed, and it certainly did not pass in UTAH, home of the LDS which put up great opposition. Now their target is gay marriage, which is also, in their minds, wrecking the foundation of a stable society.

    Ye gods! What Rebecca heard from her amom, a Mormon, was in line with all conservative ideology. We were not just women who wanted to control our bodies, we were "baby killers."

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  12. It's really too bad that the bra-burning did not occur. It was one of the mental images I absorbed as a young kid and was totally in awe of. Lindsy Van Gelder, when she suggested the image in the New York Post, must have thought it had value because it connected so powerfully to the guys burning their draft cards. There were shots of bras in trash cans, I'm pretty sure. The fact that they never got set on fire is incidental--they shoulda been. Feminism WAS on fire then. It crackled radiant energy that both sides could feel. Sorry to see that iconic image fizzle.

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  13. Well said, Marybeth,

    At the 1977 National Women's Conference, the all-female Utah delegation was accompanied by a man who stood on the sidelines and directed the women how to vote. They voted against every resolution--the ERA, reproductive rights, etc--except the resolution calling for an end to racial discrimination. The man told them to vote "no" on this one(the LDS Church had not yet found black men fit to become priests) but the woman balked and voted "yes."

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  14. I revised the post to quote directly from one of Megan's emails on what her adoptive mother believed about feminists. "'Women's lib' has been another name for sexual promiscuity" and that feminists rationalize that "if men could do it, women should do it to prove they're the same as men....Feminists are dangerous to family values. Feminists mean moms who work full time and let nannies raise their children. Feminists get abortions and don't think twice about it. Feminists thwart men's efforts to be fathers. Feminists hate men and at least half are lesbian."

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  15. "'Women's lib' has been another name for sexual promiscuity"

    Damn, wish I had known that before, I'm really missing out! Time to get busy.

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  16. "Feminists thwart men's efforts to be fathers. "
    Isn't that what the Utah mormons themselves are
    doing, by passing anti-father legislations? Hypocrites!

    A lot of Mormons seem to think that only married couples
    can be good parents, but that's not true.

    My cousin was married before she had a kid, she
    did everything right. But she and the father divorced.
    And now he won't have anything to do with their son.
    He won't pay child support, she keeps having to
    take him back to court and he won't spend one minute
    of the day with his son.

    After the divorce, she had a 2nd son from a one night
    stand. The guy she had the one-night-stand with, is paying his child support
    and always on time. He always tries to spend as
    much time with his son as possible. Her ex-husband
    however, is still very much a dead beat.

    So no, a piece of paper and a wedding band,
    does not mean a man is going to stick around,
    and be a good father.

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  17. Thanks for the quote Jane.
    It adds some clarity to the topic.

    I have read here for a few years and can see that you and Rebecca have your differences. I can also see that you both have alot of love for each other. You also have alot in common. You are both well educated and have strong convictions. I am sorry that you have such opposing views of life. It can't be easy.

    Who knows what our children would have been like if we had the chance to raise them ourselves?

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  18. women's lib was shorthand for female autonomy in EVERY ASPECT OF A WOMAN'S LIFE.

    people are so hung up on sex...it's unbelievable.

    on another topic, people who ask what so-and-so's agenda is, are usually pursuing an agenda themselves.

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  19. Glad to read this post.

    It would be wonderful if we could find a way to get along with our "found" children if they weren't always looking for a way to provoke us into rejecting them. So often it seems that is what they want so they can so, See, she really is a bad woman and it was such a good thing I wasn't raised by her and instead by these other wonderful people who did raise me.

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  20. To add to Viktoria's comment, once first mothers turn away from being attacked, their relinquished child whines to his friends that his mother rejected him a second time.

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  21. @Viktoria,
    I am shocked by your comment (2:37pm). I usually agree with what you have to say. I have never done anything to encourage my n-mother to reject me nor have I ever stated that I am glad she didn't raise me. Actually quite the contrary. Most adoptees who have had a lot of pain from adoption wanted to be raised by their natural mothers and kept in their original families. Please do not paint all adoptees with the same brush.

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  22. Robin, I wasn't talking to you at all. I think you know who I was talking about--adoptees who go around saying they were "glad" they were raised by their adoptive parents, therefore implying they are "glad" they were not raised by their natural parents. I read more blogs than this one, I just don't comment where it would be problematic.

    And Robin, I think I always agree with what you have to say. (I'd have to read over everything you
    written in the last year to make sure, but I do know I find myself saying, Right, when I read you.) I'd like to know in IRL. I bet we could be friends, even though I am a fm and you are an adoptee. You are always sane and kind and say what needs to be said. Your natural parents lost a lot when they lost you.

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  23. Aaah, Viktoria, I see where you are coming from. I always thought we were of like minds. I think we would get along well IRL, too.

    I feel that animosity between first mothers and adoptees is counter-productive for all of us. When I see first parents and adoptees battling each other all I can think of is how those who profit from adoption are probably laughing all the way to the bank. While we're stuck dealing with all our pain.

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