' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: Know Thyself...How do adoptees do that without knowledge of who they were when they were born?

Friday, June 25, 2010

Know Thyself...How do adoptees do that without knowledge of who they were when they were born?

Our last post, Do Adopted People feel an emotional connection to their birth mothers? One woman says NO garnered a lot of reaction from readers arguing over whether or not there is an inborn emotional connection to the woman who gave birth to you. I expect we'll get more.

A few people said they felt no connection to their birth mothers or family, and were not interested in pursuing more of a relationship with them than a "first look." It was the encapsulation of that feeling found on another website which started the ball rolling.

I've always known exactly who I am, save for a few thoughtful moments when I was four or five and imagined that my real mother might be someone else. So I can not know what it is like to be without knowledge of my real heritage, family, mother and father, brothers, cousins, etc. But I can not imagine not knowing and not going to the ends of the earth to find out. And not wanting to meet "those people" who gave me up for adoption. I'm saying it that way here because that's what it has to feel like. You can say, My mother made an adoption plan, but geeze, that doesn't get at the heart of it and obfuscates feelings. I practically laugh in the face of anyone who uses that kind of absurd language. Of course, on one level it's true: a bereft and penniless young woman sitting across from a social worker talking about relinquishing her unborn child is, in one sense, making an adoption plan. About giving up her baby. But she's giving up her baby. That's why she's there, that's what is behind all the less harsher words. Giving up her baby.

But I digress. When that baby is old enough to understand the switch that occurred shortly after birth--wouldn't anybody want to know why and how and who did it? I know a couple of seemingly well adjusted people--two to be exact who are among my circle of friends--who are adopted and have not searched. Well, that's not exactly true.

One man, at the behest of his wife when she was about to have their baby, went back to the agency in Minnesota where he was adopted and learned what he could about his biological mother and father's medical history at the time he was born. (Which might be vastly different 30 years later, but never mind.) However, though the social workers offered, he did not want to have the agency reach the mother and see if she was interested in contact. This happened many years ago as now their child is in medical school; the current law, according to the American Adoption Congress site, has a birth mother-veto system in place with the agencies acting as intermediaries. This is a very intelligent guy who has held high positions in the top echelons publishing' he's chosen to publish a couple of books about adoption that other publishers rejected. This is someone with a good mind. About everything else, he is curious. And yet he says No to learning more about himself? It's a puzzlement. It's an psychic wound, deeply buried.

Another adopted friend, a woman, also smart and savvy who once held a responsible big job in public relations, actually went so far as to hire a searcher. But when the searcher said he had to go to the state house where she was born and adopted to look up records, she pulled back and never went forward again. Case closed, for both of these people who are in the Sixties. For each, finding a birth parent alive now is chancy.

I don't get it. To not know more about yourself? To just pull down the curtain and close off that part of you? I have a hard time understanding anyone who simply closes up that part of his "self," and locks away inside the desire--the need!--to search for his roots, his true heritage, his birth parents. "Know Thyself" is the beginning of wisdom, the cornerstone of Greek philosophy. It is inscribed in the forecourt of the temple of Apollo at Delphi. It's what Socrates is all about.

These ruminations today come after reading the many insightful, often sad, sometime argumentative, sometime defensive, comments at the last blog, and will serve as a lead in to the poetry of my granddaughter, the granddaughter who was given up for adoption by my daughter. Hmmm, does that make me the birth grandmother or just the grandmother? Both, I will take both. I will take what I can get. I will be here for her. She is coming to visit in just over a week; I think she is as excited as I am. It will be our first meeting.

In the verse, she struggles with wondering who her father is.
Letter to my Father

dear mr. so & so:
                                    I hope to
survive your surname without
your surname. I strive to augment
your interpretation  of a "who
am I this time?"           story by
introducing you to a tall tale
tell all of my own. I
remember the MC HAMMER
and Barbie Doll families
that made me possible.
I am the plastic on plastic
lovechild  and may be  that
made me possible. You didn't
make me possible. You didn't
                             make rent.             

Dear Mr. So & So,     
the rules you were
taught about                order.
Forget the way my mother
called you by your name.
How can I teach you
that anyone can bastardize
scripture and get away with it.
                                    Amen. &
the dish ran away with the spoon.

Dear MR. SO & SO:
                              You forgot                                                           
the spoon.

Mr. So & So:
                         Please do
not be angry. I read Baldwin's
The Fire Next Time and wanted
to talk to you about it. I read
Baraka's The Dead Lecturer
and wanted to talk to you about it.
I read until my eyes blurred
on Vladimir Mayakovsky's words
about his Mamma, until my eyes
stung as I read a few words
about himself. I too
"am as lonely as a man
on his way to the blind." Please
do not be angry.

Mr. So & So:
                                    (In Blue)
Something about a Thelonious
Monk sound 'Round Midnight
and a piano.                 Something
about hands on a piano. Something
slower about  hands on my mother.
Something slower about   hands
in an approach to may be
,writing in effigy of touch
and the fictile sense
of the pen in my
hand on the paper.

Dear Mr. So & So:     
                                    I'm eager
to hear about the weather, however,  
I wonder, how ever did you get into
the business of                        (x?)
I've always wondered how I'm going
to get through to you
without            a name.  Maybe I'll start in
Chicago.  I've always wanted to
visit.  Maybe you can teach
me about your business.  Maybe
I can teach you about your                
(x?).  About you. What color is your
raincoat?  And, what color is your
briefcase? And how broad is your
nose? What color is your
lover?              (x?ox?o)

Above are two books above are about the interracial experience. Repossessing Ernestine: The Search for a Lost Soul by Marsha Hunt is a memoir of an African American actress, singer and writer who, after working on the stage in Europe, found her white grandmother in a nursing home in Memphis. Mick Jagger is the father of her daughter, Kris.  

The Girl who Fell from the Sky by Heidi W. Durrow is a novel about a young girl who is bi-racial and raised by her black relatives after the death by suicide of the main character's white mother.


  1. I can tell you that the usual answer to that, which some non-adopted people and the proud "I have no interest in my Natural Family" adoptees give is "being adopted has nothing to do with identity or knowing who you are."

    I blogged about this a while ago saying that people who hear us talk about identity or feeling "different" often assume we're throwing a histrionic fit for ourselves when we talk about having a unique identity (or lack thereof), rather than what we're really doing which is trying to identify in a positive, honest, realistic and/or healthy way with the adopted portion of ourselves. Some people seem to think that when an adopted person talks about identity that they're just looking for excuses to be miserable "YOU decide who you are, you don't need a birth certificate or to know who gave birth to you for that!" they say with falsely inspiring gusto. I know better. If being adopted had nothing to do with identity, we would not live our lives with information from adoption forward with our birth certificates and Original Lives sealed: adoption has absolutely everything to do with identity. For me in my own personal journey, I know that my quality of life has been improved because I have a relationship with my Natural Family (of course with my Adoptive Family too) and have knowledge of self pre-adoption.

    Everyone else gets to embrace both nature and nurture and select from which they'd like to identify with. Adoptees are restricted from being able to pull from the same resources to select our identities from. While we certainly can be outstanding individuals no matter how much or little we know about ourselves, there's something to be said about how we have less to go on and do so with than most other people do, because of the actions of others on our behalf (and not necessarily in our best interest) when we were too young to consent.

    I'm not angry that I grew up with half an identity because I was too "weak" to get along without it. I'm angry that I couldn't pull from and embrace nature because it was TAKEN from me and I had no say in the matter. Whether someone is a "I-have-no-interest-in-my-roots" adoptee or not, that aspect of adoption should irritate any one and EVERYONE.

    :-) Thanks for posting this Lorraine.

  2. I too was always curious, although that is perhaps not the right word, it is a much deeper feeling, a knowing you have to know.My life and reunion rolled out in a most fascinating way, to me anyway because I didn't push, just let it roll.If I had my life over I'd do it the same again.Of course I regret not finding my mother decades before, building a relationship, learning to love her for herself.The bond is there, it is I realise unbreakable and maybe that is why some adoptees are too scared to go further, to jump out into the unknown, off the cliff into knowing.
    As a footnote,the word verification for this comment was 'reform'Like it!

  3. I guess I am not surprised people have a hard time understanding. Know myself... ha I never have, would it make it better or worse?

    I feel like I have a core of shame and badness. So bad my own mother did not keep me. So fearful that everyone can see my badness. I have put on a mask for most people so they don't see it. Such a releif to move away from my Aps, to finally be a little bit of myself with people who I could cover with and did not know my shame.

    I am a chameleon. I can be different for different people. I don't know who I am, but I am afraid if I found out it would be bad and the fragile existance I have would be shattered.

    My mother rejected me once at birth, once at 45, dare I try again at 53? Maybe I just need to get over it.

    These are/ were some of my thoughts and fears about further research. You seem to feel most normal people would want to know. Are we normal people?

  4. We are taught throughout our lives that history is important yet we are kept from OUR own personal histories. We live so many contradictions.

    I search for my father because deep inside I long for a connection with him, even if it's a little as acknowledgement or as much as a relationship.

    I try hard to connect with my mother and will continue to reach out to her.

    Being kept from the people we descended from is cruel and unusual punishment that our government funds and puts it's stamp of approval on via sealed birth records.

    The inhumanity is mind-blowing and occurs in "the land of the free"?

  5. PS have just posted at http://eag-oncewasvon.blogpot,com on this area of adoption.Thanks Lora and Amanda for illustrating so clearly some of the areas that make it so hard or impossible for us.Again and again we speak of our hurtful, painful experiences, our deepest thoughts on adoption and our adoption for the education of others.Does anyone else have to do that other than vocal minority groups, the abused, dispossessed and disempowered?

  6. Lisa Marie's poems are stunning and deserve their own post. She is very talented and you can really be proud of her:-) Can you help her find her birthfather?

    I know adoptees with no interest in searching, I just met two at a party last week. Every once in a while I run into one, and I do not push them, just let them know search help is available if they ever are interested.

    Not being adopted, I do not know what motivates one to search and another not to search, nor do I really know how I would feel if I were adopted. I do not feel I have learned a great deal about myself from knowing my relatives because I am a weird one in my family, not like any of my cousins, pretty different from my parents in some ways too although like them in others. I never felt comfortable in relative gatherings.

    I think fear of the unknown is a factor for some non-searchers, and some people just are not curious about much of anything. Then there is the often-cited gratitude factor. In my son's case I think he just felt more family would be more trouble and obligation.

    I had a very different and pleasant experience the other day with two adoptive moms at water exercise. One woman is a regular who adopted from Louise Wise years ago, and I had given her some information for her daughter about where their records are now. The other was her friend who was visiting. That mom's son had a wonderful reunion, and she talked about what fun it was to have his birthfamily come for Thanksgiving dinner, and how interesting it was to see the similarities between her son and his relatives. She kept saying how much good it did her son to meet them.

    They were totally supportive of me as a birthmother in reunion, and how good it was for adoptees to know where they came from and have a relationship with natural family. I felt great after talking to them. Sometimes adoption-related conversations can be a pleasant surprise rather than upsetting or insulting.

  7. Everyone talks about the power of love but on the other side of the coin, just as intensely is the fear of rejection. I think when push comes to shove, for many Adoptees it isn't not wanting to know who they are that keeps them from searching, it is the fear that they will be ostracized for WHO they are: the bastard in the family. These Adoptees are SO fragile, and they are terrified of having what feeling of self they do have being thrown in their face by the very people who they need to complete them. Some Adoptees too, due to the subconcious messages given to them by society as they are growing up about their Real Parents are afraid as well that they may be child abusers or criminals, which further frightens them. At least that is what one male Adoptee told me once. Lisa, your poetry is beautiful. And I am so glad you have this talent as an outlet to deal with your feelings, and thank you for touching all of us with your words. I just hope someday the pain you feel transforms into getting the answers and acceptance you deserve honey.

  8. I also wanted to say that Adoptees who are so afraid of rejection say they don't want to search to most of the people around them because it is easier than explaining their fear, and for most of them, coming right out and elaborating on their terror and pain just makes them feel too vulenrable. Better for them to make the reason short and sweet, hence: I don't want to know.

  9. After I reunited with my son and spread the news far and wide, friends who were adopted came out of the woodwork. They told me all the reasons they would not search. Even with me, a loving and accepting first mother as an example of what they might fun. They were mostly my age, which meant their first mother might have been quite elderly by then. That was 14 years ago, and none have since searched or found.

    I was struck by one male friend, an adoptee my age, who upon hearing the news said, "What does he want?" Reversed, I believe he feared what his mother might want if he found her/she found him.

    His wife once confided her belief that he is afraid of what he will feel, how overwhelming the emotions my be. It's not a-parent loyalty, since both have since passed.

    As a Probation Officer, he has referred to me young people with a desire to search for guidance and how to begin. But he has never asked me for his own case. In fact, by now, the topic is clearly off-limits between us.

    It makes me sad. Because all of the adoptees I know are wonderful, intelligent people, and I am sad for their mothers, that they might never know them.

  10. Your granddaughter is so pretty! She has a real glow about her. How exciting for you to have found her and for her to share your passions. Wow, that is so really wonderful. There has been so much heartache for you in adoption I am glad that it looks like you and Lisa can finally enjoy having a relationship.

    In re: knowing yourself, I met my mom and dad when I was so young, it is hard to remember not knowing myself in that way. Knowing them at that age was very difficult BUT really helped me as well.

    Ironically though, I think I would have claimed to have more self-knowledge before I met them. I do remember saying that adoption had no impact on me whatsoever and when questioned on that by a girl whose mother had freaked out upon finding out she was adopted, I was positive that adoption was just a coincidental circumstance to the nervous breakdown.

    It is like you have to really know your mom and dad before you know how much of you goes back through them, how much of you is theirs, how much is just yours. I see this with my raised child as well.

    It is one of those things I think where you have to know quite a bit before you can honestly say, there is a lot I don't know.

    I was always seen as a quirky, funny, fun-loving girl. People used words like zany about me. I thought that is just who I was, and of my own doing and I was happy with that.

    Finding out that in fact within my nfamily my personality would have instead been pretty conservative and made perfect sense, finding out that a lot of who I was, was in fact pre-determined, really confused my Sartre-loving 18 year-old ass.

    Just as well he is a bit of a mal-content.

  11. Like Von, I appreciate Amanda and Lora for their insight and honesty, yet I don’t see too many of us “Again and again we speak of our hurtful, painful experiences.” We speak of our hurt and pain, yes, but we don’t really talk of the experiences that caused that hurt and pain. We are vocal, we are being abused, we’ve been dispossessed and dis-empowered but I often see our hurt and pain blurring our words when we attempt to inform and educate.
    To know ourselves we need to look at and acknowledge the “experiences” that have caused us hurt and pain. I am not saying that we need to bare our souls to the world or even each other, but we need to look back and, at least, say, “Those words from those people, those acts from those people, those looks and snickering from those people were WRONG. Those people were/are Fucked up.” This is hard to do because we have been programmed Not to say (or even wonder if) “those people” could be wrong. And, as we all know whether we want to admit it or not, nowhere among “those people” are our Natural Mothers. She will never join their ranks, unless and until we here from her own lips and heart that we were not loved or wanted or thought of.
    Sadly, some of us have heard the words we never wanted to hear. Tragically we have taken them to heart and now must find some way to let them fly away. Fly away like a fear-filled bird who can not see the safety around it… fly away until the fear has evaporated and somehow it can return and find it’s comfort.
    Maryanne, you wrote: “I had a very different and pleasant experience the other day with two adoptive moms…. The other was her friend who was visiting. That mom's son had a wonderful reunion, and she talked about what fun it was to have his birthfamily come for Thanksgiving dinner, and how interesting it was to see the similarities between her son and his relatives. She kept saying how much good it did her son to meet them.” What a WONDERFUL thing to share! I wish so hard that APs who are supportive who come forward and stand with us – us, birth parents and adoptees who long to know each other or just to know what it says on our OBCs.
    If we think about it – Every family has it’s beginning in adoption. Two people ‘adopt’ each other to form a unit, and their families ‘adopt’ the person their child has ‘adopted’ into their families (well, sometimes… just like real life), and then the original unit has a child and the families ‘adopt’ it as part of their own families and then two families are now one behind the child.
    dear Inappropriate, I saw a comment by you on another blog (“What I don't want however, and what I won't particpate in, is bashing Adoptees and Real Mothers that I adore who disagree with me. I'm not going there. I will just simply respect their reasons for why they feel as they feel and leave it at that, because one of the evilist things The Adoption Industry and The Churches have done to all of us is viciously pit us against each other while they take complete and total pleaasure in watching us come undone.”) and I just want to say, Thank you. If I know you, I’m sorry I don’t recognize your “pen name” and if I don’t know you, I hope I will.

  12. Sometime the comments just blow me away and this is one of the days. Thank you all for the insights; I just wish adoption did not start, and sometimes end, with so much internal anguish and pain. For all concerned.

    One small note: I often mention to people when appropriate that I had found my daughter--well, it is different now that she died--and more times than not I have gotten a positive response, like Maryanne. It's good to mention these things to people so that search and reunion can seem like a normal thing.

    On another note, I just learned that my other granddaughter does not have the time to visit at all this summer. Am I bummed? You bet. With her, whom I've known since she was born, I always feel like the "birth" grandmother who comes in second. My husband says this will change with time, but who knows and hey! I'm not getting any younger.

  13. My surrendered daughter made an interesting comment about her brother, also adopted, who refused to search. She thought the reason was that he had a good job and a prominent position in the Church and did not want to think of himself as a bastard.

  14. Inappropiate, Improper, it means the same thing to the Adoption Industry when we complain about Closed Records and not being able to have our OBC's so I smiled when I read what you posted CullyRay. There are Adoptees and Real Mothers who I know would diagree with me concerning my new formed opionion on bills that have been discussed of late, but since I care about these people I think how we handle our difference of opionion is important. It does none of us any good to end up being rough on each other because the Churches and The Adoption Industry have abused us in the first place, and have to have the last word while once again kicking us in the face as they begrudgingly try to make it seem like they want change. There are Adoptees too, that I can't stand who support these bills, Adoptees who have bullied me in the past, and who I never want to talk to again, but them I just flip off behind my monitor, like a lot of other Adoptees do LoL, so don't give me too much credit Cully. :)

  15. Wow, Lisa's poetry is great...I do not know my father and she exactly expresses how I feel about wondering who he is.

  16. Jane: I see Church and I read Catholic.

    You mean...? Latter Day Saints?

  17. Lorraine,
    How powerful your granddaughter's poetry is.
    I find it awe-inspiring that she and so many of the other adoptees sharing here are able to articulate the ambivalence which seems to be so much a part of being adopted.

    My heart breaks for us all...

  18. oh huney... I mean, Improper... I am sorry I got it wrong but I am glad I gave you a smile.

  19. More on the emotional connection: is it genetic due to shared genes, or hormonal bonding as some posit that would occur only with the biological mother?

    I think it is more the shared genes and can happen with fathers, siblings, and even more distant relatives where there is a physical resemblance and emotional resonance. The connection I feel to my surrendered son, and my other kids (yes, to those of you who find me heartless and lacking in emotion, I do feel connected to my kids, but not by a umbilical chord that never dies:-)is genetic, not hormonal and not limited to mothers.

    What fascinates and delights me as a blood relative is seeing family traits in my children, both from me and their fathers. Adoptees who have not reunited do not have this, and some profoundly long for it. Seeing someone who looks like you is no small thing when you have never had it before.

    One does not have to believe in forever infant imprinting like ducklings and their mother to feel connected to kin.



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