Upon hearing that my daughter lived with me and my husband long enough to have a summer job and later, go to school looked up and said: “You are our worst nightmare,”—an adoptive grandfather at a dinner party, while the hostess was getting dessert.
I should have said: You are mine.
His son went to Siberia to get a child, it turns out, simply to avoid women like me. The speaker had once been the director of a major cable arts channel. I said nothing because our hostess returned to the table and the subject was dropped.
THAT 'SELFISH' PIE CHART BECAUSE I SEARCHED
An attorney with several friends who have adopted; he is childless and is the god father of a girl adopted from another country: “What part of your pie chart was not selfish when you looked for your daughter?”
I should have responded: What part of your pie chart is designated for compassion? This is beyond what even opposing attorneys have asked me in court, shithead.
Our friendship has never really recovered.
Should have said: And you my dear, are nothing more than a crude ass.
I said nothing, but got up and fled out the door.
An adoptive mother, when I was referring to my daughter's adoptive parents: They are her parents, not her "adoptive" parents.
I should have said: What am I, chopped liver? Or, Don't you think that might be a tad insensitive to say to me? She wouldn't have any parents without me, her natural mother! You will always be your (insert foreign country of origin here) daughter's adoptive mother.
I was speechless and got felt myself go white in the face. Remember, my daughter had lived with my husband and me for several summers and later on for most of a year. I was way more than a distant part of my daughter's life.
Said to me by strangers at social events, numerous times: I read your book. [Birthmark, the first memoir from a mother who relinquished.] Said with disapproving tone. Followed by silence. Now what? What can I possible say?
I should have said: Your tone indicates you were not happy with it. Why is that? Perhaps you are adoptive parent whose adopted children have expressed no interest to you whatsoever about their original heritage? Don't you think that's strange? How have you raised them that they are not curious about their very existence?
Said by a relative by marriage: I think adoptees ought to leave well enough alone and not cause all this trouble. You never know what they are going to find....This person knows me quite well, and has visited the country of her ethnic origin twice for family reunions. What could I say? I said: nothing. If she wasn't convinced already, I was not going to be able to change her mind.
Jane here. Shortly after my daughter Rebecca was born and surrendered, I ran into some friends from college. As we were talking, some acquaintances of theirs, a husband and wife, came by with a young baby. My friend mentioned that she had not know they were expecting a baby and the woman said "adopted." The husband added with a short laugh, "Yeah--we're helping out some dumb girl." I wanted to add "Yeah, and some boy too." A little later, the baby kind of slipped in his mother's arms to an awkward position. The husband who was short said: "He's a big clumsy kid. They were supposed to match us but they didn't."
When I told a relative who was pushing her own daughter to give up her baby how painful it was to lose a child, she responded with "Well, that's just you. The other birth mothers I've known just felt relieved."
When I've criticized adoption in conversations with relatives, I've been told "That's how you feel; no one else [in the world] feels that way." Other times, they give me a warning look and tell me to "shhh."
Another relative scolded me for expressing negative thoughts about adoption.
I've heard many adoptees say "I want to find my birth mother so I can thank her for my wonderful life." They think they'd be complimenting her--when in fact thanking her is heard as a terrible insult meaning: Thank god you didn't raise me. What kind of life would I have had?
From an adoptive grandmother: "My daughter and her husband are kind and loving people but the two boys they adopted are nothing but trouble. I suggested that it might be helpful for her, her daughter, and her daughter's husband to read some books about adoption, particularly The Primal Wound: Understanding the Adopted Child and Betty Jean Lifton's books. She gave me a puzzled look: "What's there to know?" I also suggested that since her daughter had the birth mother's name, that perhaps meeting her would be helpful to the boys. She shook her head. "I don't understand why that would be helpful; my daughter is their only mother."
Years ago when I was practicing law, a man came to see me about a divorce. He said he and his wife had two adopted children. I told him that no matter that they were adopted, he would have to pay child support. He responded indignantly "I never wanted those kids. I just signed the paper to make her happy." I was stunned; adoptive parents were supposed to be perfect. wanted to say: "How dare you! Mothers lost their kids so they could have a stable parent family." I said nothing and I did not end up representing him.
My boss invited me and other employees to a shower for a colleague who with his wife just adopted a baby girls from Korea. I had to congratulate them and pretend to enjoy the event.
DISPLAY OF OUR GRIEF IS 'OFFENSIVE' TO SOME
Of course we didn't say any of these things we imagined saying because we turnabout is not fair play in adoption. Consider the bickering that went on at the last post (and is still as I write tonight) when I expressed the concept that friends and family seem to think it is permissible to be insensitive to our lifelong pain.
Several wrote that it was insensitive of us--to still react to such triggers, or to even talk about it here, at a place that should be safe for first mothers [see name of blog], because "they [adoptive parents] were not to blame" for the adoption of our children. You can "not be to blame" for the death of a loved one, or someone who was raped, but most people in polite society would consider it imperative to at least be sensitive to that particular individual's pain. This seems to be a concept they cannot grasp, and prefer to tell us we are wrong. We say having to deal with an adoption even decades later causes pain; they say, but we didn't cause your pain. Right. We get that. But what do you say to people who are hurting because they were say, sexually assaulted? Can you simply be sympathetic without being defensive and saying: But we didn't rape you! Why don't you want to let us continue talking about sexual assault? That you can't be sympathetic because you didn't do the assault?
This is not a closed blog, and we wouldn't have it that way. We learn too much from too many people to do that. But what became incredibly clear was that first mothers are supposed to suck it up and never react to their sorrow when reminded of it--because that might bring someone down. Jane and I got tired of trying to explain, and in our own macabre way, made some sick jokes. Then we were criticized for that because, well, that caused more irritation and was inappropriate. It was not other first mothers who got upset.
SPEAK UP WHEN YOU CAN
In short, the indignities never seem to stop coming, whether you are "out" or "in the closet" still as a birth mother. But if more of us do speak up whenever we can, we will make a difference. We have come a long ways since the days when to admit you gave up a child was nearly impossible. Now celebrities are even beginning to come out: Joni Mitchell, Kate Mulgrew, Mercedes Ruhl, Patti Smith. We know there must be many more. But we still have a long ways to go. Every time we can manage to speak up--and though our responses are what we would like to have said, we should go down into the well of our being and find more tact, though still make our point. With tact. But sometimes tact gets in the way of making the point. Sometimes honesty trumps tact.
We invite all first mothers--and adoptees--to add to the blog and tell us what insensitive things have been said to you, and how you wish you had responded. Have a happy Thanksgiving!--lorraine and jane
COMMENTS CLOSED UNLESS ON TOPIC; PLEASE LEAVE YOUR COMMENT AT THE CURRENT BLOG
As with same-sex marriage, difference of opinion on adoption is way beyond 'disagreement'
Why Ellen Page and the movie Juno bugs me--even years later
Why not choose adoption? The longterm effects of relinquishing on first mothers
How to Answer: Do you have any children?
Explaining Adoption Reform Issues to the Hip, Educated Masses
RECOMMENDED READING Waiting to Forget: A Motherhood Lost and Found
A fabulous memoir by Margaret Moorman, published in 1996.
Waiting to Forget is a mother's story of coming to terms with the child she gave up for adoption over thirty years ago. In 1965 Margaret Moorman was unmarried, pregnant, and still in high school. Forced by societal pressures to give her baby up, she suffered emotional trauma both before and for years after the birth. At forty, she gave birth to a daughter and found herself terrified by the possibility of losing her younger child, a fear she can now trace back to her uncertain decision to give up her son.
A therapist, adoptive mother, and biological mother challenges some long held assumptions about the impact of being relinquished and adopted into a non-biological family. Controversial to some, but always a consistent source for adoptees, first parents, and adoptive parents.
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