' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: Conflict Is Built into Adoption

Friday, October 3, 2008

Conflict Is Built into Adoption

"In all of us is a hunger, marrow deep, to know our heritage, to know who we are, and where we have come from. Without this enriching knowledge, there is a hollow yearning, no matter what our attainments in life, there is a most disquieting loneliness."

This quote from Alex Haley is what inspired a 62-year-old adoptee in North Carolina, Raye Hedden, to search and find her natural/biological parents. Though reunion stories are rife today, this quote caught my eye because it sums up everything about the need to know. Contrast that with the comments from singer/actress Kristen Chenoweth, also adopted, and a memoir in progress, A Little Bit Wicked, about why she has not searched. In the interview Chenoweth says she gets sick of people pointing out that Brangelina have adopted children; that's she tired of the pressure to search and:

One thing it's [the book] not about is the search for her birth parents. "It's actually kind of the opposite, about what it's like not to do that, and what it's like not to have that family history, but to connect with the people who raised you," Chenoweth said.

"There's so much pressure," Chenoweth said. "Every time I meet somebody, and they say, 'You're adopted — have you found your birth parents yet?'

"If you met my parents, you'd know, (Chenoweth) is so their kid. I mean, we don't look alike. If I'm going to be honest, they're tall, brunette, they can't sing. They're engineers."

Asked about her brother, she said, "He should never, ever sing. Not ever."

When it was suggested that her family probably wonders sometimes where someone like her came from, she nodded. "I talk about that. I talk about like a little bit of depression that happened in my life and where that came from, and rosacea, and just things that people who aren't adopted know about."

Adoption-reform pioneer Florence Fisher, who remains a good friend, talks about "good adoptees," who tow the line, do everything possible to make their adoptive parents happy and...not do anything to offend them in any possible way. It sounds like they are afraid of losing their parents' love. Sounds like Chenoweth.

How sad. How pathetic. How unreal, but then, that is their reality.

In the years that I knew my daughter, Jane, before she committed suicide last December, I often would be so aware of her not being able to freely connect with me because of hurting her other mother. The first time Jane visited us, we spent the day shopping for clothes for school for her at Macy's (The world's biggest store! In New York City!), had dinner with my husband at Benihana, which we thought she would enjoy, and then went to see Evita on Broadway. She was fifteen.

She was non-nonplussed and didn't seem to like the show--even though we had first row balcony seats. Okay, I thought, maybe it's not her cup of tea.

But later, years later, she confessed that she only did that because she was having such a good time that day she felt disloyal to her other parents. One can truly understand the conflict, but it's sad. Sad that she could not be free to be loved and feel loved by both sets of parents. (My husband was not her father, but he took on the role of step-father rather easily, and that's how she saw him.)

And this again came into play when she stopped talking to me after her adoptive mother said at the funeral of her eldest biological son: "He was my favorite."

Jane barely spoke to me for a year. She needed to prove that she was worthy of her adoptive mother's love and the way to do that was to cut me out of her life. It was a hard time.

--hugs to every single adoptee out there reading. We first mothers are sometimes so screwed up ourselves that we can't connect with you...of course I'd like to give all those rejecting first mothers a smack on the head...but that's another post.



  1. How funny - when I first decided to search [at age 44], one of the first things I put out there in my posts was that "I had a GOOD adoption." Looking back, I'd say it's because my adopted brother and I were the kind of "good adoptees" you describe so well in your essay.

    We were horribly uncomfortable even discussing the subject of our "natural" parents around our adoptive ones. When my brother needed a life-saving bone marrow transplant in 1988, few medical centers would attempt unrelated donor transplants, so we had to petition the court to open his adoption file. My brother would only sign the papers if the attorney and our aFather promised him that he wouldn't have to meet his birth family.

    I never allowed myself to even admit to being curious until 6 years after my aMother died. In all truth, I know she would have supported our searches -she was as curious as we would have been, had we not felt it was dangerously risky.

    It was our aFather's psyche we were unconsciously and blindly protecting for fear of losing his love.

    Thank you for writing this and helping me open my eyes and my mind a little more.

    Lisa Kay
    FL Adoptee

  2. "In all of us is a hunger, marrow deep, to know our heritage, to know who we are, and where we have come from. Without this enriching knowledge, there is a hollow yearning, no matter what our attainments in life, there is a most disquieting loneliness."

    This quote is from Alex Haley who wrote "Roots". It has been circulating around the adoption reform movement for years.

    As mothers who searched, I think we have to accept that not all adoptees either want to search or to be found, for a variety of reasons. The quote is pretty, and true for some, but not for all.

    Some people truly have little curiosity about anything, and prefer the status quo, including some adoptees. Many fear hurting their adoptive parents, or just do not want added complications in their lives. Some may be in denial, others truly do not care and do not want to know. The only thing that can be said about "all" adoptees is that all are adopted; beyond that they are individuals who may have very different reaction to their adoptive status.

    It is not up to us to second guess what they "really" want, or to accuse them of being in denial when they express their real feelings about search, even when those feelings are not what we want to hear.

  3. To my way of thinking, the situation is not much different from those individuals who never knew their natural fathers because they weren't around growing up, and eventually came to know a stepfather as their "Real" father. A lot of times those people, as adults, attempt to have a relationship with the absentee father and find that they have nothing in common with him, that there may be a little resentment with him for not "being there," etcetera, and feel much more of a connection to the man who raised them. It might not necessarily have anything to do with not wanting to hurt the stepfather's feelings, it's simply a matter of not *knowing* their biological father, and hence, feeling little connection to him. I am sure that plenty of adoptees feel this way--or, like the above poster stated, it's just different for everyone.

    I'm a birthmother, and a long time ago I came to accept that I might never have a relationship with my birth son. It will depend on an infinite number of factors. I'll be sad if that's the case, but I know it's bound to be complicated. Adoption is just a complicated solution to a complicated problem, that's all.



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