' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: May 2009
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Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Adoption Cycle: Adoptees who have babies they relinquish

Copyright (c) Lorraine Dusky 2009

As I wrote a few days ago, I watched several episodes of The Locator in one evening, and the other one that is worth commenting about hit on a subject near to my heart. The search de jour was initiated by a birth mother who was adopted herself. As some of you know, my daughter Jane also had a daughter whom she relinquished for adoption that I've written about before. From the vantage point of a thousand-plus miles, after a period when we had not been speaking, I could not convince Jane to a) let the father's mother raise the girl, as the woman apparently wanted; or b) enter into an open adoption arrangement. Yes, we have heard about many such "open" arrangements that end up not as promised (and have written about them here), but at least one starts out with a name and an address at the time of the relinquishment and adoption.

No, Jane insisted, she would only have a closed adoption. No names, no contact, no responsibility.

The woman in this episode of The Locator gave up her child in a closed adoption also. Troy Dunn found her son, the reunion was great, and his three siblings were happy to meet him. When he first laid eyes on them, his joy was infectious: You all look like me, was his immediate and surprised comment. Not having been adopted myself, I can't imagine how wonderful that feeling must be. The young man had a band himself, and his siblings were all involved in some sort of music.

How many women of my generation and younger who were adopted had children they also gave up for adoption? When this happened to me (as any birth involves more than the mother, it involves families) I felt as if that no matter what I did, I had failed. It seemed painfully obvious that Jane was determined to repeat history. And then of course, I wondered, what about the generation after that? Could I protect my granddaughters from doing the same?

The occurrence of adopted teenagers and young women having babies they relinquish is one that is referred to in various adoption books, but since there is no adequate way to compile reliable statistics, how common this is no one knows. But those who have been around adoption for many years feel that it is not unusual, particularly in the early days of adoption reform before abortion was legally available. One would go to a conference, and run into an adoptee-birth mother here, another one there, a third one there.

Annette Baran, an adoption social worker and is one of the authors of The Adoption Triangle, confirmed my sense of this. Jean Strauss, whose memoir Birthright is about her own search and reunion, discovered that when she found her mother, she also found an adoptee. Straus later found her grandmother and reunited the two of them, and made a film of the reconnecting of the three of them.

In Being Adopted: The Lifelong Search for Self by David Brodzinsky, Marshall Schechter and Robin Marantz Henig, the authors write of a complicated sexual expression for adopted teenagers: “Adopted teenagers who were born to teenage mothers may feel the cycle repeating itself in their own sexual behavior. Adoptive mothers who agonized over their own infertility may feel jealous and resentful of their daughter’s developing fecundity….Some [adopted teenagers]deliberately become pregnant to undo what they feel to be their birth mother’s mistakes. And some go in the opposite direction, shying away even from healthy sexual experimentation because they are so aware of where that landed their birth mothers.” (Incidentally, Being Adopted is one of my very favorite books explaining the dynamic of what it is like to be adopted.)

Adoptee memoirs came out after abortion became legal often contain include the authors' own abortions, and their rather quick and, all things considered, uncomplicated decisions to have an abortion rather than make a different choice. “I know my birth mother and I are alike in this,” Strauss wrote in Beneath a Tall Tree, “We return home form a hospital, empty and childless. I believe we both wish we could have made different choices, not about adoption or abortion, but about the choice of letting ourselves become pregnant in the first place.” (For me, Strauss's book was one whose insights were delivered without overt rancor.)

Sarah Saffian in Ithaka wrote: “…for me, a mistaken pregnancy myself, having an abortion had been a particular tragedy” though she gives no explanation that this affected her more than any other woman who had not been adopted. A few days later, meeting her boy friend, Saffian is back on track: “Refreshed by a few day’s distance from the experience, I said how relieved I was that it was over, that now we could ‘get on with our lives.’” Neither Strauss nor Saffian wrote that they was particularly distraught over their decision to abort—before or after. (Personally, I had trouble with Saffian's book. I know that it is brutally honest; let's just say that as a birth/first mother, I found it brutal.)

Adopted women having babies who are also adopted: It seems the saddest of all possible outcomes.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Troy Dunn responds to First Mother Forum

Troy Dunn saw our post on his show The Locator, and had this to say about our blog and the comments:

Hi Lorraine,
Troy Dunn here. First let me thank you for having this blog as an outlet for others to share and communicate about this very important facet of life. Let me also take a moment (while I wait to fly to San Diego for my next case) to answer some of the questions posted here.

My goal whenever I enter somebody's life is to leave it better than I found it. I am not always successful in that effort but it is my goal. That includes everyone- first moms, adoptive mothers, adoptees, sibs, spouses, etc. It's a juggling act to say the lest but I do attempt it. There are certainly times when, as I am sitting and talking with people I am having internal conversations that include thoughts like, "I don't believe her" or "I don't think this is the whole story", or "I wonder why she is scared to tell me everything", etc...

BUT, I as I attempt to facilitate a reunion, I also try and determine what can I do to leave all relationships intact. And I also feel it is not always my place to be the "big news" guy to each person. Some things are better left for mother-daughter to discuss later naturally, as it comes up. It's never about the cameras for me, it's all about the healing, or the potential for healing.

Additionally, some of you mistake "permission for "respect". I do like to involve other family members in the process when possible so that the adoptee has a support system in tact when the dust settles. That's not always the case, but again, it's my goal. Triona mentioned my entry into the "search and reunion" space, as if it had happened recently, or perhaps for the show. The show only began in 2007. I have been trying to rebuild families and hunt for answers for adoptees since 1990 when I assisted my own mother in her search. I viewed the TV show as an opportunity to share the messages we all believe so important- one of which is that bio moms, (first moms in your vocab) are in most cases, heroes who made an extremely difficult and selfless decision and deserve their own brand of closure, answers and peace.

Let me repeat, I am not always able to deliver on that goal, but I will die trying.
Thank you all for your voices and I hope you will continue to let yours be heard. Not sure how long America will embrace our show, but I will still be here doing what I feel is right, long after the camera crew goes home.

God bless you all.

LORRAINE: Troy Dunn's explanation about why he doesn't castigate anyone involved (no matter what he finds) made sense to me. He isn't trying to be Dr. Phil, and that is a good thing. And although the adopted woman in the scenario above is certainly going to have questions of her adoptive mother, they are probably best left off camera. The story made it clear that her adoptive mother knew the facts about the birth mother's life turn-around. To those of us involved in adoption search-and-reunion and reform, of course the adoptive mother's sin of omission screamed out at us, but maybe not to us alone. I don't think you could have been watching and not had the same questions that I did

PS: For an interview with Dunn, read post at Mormon Mommy Blogs.

JANE: I like what Troy Dunn wrote for the most part but I believe that his characterization of firstmoms as "heroes who made an extremely difficult and selfless decision" perpetuates false images.

Firstmoms were not heroic Loretta Young types who as a tear rolled from the corner of their eye signed the paper assuring their child's happiness at the expense of their own. This makes a great movie scene but it's a myth. Firstmoms for the most part did not make any decision; they took the only option they were offered. Adoptive parents are not per se better parents than the mother nature designated. The trauma of being adopted outweighs the benefits of having married parents. And of course there is no guarantee that the adoptive parents will stay married; over fifty percent don't.

Monday, May 25, 2009

If a drug-addict first mother turns her life around, PLEASE pass on it on to the adoptee

SEE TROY DUNN'S RESPONSE in next day's (May 25, 2009) post

The other night I watched several episodes of The Locator, the show that does as it sounds--finds people for people searching for them. Troy Dunn, whom we've written about before is "the locator," along with his mother and a staff.

One episode that made me crazy reunited a platonic Friend of a woman who had died of AIDS and the woman's daughter, who was three when her first mother died. First Mother had arranged for an open adoption--she had met the parents while she was in the hospital--and had Friend promise that he would stay in touch with her daughter and watch over her. While it is true that the mother had been a drug addict and a prostitute when she contacted AIDS, she completely turned her life around by the time her daughter was born, and, in fact, became an AIDS counselor. First mother was gorgeous in her photographs.

Friend, now a successful entrepreneur, had stayed in touch for a year or so, but then the family moved and left no contact information. Friend knew none of their family or friends, he was a young man, and admittedly did not make any effort to track down the adoptive parents. Now, two decades later, he wanted to keep his promise to his dying friend.

Troy Dunn found the young women still living with her adoptive mother. The adoptive mother said that it had always been hard for the young women to let people be close to her, and yeah, maybe meeting someone who knew her first mother might be helpful. Understand, this woman did know that well before the young woman's mother died, she was off drugs, and as Friend said, her first mother was a beautiful person who helped others dealing with AIDS.

The adopted woman was now introduced; she was morbidly obese. She had no memory of her first mother; she said she only knew that her first mother had been a prostitute and a drug addict, because that is what her adoptive mother told her.

The meeting of Friend and the young woman was staged in a library where Friend was reading to kids...as he met the girl's mother in a library. Not on a street corner where she was injecting herself.

I'm sitting there thinking that if this women had heard that her mother was more than a drug addict and a prostitute, she might not weigh 300 pounds today. (I've seen enough of The Biggest Loser to estimate her weight; she was 300 plus.) Troy Dunn, my brain is screaming, ask the adoptive mother why she didn't tell her that by the time she was adopted, her mother was clean, and had been for quite a while, and was actually working in a drug/AIDS program to help others? Friend made it clear that adoptive mom knew this. You think knowing this information--that her mother was clean and a good person--might have made a difference in the girl's life?

Troy Dunn, ask the adoptive mother why--since it was supposed to be an open adoption with Friend having continued contact--why this was ignored? Ask why she reneged on her promise to the first mother? Can't you at least clear your throat, raise your eyebrows, look away--do something--to indicate that her behavior is shoddy?

Troy Dunn, ask the adoptive mother if maybe the incomplete information she gave her adopted daughter might have been--uh, downright harmful?

No, instead of any of that, the woman was treated with kid gloves. Asked if it would be all right if her daughter met Friend. I wanted to scream at his asking for permission of the adoptive mother, when the young woman was in her twenties. Why did the young women need anyone's permission? Because we have to be watchful of the feelings of the adoptive parents, that's why.

Troy Dunn, why are you so solicitous of the adoptive mother's feelings when she clearly withheld information from her daughter, when she had ignored the promise to her first mother to let Friend stay involved?

"Your mother loved your very much," Friend told the young woman. "Your mother was a wonderful person who made some unfortunate choices for a while, but she turned her life around." He was able to show the young women both pictures of her beautiful mother (and she was beautiful) with clear eyes and no sign of a drug problem, as well as photographs of herself at her birthday party, and with her mother. In the pictures she is a happy, smiling healthy child of normal weight,

I know adoptive parents are by and large good people, that many of them take on problem children and turn their lives around, but I'd like to see the awful ones featured once in a while, and not just the ones who murder or beat or starve their adopted children, but the ones who inflict emotional damage as this adoptive mother so clearly had. I'd like to see some adoptive parents called on the carpet for less than stellar behavior on prime-time television.

We first/birth mothers take our lumps, all right; how about some equal-opportunity here when adoptive parents do bad things?--lorraine

Troy Dunn commented on our post and comments on the post, and I thought I would post it as blog rather than leave it as a comment.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

After the Birthmother/Adoptee Reunion: Navigating the Turbulent Waters

Photo by Ken Robbins

The analysis of several memoirs written by adopted women we posted recently has generated a lot of commentary, at our own, as well as other blogs. Some adopted women read the analysis by First Mother Jane as highly negative of them and their role in adoptee-birth mother reunions that go awry. Some have accused Jane, and thus all of us, of "blaming the victim," i.e., the adopted person.

This is a complete misreading of both what the essays contained, and our intent in publishing it. In fact, Jane's analysis largely consists of quoted material from the memoirs themselves, with scant commentary, as the words spoke for themselves. All three of us who contribute to First Mother Forum have read many adoptee memoirs over the years trying to understand why our own daughters ran so hot and cold with us, why we found ourselves rejected for reasons that seemed irrational, and found some of the answers in the writings. The words may not have been comforting, but they perhaps provided some solace in that we were not alone in trying to figure our way out of the emotional morass we were mired in.

As Jane once so aptly said, natural mothers feel that once we are reunited we welcome them with open arms--Here is the your family, come be one of us--but the adoptee says, Wait a minute, I've got a family already and I don't feel that same way. I don't know these people and besides...I'm not sure I want to even like you. By examining what the memoir writers had to say, we hoped we could provide first mothers with information on how they might best proceed upon meeting their relinquished child, or how navigate the tremulous waters of a reunion.

As for our own stories, first-time readers should know that both Jane and Linda were sought out by their adult daughters, initially had a good relationship with them, but as of today, neither of them have contact with them as we write; Lorraine found her daughter when she was fifteen, and had a mostly on/but sometimes off relationship with her daughter until she killed herself at 41. (Adoption was only one issue in her life; others were physical problems related to epilepsy and severe PMS.)

We thought it might be interesting for the birth mothers who read us, as well as others, to be privy to a back and forth discussion we had about this topic.

LINDA: (After reading a blog criticizing us for publishing the piece about adoptee memoirs): I actually found enlightening what the adoptee who called us on the carpet had to say; it gave me a window into what my daughter might be thinking/feeling.

And the "it's all about them" (that is, birthmothers) statement resonated with me. My daughter told my sister a long time ago that adoption didn't happen just to me, it happened to her too...but she swears she's a shiny happy adoptee (who has cut me out of her life completely, but not the rest of my family) so what the hell am I supposed to think/say/do?

You know I've given up. I've sent cards, emails, tried to call her, sent presents for my grandchildren. But have been rebuffed for four years now, while she maintains contact with my sister and niece and god-knows-who-else in the family. I can't do it anymore.

LORRAINE: Though we had a long relationship--26 years--there would be times when my daughter would decide she was not talking to me for months--even a year--at a time. Lots of tears on my part, lots of second guessing, If only I had said this instead of that. It felt as if she was never going to stop punishing me, no matter what I did or said. The conventional wisdom is that you have to "forgive yourself." Well, that's pretty damn hard when the object of your "sin" is not able to. You keep being reminded that you are not worthy of "forgiveness."

JANE: In only one of the seven memoir-reunions I analyzed did the mother and daughter start with a commitment to be absolutely honest with each other and try to work through any difficulties. That was the Katie Hern/ Ellen McGarry Carlson reunion presented in the book written by both of them, book "A Year in Letters Between A Birthmother and the Daughter She Couldn't Keep." This book should get a lot more attention.

In the other six memoirs, the parties started off with clearly different expectations and understandings. The daughters were interested only in meeting their own needs (as were the mothers except Sarah Saffian's mother). The daughters did not anticipate a continuing relationship and didn't commit themselves early on to correcting any misunderstandings.

I made incorrect assumptions in my own reunion which has resulted in a lot of pain for me, and perhaps for my daughter, Megan. If we had a made an early commitment to work out our differences, things would have gone differently. I don't know, however, if Megan considered a relationship important enough to make such a commitment. I offered to pay for Megan to attend an American Adoption Congress convention and sent her one of B.J. Lifton's books because I thought it would help her with adoption issues and improve our relationship. She refused to go to AAC. I think she was afraid that she might read or hear something critical of adoption which she would take as criticism of herself and her adoptive family.

LINDA: I agree with you, Jane, I had a lot of unresolved pain and guilt that definitely impacted my relationship with my daughter. But my daughter was never one for sharing her feelings, particularly with strangers, so a mediator/counseling was out of the question for us. And as I've said before, my daughter just dove right into the deep end of the pool without any thought...her father had Fed Exed her personal records (she was 23, it was time apparently), she read the file, saw the letter that said I was receptive to contact, and phoned the agency. All in a matter of a day or two. She was living in a strange city and was alone; I filled a void. I've often said I felt used. Clearly we had different needs...and I can't turn the clock back.

LORRAINE: My situation was quite different because when I found my daughter at fifteen she had a low self-image, due to both being relinquished and having epilepsy, and her adoptive parents were actually somewhat relieved I came on the scene. They and their doctor had tried to find out more about me because her epilepsy was severe, but the agency was non responsive. The killer is that because I had taken birth control pills after I had conceived but did not know, I wrote the Rochester (NY) agency and told them the adoptive parents ought to be so informed, and by the way, could I find out if my daughter was all right? Their doctor's letter was never answered. Mine said that she was happy with her new family. This is how NY's sealed-birth records law works in reality.

Given all that, my daughter's adoptive mother was both welcoming and leery of me. The fact that I was not a Midwestern housewife but a writer (who had written a book about relinquishing my/their daughter, Birthmark) living on the East Coast complicated matters --it made her more anxious and critical of such a "career gal." However, her parents were what could only be called amazing for the times (1981). I met our daughter in Madison, Wisconsin right after Thanksgiving, and her parents let her come to Detroit during Christmas break a few weeks later to meet my mother (her biological grandmother) and the rest of my immediate family; and in the spring she spent twelve days with me and my husband on Long Island. We mostly got along swell, even though there were signs of her issues that we talked about. But overall, the visit went well, so I thought, Hey, this is great, this is how it will be! She and I will be whatever, but we will be.

Not so fast.

My daughter, also named Jane, later admitted that she thought she would find out what she needed and then just walk away. By the time I had heard that, fifteen years had passed, and we had been through several periods when I had been on the Do Not Call Ever Again list for months. There were times it wasn't even anything I said; I'd later find out it was related to something her adoptive mother said, and Jane would feel she needed to prove to her that she was worthy of her love, you know, a good daughter. A good adopted daughter.

Understand, my daughter Jane had a lot of issues and emotional damage, many of them unacknowledged and many related to the effects of her epilepsy, which was severe. Since she could at any minute decide to walk away,
I think I was always somewhat unhinged around her, waiting for her to walk away...again. I also think after I came on the scene her adoptive mother (with an older adopted son, and two natural sons who came after Jane) sometimes gave the vibe of, well, you take over now. Actually, she more or less said that once in a letter.

I'm reminded of what Betty Friedan once said to me and others within earshot: adoptive parents are fine with everything about their child until something big goes wrong. Then it's, Oh, he's adopted, he's not blood, he didn't get that from us. Then they blame the birth parents. Maybe that's off the mark in terms of what we're talking about--difficulties in relationships after the reunion--but it did seem to be true in my daughter's case. And of course that impacted my daughter's relationship with me. I'm getting off the track here.

But for all first/birth mothers who have had a reunion but then felt rejected for reasons they do not understand, we will end on an upnote. About fifteen years ago, maybe longer, I heard from a distraught birth mother whose daughter had sent her a letter saying: Please do not contact me ever again. Every birthday is an occasion of fear that I might be receiving a card from you. Please leave me alone. It took me a long time to answer the birth mother because I did not know how to comfort her. The copy of the daughter's seemingly cruel letter fell out of a book about a month ago--I always kept it as a reminder of...how bad things could be--and I wondered what happened to both of the women, mother and daughter, as I no longer had the accompanying letter from the birth mother and did not remember her name.

Through Facebook, the birth mother contacted me again last week with an amazing story: Her daughter, after decades of no contact, called her. Her parents had been adamantly opposed to any contact and were afraid that she might be somehow snatched. No wonder she didn't want contact with her birth mother. But now mother and daughter have met and the birth mother is being very careful. But so far, that's one story of found/rejection/reunion that has to date a ...well, let's call it a "good" ending. I'll wait for "happy."

Monday, May 18, 2009

Pres. Obama, Adoption is not only available, it's being crammed down our throats

New Post later today, May 21...

President’s Obama’s call for “making adoption more available” in order to reduce abortions is the most clueless statement by a president since George Bush asserted that the trouble with the French was that they had no word for “entrepreneur.”

President Obama, adoption is plenty available. Check out the websites under adoption. The adoption industry spends millions on slick advertising to induce young women to part with their newborn babies. Financial support for women during their pregnancies? No problem. Need money for college? Just give up your firstborn child to strangers and win a scholarship. Want an all expenses paid vacation to Los Angeles including airfare, medical expenses, and sightseeing tours? Just give your baby to Adoptions First who will pass it along to Hollywood celebs who pay a big fee for your little darling.

The line of people wanting to adopt stretches all the way to China and a queue is forming in Africa. Last year, 17,438 children were imported to meet the needs of the infertile and the altruistic.

A pregnant woman would have to be living in a cave to fail to realize that she has her pick of people willing to take her baby off her hands. The National Council for Adoption runs several programs to increase adoption awareness including the "iChooseAdoption" campaign and the adoption awareness program funded by US taxpayers which trains doctors and others who come in contact with pregnant women how to sell them on the adoption option.(The NCFA also fights legislation to allow adoptes access their original birth certificates but that’s another story.)

Even one of the nemeses of the anti-abortion crowd, Planned Parenthood, promotes adoption.

Rest assured President Obama: Women don’t abort their babies because they can’t find anybody willing to take the little bastard. In most cases, women abort because they lack the resources to care for a child. If you’re serious about reducing abortions, how about offering natural families the same $12,150 tax credit the government gives adopters?

Friday, May 15, 2009

Now is the time to change the world: WRITE YOUR LEGISLATORS

Now is the time for all good women and men to come to the aid of adopted people and let legislators know that everyone should have a clear and unfettered right to their identities, the one locked up with their original birth certificates.

Texas, California, Missouri, and my home, New York, are the states with legislative action going on (that I'm aware of) that would give adopted people the same rights as those not adopted.Now while the legislators are still in session is the time to make our voices heard. Instead of just sitting back and reading and venting about what went wrong in our lives when we took a left turn instead of a right, or why our reunions are not better, turn that emotion and passion into action. Please take a few minutes to write your own state assemblyman and senator and speak up and speak out! If I had a megaphone like Harvey Milk to get this crowd going, I would use it. So today instead of writing about feelings, or the latest adoption-related outrage, I'm posting there the letters I am sending to legislators in New York.

Please join me. Use any parts of the letters below but always tell who you are in relation to the bill in your own words. That will be a hundred times more effective than using someone else's words. These letters of course are for New York legislators. If you are from a different state (see notice about Texas in the sidebar alongside this blog)

Dear Senator:

I am writing to ask you to support The Adoptee Bill of Rights, S5269, that would give adopted people their original birth certificates without restrictions.

I write as a birth mother who relinquished her daughter in Rochester in 1966, when the world was a far different place. I kept my pregnancy secret, as I did not want to be known as someone who “got in trouble." But I—like the vast majority of women who have been in this position—never sought or desired anonymity in perpetuity from my child. I desperately wanted to know her one day.

I did find her, and had a rewarding relationship with her—and her adoptive family—for more than 26 years. But I am not alone. Records from other states and other countries that have open records have found that the vast majority of birth mothers wish to be reunited with their children, if only to learn that they are all right. The sorrow of now knowing is great. We do not wish to stay hidden from them. In Oregon, where the records have been open since 2000, more than 9000 adoptees have requested their original birth certificates. During that time, fewer than one percent have found letters on file with the state that their mothers did not wish to be contacted.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Orphan Trade, Gay Marriage and Open Records Legislation

Though many of my friends seem astonished by the information that international adoption is not simply a great humanitarian gesture, but loaded with corruption and kidnapping for profit, the word is getting out. Yesterday Jane wrote about the commentary and story at the New York Times blog about Madonna and her quest for another child from Malawi. The other day Slate published a piece by E.J. Graff, along with a slide show of pictures and stories. We have trumpeted Graff's work before in Foreign Policy here at FirstMotherForum. Again at Slate, as the New York Times, comments come from "defensive" adoptive parents, some of whom call her journalism incompetent and otherwise attack Graff.

The comments remind me of lobbying in Albany with Unsealed Initiative for open records for adoptees. While most of the people we met were polite, and a growing number were sympathetic to our cause, every now and then we ran into someone who looked at us as if we were crackpots and that we represented only a fringe group.Well-adjusted birth mothers wouldn't be there; neither would good adoptees.

One such legislator, who was absolutely rude and nasty to the three of us who met with him was...Rosie O'Donnell's brother, Danny. I was with two adopted people. In less than three minutes, O'Donnell had the other woman in tears and the man--who had gone to court to get his original birth certificate but been turned down--was so mad that as we left he told the women who worked for O'Donnell that their boss was one of the worst human beings he had ever met. Our few minutes with him reminded me of some of the early talk shows I did back in 1979 when Birthmark came out. When the attacks were almost expected.

O'Donnell told us that he would never NEVER vote for an open-records bills. Rep. O'Donnell (whose district is in Manhattan) is on my mind today because there was a story about him in the New York Times yesterday about how he is shepherding a bill for gay marriage through the Assembly, and how he sometimes twists arms with threats and sharp elbows. Now I am all in favor of gays and lesbians having the right to marry and gain the advantages of legal coupledom, and expressed my views in USA Today some time ago. But just reading about O'Donnell made me crazy mad all over again.

O'Donnell, who is as out as his loud-mouth sister, is all about rights for gays, but all against rights for adopted people. To his mind, they ought to be glad they were adopted at all (by his sister, one supposes) and shut up about their birth mothers because they are all after Rosie's money. He told my group that we were well dressed and were probably nice people before he let loose. He seemed to imply: Hey, I'm surprised you birth mothers aren't all crack whores.

But thinking about the momentum for gay marriage makes me sad that we have not gone further in our campaign to give adopted people equal rights with the rest of us. That we still have laws in most states that prevent adopted people from learning their original names and heritage simply because they want to know. In any other area, curiosity is seen as a sign of intelligence; yet when an adoptee asks Who am I? Who was I at birth? some see it as a sign of ingratitude. O'Donnell is one such person. And so are many of the people who comment about international adoption.

We need more backers such as Paula Benoit in Maine and Lou D' Allesandro in New Hampshire, both of whom were instrumental in getting legislation passed that gave adopted people the right to their original birth certificates, withOUT a "contact veto" tacked on. (Contact preferences are fine.) Benoit is an adoptee; D'Allesandro is an adoptive father. Joyce Bahr of Unsealed Initiative (see sidebar) just informed us that one of the legal counsels of a legislator supposedly sponsoring the bill of adoptee rights in New York was actually very wishy-washy on the issue. No wonder we weren't getting further with his office. Now a new legal counsel is in place.

We need to find people in legislatures who can convince their peers that the time has come for open records. We need more people out. We need more adopted people angry they cannot have their original birth certificates. We need more birth mothers letting it be known they do not want to stay hidden from their children. Yes, I know some want to stay anonymous, and I know some of those children will read this. My heart aches for them but I do not know what to do about these women.

But somehow, we who fight for open records need to make a louder noise.--lorraine
PS: Unsealed Initiative will be lobbying next week in Albany again. If you have a NY connection (relinquishment or adoption) please consider a day given over to lobbying. Even though you may run into some resistance (as above but I hardly think anyone will be as rude as O'Donnell was), the day is energizing and gratifying, and always results in picking up more sponsors for the Bill of Adoptee Rights. Check out Unsealed Initiative 's blog and contact Joyce at unsealedinitiative@nyc.rr.com.

And do take a look at the Slate story (link above). It's well worth your time. If you comment there, copy and post it here too.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Tell NYT readers what you think about Celebrity and International Adoptions

We’ve written about Madonna and Malawi Mercy before but it’s worth another pass.

Here’s a chance to let New York Times readers know what you think about international adoption. The Times “Room for Debate” column has invited readers to comment on Madonna’s attempted adoption of a three-year old Malawi girl, Mercy, and international adoptions in general.

The Times included articles from six well-known commentators; four spouted the usual drivel about how the need for children to grow up in stable families trumped the perceived need for children to stay with their families and in their country. Throwing a bone to culturalism, they mentioned culture camps and other adornments.

Two writers, journalist E.J. Graff and adoptive father and law professor David Smolin, wrote about the corruption in international adoption and pointed out that most of the children coming from third world countries are not true orphans but very young children of impoverished parents. True orphans are older, often handicapped, and not desired by those interested in adopting. We’ve written before about Graff’s excellent coverage of corruption in international adoption.

The vast majority of the 174 commentators as I write this Tuesday afternoon are persons who adopted children from abroad. They argue that Madonna is a loving mother who will provide a better home for Mercy than her poor father. They (like Tom Lehrer’s old dope peddler) contend that they did well by doing “good”. They met their need for a child -- and they rescued a child from a life of degradation in their native country and culture. They didn’t adopt an American child because few were available except for undesirable foster kids. Some of them sound amazingly smug and are amazed that anyone would oppose the adoption of any child from a Third World country.

I posted the following comment: "Marguerite Wright and other pro-adoption commentators note that 'Research shows that children do best when raised in a supportive, caring family. Mercy has a much better chance of thriving in a family environment with personal attention, educational opportunities and medical care than in an orphanage.'

Madonna is not offering Mercy a supportive, caring family. With Madonna’s commitments and career, Mercy will be raised by nannies and receive little personal attention from Madonna or anyone else. If Madonna were willing to put Mercy’s needs before her own desire for publicity and possession of a child, she would provide funds for Mercy’s family to give her educational opportunities and medical care while being raised in a supportive, caring family, her own.

There are millions of poor children in the world. We need to work on providing all children educational opportunities and medical care rather than snatching a few thousand each year from their loving but poor families to meet the emotional needs of wealthy Americans.”

Let’s add our voices to this debate. Post your comments here and then go to the Times site and add your voice there.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Shared Similarities: Family traits not erased by relinquishment or adoption

Lorraine Dusky © 2009

What do amazing coincidences and similarities between birth/first mothers/fathers reunited with children who have been relinquished for adoption mean? They mean we are related. They are the normal similarities that are found between people who share the same DNA. Jane, the daughter I gave up for adoption and I found many similarities throughout the years we knew each other.

What absolutely blew me away were the sandals Jane arrived with that first summer she came to visit. I had the exact a pair of the exact same style and size. Now you might think that doesn’t mean much, but bear with me here. I have hard to fit feet—very narrow with a narrower heel. Though you can’t find this size anywhere anymore—at least where I buy shoes—my shoe size then was a Triple A width with a Five A heel. Really, really elegant, like a ballerina’s foot, I like to think. But all this elegance comes at a price.

It meant that my shoes--made with beautiful leather, impeccably detailed and sewn--never looked like my friend's shoes, which were much more common and could be bought at the local shoe store. This was indeed a trial by the time I was eleven. I wanted the shoes that all my friends had. When my friends were all wearing shoes that resembled white ballerina slippers, I was wearing...something else. A few years later, when everyone else was wearing shoes with "kitten heels," my heels were more stolid and thick, something then known as "Cuban" heels. Yuk, I thought. Another of life's torments just because, I would complain. Life isn't fair, why do I have these stupid feet?

Shoe buying has never been easy for me. But a few weeks before Jane came for her visit, I had found a pair of sandals that fit me fine. Woven leather flat sandals with the strap right across the ankle and a rubber sole. The heel was only a strap that could be adjusted, so I could adjust it to fit my narrow heel. The shoes were Italian made by a company named Famolare. How many pairs of that particular style were sold in the United States that year? I do not know. On the Famolare website today it says that their shoes are made in “very small quantity.”

Jane arrived with the exact same Famolares, size 38 in the European sizing the company used. I was amazed, to put it mildly, and remembered that when Florence Fisher first heard how her mother had painted her apartment--turquoise with lavender trim--she was struck because those were the same colors that she, Florence, had painted her living room.

Florence and her mother's favorite colors, the matching shoes Jane and I had were each one of those coincidences that are either meaningless or meaningful, depending on your point of view. Egads, isn’t this weird? I said to Jane, that you should have the exact same shoe as I have?

Hmmm, she said. She did not sound impressed. I found out later she was doing her teenage best to act un-impressed.

Despite her coolness, we kept discovering how we shared more than shoes. Like me, she had a 24-inch waistline (that was then) and fine oily mousy blonde/brown hair that is truly one of life’s little tragedies. Neither of us could carry a tune for more than two or three notes, or snap our fingers on our left hands. We often laced our language with irony, preferred tailored clothes, especially duds that resembled men’s suiting. In fact, we were extremely comfortable in each other's clothes. In photographs we are often shown standing the same way, one leg crossed at an angle just so in front of the other. She got her big head size from Brian, she had my hazel-green eyes, a combination jaw but not too far off mine, as far as I could tell, his nose (thank god), my eyebrows. If you saw us together, you would assume we were a set: mother and daughter.

One one day that summer, after she had walked up the stairs, my husband Tony remarked to her: “You come up the stairs just like Lorraine.”

"When I heard that, I knew I was home," Jane would tell me years later about Tony's offhand comment.

For what she had heard many times from her adoptive father was, "Jane, can’t you walk quieter?" as she went up or down the stairs at their split level house. Well, no, she really couldn’t without a great deal of effort. Her dad ought to hear my niece clomp up the stairs. We Duskys could be mistook for a herd of small elephants. What is an accepted family trait, not particularly elegant, at my house had been an annoyance to the family she was growing up in.

Family traits. We who have grown up among our own kind can not quite fathom what it’s like to be in a life where shared traits are few and far between. The more social scientists learn about various characteristics, the less they seem to be related to environmental factors.

What traits are hard-wired? They cluster into five basic factors in every culture that has been studied, from Britain to Korea, Ethiopia to Japan, China to the Czech Republic: Extraversion, the extent to which a person is outgoing, adventurous and sociable, or shy, silent, reclusive and cautious; neuroticism, the extent to which a person suffers from anxiety, guilt, worry and resentment; agreeableness, the extent to which a person is good-natured, cooperative and non-judgmental or irritable, suspicious and abrasive; conscientiousness, the extent to which a person is responsible, persevering, self-disciplined, or undependable and quick to give up; and openness to experience, the extent to which a person is curious, imaginative, questioning and creative, or conforming, unimaginative, predictable and uncomfortable with novelty.*

Although this says nothing about favorite colors or same shoes, this sounds like a lot to me. Sounds like a whole personality contained therein. The latest studies do not find a strong correlation between adopted children and those of their adoptive parents; in fact, writes social scientist Carol Tavris, “the correlation is weak to non-existent. This means that when children resemble their parents and grand parents temperamentally, it is because they share genes with these relatives, not experiences.”

Jane and I hadn’t been together, yet we were finding how much alike we were. For me, it was a constant source of amazement and pleasure. How much was evident apparently in my face. A couple of months after I’d met Jane, someone I didn’t know well asked a mutual friend if I’d had a face lift or “something done.” He said I looked “different, younger.” I was 38 at the time. The woman he asked was a birth mother. She knew what was up.

Life was grand, and my daughter was asleep in the room across the hall. Many many years later, Jane would point out to me the ways in which we were alike. Now she was delighted to find them; I had come to take them for granted, and I had not known she was keeping track.
*Carol Tavris, “A new start in life,” Times Literary Supplement, April 18, 2008, p. 27. Tavris goes on to quote sociologist David Nettle who writes in Personality:“The area of environmental influences on personality is a morass of unsupported or poorly tested ideas.” If you grow up, as I did, surrounded by people with whom you share traits, they seem natural and you are more forgiving of those that others might find obnoxious. I think that a lot of the children who end up in some kind of therapy are there not simply because they are troubled in the sense that we think of, but because they are so different from their parents that their parents have difficulty dealing with their difference and idiosyncrasies.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

What’s Wrong with Birthmother Events on Mother’s Day? Just about EVERYTHING

The famous holiday from hell as far as birth mothers are concerned is upon us: Mother’s Day. Reminders are as common as grass: on television and in the newspaper, on the computer. AOL has a click-on icon that takes you to a virtual catalogue of goodies to buy: eye shadow (I am not kidding) to leather briefcases and of course, the ubiquitous flowers.

For those of us who want a relationship with the children we lost to adoption, reminders of the flowers and cards we will not get on Sunday are fresh knives to the heart. Especially after I found my birth daughter, Jane, and she did not remember me in any way—no card, no phone call, drop dead, why don’t ya—it was a depressing day. Remember, over the years we had spent a great deal of time together; she had lived with us for months at a time. Yet Mother's Day would come and go without any acknowledgment. Did it feel like further punishment? You bet it did. The card I got from my stepson simply reminded me of a daughter who had decided to forget. I would counter my gloom by repeating yogic thoughts: Mother’s Day is only one day. Tomorrow is another day, a not Mother’s Day.

And: We make ourselves prisoners of our feelings, when they are neither good or bad, they just are.

I only succeeded up to a point. I was sure that Mother’s Day was being celebrated with bells and whistles and flowers and dinner with Jane’s adoptive mother back in Wisconsin. I never asked. I did not harbor any resentment over that, naturally, but could not Jane have at least sent a card or made a last-minute phone call? She had to be aware it was Mother's Day. Yet I kept my feelings to myself. I did not call her. I called my own mother instead; some years I brought my mother to New York from Michigan at that time and my husband and I were able to take her to a fancy lunch. Other years I sent flowers. Like many birth mothers, I did not have other children, and so had no one to distract me from Jane's ignoring me on this day.

Finally, after years—hell, decades—of being forgotten by my daughter on this day, I took a leap of courage and told Jane during one of our close periods that her ignoring Mother’s Day really hurt my feelings. That a mere phone call, or a card, some acknowledgment that I existed, that I was also her mother, would have turned the day completely around for this birth/first mother.

Jane’s life was not without travail, and she was on her own by this time. Now she remembered to call or send a card for Mother's Day as often as she forgot. But somehow the mere act of having told her how I felt made it easier on my mind when I did not hear from her. The cards I prize the most are the funny ones that obliquely refer to our fractured relationship. The best has a humorous photograph of a mother and daughter who look amazingly alike and which thanks me for “keeping her head on straight.” Once she was married, she always remembered, except for the year or two when she had decided I was not going to be in her life anymore. Yes, that continued to happen, right up until the end.

The one card about which I am not enthusiastic was the $3 pink Hallmark special: For My BirthMother it says on the outside. I wanted to ask, but did not, had she sent her other mother a card that said: For My Adoptive Mother? By the time she sent that, I'd known her for so many years and through so many trials and tribulations. Naturally I kept my little internal carping to myself and simply thanked her for remembering.

Not surprisingly, I am not a fan of any “birth mother celebrations,” even if they were the brainchild of first/birth mothers themselves, as apparently some of them are. The Saturday before Mother’s Day is designated as “Birthmother’s Day.” Special gatherings of first mothers are planned in several states, I read. To all this I say, gag me with a spoon. I can not think of anything more depressing that getting together with other first mothers on the day calibrated to remind us of possibly the worst day in our lives…unless we were going to the theater, a super lunch, a day at the spa, or just getting together because we are friends.

This is the first year in several that I did not get numerous reminders to attend a Spence-Chapin gala in Manhattan, which I looked upon as a mawkish reminder of all that had been lost. I know a hasty email I sent offended at least one of the birth mothers involved in the planning. But I can not see how such a “celebration” for women who have relinquished their children--sponsored by an adoption agency--is anything more than a pat on the head for good service done, as in: You gave us product for our business. Thank you. Hey, have lunch on us, light a candle together, we share your pain.

Maybe smarter heads at Spence Chapin decided this year that such a pity party was not a great idea. I would have liked it if it had turned into a raid upon their records! So while I know there are several events planned in several states for Birthmother’s Day, I will refrain from taking part. There are enough reminders everywhere that doing anything extra to mark the day becomes an exercise in self-flagellation.

Of course, now it is different for me. Both my mother and my daughter are deceased and I will spend the day ignoring Mother’s Day. If it’s nice I’ll work in the garden, I always find that restorative. Maybe we’ll take in a movie—as long as it’s mindlessly escapist. I will probably not go to brunch in a restaurant that day, as they are always jammed. Maybe I’ll have a glass of wine with lunch, wherever that is. Maybe I’ll stimulate the economy and buy something nice for myself .

And the day after Mother's Day will be Monday. Another day. I won't have to think about this for another year. --lorraine


For another take on “Birth Mother” celebrations, see




Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Why Reunions Go Awry: What Memoirs of Adopted Daughters Tell Birthmothers

Denise Roessle’s “What Do We Owe Our Children” demonstrated once again that the course of a reunion never does run smooth. Some adoptees react like Denise’s son, hurling barbs at his birth mother; others retreat to a safe place. The memoirs of women who were adopted as infants helps us first mothers understand adoption and reunion from an adoptee’s point of view.

In November, 1997, I received the call I had been hoping for -- and dreading -- since that dark day 31 years earlier when I left the hospital in San Francisco without my newborn daughter. She wanted to know me! We began emailing daily and arranged to meet in January. Our meeting went well, I thought, but afterwards she began to pull away. I was devastated. What had I done wrong?

To find answers, I poured over the memoirs of women who had been adopted -- Betty Jean Lifton, Amy Dean, Jean Strauss, A. M. Homes, Zara Phillips, Sarah Saffian, and Katie Hern.

Fantasy Mother

Although the adoptees’ backgrounds and life experiences were vastly different, their thoughts and feelings were remarkably similar. Before reunion, the daughters imagined a loving natural mother whose one mistake in the words of Annie was “giving up me.” Amy Dean described this fantasy mother in Letters to My Birthmother:

“I’ve always dreamed of having—
...a kindly woman with a sweet, smiling face who gently washes away the dirt from my scraped knees and elbows and who chases away my tears;
...a tireless woman who provides me with soft, clean clothing that smells a little like her and a little like the fresh outdoors;
...a caring woman who does many things with me, who talks with me and shows an interest in my life;
...a nurturing woman who makes the house smell as scrumptious as a home-baked cookie and who never lets me know what hunger feels like;
...an angelic woman who makes me feel safe as she takes me in her arms, places my head gently upon her soft, full bosom and rocks me to sleep each night.”

Zara Phillips wrote in Chasing Away the Shadows “I was always waiting for the day that my birthmother would show up on my doorstep, apologizing and telling me there had been a terrible mistake.”


Four of the daughters searched for their birthmothers: Betty Jean Lifton, Amy Dean, Jean Strauss, and Zara Phillips. Two were found by their mothers: Sarah Saffian and A. M. Homes. Katie Hern and her mother connected through a mutual consent registry.

Regardless of whether they searched or were sought, the daughters had the same needs. In Birthright: The Guide to Search and Reunion, Jean Strauss, explained:

“Why did I feel I had to search? If I was so comfortable with my parents and my childhood, why would I pursue such a quest? The reality for me was that I was never looking for parents. I was looking for answers. There was an empty chamber in my mind full of question marks.”

Upon learning that her birthmother was searching for her, A. M. Homes wrote in The Mistress’s Daughter that she wanted “information: where she grew up, how educated she is, what she does for a living, what the family medical history is, and what the circumstances of my adoption were.”

Mothers’ Regrets and Reactions

Like me, all the mothers regretted losing their daughters. And like me, the mothers were overwhelmed when they met them years later. They became the vulnerable young women again. They were supplicants, seeking forgiveness, trying to appease their child, hoping their daughter would not leave them.

The daughters were unprepared for their mothers’ responses. Dean wrote about her mother Ruth, “I’ve been so worried about how you [her mother] might reject me if/when I find you. But I’ve never even considered how I’d feel if you welcomed me with open arms.” My daughter too believed that “I had gotten on with my life” and rarely, if ever, thought of her.

Anxiety and Guilt, Not Joy

The mothers were not the women the daughters imagined -- the “goddess – the queen of queens…. Movie-star beautiful, extraordinarily competent, she can take care of anyone and anything” as Homes described her fantasy mother.

Betty Jean Lifton was adopted in the 1920’s. Her book, Twice Born: Memories of an Adopted Daughter (1975) is the earliest memoir and an inspiration for the others. After a lengthy search, Lifton found her mother, Rae. “She was not the big, strong, all-powerful mother ready to take the frightened child in her arms and dispel the demons. She, too, was riddled with demons.”

Strauss found a demand for intimacy that she did not expect nor want. When her mother Lee told Strauss that she loved her, Strauss felt “a knee-jerk reaction inside me, like a baby kicking. She loved me? She doesn’t even know me. This emotion I am feeling – is this what rage feels like?” Lee sent Strauss’s son a Valentine, signing it “’With love from Grandma Lenore.’” Strauss threw it in the trash.

Phillips too was enraged when Pat signed a birthday card to Phillip’s child “’Grandma.’ I think, What right does she have to that title? She lost that privilege!”

Sarah Saffian’s parents, Hannah and Adam Leyder, married after surrendering her and found Saffian shortly before her 24th birthday. In Ithaka she describes the anxiety that followed: “As the weeks wore on, I became increasingly paranoid about the Leyders. Despite their promises to lay low, I would look around every time I left my building for someone who resembled me lurking on the corner or across the street, afraid of being ambushed.”

The adoptees sought out faults in their mothers, perhaps to assure themselves that their surrender had been “for the best.” In writing about their first meeting in Ruth’s home, Dean noted the “cluttered counters and dishes piled in the sink.”

Homes was vicious in describing her mother, Helene. “Her lack of sophistication leaves me unsure whether she’s of limited intelligence or simply shockingly na├»ve.”

Not surprisingly, the daughters disavowed similarities between themselves and their mothers. “I am horrified at the way I see myself in her.” (Homes) “I refuse to acknowledge any similarity between us.” (Strauss)

Only Katie Hern wrote positively about her mother Ellen in A Year in Letters Between a Birthmother and the Daughter She Couldn’t Keep: ”It’s especially great to replace those distorted visions with well-balanced and funny you. It’s a massive relief to dispel those lurking anxieties.” Unlike the other adoptees and their mothers, Hern and Ellen committed themselves from the outset to work on establishing a positive relationship.

Betrayal of the Adoptive Family

My daughter’s adoptive mother discouraged her search: “You’ll just open old wounds.” Upon learning my daughter continued our relationship after our initial meeting, she was hurt and angry. I am sure her adoptive mother’s opposition affected our relationship.

Lifton never told her adoptive mother of her reunion: “By destroying her myth I would destroy what was most meaningful in her life.”

Strauss remained loyal to her adoptive parents even though they were dead. “I retrieve Mom’s wedding ring from my jewelry box, and slip it on my ring finger beside my own wedding ring. It will tell everyone: I am married to her. No one will ever replace my mother in my life.”

Phillips waited years before telling her adoptive family about her reunion. She did not invite her birthmother to her wedding because “it would have been too hard for my parents.”

Hern felt “like a traitor to my parents, to my adoptive mom in particular. … I’ve made several trips to Chelmsford [Massachusetts where her adoptive parents and birthmother lived] without even telling my parents I was in the state.”

What Do They Want?

“I am not your long-lost daughter. I have a father, mother, brother and sister, … they are my family. I don’t need another one” wrote Saffian to her parents. My daughter also told me that she “did not want a new mother.” She just needed to “know.” I fretted over whether now that she knew, was our relationship over?

Struggling with Lee’s demands, Strauss sought counseling. At her psychologist’s suggestion, she focused on her goals for her reunion.

“What did I want to have happen? ...It was so simple. She [Lee] would have to acknowledge that Betty was my mom. That was it! If she could do that and mean it, then that would mean she accepted me and my adoptive family and the reality of who I am.”

Who Might I Have Been?

Lifton describes adoptees as “the changeling, the imposter, the double.” In reunion, the daughters confronted not only where they came from but who they might have been; knowledge that was terrifying.

Strauss: “Since the third grade, I have believed if I could just meet my birth family, everything would become clear. But on this first day with my original family, I am more confused than ever. Who am I? Am I supposed to be someone different?”

“Along with the feeling that I was being disloyal to my [adoptive] parents by contacting you [her mother] was the feeling that Katie Hern, the person I’d spent twenty-six years becoming, was suddenly in jeopardy. ...

“The feeling was most triggered by learning my original name. The name represented for me a whole other life I almost led, and a whole other person I might have become, a possibility that terrified me.”

Two Families

My daughter, like other children in closed adoptions, was brought up to believe that the adoption decree obliterated her first family. Hern wrote:

“The goal in Catholic Charities’s closed-adoption system was to replace one set of parents with another and erase all traces of the first set. And for me, it worked. … I don’t think I really understood that I had another set of parents. There was no way to conceptualize two sets—two mothers, two fathers. It was an either/or thing.”

Homes was forced to confront the reality that she had two mothers when Helene came to a public signing for Homes’ recently-published book:

“In the distance, another shadow emerges. My [adoptive] mother and a friend of hers are coming toward me. I imagine the two mothers meeting, colliding. This is something that can’t happen. It is entirely against the rules. No one person can have two mothers in the same room at the same time.”

Strauss struggled to come to terms with having two mothers.

“Denial was a strong emotion I experienced in the early stages of my reunion: denial of the profound relationship that in reality does exist. I spent over three decades ignoring my birthmother’s role in my life. To acknowledge it was as threatening as anything I’ve ever faced. The concept of having two mothers seemed as sacrilegious to me as there being two Gods.”

Confronting Their Loss

The adoptees were pained at being outsiders in their natural family. Hern wrote to Ellen:

“Until maybe four months ago, I believed my own story: ‘I’m adopted. Big deal.... But that story was actually a fallout shelter I had sealed myself into. It protected me from what I couldn’t acknowledge: that my mother gave me away.”… “As my feelings started surfacing, one of the first to arise was grief that I am a stranger to the people I now consider family.”

“I was the one who was always telling others that we do not belong to one another in this life by legality or blood, but rather by a bond of the heart, by mutual caring and compassion, by ‘elective affinities,’ by a spiritual tie that was formed somewhere out in the stars in a time we no longer remember.

“Yes, I could console myself in innumerable ways, but it was just that: a consolation prize.”

Integrating their Mothers into their Lives

Strauss, Hern, and Saffian eventually integrate their mothers into their lives. The turning point for Strauss was helping Lee who had also been adopted find her mother, Mary, which Strauss describes in her second book Beneath a Tall Tree:

“This reunion is so different than mine with Lee. It doesn’t seem sacrilegious to have another grandmother. It feels perfect and natural. … My grandmother forces me to see how I have held my adoptive family in one hand, like a ball of blue clay, and my birth family in another, like a ball of red, interpreting them as unrelated parts of myself. But they are not separate. They are the same. … Grandma … helps me make purple.”

“One of the things that has become clear to me ... is how I dealt with being adopted growing up. ... “On the rare occasions when I ... [thought about my other set of parents], the phrase was ‘biological parents’: impersonal, scientific, mechanical. And I would become furious when people would use emotional words like ‘roots’ or ‘original,’ ‘family’ or ‘mother’ to describe the ‘biological’ side. I hated the significance these words gave to what I was so intent on shutting out.”

“[After visiting with her birthfamily], I’ve let myself acknowledge my connection to you and the rest of the family, let myself think of you as my mother and Gus and Jack as my brothers.”

“Thus the odyssey is an all-encompassing continuum, reunion a form of re-adoption – of that original child, family, self, which had previously existed in shadow. …

In transit on the road between the Leyders and the Saffians, I thought that perhaps just as one can have many children, one can, in varying degrees, also have many parents, many families – and even many selves, or discrete but complementary parts that make up the whole.”

Phillips took tentative steps towards developing a mature relationship with her mother. Sadly, for Homes, Dean and Lifton, it was too late. Homes’ and Lifton’s mothers died and Dean’s mother refused to have anything to do with her after Dean pushed her away.

Lessons for Mothers

There have been times when I have been angry. I opened my life and my heart to my daughter, disrupted the lives of my other children, and was cast aside. “I’m glad I was adopted,” my daughter often said. “You made the right decision.” These words crushed me.

I have come to accept that my daughter has two families. I cannot change that fact but I can change the way I think about it. I no longer fantasize that the adoptive family will disappear nor do I fear that my daughter will disappear from my life. This is true even though we had a major disagreement about a year ago and have not communicated since August, 2008.

Mothers newly in reunion or whose daughters have refused to have a relationship, often examine themselves endlessly . “Should I have said this instead of that?” “Should I send her a birthday present, a card, or perhaps nothing?“ I reassure them that they are always a part of their daughter’s life although their daughter may pull away or cut off refuse contact. Mothers should not blame themselves. Their daughter is coping with intense emotional conflicts: pain from being rejected at birth; guilt from betraying her adoptive parents; confusion over having two families; anxiety about who she would have been.

What can mothers do? I put this question to Delores Teller, past president of the American Adoption Congress. Teller is a Portland psychotherapist and clinical social worker who surrendered a son in 1968. She gave this advice:

• Seek professional help through support groups and individual therapy.
• Understand your daughter has reunited with you to meet her needs, not to hear about your pain.
• Reclaim your parental role in small but significant ways by stating your preferences and not approaching the relationship with ‘your hat in your hand.’ -You may get rejected but it establishes with your daughter that you care and are there to stay.
• Remember that you are both reclaiming lost parts of yourselves and an old relationship but that you can’t do the work for each other. Give it the time and respect that it needs to be restored.
• Don’t pressure your daughter to assume the role of daughter or to accept you as her mother or her children’s grandmother.
• Exercise choice in other areas of your life when you feel you lack control in this one; it will help you be more patient.
• Increase your self care: massage, good sleep -- yoga, exercise, vitamins, eating well -- to boost your body health.
• Channel your anger/frustration into action to make changes for other women who are considering adoption or who have surrendered a child so you can move from victim to warrior.
• Be the person you are, the competent, caring, attractive woman your daughter respects.
After the reunion: How do (found) mothers and daughters relate? 

Birthmark "I bought and read Birthmark after seeing an oped from the author in support of current legislative efforts to open original birth certificates to adult adoptees. As an adult adoptee myself, I was impressed with Ms. Dusky's raw look inside herself and her life story, including most notably finding herself in the position to make the heart-wrenching decision to permit someone else to raise her child.

Any adoptee who has the emotional wherewithal to want to see how the mother who gave them life may have felt about it should read this book."
--Amazon review, James B. Thelen

Sunday, May 3, 2009

What do we owe the children we gave up for adoption?

Fellow birth mother and writer, Denise Roessle, who had her own birth mother blog until a few months ago, suggested a topic for us the other day, which she calls "adoption debt." I was not sure what she meant, but she revisits the topic of the anger our children whom we relinquished towards us, now matter what the circumstances. We have written about this before, here and here. As well as here.

Additionally, Jane of our own Birth Mother, First Mother Forum has done an extensive study of the feelings of the adoptees that come clear in their memoirs, which I hope she will post very soon. What follows below is from Denise Roessle:

In this recent post on my “Write-O-Holic” blog — HATRED OF THE GOOD — I wrote of my son’s continuing mission to punish me for the crime of having given him up for adoption 39 years ago. My apologies, explanations of the circumstances and the era, and 13 years of trying to hold onto our relationship haven’t been enough for him. He has repeatedly told me, and others, that he wants me to suffer as he has. One week he’s plotting and threatening, the next he’s making overtures to try again.

I no longer trust him and it breaks my heart.

I received a number of emails from mothers who have had similar experiences in reunion. Our grown children did not reject us, nor we them. We want to be in each other’s lives. But at some point the price to be paid becomes too high, perhaps unpayable.

I’m wondering how many others are caught in the trap of “adoption debt.” We can’t change the past. But our children cannot forgive us. My son didn’t have a good childhood or early adulthood (or current life for that matter). Many adoptees did and yet they are determined to hurt their mothers, fathers and other first family members.

How can we possibly make it up to them? What does it take?--Denise Roessle