Her answer burst my hallucination. 'I'll never believe that. I should have never let you go. I wish I had taken you and run.'"
Strauss is not alone in her lack of understanding of the dynamics of surrender. We mothers who have ached for reunion are roiling under the long buried grief of loss, and yes, guilt, even if we don't recognize it as such. We someone thanks us for something, the usual response is something along these lines: Oh, you deserved it; I'm so glad you liked it; or, It was nothing. Anyone can see how none of the typical responses to "thank you" fit the situation. We suspect that mothers who hear the "thank you" that seems to be popular today feel a tad weird but ignore thinking about how to react because they are so glad to be found.
What does a "thank you" really imply when said to a first mother by her child? Thank you for giving me up because I've had a better life than I would have had with you. I got this great education you never would have been able to afford, I have a life that is of a higher social class than yours...I made out just fine so thank you!
Now we suspect that adoptees who want to say "thank you" don't understand the meaning that creeps into our mind, or we hope they don't--but that attitude has spilled out some adoptee memoirs. Sarah Saffian's Ithaka: A Daughter's Memoir of Being Foundcomes to mind. (As we recollect, Saffian didn't say "thank you" because she was uncertain about being found in the first place, here we are talking about the general attitude her memoir conveys.
Here are some more clueless comments that we have heard from adoptees which make us cringe:
I want to find my my birth mother to thank her for giving me the wonderful life I have. (See above.)
I want to thank my birth mother for giving me to parents who love me. (Ditto.)
I know you gave me up because you loved me.
I'm glad I was adopted.
|Jean Strauss's first memoir|
It was God's decision. (Double cringe! That means God selected me for this private hell.)
I just want to know my history.
I only want to know why I was given up.
I just want to know who my father was.
I'm only interested in my medical history. I don't need to upset your life.
I already have a mother. I don't want another.
I have the best possible parents, I'm just asking for....
I don't hold any judgement towards you now. That was in the past. (Really, when did you stop being judgmental about me? What did your parents say about me? They must have made me out to be a slut.) --Thanks to our reader Cindy for this one.
From adoptee Kristin Chenoweth: "I count myself lucky to have a birth mother who loved me enough to know she wasn't ready to be a mom." --writing recently in the Huffington Post.
Older mothers like both of us were so indoctrinated with social mores that we believed that society demanded that we give up our babies. Neither of us had men willing to assume responsibility. The two parent family was a concept drilled deep into our subconscious. We needed to suppress our basic instincts crying for us to nurture our children to give our child a father. We had to spare our families the shame of bringing a bastard home, we had to do what was "best" for everyone, blah, blah, blah.
Many mothers lacked resources; no one offered to help with medical bills or childcare. Others wanted to protect their babies from their fathers who could be violent. Some were convinced, as Jane was, that no matter how hard they tried, they could never stack up against the imaginary adoptive mother. The one thing we all had in common was a lack of information. We believed, we trusted, we did not know.
Adoptee statements sugar-coating their abandonment are also grossly insulting to mothers. They say in effect: "Any person selected by an adoption agency or attorney would have been a better mother than you. You are inferior to my adoptive parents. Who I love dearly. They gave me a great life."
When adoptees make these insensitive statements, they want to believe, as they have been told, that adoption is a good thing, and thus their adoption had to be the right thing. They can't get their head around the harsh truth that their mother gave them away. If your own mother doesn't want you, something must be wrong with you, or her. Much better to come up with apparently sound, even happy reasons, for her actions which were contrary to everything you've been taught about mammalian behavior--that mothers cherish and protect their offspring.
Perhaps the adoptee has been tutored by an adoption counselor--someone of the same mindset as the one who told their mother that if she loved her child, she would give him up. The adoptee believes that telling her mother she did the right thing would allay her fears. Hearing them, she won't hang up the phone when they make THE CALL.
And then there's the adoptive parents. By minimizing their reasons for searching, adoptees enhance the status of their adoptive parents. They feel less guilty--and many do--when they convince themselves that their goal is only for medical information or to know why they were adopted or to assuage grief she may have rather than admit--horrors!--that they truly care about their mothers and want to know someone who looks like them, starting with the woman who gave birth to them, hopefully find some siblings.
At best these statements splash off the minds of the first mothers who hear them. Some are quick-witted enough to reply to what the statement actually signifies and how it feels to hear it, like Strauss's mother. Some respond by slamming the door shut. It's possible that the gobbledy-gook of modern agency-think and subtle adoptive-parent indoctrination over the years has led to first conversations with, and letters to, birth parents that has harmed--rather than helped--reunions at the first stage of reconnecting. The first mother hears the possibly defiant, not-quite-buried anger from the adoptee, and not surprising her reaction is to mentally head for the hills, especially if she is facing having to tell her husband and other children about this lost child. Or if she has buried the sorrow so deep that the thought of revisiting the pain of loss throws her into shock and trepidation over what is to come if she opens the door.
While we humans all focus on our own fears and needs, adoptees who hope for good reunions, or even just a civil one, are advised to be mindful that first mothers are part of that equation. Go into a reunion defiant and angry, and your first mother is likely to pull up the welcome mat at the first opportunity. She is thinking--Why upset those who love me--my husband and your raised children--in order to meet someone who treats me like I am no more important than a resource for a school assignment?
Now having said all that, and knowing that adoptees do read FMF, we realize that some birth mothers will recoil and refuse reunion of any sort, even when adoptees come to them with the best of intentions and attitude. From our own limited experience, we hear that those fearful mothers who are contacted and counseled by other first mothers, or especially understanding social workers, are more likely to turn an initial No into a Yes. But the world is not like that. A great many confidential intermediaries--and they are the only recourse in many states--do not understand the fears and emotions of first mothers, or adoptees, when they make contact. This is why whenever possible adoptees should make contact themselves. While it is correct to say that everyone has a "right" to their medical history, and the true names of their birth parents, some mothers will feel they also have a "right" to privacy. Unfortunately, the adoptee-rights movement gave birth to language from legislators, conveniently misinterpreting the original intent of sealed-records legislation, that includes the "right of privacy" of birth mothers. Yet that is a flawed concept: you give birth, the child always has a right to know who you are.
To first mothers we add this advice: If you want a good reunion, don't recoil if you hear words that hurt or bother you. Ignore them and simply express your joy at being found. Your child has been living in an age that has promoted various language and ideas that may be far from what you feel, but don't shut off communication because you initially don't like what you hear. In time, you can say why the words put you off at first. Lorraine's daughter eventually told her that she understood why she, Lorraine, made the decision she did. Her daughter added that because of her epilepsy, and her family's great health insurance, she couldn't see how Lorraine could have managed that. But the words were not said in smug defiance, and in fact, comforted Lorraine. Said in a different light, early in the relationship, the sentiment might have stung. Sometimes, it's all in how and when you say it.--jane and lorraine
What's with Jane's eye? My eye was removed in 1999 because of a tumor. I make the patches myself and try to color coordinate them with my outfits. These patches work much better than pirate patches which move around and bulge out. I have an artificial eye. I do but I don't wear it because it doesn't have secure retention and doesn't look natural. It doesn't move and the eyelid does not close.
Kristin Chenoweth on 'Lion' and Adoption
Telling your Birth Mother She Made the Right Decision is Wrong.
Thanks to all who order through FMF...just click on the book titles or jackets to get to amazon. Anything ordered through FMF sends a few cents our way.
Birthright: The Guide to Search and Reunion for Adoptees, Birthparents, and Adoptive Parents
Identical Strangers: A Memoir of Twins Separated and Reunited