Friday, February 11, 2011

What's the difference between being adopted and being abducted?

What's the difference between being adopted as a baby or abducted and raised by people who do not abuse you but treat you might treat an adopted child? Carlina White, who was abducted at three weeks from a New York City hospital and renamed Nejdra Nance, and her mother, Joy, are obviously going through the kind of complicated and fraught reunion tango that many of us natural/first/birth mothers* are so familiar with post the gushing joy of reunion.

Carlina's mother, Joy, appeared on the Today Show recently saying that after four days Carlina went back to Atlanta, where she was living, and the relationship had cooled. Carlina's baby had been cared for by members of her extended "kidnapping" family while she was in New York in the throes of reunion. Joy was hoping for better times ahead. 

It was reported that Carlina wanted what what she thought of as her share of the $750,000 settlement from Harlem Hospital, from where she had been abducted. Joy and Carlina's father, Carl, and her husband had put a substantial portion of it in trust for her until she was 21, but after she had not appeared at that age used the money themselves (no longer together) to live on. In reality, this settlement was given to the parents for the loss of the child, not to the child. Then there was a $10,000 reward for her also at the time of her abduction--where is that she wants to know? I'm guessing here, but that sum was probably put up by the hospital in hopes that the money would flush out the woman who took her. Or even if it was her parents, which is unlikely, now she wants $10,000 for solving her own abduction? And apparently Carlina/Nejdra will not do any interviews without payment; one report was that she wanted--$10,000 a pop. 

Well. Carlina's father, however, says that he's in nearly constant touch with his daughter via text and telephone. I was sorry that Joy did the Today interview because she looked so expressively sad throughout. Plus, I kept staring at the impossibly high and incredibly bright red heels that Meredith Viera had on. But I digress. (The link here will take you to the video of the interview.)

Adoptees have long expressed how difficult are the early stages of a reunion, especially when there is a whole family to get to know: how they feel alienated; how when meeting many cousins, aunts, uncles, etc., they feel "on display." Of course anybody meeting a lot of new relatives for the first time, adopted or not, is "on display." Everyone's curious, looking for physical similarities and shared characteristics. Those of us first mothers who are anxious to try to integrate our lost son or daughter into the family want this kind of family reunion as soon as possible. In our eagerness to mend the rift, we tend to hurry forward when the adoptee may need more time. We may be their mothers, but our families do not feel like "their" families. At least, for a while. For some, if ever. 

I put my daughter, Jane, through this soon after we were reunited, but the day was saved by Tony, my new husband, who was also on display because most of the relatives had never met him either. Tony kept Jane company and whispered sly remarks about my family members to her and kept the mood light as people milled around my mother's apartment. Afterwards, Tony, Jane and I went out to dinner at then very cool revolving restaurant on top of the Renaissance Center in Detroit. She was fifteen; she loved it. The day ended well. 

The Deep End of the Ocean (Oprah's Book Club)Perhaps because Jane was only fifteen at the time, I was very aware of her reliance and connection to her adoptive family, but from what I've heard and read, many birth/first mothers tend to diminish the importance of the adopted individual's adoptive family, the one they know and are familiar with. Over at HuffPo, Jennifer Lauck, an adoptee who had one hell of a life--her adoptive parents were both dead before she was ten--compares being adopted with being abducted, and says that they are not dissimilar.** I've been thinking the same thing for quite a while now, and recently came across a copy of Oprah's first choice when she started her book club: The Deep End of the Ocean, by Jacquelyn Mitchard. 

The story centers around the kidnapping of a three-year-old boy, Ben, who is reunited with his family when he is twelve, but he does not feel comfortable living with them:
"There was a deep end of the ocean. Ben had gone there, and he had not come back.
They could never go there with him, or know what he ha experienced, or truly understand what had made him. They could only see the result.  
"Ben had walked out of the waves...[as] Sam Karras, a fine boy any parent would be proud to have raised; but Beth and Pat [his biological parents] had not.  
The smell he remembered as parental vigilance in the night was not her soap but George's [his step/adoptive father, unaware that the boy had been kidnapped] cigars. Sam was a whole sediment of accumulated beliefs and impressions that had nothing to do with the [biological family] Cappadoras.  
The red eggs of Orthodox Easter were the ones he had held in smaller hands; Alicia Karras, not Rosie, was Sam's yaya; his nana, the patrician Sarah Lockhart. He slept in pajamas, not underwear and t-shirts, as all the Cappadoras did. 
...[his real mother] waited for results after Sam spent hours with the family photo albums, poring over details with the intensity of an adult at work on a difficult jigsaw puzzle, and grieved when none seemed to come." 
You can be upset the with book, and the subsequent movie (which I have not seen) and be doubly pissed off when you find out Mitchard is an adoptive mother, but a lot of what she writes feels true. Ben/Sam goes back to live with the father who raised him. Custody is transferred officially back to the father who raised him. Ouch!

When we meet our grown children whom we did not raise, we have to go slow, be pleased with shared characteristics when we see them, but in a sense we have to begin at Ground Zero. Yes, there will be similarities, and physical resemblances, a whole lot of them, but for our sons and daughters who were raised by others, feeling comfortable with us is likely to take time. We're hurting and want them to embrace all that we are, and that includes our extended families; they pull back because when they are feeling is all frightening and strange, at the same time they want to get to know us better. Many us natural mothers want to embrace our lost children and we feel inside as if they have come "home," where they rightly belong. We're ready to say, Walk right in, sit right down, this is your real family, this is who you would be...but for the most part, they feel...out of synch with us.

Adoption Is a Family Affair!: What Relatives and Friends Must Know

We have to acknowledge how the adoptive families of our children are the familiar, we are the new, the strange, the unfamiliar.  What we tend to ignore is that they do not feel as if we and our family represent "home." In some respects, we are alien beings and "Your Uncle Tom" doesn't feel like an uncle at all, he's just a...guy, related in some way that feels weird. With luck, with time, and given the opportunity if they don't shut down and shut us out, some of this will change.

BUT late at night a few weeks later, in the last few pages of the book, the abducted boy Ben/Sam goes back to the Cappadoras. Lugging a heavy suitcase. Wearing a White Sox shirt he took from his brother's drawer. This is all possible because in a twist of fate his "other" house is a few blocks away. He and his brother, who is four years older, who is the one who was supposed to be minding him when he was kidnapped by a crazy lady, the one who let his hand go because...shoots some hoops around midnight, insult each other as brothers do, and then, together, carry his very heavy suitcase back into the house. The boy is moving home with his real family. The older brother admits to his kid brother that he is the one who let go of his hand that day in a crowded hotel lobby. Well...says the Ben/Sam, as they continue going into the darkened house. They share a pizza and make a loud noise when some sodas fall over.

And in the morning, his parents will wake up an find their son has returned to his family. 
I may have been more fortunate than others in that my daughter, at fifteen, sixteen and up, wanted to know me and my family and began to feel comfortable not only with me, but also with Tony, who was a kind of step-dad to her, with my mother, and my brother, Tom, back in Michigan, and Tony's son, Evan, who lived with us one summer when Jane did too. Religion also played a part; I had asked that Jane be adopted by Catholics, as I was raised, and she was. They were every-Sunday-to-Mass Catholics, like my mother; I am not, but mutual familiarity with Catholicism did make things easier, as did the fact that our standards of living and homes were not wildly divergent. She once said to me, You know, my parents aren't that much different in a lot of ways. I knew exactly what she meant. 

Was it easy? Surely you jest.--lorraine

* For search engine purposes, we will continue to use both birth/first mother here. Using only "first mother" or "natural mother" will markedly reduce the number of people who are able to find their way to the blog. But Goggle or search for "first mother" and the blog pops up. That's one way to make Google aware of the changing term for us. 

And yes, that is my baby picture at about the same age as the one I posted yesterday in the blog. I have posted it there too so you can see Mom and Daughter at roughly the same age. Eventually, I'll add more family pictures as suitable, especially the one that shows how much Jane resembled my mother.



  1. Oh my, Lorriane, you and your daughter could be clones! Such adorable pix!

  2. I guess I am callous, but here goes - HUH? She wants money? Wait, at what point, seriously, do we say how wrong is this? She has a rocky relationship with mom and wants money.....

    That is what disturbs me most. At what point is it really about money?

  3. Right Lori, I was grossed out by this turn of events.

  4. She was raised by criminals, and perhaps picked up the lifestyle. I hope this story sinks fast and does not get confused with adoptee searches. There have always been those, in most cases birthfathers, saying "all she wants is my money."

  5. I don't know, I'm not ready to condemn her yet. This kind of reunion would already be difficult enough, but she's still young and been on her own since she was a teenager (I think). She is effectively a stranger to her family and is still trying to navigate her relationship with her possibly abusive* abductor's family. The reunion is only a month old and is being played out in national media.

    All of this I'd imagine would be hard enough to navigate without having the idea (however accurate) that however much her parents were emotionally affected, they still made serious bank over her kidnapping (and either spent it all or won't share it with her) floating around.

    So yeah, bringing up money probably wasn't a great move to make (but people don't also make the best decisions when grief, money and family meet), but that doesn't mean that she is only in it for the money or that she is the one solely responsible for her relationships not going smoothly.

    * well, abusive on top of the initial kidnapping

  6. The difference between adoption and abduction? In some cases, there is nothing but a piece of paper separating them. A piece of paper that states the abduction was sacntioned by law.

  7. Adoption sounds like mental abduction.

  8. ""Ben had walked out of the waves...[as] Sam Karras, a fine boy any parent would be proud to have raised; but Beth and Pat [his biological parents] had not."

    This may be because I only saw the movie version, but I never received that impression.

  9. Better to read this...

    and then this...

  10. This young woman's story only underscores the idea that just because you want to reunite, and you've had a longing to do so or always felt that a core part of you was always missing, doesn't mean that when you reunite you'll find someone who can fulfill their part in your fantasy. Tied forever genetically and historically, nonetheless you are strangers, made so by a traumatic event and the passage of time. Why she would seek money now may be a matter of her upbringing. She does, after all, have a family already - even if it is through illegal abduction rather than legal adoption.

    So, the differing factor in this current abduction event and an adoption is the application of legal rights of one person (generally the parents, a-parents and sometimes b-parents) over another's (always the child's and sometimes the a- or b-parents).

    It is the adoptive parents' voices I do not hear out here in this discussion... why are they so silent?

    My a-mother is so self-centered, so threatened (with possibly some real reason for concern) and so self-justified in her own position as the charitable baby rescuer with "rights" to privacy, that she has absolutely no consideration for her adopted baby's feelings. Didn't when I was a baby, and doesn't now that I'm a middle-aged adult. To her it's all a folly, a waste of time. Something I just worry about too much or think about too much, just get over it already, we all have problems, just deal with it and suck up like the rest of us do you ungrateful orphan bastard child. How silly; just be happy.

    Perhaps that is reflective of our society's majority view, and what led the poor woman to steal a baby from the hospital in the first place... why wouldn't she think that it would all work out okay in the end anyway??



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