What adoptees have said is that when they meet their first mother and she goes on and on about the horrible boyfriend who left her stranded and pregnant, the pain of relinquishment, the years of sorrow and disorientation, the concomitant feelings of worthlessness, the adoptee is left feeling: Geeze, I was the cause of
so much pain...and hearing all this maybe I shouldn't have bothered this poor woman...let me outta here!
The adoptee who searches comes to the reunion with totally opposite feelings: she hopes her first mother will be thrilled and happy to be found. That they they will have a sweet, sharing moment, and possibly build an affirming relationship that will be good for both of them. That there will be unconditional love--not tales of turmoil and heartache--the kind that a baby needs. That she will hear her first mother say she made a decision to relinquish her precious infant, so she, the adoptee, would have a better life. That after years of unconsciously absorbing the message that she, the adoptee, was responsible for the mental well-being of the infertile woman who adopted her, this will be a mother she doesn't have to care for! Who will, instead care for her! The adult adoptee wants a loving, strong mother, not someone acting like a helpless, weepy teenager. Who need the adoptees care and attention.
EMOTIONS ROIL, CONFUSION ABOUNDS
What the adoptee, even as an adult, is seeking is to be somehow is that child that can be loved and cared for without doing anything! Just lying--emotionally--in the warm breast of the Great Mother. I'm generalizing of course, but some adoptee writings touch on this bottomless and authentic need, never quite understood, almost always unexpressed. And because infant adoption happens in the pre-verbal stage, the adoptee is not able to make coherent sense of what she is feeling when she meets the original mother who left her with someone else. She simply is a mass of raw emotion, of hurt and a sense of abandonment, and she wants her natural mother to make "it" all better. And now the mother is saying: I hurt! I hurt so much you don't know!
As Rebecca Hawkes* wrote so eloquently at the Lost Daughters blog:
“…at this stage of reunion, the adult me is not always in charge. Reunion can cause psychological regression. Though on one level I am still a (moderately) reasonable middle-aged woman—a wife, a mother, an employee –that's not all I am these days. There's another part of me that feels more like a toddler in the midst of a major daddy's-little-girl phase. For this inner-child me, no amount of contact is enough. How much would it take to fill the hole left by a 46-year absence.
“I'm aware that this is where many reunions get into trouble, and I'm trying not to fall into the trap of expectations that can never be met. I'm trying to acknowledge the child-me and let her have her say without allowing her to be the one in charge. She can sit around wailing "Daddy, Daddy, Daddy!" all day long, but when it's time to write an e-mail or pick up the phone, she needs to let the grown-up handle the job.”Upon meeting her first mother the adoptee might praise adoption as A Good Thing. Thank her mother for letting her be adopted (rather than aborted may go unsaid), raised in poverty or in an unstable lifestyle. The mother is likely to respond--Wait a minute. Adoption is not good. It caused me much pain. I wish I could have kept you. I gave you up because I had no choice.
Adoptees may have a hard time accommodating what her mother is saying because her words bring up feelings and thoughts most frightening: Who would I be if I had been kept? Were all the years spent with adoptee angst in vain--when my mother surely could have kept if she had just tried harder! She's saying she wanted to keep me--why didn't she? It couldn't have been as bad as she says it was. Surely there was a way. Adoption must be good because otherwise I would not be who I am! But maybe the life I have is not the life I was supposed to have! Confusion abounds, and the person may be so undone dealing with the living, breathing embodiment of their pain is just too much to handle. The adoptee desires a simple, loving mother, not a mess of inner turmoil--either hers or the mothers.
BELIEFS MAY ADD TO THE TURMOIL
A deeply held religious component only increases the emotional havoc, especially if the adoptee grew up hearing: You were meant to be my child. God meant for us to raise you. Now what she is hearing the opposite--that her mother doesn't buy that giving up her baby was God's will, and if it was, how come God is so damn harsh? What's right, what's wrong? Or conversely the adoptee may feel, What my first mother is saying going against Gods's will!
Mothers who have been resolutely in the closet, who have never looked through the crack of that door, who turn off TV programs about adoptee/mother reunions, who have not read anything about what is happening in the world of adoption--or who are even unaware there is anything to read--and who only fear their children may appear one day are the worst off. The rush of grief they feel may surprise them, and they either turn away from the child completely and refuse reunion, or, as they let their raw emotions tumble across the wild terrain of this new country they find themselves in, the returning child/adult is not surprisingly, scared off. Who needs another mother she has to care for?
One adoptee friend of mine was sending her parents back home in another state $1,500 a month as they were elderly and she had a good job in New York City. She said, What if I found my other parents and they need $1,500 a month? My friend was successful but she wasn't that wealthy, or willing to take on a new set of needy parents. Her focus on real goods may have masked her fear that the emotional needs of her other parents might overwhelm her. She cut off her search midstream, and never went back. She and I remain friends and do not talk about adoption.
As for the mothers still living in fear that their secret child will one day out them, it is probably impossible for First Mother Forum, or any of the other blogs and books about reunion, to reach those women. They have been in hiding so long, hiding has become their whole facade, their life. Just as some adoptees will not search, some mothers as so terrified of letting others know they gave up a child--it is beyond embarrassing--they can't deal with the pain and the shock of confronting the child. Women have told me that when Birthmark came out in 1979, they saw it in the bookstore, but wouldn't buy it lest the sales clerk think: She's one of those women. Who gave up a child...! What could be worse?
Another issue that comes up frequently is that the first mother is not as educated or has a life that is as stable as the one the adoptee grew up in. This has come up repeatedly in adoptee memoirs and novels and the writers skirt around the subject as they find the gulf now between them impossible to reach across. They can't help think--there but for the grace of adoption goes me, me who has a good education and the finer (or middle-class) things in life....To those adoptees who face this situation upon reunion, one can only ask that you be compassionate and understanding, even if the gulf between you and your first mother is wide.
FACING THE HARD REALITY
Conversely, some mothers believe that their children will have mental problems, have had a hard time adjusting to life without them, are much more needy than they actually are, and project all of this negativity onto them. Some adoptees truly may only want medical information, and the first mother is not prepared for that kind of coldness--because that is how it feels--and that causes further pain; the mother gives the information, the adoptee pulls back and the mother is left roiling in pain, just as she was at the time of birth. And some mothers are only willing to give medical information, when the adoptee wants a relationship. When the aims of the two sides are not in synch, someone is going to be hurt badly.
But we mothers have to face a certain reality: In some very real way, we lost our children to a greater or lesser degree the day we gave them up. Doesn't matter how, doesn't matter why. They lived a life different than the one they would have lived had we raised them. They have other people in their lives. And mothers have to accept this in order to have a healthy relationship with their children in the future.
My daughter Jane and I had a relatively easy first decade, and she lived with my husband and my for several summers, even getting a jobs here. We did have the usual teenage girl/mother problems, of course. But we didn't have the issues of push-pull that would come later. My own situation informing her about why and how she was given up, and how I felt, was undoubtedly easier and different because at 15, she was old enough to read my memoir, Birthmark. In fact, she soon did a book report on it for her English class, ending it with the fact that she was the girl in the story. The teacher did not believe her until Jane's parents confirmed this. (FYI: Birthmark ends before I know where she is.)
Regular readers may know that our first meeting was at the airport in front of her father, and I spent the weekend at her adoptive parents's house, and was given Jane's bedroom. We talked about my relationship with her father, and all, but--and though I am a crier--I do not remember crying then, or when she came to Detroit a month later and met my mother, brother and a few cousins. Jane accepted that it had been hard, but it was what happened, and we were to go on from there. It wasn't until the next spring when we really talked about why she was given up. On the back deck of our house one afternoon.
Everybody has to find the way that suits them; how to handle a first meeting with a son or daughter is not a one-suit-fits-all. Crying may be exactly what both parties need. What this post is about are some things to think about upon the first meeting to make the second and third and et cetera easier. No matter how one handles it, the impact is overwhelming emotionally, and you do not want to freak out the other side so much that they retreat.
What's the solution? It's a muddle. Mothers who only weep and moan about their troubles are going to have trouble having a reunion. Adoptees, if they can, if they feel like it, need to express their own feelings, and urge their first mothers to do some reading and educate themselves about how to not dump all their grief on them. Mothers must understand that the returning child is the Child, and they have to be the adult mother and empathize with their baby, no matter the age of that child, fourteen or forty-six.--lorraine
Adoptees can't stop first mother's pain
First mother reappears after 12 years--after a 'happy' reunion
In adoption, in life, there will always be tears
The Adoption Reader: Birth Mothers, Adoptive Mothers, and Adopted Daughters Tell Their Stories
Essays from all three points of view. A worthwhile book for anyone in the triad. Full disclosure: Lorraine's essay, first published in Town & Country, is included.
The Mistress's Daughter by A. M. Holmes
Excerpted in the New Yorker, a talented writer's story of confronting a mother and father she feels little connection to. But of course, she does.
"Critics agree that the first part of A. M. Homes's book, an expanded version of a 2004 New Yorker essay, is a riveting family story. Told in the same taut prose that gives her fiction its stylish nihilism, The Mistress's Daughter offers a straightforward, unblinking account of meeting—and facing—one's birth parents for the first time. The mixed reviews stem from an equally mixed bag of reactions. A few critics decry the dramatic drop-off when Homes expands the scope of her genealogical research outside her two birth parents. Others find the author's indignation and tightly controlled rage poignant. Homes treads the memoirist's paper-thin line between self-discovery and egocentrism with marginal success."--Bookmarks Magazine
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